Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Thomas Johnstone (1829–1909)

by Alan Dougan

This article was published:

Thomas Johnstone (1829-1909), Presbyterian minister, was born on 11 January 1829 near Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, son of William Sibbald Johnstone, grazier, and his wife Elizabeth, née Renwick. He was educated at the parish school, matriculated at the University of St Andrews in 1847 and studied for the ministry. In 1856 he was licensed as a probationer by the Presbytery of Chanonry, Ross, and applied for service in New South Wales.

Johnstone arrived at Sydney in 1857 and was appointed by the Synod of Australia to East Maitland, but was soon called to Armidale, then within the Presbytery of Maitland. He began his ministry on 17 April 1857 and vigorously covered a wide area of New England, including Walcha, Hillgrove, Kilcoy, Wandsworth and Guyra as well as the town and district of Armidale. He described himself as an 'evangelical boundary rider'. He was often absent from home for long periods and annually travelled over 6000 miles (9656 km) on horseback. He baptized more than 3000 infants and joined over 800 couples in marriage. In 1865-76 he was clerk of the Presbytery of New England after the union of the Presbyterian Church in Australia. In 1882 St Paul's Church was built in Armidale.

A conventional Scottish Established Church minister, Johnstone devoted his life to the parish. He declined all calls elsewhere and the moderatorship several times. That severe critic, John Dunmore Lang, described him as 'an able, zealous and successful minister of our Church'. He was an earnest preacher with a rugged eloquence and forceful diction, an affectionate pastor, a fond parent and a loyal friend. Physically large and strong, he was sociable, impulsive, warm hearted and sometimes impatient. He continued to live in the old manse after he had gained a colleague, Rev. Peter McQueen, because of his failing health. In 1894 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of St Andrews. In 1903 he became minister emeritus. He died at Armidale on 3 February 1909 and was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery. He was survived by his wife Eliza Jane, née Glass, whom he had married at Armidale on 5 July 1866, and by five sons and three daughters. His estate was valued at £5272.

The Johnstone Memorial Hall was built and dedicated in 1912.

Select Bibliography

  • J. D. Lang, Free Church Morality (Syd, 1876)
  • J. Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1905)
  • C. A. White, The Challenge of the Years (Syd, 1951)
  • J. B. McK., 'The Late Rev. Dr. Johnstone', Messenger of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, vol 7, 12 Feb 1909, p 103
  • Presbyterian Church (New South Wales), General Assembly Minutes, May 1909
  • Armidale Chronicle, Feb 1909
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Dougan, 'Johnstone, Thomas (1829–1909)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 6 December 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


11 January, 1829
Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire, Scotland


3 February, 1909 (aged 80)
Armidale, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.