- Weston, Bert E.
- Biographies and personal histories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Perth I, HMAS Moresby I
- June 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Six months later Colonel Foveaux arrived in Sydney, arrested Johnston on a charge of mutiny and sent him again to England to face a court-martial which was convened two years later. He was found guilty but received the light sentence of being cashiered from the army instead of the punishment laid down of being hung, drawn and quartered.
Permitted to return to Sydney as a free settler in 1813 he spent the remaining ten years of his life at ‘Annandale House’ and in supervision of his property holdings, amounting to 7,000 acres.
During the course of all these events Johnston’s wife Esther had efficiently looked after his farming interests during his enforced absences in England, and between 1790 and 1806 had borne him a family of three sons and four daughters. Again the Royal Navy came into the picture when the second son, Robert, was sent to England at the age of seven to be educated at Newton Butts in Surrey, where he remained until aged thirteen. While still a schoolboy he was once taken past the Admiralty Yard where he saw a one-armed officer talking to a one-legged sailor, the officer being Lord Nelson, then at the height of his fame. This small incident left an impression on his mind to such an extent that on leaving school he joined the Navy as a boy volunteer in the 50 gun ship Malabar and served in the blockade of the Dutch and French fleets off Texel on the Dutch coast. He then joined Namur as a midshipman but soon after was transferred to the 36 gun frigate Semiramis operating off the coasts of Spain and Portugal.
He was present at the battle of Corunna, and on joining Norge as master’s mate was involved in the storming of Cadiz followed by the attack on St. Marys, where he commanded a rocket ship which was sunk with loss of lives, however Lieutenant Johnston survived.
He then, with another officer and one hundred and fifty crew took the captured 80 gun French warship Neptune to Majorca where he rejoined Norge and returned to England for posting to HMS Asia, flagship of Vice-Admiral Cochrane, and destined for the American station. At Bermuda he was given command of a despatch boat which procured for him on one occasion an introduction to Sir Thomas Hardy, former captain of HMS Victory.
He was present at the capture of the city of Washington and was then posted to the frigate Menelaus under Sir Peter Parker in the blockade of Baltimore followed by the attack on Moorefields where Sir Peter was killed. He then took part in the expedition against New Orleans after which peace was declared and he once again found himself back in HMS Asia, commanded by Captain Alexander Skeene, and under orders to sail for England for paying off.
Lieutenant Johnston applied to the Admiralty for another active service posting; with none available he then asked for and was granted extended leave to visit his family in Sydney. On arrival there in October 1816 aged twenty-four his services were at once claimed by Governor Macquarie, and for some years he was in command of ships plying coastwise and overseas, and it was due to his skill as a sailing master that he saved his ship Queen Charlotte from a head-on encounter with King Is. in Bass Strait while returning from Capetown.
In 1821 he took HMS Snapper into Batemans Bay on the NSW south coast where he discovered and explored the Clyde River; also in the same year, together with Lieut. John Nicholson, who was a fellow officer of their HMS Asia period on the American station and an ancestor of Captain Ian Nicholson of the present day Australian Navy, he accompanied Governor Macquarie on his farewell visit to Newcastle and Port Macquarie. At the latter port they were instrumental in salvaging the famous brig HMS Lady Nelson and won great praise from the Governor for their efforts and skill.
With leave long expired he was about to return to England and the Royal Navy when his elder brother George was killed in a fall from a horse at Camden in course of his duties as Superintendent of Government Flocks and Herds, and Robert found it necessary to retire from the Navy and take over supervision of the family interests in the Colony.