Robert Ebenezer Johnson (1812-1866)
Elizabeth Byrne (1811-1891)
Robert Ebenezer Johnson was the eighth of thirteen children born on 31 Jul 1770 to Richard Johnson & Elizabeth Phillips. We are not sure of when he arrived in Australia. His parents and six of his siblings arrived in 1933. His two brothers William Jonathon and James arrived on 01 Jan 1836, and both became well known conductors and musicians in Sydney. There is a Robert Johnson who arrived on board the Bristol on 12 Jun 1834; if this is our man, he would have been 22 years old on arrival. He married Elizabeth Byrne in Sydney on 30 Oct 1834 in St James Church, Sydney. As mentioned on his parent’s page, Elizabeth Byrne had accompanied his family to Sydney from London the year earlier, and most probably the relationship had formed back in England. St James Church was also where his two brothers James and William Jonathon shared choir master and organist duties.
Robert’s life can be summarised by the following accounts.
Robert Ebenezer Johnson (1812 – 6 November 1866) was an English-born Australian politician.
He was born in London to gentleman Richard Johnson and Elizabeth Phillips. He migrated to Sydney around 1833 and worked as a solicitor’s clerk, before being admitted as a solicitor in 1842. On 30 October 1834 he married Elizabeth Byrne, with whom he had five children. He was bankrupted in 1847 but discharged in 1848. He was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1856 to 1861 and from 1861 until his death in Double Bay in 1866; while serving he was known as a leader of the extreme conservatives.[
His entry as a member of the New South Wales parliament, which reads as follows:
Date of Birth: 01/01/1812
Place of Birth: London, England
Date of Death: 06/11/1866
Place of Death: Double Bay, New South Wales, Australia
Member of the NSW Legislative Council (22 May 1856 – 10 May 1861) 4 years 11 months 19 days
First (Quinquennial) Appointments under the Constitution Act.
Date of Writ of Summons 13 May 1856.
Member of the NSW Legislative Council (25 Nov 1863 – 06 Nov 1866) 2 years 11 months 13 days
Life Appointment under the Constitution Act.
Date of Writ of Summons 24 November 1863
Qualifications, occupations and interests
Lawyer (Solicitor). Arrived in Sydney c.1833. Articled to J.W Thurlow and G.R Nichols. Admitted as a solicitor on 12 February 1842. Lived ‘in style’. Insolvent in 1847, discharged in 1848. Lived at Double Bay from early 1850’s. Became a leader of extreme conservatives in Legislative Council from late 1850’s and early 1860’s. Member of New South Wales Constitutional Association in 1860. On Committees of Union Club 1863 – 1866, Australia Club 1866. Friend of Sir Alfred Stephen. Loyal Anglican. Joint Treasurer and Secretary of St Pauls College Building Committee in 1853. Fellow of College until 1866. On the Committee of Benevolent Society Estate.
Son of Richard Johnson, gentleman, and Elizabeth Phillips. Married Elizabeth Byrne on 30 October 1834 at Sydney and had issue, 2 daughters and 3 sons. Church of England.
Robert Ebenezer Johnson (1812-1866), solicitor and politician, was born in London, son of Richard Johnson, gentleman, and his wife Elizabeth, née Phillips. He arrived in Sydney about 1833 and on 30 October 1834 at St James’s Church married Elizabeth Byrne. He was articled to J. W. Thurlow, then to George Nichols and was admitted a solicitor on 12 February 1842. In March 1843 he sued Thomas Revel Johnson for libel after the Satirist and Sporting Chronicle had attributed his pocked face to ‘the commission of sin in early life, and the effects of mercury’. The case was dropped when T. R. Johnson was gaoled for editing an obscene publication. Johnson lived in style but on 8 December 1847 became insolvent ‘through misfortune’. Next year he was discharged and his insolvency did not affect his standing as a solicitor. From about 1851 to 1864 he was in partnership with his brother Richard. In the early 1850s he moved to Brooksby, Double Bay, with its famous convict-built garden. In 1853 he was joint secretary and treasurer with Alfred Hamilton Stephen of the St Paul’s College Building Committee and contributed £200. He was a fellow of the college until 1866 and a member of the Benevolent Society Committee.
In 1856 Johnson was appointed to the first Legislative Council after responsible government. An active law reformer he carried the Insolvents Act Amendment Act and an Act anent stamps on conveyances. In 1857 he went to England and on his return in November 1858 resumed his seat. He carried the Registration of Deeds and the Supreme Court Verdicts and Judgments Acts but was unable to effect other legal reforms. He served on many committees, devoted himself ‘to the details of measures’ and was ready ‘at all times to give assistance to other members’. In 1860 he joined the New South Wales Constitutional Association which aimed at securing for parliament ‘the services of gentlemen whose standing and education are a guarantee that they will support sound constitutional principles’, but it failed in the 1860 elections during ferment over the land question. On 10 May 1861 he resigned from the council in support of Sir William Burton. In 1863 Johnson was reappointed and continued his attempts at such legal reforms as arbitration. He introduced thirty bills on nineteen different subjects. Johnson was ‘most insistent on the power of the council to amend money bills’ and had led the councillors who had threatened to refuse the 1860 Appropriation Act. In 1864 he urged that James Martin’s customs bill should be amended. Johnson was ‘an effectual speaker and influential leader’. His friend, Sir Alfred Stephen, thought that he was ‘probably the most useful man in either House’; he worked with Stephen in many congenial ‘pursuits and plans’.
An active clubman, Johnson served on the committees of the Union Club in 1863-66 and the Australian Club in 1866. He was a loyal supporter of the Church of England. Aged 54 he died suddenly at Brooksby from apoplexy on 6 November 1866 and was buried in the Anglican section of Randwick cemetery. Alexander Campbell said in the Legislative Council that ‘No one could be in his company long … without being both edified and amused’. Survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters, he left goods valued at £5000, but his finances were again ‘considerably involved’.
Robert and his brother Richard had entered a partnership in 1852, as reported in the Evening News on Sat 04 Jan 1902:
FROM SYDNEY PAPERS OF FIFTY YEARS AGO
… Messrs. Robert Johnson, W. W. Billyard, and Richard Johnson entered into partnership as solicitors and proctors, at 312 Pitt-street…
That partnership was dissolved in 1965; from The Sydney Morning Herald, Mon 02 Jan 1865:
NOTICE.- The PARTNERSHIP hitherto subsisting between ROBERT JOHNSON and RICHARD JOHNSON as Attorneys, Solicitors, and Proctors, under the style of “Johnson and Johnson,” is this day DISSOLVED.
166, Pitt-street, Sydney, 31st December, 1864.
The NSW parliament was actually suspended for a week afer Robert’s sudden death; from The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, Sat 10 Nov 1866
THE HON. ROBERT JOHNSON, M.L.C.
(from the Herald.)
We announce with sorrow not easily measured the loss of a fellow citizen, and a zealous and enlightened friend of his adopted country, the Hon. Robert Johnson.
The event came suddenly upon him, but for which, however, he was not wholly unprepared. For a long time pain and sickness made him familiar with man’s inevitable destiny, and the loss of two brothers recently deceased had awakened the thoughts which no good man will deem intrusive, or wish to avoid. The eulogy of Mr. Robert Johnson would be best gathered from the universal expression of regret. It would be heard by a listening stranger that we have lost a man of heart-full of genuine kindness – wishing evil to no man, tempering often the rigours of law by the suggestions of mercy. Wo have perhaps known more of his inner thoughts than many in the circles to which he immediately belonged, and only on Friday last, after a discussion of the merits of the Public Schools Bill, wo had to admire the candour and generosity towards others in their faith and devotions, and the manly steadiness, independence and catholicity of his own. Mr. Johnson, as a lawyer, will be best appreciated by his numerous clients and professional brethren. He threw himself with zeal into the cause he undertook, but often his disinterested advice prevented the further exercise of his office. Many lawyers may equal him in learning. They may have acquired as full a knowledge of that wonderful and noble science in which he excelled; but few will venture to say they understood more fully the principles of justice, the philosophy of law, and the points on which a suit ought to turn. Mr. Johnson was, indeed, highly respected by the Bench and by the Bar. He claimed this regard because he was a good and useful man. But there is a sort of sympathetic affection which, when envy is absent, always attaches the members of a profession to those who do it honour. The ability of men of his class is not a dashing ostentatious talent, but a force of mind, showing its strength by its steadiness, diffusing itself over daily transactions, which reflect the light of a cultivated intellect, even when its operation is not directly seen, We believe that few gentlemen of the law will not feel that their profession is not richer in memories and poorer in possession from the event which has blotted the name of Mr. Johnson from the rolls. The deceased gentleman, as a member of the Legislative Council, was one of the most effective speakers and influential leaders. We believe that some men think law was only meant for lawyers, and that to expose a false principle or defective construction, while it may be corrected, is a troublesome faculty. But the greater number admired his foresight, his great clearness of perception, his regard for constitutional principles of government, his firmness in upholding them. Around his bier his political friends and enemies will gather – exhibiting equal reverence for his worth and sorrow for his death. Mr. Johnson’s removal will be a loss to the neighbourhood in which he lived. He took great interest in his Church, its ministry and institutions. His opinion always had great authority on every question which concerned it, and we believe the last considerable service he rendered to his co-religionists was the ordering and passing of the bill for the regulation of its temporal affairs, No man knew better than he how to smooth difficulties or pass over them; none comprehended more clearly the reasonableness of that jealousy which shrank from the shadow of spiritual domination, or where to find the forms and phrases which would embrace the real interests and practical operation of systems.
Expressions of condolence with his household will come with more grace – not more sincerity – from other friends than ourselves, he might have hoped for longer life; but life is not to be measured always by years, nor is that event untimely always which to us seems premature. He was spared the long agonies of dissolution, as sometimes endured; and the slow severance of the ties of domestic affection.
The President of the Legislative Council yesterday announced the melancholy fact in that house, and, after expressions of sorrow by several Hon. members at the sudden event, and respect for the high character of their late colleague, the house adjourned for a week.
The funeral will take place at three o’clock, this (Thursday) afternoon; the friends of the lamented gentleman will meet at St. Mark’s Church, Darling Point, en route to the Cemetery, Randwick.
Also from Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle on Sat 10 Nov 1866:
THE LATE HON. ROBERT JOHNSON, M. L. C.
On Wednesday morning a profound feeling of sorrow pervaded the city on it becoming known that the Hon. Robert Johnson had expired suddenly the previous evening at his residence, Brooksby, near Double Bay. The name and eminent reputation of Robert Johnson as a lawyer and a legislator, in addition to the universal estimation in which he has ever been held by not only the citizens of Sydney but the entire colony, will long survive in the memory of all who knew and appreciated his many admirable qualities. Mr Johnson, on his return from his professional duties in town, shortly, after 5 o’clock, apparently in excellent health and spirits was dressing for dinner, when he was seized with paralysis, and shortly afterwards breathed his last.
The melancholy information was announced by the President to the Council on its assembling on Wednesday afternoon, when, on the motion of the Hon. the Postmaster-General, the House adjourned for a week in respect to the memory of so distinguished a member of their body. On the rising of the Assembly, the same night, that the House also adjourned until 7 o’clock the following day, to enable honorable members to attend the obsequies of the lamented gentleman.
The funeral took place on Thursday, afternoon. There was a large attendance, comprising members of Parliament, members of the Legal Profession, and many of our most prominent citizens. The coffin was brought to St. Mark’s Church in a hearse, drawn by four horses, shortly after 3 o’clock, and was met at the gate by the Rev. Dean Cowper, the Rev. Canon Allwood, and the Rev. Mr. Saliniere, who were preceded by the choristers of the church. The chief mourners were Mr. Richard Johnson (brother of the deceased), Mr. W. J. Johnson (his eldest son) and Mr. John Binney (his son-in-law). The service in the church was performed by the Rev. Canon Allwood, in the absence of the incumbent, Rev. the Mr. Kemmis. The 39th and 90th Psalms were chanted by the choristers, the organ playing the accompaniment. The reverend Canon having read the Cor. xv. c., 20v., the coffin was taken from the trestles, and carried out of, the church to the solemn and beautiful strains of the Dead March in Saul. It was then placed in the hearse, and the relatives and friends of the deceased having entered the mourning coaches, the procession proceeded to the Randwick Cemetery, where the remains were buried.
Robert & Elizabeth’s family:
01. James William (b. 30 Oct 1836 in Sydney, d. 08 Sep 1910 in Moss Vale, NSW)
02. Ellen Elizabeth (b. 18 Sep 1838 in Sydney, d. 18 Feb 1927 in The Shanty, Wyllis Lane, Chuckfield, Sussex, England)
03. Charles Leicester (b. 04 May 1841 in Sydney, d. 19 Dec 1883 in Summer Hill, Sydney)
04. Elizabeth Maria (b. 27 Jul 1845 in Petersham, Sydney, d. 11 Apr 1939 in Surrey, England)
05. Robert Byrne (b. 11 May 1849 in Newtown, Sydney, d. 1919 in Petersham, Sydney)
01. James William Johnson married Sarah Anne Bradshaw on06 Oct 1869 at St Kilda in Melbourne. They had six children
James became a solicitor and entered a partnership with his father soon after the partnership his father Robert had with his brother Richard Johnson ended. From the Sydney Mail, Sat 21 Jan 1865:
NOTICE.— We, the undersigned, ROBERT JOHNSON and JAMES WILLIAM JOHNSON, will from THIS DAY carry on business, as Attorneys, Solicitors, and Proctors, under the style of JOHNSON and JOHNSON.
JAMES WILLIAM JOHNSON.
165, Pitt-street, Sydney, December 31st, 1864
When his father died late 1966 James entered into a new partnership, as described in the Sydney Mail on Sat 10 Aug 1867:
NOTICE.— We, the undersigned, Attorneys, Solicitors, and Proctors, have, THIS DAY. admitted Mr.JAMES WILLIAM JOHNSON (lately carrying on business with his father, the late Mr. Robert Johnson,under the style of “Johnson and Johnson’) as a PARTNER, in our firm, which will from this date be carried on under the style of “WANT, SON, and JOHNSON.”
Dated this first day of July, 1867.
WANT and WANT.
02. Ellen Elizabeth Johnson married Joshua William Brookes 08 Oct 1857 in St Mary’s, Nottingham, England. The couple had two children.
03. Charles Leicester Johnson married Maria Augusta Siddins in Toowoomba, Queensland. They had six children.
Charles went into business in Rockhampton., Queensland. From the Rockhampton Bulletin and Central Queensland Advertiser on Sat 13 May 1871:
THE PARTNERSHIP hitherto existing between CHARLES LEICESTER JOHNSON and SYDNEY BEAVAN DAVIS (trading aa Auctioneers and Commission Agents under the name of Johnson and Co.) is DISSOLVED by mutual consent.
The business of the late firm will be carried on at the old premises, Exchange, Denham-street, by the undersigned, under the name and style of C. L. JOHNSON & CO., who will pay all liabilities and receive all debt owing.
CHAS. L. JOHNSON.
PARTNERSHIP NOTICE.-We, the undersigned, have this day entered into partnership as Stock, Station, Land and Estate Agents, combined with Share-broking Financial Agents, under the style of LARNACH and JOHNSON, at our temporary offices 235, George-street, Sydney.
JOHN ALEXANDER LARNACH.
CHARLES LEICESTER JOHNSON.
Sydney, 1st May, 1873.
04. Elizabeth Maria Johnson married John Scott Binny at Paddington, Sydney, in 1864. There is some doubt as to the number of children, but we believe there were four, one of whom was killed in France during WWI; from The Sydney Morning Herald on Mon 08 May 1916:
LIEUT-COLONEL BINNY, D.S.O. Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart Scott Binny DSO., commanding the 10th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, late major 19th Hussars killed in action in Flanders on March 31, was born in Sydney, New South Wales, in July. 1871, and educated at Hailebury. Deceased was a nephew of Mr. Robert Johnson, of Mosman. In 1899 he was gazetted to the 19th (Queen Alexandra’s Own Royal) Hussars from the 6th Royal Irish Rifles, and proceeded to India. He went with his regiment to South Africa In 1899, and remained right through the war. He fought in the actions at Rietfontein and Lombard’s Kop, and took part in the defence of Ladysmith. After the relief of Ladysmith he was employed in many operations, and was mentioned in despatches (July 23, 1901) “for dash and vigour in leading his squadron on the Blood River, and for constant good work.” On that occasion he was the only officer present at the capture of a Boer gun. For this service he was awarded the D.S.O. and his other war decorations were the Queen’s Medal with three clasps and the King’s Medal with two clasps. For three years from 1901 he was adjutant of the 10th Hussars, and from 1905 to 1308 he filled the same appointment to the East Kent Yeomanry. He was on the Staff at Sandhurst from 1910 to March, 1914, when he retired with the substantive rank of major, which he had reached in 1910. On the outbreak of the present war he received a Staff appointment, and was quickly promoted to Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Transports at General Headquarters, and was mentioned in Viscount French’s despatches in January of this year. He was appointed to the command of the 10th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Lieutenant-Colonel Binny, who was the only son of the late John Binny and Mrs. John Binny, of Brent Eleigh, Haywards Heath, married in January, 1911, Marjorie, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Champion, of Sindon Castle, Shropshire, and leaves a son and a daughter.
05. Robert Byrne Johnson is somewhat elusive. His name appears an an appellant in a misappropriation of money, and in the obituary above. We have found no other references to him.