James Johnson (1803-1860)
& Eleanor Byrne (1797-1847)

William Jonathan Johnson (1811-1866)
& Eliza Harris Tompson (1817-1879)

Jump down to the list of a selection of their compositions

Jump down to the list of William and Eliza’s children

James Johnson was the third oldest, and William Jonathan Johnson the middle of thirteen children, their parents being Richard Johnson & Elizabeth Phillips. They arrived in Sydneyon board the Salacia on 01 Jan 1836, two and a half years after most of their family had arrived. In the ship’s manifest, James, a silversmith, was described as a jeweller.From The Sydney Monitor on Sat 02 Jan 1836:

Shipping Intelligence.

… Yesterday the brig Salacia, Captain Mau, from London, August 6, Cargo mercandise. Passengers Mr. James Johnson, jeweller, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Wm. Johnson, …

James had married Eleanor Byrne on 25 Jul 1825 in St Edmund & St Mary Woolnoth Church, London (two churches that amalgamated following the Great fire of London).

Weeks after arriving they entered into the music scene of Sydney. From The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on Tue 15 Mar 1836:

We are given to understand that Mr. Johnson, son of Mr. Johnson, Watch and Clock Maker. George-street, has undertaken to preside at the Pianoforte, on the evening of the joint Concert of Mrs. Chester and Mrs. Taylor.

From 1836 to 1844 James and William shared the role of organists and choirmasters at St James Church in Sydney before William moved to the newly consecrated Christ Church St Lawrence in Central. James remained at St James Church until his death in 1860.

This advertisement appeared in The Australian on Fri 23 Feb 1838:

Organists of St. James’s Church,

BEG to remind the Inhabitants of Sydney that they give Lessons on the Practice and Theory of Music, the Organ, Pianoforte, Flute, Singing, &c ; and as from circumstances to which it is needless to do more than allude, many Families must be in want of a Master in their profession, Messrs. Johnson take the opportunity of stating that they make a point of attending to their engagements with strict
punctuality; and having had much experience in Musical Tuition, both here and in England, feel confident of being able to direct the studies of their Pupils with success.

All communications addressed to Messrs J., Castlereagh-street South, between Liverpool and Goulburn-streets ; or to George.street, next the Commercial Bank, will be promptly attended to.

In addition to his work at St James Church, James seems to have specialised in presenting music theory to Sydney audiences. For example he presented a series of public talks, such as this as described in The Examiner on Sat 27 Sep 1845:

Mr. James Johnson’s second Lecture on Music was delivered in the Theatre of the School of Arts on Monday evening, and attracted, as before, a numerous and fashionable audience. The concluding lecture will be given next Monday, and in our next number we shall submit [to] our musical friends our promised précis of the course.

He was a founder and secretary of the Choral Society. A long report presented at the meeting of the twelfth year of the existence of the Sydney Choral Society was published in The Sydney Morning Herald on Tue 09 Jun 1857:


The annual general meeting of the members of this Society was held last evening, at St. James’ Infant School-room, Castlereagh-street. Mr. James Johnson occupied the chair. He expressed his regret to see so small an attendance, and stated that the great object for which they had assembled was to endeavour to induce members to take a more lively interest in the welfare of the Society, and to attend more regularly than they had done of late. This Society had been in existence for 12 years, and had always encouraged good music ; and this he hoped it would continue to do as long as it existed….

…  A vote of thanks was then returned to the chairman, Mr. Hurford remarking in conveying them, the great interest which had been taken, and trouble and time expended in endeavouring to bring this Society to perfection, not only by him, but also by his brother, Mr. W. J. Johnson.

His wife Eleanor’s death was announced in a number of newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald on Wed 12 May 1847; notice she is named Ellen here:


On the 11th May, Ellen, the wife of Mr. James Johnson, Organist of St. James’s Church.

James married Elizabeth Kirby in 1851.

There is a wonderful extensive timeline of the music and life of James and William Jonathon, written by Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), “Johnson brothers of Sydney“, Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia).

James died in Sydney on 13 Apr 1860, his death being announced in The Sydney Morning Herald on Sat 14 Apr 1860:

DEATH OF MR. James Johnson.

We are sure that our readers will learn with deep regret, that this universally esteemed gentleman died yesterday afternoon, at his residence in Pitt-street. On Wednesday, the 4th instant, he was riding a vicious buck jumping horse, which was let out for hire at Manly Beach, when he was thrown violently over the head of the animal, and fell upon his elbow. Being a stout, heavy man, he suffered a compound fracture of the arm, which, from the first, assumed a serious aspect. Inflammation rapidly set in, rendering it impossible to set the fractured limb; ultimately the wounds suppurated, and the virus becoming absorbed into his system, caused his deeply lamented death. It is superfluous to say that Mr. Johnson had the best medical aid that the colony could afford, and that the sympathy and condolence of an unusually large circle of attached friends alleviated his last illness. He had filled the situation of organist at St. James’ Church for twenty-four years, and conducted the important part of public worship which fell to his charge, with most becoming reverence, great musical ability, and undeviating punctuality. By the congregation at St. James’ he will, we are sure, be much regretted. He also held the office of assistant secretary at the Benevolent Asylum for many years, a position where his business habits, his long experience, and unflinching rectitude, were of great public service. Tho musical circles of Sydney have lost a warm supporter in Mr. Johnson, who was the founder of the Sydney Choral Society, and lost no opportunity of promoting the art of which he was an enthusiastic admirer, and a sound and skilful professor. Indeed, it may be said that he had the high honour of being the father of choral singing in Australia. We are informed that the funeral will take place on Sunday afternoon at half-past two o’clock, and will move from his residence, in Pitt-street, at that hour.

William Jonathon Johnson moved from his shared post with James to become the first organist of Christ Church St Lawrence in Central, which was consecrated on 10 Sep 1945; from The Sydney Morning Herald on Thu 11 Sep 1845:


YESTERDAY morning the new church in the parish of St. Lawrence, was consecrated in the usual form by the Lord Bishop of Australia. …

The singing and chanting was of a very superior description, the choir being assisted by nearly all the singing members of the Choral Society. The new organ was played by Mr. W. Johnson; it is a very fine toned instrument: we hope, on a future occasion, to be able to give a description of it. The chants (the Venite, the Psalms for the occasion, and the Jubilate) were by Tallis, Nares, Farrant, and Spofforth. The Te Deum was King’s splendid composition in D. The anthem was Handel’s chorus from the Messiah, “Lift up your heads O ye gates,” and previous to the Sermon there was Gibbons’ Sanctus. The greater part of the congregation could never have had an opportunity of hearing sacred music performed so effectively before. The Te Deum and the anthem were remarkably well sung. …

William was also an organ builder. One of his organs is still in existence in St Matthews, Windsor. He was a music publisher, and in fact published his brothers composition The first hymn for Christmas-day: High let us swell our tuneful notes after James’ death (see below). William also had a retail outlet. For a short period in the 1840s he became insolvent, but was discharged  after a couple of years. He also composed a number of works himself. One such work was the Chusan Polka, composed especially for a ball celebrating the arrival in Sydney in 1852 of the first P & O mail steam ship from Great Britain, the S. S. Chusan. The Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder mentioned this work in a nostalgic article published on Tue 07 Apr 1936:


During March a team of four cyclists – Pat Veitch, Alby Ralston, Hubert Turtill and Frank Thomas – left Sydney for a tour of New Zealand. Writer was on the wharf, and the sight of the Niagara sent the mind back to the day – the all eventful day – when the first steam mail boat arrived in Sydney Harbour. What a day. And, what a ship! The year was 1852, the ship the ‘S.S. Chusan,’ the tonnage 699, and the horse power 80.

A huge ball was arranged to celebrate the occasion, but so many people replied affirmatively to the R.S.V.P. that not a hall in Sydney could cope with same, Then, when all seemed lost, the Museum authorities came to the rescue and offered the Great Hall of the old building, which still stands, and on August 26 of that year, the Governor-General, Sir Charles Nicholson, presided over the gayest function in the city’s history to that time. What a laugh. And what music! The Chusan waltz specially composed for the occasion by Mr. Henry Marsh, of 490 George Street, Sydney; the Chusan Polka, composed by W. J. Johnson, of 314 Pitt Street, etc., etc., and played by Her Majesty’s 11th Regimental Band. Verily we move space with the years,and athletes like those named above would tell you that they would ride their bicycles across the bed of the Pacific rather than travel in a “tramp” like the first mail steamer which caused such a furore in its day. Wonder what will happen next in the way of travel de luxe?

William Jonathan Johnson married Eliza Harris Tompson, the daughter of Charles Tomson & Elizabeth Boggis, at Richmond, NSW on 21 Jul 1838. Eliza was born on 14 May 1817 and died on 31 Dec 1879.

William passed away on 03 Oct 1866, aged just 55. The Sydney Morning Herald carried this obituary on Fri 05 Oct 1866:

THE LATE MR. W. J. JOHNSON. – Our readers, and especially those who take an interest in the cultivation of music, will read with much regret of the death of Mr. William J. Johnson. This talented gentleman for thirty years pursued the duties of his profession in our midst, and in his department of life has rendered valuable service to the community. On Wednesday evening last, after a lingering and painful illness, he died at his residence, Erskineville-road, Newtown. Mr. Johnson came to this colony in company with an elder brother (also an accomplished musician) in the early part of 1836. He brought with him the result of careful training and diligent study, and, above all, the devotion of a true artist. Those who remember his exertions in relation to choral music at St. James’s will not be slow to admit that his efforts have had a large influence in promoting that efficiency which now commonly characterises the “Service of Song.” When Christ Church was consecrated he accepted the position of organist and choir-master, and retained it to the day of his death. Mr. Johnson was also well known as a composer, his “Te Deum” and “Jubilate” are familiar to most lovers of church music. An anthem composed by him for one of the collects, and published in England, was very highly spoken of by Novello. Among the latest of his compositions was a pleasing arrangement of the hymn, “Nearer, my God, to Thee.” In those and other pieces Mr. Johnson proved the thoroughness of his musical knowledge. In private life he was justly esteemed by all who had the privilege of his friendship, and his memory will be long revered for his public services, his domestic virtues, the strict integrity of his life, and the quiet and unobtrusive charities of home. Mr. Johnson was in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and has left a widow and eight children.


Composition by James Johnson:

The first hymn for Christmas-day: High let us swell our tuneful

To view or download the original score click here.

To view or download a score with modern alto and tenor clefs, click here.
(Right-click and Save Link As in Windows, control-click for a Mac)

To listen to an mp3 version with organ accompaniment, click here.

Compositions by William Jonathon Johnson:

Chusan Polka

To view or download the original score click here.

To view or download a score with modern alto and tenor clefs, click here.

To listen to an mp3 version, click here.

Fancy Ball Polka

To view or download the original score click here.

To view or download a score with modern alto and tenor clefs, click here.

To listen to an mp3 version, click here.

Motet O Lord God

To view or download a score (see note below), click here.

Click to download a score for Sibelius 2019.5 or Music xml format

To listen to an mp3 version, click here.

The mp3 track is a rough home recording, sung by Canon Fodder, consisting of Christine Wheeler (William Jonathan Johnson’s great-great granddaughter), Rebecca Daniel (Soprano), Rowen Fox (Tenor) and Henrik Eneberg (Bass). The motet was found in the archives of Christ Church St Lawrence by Simon Polson. Simon edited the score and the Church Choir sang it at a service of Evensong in 2013, which, as Simon pointed out, was probably its first and only performance since the mid-19th century. Please acknowledge Simon if you use this motet.

William & Eliza’s family:

William and Eliza had twelve children. The family Bible records their names and dates (a high resolution scan can be downloaded). Click on an individual link to view the webpage for that child: the information was gleaned from newspapers, official records and information from descendants. If anyone can supply further information please email mick@oneillfamily.id.au; we are happy to develop individual family web pages with photos and stories.

Click for a high resolution scan for W. J. Johnson Bible family births

low res image of the W. J. Johnson Bible family births

01. William Charles (b. 26 Aug 1839, d. 1911 in Newtown)

02. Eliza Webster (b. 21 May 1841, d. 22 Nov 1916 in Ashfield)

03. Isabella Jane (b. 05 Jan 1843, d. 1924 in Ashfield)

04. Frederick Henry (b. 09 Jan 1845, d. 1931 in Chatswood)

05. female infant (b. & d. 02 Mar 1847)

06. Annie Maria Louisa Stewart (b. 21 Feb 1848, d. 02 May 1887 in Lewisham)

07. James Richard (b. 10 Dec 1849, d. 10 Dec 1919 in Chatswood)

08. Laura Jessie (b. 30 May 1851, d. 19 Apr 1889 in Petersham)

09. Ada Leicester (b. 07 Apr 1853, d. 26 Dec 1853 in Petersham)

10. Ada Leicester Alger (b. 19 Oct 1854, d. 05 Aug 1887 in Petersham)

11. Robert Percy (b. 31 Jul 1856, d. 17 Nov 1856 in Concord)

12. Maud Constance Cecelia (b. 29 Jul 1862, d. 18 Oct 1862)

Generation 2

03. Isabella Jane Johnson was baptised on 22 Mar 1843 Christ Church St. Lawrence where her father was the organist and choir conductor. She passed away at Ashfield in 1924 (record 11206/1924). She did not marry.

08. Laura Jessie Johnson married William Woodd (b. 23 Sep 1846 at Bungonia, NSW, d. 1890 in Sydney) on 28 Jul 1885 at Christ Church St. Lawrence, as described in The Sydney Mail on Sat 08 Aug 1885:

George’s father, Rev George Napoleon Woodd, was a graduate of Oxford University, matriculating on 10 Nov 1828 (aged 18) and graduating with a BA in 1937. by then he had moved to Sydney, as he was described as chaplain at St James Church in 1937.

Sadly the marriage was not to last, as Laura passed away on 19 Apr 1889.

09. Ada Leicester Johnson – died at 8 months

10. Ada Leicester Alger Johnson did not marry, passing away, aged just 32, at her brother-in-law William Woodd’s house in Petersham; from The Sydney Morning Herald on Sat 06 Aug 1887:

11. Robert Percy Johnson died at just over 3 months.

12. Maud Constance Cecelia Johnson – died at 2.5 months

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