Richard Johnson | State Library of New South Wales

Richard Johnson

The Reverend Richard Johnson was appointed as the first chaplain to the colony of New South Wales in 1787, a position he held until 1800 when he returned with his family to England. Johnson owed his appointment to friends within the London Eclectic Society, including Reverend John Newton and William Wilberforce. Johnson and his wife Mary left on the First Fleet convict transport Golden Grove in 1787. As the colony's official Chaplain Johnson performed the first church service on February 3, 1788.
For the first five years Johnson was solely responsible for performing services throughout the colony. Johnson performed baptisms, marriages and burials. He supervised the colony's schools, attended executions, worked among the convicts and organised and funded the building of the colony's first church, opened in 1793. Johnson also worked extensively with the Aboriginal population. A young Aboriginal girl, Abaroo, lived with his family and Johnson gave his daughter an aboriginal name, Milbah.

Before attending university Johnson was a farmer and teacher in Yorkshire. These farming skills were valuable to the new settlement. Johnson supplied grain, vegetables and meat to Sydney from the lands that he cultivated around Brickfield, Canterbury and Ryde. Johnson was an early pioneer of the citrus industry in Australia. On the voyage out with the First Fleet he collected orange seeds and successfully grew the fruit on his property at Kissing Point, near Parramatta.

In November 1788, Richard Johnson wrote to Henry Fricker of Portsmouth, England, a friend of the Johnson family. Amongst personal news Johnson describes the arrangements for religious observances at Rose Hill, the Governor's reluctance to build a church and the irreligious lives of the convicts. The letter is from a series of correspondence from the Rev. Richard Johnson to Henry Fricker between May 30, 1787 to August 10, 1797.

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Transcript: Autograph Letter Signed by the Rev. Richard Johnson Written From Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, 15 Nov. 1788 (Letter 3)

Sydney Cove, Port Jackson,

In the Country of Cumberland,
New South Wales, Novr. 15th, 1788.

My dear Friends,
       Am happy that another opportunity offers of writing to you to inform you of our health & welfare. Have already given you at least two Letters since our arrival at Port Jackson, & hope that before I write again, shall be favoured with a long letter from you among the rest of my der fds in England. I most sincerely & anxiously wish & desire to hear from you, to hear how you do, how you go on, how my fds Hausty & Miles do -what success in fishing [indecipherable]
'Tis now near Ten Months since we first arrived at this part of the world. I travel much about home; wish much Labour & no small cost we have got our little Cabbage tree Cottage -no small curiosity it is, I assure you, & cd it be placed on Bonfire Corner but one day, I dare say it wd have as many spectators & admirers as ever had Lunardy's Balloon. Am happy, however, that it in some measure answers our purpose, though now and then in excessive Rains, we are all in a swim within doors. —My little Garden also begins to flourish & supplies

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us daily with either one kind of vegetable or other. As to the Country in general, I confess I have no very great opinion of nor expectation from it. The greatest part of it is poor & barren & rocky & requires a great deal of labour to clear it of trees, roots, &c, & to cultivate it, & after all, the corn that has been sown hitherto looks very poor & unpromising. I think I can say none have given it a fairer trial than myself. Have been at work in my little farm for a day together, burning wood, digging, sowing, &c, but do not expect to reap anything nearly adequate to my labour. Others seem to be in the same predicament & all almost, at least with but few exceptions, are heartily sick of the expedition, & wish themselves back safe in old England. I hope I have said enough to diswade you from ever emigrating to this part of the world. You will act more wisely to stay at Bonfire Corner & (one thing excepted) I shd be most heartily glad again to see you on that side of Southern & Atlantic Seas - and what without? Why the pity and concern I feel for these poor people with whom I am here connected. Happy would I be were I to live upon Bread & water and to suffer the most severe hardship, did I but see some of those poor souls begin to think about their latter end. Am sorry to see so little good yet done amongst them. They neither see nor will be persuaded to seek the Lord of Mercy and Compassion of God. They prefer their Lust before their Souls, yea, most of them will sell their souls for a Glass of Grogg, so blind, so foolish, so hardened are they.
The Colony begins already to be a good deal dispersed. About seventy or eighty are gone to settle in New Norfolk. This took place soon after our arrival. Ships have been backward & forward, & the last particularly brings us a flattering promising account of that island as to wood, garden stuff, &c. Others have been lately sent

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to the top of this harbour to cultivate the ground. Understand that I am sometimes to go thither to perform Divine Services. The distance is 12 or 14 miles by water, which will make it very inconvenient & unpleasant.
Mrs. J. was delivered on the 10th [indecipherable] of a man child, but my Babe was still born & my dear Partner, for some time, was in the utmost danger. Through Mercy, however, she was at length safely delivered & continues to recover though but very slowly.
I am yet obliged to be a field Preacher. No Church is yet begun of, & I am afraid scarcely thought of. Other things seem to be of greater Notice & Concern & most wd rather see a Tavern, a Play House, a Brothel -anything sooner than a place for publick worship.
Please to present our most cordial respects to Mr. Hausey & family, & tell his little girl that Miss Puss has lately behaved so ill & made such bad work in my garden that I was obliged to have a Court Martial upon her; that after frequent threatenings I was at length resolved she shd be transported & accordingly have shipped her off to New Norfolk. Give our respects likewise to Miss Wickenden, and tell her that Mr. Tom Puss is come to high preferment -tired of such poor fare as I cd give him, he took himself off to the publick stores, where he feeds upon the richest dainties of the country. Our united love and [Chri]stian respects to all other inquiring fds.
Accept the same Yourselves from
Your sincere fds, &c., Rich'd & Mrs Johnson
Our particular respects to Dr Milly and family.

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Mr. Hen. Fricker,
Bonfire Corner
Portsmouth Common