Esther Abrahams (c1767 – 26 August 1846) was a Londoner sent to Australia as a convict on the First Fleet. She later married George Johnston, who was briefly governor of New South Wales after leading the Rum Rebellion.
Abrahams was put on trial at the Old Bailey, in London, on 30 August 1786 for stealing lace with a value of 50 shillings. She was found guilty of theft, although the evidence was circumstantial. At the time of the trial she was about 18 years old; her occupation was listed as 'milliner'. She was imprisoned in Newgate Gaol, London, where she bore an illegitimate child named Roseanna, father unknown, on 18 March 1787.
Abrahams and her daughter were transported to Australia with the First Fleet, departing London in May 1787 on the convict transport Prince of Wales but transferring to Lady Penrhyn mid-voyage. They reached Sydney with the Fleet in January 1788.
From 1800, instead of Abrahams she called herself Julian, originally Juliano, after a renowned Judeo-Spanish family.
Esther embarked on a relationship with George Johnston, First Lieutenant of the Marines, who had accompanied the First Fleet. She bore him seven children, including their two sons David and Robert. Their house was probably a wattle and daub cottage built by convicts with local timber. On 26 January 1808, Johnston led the Rum Rebellion, and overthrew Governor Bligh. Roseanna (whose name is sometimes given in sources as Rosannah) grew up to marry emancipated convict Isaac Nichols, (the first Postmaster of the colony), in 1805.
Because of his rank, Johnston received huge land grants. He was born in Annandale, Scotland, and named their farm after that place as was the custom. It is now a suburb of Sydney. George's River was named after him. Esther received land grants in her own right in 1809. Despite having led the rebellion, Johnston was able to keep his land when he returned to Australia after an absence of four years. Esther had been left in charge of the estate in his absence. When Johnston finally married Esther in November 1814, Roseanna and her husband were witnesses at the wedding.
In 1823, Johnston died. Disputes followed over inheritance of the properties. Her son David had been left property of his own. However, Robert was to inherit Annandale on Esther's death. He issued a writ against her in March 1829, and sought to have her declared insane. Esther put up a strong fight, producing many witnesses to prove she was of sound mind. Her refutation of the insanity claim was upheld but trustees were nonetheless appointed to manage her affairs. Following the case, Esther went to live with David.
Esther died in 1846, and was buried beside her husband in the family vault on the Annandale property. She was described by her grandson as "always a stirring industrious woman". Her portrait hangs in the Sydney Jewish Museum.
While her husband is remembered in various geographic names, there was, until 2002, no such feature in Sydney named in Esther's memory. In 2002 a pavilion was dedicated in Bicentennial Park, in Johnston Street, Annandale, New South Wales, near the Anzac Bridge.
- Gillen 1989, p.1
- Gillen 1989, p.2
- Gillen, Mollie (1989). The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet. Library of Australian History. ISBN 0908120699.
- Reference and article (cc-by-sa) on Abrahams, Esther in the Dictionary of Sydney
- Court Transcripts
- Court Transcripts
- Jews in Australia
- NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Guide to Jewish Sydney
- Sydney Morning Herald "Online transcripts illuminate world of First Fleeters" by Sue Lowe, 26 July 2003
- Timeline of Australian Jewish History
- Eschiva; Female Firebrands and Reformers - Esther Abrahams (c.1771 - 1846) Jewish Convict & First Lady.