Alexander Robert Johnston

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Alexander Robert Johnston
Acting Administrator of Hong Kong
In office
22 June 1841 – 1 February 1842
Preceded by Charles Elliot
Succeeded by Henry Pottinger
In office
13 June 1842 – 2 December 1842
Preceded by Henry Pottinger
Succeeded by Henry Pottinger
Personal details
Born 14 June 1812
Colombo, Ceylon
Died 21 January 1888 (aged 75)
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Occupation Colonial administrator

Alexander Robert Campbell-Johnston[a] (14 June 1812 – 21 January 1888) was a British colonial official who served twice as Acting Administrator of Hong Kong from 1841 to 1842. He also served in the Executive and Legislative Councils of Hong Kong. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1845 for his work on the natural history of China.

Early career[edit]

Johnston was born in Colombo, Ceylon, as the third son of Sir Alexander Johnston,[2] who was Chief Justice of Ceylon.[3] He went to Mauritius as a writer in the Colonial Service from 1828 to 1833.[3][4][5] He later became a clerk in the Colonial Secretary's department. He returned to England after the economic conditions in the colony forced him to leave his post.[3]


Johnston Road was formerly the Wan Chai waterfront until land reclamation in Praya East began in the 1920s.[6]

In 1833, Johnston became Private Secretary to his cousin Lord Napier, who was sent to Canton as Chief Superintendent of Trade after the abolition of the East India Company's monopoly of the China Trade.[3][4] After Napier died in October 1834, he was replaced by John Francis Davis, and Johnston became Secretary and Treasurer of the Commission. After Davis' retirement in January 1835, Johnston became Third Superintendent of Trade. In November 1836, he was promoted to Second Superintendent. In 1837, after the Commission abolished the offices of Second and Third Superintendent, he became Deputy Superintendent of Trade under Captain Charles Elliot, who was both Chief Superintendent and Plenipotentiary.[3]

During the First Opium War, he served on board the steamship Nemesis in the expedition up the Broadway River from Macao to Canton on 13–15 March 1841.[7] On 22 June, when Elliot prepared to join the British expeditionary force in the north during the war, he appointed Johnston as acting Administrator of Hong Kong. On 10 August, Sir Henry Pottinger arrived in China to replace Elliot as plenipotentiary. Pottinger, who arrived in Hong Kong on 22 August while on his way to the expedition, kept Johnston as acting administrator.[8][9] Acting on Elliot's policy of encouraging a growing settlement, Johnston disposed land lots for development, which he classified into marine, town, and suburban. In November 1841, he sent Pottinger an account of the settlement's progress, such as the development of Queen's Road, the Magistracy, the Record Office, and a prison. Barracks were built in Stanley and a bridle path was laid towards Aberdeen. He reported that houses were being built and that many people were making applications for land. However, Pottinger criticised Johnston for granting land without elaboration of Hong Kong's future from the British government.[10] He returned to Hong Kong on 1 February 1842.[11]

When Pottinger left Hong Kong on 13 June to rejoin the expedition, Johnston was again left in charge and was told not to grant land except for barracks and the troops' families who began to arrive from Britain.[10][12] In October 1842, he informed Pottinger of the crime and disorder in the colony. Piracy was frequent and isolated houses were attacked, often by gangs who landed from boats. The jail was full, but Johnston said he lacked the authority to impose sentences on the inmates awaiting trial. Such conditions helped the Colonial Office be aware of the importance of establishing full control of law and order, and the danger of allowing the Chinese to share this responsibility.[10] On 2 December, Pottinger returned from the north, and Johnston remained Deputy Superintendent of Trade, which was changed in 1843 to the Assistant and Registrar to the Superintendent of Trade.[10][13] After Pottinger became the first Governor of Hong Kong on 26 June 1843, he appointed Johnston as a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils on 21 August.[14]

Johnston returned to England on sick leave in October 1843.[15] He received a medal for his services on board the Nemesis during the war.[4] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 5 June 1845 for his contributions to the natural history of China.[16] He returned to Hong Kong in September 1845 as Secretary and Registrar to the Superintendent of Trade.[15] In June 1846, Johnston was made a member of the Executive Council in place of Colonial Secretary Frederick Wright-Bruce who went on leave before being appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland.[17] After the abolition of the office of Secretary and Registrar on 25 September 1852, he obtained a compensation allowance,[5] and retired to England in March 1853.[17]

Later life[edit]

The Church of the Angels, 1898

On 30 September 1856, Johnston married Frances-Ellen, daughter of Richard Bury Palliser, in St George's, Hanover Square, London.[18][19] They had nine sons and two daughters, including Conway Seymour Godfrey Campbell-Johnston (1859–1915), who drowned with his wife on the Lusitania, and Malcolm Campbell-Johnston, who was Conservative Member of Parliament for East Ham South. Johnston resided in Suffolk, where he was a justice of the peace, and in London.[4] He died on 21 January 1888 at Rafael Ranch, Los Angeles,[4] where he owned a 300 acres (120 ha) farm.[20] His wife commissioned British architect Arthur Edmund Street to design the Church of the Angels in 1889 in memory of him.[21] The church is a registered historic landmark in Pasadena.[20] Johnston Road in Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island, was named after him.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ He took the name Campbell-Johnston before 1845.[1]
  1. ^ "Fellow details". The Royal Society. Accessed 27 May 2016.
  2. ^ Townsend, George Henry (1868). Men of the Time: A Dictionary of Contemporaries, Containing Biographical Notices of Eminent Characters of Both Sexes (7th ed.). London: George Routledge and Sons. p. 452.
  3. ^ a b c d e Endacott 2005, p. 55
  4. ^ a b c d e Keene, H. G.. "Johnston, Sir Alexander (1775–1849), rev. Roger T. Stearn". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14932. Accessed 26 May 2010.
  5. ^ a b Sargeaunt, William C.; Birth, Arthur N. (1862). The Colonial Office List for 1862. London: Edward Stanford. p. 135.
  6. ^ Wordie 2002, p. 112
  7. ^ Bernard, William Dallas; Hall, William Hutcheon (1847). The Nemesis in China (3rd ed.). London: Henry Colburn. p. 139.
  8. ^ Endacott 2005, p. 56
  9. ^ The Chinese Repository. Volume 10. Canton. 1841. pp. 351–352.
  10. ^ a b c d Endacott 2005, pp. 57–58
  11. ^ The Chinese Repository, vol. 11, p. 674
  12. ^ The Chinese Repository, vol. 11, p. 676
  13. ^ The Chinese Repository, vol. 11, p. 685
  14. ^ The Chinese Repository. Volume 12. Canton. 1843. pp. 379, 445.
  15. ^ a b "Correspondence of Alexander Robert Johnston". Hong Kong Public Records Office. Accessed 15 August 2010.
  16. ^  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Johnston, Alexander (1775-1849)". Dictionary of National Biography. 30. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 53. 
  17. ^ a b Endacott 2005, p. 59
  18. ^ Burke, Bernard (1862). A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (4th ed.). Volume 1. London: Harrison, Pall Mall. p. 788.
  19. ^ The Annual Register, or a View of the History and Politics of the Year 1856. Volume 98. London: F. & J. Rivington. 1857. p. 223.
  20. ^ a b Barber, Mary (18 June 1989). "100 Years of Joy in a Tiny Sanctuary: 36 Couples Renew Vows at Church of the Angels' Centennial". Los Angeles Times. Accessed 24 March 2009.
  21. ^ Bates, Colleen Dunn et al. (2006). Hometown Pasadena: The Insider's Guide. Pasadena, California: Prospect Park Books. p. 66. ISBN 0-9753939-1-X.
  22. ^ Wordie 2002, p. 113


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Charles Elliot
Administrator of Hong Kong

22 June 1841 – 1 February 1842
Succeeded by
Henry Pottinger
Preceded by
Henry Pottinger
Administrator of Hong Kong

13 June 1842 – 2 December 1842