Alexander Robert Johnston

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Alexander Robert Johnston
Administrator of Hong Kong (acting)
In office
22 June 1841 – December 1841
Preceded by Charles Elliot
Succeeded by Henry Pottinger
In office
June 1842 – December 1842
Preceded by Henry Pottinger
Succeeded by Henry Pottinger
Personal details
Born 14 June 1812
Colombo, British Ceylon
Died 21 January 1888
Los Angeles, United States
Occupation Colonial administrator

Alexander Robert Campbell-Johnston[nb] (14 June 1812 – 21 January 1888) was a British colonial official who served twice as acting administrator of the former British colony of Hong Kong from 1841 to 1842. 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, British Ceylon, as the third son of Sir Alexander Johnston,[1] who was Chief Justice of Ceylon.[2] He went to Mauritius as a writer in the Colonial Service from 1828 to 1833.[2][3][4] 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.[2]


From 1833 to 1835, Johnston was Private Secretary to his cousin Lord Napier, who was Chief Superintendent of Trade.[2][5] 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 Charles Elliot, who was both Chief Superintendent and Plenipotentiary.[2]

On 22 June 1841, when Elliot prepared to join the British expeditionary force in the north during the First Opium War, he appointed Johnston as acting administrator of Hong Kong,[6][7] which he held until December 1841.[2] 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.[6] 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. Pottinger criticised Johnston for granting land without elaboration of Hong Kong's future from the British home government.[8][9]

When Pottinger rejoined the expedition in June 1842, 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.[8] 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. In December 1842, Pottinger returned to assume control of Hong Kong, and Johnston remained Deputy Superintendent of Trade, which was changed in 1843 to the Assistant and Registrar to the Superintendent of Trade.[9] In August 1843, Pottinger appointed Johnston as a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils.[10]

Johnston returned to England on sick leave in October 1843.[11] He received a medal for his services on board the Nemesis during the war.[3] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 5 June 1845 for his contributions to the natural history of China.[3] He returned to Hong Kong in September 1845 as Secretary and Registrar to the Superintendent of Trade,[11] which he held until September 1852.[5] He retained his seat on the Executive Council in January 1846 until he retired to England in March 1853.[12]

Later life[edit]

The area now called Johnston Road was the Wan Chai waterfront until land reclamation in Praya East began in the 1920s.[13]

On 30 September 1856, he married Frances-Ellen, daughter of Richard Bury Palliser, in St George's, Hanover Square, London.[14][15] 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 (1871–1938), 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.[5] He died on 21 January 1888 at Raphael Ranch, Los Angeles,[3] where he owned a 300 acres (120 ha) farm.[16] His wife commissioned British architect Arthur Edmund Street to design the Church of the Angels in 1889 in memory of him.[17] The church is a registered historic landmark in Pasadena.[16] Johnston Road in the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong Island is named after him.[18]


  1. ^ He took the name Campbell-Johnston before 1845.[19]
  1. ^ Townsend, George Henry (1868). Men of the Time: A Dictionary of Contemporaries, Containing Biographical Notices of Eminent Characters of Both Sexes (7th ed.). George Routledge. p. 452.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Endacott, G. B. (2005) [1962]. A biographical sketch-book of early Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-962-209-742-1. 
  3. ^ a b c d  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Johnston, Alexander (1775-1849)". Dictionary of National Biography 30. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 53. 
  4. ^ The Colonial Office List for 1862 (1862). Edward Stanford. p. 135.
  5. ^ a b c Keene, H. G.. "Johnston, Sir Alexander (1812–1888)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004 ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14932. Accessed 26 May 2010.
  6. ^ a b Endacott 2005, p. 56
  7. ^ The Chinese Repository (1841). Volume 10. pp. 351–352.
  8. ^ a b Endacott 2005, p. 57
  9. ^ a b Endacott 2005, p. 58
  10. ^ The Chinese Repository (1843). Volume 12. p. 445.
  11. ^ a b "Correspondence of Alexander Robert Johnston". Hong Kong Public Records Office. Accessed 15 August 2010.
  12. ^ Endacott 2005, p. 59
  13. ^ Wordie, Jason (2002). Streets: Exploring Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong University Press. p. 112. ISBN 962-209-563-1.
  14. ^ Burke, Bernard (1862). A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland (4th ed.). Volume 1. p. 788.
  15. ^ The Annual Register, or a View of the History and Politics of the Year 1856 (1857). Volume 98. p. 223.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Colleen Dunn Bates et al. (2006). Hometown Pasadena: The Insider's Guide. Prospect Park Books. p. 66. ISBN 0-9753939-1-X.
  18. ^ Wordie 2002, p. 113
  19. ^ "Library and Archive catalogue". The Royal Society. Accessed 26 May 2010.
Government offices
Preceded by
Charles Elliot
Administrator of Hong Kong

22 June 1841 – December 1841
Succeeded by
Henry Pottinger
Preceded by
Henry Pottinger
Administrator of Hong Kong

June 1842 – December 1842