Captain George Bain Johnston - Obituary and Funeral reports

Obituary - Captain George Bain Johnston

Few in this colony who glanced at a statement contained in last week’s issue, will form an adequate idea of its significance - “Captain Johnston, of Goolwa died recently in New Zealand“. Goolwa is the first port on the Murray, lying a few miles up from the coast only because at the Murray mouth there is neither bay or harborage. It is about sixty miles from Adelaide, and is the port from which supplies for the Murray and its tributaries are sent, and to which wool from the Darling and the lower Murray is chiefly brought. There was more than one Captain Johnston there. It is Captain George Johnston who is the subject of this notice in question, and who was, in his way, as a true a hero as any that ever fought and bled for human emancipation. He was just the sort of man whom Charles Kingsley would have delighted to know. Tall rather than short, muscular, powerful and sanguine, he was emphatically a man of prompt and resolute action. Bold, and full of courage and adventure, his life was crowded with incidents of which he himself was the hero. Broad-chested and strong as an ox, he was almost as much at home in the water as a dolphin. He had in his possession a magnificent silver cup, which had been presented to him to signalise the fact that he was the first to take a steamer up the tortuous and snag-filled river to Albury. For nearly an average lifetime he traversed the Murray and the cry was never raised in his hearing - “man overboard” – but he was the first to drop over the vessel’s side in quite a matter-of-fact way as though it was the simplest thing in the world. I believe he never in any such instance, failed to rescue his man. I don’t know that anyone actually fell into the eddying and dangerous river for an experiment or for the mere fun of the thing, but it certainly came to be looked upon as a thing of course that a man was all but as safe in the water as out of it, if Captain Johnston were only at hand. His exploits in this way were so frequent that they became quite “monotonous”, and while they were the theme of admiration to his friends, he himself was as simple as a child in respect to them, and only spoke of them when interrogated on the subject. I knew him well, and both admired and loved him. I promised to make the trip of the Murray with him sometime, and we never met that he reminded me of it. He was resolute, courageous, and every inch a man. He had the colour and bearing of a true Norse-man, rough, but not rude ; strong but not coarse. He was gentle in his home, and tender as a woman in his love to wife and weans. Better than this, he feared God, and that fear came out in his conduct. He kept the Sabbath, honoured God by a service of daily worship, and was the means of no little good to many of the lonely dwellers on the banks of the Darling and Murrumbidgee. To navigate the Murray is not a matter of wind and tide, merely, but of much labour also. Every Sabbath that broke upon him found his steamer tethered to a tree on the river’s bank, and all unnecessary labour suspended. Although he had “lived so long”, he was but a young man comparatively when he died – not much, if at all past fifty. Until he went up to join the larger community in the skies, he was a member and chief pillar of the Methodist church at Goolwa, where his name will be held in long and loving remembrance. Peace to his ashes, and thanks be to God who gave him.

Melbourne Spectator - June 16th 1882


The funeral of the late Captain George Bain Johnston took place on Sunday the 18th of June. The body which was conveyed overland from Port Adelaide, was received at Goolwa wharf by a number of the principal inhabitants, and early on Sunday morning was borne by relays of men from the crew of the steamer Cadell to the deceased’s late residence on Admiralty Terrace, where a number of people took the opportunity of calling and looking at the coffin. It was covered with dark blue cloth, and furnished with silver mountings. On the breastplate was engraved the inscription -


Born 26th November 1829

Died 29th of May, 1882

Aged 52 years

Perhaps the most touching tribute of respect was from the natives, whose encampment is near the house, and who came weeping, begging to see for the last time Captain Johnston, who had for so many years been their kind friend and helper. At two o’clock in the afternoon the mourners began to assemble, and after a short service in the house, conducted by the Reverend G.W. Patchwell, M.A., the Sunday School children, who to the number of 150 crowded the verandah, sang an appropriate hymn.

Precisely at half past two o’clock, the coffin - covered with a Union Jack, and carried by members of the local Lodge of Oddfellows - was placed in the hearse and the procession started for the Currency Creek Cemetery, preceded by the minister. Immediately behind the hearse walked Mr. P. G. Johnston, eldest son of the deceased, and Messrs. J.T. Turnbull, and A.A. Scott, executors, Messrs W. Crooks, E.N. Gamble, N.W. Trudgen, J.B. Scott, A. Pearce Luke, J.P. [of Wilcannia], Captain Thomas Johnston, Captain James Barclay, Captain Dixon, Captain Webster [representatives of the Underwriters Association], Captain Brown [Harbor Master], Captain W.R. Randle, and Captain Dorrey [Echuca]. The first carriage carried Mrs. Geo. Johnston, Miss Johnston, and other children of the deceased; also Mr. James Scott J.P., Mr. T. Goode, jun. J.P., was prevented by the effects of an accident from joining the procession. Other conveyances followed, containing other relatives and friends; and after them walked about sixty members of the local lodge of Oddfellows; then followed other vehicles, to the number of about thirty. The Sunday School children accompanied the procession as far as the tramway station, and were conveyed from there in cars to Currency Creek. On reaching Currency Creek station the cortege was joined by a large number of friends from Port Victor, Port Elliot and Middleton, who had arrived by tram. At the cemetery a large crowd had assembled from Strathalbyn, Finniss, and the surrounding district. Altogether there could not have been less than six hundred people present. The burial service of the Wesleyan Church was impressively read by the Reverend G.W. Patchwell, and the Oddfellows funeral oration was delivered by Mr. Mansfield, N.G. of the Goolwa Lodge. The coffin, covered with wreaths of flowers was then lowered into the grave – the relatives, in Scotch custom, standing around, arranged according to rank of relationship, and each with his tasseled cord assisting. The well known hymn beginning “Leader of faithful souls and guide - Of all that travel to the skies" - with the fresh interest of having been the deceased’s parting song - was then sung with great feeling. Amongst those present at the grave were - Lieutenant-Colonel Higgins, Hon. James Rankin, M.L.C., A.H. Landseer, M.P., A. Graham, J.P., D. McLean [Mayor of Goolwa], J.H. Gordon, James Berry, T. Padman, J. Bowman J.P. and J.P. Tripp.

Funeral George Johnston

The mortal remains of the late Captain George Johnston of Goolwa were brought over from New Zealand, enclosed in lead and other coffins for interment in the Currency Creek cemetery about three to four miles from Goolwa. At about 2.30 pm on Sunday last, the mournful procession started from his late residence, the Sunday school children of the Goolwa Wesleyan church, over whom for some years he had acted as one of the superintendents, previously singing a hymn in front of the house. The hearse, a handsome one, from Messrs. Haddy Brothers of Port Adelaide, the undertakers, was preceded by the Reverend G. W. Patchwell, the circuit minister and followed by several conveyances with the relatives of the deceased, the Sunday school children, the Oddfellows and a long cortege of mourning and sympathising friends. Four special trucks conveyed the children and friends by the tramway from Goolwa to Currency Creek, and other trucks brought friends from other stations on the line, so that when the Creek was reached about four or five hundred persons were present - the largest gathering ever seen in this cemetery – and one of the prettiest in the colony. Amongst those present we recognised friends from all the townships and neighbourhoods, besides a large number from greater distances, so many that we can only mention the following viz. Messrs. James Scott J.P., A.A. Scott, J. Scott J.P., J.P. Turnbull, A. Pearce, Thomas Padman, N. Trudgeon, E. N. Gamble, Capt. Randell, W. Dixon, H.E. Morris, C. Smith, J. Jones, James Berry [City Mission], W, Crooks, R. Murray, J. Tull and T. Luke [Wilcannia]. The weather was unfortunately miserably wet and dreary so that numbers were absent who otherwise intended paying the last token of respect to one who was so universally esteemed.

The Reverend Mr. Patchwell officiated, after which N.G. Mansfield of the Goolwa Lodge read the Oddfellows funeral service and the children sang the last hymn the departed one had sung viz. “Leader of faithful souls and guides”, most pathetically, and a heavy squall coming in, a hasty look was taken, and flowers and wreaths deposited on the coffin, and the crowd departed.

In the evening the Wesleyan church was crowded and the funeral service was listened to, with rapt attention by a most attentive congregation. The church was most suitably draped in black and wore a most mournful aspect. During the service sang several appropriate hymns, Mrs. T. Goode jun presiding most efficiently on the organ. The text was taken Revelation XIV, 13th verse, “and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, write, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth : yea sayeth the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours, and their works do follow them”. In the course of a very cleverly worked out analysis of the text, Mr. Patchwell remarked that since he had selected it as a suitable one for the occasion, he had heard that Capt. Johnston had singularly chosen the very same verse to be written on his tombstone. The deceased had also expressed an earnest wish that the Goolwa Wesleyan church should be free from debt and had bequeathed sufficient to meet half the liabilities, provided the congregation undertook to clear the remainder. At the conclusion of the Reverend gentleman’s sermon he read a biographical paper from which we gathered the following topics of interest.

George Bain Johnston was born at Cockenzie Scotland on November 28th 1829 and after serving an apprenticeship on a schooner, and working on the coast, he arrived in Melbourne in 1852, went to the Forrest Creek diggings and in 1853 commenced the history which more intimately concerns us, by joining Captain Cadell, the River Murray pioneer, and coming to Goolwa.

His first expedition was to take a survey of the Murray from Wentworth downwards in a small boat – the Quiz – marking the obstacles as they lay in the river. His next trip was with Captain Cadell in the Lady Augusta steamer. In 1855 he was appointed master of the steamer Albury and was first to reach that distant part of the river. The residents were so greatly pleased to see him there that they gave him a banquet and presented him with a purse of one hundred sovereigns, with which a suitable cup was bought and engraved, commemorative of the happy occasion. After continuing in this trade for some years he joined partnership with Mr. Murphy, purchased the Moolgewanke, and soon afterwards the Albury. By their strenuous efforts they prospered and became large steam-boat proprietors and traders on the Murray and tributaries.

In 1865 Capt. Johnston went home to Scotland to supervise the building of a paddle wheel steamer called the Murray, which was brought out under canvas by Capt. Berry, Capt. Johnston returning via Melbourne in the Great Britain. This boat was sold after to trade on the Gippsland lakes. In 1873 the partnership was dissolved and Capt. Johnston traded alone. In 1877 being as desirous as ever to see the trade carried on through the Murray mouth, he again went home to build a suitable steamer The Queen of the South – the well-known Murray Mouth trader, which did such good service during the busy season 1878-79. On his arrival at Goolwa he was presented with a handsome silver epergne. Many will long remember the pleasant voyages made in that good ship with the brave, skillful and kind-hearted commander. The Cadell another large steamer was built at Goolwa, the engines of which were brought from Scotland in the The Queen of the South and later on Capt. Johnston constructed his last vessel, the Monarch, said to have the largest carrying capacity of any boat on the rivers.

During the last few years the business was carried on in partnership with Mr. Kirkpatrick of Wilcannia under the style of “Geo. Johnston & Co.” By the death of Capt. Johnston the river trade loses one of its earliest pioneers and most successful navigators, and South Australia a loyal, intelligent and enterprising colonist. He is said to have saved from drowning no less than fourteen lives and lately he had the honour of receiving a medal from the Royal Humane Society. In 1852 he married Elizabeth, daughter of James Barclay of Cockenzie, who with four sons and three daughters are left to mourn their irreparable loss. Though the deceased was so industrious and enterprising in business matters, he was a liberal and earnest Christian and strove to follow amongst the daily engagements of a busy life, the teachings and examples of the Master he loved to serve. He became associated with the Wesleyan church in its very infancy in Goolwa and has ever since been a most enthusiastic and energetic worker in all its various connections, a brave kind spirit has gone from amongst men but those that enjoyed his intimate friendship will cherish his memory and feel his influence till life’s last hour.

When the fell disease that at length terminated his earthly cares, first began to show its effects upon his hitherto robust and healthy frame, he still struggled on manfully against the rising tide, and when he went to New Zealand by the advice of his friends, hopeful news was at first received, afterwards dashed to the ground by the sad news that on the 29th May he had passed away. Happily his wife and eldest son were with him to the last.

The Southern Argus (Port Elliot SA) Thu 22 Jun 1882 p3