Joseph Johnston (1814-1892) was born in Lincolnshire. As a young man he worked as a schoolmaster and became a member of the Congregational Church in Manchester.
He was 24 when the London Missionary Society invited him to work in the Pacific Islands. There he met and married Harriett Platt, the daughter of a senior missionary.
In 1853, after a spell back in the UK, Johnston was sent to Fremantle. Initially he worked from a small rented cottage and travelled between Fremantle and Bunbury on horseback. The Reverend Johnston was dubbed 'one of the most learned men in the colony'. His advocacy of 'good works performed with generosity' drew the major merchants to support his social concerns, even though most were not Congregationalists.
He also lectured on intellectual topics to members of the Fremantle Mechanics Institute. However, when he thought the Institute was becoming a 'gentlemen's club', he helped form the Fremantle Workingmen's Association. The Reverend Johnston then instigated the amalgamation of the two bodies into a new organisation, the Fremantle Literary Institute. The Institute was a self-improvement group offering training in subjects such as mathematics and literature.
The Reverend Johnston's Fremantle Congregational Church, completed in 1877, was renamed the Johnston Memorial Church. It was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by a large apartment block, Johnston Court. Text MCB.
The building of the old Congregational Church was commenced in 1852. It was completed in 1854 and enlarged in 1857. It is now used as a Sunday School. The manse was erected in 1862 and the new church was commenced in 1875 and completed in 1877. The first pastor of that denomination to be stationed in Fremantle was the Rev. Joseph Johnston, or 'Father' Johnston as he was affectionately called, who held the pastorate for nearly 40 years and won the love and respect of all, irrespective of class or creed, with whom he came in contact. He died in 1892, but memories of his inestimable public offices and private virtues are still cherished by old residents. Hitchcock: 39; photo: 56.
His only son, also called Joseph Johnston, died in 1876 together with everyone on board the Gem, between Rottnest and Fremantle, in a mysterious disappearance. Hitchcock: 63.
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