Their Contribution to Kentish

One of the earliest and largest buyers of land on the Kentish Plains was Thomas Johnson Senior from Sherwood Hall, near Latrobe. His three eldest sons Thomas L Johnson II (25), J G (Jack) Johnson (21) and Lewis J Johnson (19) bought a block each as well. Between them, the Johnson family owned a lot of land around East Sheffield and out along Old Paradise Road as far as Brays road, including Field Bros hut and stockyards. The original Thomas Johnson never came to live in Kentish, but all three sons and their families did. When Thomas Johnson Snr died in 1867, all his Kentish property passed to these three sons.

Despite owning some of the best pastoral land in Kentish, the three Johnson brothers became smitten with ‘gold fever’, spending a lot of their lives searching our mountainous terrain for elusive gold bearing lodes which they could never find. Over time, because of the high cost of digging claims, constantly buying mining shares that proved worthless, and quite a fondness for liquor, their valuable properties were gradually sold off. Compared to their wealthy father, the three brothers ended up relatively poor. Thomas II and Lewis died in Sheffield, while J G (Jack) returned to Sherwood Hall. Here is each son’s story.

1 Thomas II & Elizabeth Ann Johnson (11 children)

Born in Perth, Tasmania, Thomas Lewis Johnson II (1834 -1911) was the oldest surviving son of Thomas & Dolly Dalrymple, and 11-years-old when their family settled at Frogmore. On 31 May 1857 Thomas (19) married Elizabeth Ann (Lizzie) Atkinson (21), sister of George Atkinson known as the ‘Founder of Latrobe’. Thomas & Lizzie’s first six children, born near Latrobe, were: 1854 William Johnson, 1855 Mary Ann Dalrymple (Mrs Wm Walker, Beulah), 1857 Thomas Lewis (III), 1861 Amy (Mrs Edward Rees, Sheffield), 1863 George Johnson (South Aus.).

In 1864 this young family moved onto the 50 acres Thomas II had bought close to East Sheffield, and upon his father’s death, inherited another 300 acres. The remainder of their 11 children born in Sheffield were: 1866 Helena (Mrs Stephen Fisk), 1869 Annie Isabella (Mrs George Thomas Sellars), 1872 Alfred William, 1876 Frances & Alvin (twins), and 1877 Hannah. Thomas Johnson II was elected to the first Kentish Road Trust between 1866-1871, while Lizzie was recognized as one of the first bush nurses in Kentish.

When the Kentish pioneers first played cricket in John Dawson’s paddock along Old Paradise Road, they used underhand bowling. It was Thomas Johnson II who taught them how to bowl overarm. The locals loved it and the game became popular throughout the district. The 1879 Kentish Cricket team had three Johnsons in it and Thomas II was one of two Kentish players chosen in the NW Coast team to play the visiting English XI at Latrobe in January 1888.

After gold was discovered in the backcountry in 1859, the Johnson family, along with many other Tarleton miners, became obsessed with searching for this elusive precious metal. Over the decades, Thomas II spent huge amounts of time prospecting, purchasing and digging claims that, in the end, didn’t amount to anything. In 1880 he became one of the largest share-holders in the Minnow gold excavations, but the primary lode could never be located. That same year, within a 2 ½ week period, Thomas & Lizzie lost three children to diptheria: Francis (4), Alfred (8),  Hannah (2). Four years later Thomas refused to put more money into Minnow, so he moved on to Mt Claude. In June 1887, he and his son George were among six promoters of The Great Spur Tin Mining Co near Mt Claude, each putting in £1000. The following year most of the Johnson brothers spent three months working the Johnson’s Reward Mine until all their shareholders‘ money ran out. In January 1891, when Major T J Clerke of Sheffield formed his Australasian Gold Mining Co on the Five Mile Rise near Lorinna, Thomas Johnson and his son George were again among the largest shareholders. Two years later son Alvin Johnson (18) was killed fighting a bush fire when a burning tree fell on him.

By 1898 Thomas II (64) & his wife Lizzie were occupying a house in Main St, Sheffield, which they didn’t own. Their eldest daughter Mary Ann Dalrymple Johnson, who married William Walker, pioneer of Upper Beulah, got tuberculosis. In 1905 Walker brought his wife out to her mother’s home in Sheffield for more constant care. Lizzie (74) nursed her daughter for 12 months until Mary Ann died of TB aged 51. Four of Mary Anne Walker’s children followed their mother by dying of the same complaint.

Thomas Johnson (II) died 11 Sept 1911 aged 76 and Elizabeth Johnson died 8 April 1915 aged 84, both at Sheffield. Lizzie had been a member of the Salvation Army all her life and they buried her in Sheffield General Cemetery. Their son Thomas L Johnson (III) b1857 also lived in Sheffield, worked at Round Hill Mine and had three sons who went to the 1st WW. His 3rd son Sid Johnson died of wounds in July 1915.

2 John G (Jack) & Isabella Johnson (7 children)

On 16 Jan 1853, two notorious bushrangers Dalton & Kelly held up Thomas Johnson’s house at Tarleton, tied up the occupants and made themselves a feast. Seeking to steal a boat and escape to the mainland, they took 14-year old Jack hostage to help row. Moving on to the Mersey coal mines, they found four convict pass-holders more willing to escape to the mainland than Jack, so he was released.The bushrangers actually reached the mainland, but were quickly captured, returned to VDL and hung.

As a youth Jack worked in his father‘s sawmill at Sherwood. It was there that Jack’s arm was crushed between two logs and so badly mangled that when Dr Marcus Loane arrived, he decided to amputate it. After plying Jack with penty of whisky, his work mates pinned him  across a log, while the doctor severed his forearm at the elbow. Ever-afterwards he became known as One Arm Jack and used a metal hook strapped to the end of his arm. One night after a few drinks in Lord’s Hotel, Latrobe, One Arm Jack took a swing at an opponent and missed. His hook embedded itself in a doorpost of the pub, where it remained for many years as a memento of this occasion. Jack became a storekeeper, and on 20 Oct 1857, aged 18, he married Isabella Thompson (20) at his parents‘ house. Isabella marked their marriage certificate with an X. About 1860, Jack & Isabella moved up to Kentish to help manage his father‘s properties. Discovering the lush pastures of Duck Marsh, they purchased 220 acres and put it in Isabella‘s name.

Along with a Launceston solicitor, Jack was made trustee of his father‘s will. So upon Thomas senior‘s death in 1867, Jack and Isabella returned to Sherwood to take over the licensee of the Sherwood Inn and oversee the dispersion of his father‘s estate. Jack & Isabella’s children were: 1859 Elizabeth Ann (Mrs Ted Morse II), 1861 Margaret Sarah (Mrs Malcolm Campbell, prospector), 1864 Isabella (Mrs Chas Dyson), 1867 Thomas William, 1870 Mary Jane (Mrs Arthur Dennis), 1873 John G ( II) and 1878 Alice Dalrymple (Mrs Ernest French).

 The discovery of the world‘s largest tin deposit at Mt Bischoff in the early 1870s produced another rush of prospectors scouring Kentish‘s mountainous region. Some promising finds led to the first spurt of growth in the township of Sheffield. Flush with money from the estate and driven by ‘gold fever’, Jack and Isabella hurried back to settle in Sheffield. He purchased Powlett’s property along Kermode St and several town lots in Torquay St as well as Johnson St. Jack built the first general store in Eastern Sheffield, where Isabella sold groceries, drapery, boots and ironmongery, so J G (Jack) could employ young fellows to help him prospect.

Minnow Gold Rush

On 7 Dec 1877, J G (Jack) Johnson announced the discovery of alluvial gold specks and two promising reefs in the Minnow River near Lower Beulah. This discovery caused great excitement, causing well over a hundred ‘hopefuls’ rushing to the Minnow. To make it easier to prospect they lit bushfires to eliminate the thick scrub. This became Kentish’s second gold rush and for a few years created considerable activity – digging numerous shafts, forming various goldmining companies and the surveying of a township named Minnow. Jack and his older brother Thomas II, with his eldest sons Thomas and George, selected several areas to investigate and took out the first of 24 mining leases to be granted around the Minnow River. Next to them was The Star of the West Mining Co, formed by 27 shareholders putting up £10,000 to buy mining machinery. J G (Jack), Thomas & George Johnson were among the largest investors in this mine as well. In December 1878, J G (Jack) sold his farm and new general store in Sheffield to James Butt to concentrate on these promising mining prospects. But before they could really get going, major new discoveries were announced at Mt Claude, which the prospectors claimed to be like a second Mt Bischoff.

The Minnow proved hard to dig. The Johnsons gradually traced alluvial gold specks up the Minnow Rivulet to the higher ground of Mt Gog, but no mining parties could find a payable gold reef. By July 1881 J G (Jack) became so discouraged, that along with Jack Jubb, they moved to Mt Claude and staked a large prospecting claim there.

With most of his Kentish properties sold off to fund their explorations, in 1883 Jack and Isabella moved back to Sherwood Hall where he opened a butcher shop in Latrobe. Over the next five years Jack had two painful accidents. In Sept 1887 his newly ground axe severed a piece of his shin bone. Three years later, his dog ran under his horse’s feet, tripping the steed, causing it to fall and roll on top of him. Seriously incapacitated, Jack’s oldest daughter Lizzie with her husband Ted Morse moved from Kentish back to Sherwood Hall to help him run the farm. Still later in June 1896, Jack’s only surviving son Thomas Wm died of heart disease aged 29. After a short illness, Isabella Johnson died at Sherwood Hall in March 1898 aged 61, followed only 6 months later by One Arm Jack in his 60th year. Both were buried in the Latrobe Cemetery.

3 Lewis J & Mary Anne Johnson (15 children) 

Lewis Johnson was the first of the three brothers to purchase his own property in Kentish when he bought 100 acres across the Old Paradise Road from his father’s land. Upon Thomas Johnson I‘s death, Lewis inherited a prime 80-acre block, which stretches between Dean Riley’s house at 131 West Kentish Road across to the end of Spring St, now known as 156 Claude Road. Lewis married when he was 19, but his first wife died in childbirth. He next married when 29, to Mary Anne (Annie) Johnstone (26), a widow from Campbell Town, on 27 Apr 1870. They had 15 children, a number of whom never married: 1869 Sarah Ann Dalrymple (Mrs Thos Bakes), 1871 Edith (Mrs Henry Butt), 1873  Bertha (Mrs Fred Templar), 1877-Jan Mary Louisa, 1877-Dec Lewis Christopher (n/m), 1880 Alma (Mrs Wm Cox), 1882 Harold Clifford (Bill) (n/m), 1885 Alfred Wlliam (n/m), 1887 Twins-Amelia (d 6mths) & Clifton Edgar (n/m), 1890 Doris Malvina (Mrs Wm J Riley), 1892 Charles Arthur, 1894 Ada Daphne (n/m), & 1897 George (d as infant).

In Sheffield, Lewis’s family lived in a brick house previously built by James Powlett. During Christmas week 1879, a scrub fire destroyed it. Six years later, in September 1885, the same thing occurred to their next home when their children somehow set it alight. While Lewis isn’t mentioned among the first Johnsons who searched for gold at the Minnow, in 1891 he and his wife Mary with their son Alfred were all shareholders of Major T J Clerke’s Australasian Gold Mining Co, formed to mine the Five Mile Rise near Lorinna.

In 1892, Lewis and Mary Johnson moved out to the 80-acre farm inherited from his father at 131 West Kentish Road. In February 1909 his two sons Charles (17) and Clifford (12) took a wagon load of produce to Railton station. Returning to Sheffield, a fierce bush fire was burning on the Badgers side of the Stoodley Hill. The heat and the smoke caused the bullocks to bolt. In trying to stop the them, Charles was crushed between the wagon and a log. Badly hurt, another wagon driver conveyed Charles to Dr Ratten‘s surgery, Sheffield where he died some hours later.

When local carpenter James Sellars built Johnson’s new house Banksyne, costing £50, along the West Kentish Road in March 1912, the title deeds were changed into Mary’s name. Lewis died there on 12 Oct 1920 aged 78, followed eight months later 6 June 1921 by Mary aged 69. Both were buried in the Sheffield General Cemetery. When their daughter Miss Ada Johnson died 4 April 1982 aged 87, the last surviving granddaughter of Thomas Johnson & Dolly Dalrymple was gone. Interestingly, now 160 years later, this historic 80-acre farm is still owned by Johnson descendants – most probably a Kentish record. The current owners are Alwyn & Bev Riley (Spring St) and Dean & Christine Riley (West Kentish Rd).

Next time: Ex-convict Killer come to Kentish