LAST MODIFIED Monday 23 January 2023 9:50

Johnson brothers of Sydney

Dr GRAEME SKINNER (University of Sydney)


To cite this:

Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), "Johnson brothers of Sydney", Australharmony (an online resource toward the early history of music in colonial Australia):; accessed 27 September 2023


JOHNSON, Richard (senior)

Chronometer and watchmaker, ? amateur musician

Born ? England, c. 1775
Married Elizabeth PHILLIPS, St. Saviour, Southwark, England, 25 December 1800
Arrived Sydney, NSW, by March 1834
Died West Maitland, NSW, 28 February 1844, "aged 69" (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)


Born England, c. 1780
Died Sydney, NSW, 1861


Organist, conductor, teacher of music, vocal class instructor lecturer on music, composer

Born London, baptised St. Mary Woolnoth, London, 4 May 1803
Married (1) Ellen BYRNE (d. 1847), London, England, 1830
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 1 January 1836 (unassisted emigrant per Salacia, from London, 6 August 1835)
Married (2) Elizabeth KIRBY, Sydney, NSW, 1851
Died Sydney, NSW, 13 April 1860, aged 57 (TROVE tagged by Australharmony)

JOHNSON, William Jonathan (Mr. W. J. JOHNSON)

Organist, conductor, teacher of music, organ builder, music retailer and publisher, composer

Born London, England, ? 9 May 1811, baptised St. Mary Islington, 7 June 1811
Arrived Sydney, NSW, 1 January 1836 (unassisted emigrant per Salacia, from London, 6 August 1835)
Married Eliza Harris TOMPSON (1817-1879), St. Matthew's church (CoE), Windsor, NSW, 21 July 1838
Died Erskineville, NSW, 3 October 1866, aged 55 (TROVE tagged by Australharmony) (NLA persistent identifier)

JOHNSON, Robert Ebenezer (The honorable Robert JOHNSON, MLC)

Musical amateur

Born London, England, 17 December 1812
Married Elizabeth BYRNE (1810-1891), St. James, Sydney, 1834
Died Double Bay, NSW, 6 November 1866 (NLA persistent identifier)

JOHNSON, Richard (junior)

Musical amateur (member of the Cecilian Society)

Born London, c. 1817/19
Active Sydney, NSW, 1841
Died St. Leonards, NSW, 1880


James Johnson and his musician brother William Jonathan Johnson arrived in Sydney on New Year's Day 1836 to join their father Richard Johnson, "Clock and Watch Maker", and another brother Richard, who had been in the colony since 1833. Also described in one arrival report as a "jeweller", James appears to have worked mainly as a musician, as organist of St. James, member of the Cecilian Society, founder of the Sydney Choral Society, and was also later involved with the Sydney Vocal Harmonic Society. Barnett Levey mentioned a Johnson as being among his theatre musicians in March 1837.

"Just Arrived from London", on first advertising his services in Sydney in February 1836, Johnson stated that he had "been for a considerable length of time employed in the Manufacture and Tuning of Piano-fortes". By February 1838 (or perhaps considerably earlier), with his elder brother James, Johnson was joint organist of St. James's Church, Sydney, and in his own right organist of Christ Church from April 1843 or earlier (when he was " instructing the Parochial School Children in Sacred music"), until his death. In July 1843 he was advertising as a "pianoforte-maker" in Hunter Street, and by November 1844 he had completed building an organ for St. Andrew's Temporary Church. Johnson continued to work as a piano and organ builder and tuner for the rest of the decade. He was trading from his "Pianoforte Manufactory, 314 Pitt-Street", by December 1849, continuing at this address until August 1854, and from September 1854 at 57 Pitt-Street. In addition to his other services, by February 1853 he was also advertising as "Johnson and Co., Music Publishers", after he published his own The Chusan polka on 27 August 1852. Numerous copies of his prints of works by local and European composers survive. However, no copies are known to survive of the 11 advertised issues of his music periodical, The Sydney Harmonicon, which ran from December 1855 to March 1856, including new works by many local composers. His own Te Deum and Jubilate (the latter issued just two months before his death) were among his last publications. His widow and children carried on the business under the same style and at the same address until July 1867, when the whole stock was auctioned. A sixth edition of Johnson's piano arrangement of Nearer, my God, to Thee was advertised in November 1868.

According to the 1931 obituary of William's son, Frederick, the Johnson brothers were grand-nephews of the first colonial chaplain Richard Johnson (1753-1827).


Passengers per Layton, December 1833; State Records Authority of NSW (PAYWALL)

Male Emigrants . . . Richard Johnson / 59 / London / Watchmaker . . .
Benjamin Pitt Griffin / 49 / England / Surveyor

See also: [Advertisement], The Colonist (12 March 1835), 8 

IN CONSEQUENCE of several conflicting statements which have appeared in different papers respecting the conduct and usage of the passengers by the ship Layton, it appears necessary that a correct account should be laid before the public. The heads of several families, who were passengers by the said ship therefore propose publishing by subscription, a correct journal from the time of her leaving London to her anrrival in Sydney. It is conjectured the price of each copy will not exceed one Shilling. Subscribers' names will be received at the Monitor Office, and at Mr. Johnson's, Watchmaker, George-street, opposite Bridge-street. Signed, BENJAMIN PITT GRIFFIN. RICHARD JOHNSON.

A few copies of letters, and some remarks upon sundry documents on the subject of female emigration by the superintendent of the Layton emigrant ship (Sydney: Printed by William Jones, 1836) (DIGITISED)

ASSOCIATIONS: Benjamin Pitt Griffin


[News], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (29 March 1834), 2 

The remaining two new houses opposite the site of the old Lumber Yard, are now occupied and about to be opened for public patronage, the one by a Mr. Johnson, a chronometer and watchmaker, and the other by Messrs. Dunsdon and Blythe, who intend opening all the advantages of general Restaurateur's.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Monitor (9 July 1834), 3 

JOHNSON, Chronometer, Watch and Clock Maker,
R. JOHNSON returns his thanks to his Friends and the Public generally, for the very liberal encouragement he has experienced since commencing the above business, and solicits the continuance of the same . . .

"Cornhill, London, August 10th, 1833"
"I hereby certify that RICHARD JOHNSON is one of the best workmen in London, in the finishing, completing, making, and manufacturing of Chronometers and Watches. He is also a practical Escapement-maker, which is the finest and most delicate department in the manufacture of Chronometers, &c. Also, that there is no department in the above manufactures that he is not competent to undertake, either in repairing the same, or making. I also certify that I have for years continued to employ him, and that he served his Apprenticeship to learn the said business, to a Member of the Clockmakers' Company, of the City of London, incorporated by Charter."
"(Signed) R. WEBSTER.
"Witness.- JAMES COTTON."

"29 Duke-street, St. James's. Aug, 12, 1833.
"DEAR SIR - I hear that you are leaving this Town for Sydney, in New South Wales, with intention to follow your trade as a Watchmaker; and from what I know of your abilities, (having been under your tuition myself,) I should say that you are thoroughly acquainted with the business, and can undertake the repairs of Chrononmeters, and every other sort of Watch and Clock. Wishing you and your fammily every success, I am, &c.
"Watchmaker to His late Royal Highness the Duke of York and the Duchess of Cumberland."
"London, Aug. 13, 1833." . . .

"MARRIED", The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (26 July 1834), 3 

Yesterday by license at St. James's Church by Rev. R HILL, Mr. PARKER, druggist, of King-street, to ELIZABETH, daughter of Mr. R. JOHNSON, watchmaker, of George-street.


[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (2 May 1835), 3 

Theatre Royal, Sydney ... The Lessees are highly gratified in informing the public, that they have succeeded in engaging all the first Musical Talent in Sydney to form their Orchestra, which consists of the following gentlemen, viz. Leader of the Band - Mr. CLARKE; Violins - Messrs. SPYER, JOHNSON, DYER, and SCOTT; Principal Flute - Mr. STUBBS; Violincello and Grand Piano Forte - Mr. CAVENDISH; Clarionetts - Messrs TURNER & SHARP; Bassoons - Messrs. HOARE & BALL; Bugle - Mr. PAPPIN; Drums - Mr. VAUGHAN ...

NOTE: This violinist, Johnson, was perhaps Richard senior, or Richard junior, who had been in Sydney already for a couple of years.


"ARRIVALS", The Sydney Monitor (2 January 1836), 2

Yesterday the brig Salacia, Captain Mann, from London, August 6, Cargo mercandise. Passengers Mr. James Johnson, jeweller, Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Wm. Johnson . . .

"Shipping Intelligence. ARRIVALS", The Australian (5 January 1836), 2 

[Advertisement], The Sydney Herald (11 January 1836), 3 

Professor of Music
And Tuner of Organs and Piano-Fortes,
BEGS to offer his services to the Public, and having been for a considerable length of time employed in the Manufacture and Tuning of Piano-fortes, he flatters himself he will be found an acquisition to those Ladies and Gentlemon who need a person thoroughly understanding the business in all its branches. From the great experience he has had in tuning, and the flattering encomiums he has received from the leading men in the Musical Profession, he ventures to hope that, at least, a part of the kind patronage of the residents of this Colony may be bestowed upon him, and at the same time assures them, that no effort, of which he is capable, shall be wanting on his part to secure their favors.
Mr. J. having several engagements at Parramatta, begs to announce that he intends to visit that Town, on Monday, the 11th Instant, and to proceed thence to Windsor, Richmond, Penrith, and Liverpool, and will be happy to attend to any with which he may there be favoured.
All Orders left at the Red Cow, Parramatta; King's Arms, Windsor; - - - Richmond; Jackson's Inn, Penrith; and Mr. Hoskings, Liverpool, will meet with due attention.
N. B - Piano-fortes and Organs Tuned and attended to by the year.
George-street, Sydney,
Next door to the Commercial Bank,
9th January, 1836.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Herald (1 February 1836), 3

16 February 1836, Theatre Royal, Sydney, first appearance of the actor, Mr. Johnson, in The miller and his men

[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (16 February 1836), 3 

. . . THIS EVENING, TUESDAY, FEB. 16, 1836,
THE Performance will commence with the Petite Comedy in 3 Acts, called PAUL PRY.
Old Button - Mr. Grove
Sir Spangle Rainbow - Mr. Simes
Captain Haseldon - Mr. Peat
Pommade - Mr. Knowles
Tankard - Mr. Buckingham
Billy - Mr Lee
PAUL PRY - Mr. Simmons
In which he will introduce the admired Comic Song
"I never says nothing to nobody."
In which she will sing
"The Dashing While Sergeant,"
"Sing away, Sing Away."
Laura - Mrs. Downes.
After which, the Comic Duet,
"One Day while Working at my Plough"
By Mrs. Taylor and Mr. Simmons.
The whole to conclude with the celebrated Melo-Drama in two Acts, called the
Miller & his Men.
(With all the original Glees & Choruses.)
Grindoff (the Miller) - Mr. Grove
Count Friburg - Mr. Simes
Lothair - Mr. Knowles
Kelmar - Mr. Peat
Karl - Mr. Buckingham
Riber - Mr. Lee
Golotz - Mr. Lane
Zengra - Mr. Johnson
Ravena - Mrs. Downes
Claudine - Mrs. Jones
The Piece ends with the Conflagration of the Mill
and Destruction of the Haunt of the Banditti.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Monitor (17 February 1836), 3 

. . . on THURSDAY EVENING, February 18th the performance will comsmeuce with, for the first time these two years, Shakspear's admired Tragedy of HAMLET . . . Osrick - Mr. Johnson . . .

[News], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (20 February 1836), 2 

We are glad to see the countenance of Mr. Johnson wreathed in smiles on the boards of the Sydney Theatre, he being a considerable acquisition, and possessing a fund of comic humour. The name, itself, smacks of the drama.

[News], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (15 March 1836), 3

We are given to understand that Mr. Johnson, son of Mr. Johnson, Watch and Clock Maker, George-street, has undertaken to preside at the Pianoforte, on the evening of the joint Concert of Mrs. Chester and Mrs. Taylor.

"CONCERT", The Sydney Monitor (19 March 1836), 2 

On Wednesday evening, Mrs. Chester's and Mrs. Taylor's concert took place. Notwithstanding the stormy afternoon about 200 persons assembled. Mrs. Chester did not sing with that taste which usually characterises her; Mrs. Taylor, on the contrary, never appeared to more advantage, her song of Sunshine o'er the Brook was well sung and rapturously encored. Mr. Wallace did not appear to exert himself so much as he did for his own benefit; still his violin playing was of a very superior description. A Mr. Johnson made his first appearance in public as a pianoforte player; from the manner in which he accompanied the different songs, he appeared to be an expert performer. The band of the 4th regiment appear to have had a deal of practice during their absence from Sydney; the manner in which they performed the overtures was highly creditable.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (23 June 1836), 3

[News], The Sydney Monitor (12 October 1836), 2

Mr. Johnson, who is assisting Mr. Deane in his concert, is by some supposed to be Mr. Johnson the organist of St. James's. We understand this is not the case.


"To the Editor", The Sydney Monitor (31 March 1837), 3


[Advertisement], The Australian (20 February 1838), 4

[Advertisement], The Australian (23 February 1838), 3

MESSRS J. AND W. J. JOHNSON, Organists of St. James's Church, BEG to remind the Inhabitants of Sydney that they give Lessons on the Practice and Theory of Music, the Organ, Piano forte, Flute, Singing, &c; and as from circumstances to which it is needless to do more than allude, many Families must be in want of a Master in their profession, Messrs. Johnson take the opportunity of stating that they make a point of attending to their engagements with strict punctuality; and having had much experience in Musical Tuition, both here and in England, feel confident of being able to direct the studies of their Pupils with success. All communications addressed to Messrs J., Castleraagh-street South, between Liverpool and Goulburn-streets; or to George-street, next the Commercial Band, will be promptly attended to.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (19 May 1838). 3


[Advertisement], The Colonist (5 January 1839), 3


[Advertisement], Australasian Chronicle (3 November 1840), 3 

MR. J. JOHNSON, Organist of St. James's Church, begs to acquaint the public that he has just received a few six and a half octave grand and square PIANOFORTES, direct from the above celebrated makers.
The reputation of Messrs. Broadwood renders it unnecessary for Mr. J. to do more than pledge himself that these instruments are their genuine manufacture, and to solicit an early inspection of them by persons who may require a really good instrument at less than the usual price.
To be seen at Mr. Johnson's residence, Prince-street, two doors from Argyle-street.


"THE CECILIAN SOCIETY", The Sydney Herald (25 March 1841), 2

Yesterday Mr. W. Ward appeared at the Police office before Mr. Windeyer, for having in his possession books belonging to the Cecilian Society, alleged to have been stolen from the Society's press. Mr. Deane appeared for the prosecution and identified about ten volumes of music as being his property which he had lent to the Cecilian Society, and which had been to his knowledge kept with the property of the society in a press in the old Court House, and had been abstracted from that place of safety about the 17th instant. In consequence of information a search warrant was issued for the house of Mr. Curtis, but the property was ultimately found in the house of Mr. Ward, who immediately gave up the property, and also gave every information ns to bow the property claimed came into his possession. Mr. Rogers the secretary of the society also identified some of the properly as belonging to the society and said that about twenty pounds worth of the same had been purchased from Mr. Curtis. Mr. James Johnson proved that on Tuesday evening the 16th instant the books in question were lodged in the society's press in the old Court House, Mr. Allen proved that he had locked the press in which the society's music was contained, and also that when he locked the press on last Tuesday night there was a wide space vacant from the lock having been forced. Mr. Josephson proved that on Friday morning Mr. Cosgrove called him in for the purpose of seeing the press in which the society's hooks were contained, as it had fallen down, and be was afraid some of the books were missing . . . The case occupied the Court for nearly three hours, and from the great number of musical gentlemen that were present it evidently excited great interest among the profession.

"AN ADMIRER OF A HOT DINNER", The Sydney Herald (5 August 1841), 2 

Thomas Este, the hired servant of Mr. James Johnson the organist, appeared at the Police Court on Tuesday, charged with having committed an aggravated assault on his master on Sunday last, because he had not provided him with a warm dinner that day. The assault being clearly proved, the Court sentenced him to pay a fine of £5 with 3s. 6d. costs, or to be confined for two calendar months in Sydney gaol. It appeared from the evidence that the defendant (a late arrival) told his employer that he did not come here to eat cold dinners.

[Advertisement], Australasian Chronicle (26 August 1841), 3 

- For Sale, a splendid double action Harp, with Bochsa's patent metallic strings, by the above celebrated maker.
This instrument, lately imported, will be sold at a very moderate price.
To be seen at Mr. Johnson's, organist of St. James's, Princes-street.

"THE CICILIAN SOCIETY", The Sydney Herald (15 September 1841), 2 

The Monthly Concert of this highly popular society takes place tonight, when his Excellency the Governor and a number of the public officers are to be present. The Vocal department is under the direction of Mr. Johnson, the organist of St James' Church. We understand that Mrs. Prout has offered her professional services for the evening.

"CECILIAN SOCIETY", The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (22 September 1841), 3 


[Advertisement], The Sydney Herald (14 January 1842), 3 

MR. JOHNSON, Organist of St. James' Church, begs to inform his friends and pupils, that he has removed from Prince street, to Sarah Dell Cottage, Parramatta Road, (nearly opposite Mr. Norton's,) and that he continues to give Organ and Pianoforte lessons as usual.
10th January.

"HANDEL'S MESSIAH", Australasian Chronicle (20 August 1842), 3

"CHURCH BOOK SOCIETY. MR. JOHNSON'S SECOND LECTURE ON MUSIC", The Sydney Morning Herald (28 October 1842), 2 

On Wednesday evening, Mr. Johnson delivered his second lecture on Music, at the St. James's Grammar School Phillip-street.

Counterpoint, or the art of writing in parts, was an advance which had done more towards giving to music the dignity of a science, than either the invention of instruments or notation: for, although without their aid no music of scientific character could exist, they, by themselves, were capable of producing only very meagre effects. It required the aid of harmonical combination to give to the art the magnificence and grandeur which was its most noble attribute. It was wonderful that, when it had become the practice to unite the performance on several instruments, and when immense congregations of singers and players joined in concert, that no accidental striking together of concords should have led to such research as would have resulted in a system of harmonic combination, long before such discovery took place. Some asserted, that the Greeks were acquainted with counterpoint; while others contended, that till the time of Guido, it was unknown. He did not, however, think, from all that could be gathered upon the subject, that the Greeks had any other idea upon the subject than, perhaps, doubling the parts an octave, or perhaps a fifteenth higher, according to the nature of the instrument used, or of the voice accompanying the instrument. Dr. Burney visited Italy, and consulted all that could afford information upon the subject, and stated, that in the manuscript missals, rituals, graduals, psalters, and antiphonaries, of any of the great libraries, not the slightest trace of counterpoint was to he found. Previous to the time of Guido, who flourished in the 11th century, descant, which consisted of an under-part, called organum, sung to the plain melody, was practised; but the barbarous dissonances which by it were tolerated, rendered such an addition anything but an improvement. For instance, this under-part proceeded in successive intervals of the fourth with the melody. As it was allowed to double this part an octave higher, it produced a succession of fifths, the most unbearable progression to a refined ear that could be imagined. For the next three or four centuries, but little progress was made in the art of counterpoint. Music, at this time, was cultivated almost exclusively by churchmen, who were much opposed to anything having the appearance of change or innovation. Counterpoint, nevertheless, continued to advance. Franco introduced new concords, and gave rules as to their use; but even with his improvements, the art was in an imperfect state. From his time, however, improvements continued to be made; the system was now established on fixed principles; and a science, more interesting than those who had only viewed it in a superficial manner were inclined to acknowledge had been the result.

Until the time of the ancient Greeks, music could not be said to have possessed a history. It was true, that there were records of its existence in the first ages of the world; that by Noah it was in all probability preserved to the world after the flood; that by the Phoenicians and Egyptians their knowledge and improvements were communicated to the Hebrews and Greeks, but what that knowledge was, could not be ascertained. The Greeks were an essentially musical people, and held the cultivation of the art as of great national importance. Their senators did not scorn to legislate upon the subject; and in their schemes of education music formed no inconsiderable part. The scales or genera used by the Greeks were three, the diatonic, the chromatic, and the enharmonic. In the first of these, the diatonic, the progression consisted of a semitone and two whole tones, - as from B flat to C flat, the semitone C flat to D, one whole tone, D to E another whole tone, forming what was termed the tetrachord. The union of two of these tetrachords disjunct, formed our diatonic octave. The chromatic differed from ours of that name, as we used a continued series of semitones, while theirs proceeded by two semitones and a minor third. The enharmonic was a scale of little practical use to ¬ęs, few of our instruments being so constructed asto express the diesis or quarter tone, - it consisted, however, of two quarter tones and a major third. These three scales united made a fourth or mixed genus, and out of it their modes, grave, middle, and acute, were formed, - the gravity or cheerfulness depending upon its locality in the compass of this genus, which comprised three octaves and a tone.

With the Romans, as with the Greeks, music, was held in high estimation. It was largely used in the celebration of religious rites, and also in connexion with the drama, and as a fashionable accomplishment. They were principally indebted to the Greeks, as the Greeks were to the Egyptians, for the improvement of their taste. They had, however, a music of their own; coarse and rude it might have been, but still entitling them to be considered as possessing a national music. Rome, from her rude beginning and mere military genius, after a time emulated the Greeks, and established public institutions for the advancement of poetry and music, and by the time of Augustus, their literature was as splendid as their military achievements. After this time a false taste was cultivated, and the effeminate luxury of the Asiatics was substituted for manly refinement. Music became puerile and voluptuous, and was made subservient to the gross passions and sensual appetite of the times. Music having ceased to receive the patronage of the mighty among the Romans, took refuge with the early Christians, by them it was used to solace their wearied spirits under the almost unceasing persecution of their heathen masters. To caves in the rocks, holes in the earth, and almost impenetrable parts did these early professors of our holy faith retire to exercise religious rites. Under these circumstances, music as a science could not be expected to make any progress. In the few intervals from active persecution which they enjoyed, it formed a conspicuous feature in their services. The melodies used in the Church appeared to have been very simple, the whole congregation joining in them without previous teaching. In the time of Constantine music began to be studied with reference to its applications to the Church, and at the Council of Laodicea, a canon was issued, directing that none but the canons who sang out of parchment books should be allowed to sing in the church. It was supposed by some writers, that organs were not introduced into churches till about the year 670, though Dr. Busby said that they must have been in use in the time of Julian the Apostate, who flourished in the 4th century.

The lecturer said, he had not intended to have discontinued his subject here; but having been too much pressed for time to proceed further, he must defer the resumption of it to some future time.


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (6 March 1843), 3 

MR. JOHNSON, Organist of St. James's Church, has removed to College street, Hyde Park, (Mr. Lyons's Terrace), and requests that all communication¬ę to him, may be addressed at above. March 4.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (2 May 1843), 1 

SINGING CLASS, On the system of Hullah and Mainzer, so successfully established in London and on the Continent.
THE public are informed, that a class in connexion with the School of Arts, will be opened on Tuesday, May the 9th, at seven, p.m., under the direction of Mr. Marsh, Member of the Royal Society of British Musicians; and Mr. Johnson, Organist of St. James's Church, and will meet every Tuesday and Friday, at the same hour.
Terms per quarter to members of the School of Arts 10s., and to non-members of that Institution 15s, to be paid in advance.
Persons desirous of joining the class, are requested to leave their names with Mr. Duer, the Secretary, at the School of Arts, between the hours of two and nine, p.m.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (14 July 1843), 3

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (29 August 1843), 3 

MR. JOHNSON, Organist of St. James's Church, begs to announce that he intends opening classes for teaching the theory of Music and Singing, at his residence, College-street, Hyde Park, the first of which will be commenced on Tuesday, the 29th instant, at eight o'clock, and will meet every Tuesday and Friday at the same hour.
A class for the convenience of young ladies attending school during the day, will meet at five o'clock on Mondays and Thursdays.
Terms and particulars may be obtained at Mr. Johnson's residence, College-street, Hyde Park.


"COLONIAL BUILT ORGAN", The Australian (19 October 1844), 3 

"THE ORGAN OF ST. ANDREW'S TEMPORARY CHURCH", The Sydney Morning Herald (30 November 1844), 2 

"THE NEW ORGAN AT ST. ANDREWS. To the Editor", The Sydney Morning Herald (2 December 1844), 4

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (13 December 1844), 3 

MR. W. J. JOHNSON, Organist of St. Laurence Temporary Church, 53, Pitt-street South. Pianofortes tuned for 5s. Instruments repaired.


30 May 1845, Maria Hinckesman's concert

[Advertisement], The Australian (29 May 1845), 2 

10 September 1845, consecration of Christ Church, St. Lawrence, Sydney

"CONSECRATION OF CHRIST CHURCH", The Sydney Morning Herald (11 September 1845), 2 

YESTERDAY morning the new church in the parish of St. Lawrence, was consecrated in the usual form by the Lord Bishop of Australia. His Lordship was received at the western door by the minister of the church, the Rev. W. H. Walsh, the churchwardens, and several of the principal inhabitants, when the petition for the consecration was presented and read . . .

The usual morning service was then proceeded with by the Rev. W. H. Walsh, the various collects introduced in the consecration service being read by the Bishop . . .

The singing and chanting was of a very superior description, the choir being assisted by nearly all the singing members of the Choral Society. The new organ was played by Mr. W. Johnson; it is a very fine toned instrument: we hope, on a future occasion, to be able to give a description of it. The chants (the Venite, the Psalms for the occasion, and the Jubilate,) were by Tallis, Nares, Tarrant, and Spofforth. The Te Deum was King's splendid composition in D. The anthem was Handel's chorus from the Messiah, "Lift up your heads O ye gates," and previous to the Sermon there was Gibbons' Sanctus. The greater part of the congregation could never have had an opportunity of hearing sacred music performed so effectively before. The Te Deum and the anthem were remarkably well sung . . .

"SCHOOL OF ARTS", The Australian (16 September 1845), 3

"THE ORATORIO", The Sydney Morning Herald (25 December 1845), 2


"STEALING WINE", Morning Chronicle (22 April 1846), 2

POLICE COURT. MONDAY . . . ROBBERY BY A SERVANT", The Sydney Weekly Transcript (25 April 1846), 3 

A damsel named Dorah Berkely made her appearance at the Police Office, charged with abstracting from the cellar of her employer, Mr. William Johnson, of Pitt-street, four bottles of wine for her own private drinking. Mr. Johnson had recently remarked a growing consumption of his stock, and as the appearance of the prisoner confirmed the suspicion of her indulgence in unpermitted libations, he caused a search to be made, when the wine in question was discovered in her possession. She was fully committed to take her trial.

14 October 1846, James Johnson's concert of sacred music

[Advertisement], The Spectator (10 October 1846), 453 

"CONCERT", The Sydney Morning Herald (16 October 1846), 3

"MR. JOHNSON'S CONCERT", The Australian (17 October 1846), 3 


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (2 April 1847), 1 

THE Pianoforte is by the celebrated firm of Zeitler and Company, constructed on a new principal, the soundboard being supported by elastic wooden arches, therefore warranted to possess superior sonorous properties, and like the violin to improve by use; in addition to which, it has a repetition action, and all the most modern improvements, and is in every respect perfectly in order.
The Harp is by Eratt [sic, Erard], of London, and a very sweet instrument.
These instruments can be seen by applying to Mr. W. J. JOHNSON, Organist of Christ Church, 53, Pitt-street South.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (4 May 1847), 1 

WANTED, for the Choir of St. James's Church, Adult Singers. Apply to the Organist, Mr. JOHNSON, 48, Horbury Terrace, Macquarie-street. May 3.

11 May 1847, death of Ellen Johnson ("aged 50")

"DIED", The Sydney Morning Herald (12 May 1847), 3 

On the 11th May, Ellen, the wife of Mr. James Johnson, Organist of St. James's Church.


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (6 January 1848), 1 

Mr. W. J. JOHNSON. (Organist of Christ Church, St. Lawrence,) begs to inform Lsdies and the public generally that he has made arrangements by which, from this date, he will be able to give prompt and immediate attention to any orders that he may be honoured with in the above branches of his profession.
He therefore solicits a portion of their kind patronage.
Orders left at either of the following Stationer's will be at once attended to, viz.-
Mr. Moffitt, Pitt-street.
Messrs. W. and F. Ford, George-street.
Messrs. Kern and Mader, Hunter-street.
Sydney, January 1.
P.- Charges as usual.

"NEWS INSOLVENTS", The Sydney Morning Herald (12 June 1848), 3 

William Jonathan Johnson, of the city of Sydney, organ builder. Debts, £463 3s. 9d. Assets-personal property, £258; landed property, £10; good debts, £67 18s.; and a doubtful debt, £1 1s. 6d. Balance deficiency, £116 4s. 3d. - Official Assignee, Mr. George King.

"THE MINISTER OF CHRIST CHURCH", Sydney Chronicle (10 June 1848), 7 

. . . Nay, would he [the Revd. W. H. Walsh], had he to begin his service at Christ-church anew, put his choir in surplices, or sing a Sanctus instead of Tate and Brady's Psalms, or use the Gregorian Chaunt, or preach in a surplice, or say the Anglican Mattins! . . .

[Advertisement], The Sydney Daily Advertiser (13 June 1848), 3 

MR. W. J. JOHNSON, Organist of Christ Church, begs to notify that he has removed his Organ Manufactory to his former workshop, Flood's Lane, Sussex-street South.
Orders for tunings, &c., left at Messrs. Kern and Maders, stationers, Hunter-street; or Mr. Moffitt's, stationer, will be promptly attended to.

[Notice], New South Wales Government Gazette (16 June 1848), 757 

In the Insolvent Estate of William Jonathan Johnson, of Sydney, organ builder.
WHEREAS the Estate of William Jonathan Johnson was, on the tenth day of June, 1848, placed under sequestration by order of His Honor Mr. Justice Manning, I hereby appoint a first meeting of the Creditors of the said Insolvent, to be holden before me, at my Office, Supreme Court House, Sydney, on Thursday, the twenty-second day of June instant, to commence at 11 a. m., and end at noon, for the proof of debts against the said Estate, and a second meeting to be holden before me, at the same place, on Monday, the twenty-sixth day of June instant, to commence at 11 a. m. for the like purpose, and for the election of a Creditor's Assignee) if required. - Sydney, 14th June, 1848.
Chief Commissioner of Insolvent Estates.
Official Assignee - George King.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Daily Advertiser (5 July 1848), 3  

"SYDNEY CHORAL SOCIETY", The Sydney Morning Herald (21 July 1848), 2

On Wednesday evening last, visitors were again admitted to the practice of this Society, being the second time within the last two months. The programme consisted chiefly of the compositions of the great masters, Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, and Mozart. There was also a judicious selection from the cathedral services of Smith, of Dublin, which, consisting of alternate verse, and chorus, formed a pleasing contrast with the more ponderous choruses of the Messiah. The whole was executed in a manner that would have done credit to musicians much more experienced than the members of the Sydney Choral Society. The organ accompaniments were by Mr. James Johnson, the indefatigable conductor. It may be new to some of our readers that this Society was formed with the twofold object of furnishing volunteer choirs for the parish churches of Sydney, and of cultivating a taste for really good music, and in both these objects we believe the Society has been eminently successful.

"NOTICE TO CREDITORS", New South Wales Government Gazette (18 August 1848), 1043 

SUPREME COURT. SOLVENCY JURISDICTION. WEDNESDAY", The Sydney Daily Advertiser (28 September 1848), 2 

On the motion of the Chief Commissioner, the following insolvents' certificates were confirmed: - John Buckland, James Bridges, and William Jonathan Johnson.

Sydney in 1848 (published in numbers form July 1848 to April 1849)

. . . St. James's Church is a building of considerable dimensions, the foundation of which was laid on the 7th October, 1819 . . . There is a well toned and powerful organ, and an excellent choir under the direction of Mr. James Johnson, to whom the Colony is indebted for the first introduction of this branch of music. The Choral Society, mentioned above, owes its origin to the meetings originally held for practice for the service of this Church.


"MECHANICS' SCHOOL OF ARTS, SYDNEY", The Courier (28 February 1849), 2

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (26 May 1849), 3

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (12 December 1849), 3


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (6 July 1850), 1 

"NOTICE is hereby given . . . ", New South Wales Government Gazette (26 July 1850), 1104 



[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (23 August 1852), 5


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (5 February 1853), 5

[Advertisement], Empire (8 December 1853), 8


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (18 July 1854), 1 

TO ORGANISTS. - Required for the Sydney Choral Society, an Organist. Applications to be addressed to Mr. JAMES JOHNSON, 3B2, Terry's Buildings, Pitt-atreet.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (31 August 1854), 1

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (12 September 1854), 1

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (16 September 1854), 8


"THE SYDNEY HARMONICON", The Sydney Morning Herald (24 December 1855), 2


[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (2 February 1856), 9

With a complete listing of the contents of the Sydney harmonicon issues 1-7

"THE SYDNEY HARMONICON", The Sydney Morning Herald (26 February 1856), 5

[11th issue] [Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (1 March 1856), 12

"MR. JOHNSON'S SECOND FESTIVAL OF SACRED MUSIC", Freeman's Journal (3 May 1856), 3 


"SYDNEY CHORAL SOCIETY", The Sydney Morning Herald (9 June 1857), 4

"SYDNEY CHORAL SOCIETY", Empire (9 June 1857), 5



"SYDNEY VOCAL HARMONIC SOCIETY", The Sydney Morning Herald (15 January 1859), 4


"DEATH OF MR. JAMES JOHNSON", The Sydney Morning Herald (14 April 1860), 13

We are sure that our readers will learn with deep regret, that this universally esteemed gentleman died yesterday afternoon, at his residence in Pitt-street. On Wednesday, the 4th instant, he was riding a vicious buck jumping horse, which was let out for hire at Manly Beach, when he was thrown violently over the head of the animal, and fell upon his elbow. Being a stout, heavy man, he suffered a compound fracture of the arm, which, from the first, assumed a serious aspect. Inflammation rapidly set in, rendering it impossible to set the fractured limb; ultimately the wounds suppurated, and the virus becoming absorbed into his system, caused his deeply lamented death. It is superfluous to say that Mr. Johnson had the best medical aid that the colony could afford [Charles Nathan], and that the sympathy and condolence of an unusually large circle of attached friends alleviated his last illness. He had filled the situation of organist at St. James's Church for twenty-four years, and conducted the important part of public worship which fell to his charge, with most becoming reverence, great musical ability, and undeviating punctuality. By the congregation at St. James' he will, we are sure, be much regretted. He also held the office of assistant secretary at the Benevolent Asylum for many years, a position where his business habits, his long experience, and unflinching rectitude, were of great public service. The musical circles of Sydney have lost a warm supporter in Mr. Johnson, who was the founder of the Sydney Choral Society, and lost no opportunity of promoting the art of which he was an enthusiastic admirer, and a sound and skilful professor. Indeed, it may be said that he had the high honour of being the father of choral singing in Australia.

"DEATHS", The Sydney Morning Herald (21 April 1860), 4

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (26 April 1860), 1




[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (1 April 1862), 2

. . . Church music has always been my primary object in musical matters, and if I have been in the smallest degree the means of enlivening the devotion of any, I am heartily thankful to Him, from whom alone come all good gifts . . .

"CHRISTMAS HYMN", The Sydney Morning Herald (18 December 1862), 7

The late Mr. James Johnson, for many years organist of St. James's church, composed a hymn for Christmas Day, "High let us swell our tuneful notes", which, however, he never published; and the approach of this "joyous time" has been taken advantage of by Messrs. W. J. Johnson and Co. to give it publicity. The hymn is arranged for four voices, with an organ or pianoforte accompaniment. The subject is set in A sharp with a symphony in C natural. The composition is in the style of the old church music, full, extremely harmonious, and well adapted for all places of worship where the congregations join in the singing. Mr. Johnson was devoted to that part of his profession pertaining to choral music, and the respect in which his memory is held will, no doubt, induce many to possess themselves of this unpretending but meritorious "Hymn for Christmas Day".

NOTE: For another mention of a setting of the hymn, perhaps Burney's, see "COUNTRY NEWS", The Sydney Morning Herald (2 January 1860), 3]



"NOTICE OF DISSOLUTION OF PARTNERSHIP", New South Wales Government Gazette (28 October 1864), 2441 

THE Partnership formerly existing between us, the undersigned, William Jonathan Johnson and Abraham Emanuel, as pianoforte and music sellers, carried on in Sydney under the style or firm of "W. J. Johnson & Co.," was dissolved on the 30th day of September last, by effluxion of time. - Sydney, 27th October, 1864.



[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (23 August 1866), 16

"DEATHS", The Sydney Morning Herald (5 October 1866), 1

"THE LATE MR. W. J. JOHNSON", The Sydney Morning Herald (5 October 1866), 4

Our readers, and especially those who take an interest in the cultivation of music will read with much regret of the death of Mr. William J. Johnson. This talented gentleman for thirty years pursued the duties of his profession in our midst, and in his department of life has rendered valuable service to the community. On Wednesday evening last after a lingering and painful illness, he died at his residence, Erskineville Road, Newtown. Mr. Johnson came to this colony in company with an elder brother (also an accomplished musician) in the early part of 1836. He brought I with him the result of careful training and diligent study, and above all, the devotion of a true artist. Those who remember his exertions in relation to choral music at St. James's will be not be slow to admit that his efforts have had a large influence in promoting that efficiency which now commonly characterises the "Service of Song". When Christ Church was consecrated he accepted the position of organist and choir master, and retained it to the day of his death. Mr. Johnson was also wall known as a composer. His "Te Deum" and "Jubilate" are familiar to most lovers of church music. An anthem composed by him for one of the collects, and published in England was very highly spoken of by Novello. Among the latest of his compositions was a phasing arrangement of the hymn, "Nearer, my God, to Thee". In these and other pieces, Mr. Johnson proved the thoroughness of his musical knowledge. In private life he was justly esteemed by all who had the privilege of his friendship and his memory will be long revered for his public services, his domestic virtues, the strict integrity of his life, and the quiet and unobtrusive charities of home. Mr. Johnson was in the fifty sixth year of his age and has left a widow and eight children.

"ECCLESIASTICAL JURISDICTION", New South Wales Government Gazette (9 October 1866), 2413 

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (7 November 1866), 8

After 1866

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (12 January 1867), 8 

PIANOFORTES constantly on hand by the most celebrated maker . . . .
All the most popular MUSIC sold at half the LONDON MARKED PRICES.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (29 May 1867), 1 

W. J. JOHNSON and CO., 233, Pitt-street.
W. J. JOHNSON and CO., 233, Pitt-street.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (10 July 1867), 9

THURSDAY, July 11th.
In the Estate of the late W. J. Johnson, of Pitt-street, deceased.
To Pianoforte Buyers, Music Sellers, and others.
Brilliant-toned Boudoir Grand PIANOFORTE, by Cadby, 7 octaves, with all the latest improvements, in Handsome Rosewood Case.
Splendid Harmonium, by Alexandre et Fils, 13 Stops, in Rosewood Case.
Fine-toned Cottage Pianofortes, by Collard, Eratd, Challon and Co., and other first-class makers.
Small Instruments, Music Stools, Music, consisting of Songs, Dances, Galops, Operatic Selections, Pieces, &c.
First-class Instruction Books, Fixtures, Fittings, &c.
MESSRS. CHANDLER and CO. have received instructions to sell by auction, at the Warehouse, 233, Pitt-street, three doors from King-street, on THURSDAY, July 11th, at 11 o'clock, The whole of the stock-in- trade of the late Mr. W. J. Johnson, comprising Pianofortes, harmoniums, music, Fixtures, fittings, &c.
The stock can be viewed on the morning of sale, and catalogues had.

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (14 November 1868), 6

NEARER TO THEE. - Sixth edition, just published; transcribed for the pianoforte by Mr. W. J. Johnson. May be had at all the musicsellers; and at Messrs. F. and E. COLE'S, Stationers, George-street

[Advertisement], The Sydney Morning Herald (21 April 1869), 1

A FIRST and FINAL DIVIDEND of 3s 4d in the £ is now payable in the above estate, at Messrs. Elvy and Co.'s Music Warehouse, 321, George-street, where balance sheet can be seen, and deed of released signed.
ROBERT ELVY, JOHN LAMB, Trustees. April 19, 1869.
N.B. - All bills and promissory notes will be required to be given up.

"JOHNSON V. PARK", The Sydney Morning Herald (24 December 1869), 2

This was an action brought by Emily Harris Johnson (executrix and widow of William Jonathan Johnson) to recover £29 10, for hire of goods and detenue. This was an action about a pianoforte. The case of the plaintiff was that the instrument had only been let out to defendant at so much a month, and that the wife of defendant had actually paid to the son and agent of plaintiff part of the money for its hire. Defendant, to the contrary, declared that the piano had been bought, and that the payments made were part payment of the purchase money. Verdict for the plaintiff, £10. Mr. G. C Davis, instructed by Mr. H. R. Way, appeared for the plaintiff; Mr. Hellyer appeared for the defendant.

"OBITUARY. MR. F. H. JOHNSON", The Sydney Morning Herald (21 April 1931), 13

Mr. Frederick Henry Johnson, who died at Wahroonga on Sunday in his 87th year, belonged to a pioneer family. His father, Mr. William Jonathan Johnson, came to Australla in 1830, and was later organist at Christ Church St. Laurence for many years, but his grandfather, Charles Tompson, came out in 1798, and obtained a grant of land at Windsor in 1803, and erected thereon in 1804, with convict labour, a homestead which he called Clydesdale, and which is still standing. The Rev. Richard Johnson, who came out in 1788 with Governor Phillip and built the first church, was deceased's great grand-uncle. Mr. Johnson, whose remains were interred in the Church of England portion of the Northern Suburbs Cemetery yesterday, was born at Newtown. He was for many years in the service of the Bank of New South Wales, and later, with the Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society. He is survived by four sons and two daughters - Messrs. W. S. Johnson (Hay), F. H. Johnson (Wellington, N.Z.), R. M. Johnson (Griffith), and M. F. Johnson (Sydney), Mrs. H. H. Wheeler and Miss Johnson (Wahroonga). The burial service was conducted by Revs. Leicester Johnson and S. Fielding.

Musical works


Extant - bold work heading in red

Lost or no copy identified - bold work heading in black

James Johnson

High let us swell our tuneful notes (published 1862)

The first hymn for Christmas-day: High let us swell our tuneful notes (Sydney: W. J. Johnson, [1862])

William Jonathan Johnson

The Chusan polka (1852)

The Chusan polka ("Performed by the band of Her Majesty's XIth Regiment, at the Ball given in honor of the arrival of the first Steam Ship [Chusan] from Great Britain ... and published at the request of his friends") (Sydney: W. J. Johnson. [1852])

Fancy ball polka (1853)

Fancy Ball polka ("performed by the band of Her Majesty's XIth Regiment, at the Mayor's Fancy Dress Ball"; "Dedicated to Mrs. Egan") (Sydney: W. J. Johnson, [1853])

A collection of psalm tunes (1854)

A collection of psalm tunes (comprising the best compositions in general use, harmonized for four voices, with an arrangement for the organ or piano forte edited by W. J. Johnson) (Sydney: W. J. Johnson, [1854])

Ladies' ugly schottische (1856)

Ladies' ugly schottische ([Sydney: W. J. Johnson, 1856; in The Sydney Harmonicon]


Good night (1862)

Good night (terzetto; composed expressly for the society)

"OPRHEONIST SOCIETY", The Sydney Morning Herald (6 January 1862), 5

"MUSICAL AND DRAMA", The Sydney Morning Herald (21 January 1862), 4

An Easter anthem (1862)

An Easter anthem: Christ being raised from the dead ("Composed for the use of St. Paul's College Chapel") (Sydney: W. J. Johnson, [1862])

O lord God (1863)

O lord God (anthem) (Sydney: [W. J. Johnson], [1863]) Copy at British Library. Transcription, Forsyth, 546 (550)

Nearer to thee (arr. Johnson, 1864)

Nearer to thee [F. A. Packer, senior] (transcribed for pianoforte by W. J. Johnson; Dedicated to Signor Cutolo) (Sydney: W. J. Johnson, [1864])

Te Deum and Jubilate in D (1866)

Te Deum and Jubilate in D ([Sydney: W. J. Johnson, [1866])


Hallelujah, amen (n.d.)

Hallelujah, amen (before the gospel) MS: Sydney, Christ Church; edition: Forsyth, 536 (540)

Third hymn for Christmas day (n.d.)

Third hymn for Christmas day (While shepherds watched their flocks) ? or by William Stanley; MS: Sydney, Christ Church; edition: Forsyth, 537 (541)

Psalm chants (n.d.)

Anglican chants; MS: Sydney, Christ Church; edition: Forsyth, 545 (549)

Published music (W. J Johnson & Co.)


Extant - bold work heading in red

Lost or no copy identified - bold work heading in black

- - -

Bibliography and resources

Rushworth 1988, 365-67

Neidorf 1999

Forsyth 2002

Skinner 2011

© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2023