Mary Johnson (1752 – 1831) wife of Richard Johnson, first chaplain of NSW
No details of Mary Burton’s background or early life are known. She married Richard Johnson on 4 Dec 1786, shortly after his appointment as chaplain to the First Fleet. Johnson described his wife as ‘about half a Baptist and half a Methodist’, and their marriage was a harmonious one.
Mary was the only officer’s wife who accompanied her husband on the First Fleet and the first few years must have been lonely in terms of female company. She seems to have been undeterred by this or any other hardships, as there is no mention of any complaints by her.
She kept house under very primitive conditions, and gave birth to a stillborn baby in 1788 and two other children (Milbah Maria, b. 1790 and Henry Martin, b. 1792). As well as raising her own family she cared for a number of Aboriginal girls, and welcomed other women on their arrival, such as Mrs Marsden and the wives of the Tahiti missionaries. She was a constant support and encouragement to her husband throughout their life together.
The Fleet left in May 1787, with Richard and Mary Johnson on board the ship The Golden Grove. The convicts had already been aboard the ships for 4 months or more even before they sailed.
On The Golden Grove he was able to conduct a service each Sunday, and to read prayers every evening. When the Fleet reached Rio de Janeiro, he visited the other ships to minister to those on board, marines and convicts alike.
Richard Johnson was a man with a mission. Not for him any pious platitudes… he was concerned vitally about the souls of men and women.
After their arrival at Port Jackson, Johnson was as busy as anyone in the new colony. It took five months before he was able to house his wife in a little cottage built from cabbage tree palms and thatched rushes – and by the end of 1788, he was growing enough vegetables for his own needs. He soon became known as the best farmer in Sydney Town.
In three years, he and Mary and their new born daughter moved into a new brick house in Bridge Street, not far from the Tank Stream… and a son was born a year later.
Above image - Inscription on monument at Richard Johnson Square – corner of Bligh and Hunter Streets Sydney. Source : http://acl.asn.au/resources/richard-johnson-first-chaplain-to-australia/
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