January 22, 2022

Old Places

Where we study the past to define our future

William Johnston - Will Cover

William Johnston, early settler in Wallan Wallan

William Johnston was born in 1816 in Auchinleck, Ayrshire, Scotland1. He was a farm worker in Kirkudbright before deciding to escape the poverty and famine sweeping his country and emigrate to Australia.

In 1838 he boarded the David Clark2 which was the first immigrant ship to sail from the United Kingdom direct to Port Phillip. He was a free settler and an assisted immigrant.

Assisted immigrants had their voyage subsidised by the colonial government because they brought with them skills which the colony needed. In Johnston’s case, it was his farming experience which was important.

He arrived on 27th Oct 1839 and began work with Horatio Cooper on his Darebin Creek (now known as Bundoora) farm3. He married Flora McCormick in 1846. Their first five children were born in Kinlochewe and Donnybrook and his next three children were all born in Wallan in the late 1850s4. We know that by 1853 Johnston had land in Wallan. The map shows Johnston’s property located on the Wallan-Darraweit Road, opposite that of W.H.Budd, with whom he had a long friendship.

William Johnston Landholding, 1853
William Johnston Landholding, 1853

After his first wife died, Johnston married Ann Mungovan, an Irish immigrant who had arrived in Australia in 1836. Together they had eleven children5.

William Johnston was active in the community, involved in the Wallan horse racing and Coursing Club events, both held at Laffan’s Inverlochy property. He was also a trustee of the Wallan Scots Church School from its foundation in 18576.

William Johnston died in Wallan in 1901, appointing William Hartley Budd and Daniel Fredrick Johnston as executors of his will. By the time of his death William Johnston owned 79 acres in Wallan Wallan which was known as ‘Grandview Farm,’ and 320 acres just outside Euroa7. That’s a great achievement for a hungry Scottish farm labourer in a foreign country.

Obituary for William Johnston, Wallan, in the Kilmore Free Press, 28 March 1901
Obituary for William Johnston, Wallan, in the Kilmore Free Press, 28 March 1901

William Johnston is buried in the Wallan cemetery along with his wife and some of his children.

Gravestone of William Johnston, Wallan
Gravestone of William Johnston, Wallan

Johnston’s descendants made their own mark on the local landscape, with John operating the Railway Hotel in Wallan East for several years, Daniel running his farm called Moondyne in Darraweit Guim, and Joseph becoming a stalwart of the local footballl teams. His children and grandchildren married in into the Stockdale, Cummins, Robson and Laffan families.

You can still meet William Johnston’s descendants in the area today.


[1]Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950

[2] https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/assisted-passenger-lists

[3] https://www.oocities.org/vic1847/c/c31.html?202028

[4], [5] https://www.bdm.vic.gov.au

[6] Payne, J.W., Pretty Sally’s Hill, p 70

[7] Victoria, Australia, Wills and Probate Records, 1841-2009

Image credit: gravestone, Billion Graves.

Obituary: The Kilmore Free Press, March 1901