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(Kim's great great great great great grandmother)

 

a Jewish milliner of about 15 years, was tried at the Old Bailey in July 1786 for attempting to steal 24 yards of black silk lace from a London shop. Despite three character witnesses, Esther was sentenced to seven years' transportation and imprisoned in Newgate Gaol, where she gave birth to a daughter, Roseanna, in March 1787. A petition for Royal Mercy, lodged in February, went unanswered, and Esther and her daughter embarked on the Lady Penhryn, on which Lieutentant George Johnston, an officer in the marines, was responsible for maintaining discipline and preventing disorder among the convicts, most of whom were women. A liaison developed between George and Esther which was to last the rest of their lives.

After two years in New South Wales, the couples first son, George, was baptised in March 1790, two days before they sailed for Norfolk Island.

The food situation being desperate at Port Jackson, Governor Phillip sent two ships with some 200 convicts and marines to Norfolk Island, where farming was becoming established. George supervised the clearing and cultivation at Charlotte Field, but five further months of stringent rationing may have undermined his health, for he returned to Port Jackson because of illness in February 1791.

Esther rejoined him there in May 1791, and the following March another son, Robert, was born. George joined the NSW corps and as one of its first officers, received in February 1793 a grant of 100 acres at Petersham Hill on the road to Parramatta. Later another 200 acres were added.

Here George and Esther built Annandale House, named after Georges birthplace in Scotland. Their third son, David, was born there in 1800, by which time the house was resplendent and the farm - with its own bakery, smithy, slaughterhouse, butchery, stores, vineyard and orangerie - was considered one of the most complete in Sydney. An avenue of Norfolk Pines, which George had bought from Norfolk Island, led up to the house. With its wide verandahs and imposing hall, it remained a showpiece until it was demolished in 1905.

As a leading officer in the NSW Corps, George became deeply embroiled in the political and military affairs of the colony, and left to his de facto wife the management of the property as well as the running of the household and the raising of their children.

Esther's responsibilities increased when George was sent to England in 1800 under arrest for trading in spirits; he returned without having stood trial in 1802. In March 1804, George put down a rebellion of 200 Irish convicts with a detachment of 26 men at Vinegar (Rouse) Hill. Later, on 26 January 1808 - exactly 20 years to the day since he had been the first ashore at Sydney Cove - George led the bloodless coup in which he arrested Governor Bligh and appointed himself Lieutenant-Governor of the colony.

When George returned to England to justify his part in the rebellion, Esther - who had adopted the surname Julian - was once again left in charge of his large estate, the care of their two sons and two daughters (one daughter having died very young in 1806), and with another child on the way. Four years passed before George was found guilty of mutiny, cashiered and allowed to return as a free settler. In that time, Esther ran the estate, sold produce to the government, and received, as Esther Julian, a grant of 750 acres at the Georges River to graze cattle.

Reunited in May 1813, the couple devoted themselves to their family and their estates. Probably at the instigation of Governor Macquarie (who was shocked at the number of unions unsanctioned by the church), Esther and George were married by the Reverend Samuel Marsden at Concord on 12 November 1814. Esthers first child, Roseanna, married to Isaac Nichols, was one of the witnesses.

Their eldest son, George, appointed a clerk to the commissary and later deputy provost-marshal, distinguished himself by rounding up the herd of wild cattle that had bred from the original seven strays of 1788. When he died tragically in a riding accident on 19 February 1820, he was widely mourned; his brother, David, was appointed to take his place.

Three years later, George Johnston Senior died, and was buried on the Annandale property in the family vault built by Francis Greenway on Macquarie's instructions when George Junior died. In his will, George left the entire Annandale estate to Esther and to their son Robert on Esthers death. David received George's Hall at the George's River, and the rest was divided equally among Esther and her children. This Will created an unbridgeable rift between Esther and Robert. Described in the 1828 census as a free settler in possession of 2,460 acres of land, the following year Esther announced her intention of mortgaging her property and or returning to England. Robert instigated proceedings to have his mother declared insane and unable to administer her estates.

At the court proceedings in March 1829 it was reported that Esther drank, quarrelled frequently with her children, and that her habits, if not insane, were eccentric. The jury found her 'insane' but having lucid moments; however, Robert was found 'not heir at law', and trustees were appointed for Esthers estate.

She spent the rest of her life at George's Hall, where she died on 26 August 1846. She was buried in the Annandale family vault, having lived a classic 'rags to riches' life.

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