Johnston descendants celebrate bicentenary of pioneers' arrival in Wingham

Early Wingham settler Isabella Johnston.

Early Wingham settler Isabella Johnston.

The descendants of early pioneers William and Isabella Johnston are gathering at Wingham on the weekend of August 5 and 6 to celebrate the pioneers’ arrival in the colony and Wingham 200 hundred years ago.

On August 6,1817, William and Isabella Johnston and a cousin, Michael Henderson, arrived in Sydney Cove on board the ‘Canada’.

They had travelled from Scotland and were believed to be the first free settlers to pay their own passage, as those before them were subsidised by the British government.

Between 1817 and 1823 the three resided in the Botany Bay area where four children were born to William and Isabella.

In March 1823 they made the difficult crossing over the mountains by bullock dray so William could take up the position of Superintendent of Agriculture in Bathurst.

Isabella was one of the earliest women to make this journey and the difficulties and dangers encountered with four young children, the youngest only four months old, can scarcely be imagined.

William was dismissed from his position in Bathurst, in part for being on friendly terms with the convicts and “admitting them to his table”. In spite of this he was granted a large acreage, ‘Bathampton’, by Governor Brisbane.

By now there were 12 children and one deceased daughter, and after a  severe drought they decided to move to the Port Macquarie area.

In 1843 William leased land at Wherrol Flat, Dingo Creek. Wherrol Flat was the name given by William to describe the whirl of the creek at that point.

During this time the Johnstons’ cousin Michael Henderson moved in 1824 to Raymond Terrace where he built a two-storied mansion over looking the river which he named Roslyn Castle. It was ahead of its time with a foot of earth between the floors to keep the house cool.

This enterprising young man supported his brother’s four children when their parents died, bringing them to Australia and helping them to make their way in a new land. Michael is buried in Raymond Terrace cemetery.

For William and Isabella the property at Wherrol Flat, which they named “Sunnyside” was where they put down their roots.

William and four others built a large cedar home with five bedrooms, a large loungeroom, dining room and kitchen. There was a beautiful crepe myrtle tree in front of the house and also a palm tree and wisteria vine and other well kept gardens.

A son, Robert, started a school for the children of Dingo creek on his own property.

The family were known and respected leaders of the community and William and Isabella lived to see their family become pioneer settlers in the Northern Rivers area.

William died aged 77 years and is buried on Sunnyside. Isabella died aged 93 and is buried in Frederickton cemetery. At the time of her death she had seven sons, five daughters, 76 grandchildren and 70 great grandchildren.

Today a great-great-great grandson, Daryl, and his wife, Jodie, still reside on one of the Johnston properties ‘Sengenhoe’.

The descendants of William and Isabella and Michael Henderson plan to tread in their footsteps at the reunion at Wingham and take home inspiration from their fortitude ,and community-minded spirit and family values.

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