He may well be the most significant First Fleeter you have never heard of.
On 26 January 1788 Arthur Phillip lead 11 ships into Port Jackson. Just shy of 1500 people would embark with the hope of starting a new British colony.
Among them was one man, Rev Richard Johnson. Born in 1756, and ordained to the ministry in 1784, Johnson was the chaplain to the new settlement.
Yet despite the enormity of the task, and the odds being stacked against him, Johnson left a legacy which we still benefit from today.
No doubt the task of being sole chaplain to a population composed almost exclusively of convicts and hardened military men was daunting enough. Add to this the struggle to discover farming techniques which would succeed in this new land, the challenge of building a settlement from scratch and the daily struggle for survival in a new land. It was a hard slog!
Johnson also had to contend with a Governor who wanted him to do little more than instil a sense of morality in a population of criminals. This lead to conflicts between Johnson and the Phillip. Yet Johnson would not be dissuaded from the mission on which he had been sent. To proclaim the message of Jesus.
Pivotal in Johnson's appointment was William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a young, talented politician who had experienced a profound conversion to Christianity. Driven by his his personal experience of Jesus, he set about reshaping his world. Most famously he was the prime mover behind the abolition of slavery in Britain (The movie "Amazing Grace" tells this stunning story).
Wilberforce was also keenly interested in the appointment of chaplains to the colonies. Chaplains who would not simply brow beat the settlers with morality, or ritual. Rather he wanted chaplains who would call people to the same personal faith in Jesus that Wilberforce had discovered.
A week after their arrival, Johnson preached the first Christian sermon from Psalm 116:12-13
What shall I render unto the Lord
for all his benefits towards me?
I will take the cup of salvation,
and call upon the name of the Lord.
He called people not to simply lift themselves by their own boot straps, but to experience the saving work of Jesus. A saving work which in turn would transform their lives and ambitions. It certain did this for Johnson!
One key area in which we still benefit from Johnson's labours is in the area of Education.
Johnson personally established the first school systems in the colony. He recruited teachers from amongst the convicts, raised funds to pay them, provided books, and taught lessons himself. The first official colonial school opened in1798 was overseen by Johnson and met in the Church he had personally funded.
Johnson also sought to make contributions in areas such as the law, convict welfare and indigenous relations.
One convict wrote home of his impressions of Johnson:
"I believe few of the sick would recover if it was not for the kindness of the Rev. Mr Johnson, whose assistance out of his own stores makes him the physician both of soul and body."
Johnson may not be the most well known British settler. However the mark he left on the Church and education in this country helped to shape the nation we now live in.
Yet one motivation remained central to all which Johnson strived to achieve. His firm belief that he was swept up in what Jesus had done in the world, and a desire that others be likewise swept up in it. As he wrote to the young colony in 1792;
"This will be my daily prayer to God for you. I shall pray for your eternal salvation, for your present welfare, for the preservation, peace, and prosperity of this colony: and especially for the more abundant and manifest success of the Redeemer's cause."
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