Frederick Marshall Johnston (1885-1963) :

A Biographical Sketch of Australia’s First Director of National Mapping


By Laurie McLean


Frederick Marshall (Freddie) Johnston was born on 19 October 1885 in his parents’ home at 177-179 Adelaide Terrace Perth, Western Australia.  He was one of the eleven children of Harry Frederick Johnston (1853-1915) and Maria Louisa (Minnie) Johnston nee Butcher (1856-1921).


Frederick Marshall Johnston.

(Source: Knights and Theodolites facing page 208.)


Great Grandparents


Freddie was born into one of Western Australia’s pioneering families.  His great grandfather, Marshall Waller Clifton (1787-1861), a descendant of the aristocratic Nottingham family, was born at Alverstoke, Hampshire.  In 1811, Clifton married (Quaker) Elinor Bell (1792-1866) and by 1835 they had had 15 children.  He was elected to the Royal Society in June 1828 in recognition of his contribution to horticulture.  Following a restructure of the Admiralty’s Victualling Board in 1832 he resigned his position there as secretary and retired to France with his family on a pension of 600 pounds.  In 1840, he was appointed chief commissioner of a proposed land settlement scheme in Western Australia.  The settlement was an enterprise planned by the Western Australia Company formed by a London group that included Edward Gibbon Wakefield; who was Elinor Clifton’s cousin.  In March 1841, Clifton, Elinor and several of their children (as well as other family members) arrived at Port Leschenault (later renamed Australind) near Bunbury on the 496 ton barque Parkfield.


Owing to the low uptake of land by settlers, the scheme failed and in 1843 Clifton’s position was retrenched.  He stayed in Western Australia and built Upton House as the family home on scheme land where he farmed and grazed cattle.  He also became active in the affairs of the colony; he was appointed local magistrate, a justice of the peace and (from 1851) a member of the Legislative Council.  Clifton died at his home in April 1861, two years after resigning from the Council.  His widow Elinor died in February 1866; both were aged 73 years when they died.


Clifton’s descendants also contributed greatly to the development and community of Western Australia.  One daughter, Louisa (1814-1880) - later Mrs George Eliot - was a noted artist and diarist.  By 1897, some 20 of Clifton’s grandchildren held offices in the Western Australian administration.  Those who achieved high office included: Robert Cecil Clifton ISO, Under-Secretary of Lands; Lawrence Stirling Eliot, Under-Treasurer and HF Johnston, Surveyor-General.  At least four of Clifton’s great grand children gave notable public service: Edmund Cecil Clifton became Registrar of Titles; Edward Bertram Johnston was a state and federal parliamentarian; Frederick Marshall Johnston became Commonwealth Surveyor-General and Edgar Charles Johnston DFC became Assistant Director-General of Civil Aviation. This public service tradition extended at least to the fifth generation of the Clifton-Johnston family in Australia. Frederick Marshall Johnston’s only son Marshall Lewis Johnston served during World War Two and afterwards became a distinguished diplomat.




Freddie’s father, Harry Frederick Johnston (1853-1915) was the son of land surveyor Harley Robert Johnston (1816-1853) who was born in London of Scottish ancestry (from the Dumfries border country).  Harley’s parents were Henry Erskine Johnston and his wife Nanette nee Parker.  HR Johnston was one of several surveyors engaged by the Western Australian Company to commence necessary surveying work to define the blocks and related infrastructure at Port Leschenault prior to arrival of the settlers.  HR Johnston and other surveyors arrived in Western Australia on board the schooner Island Queen in December 1840.  He was engaged in surveying tasks until the Western Australia Company collapsed in 1843.  He then ceased practising as a surveyor and became a partner with MW Clifton in his farming and grazing activities.  On 31 December 1845, Harley Johnston married Mary Clifton (1822–1893), one of MW Clifton’s daughters.


In 1851, HR Johnston purchased the property Moorland as his family’s home; it was established by surveyor HM Ommanney about 10 years earlier.  After being unsuccessful on the Bendigo goldfields, Johnston returned to Fremantle on 17 November 1853 on the Louisa and set off to walk home to Bunbury carrying his swag.  His body was found on the road to Rockingham a few days later.  He was just 37 years of age.  Harley and Mary had four surviving children.  Their youngest child, Harry Frederick, was born at Moorland and was six months old when his father died.  Mary Johnston survived her husband by nearly 40 years; she died in July 1893.




FM Johnston’s parents Harry and Minnie (daughter of Edward William Butcher and his wife Maria Susan nee Schaw) married at Christ Church Geraldton on 11 March 1879.  From a pioneering Tasmanian family, the Butchers had been squatters in Victoria prior to taking up property on the Murchison River in Western Australia.  Sadly none of Harry and Minnie’s four daughters were among the six of their eleven children who reached adulthood; diphtheria and typhoid fever caused most of the deaths of the five children who were lost.


HF Johnston was granted a surveyor’s licence in 1874.  He joined the Lands and Surveys Department in 1883 and subsequently undertook important surveys in the Kimberly region during 1883 to 1885.  He became Western Australia’s Surveyor-General in 1896 and held that position until his death.  He had a keen interest in higher level geodetic surveying and was a member of the Railways Advisory Board; chairman of the Caves Board; chairman of the Workers’ Homes Board and chairman of the Land Surveyors’ Licensing Board.  After moving their home to Bronte Street East Perth, the Johnstons moved again (in 1902) to a 20 acre property Wandu at Swan View on the Darling Range about 13 miles east of Perth.  Tragically, HF Johnston died following a shooting accident at Wandu in June 1915 (a house guest had accidently discharged a Webley pistol during home firing practice).  On 31 July 1896, surveyor (and then leader of the Calvert Scientific Exploring Expedition) Lawrence Wells OBE (1860-1938) named a large pool on the Brockman Creek north of Lake Carnegie Harry Johnston Water after HF Johnston.  In 1901, explorer Frank Hugh Hann (1846-1921) named the Johnston (salt) Lakes about 50 miles west of Norseman after HF Johnston.




In his book, Knights and Theodolites (page 118), FM Johnston mentioned he was one of six surviving brothers, namely: Edward Bertram, Hubert C, Sidney St Maur, Frederick Marshall, Edgar Charles and Alfred Lawrence.  Edward was born at Geraldton and all other brothers at Perth.


As mentioned above, FM Johnston’s eldest brother, Edward Bertram (Bertie) Johnston (1880-1942) became a parliamentarian albeit colourful and controversial.  In 1911, against his family traditions he was elected Labor Party member for the rural seat of Williams-Narrogin and surprisingly (for the Labor Party at the time) was re-elected with an increased majority in 1914.  After failing in an attempt to topple Premier Scaddan in caucus, Bertie resigned in December 1915 and was returned unopposed as an Independent in the subsequent by-election.  In 1916, he supported the conservative parties to defeat the Labor government.  In 1917, he was speaker for a turbulent few weeks that resulted in his censure.  Later Bertie Johnston joined the Country Party but resigned in 1928 and in 1929 entered the federal parliament as a senator and remained until his death.  As a senator he was a strong advocate for states’ rights and seemed unconcerned with party discipline.  For example, his support of the Curtin government’s uniform taxation legislation provided the crucial vote that allowed it to pass.


Bertie Johnston had considerable investments in hotels and real estate that came to the unfavourable attention of the commonwealth taxation authority and (after his death) there was a negotiated settlement to avoid the bankruptcy of his estate.  Bertie was found drowned at Black Rock, Melbourne in September 1942.  His last family home (EB Johnston House) still stands as a heritage listed building in the ownership of his widow’s estate.  It is located at 259 Adelaide Terrace in Perth’s central business district.


The only web reference found for Hubert Johnston was a notice in The Western Australian for the birth of a son at Sister Anderson’s on 20 November 1911; both mother and child were well.


Sidney St Maur Johnston (1888-1973) applied to join the Australian Imperial Force on 27 October 1914 (his then occupation was sheep overseer).  Sidney embarked at Fremantle in February 1915 on His Majesty’s Australian Transport ship A47 Mashobra.  After a brief period in Egypt he landed at Gallipoli on 18 May 1915 where he served with the 10th Light Horse Regiment.  He was wounded in the right forearm and elbow at Hill 60 on 29 May 1915.  Sidney received treatment for his wounds on the Hospital Ship Newmarket; at the casualty clearing station on Lemnos and at St Andrews Military Hospital on Malta.  He briefly returned to duty on 3 August 1915 and was promoted Lance Corporal.  However, recurring eye ailments and other conditions needed treatment for the next six months.  On 3 March 1916, he was embarked on His Majesty's Australian Transport A8 Argyllshire at Suez for return to Australia for discharge as unfit for active service.  Sidney was discharged from service on 16 August 1916 and granted a pension of 40 shillings per fortnight; at that time his address was care of Boolathana Station, his uncle JD Butcher’s property near Carnarvon. In September 1917, he took up some 330,000 acres of land near Hamelin Pool. On 1 May 1923 in testimony to a Royal Commission on Repatriated Soldiers of the AIF, Sidney talked of the poor seasons, the demands of developing the property and the need for further financial assistance. (In the Royal Commission report Sidney was recorded as Edward St Maur Johnston). Sidney married London born Lillian Somerville Field (1896-1977), daughter of Henry Newland Field and his wife Annie nee Cross.  In October 1938, Sidney who was then the licensee of the Inglewood hotel, issued a Supreme Court writ against his brother Senator EB Johnston and Phillip Collier MLA.  The writ sought an account of partnership dealings in relation to the Pemberton hotel.  In correspondence to the Defence Department in March 1967, Sidney gave his address as Jutland Parade Dalkeith.


Edgar Charles Johnston DFC (1896-1988) was the second youngest son of Harry Fredrick Johnston and Maria Louisa Johnston.  He graduated from Guilford Grammar School in 1914 and commenced an engineering apprenticeship with the surveys branch of the Department of Lands (being formally apprenticed to the Minister); later he enrolled in an engineering degree course at the University of Western Australia.  Edgar enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and embarked on HMAT A2 Geelong at Fremantle on 5 June 1915.  He served at Gallipoli (28th Battalion) and on the Western Front in France (with the 10th Light Horse Regiment and later with the 24th Howitzer Brigade).


In March 1918, Edgar received a commission in the Royal Flying Corps and served in No 24 Squadron and later in No 88 Squadron. He became recognised as a flying ace with 20 claimed victories. Johnston rose to the rank of captain and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for two actions on 4 September 1918 in which the four aircraft under his command accounted for seven enemy aircraft. Edgar was repatriated in 1919. Upon his return to Perth, Edgar completed articles and practised as a licensed surveyor with the Western Australian Lands Department. Later he joined the Department of Defence as superintendent of aerodromes. From early 1921 at least, he was based in Melbourne. In February 1921, Edgar married Margaret Allison (Peggie) Maitland, daughter of geologist Andrew Gibb Maitland (1864-1951) and his wife (Gibb River and the Maitland Range in the Kimberley were named for AG Maitland.) Edgar Johnston held a number of positions in civil aviation administration. Despite being adversely named in a report into the crash of the DC-2 aircraft Kyeema at Mount Dandenong in 1938, he became Assistant Director of Civil Aviation in 1939. In 1946, Edgar became a member of the Australian National Airlines Commission. He remained active in civil aviation in Australia and overseas after public service retirement in 1955; including a period with Qantas. He finally retired in 1967. In 1988, Edgar Charles Johnston died at Malvern Victoria aged 92 years, he was survived by his widow Margaret and their son and daughter.


Alfred Lawrence Johnston was the youngest son of Harry Fredrick Johnston and Maria Louisa Johnston.  He was an eighteen year old university student when he joined the Australian Imperial Force on 25 August 1916 (with his mother’s permission to join the Artillery).  He was a Driver with the 3rd Artillery Brigade, Australian Field Artillery when posted overseas; he served in France.  Alfred was returned to Australia on 5 March 1919.  It appears he resumed his studies after discharge from military service; for in correspondence to the Defence Department in the late 1930s he was referred to as Dr Alfred Lawrence Johnston.


Freddie Johnston’s Early Days

Freddie spent much time after turning four with his grandmother Mary Johnston at Moorland and spent some of his later boyhood at Bunbury with his aunt Rose Annette Laurence (nee Johnston – his grandmother’s only daughter).  He initially attended Christian Brothers College close to his parents Adelaide Terrace home but when able to walk the distance joined two of his brothers at what became known as Hale School then in St Georges Terrace.  After his parents built a new home Bowinna at Bronte Street East Perth, Freddie attended the newly opened Scotch College in Beaufort Street.


In 1901, Frederick Johnston was appointed a cadet with the Department of Lands and Surveys; having first sat an examination and served a period on probation without pay.  He took night classes in mathematics, physics, geology and surveying at the Perth Technical School.  From these classes he was able to pass the matriculation examination set for Adelaide University.  In 1908, having matriculated, Johnston entered into articles with DC White a private surveyor engaged under contract by the Department of Lands and Surveys.  Johnston passed his Licensed Surveyor’s examination in 1910.


During his work with DC White, Johnston laid out the Boyup Brook town site on the Donnybrook to Kojonup railway.  Later he and White undertook large area subdivisions for wheat and sheep farms around Lake Brown north of Burracoppin on the Perth to Kalgoorlie railway.  In early 1911, Johnston laid out the town site for Wyalkatchem.


In 1912, as a staff surveyor with the Department of Lands and Surveys, Johnston travelled to Derby on the SS Bullara to undertake surveys to subdivide areas in the Fitzroy Valley for tropical agriculture.  These surveys required camping out for several months and were under the immediate control of district surveyor AW Canning (1860-1936).


In 1913, Johnston took over the western end of the trans-continental railway survey (Kalgoorlie to the South Australian border a distance of some 450 miles) after death on the survey of his predecessor (JH Rowe).  This detailed survey was under the general direction of Charles Robert Scrivener ISO (1855-1923) then Director of Commonwealth Lands and Survey.  Its main purpose was to mark the boundaries of the land needed for railway purposes and included a ¼ mile wide strip for the whole length as well as areas for town sites, water supplies and ballast pits etc.  (In 1901, route reconnaissance had been undertaken and in 1908 the initial centre line survey had commenced near Kalgoorlie.)  Johnston was transferred to Canberra towards the end of 1913.


Johnston commenced duty in Canberra on 15 January 1914 in the then Lands and Survey Branch of the Department of Home Affairs and undertook various survey projects in the Federal Capital Territory over the next eighteen months.  (It was re-named as the Australian Capital Territory in 1938.)  Johnston’s initial survey assignment was a westerly extension of the five-foot contour survey of the city.  His next assignment was a feature and detail survey of the north-east portion of the Territory based from a camp at Mulligan’s Flat near Hall.  While on this task he purchased a T model Ford car.  In March 1915, he went to the south – eastern corner of the Territory to take over the border survey work of surveyor Percy Lempriere Sheaffe (1883-1963).  Johnston’s survey line continued from Left-hand Creek along the Clear Range southward then westward to the Boboyan Divide and included occupation of Mount Bimberi (the highest point in the Territory).  Johnston’s last assignment was a five-foot contour survey of the Cotter Valley upstream of the then under construction Cotter dam.  The objective was to find a site for a further upstream dam that would avoid the need to pump water as was needed from Cotter dam.  (The Bendora Dam was subsequently completed in 1961 to supply water to Canberra by gravity main.)


World War One Service


In July 1915, soon after his father’s untimely death, Johnston transferred back to Western Australia.  He continued with land surveys along the trans-continental railway and for the proposed Henderson naval base near Fremantle.  In December 1916, whist retaining a staff surveyor position with the then Department of Home and Territories, Johnston applied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.  His enlistment as a Private took effect on 11 January 1917 but rather than ongoing regimental duties, he was given various survey tasks (Black Boy Hill camp, Northam rifle range and Kalgoorlie drill hall).  Later he was posted to the Engineer Officer’s Training School at Roseville (Sydney).  Emerging as acting Sergeant in July 1917, he was posted to Second Military District (New South Wales) Engineer reinforcements.  In November 1917, he was posted Sergeant in the 13/2 Pioneer Engineers and embarked on SS Port Darwin at Albany on 8 May 1918 as part of general service reinforcements.  During his few weeks stay in Egypt, Johnston assisted New Zealanders with a road construction survey. 


Johnston disembarked at Southampton on 16 July 1918.  Initially he was posted to 28th Battalion at Fovant on the Salisbury Plains and later to an Engineers depot at Brightlingsea near Colchester in Essex.  Johnston completed a Lewis gun course at the Australian School of Musketry, Tidworth in November 1918.  In March–April 1919, he attended a survey refresher course conducted by the British Ordnance Survey at the Australian Field Artillery School, Southampton.   Later at the request of the Department of Home and Territories he investigated and reported on methods used by Ordnance Survey for the drawing of maps and charts.  In May–July, also at the request of his Department, he attended a town planning course at University College London and afterwards attended an International Town Planning Conference in Brussels.  (Unexplained in Johnston’s service records were the various upward and downward changes in his rank.)


On 12 July 1919, Johnston married 20 year old Alice Eileen Richardson at St John’s Church in London’s Chelsea registry district under the rites of the Church of England.  Eileen was the daughter of soldier Hubert Frederick Richardson and his wife.  At the time of the marriage Eileen resided at 4 Edith Terrace Chelsea.  The then Sapper Johnston and his wife embarked on the SS Ormonde for his return to Australia on 15 November 1919.  The Clyde-built Ormonde was making its maiden voyage from London to Australian ports and was configured as a troopship.  The Johnstons disembarked in Western Australia on 19 December 1919 and Freddie was discharged from the Army a few weeks later.


After World War One


After his return to Perth, Johnston resumed his staff surveyor position with the Lands and Survey Branch of the then Department of Home and Territories.  In 1921, Johnston was tasked with making surveys and drawing up plans for various landing grounds between Geraldton and Derby; a distance of around twelve hundred miles.  This work was needed to allow commencement of Australia’s first commercial air service between the two towns on 5 December 1921.  (Construction of the landing grounds was to be carried out by the local authorities.)  After surveying Geraldton aerodrome, Johnston and his assistant (W Goss) travelled to Carnarvon by ship.  Here they engaged the services of local driver M White and his Essex car and in that vehicle proceeded with their surveys; travelling to Derby and return.  It was an adventurous journey along ill-defined wheel tracks and over unmade river crossings.  After its completion, Johnston and Goss were tasked with surveying further emergency landing grounds between Shark Bay and the Murchison.  For that task they used camel transport.


In April 1922, Johnston and his family transferred to Canberra; living at Acton and later Braddon.  Here his tasks involved the subdivision of land around Ginninderra Station for rural lease and detailed layout surveys for Canberra city that included the pegging of the War Memorial site and adjacent parks as well as pegging the (old) Parliament House site.  Later he carried out a detail survey of the Jervis Bay Naval College. 


Between 1925 and June 1932, Johnston worked in Sydney as surveyor in charge at the War Service Homes Commission.  Here Johnston laid out and developed many large war service homes estates including at Undercliffe, Eastwood and Walkers at Concord.  Later in 1932 he became a surveyor and property officer in Sydney with his home organisation then known as the Property and Survey Branch of the Department of Interior.  He held this position for over a decade.  The tasks in the position were greatly varied.  For example, one assignment was the preparation of a map for the Commonwealth’s Chief Electrical Engineer to allow preliminary assessment of the hydro-electric potential of the Snowy River.  This assessment was a prelude to the post-World War Two Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.  Another task was a survey for the construction of a rock wall from North Head Quarantine Station to the Old Man’s Hat on Sydney Harbour to provide labour intensive work during the economic depression.  Johnston also surveyed at Balmoral for what became the Navy’s submarine base and barracks.  He worked at Soldiers Point, Port Stephens where community friction was addressed with formation of a progress association and the selection and survey of sites from a recreation area and a community hall.  Yet another task was a survey and lay out of the site for wireless navigation aids on Lord Howe Island to allow commencement of trans–Tasman commercial flights.  Johnston surveyed high value land in central Sydney for an extension of the General Post Office and also surveyed at Admiralty House, Kirribilli.


World War Two and Beyond


During World War Two, Johnston concentrated more on administrative duties that included chairing the land valuation committee that dealt with various land acquisitions for war-related purposes.  He also devised a system of priority for the leasing of workers’ cottages at the Lithgow Munitions Factory; the system he devised was later used nationally.


In February 1944 Johnston succeeded Arthur Percival ISO to become the fourth Commonwealth Surveyor-General and Chief Property Officer in the Commonwealth Department of the Interior in Canberra.  An early concern was the inadequacy of Australia’s mapping coverage (that was revealed during the then ongoing Second World War) and the lack of a central authority to coordinate the war time mapping efforts of commonwealth and state agencies.  In January 1945, to address the mapping situation, Johnston chaired a conference of Surveyors-General and other parties to deal with related technical and administrative issues.


Subsequently, the commonwealth and state governments adopted the principal recommendations of the January 1945 conference, namely: the establishment of a National Mapping Council to coordinate the national mapping effort and the appointment of Johnston as the first Director of National Mapping and chair of the Council.  The first meeting of the new Council was held in September 1945.  In the immediate post-war period Johnston was also busy arranging new capital city office accommodation for commonwealth departments and additional premises for Australian government needs in London; where he represented Australia at the Empire Survey Conference in 1947.  Johnston was also a member of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council (1945-49).


Johnston’s stated preference for retirement was at age 60 years but he continued working until over 64 years of age.  In February 1949, he resigned from the public service and was to enjoy nearly 15 years in retirement.  In retirement, he was pleased to note that the national mapping organisation he had helped bring to fruition continued to function in accordance with its original concept. (Johnston’s successor as Commonwealth Surveyor–General and Director of National Mapping was John Noble Core Rogers ISO (1898–1971).  Rogers remained Surveyor–General until retirement in 1963.  Following a departmental restructure in 1951 Rogers ceased to be Director of National Mapping and chair of the National Mapping Council but remained a member of the Council until retirement.  The third Director of National Mapping and NMC chair was Dr Bruce Philip Lambert OBE (1912–1990).  Lambert took over these positions from Rogers in 1951 and held them until retirement in 1977.  Lambert’s successor was Anthony Gerald Bomford (1927–2003) who held the two mapping positions until he retired in 1982.  The fifth Director of National Mapping and chairman of the National Mapping Council was Con Veenstra (born 1930).  He held these positions from 1982 to 1987 when the NMC was dissolved and the Division of National Mapping ceased as a unique entity in an interdepartmental restructure that followed the 1987 federal elections.)


Freddie and Eileen Johnston had two children.  Their daughter Sonia Alice was born at Perth, Western Australia on 9 July 1920 and their son Marshall Lewis was born in the then family home at the fledgling national capital on 20 July 1923.


As well as being a licensed surveyor, Frederick Marshall Johnston was a Justice of the Peace; a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (in recognition of his services to mapping); a Fellow of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia; a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and a Fellow of the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers.  Johnston’s book on his family and personal history Knights and Theodolites: a Saga of Surveyors was published in the year before his death.  He died at age 78 years on 24 December 1963 at his home at Sydney's Newport Beach. Freddie Johnston was survived by his widow Eileen and their two children.


In the year following Johnston’s death, the National Mapping Council (that he did much to create) resolved:...that a special geodetic station be established and suitably monumented in the centre of Australia as the origin of the National Geodetic Survey and that this station be named Johnston in memory of Frederick Marshall Johnston former Commonwealth Surveyor General and the first Director of National Mapping.  (NMC Resolution 287 of 1964 refers.)  The Johnston geodetic station was subsequently constructed by officers of the Division of National Mapping during October-November 1965.  Its original geographical coordinates were: Latitude 25 degrees 56’ 54.6” South and Longitude 133 degrees 12’ 30.1” East.  It is located near Mount Cavenagh homestead in the Northern Territory.


The Johnston Geodetic Station

Source: Terry Douglas (NatMap 1960-71)


Clifton-Johnston Family, Public Service Continued On


As mentioned above, FM Johnston’s only son (MW Clifton’s great great grandson) Marshall Lewis Johnston was born in Canberra in 1923. Marshall was educated at Sydney Grammar School in Darlinghurst and later at The University of Melbourne. In December 1941, at age nineteen, Marshall enlisted in the Australian Army and served for nineteen months. At discharge on 14 July 1943, Marshall held the rank of Gunner in the Artillery reinforcements for the New Guinea Force.  On 15 July 1943, Marshall  enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force where he served until December 1945.  At the time of his discharge from the RAAF he held the rank of Flying Officer and was stationed at the Royal Air Force base at Upwood, an English village north of London in what is now Cambridgeshire. (Upwood was then the home of 156 Squadron RAF.  During World War Two it operated initially as a pathfinder squadron and later as both a pathfinder and Lancaster heavy bomber squadron. Between 1942 and 1945, it lost five of its twelve commanding officers and various others killed in action.)  In London in 1952, Marshall married Jean Marie Aspinall.  After World War Two, Marshall joined the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs.  He went on to undertake ambassadorial appointments in Burma, Israel, Thailand, Iran and Greece.  In the Queen’s Birthday honours list in 1980, Marshall Lewis Johnston was recognised with the award of Officer of the Order of Australia in the General Division (AO) for his public service as a diplomatic representative.  (Other members of the Clifton-Johnston family may well have given notable public service but I have left the researching and writing of any stories here for others as it is outside the scope of this article.)




This article sketched the life of Frederick Marshall Johnston and along the way added a little detail on some of his male relatives.  However, it is appropriate that the reader direct some thought to the women of the Clifton, Johnston and Butcher families; clearly some of them were not unremarkable.  The Clifton women women-Elinor and her daughters (and daughter in law) - travelled to a new and undeveloped land to support their husbands and father (father in law) in an uncertain venture in a challenging environment under (at least initially) primitive conditions.  While conditions may have been somewhat more settled for the Johnston and Butcher women, they too had to deal with a pioneering life.  Often they had to raise their children, run their homes and deal with life’s circumstances without the immediate support of their husbands who were sometimes away working for months at a time.


Just one example of the courage and fortitude of these women is that of Frederick Johnston’s mother.  Christened Maria Louisa, she was known as Minnie and was barely five feet tall.  Minnie married in 1879 (the twenty-third year after her birth) and by 1898 had had eleven children.  As mentioned above, sadly disease and illness took five of her children (including all four daughters) before they reached adulthood.


In Knights and Theodolites Johnston made only one detailed comment on the loss of a sibling (on page 159).  On 17 September 1890, his mother sailed from Fremantle on the barque Nicola (682 tons) to visit her parents at Shark Bay.  She took three of her children with her: four year old Freddie, three year old Hilda and a one year old baby (probably Sidney).  On 21 September an equinoctial gale gave the Nicola a tremendous battering.  During the gale Hilda suffered a convulsion and died.  Mrs Johnston had no medical aid and had to cope with Hilda’s death while attending the needs of her other two young children.  Eventually the vessel found shelter at Monkey Mia and its entire company went ashore whilst its master, Captain Langford, conducted Hilda’s burial in a little grave on the isolated shore.


As mentioned above, four of Minnie Johnston’s sons served during World War One.  Sidney was wounded at Gallipoli on 29 May 1915.  Edgar departed for Gallipoli on 5 June 1915.  A few days later Minnie’s husband was tragically killed in a shooting accident and was buried on 14 June 1915.  After her husband’s death Minnie shifted her residence from the family’s Swan View property to 1 Mount Street in central Perth.  Despite her personal loss and natural concern for a son (Edgar) still overseas, in August 1916 Minnie gave written permission for her youngest child, eighteen year old student Alfred, to join the Australian Imperial Force.  Frederick joined the AIF at the end of 1916.  This courageous and public spirited woman died in her mid sixties in 1921.




1. When looking at the obituaries and other personal stories on the XNatMap website I thought that the absence of personal details for Australia’s first Director of National Mapping was a significant omission.  To fill that gap I trawled the web to find a suitable reference.  Sadly, although there were numerous biographical references to Johnston’s siblings and other family members (see references below); there was none for Frederick Marshall Johnston himself.  This article seeks to address that situation as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of Johnston’s passing.  This article was prepared in February 2012.


2. I first became aware of FM Johnston and his book Knights and Theodolites when the latter was commended by NatMap’s supervising surveyor OJ Bobroff in the Division’s Rialto office, Melbourne in the early 1970s.  Eventually, I did as suggested and researched the book albeit some forty years later when preparing this article.


3. I gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Paul Wise and his un-named assistant who kindly advised on sources for some of the material necessary for this article.


4. The reader is warned that this article is not a definitive work on the life of Frederick Marshall Johnston but simply a sketch to give some insights for the purpose mentioned at Note 1 above.  In essence this article is but an edited collation of the various cited references.


5. Laurie McLean worked with the Division of National Mapping (and its successor organisation) from 1969 to 1988; including some nine years in Melbourne–based field positions.  He held the position of secretary of the National Mapping Council, Canberra from 1984 to 1987.  He holds a Bachelor of Economics degree from Monash University (1985) and served in Vietnam with the Royal Australian Army Service Corps in 1967-68.

Prepared during January-February 2012 with minor updates in August 2016.




1. Anonymous (undated), Johnston, Frederick Marshall, SERN 51999, World War 1 Service Records 1914-20, Series Number B2455, National Archives of Australia, Canberra, accessed by online search 29 January 2012.


2. Anonymous (undated), Johnston, Frederick Marshall, Entry in ACT Memorial database at ,  accessed 28 December 2012.


3. Anonymous (undated), Johnston, Sidney St Muir (sic) SERN 295, World War 1 Service Records 1914-20, Series Number B2455, National Archives of Australia, Canberra, accessed by online search 11 February 2012.


4. Anonymous (undated), Johnston, Alfred Lawrence, SERN 32545, World War 1 Service Records 1914-20, Series Number B2455, National Archives of Australia, Canberra, accessed by online search 10 February 2012.


5. Anonymous (undated), First World War Nominal Roll and Embarkation Roll, Australian War Memorial, accessed by online searches for the several Johnston brothers’ war records, January and February 2012.


6. Anonymous (undated), Parkfield Official Number 14714, listed on Through Mighty Seas Maritime History Page at  accessed 2 February 2012.


7. Anonymous (undated), Border Survey History, ACT Planning and Land Authority, web site accessed 3 February 2012.


8. Anonymous (undated), Ormonde 1917, Ship Description on The Ships List website, accessed 9 February 2012 by searching on S S Ormonde.


9. Anonymous (undated), The First Immigrants, Australind Family History Society Incorporated, website accessed 9 February 2012.


10. Anonymous (undated), Sidney St Maur Johnston Genealogy File, accessed at Royal Ancestry File website on 12 February 2012.


11. Anonymous (undated), Lillian Somerville Field Genealogy File, accessed at Royal Ancestry File website on 12 February 2012.


12. Anonymous (undated), Dr Bruce Philip Lambert OBE Obituary, The Australian Surveyor, Volume 35, Issue No. 2, June 1990, pp 200-201, accessed on XNatMap website 14 February 2012.


13. Anonymous (undated), World War 2 Nominal Rolls (Army and RAAF), Australian War Memorial, accessed by online searches for Marshall Lewis Johnston’s war service records, 29 February 2012.


14. Anonymous (undated), Marshall Lewis Johnston, Entry in the Australian Government’s It’s an Honour database, accessed 29 February 2012.


15. Anonymous (undated), Marshall Lewis Johnston, Entry in the Order of Australia Association’s Quiet Australians database, accessed 29 February 2012.


16. Anonymous (1911), Birth Notices in The Western Australian newspaper on 22 November 1911 for Mr and Mrs Hubert C Johnston, accessed at the National Library of Australia’s Trove digitised newspapers website on 11 February 2012.


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