Sir Harry Johnston & the Scramble for Africa

By Roland Oliver | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
TWENTY-ONE YEARS

HARRY JOHNSTON was born in London on June 12th 1858. He had two older step-brothers from his father's first marriage, and was himself the eldest of twelve children born from the second. His father, John Johnston, was the well-to-do Secretary of a large insurance company, a shrewd, well-informed, widely travelled man of business, whose work took him regularly all over Western Europe and Scandinavia, and occasionally as far afield as Russia, Asia Minor and South Africa. He had some property besides his emoluments, so that despite the size of the family the Johnstons lived comfortably in a series of large suburban houses on the fringes of south-east London. There was leisure for some cultivated interests; there were regular holidays in the country and by the sea.

More than most Victorians of the middle class, the Johnstons were aware of the revolution in communications which was making the world smaller and bringing its remotest corners within the commanding influence of industrial Europe. John Johnston's professional life was intimately linked with the consequences of the opening up by railways and steamships and telegraphs of Australia and South America, Siberia and the United States. In his spare time he was an active member of the Royal Geographical Society. He was deeply read in the literature of African exploration and had followed with understanding as well as enthusiasm the journeys of Dr Livingstone. He knew more accurately than most Englishmen the location of Khartoum or Candahar. Yet all this breadth of outlook, all this competence in material things, was bounded and interwoven with a strange theology which dominated and determined his domestic life. He and Esther Hamilton, his second wife, were both second-generation members of the Catholic Apostolic Church, a body founded in 1831 in London by a Presbyterian minister, Edward Irving, and a Scottish banker, Henry Drummond. Deeply influenced by the Eastern Orthodox as well as by Roman Catholic usages, the liturgy and ritual of the 'Irvingites' had an exotic flavour not wholly inconsistent with the cosmopolitan commercial interests of

-1-

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