This site, and The Inner Life of Empires, explore the inner lives of a set of people from the eighteenth century. The study of the Johnstones and their many friends, ideas, and sentiments also has a life of its own. Since the publication of The Inner Life of Empires, new references to the Johnstones have continued to appear. This page highlights some of these new references, avenues for further research, and other continuations of the inner life of the Johnstones.
The Inner Life of Empires website is deeply grateful to Sir Raymond Johnstone for permission to feature remarkable paintings of the Johnstone family and their home at Alva. The paintings are in Sir Raymond’s possession and have not been exhibited publicly. Please follow this link to a dedicated page featuring these images.
James MacQueen, William Pulteney's overseer at the Westerhall Plantation in Grenada, critic of James Johnstone's ploughs, theorist of slavery, and prominent geographer of Africa, is the subject of a new book by David Lambert, Mastering the Niger: James MacQueen's African Geography & the Struggle over Atlantic Slavery. MacQueen's research into the course of African rivers, Lambert shows, began with his conversations with enslaved Africans in Westerhall; in particular, when he was reading aloud from Mungo Park's Travels, and, as he later recounted, "'noticed that a negro boy in the room stood listening very attentively, especially to those passages in which the Joliba was mentioned… the information obtained through this intelligent boy was afterwards of great use to Mr MacQueen, when he was engaged in bringing together all that was known about the geography of the Niger, a subject on which he became a leading authority.'
Bell alias Belinda
"Bell alias Belinda" is the most elusive character in The Inner Life of Empires. She entered the historical record on July 4 1771, when she was imprisoned in the town of Cupar, in Scotland, for the crime of child murder. In September 1771, she was indicted before the Northern Circuit Court, in Perth, described as a "black girl or woman," the "slave or servant of John Johnstone." She described herself, in a petition to the court, as "a Native of the Kingdome of Bengall, lately come to this Country, understanding little or nothing of the Language of it, and altogether ignorant of the Laws thereof." The petition was signed on her behalf by two notaries public; she "touched the pen." On September 13 1771 the court sentenced her to be banished to America or the West Indies, where she was "to be sold as a Slave for Life," with "the price she shall yield at a sale after deducting the Expence of her Transportation" to be remitted to her owner in Scotland.
Bell alias Belinda was the last person deemed to be a slave by a court in the British Isles. The report of her trial was published a few days before James Somerset ran away from his owner in London, setting in train the sequence of court decisions, from the Somerset Case (1772) to the Joseph Knight Case (1778) which effectively ended slavery in Britain.
But Bell alias Belinda herself vanished from the historical record, within a few months of her trial in Perth. There is a certificate, in the National Archives of Scotland, of her arrival at the Customhouse in Williamsburg, Virginia on March 31 1772: "Bell alias Belinda, a black girl." It was signed by John Earnshaw, Jacob Bruce and Lewis Burwell of the Port of James River Upper District. But that is where the story ends, or the public story. The most interesting continuation of The Inner Life of Empires would be to find out what happened next.
"Declaration of Bell or Belinda a black Girl belonging to John Johnstone Esq.", Cupar, July 4 1771, National Archives of Scotland, JC26/193/3.
"Petition for Bell or Belinda a Black Girl," September 13 1771, National Archives of Scotland, JC26/193/3.
North Circuit Minute Book, Perth, September 12-13 1771, National Archives of Scotland, West Register House, JC11/28.
"Certificate of the Landing of George Philp, Janet Abernethy, William Brown and Bell alias Belinda," Port of James River Upper District, John Earnshaw, Collr., Jacob Bruce, Compr., Lewis Burwell, Naval Officer, April 29 1772, National Archives of Scotland, West Register House, JC41/12.
William Talbot Keene
Elizabeth Carolina Keene, wife of John Johnstone, came to India with her sister, Anne, at the age of 18. Yet little is known about her reasons for making the journey. Some light might be shed by the story of her father, William Talbot Keene. As a young man, William Talbot Keene was commissioned in the army as an ensign by the Earl of Pembroke in 1708. A series of other commissions followed. In 1723, he married Ann Madden, nee Carroll, in Dublin and the couple was in the city again in 1736 to sign a Deed of Release, transferring certain lands and part of Ann's dower to one of her relations and soon after, still in Dublin, they had a son, Elizabeth Carolina's brother, the future Reverend Talbot Keene. In 1746, William was commissioned again as an ensign to strengthen the garrison of Fort St. George in India. Leaving in 1747, Keene served under Lord Clive in the Battle of Arcot and became a lieutenant in 1752 and in November of that year, was dispatched on a shadowy mission to accompany a "Treasure to Cossimbuzar," a city about 120 miles north of Calcutta. He died the next year of a fever the next year in Calcutta, where he was buried in St. Anne's church. Elizabeth Carolina arrived in India some 10 years after her father's death, but her family connection to the region and her father's journey with a treasure the year before his death may be clues to why she embarked on the journey.
Many thanks to Rita Lester nee Keene, descendent of William Talbot Keene, for her help in contributing this information.
"Deed of Release," October 26-27, 1736, Dublin Registry of Deeds, No. 59601.
John Wroe Keene to James Johnstone, November 16, 1826, Clackmannanshire Archives, PD239/45/62.
An ornamental grave in Penang
Margaret Wedderburn, the grand-daughter of Margaret (Johnstone) Ogilvy and the daughter of the owner of Joseph Knight, was the young girl holding a book in the family portrait by Sir Henry Raeburn of John Johnstone, Betty Johnstone, and their great-niece. Her husband, Philip Dundas, was the East India Company's first governor of Penang (Prince of Wales Island). Her younger sister, Jean, also lived in Penang, and was married to another East India Company official, John Hope Oliphant. The brothers-in-law died in 1807, and are buried in the same ornamental grave, which Maya Jasanoff photographed in the Old Protestant Cemetery in Penang.
Sophia Johnstone, Duchess of Cannizzaro Mickle Papers at the University of Guelph
There is a remarkable collection of letters to and from William Julius Mickle, the Johnstones' friend and relative, in the Archives and Special Collections Library of the University of Guelph, Ontario. They include extensive correspondence between William Mickle, when he was proof corrector or reader at the Clarendon Press, his brother Charles, a journeyman printer, and their sisters Margaret and Jean, mantua makers in London. There are two letters from Martha Ford, and a letter to William Mickle from Sophia Johnstone as a child, in which she looked forward to visiting Alva, "where we shall have a fine ponie & plenty of fruit," and to which she pinned a small watercolour of blue and red flowers.
See: Letter of 13 June 1788 from Sophia Johnstone to William Julius Mickle, Special Collections, University of Guelph, XRI MS A279014.
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This reproduction of the September 13, 1782 letter from George Johnstone to Sir James Lowther is displayed with the generous permission of the Lowther Estate Trust. George Johnstone Letters in Cumbria
There are eight letters from George Johnstone to Sir James Lowther, his parliamentary patron, in the Cumbria Archives in Carlisle. One, dated 13 September 1782, congratulated Lowther on a recent "proposal": "This Proposal of yours is beyond anything that has passed in the World or may ever pass again -- For Godsake did the Idea strike you in a dream?... Gibbon told me it was the most magnificent act he had read of, & he should be sufficiently happy in the honour of recording it." Lowther was the owner of extensive coal resources, a Barbados fortune, and the port of Whitehaven, and his proposal, made a few days earlier, was to buy a 74-gun warship for the British Navy. This gesture of privatized naval expenditure set off a contest of offers; "the Duke of Marlborough has declared, that if the County and the University of Oxford will build a 74-gun ship, he will build another at his own expense, in imitation of Sir James Lowther."
Sir James Lowther See: Cumbria Archives, DLONS/L/1/1/71; Whitehall Evening Post, 7 September 1782; London Packet, September 18 1782.
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- George Johnstone Letters
Robert Dodd, The capture of the Amazone by HMS Santa Margarita Westmorland Exhibition at the Ashmolean
The merchant ship the Westmorland -- on which Martha Ford's and George Johnstone's two young sons, George and John, were passengers when they were captured in 1779, together with "a black boy from Bengal… whose name is understood to be Home, or Hume" – was the subject of a remarkable exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, "The English Prize." The Westmorland was also carrying a marble head of Hadrian, a portrait of a Persian sibyl, thirty-two wheels of Parmesan cheese, The Historian's Vade Mecum, four dismantled candelabra, a book about hairdressing, six Hayden symphonies, and a view of the Bay of Sabaudia. See the Ashmolean Exhibition here.
A bronze figure of Hercules supporting the celestial globe. George Johnstone and Fly Fishing in America
In 2011, a letter was located in the University of Virginia archives which indicated that the earliest instance of fly fishing in North America had been two years before than previously thought. The letter, first called the "Rodney Home Letter" was sent in 1764 to a Mr. Blackett from what appeared to be one "Rodney Home," though the first name of the signatory was hard to decipher. The letter was sent from West Florida and was thought to have been sent by a member of George Johnstone's staff. Reading this and becoming intrigued, Dan Kennaley, an avid fly fisherman and contributor to The American Fly Fisher, searched for Home and Johnstone on the internet. Finding references to the Inner Life of Empires, he noted the new world of "searchable databases and digitized archive catalogues" referenced in the Inner Life. Kennaley embarked on his own internet research quest in search of the mysterious "Rodney" Home, first connecting George Johnstone and a "Lord Rodney." By chance, he read a letter from Johnstone to Rodney from 1772 in which George wrote: "Mr. Roddam Home, the young gentleman who will have the honour of delivering this letter into your hands, has been brought up with me as a boy…he went out with me to West Florida where he commanded the government schooner while I was away there." Kennaley had discovered the first fly fisherman in America was actually Roddam Home, who, a few queries later, was discovered to have become a highly successful naval officer, and a cousin to none other than David Hume. George remembered Home in his will, giving, "to Rodham Home my two Busts of the Roman Emperors and stands now at Kensington Gore and my antique Bronze of Hercules."
See Dan Kennaley, "More on the Home Letter," The American Fly Fisher 38 no. 4. (Fall 2012): 20-21.
Codicil to the will of George Johnstone, the National Archives, proved 12 June 1787, PROB11/1154
Elizabeth Caroline Gray
Elizabeth Caroline Gray, John and Elizabeth Carolina Johnstone's granddaughter, was a distinguished historian of Etruria, an expert on the footnotes in Barthold Georg Niebuhr's Römische Geschichte, and the author of works on the History of Rome and the Empire and the Church. One of the Etruscan vases from her collection is now in the British Museum. In a recent essay on Etruscan production and interpretation, Dyfri Williams of the British Museum describes her as "the female pioneer of Etruscology in Britain."
Histories of Family Health
The Johnstones and their illnesses have appeared in The Lancet. "Poor Betty had been taken ill of the particulars attending a Cholera Morbis," and was unable to "walk about without Pain," their father reported in 1772. Almost forty years later, at the age of 80, Betty wrote of herself to her niece that "I find nothing does me so much good as exercise." The family's illnesses and remedies are both distant and familiar. They had an extraordinary diversity of sources of information about medicine and health. They considered illness to be a family condition and they were preoccupied with the changing relationship between the body and the mind. As James wrote to John, in 1771, "I know by Experience how much the Mind preys on the Body."
John Johnstone was described by his uncle as “dutiful noble spirited John,” and by Lord Macaulay as “one of the boldest and worst men” in the Company's government. We are pleased to publish an evaluation of John’s life by his great-great-great-grandson, Sir Raymond Johnstone, and welcome additional contributions.