Freotopia > people >

Richard Johns

by Lee-Anne Percival

Captain Richard Griffith Johns (1849-1883)

Richard Griffith Johns was born in 1849 in Solva Pembrokeshire Wales. He was the son of Joseph Johns and Rebecca Griffiths. Both his father and grandfather were master mariners. His father Joseph died 20 March 1858 in Rio de Janeiro when Richard was only 9 years old. 1 2 3

Richard followed the family tradition and at age 24 in March 1873 gained his First Mate's Certificate in the Port of Liverpool. He worked on the wooden clipper ship John Elliot (1200 tons) travelling between the U.K and Calcutta from 1873-1874. In 1874 the ship was carrying 1705 tons of Aulton steam coals when the ship burned and the crew were landed at Port Louis, Mauritius. The crew were discharged on 27 October 1874 and Richard signed on as a mate to the clipper Kate Tatham (275 tons) which sailed for Adelaide 5 November. When the Kate Tatham arrived in the Port of Adelaide 9 December 1874, she was carrying a valuable cargo of sugars. 4 5 6

The Kate Tatham, a 3-masted iron clipper of some 275 tons 7

There was an impressive array of types and grades of sugar for different purposes. 7 >

It seems most likely Richard signed onto the Kate Tatham for a year’s tenure and during her stay in Adelaide the ship was refurbished.

The Kate Tatham has been thoroughly renovated, and looks very handsome as she lies in a stream berth. 9

On 17 January the ship sailed for Natal, South Africa with the first cargo of the season's wheat shipped for an overseas port and returned to Fremantle in ballast 28 April. 10 11 12

She sailed again on the 2nd of June for Singapore with a cargo of 290 tons of sandalwood, four horses, and three casks of shells. She spent some time in Singapore then travelled to Bangkok before returning to Melbourne 18 October with a cargo of tapioca, sago, spices, rice, and rattans. 14

A FRESH and rather handsome accession to our local mercantile marine has just been made by the arrival of the Kate Tatham, a smart-looking iron clipper of some 275 tons register, and rigged as a barquentine. She was purchased at home by Captain Mackersey, for Messrs. Boyd and Currie, of this city, and himself and as a matter of course he has brought her into port in very nice order. The Kate Tatham is last from Singapore, whence she sailed on August 21st, with a cargo of tapioca, sago, spices, rice, and rattans. 15

The ship stayed in Melbourne until the 23rd of November and during this time it is most likely Richard left the ship as his tenure was completed. Along the way Richard's surname changed his from John to Johns.

By April 1876 Richard was known as Captain R.G Johns and had commenced his career as a captain or master of cutters and schooners travelling the coast of Western Australia. 16

H. Taunton, the author of Australind, described Fremantle in 1876:
”Fremantle consisted of one principal street made up of hotels and stores and a few Government buildings, including the Imperial convict depot, a lighthouse and a number of private dwellings all glaring in whitewash. A few churches made up an apparently sleepy but really flourishing township, which might be described as a city of public houses, flies, sand, limestone, convicts and stacks of sandalwood.” 17

1898 map of Fremantle with an overlay of changed shoreline and Fishing Harbour 2022 18

The mouth of the Swan River had a limestone bar making it impossible for large ships to pass so ships moored at the Short Jetty off Anglesea Point. In 1873 a second longer jetty was built to the north of the Short Jetty and became known as the new Jetty and later the Long Jetty. Even though it was longer the New Jetty did not have draft needed for large ships so much later in 1887 it was extended further on a westerly angle out to deeper water. It is most likely Richard would have moored his schooners and cutters at either the Short Jetty or the Long Jetty before the extension.

He may have also used Robb's Jetty, at the time known as Owen Anchorage Jetty, that was constructed in 1877 in an area south of the Short and New Jetties. Many sailing ships docked there and loaded or discharged cargo such as timber from the south-west: jarrah and tuart for building in Perth or Adelaide, or sandalwood bound for Asian ports. 19

It was not until 1897 that Fremantle Harbour in the Swan River was opened. 20

His first command was of the schooner Eloise, 32 tons, and he spent a very busy year sailing from Vasse and Bunbury to Fremantle and Fremantle to Champion Bay (Geraldton and return). The schooner mainly carried cargo like loads of jarrah, bags of potatoes, wheat, flour and sugar butter, and sundries.

A vessel of two or more masts fore and aft rigged throughout, but with square sails on the fore top mast.

On 24 February the following year in 1877 Richard returned to Fremantle as a passenger on the schooner Start. 21 22

It is not known whether he sailed other vessels during the ensuing months or if he spent the time in Fremantle Port as his next visible ship was the schooner Myra 52 tons, in August of that year. She was 64ft long with a beam of 17ft, and she sailed with a master and seven crew. On his first voyage the Myracarried cargo to Cossack, 169 bags sugar, 123 pine planks, 8982 bricks, 60 bags flour, 20 cases kerosene, 30 shooks, 25 bags potatoes, 7 pair cart shafts and sundries. From Cossack he sailed north to the Lacepede Islands off the coast of Broome and collected 42 tons of guano. The subsequent trips thoughout the year were mainly passengers travelling between Fremantle, Dongarra and Champion Bay. 23

Fremantle, Short Jetty and Bathers Beach, c. 1870 24

Fremantle, Short Jetty to left and New Jetty to right, c. 1891 25

In February 1878 Richard became the master of the 70 ton two-masted, fore-and-aft schooner Star, 79 ft long with 17ft beam. 26 27

The schooner mainly carried passengers between Fremantle and Champion Bay, however it did a few trips to Cossack and one trip down to Augusta possibly to retrieve cargo from the wreck of the brigantine, Salve, which was loaded with sleepers. The Salve sprang a leak which compelled the captain to run ashore at Port Augusta to save passengers and crew. 28 29

Richard completed his tenure on the Star in April 1879 and seems to have spent the next few months in the Port of Fremantle.

It is not known if it was during this time that Richard met housemaid Elizabeth Lindsay or if he had met her previously when in port on one of his journeys up and down the coast.

Richard and Elizabeth were married on the 19th of June 1879 in the small St Patrick's Catholic church in Fremantle, a building situated between Parry St and Adelaide St. The new grand St Patrick's Basilica was built in front of this church in the 1890s and the original church was later demolished.

The Herald Sat 16 Feb 1878 30

Elizabeth Mary Agnes Lindsay was the daughter of Robert Lindsay (b. 1805 d. 14 Aug 1883) and Julia Reilly. Robert Lindsay arrived per the Scindian as an enrolled pensioner guard with his wife Julia and daughter Julia aged 2.

The British Government employed Scindian as a convict transport and on 4th March 1850 she left Portsmouth with a crew of 43 bound for the Swan River Colony. She carried the first of 37 shipments of male convicts destined for Western Australia. The voyage took 89 days and the Scindian arrived in Fremantle on 1st June 1850 with 200 passengers and 75 male convicts.”

Most people are inclined to classify Scindian as the first ship to convey convicts to Western Australia even though there were a small number of convicts in Albany in 1827. 31

Robert Lindsay had been a Private in the 2nd Queens Regiment and his occupation was listed as a tailor. He acquired land at Freshwater Bay near Claremont shortly after he arrived in 1850 and from 1851-1865 employed five ticket-of-leave men. 32

He and Julia had four more daughters all born in Western Australia, Mary Anne 1850, Elizabeth 1853, Frances 1856 and Ellen 1859. Sadly, they all died at a relatively young age. Eldest daughter Julia died at Butler’s Swamp, now called Lake Claremont in 1863 aged 15. 33 34

It seems like Mary Anne married Henry O'Hara in 1874 but this is not confirmed and at present no more information about her has been able to be found.

Frances married Walter Gallop in 1879 and they had no children before she died in 1884.

Daughter Elizabeth was a housemaid working in Fremantle and it is possibly after she was married to Captain R.G Johns in 1879 her mother and her youngest sister Ellen lived with her as her husband would have been at sea for periods of time.

This could explain why in 1881 her father Robert applied for admission into the Mt Eliza Invalid Depot, set up for poor and elderly men with no one to care for them. He died two years later 14 Sep 1883 aged 78.

In July Richard skippered the cutter Maud to Sharks Bay and back to Fremantle before becoming master of the schooner Minnie 38 tons, in September. The Minnie made similar trips to the Star carrying passengers and cargo up and down the coast from Vasse to Dongarra with his tenure finishing in March 1881. 35 36

Elizabeth and Richard’s first daughter Ellen Eva Johns was born 2 September 1881 but sadly she died a few months later in 1882. Elizabeth sister Ellen also died in 1882 aged 23. Later that year on 7 December Elizabeth and Richard’s second daughter Mary Frances known as Frances Helen was born. 37

A capacious one-masted vessel often with a pronounced bowsprit and capable of carying a large amount of sail. Some also carried a square sail.

During this time Richard seems to change from sailing schooners to cutters, smaller vessels. He was master on the Sarah, cutter, 27 tons from September 1881. Over the next few years Richard seems to stayed with cutters but as they were small vessels the master of the ship was often not recorded in the newspaper.


Captain Richard Griffith Johns and Elizabeth Johns nee Lindsay 38

On 26 March 1883 he was master on the cutter Mary Frances when she left Fremantle for Shark Bay. She was noted as leaving Geraldton 3 April, however newspaper reports did not seem to record when any vessels arrived in Shark Bay and there is no further mention of the vessel Mary Frances. It is possible that the vessel stayed in Shark Bay and worked in that area. 39 40

Retrospective newspaper reports claim that Captain R.G. Johns was master on the Mary Frances’s sister craft the cutter Jessie Edwards. There are varying newspaper reports claiming when the Jessie Edwards left Fremantle. The dates range from 23 May to early June. 41

The cutter Jessie Logan, launched in 1880 NZ was similar in size and design to the Jessie Edwards. 42

The Jessie Edwards was an unregistered cutter, built by Frederick Jones in Fremantle for a Malaysian man named Charles Edwards of Geraldton. Edwards was involved in the pearling industry at Shark Bay and the Jessie Edwards, which had only very recently been launched, was probably intended for use in that industry. It is possible that Edwards may have shared ownership with the cutter’s builder Jones. It is thought that the voyage to Shark Bay was its delivery voyage. 43

In the 1880s cutters were small one-masted vessels often with a pronounced bowsprit, capable of carrying a large amount of sail, making them a fast craft. The Jessie Edwards was 32ft long, 9ft beam, about 5 tons, and constructed of jarrah. She sailed with R. G. Johns as master and 3 crew.

As the weeks past and there was no news of the Jessie Edwards it must have been a terrible time for Elizabeth. She must have been hoping that cutter was not lost at sea and that her husband and the crew were just stranded somewhere along the coast. The slow trickle of information and mis information in the newspapers must have been devastating.

Victorian Express, Geraldton Wednesday 11th of July 1883:
About five weeks ago a small craft, the Jessie Edwards, left Fremantle for Sharks Bay. By the Rob we learn that she has not yet put in an appearance at her destination. As she was out in all the heavy weather that has prevailed during that time, she is, in all probability, lost. We believe she had just been built to order for an old identity in these parts "Charlie Edwards," a coloured (Malaysian) individual. We sympathise with the enterprising gentleman, in what to him, must prove a severe stroke of ill luck. 44 45

The Inquirer and Commercial News, Perth, Wednesday 19 September 1883:
The cutter Mary Francis, [Jessie Edwards] which left Fremantle on the 2nd of April [May/ June] last for Sharks Bay, has not since been heard of, and is therefore considered to be lost. A succession of heavy north-west gales occurred soon after her departure, in which it is supposed she foundered. Her master was Capt R. G. Johns, a cautious and experienced navigator, who was well acquainted with the coast and had seen a very successful career in our local marine. He has left a widow and one child. 46

The Herald Fremantle, Saturday 15 September 1883: 47

The Herald, Fremantle Saturday 20 October 1883:

Mr F. Jones, of Fremantle, has shown us a telegram received from Mr. S. F. Moore, of Dongarra, confirming the surmise that the wreck discovered at Jurien Bay was that of the cutter "Jessie Edwards," which left Fremantle on the 23rd. May last. The vessel is apparently uninjured and has her rudder, she probably got dismasted and came end on; she is full of sand and there are no signs of her anchor and chain; further search will however be made, for it is conjectured that she must have come to an anchor and dragged in shore. There is no trace whatever of Captain Johns and the three men who were with him, nor of a dinghy the unfortunate men must have been drowned in the surf, or the dinghy swamped engulphing the men. 48

Police Gazette, Wednesday October 24 1883:
About the early part of this month, a wreck was discovered at the South end of Jurien's Bay by Mr. Fraser of Dandaragan, which is supposed to be that of the missing Cutter "Jessie Edwards." P.C. Stokes arrived at Jurien's Bay on the 10th inst., and found the wreck nearly sanded over, her deck was torn away, and the planking off her stern and sides aft; she is 32ft. long, 9ft. beam, supposed about 5 tons, the whole of her masts and gear are missing, she is built of Jarrah timber, position on the beach is stern on. From information gained by P.C. Stokes, the wreck was first seen about the "commencement of August by John Graham, who is shepherding at Jurien's Bay. 49

Richard’s wife was 29 and his daughter Frances was only a few months old when he died.

These were devastating times for Elizabeth. Her father died in September around the same time as it was confirmed her husband was lost at sea and her sister Frances died the following year in 1884.

Six years later on the 21st of July 1889 Elizabeth married widow William Alfred Fishwick in Fremantle. William had three children Ada 12, George 10, and Edward 6, only a few days older than her own daughter Frances.

On 10 November 1891 William Fishwick and Elizabeth’s only child was born, a daughter Helen Catherine Judith (Nellie) Fishwick.

Elizabeth died on the 2nd of January 1897 in Roebourne hospital and was buried in Roebourne cemetery. She had suffered with peripheral neuritis (inflammation of one or more peripheral nerves) and asthenia, an abnormal physical weakness or lack of energy for one month before she died.


1 “Ancestry.Com.Au - Pembrokeshire, Wales, Anglican Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1599-1995,” accessed January 18, 2022,

2 “Ancestry.Com.Au - England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995,” accessed January 18, 2022,

3 “Ancestry.Com.Au - 1851 Wales Census,” accessed January 18, 2022,

4 “Welsh Mariners Index,” accessed January 17, 2022,

5 “"SHIPPING DISASTERS,” n.d., "SHIPPING DISASTERS." Dundee Courier, 25 Nov. 1874. British Library Newspapers, Accessed 15 Jan. 2022.

6 “06/11/1874 - 10/12/1874,” Passengers in History, January 22, 2016,

7 English: Kate Tatham (Ship), Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., accessed January 26, 2022,

8 “Advertising,” South Australian Register, December 12, 1874,

9 “SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.” South Australian Register, December 31, 1874,

10 “GENERAL NEWS.,” Express and Telegraph, January 2, 1875,

11 “MONTHLY SUMMARY OF SHIPPING FOR ENGLAND.,” South Australian Register, January 30, 1875,

12 “Shipping Intelligence.,” Western Australian Times, April 30, 1875,

13 “Shipping Intelligence.,” Western Australian Times, June 8, 1875,

14 “Advertising,” Argus, October 18, 1875,

15 “SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.,” Mercury, October 20, 1875,

16 “SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE.,” Western Australian Times, April 14, 1876,

17 “Fremantle Walks,” accessed January 28, 2022.

18 Department of Lands and Surveys and Crown Lands and Surveys Department, “Fremantle Sheet 3 [Tally No. 504252].” (Item, August 6, 1898), AU WA S2168- cons5698 0637,

19 “City of Cockburn | History Site | Perth Western Australia,” CockburnHistories, accessed January 28, 2022,,-1877-1898.

20 “Pickering Brook Heritage Group- Heritage Sites,” accessed January 28, 2022,

21 “SHIPPING REPORT.,” Inquirer and Commercial News, February 28, 1877,

22 “Early Sailing Ships | Maritime Archaeology Databases,” accessed January 30, 2022,

23 “THE LOSS OF THE SCHOONER MYRA.,” Western Mail, February 4, 1898,

24 State Library of WA, “100053PD: Fremantle Jetty and Bathers’ Beach, ca.1870 : Slwa_b2112316_1,” State Library of WA, accessed January 28, 2022,

25 “Anglesea Point from the Light House on Arthur Head,” Fremantle Library, accessed January 30, 2022,

26 “Advertising,” Herald, February 16, 1878,

27 “Star | Maritime Archaeology Databases,” accessed January 26, 2022,

28“North West Settlements.,” Victorian Express, October 30, 1878,

29 “COMMERCIAL.,” Inquirer and Commercial News, January 8, 1879,

30 “Advertising,” Herald, February 16, 1878,

31 “Scindian 1850 |,” accessed January 17, 2022,

32 “L.Pdf,” accessed January 17, 2022,

33 “Australia, Births and Baptisms, 1792-1981 - Ancestry.Com.Au,” accessed January 18, 2022,

34 “Australia and New Zealand, Find a Grave Index, 1800s-Current - Ancestry.Com.Au,” accessed January 18, 2022,

35 “SHIPPING NEWS.,” West Australian, September 28, 1880,

36 “SHIPPING REPORT.,” Victorian Express, July 21, 1880,

37 “Australia, Births and Baptisms, 1792-1981 - Ancestry.Com.Au,” accessed January 18, 2022,

38 Jenifer Margaret Thompson, Ewert Family History : A Memorial to Our Ancestors Who Travelled from the Demmin Villages of Germany to Westgarthtown, Violet Town, Greenbushes and New Zealand (Aspendale, Vic. : J.M. Thomson, 2003, n.d.).

39 “SHIPPING.,” Daily News, March 27, 1883,

40 “FREMANTLE—DEPARTURES.,” Herald, April 14, 1883,

41 “FREMANTLE.,” Daily News, February 15, 1884,

42 “Restoration of NZ’s Oldest Surviving Yacht,” New Zealand Prosthetic Eye Service (blog), January 26, 2016,

43 “Jessie Edwards | Maritime Archaeology Databases,” accessed January 18, 2022,

44 “TOWN TALK.,” Victorian Express, July 11, 1883,

45 “SUPREME COURT.,” Victorian Express, September 10, 1884,

46 “COMMERCIAL.,” Inquirer and Commercial News, September 19, 1883,

47 “Family Notices,” Herald, September 15, 1883,

48 “No Title,” Herald, October 20, 1883,

49 “188310_m.Pdf,” accessed January 18, 2022,

Images Richard Griffith Johns

1. English:  Kate Tatham (Ship), Item is held by John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland., accessed January 26, 2022,
2.  “Advertising,” South Australian Register, Dec,12, 1874,

3.  Department of Lands and Surveys and Crown Lands and Surveys Department, “Fremantle Sheet 3 [Tally No. 504252].” (Item, August 6, 1898), AU WA S2168- cons5698 0637,

4 “Early Sailing Ships | Maritime Archaeology Databases,” accessed January 30, 2022,

5  State Library of WA, “100053PD: Fremantle Jetty and Bathers’ Beach, ca.1870 : Slwa_b2112316_1,” State Library of WA, accessed January 28, 2022,

6.  “Advertising,” Herald, February 16, 1878,

7.  “Anglesea Point from the Light House on Arthur Head,” Fremantle Library, accessed Jan.30, 2022,

8,9 Thomson, Jenifer Margaret (2003). Ewert family history : a memorial to our ancestors who travelled from the Demmin villages of Germany to Westgarthtown, Violet Town, Greenbushes and New Zealand. Compile

10.  “Restoration of NZ’s Oldest Surviving Yacht,” New Zealand Prosthetic Eye Service (blog), January 26, 2016,

11.  “Family Notices,” Herald, September 15, 1883,

12. State Library of WA, ‘24/4/7 : Slwa_b1837124_2’, State Library of WA, accessed 6 March 2022,

13.  State Library of WA, ‘Australia - West Coast, Western Australia. Jurien Bay / Produced by Cartographic Services, DoT, Western Australia, 1998. : Slwa_b6632683_1’, State Library of WA, accessed 6 March 2022,
References and Links

Many thanks to Lee-Anne Percival for allowing me to publish her research about her ancestor.

JOHNS, Richard. J. (Captain), m. Elizabeth LINDSAY b. 26.8.1853, dtr. of Robert & Julia (nee Reilley). Chd. Helen Eva b. 1891 (Frem RC), Mary Frances b. 1882. Fremantle (1883 Alm). Master mariner.

See also: William Fishwick.

Garry Gillard | New: 6 March, 2024 | Now: 8 March, 2024