Sir Henry Hamilton Johnston (1858-1927)


Sir Henry Hamilton Johnston was a botanist, explorer, linguist, writer, painter and colonial administrator. Starting at age eighteen he traveled in Europe and North Africa studying painting, architecture and languages. During 1879/80 he visited the then little known Tunisian interior. He was also interested in zoology and comparative anatomy and contributed work to the Royal College of Surgeons. He made two botanical expeditions to Angola and the Congo River region during 1882-1883 and in 1884 to Kilimanjaro where he was instrumental in promoting British interests in East Africa in addition to his scientific work. He could sepeak Arabic, Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese and 30 different African languages.

In 1885 he joined the British consular service and in 1889 he set up the British Central African Protectorate and was the first British commissioner to the Nyasaland Protectorate from 1891 till 1895 and was the Ugandan consul-general from 1899 to 1901. He served in many parts of Africa (Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Mozambique, Nyasaland, Tunisia, Zanzibar and Uganda) whilst carrying on his scientific work as a hobby. He made the first sound recordings in Africa using an Edison cylinder recorder and documented more than 100 birds, reptiles, mammals and insects including the Okapi.

His conscience would not let him support the Cecil Rhodes land grab policies in Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia. The vindictive Rhodes had powerful friends in the Colonial Office who forced through a significant reduction in Johnston's pension from a promised 1450pa to just 155pa.

He wrote more than 60 books on Africa and was awarded a gold medal by the Zoological Society in 1902 and was awarded an honorary doctor of science at Cambridge in the same year. He also got gold medals from the Royal Geographical Society and the Scottish Geographical Society and medals for his artistic work from the Society of Arts and displayed at the Royal Academy.


Nyasaland | Nyasaland Administrators




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