Tuesday, 26 January 2021

F. H. Johnstone (b.1867), Old Mancunian, scholar, soldier, school master, poet

Below is a brief biography of F. H. Johnstone, which I have compiled, in order to learn something more of the then-Western Australian, occasional poet responsible for both the pleasant “The Lender’s Library” (1907; for my post on this, see here) and the somber war-time meditation on the ANZACs “Young Australia in Ancient Egypt” (1915), which I have transcribed at the end of this post.

Since there is something in Francis’s history that reminds me of two wonderful 1981 films: Gallipoli (1981) and Chariots of Fire (1981), this attempt to rescue him from oblivion is, therefore, a combination Australia Day and Anzac Day offering. (Probably the latter would be more appropriate, but I am impatient, so I favour the former.)

Francis was both an Oxford graduate and an Indian Army veteran who spent more than a decade teaching Western Australian Colonials in Greek and Latin, returning “home” to do the same at a Grammar School that had been founded in 1515, before volunteering to train England’s finest for the horrors of WWI.

For those who don’t know the film, Gallipoli “revolves around several young men from Western Australia who enlist in the Australian Army during the First World War.” Both films involve runners, and so the plots of the two films have become entwined in my memory: both are also terribly sad films, which had a profound impact on me when I saw them in 1981. I don’t know how many of his students at “The High School” in Perth ended up at Gallipoli. For their sakes, I hope it was none.

* * * * *

Francis Herbert Johnstone, O.M. (i.e., Old Mancunian), M.A. (Oxon; University of Western Australia), or “Frank” to his sister, was born 16 January 1867, won an Entrance Scholarship at Manchester Grammar School in 1879, followed by a four-year open scholarship for Classics at Wadham College, Oxford, in 1885, taking a 2nd in Mods and a 3rd in Greats; “Gentleman Cadet Francis Herbert Johnstone, from the Royal Military College” did three years full-time military service in the Northamptonshire Regiment from 14 September 1887 (The Times (14 September 1887); Hart’s Army Lists (1890), 292; London Gazette (13 September 1887): 4945), being posted to the 11th Madras Infantry 1 November 1889; and reaching the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 16 November 1889 (London Gazette (17 February 1891): 885).

Francis returned from active duty, taking the post as school master at the Pocklington Grammar, 1889–90; Macclesfield Grammar, 1890–1902. On 14 December 1902 the King approved his resignation from the Indian Army (London Gazette (5 February 1904): 786); in 1902, Francis was appointed Second Master at The High School, Perth, where he stayed for twelve years, until at least 20 July 1914 (when the Bishop of Perth wrote to Manchester Grammar School—his alma mater—to help find him a position there). Towards the end of his time in Perth, the University of Western Australia awarded him a degree “Ad Eundem Gradum” (i.e., a degree awarded by one university to an alumnus of another; The West Australian (20 Mar 1913): 1). It was also about this time, the main school building was being constructed for The High School, which changed its name to “Hale School” in 1929 (see here).

In 1914, when drafting his C.V., Francis noted that he had trained up four successful Rhodes Scholars and that his “Total absence from work in 12 years has been 2 days, from influenza.” The last record I can find of Francis in Australia is that “Mr. F. H. Johnston, of Perth High School, [was] spending the summer holidays at Albany” according to a new report of 1 January 1915 (The Daily News “Mainly About People” [byline “Franziska] (1 January 1915): 3a).

In February 1916, Francis joined the staff at Manchester Grammar School (Ulula, no. 333 (February 1916): [1]); on 30 January 1917, Francis “read a brief but suggestive paper on ‘Literary Criticism’” for the Literary Society, “in which some of the most famous critics were discussed and some excellent advice was given as to the forming of personal judgments” (Ulula, no. 331 (February 1917): 20); from 10 November 1918 to January 1919 (when he would have turned 52), he returned to military service as temporary 2nd Lieutenant, training in the Manchester Grammar School Officers Training Corps “for service with Junior Division” in France (Record of war service, 1914-1918, Officers training corps (Junior division) Public school officers, and other members of the staffs (1919), 110).

Francis returned to Manchester Grammar, appearing in a series of photos during the 1920s held in the Manchester Grammar archives: in 1920, with the “Second Form”; in 1923, with the Classical Middle Third grade; from 1923–28, in a series “Classical Transitus” from; and in 1929, with “History Sixth”—by which time he would have been close to retirement (62 yrs).

The Manchester Grammar School archives also hold a “bundle” of letters from J. P. Bowden to F. H. Johnstone from 1923–27. The John Rylands Library, University of Manchester, holds three files of material (1905–15) belonging to Francis, “Miscellaneous material including verses by F. H. Johnstone and his C.V. and press cuttings” (from which much of my account of his academic career is culled); a file of 44 letters from Francis to his sister Mary Tout (née Johnstone), and a further 17 letters to other correspondents. The files were filmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, and can be read online (here).

Poems written by Francis were published in a number of periodicals, and manuscripts of three of them survive at the John Rylands Library (“Then and Now,” “Egypt Speaks,” composed February 1915 [published as “Young Australia in Ancient Egypt” in Ulula, no. 315 (1915): 15–16], and “Exile”). “The Lender’s Library” was likely first published in 1907 by Mrs. Frances Zabel, but was reprinted in 1913 and 1947.

* * * * *

“Egypt Speaks,” aka “Young Australia in Ancient Egypt” can be read here (in manuscript) and here (in print: pdf file, pages 15–16). Below is the version that was printed. (Which may be identical to the MS; I have not compared them.)

Young Australia in Ancient Egypt

Through the long tale of my unnumbered age,
  Old as the oldest breed of men,
I turn in memory page or storied page,
  And live the past again.

I mind me when my people bowed the knee
  To gods forgotten, fain to raise
In Thebes and Memphis to the sacred Three
  Untiring meed of praise.

Then was the cycle of the sombre years
  When Isis for Osiris dead,
Weeping a sister's plenitude of tears,
  Could not be comforted.

I saw the kingly Pharaohs wax and wane;
  Their pomp is written on my sands;
Behold it, tomb and pyramid and fane,
  Rifled by alien hands.

Who were those bondmen low that were akin
  To Joseph? Bitter was the woe
Their Moses wrought me, when he fain would win,
  My Pharaoh's leave to go.

The Persian held me captive, and anon
  Great Alexander came to seek
Dominion with his men of Macedon;
  Thereafter I was Greek.

Through reign of Ptolemy on Ptolemy:
  And one of them—could you have seen
Both Caesar and the noble Antony
  Thrall to that laughing queen!

These were of Rome, and Rome was soon to be
  My mistress for a season, till
The hate of Mahmoud flooded over me,
  And bent me to their will.

Still am I theirs, but for one little while
  I was Napoleon's, to the day
When Nelson's seamen from a seagirt isle
  Shattered his dream of sway.

And now, behold, the youngest nation sends
  From far her youth and chivalry,
Her mother calls, and she responsive leads
  In all true loyalty.

Where Sphinx and pyramid so long have gazed
  Across my desert floor of sand,
The white tents of their sojourning are raised;
  In glittering line they stand.

I see their companies march to and fro,
  Their limbs with youth and pride endued,
Envious I mark them: Would that I could know
  Youth's ecstasy renewed!

Mine eyes have looked on centuries of war,
  And none, methinks, more like than these,
The chosen manhood of that southern shore,
  Their longed-for prize to seize.

What shall I take of them, or gain or loss?
  Will they be valiant to prevail?
And will the Crescent yield before the Cross,
  And Islam's warriors fail?

I wonder, I am old and very old,
  And change has ever been my fate,
What will be, will be, as the years unfold,
  Patient I sit, and wait.


No comments: