JOHNSTON, Andrew (1798-1862), of Rennyhill, Fife

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

b. 1798, 1st s. of Andrew Johnston of Rennyhill. educ. adv. 1821. m. (1) 17 Apr. 1826, Barbara (d. 20 Jan. 1830), da. of Davis Pearson of Edinburgh; (2) 1 Aug. 1834, Priscilla, da. of Thomas Fowell Buxton*, 2s. 1da. suc. fa. 1844. d. 24 Aug. 1862.

Offices Held


Johnston’s grandfather, Andrew Johnston of Rennyhill, was described in 1788 as a collector of customs (and thereby ineligible to vote in Fifeshire), with ‘a very small estate’ and ‘a large family’. He died in about 1808 and was succeeded in the property by his son and namesake, this Member’s father, who lived until 1844.1 Nothing is known of Johnston’s early life, beyond the fact that he was admitted an advocate on 10 July 1821. At the general election of 1826 (he told the House, 6 Aug. 1831), as one ‘nearly connected with the landed interest’ in Anstruther Easter Burghs, he used his ‘small’ influence there to support James Balfour in his successful contest against the Liverpool ministry’s lord advocate. At the general election of 1831 he responded to an invitation from some ‘independent men’ in the burghs to stand against the Tory candidate of the Anstruther family. One observer, who would have preferred a more illustrious candidate, commented that ‘although a radical reformer he has neither talents nor fortune to make it rational in him to go into Parliament’; but he persevered, secured the decisive backing of the returning burgh (one of the five was disfranchised at this time) and came in unopposed.2

In the House, 30 June 1831, he denied a story that the burghs had returned him as a reformer ‘because they were given to understand that they would be disfranchised if they did not do so’. (They were scheduled for disfranchisement by the terms of the Grey ministry’s first Scottish reform bill.) He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced English bill, 6 July, and steadily for its details. On 6 Aug. he had more to say on the subject of his burghs, defending ministers against a charge that they had deliberately ignored the problem of the disfranchised burgh of Kilrenny, and retorting to the Tory William Douglas that he would ‘not be dictated to’ by him ‘as to the course which I may hold in dealing with the case of my constituents’, preferring to hold back petitions against their disfranchisement until the Scottish bill was before the House. Later that day he argued that Perth deserved a Member of its own. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage, 21 Sept., of the English bill. He presented petitions from the convention of royal burghs in support of the Scottish reform bill and against the disfranchisement of his constituency, and ones in the same sense from each of the councils, 23 Sept., when he divided for the second reading of the Scottish measure. Three days later ministers announced that they had decided to reprieve the Anstruther Burghs by combining them with St. Andrews and Cupar and giving Perth a separate Member. Johnston was in the ministerial majority for Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He voted in O’Connell’s minority for swearing the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and also cast wayward votes for disarming the Irish yeomanry, 11 Aug., and inquiry into the effects of renewal of the Sugar Refinery Act on the West India interest, 12 Sept. He was in the minority for issuing a new writ for Liverpool rather than proceeding with a bribery bill, 5 Sept. He had Evangelical inclinations, and on 26 Sept. 1831, ‘as an elder of the Church of Scotland’, which he said had ‘done more good for a people ... than almost any other church in existence’, he ranted against the grant to the Catholic seminary at Maynooth, insisting that it was immoral to tax Scots for the support of an institution ‘for instruction in the tenets of the Romish faith, which my church holds to be idolatrous’. He attributed the ‘evils’ afflicting Ireland ‘mainly to the influence of the papistical faith’ and declared that the avowed hostility to the Protestant establishment expressed by some Irish Members in a House where they only sat on sufferance made him question the wisdom of his approval of emancipation in 1829.

Johnston voted for the second reading of the revised English reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, divided reliably for its details and was in the majority for its third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted with ministers on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb., and against the production of information on military punishments, 16 Feb., but was in the minority against the malt drawback bill, 2 Apr. On 2 Mar. he presented and supported the prayer of a petition from ministers, elders and inhabitants of Aberdeen against the government’s scheme of Irish education, which he condemned as ‘unchristian in principle’ in its exclusion of scriptural instruction. He returned to this theme on 6 Mar., when he said that he was ‘compelled to hold my views as a reformer in subjection to my principles as a Christian’, addressing the issue ‘on high grounds, as a Scottish Presbyterian’. He condemned the scheme’s ‘false principle of expediency’ and argued that the Protestant Kildare Place Society had been ‘productive of the greatest benefit’, 28 Mar.; said that the ministerial proposals were ‘calculated to injure the interests of Protestant children in Ireland, 21 May, and presented hostile petitions from the presbyteries of Edinburgh and Hamilton, 23 May, and Haddington, 30 May. Yet when the Irish secretary Smith Stanley explained on 5 June that in practice Protestant children would have use of the Bible at regulated times, Johnston welcomed ‘so great a modification’, and on the 8th he agreed to give the system a fair trial. He confirmed on 5 July (from the opposition benches) that his initial objections had ‘very much given way’; but on 23 July he regretted that the plan had been proposed at a time of such excitement. He voted for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May. He supported the Scottish reform bill, 21 May, but remarked that the Church Patronage Act of 1712 had alienated the affections of many Scottish Presbyterians; that too many Scottish Members and representative peers had hitherto attended to ‘their own individual interests ... [by] swelling ministerial majorities ... [and being] parties to gross jobs’; that the electoral regime in Scotland would significantly favour the agricultural interest, and that the Scottish clergy should be kept out of politics. To the last effect he moved an amendment to ban them from voting in parliamentary elections, which was defeated by 72-7, 6 June. He divided with government against Conservative amendments to increase the Scottish county representation, 1 June, and stop the dismemberment of Perthshire for electoral purposes, 15 June, when he defended the annexation of Nairnshire to Elginshire, but clashed with the lord advocate Jeffrey, who accused him of seeking a political advantage, over the proposed boundary of Crail in the new St. Andrews district. He welcomed the government’s decision to abandon the planned property qualification for Scottish burgh Members and to modify their original proposal for county Members, 27 June. On 6 July he looked forward to reform of Scottish municipal government in the next Parliament. He voted for the second reading of the Irish reform bill, 25 May. On 4 June he divided the House on his motion to postpone the third reading of the Edinburgh police bill, which he said had been ‘carried on ... by private arrangement between private parties’, and was a teller for the majority of 21 (to 18). He divided with government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12, 16, 20 July. He presented and endorsed a petition from Aberdeen ministers and elders against the Maynooth grant and condemned the ‘errors’ of Catholicism, 11 Apr., and saw nothing offensive in the language of a hostile Glasgow petition, 10 July. On 27 July he denounced the grant, the failed Irish policy of conciliation and concession and the ‘system of terrorism’ promoted by O’Connell and Richard Sheil* in their encouragement of ‘passive resistance’ to tithes collection. He divided the House against the grant and was a teller for the minority of eight. Johnston had long admired Thomas Fowell Buxton, the leading campaigner for the abolition of slavery, and as he later wrote, ‘I introduced myself to him as one who aimed at being enlisted under his anti-slavery banner, and before long ... was honoured with ... [his] friendship’. He became one of the small ‘select band of Members’ who met daily when the House was sitting for prayers and scripture readings under Buxton’s aegis. He spoke and voted for Buxton’s motion for the appointment of a select committee on abolition, 24 May, when the government carried a restrictive amendment, and was one of Buxton’s nominees for the committee, 30 May 1832.3 He acted as Buxton’s private secretary, 1834-7, and on 1 Aug. 1834, the official date of slave emancipation, married his daughter Priscilla.4

At the general election of 1832 Johnston, a man ‘of a somewhat slender make’, who spoke ‘tolerably well’ in a carefully prepared fashion, was returned for the St. Andrews district after a contest with a fellow Liberal. He came in unopposed in 1835. He made his parliamentary hobby horse repeal of the 1712 Patronage Act, but without success. His relations with his constituents broke down over his failure to fulfil a pledge to vote for the appropriation of surplus church revenues.5 He sold the Fifeshire estate in 1853 and acquired one at Halesworth, Suffolk, where he lived at Holton Hall.6 He died in August 1862 and was succeeded by his elder son Andrew Johnston, Liberal Member for Essex South, 1868-74, and a partner in the East London firm of Morewood and Company, iron manufacturers.7

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 130; (1790), 89; (1811), 60; Services of Heirs in Scotland.
  • 2. Caledonian Mercury, 28 Apr., 5 May 1831; NAS GD46/132/23.
  • 3. Buxton Mems. 384-6; Bodl. (Rhodes House), Buxton mss Brit. emp. S. 444, Hannah Buxton to the Cunninghams [25 May 1832].
  • 4. Ibid. 352-3, 383.
  • 5. [J. Grant], Random Recollections of Commons (1837), 356-8; CJ, xc. 297.
  • 6. J. Foster, MPs for Scotland, 196.
  • 7. Dod’s Parl. Companion (1869), 239-40.