Frank William Frederick Johnson
Frank William Frederick Johnson was born on June 21, 1866, at Watlington near Downham Market in Norfolk, England. He attended King Edward VII Grammar School at King's Lynn, the home town of Thomas Baines, whose travels in South Africa would no doubt have inspired him as a boy. Johnson's grandfather and father were both doctors but by the age of sixteen he decided that 'pill making' was not for him and he sailed for the Cape (South Africa) where he arrived with five pounds in his pocket. To the north sprawled the great African continent and within him he nurtured a bold spirit able to match her every challenge. His initiative, keen business acumen and thrust were soon in evidence, and after a short spell on the staff of The Table Bay Harbour Board and supplementary work with the Cape Town Fire Brigade, he responded to the call of adventure by volunteering for service as a member of the 2nd Mounted Rifles, better known as 'Carrington's Horse', with the Warren Expedition to Bechuanaland in 1884. Within a few days of joining he was promoted to the rank of quartermaster-sergeant. This campaign created a British Protectorate over Bechuanaland and the Kalahari in 1885. At that time the lands to the north (Matabeleland and Mashonaland) were not considered important. In September 1885 Johnson transferred to the Bechuanaland Border Police and was stationed at Vryburg in charge of transport and supplies for South Bechuanaland, a position that was later to give him confidence and the ability to organize logistics for future expeditions.
Three years later (1887), Johnson with other ex-members of the Bechuanaland Border Police notably Maurice Heany and Henry Borrow, organized a party known as the Northern Gold Fields Exploration syndicate in Cape Town and a concession from Chief Khama was obtained covering mineral rights in Bechuanaland. Johnson and Heany then continued north to Matabeleland to talk with Lobengula to arrange concession rights over the Ndebele domain. However, no concession was granted and Johnson was accused of poisoning an Ndebele headman who had died of fever after he had dosed him up on quinine. He was fined one hundred pounds and ordered out of the country in a state of frustration and rage. His concession was floated as the Bechuanaland Exploration Company Ltd of which Johnson became the General Manager at the age of twenty-two.
A chance meeting with Cecil John Rhodes in Kimberley in 1889 resulted in Johnson being awarded the contract to organize, equip and lead the Pioneer Corps which comprised some two hundred men chosen mainly from leading South African families. The goal was to occupy Mashonaland, build a road between Palapye and Mount Hampden (Fort Salisbury) and begin construction of settlements along the route fit for civil government with protection coming from the British South African Company's Police. This was the foundation for what was to be known as Southern Rhodesia but nowadays Zimbabwe.
After fulfilling his contract and the disbandment of the Pioneer Corps, Johnson, Heany and Borrow became actively engaged in land and mining development in Mashonaland. Rhodes himself later invested in the Company to strengthen its capital structure as Johnson's profits from organizing the Pioneer Corps was inadequate for contemplated mining development.
At the same time Johnson realized that supplying goods via the southern route would be difficult at certain times of the year because of weather and a faster, shorter and cheaper route would expedite commercial development of the Mashona country. Being an enterprising and ubiquitous business man of considerable physical stamina, Johnson undertook several more exploratory expeditions in the hope of opening up routes from East Africa which was held by the Portuguese at the time. One particular journey he under took was down the Pungwe River in a collapsible boat at the height of the rainy season.
Johnson also pursued his military career as Chief Staff Officer to the Bechuanaland Field Force during the Langberg Rebellion campaign of 1896, after which he returned to England. He became involved in mining and industrial projects in Egypt and Burma but retained financial interests in Rhodesia through the Mashonaland Gold Mining Company. It was also during this period that he came to Vancouver Island and climbed Big Interior Mountain to visit the Ptarmigan Mine which he and a number of other international investors including Sir James Sivewright, Herbert Latilla and Rudolph Feilding, had purchased. This mine had been recommended to Johnson by his brother who had spent some time in Canada as an Engineering Consultant. By the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 Johnson was Chairman of seventeen different Companies principally in mining.
During the years 1909 to 1914 Johnson refused, in spite of several offers, to take part in the Territorial Forces, however, with the outbreak of the World War he was asked to form the 2/6th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment retaining the rank of Major. He used his influence with friends in South Africa and Canada who had served with him before to join him once more. Initially he was called to take over coast defense on the Suffolk Coast but eventually he was appointed to command a battalion of the Sussex Regiment in India being awarded the D.S.O. during operations on the Northwest Frontier, and distinguishing himself in Lahore during the Punjab rising in 1919.
Johnson returned to Rhodesia in 1927 and was elected to the Legislative Assembly as a Member for Salisbury South. He became the leader of a small Opposition which challenged the policy of Charles Coglan, the first Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, after the attainment by the country of responsible government.
Before the outbreak of World War II he again settled in Norfolk and in 1940 moved to Jersey but escaped before the German occupation of the Channel Islands. Major (Sir) Frank Johnson was knighted in 1940 for his remarkable life of action, and died three years later at the age of seventy-six.
Bulpin, T.V. To The Banks of the Zambesi. Nelson and Son's. Johannesburg, South Africa. 1965. p. 262 - 269 and p. 294.
"Ptarmigan Gold Copper." Alberni Advocate. [Alberni, B.C.] (September 28, 1913) p. 1.
"British Capital in Island Mine." Daily British Colonist. [Victoria, B.C.] (September 16, 1913) p. 14.
Exploits on Island Mountain." Daily British Colonist. [Victoria,
B.C.] (September 25, 1913) p. 11.