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Alexander Johnston (1775 1849)

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Role  1775–1849
Name  Alexander Johnston

Nationality  British
Preceded by  James Dunkin
Alexander Johnston (1775–1849)
Preceded by  Codrington Edmund Carrington
Born  April 25, 1775 Carnsalloch, Dumfriesshire, Scotland (1775-04-25)
Occupation  British Privy Councilor, Founder and Vice President of the Royal Asiatic Society, lawyer, colonial official
Known for  being the Chief Justice of Ceylon and founder of Royal Asiatic Society
Died  March 6, 1849, London, United Kingdom

Preceded by  William Coke As Acting
Succeeded by  Ambrose Hardinge Giffard

Sir Alexander Johnston, PC, FRS (25 April 1775 – 6 March 1849), was a British colonial official who served as third Chief Justice of Ceylon and second Advocate Fiscal of Ceylon. He introduced a range of administrative reforms in Sri Lanka, introducing numerous liberal ideas and supporting the rights of natives. He was also an orientalist and along with Henry Thomas Colebrooke and others he was a founding member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.


Alexander Johnston (1775–1849) httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

Early life

Johnston was born in Carnsalloch, Dumfriesshire in Scotland to Samuel Johnston and Hester Napier, daughter of Francis Napier, 6th Lord Napier. Johnston moved with his family when his father obtained a posting in Madurai under Lord Macartney in the Madras Presidency in 1781. Alexander received his early education from Christian Friedrich Schwarz, the missionary as well as under Sir Thomas Munro. He could speak Tamil, Telugu, and Hindustani languages from an early age.

Colonial career

At the age of eleven, Alexander was offered a commission in the Dragoons but he chose instead to join the family to return to England in 1792. At the advice of Lord Macartney he studied law, initially at Göttingen and then at Lincoln's Inn. In 1799 he accepted a post as Advocate General in Celyon in 1799 shortly after his marriage to the daughter of Captain Lord William Campbell of the Royal Navy. He became a chief justice in 1805 and in 1809 he was asked to provide suggestions for the administration of Ceylon, many of which were included in the charter for the East India Company in 1813. He was knighted in 1811 and by 1817 he took up an honorary position as an admiralty judge.

The reforms that Sir Alexander Johnston made included universal public education, freedom of religious practice, abolishment of slavery, employment of natives in government, and the codification of laws including the traditional views of Hindus, Muhamadans, and Buddhists.

Johnston returned to England in 1819.


Johnston stood as a liberal representing the Dumfries burghs in 1840 but failed. After retirement Johnston founded the Royal Asiatic Society. He died on 6 March 1849 at London and was buried at Carnsalloch, Dumfriesshire.


His son Alexander Robert Johnston was a colonial official in Mauritius and Hong Kong before going to England (and died in the United States in 1888).


Alexander Johnston (1775–1849) Wikipedia

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