Orders, Decorations and Medals (8 September 2015)

Date of Auction: 8th September 2015

Sold for £9,500

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

Johnson was 22 years old in 1889 and conformed to a type that Rhodes found particularly appealing. He was handsome, aggressive and self-confident. Although his military career had not taken him beyond the rank of Quarter-Master Sergeant in the Bechuanaland Mounted Police, Rhodes decided that he was just the man to lead a military expedition against one of the most formidable warrior nations in Africa. By the terms of the secret contract drawn up between the two men, Johnson undertook to raise a force of 500 colonials. If he succeeded, he would be paid £100,000 and every man in the force receive a grant of 3000 acres of land and the right to prospect for gold in Mashonaland.’

Rhodes - The Race for Africa, by Anthony Thomas, refers.

‘Out on the veld I found him [Cecil Rhodes] at his best. He was a pleasant companion and loved the life. He was a poor shot, and was certainly in no degree what might be called a sportsman. When in company he was a great conversationalist and used to hold any party enthralled. He never appeared bored, and always listened with interest to what anyone might have to say to him. This was a gift which made him highly popular with the people of Rhodesia, for they always felt, if only they could have a talk with Rhodes himself, their personal troubles would be understood and appreciated.’

Frank Johnson recalls his friend and business partner, Cecil Rhodes, in Great Days.

The important Rhodesia pioneer’s K.B.E., Waziristan 1917 operations D.S.O. group of seven awarded to Lieutenant-Colonel F. W. F. Johnson, Royal Sussex Regiment, late Colonial Forces: his remarkable career - military and civil - is recounted in his entertaining autobiography
Great Days

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, K.B.E. (Civil) Knight Commander’s 2nd type set of insignia, comprising neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, and breast star, silver, gilt and enamel centre, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; Cape of Good Hope General Service 1880-97, 1 clasp, Bechuanaland (Capt. F. Johnson, D.E.O.V.R.); British South Africa Company’s Medal 1890-97, undated reverse, 1 clasp, Mashonaland 1890 (Major Johnson, F. W. F., Pioneers); British War Medal 1914-20 (Lt. Col. F. W. F. Johnson); India General Service 1908-35, 1 clasp, Afghanistan N.W.F. 1919 (Lt. Col. F. Johnson, R. Suss. R.), together with related miniature dress medals (5), generally good very fine (12) £6000-8000


K.B.E. London Gazette 1 January 1941:

‘A pioneer of Southern Rhodesia. For public services to the Colony.’

London Gazette 3 June 1918:

‘For distinguished services rendered in connection with military operations on the Indian Frontier.’

Frank William Frederick Johnson was born in Watlington in Norfolk in June 1866. After attending King Edward VII Grammar School in King’s Lynn, and much against his mother’s wishes, he spurned the opportunity to study medicine and take on his late father’s medical practise, instead opting for a new life in South Africa.

Clerk, Fireman and Soldier

Arriving in Cape Town in August 1882, aged 16 years, and with just £5 to his name, he was fortunate to quickly find employment as a clerk for the Table Mountain Harbour Board and as a volunteer in the local Fire Brigade. In addition, as Johnson would recall in his autobiography, ‘I joined the Colonial forces - the Duke of Edinburgh’s Own Volunteer Rifles, which was the second oldest volunteer corps in the Empire.’

In the autumn of 1884, Johnson joined Sir Charles Warren’s Bechuanaland Field Force, being attached to the 2nd Mounted Rifles, better known as Carrington’s Horse, and was promoted to Quarter-Master Sergeant within a matter of days. Mafeking having been relieved - and Bechuanaland south of Molopo River annexed by Great Britain - Johnson elected to join the newly formed Bechuanaland Border Police (B.B.P.).

The Great Northern Gold Field Exploration Company

As a result, he met and befriended some notable future pioneers, including Maurice Heany and Harry Borrow, with whom he would establish the mining and land-owning firm of Johnson, Heany and Borrow on the occupation of Mashonaland in 1890. Earlier, however, on departing the B.B.P. in 1887, the three of them raised backing for the Great Northern Gold Field Exploration Company. Much trekking and exploration having ensued, the intrepid trio gained concessions from Chief Khama but failed in their attempt to persuade King Lobengula of Matabeleland to grant them a similar concession. Johnson’s autobiography
Great Days refers to countless yet fruitless meetings with Lobengula. He even undertook to train 800 Matabele as cavalrymen but the tribal elders grew jealous of their younger charges increasing skills and, as a result, ‘they had all my budding horsemen gradually poisoned off and the mounted regiment consequently lost its popularity.’

Having at one stage gained a minor concession to prospect the Amazoe - a disastrous expedition in which the Matabele escort turned on the white pioneers - Johnson was put on trial by Lobengula’s
indunas, the charges including the poisoning of a headman and being a spy. In the event, he escaped with a £100 fine but managed to retain just enough gold from the Amazoe to make a wedding ring for his wife.

Yet as Johnson also recalls in
Great Days, ‘I think our party was responsible for keeping the Germans out of the country’; largely, in fact, due to the antics of John Spreckley, another ex-B.B.P. N.C.O. who had joined Johnson’s team:

‘We found out that Dr. Schultz [of the German mission] did not like snakes. Spreckley, who was a devil for practical jokes, seized on this fact and told all kind of fantastic snake stories, and spoke of the great prevalence in the country, until his victim was in a blue funk. Next he got hold of a really large python (truly dead), tied a piece of strong fishing line in its mouth and, drawing the snake after him, rushed to Schultz’s tent, shouting out that a snake was after him. That settled it. Germany lost a potential colony, for Dr. Schultz packed up, abandoned his mission and quitted Matabeleland.’

The Bechuanaland Exploration Company Limited

In 1888, Johnson became the General Manager of the newly-floated Bechuanaland Exploration Company Limited, with Lord Gifford as Chairman and George Cawson as director. The company had been floated in London on the back of the concession Johnson had obtained from Chief Khama in the previous year, a concession which covered territory larger than England. Johnson also established the Bechuanaland Trading Company.

Indeed the promise of a personal fortune seemed assured but, unbeknown to Johnson, Gifford and Cawson entered into a separate deal with Cecil Rhodes and, by means of a legally sound technicality, were able to deny Johnson his rightful share of the profits; as it transpired, Rhodes, too, paid a heavy price for his dealing with Gifford and Cawson: between them they were granted 25% of the shares in the great man’s Chartered Company.

Discussions were now fully underway to mount a pioneer column to annex Mashonaland for Great Britain.

Mashonaland 1890: Pioneer Column Commander

In December 1889, after a chance meeting over breakfast in the Kimberley Club, Rhodes prevailed upon Johnson to take up the mantle and lead the pioneer column; the latter declined on account of Gifford and Cawson being on the Board of the Chartered Company: ‘No money on earth would at that time have induced me to become even indirectly a servant of theirs. I told Rhodes so plainly, and he was furious.’

Five days later he received a wire from Rhodes, requesting another meeting in Cape Town. They duly met there, Johnson recalling that they sallied up and down Government Avenue for two hours, Rhodes gra
dually wearing down his opponent’s resolve:

‘To make a long story short, I finally had a brain-wave and said: ‘All right, you win. I'll go. But only under one condition. You give me a cheque for £87,500, supply me with field and machine guns, rifles and ammunition, and I will undertake to hand Mashonaland over to you fit for civil government within nine months. But I want you to remember that I am not your servant but your contractor.’

For over 100 yards Rhodes walked on in silence, his hands clasped behind him. He never looked at me nor gave any signs of having even heard what I had said. Then he stopped suddenly and said: ‘I will give you that cheque. Now let us go to Poole’s and get some breakfast.’ Thus was the manner of the occupation of Mashonaland decided!’

A contract was
duly signed in the Cape Town offices of the Commissioner for Crown Lands and Public Works. Rhodes - The Race for Africa, by Anthony Thomas, takes up the story:

‘Johnson's plan was to infiltrate his force into Bechuanaland in four-man groups, disguised as prospectors. They would reassemble ‘in an uninhabited part of the country’ close to the Matabeleland border, and then choose a suitable ‘moonlight night’ to make a dash to Gubulawayo. Fortunately for all concerned, Johnson’s chum Maurice Heany, an Irish-American dropout from the West Point Military Academy, boasted about the plan when drunk in the hearing of a local missionary. The matter was immediately reported to Shippard, who had no alternative but to pass the information to the High Commissioner in the Cape.

Unfortunately for Rhodes, the amenable Sir Hercules Robinson had been replaced by Sir Henry Loch, a mountain of a man in his early 60s with a grizzled patriarch’s beard that came down to his chest. Apart from his formidable appearance, the problem with Loch was that he had no particular liking for Rhodes.

Johnson was swiftly summoned to Rhodes’s office in Cape Town to hear that his paymaster had just returned from a grilling by the High Commissioner. Rhodes, of course, had denied all knowledge of the plot and now insisted that Johnson should return to the High Commissioner’s office with him and claim sole responsibility. Evidently the young man performed to everyone's satisfaction. Loch decided to take no action and when Rhodes made a more practical plan, Frank Johnson was once again ‘the contractor’. This time, the idea was to raise a force of men who would avoid a confrontation with Lobengula by skirting Matabeleland and striking instead for the eastern part of the country, populated by the more gentle Shona. Under the terms of his new contract, Johnson undertook to hand over Mashonaland ‘fit for civil government’ by 1 October 1890 at a cost of £87,000 (with a down payment of £30,000 on signature). Johnson had drawn up the second document himself, and when Hawksley, Rhodes’s London solicitor, objected on the grounds that Johnson had provided no security, Rhodes wired back: ‘Have got security - his life’.

Johnson had estimated that he would need no more than 250 men to take the country. On the successful completion of the mission, each man would receive a grant of 3000 acres and 15 mining claims in Mashonaland. While serving in Johnson's force, their pay would be set at 7s. 6d. a day - six times that of a private in the British army.’

n gathered his ‘pioneers’ in Kimberley and then moved them to a training camp north of Mafeking. As is well-known, on the insistence of the High Commissioner, Sir Henry Loch, Rhodes was also compelled to assemble a reserve force of 400 mounted men, in fact the genesis of the British South Africa Police.

The rest, as they say, is history, for Johnson duly fulfilled his contract in September 1890, when he established Fort Salisbury, near the Makabusi River: the Union Jack was raised there at an official parade held on 13 September 1890; for further details, see Dix Noonan Webb, 10 December 2014 (Lot 883), namely the awards to Commander E. C. Tyndale-Biscoe, R.N., late Pioneers, who actually raised the flag.

To conclude, in Johnson’s words:

‘This ends my tale of the capture of a colony by contract. With the accidental loss of one life only the whole of the work which I had contracted to do had been carried out according to the terms of my agreement with Rhodes; a road 400 miles long had been cut through practically unknown country, and often through dense bush; forts had been built at Tuli, Victoria, Charter and Salisbury; the territory of Mashonaland had been annexed and added to the British Empire; and the nucleus of a self-contained civil population had been brought into the country, so that the annexation was no empty formality. Perhaps this story of mine may
have seemed uneventful as compared with more dangerous Empire-building expeditions, but it was not because the elements of risk were not present - rather because the precautions which we took resulted in the fact that not a single shot had to be fired in enmity.’

Further prospecting and exploration

With capital investment from Rhodes, and the formation of Frank Johnson and Company Limited, Johnson, Heany and Borrow now busied themselves with land and mining development. In addition, they sought out practical routes for transport purposes - thus an exploratory boat trip undertaken by Johnson and Dr. Jameson on the Pungwe River in an attempt to open up a route to the East Coast; in many respects a hair-raising trip, described at length in Johnson’s
Great Days.

Rhodes, meanwhile, appeared to be utterly relaxed in terms of seeing ‘his’ new country, and didn’t in fact do so until October 1891, when Johnson acted as his guide on a gruelling 170 mile trek to the Mashonaland, a trek not without incident. One night Johnson was woken by the sound of Rhodes leaving their tent, followed by the growl of a lion. He later recalled, ‘almost immediately I saw the strange spectacle of the Prime Minister dashing back towards out tent … The trousers of his pyjamas were hanging well below his knees.’

On the eve of the Matabele rebellion in 1893, Dr. Jameson approached Johnson to take command of a force of 700 men; the two men fell out over the intended speed and provisioning of the force. There being no common ground between them, Jameson is said to have asked Johnson to make himself scarce. Notwithstanding this disagreement, Johnson was again approached by Jameson - and Rhodes - in July 1895, to discuss an invasion of the Transvaal. Once more, opinions as to the conduct of such a campaign differed and Johnson took his leave. He did, however, resume his military career in 1897, when he was appointed Chief Staff Officer of the Bechuanaland Field Force during the Langberg Rebellion, seeing action in the attack on Gamasep Kloof and gaining the official thanks of the Cape Government.

Johnson subsequently moved to London, where his business interests extended to Burma and Egypt; nonetheless, he retained similar interests in Rhodesia through the Mashonaland Gold Mining Company and, by the outbreak of the Great War, he was Chairman of no less than 17 companies.

The Great War - India - D.S.O.

In August 1914, by which time Johnson was living in Hove, Sussex, he received a War Office telegram requesting he report as a supernumerary Major to the 6th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, a Territorial cyclist unit. A few weeks later, after bumping into his old friend General Plumer, he was asked to raise a new battalion, the 2/6th Royal Sussex. By early in 1915 the unit was complete in numbers and equipment, and it was ordered to Suffolk to undertake coastal defence duties.

In late 1915, the Battalion was ordered to East Africa but, on reaching the Suez Canal, it was re-embarked for India, arriving in Bombay in February 1916. A few months later, it moved up to the North-West Frontier as part of 16th Indian Division and thence - via Fort Jatta on the Mahsud Frontier - to active employment in General Sir William Beynon’s Waziristan Field Force. Thus ensued the Waziristan operations of 1917, in which Johnson won his D.S.O., having commanded an assault on a mountain ridge:

’The enemy’s fire increased with our growing hesitation. So involved did the position become at last that, seeing a kopje in the front line, I pushed on there with my small Staff in order that I might the better exercise personal control over the attack. I found it advisable to lie prone … In an Order of the Day, the G.O.C. referred to this action I have just related as being reminiscent of that at the Dargai Pass, and, incidentally, was kind enough to recommend me for a D.S.O.’

The 2/6th Royal Sussex - much depleted in strength - were next actively engaged during the Punjab Rising of 1919, Johnson having been appointed to the command of Lahore Civil Area:

‘The area which was placed under my command for the purpose of Martial Law was the whole of the city, and Civil Lines. It extended roughly for a radius of three miles from the Central Telegraph Office. Within this area there was a population estimated at 236,000, comprising 6,000 Europeans exclusive of troops, 130,000 Mohammedans, 78,000 Hindus, 13,000 Sikhs and 9,500 Indian Christians. At the outbreak of the disturbances, the forces in Lahore itself available for the maintenance of order were approximately 600 armed men, of whom no less than three-quarters were armed Police. In addition, there were some 800 unarmed Police and possibly 300 Indian Defence Force, while four miles away at Lahore Cantonment were stationed most of the 43rd Infantry Brigade and some divisional troops.’

Being just 35 miles from Amritsar, it was inevitable that rioting would take place in Lahore - it did with resultant deaths in April-May; but by means of applying Martial Law and careful planning, Johnson averted a major catastrophe. He was duly thanked by the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Michael O’Dwyer, and was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and India General Service Medal for Afghanistan N.W.F. 1919; he was not entitled to the Victory Medal.

The latter years

In 1927, Johnson returned to Rhodesia where he was elected Member of the Legislative Assembly for Salisbury South constituency. Finding himself at odds with the policies of the first Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Charles Coghlan, he formed a small opposition party. He was created K.B.E. for his services to the colony in January 1941.

Having returned to the U.K. before the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, Johnson settled in Jersey in the Channel Islands but managed to leave before the arrival of the Germans. Having then settled in Norfolk, he published his autobiography
Great Days. He died in September 1943; sold with a file of copied research and a copy of the recipient’s autobiography, Great Days.