(d.1832), Irish soldier in the South American wars of
independence. Nothing is known about his early years apart from
the fact that he was very probably an
After service in the British Army during the Napoleonic Wars, in
joined Colonel Skeene
Regiment of Hussars of Venezuela
', a unit
of 150-200 mercenaries hired by Luis López Méndez, Simón Bolívar's
Hussars set sail for South America on board the Indian
(Captain Davidson) but never made it to the battlefields of the
. On 8 December 1817, a gale threw the ship against the cliffs
off Ushant in northern
and destroyed it. According to Hasbrouck
other sources, only five men survived. According to Lambert
everybody drowned and the fortunate survivors were men who for a
variety of reasons had missed the ship and had been left behind
. Among them was John Johnston.
the disaster, Johnston enlisted in the '2nd Hussars' under
Captain James Farrar
, one of
the contingents recruited by Colonel George Elsom
finally made it to Venezuela in early 1819. He took part in the
war in the Llanos and
, as a
member of the British Legion under Colonel James Rooke, in the
battle of Pantano de Vargas where his unit was awarded the
'Order of the Liberators', one of the rare occasions during the
war when this decoration was bestowed upon an entire unit. He
next fought at Boyacá, where he was seriously wounded. Although
he was incapacitated for several months after this feat of arms,
he recovered in time to serve with distinction in the campaigns
late 1819, the survivors of the British Legion became the
backbone of the '
' battalion, a mixed Anglo-Colombian unit commanded by British
officers. It was led by Colonel John Mackintosh and had
Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston as second-in-command. In 1820-1822,
the Irishman and his comrades fought in the battles of
, Pitayó, Puente de Mayo, Juanambú
commanded the 'Albions' for several months in 1821, when
Mackintosh and three other officers left to train the new '
' battalion. With
in charge of the 'Albion' and Mackintosh at the head of the '
', General Antonio José de Sucre defeated the Spaniards at
Yaguachi. Unfortunately, the pendulum swung and the Patriots
suffered a major defeat at Huachi soon afterwards.
's forces were virtually annihilated and both Mackintosh and
were wounded and captured. The former managed to escape but the
latter only recovered his freedom after an exchange of
the disaster at Huachi, the '
' disappeared as a coherent unit and Mackintosh returned to a
', with Johnson again as his deputy. It was in this capacity
that the Irishman fought in the battles of
and Pichincha where his battalion, carrying the ammunition,
arrived in the nick of time and turned defeat into victory.
sealed the liberation of
's (and the
's) last battle. Most officers took leave of absence in 1822 and
the unit was disbanded in early 1823. It did not take part in
the war in
, the last campaign of the Wars of Independence.
is known concerning
's whereabouts in the next few years. He might have returned to
Europe on leave, as many of his fellow officers did, and then
decided to go back to
after finding no prospects at home. We next encounter him in
1831, when he
in command of a new 'Rifles'
battalion (the original unit of that name had been disbanded in
1830). Unfortunately, he only retained this appointment until
the end of the year. In 1832, he was removed from the army list
because of his Bolivarian sympathies and his support for the
dictatorship of General Urdaneta
to leave the country. He died in
far as decorations are concerned,
awarded the Boyacá and Pichincha crosses. As a member of the
British Legion at Vargas, he was also decorated with the Order
of the Liberators when this medal was bestowed upon his entire
following anecdote gives an indication of his character. In the
early days in the Llanos
the British volunteers found that a great deal of their clothing
and equipment was unsuitable for the tropics and saw it fall
apart in a matter of weeks. Much of what remained had to be sold
to the local Patriots in exchange for food and other essentials,
as a result of which the mercenaries often went naked and
barefoot. At some stage,
was the only Briton who still had a pair of boots. Embarrassed,
he threw them into a river in order to share the hardships of
his comrades. Lambert
says that this happened during the march across the Llanos in 1819 and that the river was the
, though the incident is told differently in other sources and
the officer concerned is not always mentioned by name.
Alfred. Foreign Legionnaires in the Liberation of Spanish
(Columbia University Press: New York, 1928).
Lambert, Eric. Voluntarios
Británicos e Irlandeses en la Gesta Bolivariana (Caracas:
Ministerio de Defensa, 1980 and 1993), 3 vols.
Rodríguez, Moises-Enrique. Freedom's
Mercenaries: British Volunteers in the Wars of
(Lanham MD: Hamilton Books, University Press of America,
2006), 2 vols.