James Johnstone or Johnston the elder

1748 - 3rd Jul 1815


Husband of Mary Ballard Johnstone (nee Beckford) (q.v.), from whose slave-property he appears to have derived significant wealth. He died 'suddenly' at Wimpole Street in London in July 1815 aged 67.

  1. No will was proved for James Johnstone, but the background to his intestacy was set out in the suit of Johnston v Johnston in 1817. It was asserted three times in court that he left personalty over £200,000 and twice that he left nearly £300,000 - he does not appear in W.D. Rubinstein's Who were the rich? Vol. I because of the absence of a probate record [the will was propounded in the Prerogative Court 26/06/1816 but denied probate]. According the suit, James Johnston had made a will in Jamaica in 1793, when he had a son and a daughter and his wife was pregnant with their third child. In this will, he left £10,000 to his daughter, £10,000 to the unborn child and the residue to his son. He 'quitted Jamaica' shortly after making this will and returned to England, where he lived until his death. He had four children subsequent to the date of the will: 'his personal property at the time of his decease amounted to nearly £300,000. His widow was possessed of a considerable landed estate in fee.' The 1817 case was brought by the three youngest children through their guardian, who argued for intestacy. The Jamaican will was held by James Johnstone's agent there; a draft of this will was found in Wimpole Street together with notes from 1814 on a new will, as well as a will of 1782 executed in Charleston predating Johnstone's marriage. In court it was accepted [with no further explanation] that his personalty in 1793 was £20,000 and that it had increased over 22 years to 'upwards of £200,000' and 'to £300,000.' Whitehall had been settled on James Johnstone and his wife for their joint lives and then to the survivor. A very lengthy judgement - presumably reflect the importance of the principles at stake - set aside the 1793 will as revoked.

  2. He was reportedly Secretary to Sir Alured Clarke, Lieut.-Governor of Jamaica 1783-1787.


  1. Joseph Phillimore Reports of cases argued and determined in the Ecclesiastical Courts (1818) Vol. I pp. 447-498.

  2. William D. Rubinstein, Who were the rich? Vol. I [second edition, MS, 2016] 1815/19.

Further Information

Mary Ballard Beckford
James; Robert Ballard; Mary Beckford; William Clarke; Frances Elizabeth; Jane Helena
Wealth at death

Associated Estates (2)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1791 [EA] - 1799 [LA] → Attorney

The James Johnstone shown as acting attorney of Orangefield has been Inferred by LBS to be James Johnstone (d. 1817).

1790 [EA] - 1815 [EY] → Joint owner

The estate formed part of the marriage settlement of Mary Ballard Beckford with James Johnstone the elder. The marriage took place c. 1790.

Relationships (3)

Deceased Husband → Widow
Father → Son
Father → Son