As chaplain to the settlement, Reverend Johnson’s broad role included leading church services, conducting marriages, christenings and burials, ministering to the settlers, and teaching schoolchildren. Despite the hardships of the harsh Australian environment and the unruly behaviour of many of the convicts, he was determined to remain in the settlement to continue his work:
I am sick of my situation … for never surely was a Man or Minister, more exercised & tried with the wicked & ungodly ways of sinners; & few I believe have met with more or greater trials in worldly matters concerning My station & office … But after all, I assure you I have no immediate intentions of returning to Europe – I am persuaded that I am where God aims & intends me to be …
The new inhabitants of Sydney Cove were grateful for his work. In 1790, a convict wrote home: ‘I believe few of the sick would recover if it was not for the kindness of the Rev. Mr Johnson, whose assistance out of his own stores makes him the physician both of soul and body’.
4 October 1791, Letters from Rev. Richard Johnson to Henry Fricker, 30 May 1787 – 10 August 1797.
Extract from a letter from a young man at Port Jackson published in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 29 December 1790.