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Noteworthy naturalist

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James Paul Johnson (1880-1917) Geologist and Archaeologist

James Paul Johnson was born on 20th April 1880 at 50 Baker Street, Clerkenwell, Middlesex and baptised on 18th July 1880 at St. Philips Church, Clerkenwell. In publications he invariably named himself J.P. Johnson. Although he was generally a retiring and reticent person amongst close friends he was cheery and humorous. He was not materialistic. He died, aged 38, on 18th October 1918 from pneumonia, following influenza at Boksburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.

His father was James Johnson (born1852), a publications manager and later a house furnishing shop keeper. J.P. Johnson’s grandfathers were James Johnson, a book binder, and Lodge Raymond French, a gentleman. Johnson’s mother was Louisa Catherine French (1852-1886). J.P. Johnson’s parents were married at St. Jude’s church, Grays Inn Road, London on 12th August 1873. His mother died, aged only 35, and was buried on 19th May 1886 at St. Andrew’s, Kingsbury. James’s father remarried, on 25th August 1888, to Marian Burke at St. Paul’s church, Finsbury. J.P. Johnson was the eldest child of James and Louisa. He had a younger sister; 3 younger half-brothers and 2 younger half-sisters. J.P. Johnson married Millicent Maud Johnson. A son, James Paul Johnson, was baptised on 9th December 1905 at St. Mary the Less parish church at Jeppestown, Johannesburg.

Johnson travelled widely. He was born in Clerkenwell, Middlesex and lived in Surrey before emigrating to South Africa in 1902. In 1907 he went to Tasmania to settle and was in New South Wales in 1913, but returned to South Africa in 1914.

J.P. Johnson had a great interest in geology and Stone Age archaeology. He gained practical mining experience at the Dalcoath and Tincroft Mines in Cornwall. At Camborne Johnson studied the mining and dressing of tin-bearing rock. He studied at Dulwich College and the Royal School of Mines, London. He described himself as ‘formerly Honorary Curator of the Geological and Palaeontological Sections of Dulwich College Museum’ in 1900.

J.P. Johnson contributed no less than eight papers for publication in the Essex Naturalist between 1899 and 1903. These were of a geological and archaeological nature. He was the first person to notice and publish the occurrence of London Clay fossils at Walton-on-the-Naze and Frinton. He had collected the fossils many years previously. Those that he could still locate in his collection were donated to the Essex Field Club. He also correctly prophesised these two sites had great potential for further research. In addition he submitted an article on Eolithic implements from the Plateau Gravel near Walderslade, Kent. He wrote extensively on the Palaeolithic period in the Thames valley and the Pleistocene fossils, mineralogy and Stone Age artefacts from Ilford. His Palaeolithic of the Thames valley paper, which was illustrated by specimens and a few lantern slides, was read in abstract by his friend A.S. Kennard due to Johnson’s absence through illness. He also compiled notes on the Neolithic implements he collected from the North Downs near his home in Sutton, Surrey. Johnson often exhibited his finds to the Club and donated some to the collection. Johnson kindly arranged for the Club to receive, through his father, a copy of his 1907 book about South African stone implements. Johnson also contributed a short note about the Pleistocene fauna of West Wittering (1901) to the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association and published two short notes in the Geological Magazine about Cretaceous rock sections and their fossils around Glynde in Sussex (1901) and fossil and recent shells from Cornwall (1903). The Cornwall paper detailed the Pliocene St. Erth Beds and some raised beach deposits. He also sent submitted short notes about Pleistocene geology in the Hampshire Basin and Thames Valley (1901) and Palaeolithic man in the valley of the Wandle (1900) to Science Gossip.

He became a certificated mine surveyor and moved to South Africa in 1902, at the end of the Boer War. Johnson worked at gold mines on the Witwatersrand and diamond mines in the Boshof district of the Orange River Colony. He was an associate member of the British Institution of Mining and Metallurgy and was briefly the mining editor of the South African Mining Journal. He later practised as a consulting geologist and mining engineer.

His most important contributions to South African geology were two books published in London. The first on The Ore Deposits of South Africa was produced in two volumes which appeared in 1908 and 1909. This work included a very useful chapter on hints to prospectors. The second, which was published in 1911, was titled The Mineral Industry of Rhodesia. He also contributed several papers touching upon the Witwatersrand beds, the Roberts-Victor diamond mine, and the occurrences near Potgietersrust of tin, molybdenum and lead.

He continued his archaeological interests in South Africa and studied stone tools and rock art. He wrote many papers on different sites between 1903 and 1910 which he consolidated into three small books which appeared in 1907: The Stone Tools of South Africa; 1910: The Prehistoric Period in South Africa and in 1910: Geological and Archaeological Notes on Orangia. He donated geological specimens to the Johannesburg museum while several of his Stone Age tools eventually went to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Johnson belonged to several learned societies in South Africa

Obituaries in Essex Naturalist, Geological Magazine; Proceedings of the Geological Society of South Africa.

Some of his specimens are housed in the Natural History Museum, London; the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford and the Essex Field Club Collections at Pitsea, Essex.

Effects in United Kingdom were valued at £620. Administration of his will was granted to his wife Millicent Maud Johnson on 5th May 1919.

Account provided by Mr William George
page last edited on Fri Aug 7th 2015 by site user 68