Johnson, The Artilleryman
Lewis Marcina Johnson was born in Maine, USA, to George W Johnson, who was a US national. Hannah, his mother was Canadian. George Johnson had a successful business, Burrell-Johnson Iron Co. Ltd., making steam engines and vessels for Yarmouth’s busy maritime industry, was part-owner of the Yarmouth Steam Tug Company and set up the first insurance company in Nova Scotia. Some sources describe him as ‘Canadian-born’, in fact, the family lived in Canada but Johnson’s father had taken his mother to Maine so that Lewis could take American citizenship.
We cannot yet be sure when he was born but his parts celebrated their Golden Wedding in September 1908 which suggests he might have been born in 1859. He may have been named after his mother’s father, Lewis Bradbury.
We do know that Lewis became an adventurer, occasional soldier of fortune, smuggler, hotel manager and movie mogul. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
His first known military adventure, at about 20 years old, was during the Chile-Peru conflict of 1879-1883. He may have been involved in other conflicts in South America. He is known to have served in the navy of an, as yet undetermined, South American Republic navy.
We next find him in Hawaii in the 1890s. Significantly, he ran a shooting gallery in Honolulu by mid-1890. Johnson is a common enough name so we cannot be sure that he was the photographer mentioned in an 1892 newspaper report as being fined a then-hefty $25 for possessing obscene photographs. He did, however, acquire a launch operating a water-taxi-type service and in1894 started a short-lived Wells-Fargo-type message and pack delivery service. In 1895 he merged as co-owner of a Hotel called The Eagle advertised as a first class family hotel.
Until 1893 Hawaii was a monarchy under Queen Liliʻuokalani, then she was overthrown by American businessmen and replaced by a provisional government and became an independent Republic until 1898 when it was annexed by the United States. Johnson was a member of the National Guard of Hawaii in 1895, Company D, when a somewhat a rebellion broke out to reinstall the Queen, who herself denied any connection with it. He gets a name check as a gunner at the Battle of Moiliili on 7 January that year.
As a Private with Company D of the National Guard he was appointed gunner and was responsible for an Austrian field gun. Says a history of the rebellion “Johnson has become very skillful with this gun and can throw a shell into any clump of bushes pointed out”. The skills he learned in that conflict later made him rather useful to Aguinaldo three years later.
So, he was in the National Guard of the Republic of Hawaii, became responsible for the armory and reached the rank of Sergeant Major. He was a non-commissioned officer and there was no promotional pathway for him to become a Colonel.
The cap shown in a newspaper picture, taken from a photograph, appears to be part of the uniform of the National \Guard of Hawaii.
Johnson ran into financial business problems with the Eagle House and tried to leave Hawaii but was stopped by his partner. On 20 October 1895, however, the Evening Bulletin reported that, although not on the passenger list, he had left without objection aboard the SS China: ” Mr. Johnson leaves Honolulu under engagement by the local branch of the Chinese Revolutionary Society to take a high position in their ranks, and part of his duties will be to take charge of their arms and ammunition and assist in the drilling of new recruits. It is said he is to receive $300 per month for his services.”. Three other men were on the same ship to join the Revolutionary Society.
This links Johnson to the man sometimes called in China. the father of modern China – Sun Yat Sen, who had been raised in Honolulu as a teenager. He set up the Revive China Society in Honolulu in 1894 to finance a revolt against the Q’ing dynasty.
Things did not go well. There was an abortive revolt in 1895 which was swiftly put down and the organiser5 of the society, Sun Yat Sen, then in Hong Kong, fled into exile in London and Japan. Johnson fled to British-controlled Hong Kong and safety without ever having been paid.
His next move was to Shanghai and the world of cinema.
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2 Johnson, The Artilleryman