- Born 14 October 1833 Co Wicklow
- Educated Eton College; Dublin University
- Occupation Sub Inspector of Factories
- Debut Gentlemen of England, 10 September 1855
- Cap Number 4
- Style Hand unknown
- Teams Dublin University; Phoenix; Gentlemen of Dublin; United Ireland XI
William Johnston, Ireland's first wicket keeper, was, according to historian Arthur Haygarth, "An excellent batsman and also a good wicket keeper" (S&B Vol VI). At Eton, which he left aged sixteen, he was not a noted cricketer, but distinguished himself on the football field, playing for the College. However, on entering Dublin University in, somewhat strangely, July 1851, he quickly established himself in the XI. At that stage the side did not play many matches and William was also seen in the colours of the Phoenix Club. However he was a well reputed member of the University XI, gaining his colours in each of his four years in the side. Averages are not available, but he was one of the leading batsmen, thus when Phoenix bowled the University out for a paltry 73, he topscored with 41.
Apart from his appearances for the University and matches for Ireland, he also played for Phoenix, in the Gentlemen of Dublin v Players of Dublin matches of 1853, and for the United Ireland XI formed by Charles Lawrence in imitation of the professional travelling XIs in England. William played for Lawrence's XI against XXII of Dublin and also made two visits to Cork, where his wicket keeping was much admired and highly successful.
However, though he kept well in all these matches, he did not greatly distinguish himself with the bat. His highest score a second innings 26 in the second Gentlemen v Players game of August 1853, when he put on over 50 for the first wicket with George Kinahan. These matches, though they continued - spasmodically - until 1873, were not a success. Initiated by Charles Lawrence, probably as a financial venture, they were far too one sided as Lawrence, Peter Doyle and Pat Dooley, were the only well known professionals in Ireland at the time. In the matches in which William played, nine soldiers from the Garrison joined Doyle and the promoter. Incidentally, William bowled in the second match, taking a wicket.
In his Irish appearances his batting was well to the fore. The first match, against the Gentlemen of England at Phoenix in September 1855, saw him bat at number 6, and play two crucial innings, His first innings 22 was second top score to the captain John Coddington, the only two double figure scores off the bat. He was dismissed by Cambridge blue EH Willes. Mr Extras nipped in with a handy 21. In contrast William conceded only one bye, before going on to topscore with 35 in the second innings, sharing in a useful stand with James McCormick (20). This time his innings was ended by William Nicholson, better known as a wicket keeper. Nicholson, later a millionaire and President of MCC, was - at different times but in the same constituency - both a Liberal and Conservative MP, He was to use his millions in 1866 to save Lord's from the developers. Ireland ran out winners by 107 runs, It was a low scoring match, and, as Johnston conceded only one bye again in the second innings, his part in the victory was considerable.
The following year a much stronger "England" side was victorious. However William could not be faulted. He again kept impeccably and was second top scorer in each innings, though making only 9 in the first. In the second, as Ireland chased 148, he made 31 and Lawrence 50 (the first half century for Ireland), but after they left, a collapse ensued, the visitors winning by 39 runs. William also made two stumpings in the English first innings, the first such dismissals for Ireland. In his third match, against the same opposition in 1857, he made a useful second innings 21 as the match was drawn. His final appearance was at Lord's in 1858. Ireland won by an innings, thanks to excellent bowling by Lawrence, but William, this time, made little contribution.
Thereafter, he was little seen in Irish cricket. Moving to England he lived in Edgbaston, Birmingham and also had a house in Northumberland. His occupation shown above was that which he held in 1875, but no other details are known. It has also proved impossible to establish a date of death. Eton College record, somewhat unusually, do not contain this information, nor is it held by his university. The fact that his forenames and surnames are a common combination has not helped research. The quest continues but any information would be most gratefully received.
A short biography of William Henry Johnston is in Scores and Biographies Volume VI.
Edward Liddle, October 2008