The Building

A memoir of the Johnstone and Wilmot building

The building

The building, located on the corner of Cimitiere Street and St John Street, consists of two sections including the original counting house and adjoining warehouse which were constructed in 1842. It is influenced by English Georgian architecture with a simple facade including symmetrical components.

The counting house was built with two floors, hosting a business downstairs and an apartment upstairs. The warehouse was constructed with four floors including a basement below.

Johnstone and Wilmot

William Johnstone and his wife Martha left England and arrived in Launceston in 1841. Johnstone was accompanied by his brother-in-law George Stephen and the two aspired to go into the merchant business. They soon realised that there was not enough room for both in Launceston. After tossing a coin, Johnstone remained in Launceston. George Stephen is said to have moved to mainland Australia.  

A successful wholesale business distributing grain, wine and spirits was established by William Johnstone in 1842. During the 1850s Johnstone was appointed the agent for the Northern Assurance Company Ltd to also supply insurance.

Following his death in 1874, William Johnstone’s son William John Johnstone became the sole trader of the business before inviting his brother-in-law Stuart Eardley Wilmot, who was married to William Johnstone’s daughter Rosa, to join him. The business then became known as Johnstone and Wilmot Pty Ltd.

William John Johnstone died in 1891. Stuart Eardley Wilmot ran the business until 1910. It was then managed by a board of directors, which originally comprised of Wilmot, William Stewart Johnstone, and William Percy Dobson. The business relocated to St Leonards in the 1970s and by this time it mainly dealt in liquor.

Future uses of the building

Johnstone and Wilmot Pty Ltd operated out of the Johnstone and Wilmot building till 1971. The structure remained unused until the City of Launceston purchased the building in the 1980s. The council invested in restoration before opening and operating a museum from 1982 to 2003. The public museum was situated in the counting house and focussed on community and maritime history. Cultural objects and artworks were housed in storage areas within the warehouse. This collection has been cared for by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston after the council vacated the building.

In between the custodianship of the City of Launceston and dAda mUse, the Johnstone and Wilmot building was privately owned. During this time, it was used as a residence and business. 1842, as it was known, operated a workshop where hand-crafted furniture was made in addition to a gallery which specialised in fine and decorative arts.

The dAda mUse renovation

After acquiring the building in 2019, dAda mUse has taken the utmost care to retain historical features of the building while renovating. The counting house remains as originally intended and accommodates a shop downstairs with an apartment upstairs. The warehouse has been separated into two sections, now housing a commercial dwelling plus the customised art museum.