A Jewish millner of about 15 years, Esther was tried at the Old Bailey in July 1786 for attempting to steal 12 yards of black silk lace from a London shop. Despite three character witnesses, Esther was sentenced to seven years’ transportation and imprisoned in Newgate Goal, where she gave birth to a daughter, Roseanna. A petition for Royal Mercy, lodged in February, went unanswered, and Esther and her daughter embarked on the Lady Penhryn, on which Lieutenant George Johnston, an officer in the marines, was responsible for maintaining discipline and preventing disorder among the convicts, most of whom were women. A liason developed between George and Esther which was to last the rest of their lives.
After spending some time on Norflok Island Esther and George recieved a grant of 300 acres and they built Annandale House, named after Georges’s birthplace in Scotland, “Annan.”
Their property had its own bakery, smithy, slaughterhouse, butchery, stores, vineyard and orangie. George Johnston was heavily involved in the political and military affairs of the colony and as a result, for many months and occasionally years at a time, Esther not only managed the property singlehandedly, she also ran the household and raised seven children.
Esther and George were married in 1814 by the Reverend Samuel Marsden, most likely at the strong suggestion of the rather reactionary Governor Macquarie.
Following George’s death Esther spent her remaining years in Georges Hall, where she died on 26th August 1846. She was buried in the Annandale family vault having led a classic “rags to riches” life.