Throughout his life Johnston was teetotal, a trait which undoubtedly motivated him in his determination to develop a refreshment which was a nutritious substitute for alcohol. In political terms he was a committed Liberal. In 1895 Johnston was nominated as the Liberal candidate for the Dartford Constituency in Kent, only his ailing health preventing him from standing in the election. His dream of taking a seat in Parliament therefore eluded him.
Johnston was a nonconformist Christian, and before he left Edinburgh for Canada he attended the Brighton Street Evangelical Union Church. On his return to the UK he became part of the congregation at the Upper Norwood Presbyterian Church in London.
Johnston’s keen eye for business was matched by his quick, dry sense of humour. Once asked by a journalist in 1895, “If Bovril is so indispensable, how did our forefathers get on without it?”, Johnston responded, “They didn’t…they are all dead.” Despite his move southwards into England during his empire-building days, Johnston loved and maintained links with his Scottish homeland. He kept in touch with many of his old Edinburgh acquaintances, made trips back to ‘Auld Reekie’, and rented Inveraray Castle during summer months.
John Lawson Johnston seems to have maintained an interest in his Midlothian place of birth and its people during his lifetime and his family appears to have done likewise in the very recent past. Roslin has reciprocated; he is well and fondly remembered there too, and his birthplace on Main Street, now carrying a plaque to his memory, is today the site of ‘Bovril Johnston’s Coffee Shop’ which serves cups of his liquid creation to honour the man and his achievements.
Johnston also cherished fond memories of Edinburgh as did the Lawson Johnston family. They took pains not only to deposit the family Bovril collection with Edinburgh City Archives in 1999 but also to indicate that they had long considered Edinburgh to be the birthplace of their revered ancestor’s invention. Clearly then, John Lawson Johnston never forgot ‘Auld Reekie’; but today its streets are bereft of any reminder of his days here. Has the Capital forgotten him, his world-famous beverage and its roots within the heart of the Old Town?