How would you react if you found out you were living in a college wing named after a co-founder of a disturbing New Age sect? One that recruited children and trained them in seclusion to become part of a master race? Not to call you a massive wuss or anything, but you’d probably be at least a little freaked out.
Queen’s College’s Raynor C. Johnson Wing, named after its third Master, was erected in the west of the college grounds between 1961 and 1969. Dr Raynor Johnson was a Methodist and an eminent physicist when he was appointed as Master of Queen’s College in 1934. He had studied at Oxford and the University of London before teaching at London and the Queen’s University Belfast. Together with Ernest ‘The Father of Nuclear Physics’ Rutherford, he contributed to some of the work at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge that led to the first splitting of the atom in 1917. When Johnson made it to Queen’s, however, he shifted his interests to psychical research. This included attempting to communicate with spirits and becoming involved with a movement led by Anne Hamilton-Byrne called The Family.
Johnson met Anne in 1961 and they instantly became besties. So, as best buds do, they teamed up and co-founded a creepy sect. He bought some land opposite his home in Ferny Creek to use as sect headquarters, as well as a former psychiatric hospital in Kew which was used to recruit new members and administer drugs. Around this time, the Methodist Church grew concerned with Johnson’s affiliation with The Family and almost issued heresy proceedings against him. Queen’s also came to an agreement that saw him retire in 1964. Johnson, feeling he had been pushed away from his religious community, embraced Anne as his religious leader.
Sarah Hamilton-Byrne, one of the many adopted children obtained by Anne through social services, published a book called Unseen Unheard Unknown (the motto of The Family) in 1995—the year she escaped. According to Hamilton-Byrne, the children were told that Johnson was their godfather. She claims that he alleged to be a “world respected authority on religion”, who legitimised Anne as a returned Christ, and clamied that Anne would not have had the same success without his influence. According to Sarah, she and the other children were regularly dosed with a plethora of drugs such as Valium, and told the drugs were administered merely to calm them down. This would then lead to a ‘going-through’ or ‘clearing’—a sect practice wherein the children were given hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD. This was supposed to clean their souls and take them to a “higher plane of understanding”.
After current Master of Queen’s College Professor David Runia refused a request for the removal of Johnson’s name from the college wing, a former patient at Newhaven decided to write to Farrago. They wrote that “Dr Raynor Johnson’s involvement in the sect known as The Family should preclude him from being honoured by Queen’s College in any way”. The college’s resolution was that Johnson should retain the honour due to his lengthy service and the final years of his life being apparently ‘clouded’ by dementia. Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne Glyn Davis also denied the same request, stating that “the University must defer to the College’s resolution on the matter”. In a statement issued by Runia in 2010, the college maintains that Johnson was “never associated with any wrong-doing and was not accused of any crime” despite providing The Family with “moral and financial support”.