Peter Johnson

Alias August Maren (true name)
Russian spelling Август Марен
Born 18.03.1885
Place Kuldiga, Latvia
Ethnic origin Latvian
Religion Russian Orthodox
Family Wife Clarice Henrietta Johnson (nee Taney), two children
Residence before arrival at Australia Lived in London, was involved in Latvian political organisation 'Leesma'
Arrived at Australia from London
on 7.03.1911
per Otway
disembarked at Fremantle, WA, with Dreger brothers and Sarah Ligum
Residence before enlistment Northam district & Perth
Occupation in Latvia: schoolteacher, 1913 traveller, 1916 amalgamator
Naturalisation 1913
Residence after the war Roleystone, WA
Died 29.03.1929 in a traffic accident in Sydney

Service #1

Service number 5417
Enlisted 14.01.1916
Place of enlistment Blackboy Hill, WA
Unit 11th Battalion, 51st Battalion
Rank Private, Lance Corporal
Place Western Front, 1916-1918
Casualties WIA 1918
Final fate RTA 4.06.1919
Discharged 30.08.1919


Police file, Cons 430, item 1911/3911 (SROWA)

Colonial Secretary’s Office file, Cons 752, item 1911/5827 (SROWA)

Criminal Indictment file (Maren and Johnson): Cons 3649, item 23 (SROWA)

Application for Naturalization (SROWA)

Digitised naturalisation (NAA)

Digitised service records (NAA)

Digitised Embarkation roll entry (AWM)

Assistance and medical file (NAA)


Clarke, F. G., Will-o'-the-wisp. Peter the Painter and the anti-tsarist terrorists in Britain and Australia, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1983.

Clarke, F. G., In the shadow of Peter the Painter: Latvian anarchists in Australia. - In: Aldis L. Putniņš, ed., Early Latvian Settlers in Australia, Melbourne: Sterling Star, 2010, pp. 165-189.

Blog articles

Russian Anzacs blog (Russian)

Russian Anzacs blog (English)

Filips Lastovskis, Bēgot no cara, kuģa vai bezdarba: drošsirdīgi latvieši, kas karoja zem Austrālijas karoga, - DELFI PLUS, 2020

Филипс Ластовскис. Убежать от царя и безработицы. Латвийцы в армии Австралии: кто они?, - DELFI PLUS, 2020

Newspaper articles (selection)

Peter the Painter. Is he in Australia? An arrest in the West. - The Advertiser, Adelaide, 14 August 1911, p. 7.

The Houndsditch sensation. "Peter the Painter's" disappearance. Important local development. Two Russians arrested. - The West Australian, Perth, 14 August 1911, p. 7.

Peter the Painter. Suspect in the West. - The Advertiser, Adelaide, 15 August 1911, p. 8.

The arrested Russians. Police court proceedings. Dreger's story. - The West Australian, Perth, 25 August 1911, p. 5.

The arrested Russians. Police court proceedings. Sarah Ligum's evidence. - The West Australian, Perth, 31 August 1911, p. 7.

"I shall die in this cell". Russian's grievance against Australia. - The Advertiser, Adelaide, 1 September 1911, p. 9.

Russians charged with perjury. "Peter the Painter" allegations. - Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 5 September 1911, p. 30.

The arrested Russians. Additional evidence. - The West Australian, Perth, 7 September 1911, p. 5.

The arrested Russians. Committed for trial. - The West Australian, Perth, 8 September 1911, p. 5.

A startling narrative. - The Daily News, Perth, 30 September 1911, p. 5.

Russian tyranny [p.3]. - The West Australian, Perth, 2 October 1911, p. 6.

Russian conspiracy case. No further prosecution. - Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 3 October 1911, p. 27.

A revolutionary in Russia. The life-story of August Maren - Sunday Times, Perth, 15 October 1911, p. 3.

Alec Gollan. Echo of Houndsditch Murders. Allegations never proved. - The Daily News, Perth, 16 March 1935, p. 14.

From Russian Anzacs in Australian History:

August Maren was [a] teacher who took up revolutionary activities in Latvia and wound up on active service in the AIF. He spent two years in a Latvian prison before moving to London, in 1909, where he was involved with the Latvian terrorist group Leesma, headed by Peter the Painter (Janis Jacklis). Leesma's group murdered three London policemen in the winter of 1910, which led to the sensational 1911 'Siege of Sidney Street'. Maren fled England for Western Australia, having been nominated as a migrant by his friend Ernest Dreger; he travelled out together with Dreger's brothers Frederick and Adolf from Latvia and Ernest's fiancée, Sarah Ligum, an 18-year-old Latvian Jewish woman whom Ernest had met in London. According to local police reports, tensions subsequently arose between Maren and Ernest Dreger over young Sarah, while they were working at a farm in Kellerberrin, Western Australia.

Dreger's daughter Elaine has a different version of events, however, claiming that at this time Ernest came into contact with some politically radical Latvians. 'Because he didn't agree with their views and so became a danger to them, they sought to rid themselves of him by selling him a gun that they had stolen and then informing the police. Although Ernest protested his innocence, he was gaoled at Rottnest Island prison for 3 months.'

In prison, an embittered Dreger told Australian authorities about Maren's connection with Leesma and Maren was arrested, amid rumours that he was the elusive Peter the Painter. Maren defended himself determinedly, and after a few months had to be released for lack of evidence. Assuming a new name, Peter Johnson, he put his past behind him, later dying in a traffic accident in Sydney in 1929.