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James Frederick (Fred) Watson (1878–1945)

from Canberra Times

The death occurred in Sydney yesterday at the age of 66 years after an illness lasting some months, of Dr. James Frederick Watson, who for many years was a prominent figure in the public affairs of Canberra.

The late Dr. Watson was the son of James Watson who had been Colonial Treasurer in the Third Parkes Ministry from 1878 to 1883, and was identified with the movement for federation. Born at Sydney, the late Dr. Watson was educated at the Sydney Grammar School and graduated in medicine at Sydney University with the degrees of M.B. and Ch.M. He carried on post-graduate studies at London Hospital and in Paris and Vienna. Returning to Australia, he became Assistant Medical Superintendent at the Hospital for the Insane at Toowoomba from 1903 to 1905, and then entered into a medical partnership with the late Sir Neville Howse, at Orange, where he remained until 1908.

From 1910 onwards, Dr. Watson devoted most of his time to a study of public affairs and was the author of a large number of historical works. He was a Trustee of the N.S.W. Public Library from 1910 to 1912 and in 1912 became Honorary Principal Librarian. He was then appointed Editor of the Historical Records of Australia and on his resignation in 1925 had produced 33 volumes of the Historical Records.

He developed a keen interest in Canberra the development of which was in progress, and he became the lessee of Gungahlin Homestead where he resided until 1934. During the early years of the civic development of Canberra, Dr. Watson was a prominent figure in a large number of public movements. In 1929, he was elected as Third Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission, which was the first elective position held by a Canberra resident, but resigned shortly afterwards due to disagreement with the Commission. Among the activities with which he was associated were the Representation League, the Citizens' League, the Federal Capital Territory Pastoral and Agricultural Association, the University movement, the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Development of Science.

The wide variety of interests of the late Dr. Watson was portrayal in the large number of works of which he was author. He is the author of the standard History of Canberra, which was the first book published and printed in Canberra. In 1911, he published The History of Sydney Hospital, followed in 1913 with "The Beginnings of Government in Australia." In 1932, he published a work on Constitutional Reform in 1933 ''Lieut. James Cook," and in 1937 "The Financial History of Australia". In addition, between 1912 and 1925, the 33 volumes of the Historical Records were published. He had a large collection of historical records affecting many aspects of Australian life over a long period.

Dr. Watson was keenly interested in horse racing and while at Orange was a prominent figure in Western District racing, having been the owner of many well-known horses. At Canberra, he was responsible to the foundation of the Canberra-Turf Club and did much to promote racing in the Southern Tablelands districts.

He leaves a widow and three daughters—Shiela (Mrs. W. C. Hankinson) of Canberra, Isobel (Mrs. P. W. Sandral) and Pauline, who is a Captain in the Australian Women's Army Service. His son, James, a brilliant student, predeceased him in 1940.

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Other Obituaries for James Frederick (Fred) Watson

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Citation details

'Watson, James Frederick (Fred) (1878–1945)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


27 June, 1878
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


22 January, 1945 (aged 66)
Vaucluse, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

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