Guide to the Papers of John Christian Watson

MS 451

National Library of Australia

Collection Summary

Papers of John Christian Watson
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 451
0.3 metres (2 boxes)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

Correspondence, speeches, articles, notes, press cuttings, receipts, income tax returns, electoral returns, an account book, leaflets, a 1900 pocket diary and photographs. The correspondence includes material on political and trade union matters, most of which falls within the period of Watson's term in Federal Parliament from 1901 to 1910. Subjects include the choice of a site for a federal capital, progressive land tax, conscription, and Watson's retirement from the position of leader of the Labour Party in 1907. Correspondents include Sir Edmund Barton, Sir John Langdon Bonython, Alfred Deakin, Henry Bournes Higgins, Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir George Houston Reid, Thomas Price, William Morris Hughes, George Beeby, J.S. Collings, Sir Joseph Carruthers, William Dyson, Lord Novar, B.R. Wise, J. Ramsay MacDonald, S.M. Mowle, R. Jebb, J.W. Gregory, and J.M. Toomey. Also included are various speeches, articles and notes relating mainly to Watson's political career, press cuttings (mainly relating to Watson's retirement), receipts, income tax returns, electoral returns, an account book, leaflets, a pocket diary for 1900, and photographs.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for reference.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of John Christian Watson, National Library of Australia, MS 451, [series and/or item number]'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were donated to the Library by Watson's daughter.


The collection has been divided into series by type of material. The correspondence has been further divided into subject groups. Where the title of the subject group does not adequately convey the character and scope of the papers involved, a list of items has been included.

In addition to the Watson Papers the Library holds a video and other manuscript collections (including microfilm copies) which contain letters or other materials relating to Watson. These are described in the subject guide Special collections relating to John Christian Watson in the National Library of Australia.

Biographical Note

John Christian Watson was born in Valparaiso, Chile on 9 April, 1867. He was educated in New Zealand and made his way to Australia in the 1880s where he worked as a compositor.

In 1893 he was elected President of the Trades and Labour Federation and President of the Australian Labour Federation. In July 1894 he entered the Legislative Assembly as the member for Young. In 1901 he was elect to the Commonwealth House of Representatives for Bland, and was chosen as Labor Leader in the House. In April 1904 he became the first Labour Prime Minister of Australia. He resigned as Prime Minister in August 1904.

In 1907, owing to ill health, he resigned the leadership of the Labour Party and in 1910 he retired from politics. In 1916 his advocacy of conscription led to his being expelled from the political Labor League.

He was married twice, firstly (1889) to Ada Jane Low, and secondly (1925) to Antonia Lane. He died in Sydney on 18 November, 1941.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence, 1903-1941

Subseries 1-1. Correspondence with leading political figures, April 1901-May 1929

Comprises Items 1-19. Correspondents include Edmund Barton, John Langdon Bonython, Alfred Deakin, Henry Bournes Higgins, Isaac Issaacs, George Houston Reid, Thomas Price, William Morris Hughes and George Beeby.

Subseries 1-2. Miscellaneous letters, 1901-1941

Comprises Items 20-76.

Item 20-22. Letter of complaint from James M. Toomey, 16 October 1901
Item 23-24. Letter from J.W. Gregory concerning collection of water samples for meteorological service in Australia, 16 October 1904
Item 25. Letter from George Walters regarding Watson's speech on Christian Socialism, 17 November 1904
Item 26-28. 26-28 Letter from E.W. Knox, General Manager of the Colonial Sugar Refinery Goy, concerning new sugar process, 11 November 1905
Item 28a. Newspaper cutting on new sugar process, Brisbane Courier, 8 May 1905
Item 29. Letter from J. Curruthers regarding Lands Commission enquiry, 15 August 1905
Item 30. Letter of introduction for Harold Rylett from Michael Davitt, 1 September 1905
Item 31. Letter from Andrew Inglis Clark, Judge of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, 18 September 1905
Item 32. Letter from W. Crowley, Manager of City Mutual Life Assurance Society, 21 September 1905
Item 33-35. Letter from J.G. Jenkins requesting Watson to write an article for the Encyclopaedia Americana, 19 October 1905
Item 36. Letter from George Barton concerning employment of Sleath (?), 28 October 1905
Item 37. Receipt, signed by F.C. Dickson, 29 November 1905
Item 38-39. Letters from J.G. Jenkins regarding Watson's article on 'The Labour Party' for the Encyclopaedia Americana, 12 January 1906
Item 40-53. Letter of complaint from James M. Toomey, 6 February 1906
Item 54-55. Letter from J.C. Watson concerning Easter encampment for the Field Artillery, 9 February 1906
Item 56. Letter from Samuel Pethebridge to T.T. Ewing re Easter encampment for Field Artillery, 22 February 1906
Item 57. Telegram from Richard J. Seddon, 31 May 1906
Item 58. Telegram from J.F. Andrew, Acting Secretary to the New Zealand Cabinet to J.C. Watson, 11 July? 1906
Item 59. Postcard from F.J. Ernet, 1 November 1906
Item 60. Letter from H. Langley, 29 November 1906
Item 61-62. Letter from J.C. Watson to Mrs A. McGarry regarding her daughter, 15 March 1907
Item 63-64. Letter from Bernard Fery concerning sale of land, 11 April 1907
Item 65. Map of farms near Wagga Wagga
Item 66. Letter from J.C. Watson to Mrs McGarry, 19 April 1907
Item 67. Letter of welcome from the Rand Club, Johannesburg, to J.C. Watson, 28 January 1909
Item 68. Letter from Sir Gerald Strickland, 22 January 1913
Item 69. Letter from Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, 22 February 1915
Item 70. Letter from Kenneth Binns regarding donation of private papers to the National Library, 31 July 1941
Item 71-73. Letter from P. Stusan concerning Singer Coy, n.d.
Item 74. Draft of Watson's letter, to Senator Albert Gould and Terry, n.d.
Item 75. Letter, written by G.B. Stephens for Lady Northcote, inviting Watson to attend a meeting of the General Committee of Australian Exhibition of Women's Work at Government House, Melbourne, 23 September 1907
Item 76. Letter (incomplete) re elections expenses, 3 January 1904

Subseries 1-3. Comprises Items 77-126. Correspondence on political matters, mainly relating to the Labor Party, 1903-1915

Item 77. Letter of congratulation on the results of the Federal elections from J. Grant, 21 December 1903
Item 78. Letter of congratulation on the results of the Federal elections from S. Ford, Secretary of Amalgamated Miners Association of Victoria, Zeehan Branch, 29 December 1903
Item 79. Letter of congratulation on the results of the Federal elections from A. Cooper, Secretary of Wellington Trade and Labour Council, 14 January 1904
Item 80. Letter from F. Sexton, Secretary of Boulder P.LP. regarding the introduction of Chinese labour into South Africa, 22 January 1904
Item 81. Letter from A. Cooper concerning the introduction of Chinese labour into South Africa, 26 January 1904
Item 82. Letter from A.G. Fox regarding the Reid Government, 8 September 1904
Item 83-85. Letter from Kathleen Charles concerning policy of the Labor Party, 27 September 1904
Item 86-93. Letter from Sam Smith regarding Labor's policy on Protection and free trade, 13 May 1905
Item 94-96. Carbon copy of an open letter from J.C. Watson to the Members of the Federal Labor Party concerning resolutions passed by the Inter-State Conference, 2 August 1905
Item 97-99. Copy of items 94-97
Item 100. Letter from O. Beale, 25 August 1905
Item 101. Letter from T. Kirkcup, 20 September 1905
Item 102-103. Letter from W. Crowley, Manager of City Mutual Life Assurance Society Limited, regarding Life Assurance Legislation, 10 October 1905
Item 104-107. Letter from J.S. Collings concerning cotton growing in Queensland, 25 October 1905
Item 108-110. Typescript copy of item 104-107
Item 111. Letter from G. Edwards regarding recording of Edwards vote on various issues during his absence, 12 February 1906
Item 112-113. Letter from J. Ramsay MacDonald concerning circular issued by Cobden Club addressed to the Electors of Australia. It also discusses arrangements for a visit to Australia, 5 July 1906
Item 114-115. Letter from 'An Australian' regarding Labor Party policy, 13 September 1906
Item 116. Letter from Albert Hinchliffe concerning Senator Dawson's withdrawal from the Senate contest, 6 October 1906
Item 117. Letter from W. Fairley, 10 December 1906
Item 118. Letter from Richard Jebb, 29 April 1907
Item 119. Letter from B.R. Wise, 23 May 1907
Item 120. Letter from Ed. L. Bailey regarding Labor Party's definition of socialism, and draft of reply, 17 September 1907
Item 121. Letter from J. Turner concerning leadership of government, 4 October 1907
Item 122. Note from Sir Edward Grey's private Secretary re an appointment for Watson to see Sir Edward Grey, 27 April 1907
Item 123. Letter from Harry Fuller, 21 May 1915
Item 124. Letter from Lord Bryce concerning the War, 2 June 1915
Item 125-126. Letter to the Editor of the Daily Citizen regarding Labour politics within the Empire, unsigned, 24 April 19??

Subseries 1-4. Letters relating to trade union matters, 1904-1908

Comprises Items 127-155.

Item 127-132. Letter from Will Dyson (endorsed by 117 others) to Watson concerning Joseph Chamberlain's fiscal proposals, 20 October 1904
Item 133-138. Watson's letter to J. Ramsay MacDonald regarding Chamberlain's fiscal proposals, 16 November 1904
Item 139-140. Letter from Sam Smith, 13 May 1905
Item 141-143. Letter from William H. Jeffries, 10 July 1905
Item 144. Carbon copy of Watson's letter to the Editor of The Age regarding union label law in America, 8 August 1905
Item 145. Letter from E. Harrison Hurley, Secretary of the New South Wales Typographical Association, concerning printing of postage stamps, 6 November 1905
Item 146. Cutting of article entitled 'Printing of postage stamps' (newspaper not identified)
Item 147-151. Letter from F.R. Butt, 16 December 1906
Item 152-153. Letter from James Stewart concerning dispute in connection with Railway and Tramway Association, 18 May 1908
Item 154. Letter from James Stewart concerning dispute in connection with Railway and Tramway Association, 19 May 1908
Item 155. Letter from H.V. McKay regarding Wages Board conditions at the foundry at Braybrook, 14 November

Subseries 1-5. Applications for position of Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth, February 1906

Comprises Items 156-163.

Subseries 1-6. Correspondence relating to progressive land tax, April-June 1906

Comprises Items 164-165. Challenge to J.C. Watson to a debate on the land tax issues from the Sydney Single Tax League; letter (incomplete) to Mr Canter re land tax

Subseries 1-7. Letters relating to the choice a site for the Federal Capital, June-September 1906

Comprises Items 166-170. Correspondents are J.M. Carruthers and S.M. Mowle

Subseries 1-8. Correspondence relating to Major Lenehan's case n.d.

Comprises Items 171-174. The correspondents are Lord Jersey and R. Lenehan.

Subseries 1-9. Correspondence relating to Watson's retirement from the position of leader of the Labor Party, October 1907

Comprises Items 175-198. Including letters of regret at Watson's retirement from various trade unions and Labor Party organizations, as well as private individuals.

Subseries 1-10. Correspondence relating to conscription, November 1916

Comprises Items 190-191. Letters from the Political Labor League Executive of New South Wales declaring Watson's position as member of the Executive vacant; letter from Watson to the Paddington Political Labor League regarding his expulsion.

Subseries 1-11. Letters of sympathy to Mrs J.C. Watson and her daughter on the death of Watson, November 1941

Comprises Items 192-208.

Series 2. Speeches, notes, articles and other papers, n.d.

This series includes drafts of articles, speeches and notes on the labour movement, Australian politics, preference, the choice of a capital site, and the tobacco trust. There is also an appointment diary for 1900.

Series 3. Miscellaneous Items, n.d.

This series includes the secretary's report of the proceedings of the Sydney Troward Society, a copy of an enquiry into the dispute over control of the Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Service Association, a copy of evidence of the Public Service Board enquiry into the working of the State Clothing factory, duties of the honorary organizer of the Federal War Committee in connection with the scheme for the employment by Lucien Cosmo, the minutes of a meeting of the trustees of the General Cemetery, extract from a report of an interview with the Rev. John Ferguson, notes on the zone system, poem by Rev. J.K. Hinshelwood on a rumour of J.C. Watson's retirement, poem (unsigned), an acrostic by Rab Scott, a diagram of Richardson's patent Exchange value, statistics on vion compiled by foots and an autographed Australian flag.

Series 4. Financial papers, 1898-1907

The series includes receipts, income tax returns and cheque butts.

Series 5. Press cuttings, 1898-1928

The cuttings have been arranged in chronological order.

Item 1. Reid's budget, 1896

Item 2-8. Articles mostly relating to Socialism and Labor Party, 1904-1906

Item 9-243. Retirement of J.C. Watson, October 1907

Item 244-246. Articles mostly relating to the War, 1919-1928

Item 247-255. Articles mostly relating to socialism and the Labour Party, n.d.

Series 6. Cards and invitations, 1906-1938

This series consists mainly of official cards and invitations.

Series 7. Printed material, 1902-1916

The series includes circulars, leaflets and pamphlets.

Item 1-10. Items with some annotations by Watson

Item 11-13. Items mostly relating to federation, socialism and the Labor Party

Series 8. Photographs

The photographs are housed in the Library's Pictures Collection.

They comprise photographs of W.G. Spence (1912), J.C. Watson, John Gale, (journalist, 1924), W.C. Hill (holding a copy of the first paper printed in Canberra with John Gale), A.K. Murray (Editor) and one unidentified photograph.