Guide to the Papers of Frederick Watson
MS 7887, MS Acc18.053
National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record
- Watson, Frederick
- Papers of Frederick Watson
- Date Range
- 1814 - 1979
- Collection Number
- MS 7887, MS Acc18.053
- 14.67 metres (79 boxes + 2 folio boxes+ 2 pieces + 1 medium phase box)
- Language of Materials
- Special Collections (Manuscripts)
Scope and Contents
The bulk of MS 7887 collection comprises Watson's own papers documenting most phases of his life, from early days as student & medical practitioner to his long career as a historian, publicist & editor of Historical records of Australia. Also papers of his father, James Watson, & of other forbears. Papers include family, business, political & official correspondence, manuscripts, research material, essays, cutting books, certificates, legal documents, printed items, invitations & photographs, as well as books from Watson's library & an unusual array of objects. Major correspondents include: Sir Mungo MacCallum, B. R. Wise, Charles MacDonald, Sibella Macarthur Onslow, Elliot Johnson, J. H. Keating, Sir Earle Page, G. A. Wood, W. A. Holman, Sir Daniel Levy, Frank Clune, Lallah Keating, A. B. Paterson, H. E. Hunt (75 boxes + 2 folio boxes + 2 pieces + 1 medium phase box).
MS Acc18.053 includes diverse academic papers on early settlement, the story of Canberra, banking, establishing a National Archives, and petitioning the House of Representatives. A large part of the collection comprises bound albums documenting the short life of Frederick Watson's only son James (4 boxes).
Conditions Governing Access
Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn2898873).
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Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions.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 Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.
Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Frederick Watson, National Library of Australia, [class/series and/or file number]'.
The original consignment of Papers of Frederick Watson were purchased from his daughter Pauline Watson in 1989. Further papers were donated by his granddaughter, Patricia Ritter, in 2018.
Other papers on Watson's work as editor of Historical Records of Australia can be found in MS 237 and in the archives of the National Library (especially CP 740, set 6, boxes 5 - 7).
Collection Retrieval Advice
Please note: each consignment in this collection has a separate box number sequence (i.e. there are multiple Box 1's). Please cite the relevant Class number as well as the Box number when requesting retrieval of material from the collection.
Frederick Watson (James Frederick Watson) was born on 27 June 1878 in Sydney, the eldest son of James and Margaret Watson. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School and Sydney University. He was a resident surgeon and an assistant medical superintendent in Queensland in 1903-05. He married Muriel Marks in 1906. In the same year he joined the surgeon Neville Howse at Orange, New South Wales. In 1909 he took his family to Europe to study radiology. After returning to Sydney he maintained medical rooms in Macquarie street for about two years.
In October 1910 he was appointed a trustee of Public Library of New South Wales. In 1912 he was appointed by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Committee as the first editor of the Historical Records of Australia. Under his editorship 33 volumes were published. He resigned in 1925 and no further volumes were ever issued.
In 1927 Watson moved to the Canberra district, although he continued to spend a good deal of time in Sydney. He was elected a member of the Federal Capital Commission in 1929 but resigned six weeks later.
Watson wrote numerous work on historical, economic and constitutional subjects, including The history of Sydney Hospital from 1811 to 1911, The beginning of government in Australia, A brief history of Canberra, Constitutional reform as a basis for the permanent economic reconstruction of Australia, and 'Financial history of Australia'.
Frederick Watson died in Sydney on 22 January 1945 and was survived by his wife and three daughters.
Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 12, p.399.; A.M. Mitchell. Dr Frederick Watson and Historical Records of Australia. Australian Historical Studies, vol. 20, no.79 (Oct. 1982), pp.17197.
James Watson, Frederick Watson's father, was born on 17 December 1836 in Portaown, County Armagh, Ireland, the second son of James (d. 1847) and Sarah Watson. He followed his brothers George and William John ( d.1886) to Victoria, arriving in Melbourne in 1856. In 1861 they moved to Lambing Flat (Young, N.S.W.) and in 1862 opened a store which was provisioned by John Frazer. In 1869 James Watson bought a quater share in John Frazer & Co. and moved to Sydney. He married Margaret Ewan, sister of James Ewan and sister-in-law of Frazer, in 1871.
On 28 December 1869 Watson was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Lachlan, a position which he held until 1880, when he won the seat of Young. He became a close friend and creditor of Sir Henry Parkes. He served in the Parkes Ministry as the Colonial Treasurer from 21 December 1878 until 4 January 1883 when he was defeated for the seats of Young and Illawarra. In April 1884 he won a byelection for Gundagai, which he held until October 1885. He became a director of the Australian Joint Stock Bank in 1897.
James Watson died on 30 October 1907.
Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 6, pp. 362 - 63.
James Ewan, the maternal grandfather of Frederick Watson, was born in Edinburgh on 23 January 1811. A schoolteacher, he was a Fellow of the Educational Institute of Scotland and tutor to Lord Howick (later 3rd Earl Grey) on his travels in Europe. In 1849 he and his family emigrated to Sydney on the Zemindar and at first he conducted a school in York street. He edited Australian Era (1850 -51) and Australian Witness (c.1853) and was the author of Geography of the Australian colonies, Sydney, 1851 (2nd ed. 1854).
In about 1854 Ewan moved to Maitland where he was a reporter on the Maitland Mercury, correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald and one of the founders of the Northern Times. He died at West Maitland on 10 July 1860.
Ewan's daughter, Margaret Salmon Ewan (d.1887), married James Watson in 1871. His son, James Ewan (1843-1903), was a partner of James Watson and John Frazer in Frazer & Co. and he was a chairman and a chairman and director of several companies, including the Australasian Steam Navigation Company.
Source: James Ewan Papers (Series 12/3). Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 4, pp. 145-46.
The Watson Papers form a large collection covering an exceptionally long period and including an unusual variety of materials. The bulk of the collection comprises Watson's own papers and they document most phases of his life, from his early days as a student and medical practitioner to his long career as a historian, publicist and editor of Historical Records of Australia. In addition, there are important papers of his father, the politician James Watson, and of other forebears of Watson, in many cases annotated, arranged and bound by Watson. Finally, there are papers relating to Watson's life and writings which were assembled by Pauline Watson in the 35 years after his death.
The papers include family, business, political and official correspondence, manuscripts, research material, essays, cutting books, certificates, legal documents, printed items, invitations and photographs. There are also many books from Watson's library and an unusual array of objects, mostly associated with James Watson, including a Treasury despatch box, travelling desk, two pairs of spectacles, badges, medals and a volume of New South Wales duty stamps.
This series contains correspondence concerning Watson's career as a doctor and historian and his numerous intellectual and literary pursuits, as well as some personal and family letters. Most of the papers were bound into volumes by Watson or his daughter Pauline Watson and the letters were indexed. Some of the volumes also contain personal documents, invitations, cuttings, photographs and other items. It should be noted that in other series there are further papers on some of the subjects mentioned in the general correspondence, such as Watson's interest in banking system and his relations with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library and the Mitchell Library.
Most of the personal items are contained in Pieces 1-3, which cover the years 1879-1944. They include his birth certificate, letters to his uncle William Ewan (1891-95), letters of commendation from Sydney University professors (1903), photographs of St Paul's College and football teams (1902), items relating to Orange District Hospital and Orange Jockey Club (1907-8), letters from Watson's sisters and others concerning his election to the Federal Capital Commission (1929), extracts from his diaries (1913, 1923-24, 1933), invitations, cuttings and family photographs.
There is an extensive correspondence concerning various literary projects, including Watson's writings on radioactivity (1912), Australian public opinion (1918), Captain James Cook (1933) and the Australian banking system; Sibella Macarthur Onslow's research for her book Some early records of the Macarthurs of Camden (1914); the Commonwealth of Australia yearbook; the political reminiscences of Mrs J.H. Keating; and John Macpherson's writings on John White and William Balmain. Other correspondence deals with G.A. Wood's scheme for the teaching of Australian history at Sydney University; Watson's editing of Historical Records of Australia; the proposed establishment of an Archive Office in Sydney (1911); the purchase of the Macquarie Papers by the Mitchell Library and the Cook Journal by the National Library; and the history of St James' Church, Sydney (1944)
Correspondents include Sir Mungo MacCallum, B.R. Wise, Charles MacDonald, Sibella Macarthur Onslow, Elliott Johnson, J.H.Keating, Sir Earle Page, G.A. Wood, W.A. Holman, Sir Daniel Levy, Frank Clune, Lallah Keating, A.B. Patterson, H.E. Hunt, Sir Josiah Symon, K. Binns, J. Cousins, R.C. Mills, W. Clark, Sir John Peden, J. Macpherson, Sir George Knibbs and E. Davidson.
Apart for one folder of miscellaneous cuttings, the series comprises seven volumes compiled by Watson and, after his death, by his daughter.
The 1897-99 scrap book contains cuttings, photographs and manuscript poems, written when Watson was an undergraduate at St Paul's College. The 1896-1922 cutting book contains articles on bushrangers, Aborigines, L. Leichhardt and other subjects. The other five volumes mostly have cuttings on Watson's writings, including The History of Sydney Hospital from 1811 to 1911 (1911-12), The beginnings of Government in Australia (1913-14), Historical Records of Australia (1914-21) and Constitutional Reform (1932), as well as general articles on banking, Canberra, and the Federal Capital Commission (1929). Volume 5 (Subseries 6) also contains cuttings, letters and telegrams on the deaths of Watson (1945) and his brother, Captain Herbert F. Watson (1941). Correspondents include Lady Gowrie, K. Binns, E.G. Whitlam, and Sibella Macarthur Onslow.
Watson's first book was written at the request of the Board of Directors of the Sydney Hospital to celebrate the centenary of the laying of the foundation stone of the original hospital in 1811. The history was published by the New South Wales Government Printer in 1911.
Watson bound the manuscript, with very few corrections, with a small group of letters concerning his research and the distribution of the book and also the copyright certificate.
The correspondents include Charles H. Helsham (Secretary of the Hospital), Charles McDonald and J.W. Minty.
In the early stages of his research as editor of Historical Records of Australia, Watson discovered some important early legal documents in the New South Wales Supreme Court. He reproduced a selection of them in facsimile form in a quarto volume entitled The beginning of government in Australia, published by the Government Printer in 1913.
The small series comprises a copy of the publication, with a few letters inserted, and a volume of drafts. Correspondents include Celix Turnbull and Charles McDonald.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Committee appointed Watson as the first editor of Historical Records of Australia in August 1912. He proposed to publish seven series of predominantly official documents covering the years 1787 to 1855. In fact, only volumes in three series were published:
Series 1. NSW Governor's despatches, 1787-1849 (26 vols.)
Series 3. Despatches and papers relating to the settlement of the states, 1803-30 (6 vols.)
Series 4. Legal papers, 1786-1827 (1 vol.)
Publication ceased in 1926 following a dispute between Watson and the Library Committee arising from the failure of the Government Printer to publish four volumes in 1925. No other editor was ever appointed.
The principal papers in this series are three volumes of correspondence between Watson and members of the Parliamentary Library Committee, librarians and historians, dating from 1911-41. They largely deal with the administration, funding and printing of Historical Records of Australia, but also discuss such matters as the Macquarie Papers acquired by the Mitchell Library in 1913, the King Papers, the location of records in Tasmania, and the possible resumption of publication in the 1930s. Correspondents include Charles McDonald, W. Elliott Johnson, G.A. Wood, Arthur Wadsworth, J. Keating, W.H. Ifould, J.M. Robinson, W.G. Robertson, J.W. Beattie, Kenneth Binns and Ida Leeson.
Among other important material in the series are correspondence with G.A. Wood and J.B. Peden concerning Watson's introductions to each volume (further letters on the same subject are contained in Series 1); a volume of manuscript entitled 'The birth of civilisation in Australia'; correspondence and other papers relating to the legal suit Watson v. the Commonwealth, which led to the cessation of the publication in 1926; and a set of Historical Records of Australia heavily annotated by Watson. Of special note are a volume of letters from James Bonwick to Alexander Britton, H.C.L. Anderson and F.M. Bladen discussing his transcription of British documents and the publication of Historical Records of New South Wales.
In 1927 Watson, who had recently moved to Canberra, completed a book entitled A brief history of Canberra: the capital city of Australia. It was published in a limited edition by the Federal Capital Press and is believed to be the first book published in the ACT. The history began with the Aborigines of the Limestone Plains and the arrival of Charles Throsby in 1820 and ended with the opening of the Federal Parliament in Canberra in 1927.
The series contains manuscript and typescript drafts, printed items and correspondence concerning Watson's research, distribution of the book, appreciation by readers and the disposal of spare copies. The correspondents include F.H. Throsby, Audrey Mowle, Thomas White, F. Strahan, H.E. Jones and Alec Ogg.
NOTE: Further papers on Canberra may be found in Series 10.
As editor of Historical Records of Australia, Watson became deeply interested in the constitutional history of Australia and constitutional reform became one of his abiding interests in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1924 he appeared before the New South Wales Royal Commission on New States, setting out in great detail the history of colonial boundaries. In 1927 he gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the Constitution, again arguing in favour of New States and also calling for uniform State constitutions. The economic and political turmoil of the Depression heightened his interest: he gave a paper on constitutional reform and economic reconstruction to the Economic Society of Australia and New Zealand in 1931 and the following year published a book entitled Constitutional reform as the basis for the permanent economic reconstruction of Australia.
In addition to his 1931 address, the series contains two volumes of correspondence, cuttings, notes, manuscripts and pamphlets on a number of constitutional subjects, such as New States, electoral reform, the abolition of Upper Houses, the powers of governors, and Commonwealth-State financial relations. Correspondents include Earle Page, Justice John Cohen, Sir Thomas Henley, Sir Josiah Symon, A. Berriedale Keith, Sir John Latham, John M. White, W.M. Killen, S. McKellar White, J.H. Scullin, Lieutenant Colonel E.J. Munro and H.R. Redding.
As with constitutional reform, Watson became interested in public finance and banking as a result of his research on Australian colonial history. In 1924 he engaged in extensive correspondence with James Kell, the Acting Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Earle Page, W. Massey Greene and others concerning the policies of the Note Board and the Commonwealth Bank Bill. In the following years he wrote papers on the banking crises of the nineteenth century and the causes of the Depression. He gave evidence to the 1936 Royal Commission on Monetary and Banking Systems. In 1937 he completed a financial history of Australia, which was never published.
The series comprises correspondence, research notes, manuscripts, typescripts and cuttings relating to both the history of banking and contemporary economic problems. Correspondents include H. Vaughan, Earle Page, A.C. Davidson, James Kell, Charles Binnie, W.M. Hughes, W. Massey Greene, R.C. Mills, W.T. Harris, H.A. Pitt, J.H. Scullin, W.T. Kirwan, W.G. Cousins and S.G. McFarlane. There is also some correspondence of Pauline Watson with H.S. Temby, W.R. Cumming and D.J. Hill in 1957-60 dealing with her efforts to find a publisher for her father's financial history.
The series contains manuscripts, typescripts and printed items written by Watson throughout his life.
In 1927 Watson moved to Canberra but he continued to spend a good deal of time in Sydney, especially in his last years. He was a member of the Federal Capital Commission in 1929. In 1934 he purchased a property 'Gungahleen', north of Canberra, and in this period he took a prominent part in social and sporting activities in Canberra and the surrounding district.
This series contains invitations to functions at Parliament House, Canberra Grammar School and elsewhere in Canberra, photographs of Shows and race meetings, invitations and greeting cards, correspondence concerning the purchase of 'Gungahleen' and the erection of a R.A.A.F. transmitter on the property, a volume of acceptances to a garden party to celebrate the 108th anniversary of the discovery of Canberra, scrap book entitled 'Beginnings and origins in Canberra', a collection of race meetings tickets, and cuttings about Canberra kept by Pauline Watson. Correspondents include A. Percival and H.S. Foll.
Also included in this series is one folder of material relating to Canberra, including a copy of The fight for Canberra, 26 July 1915, which was given to Watson by A.J. Macdonald. Macdonald had the power of attorney of Walter Burley Griffin.
NOTE: Papers concerning Watson research on history of Canberra may be found in Series 6.
The series contains political, business and family correspondence, legal documents, invitations, photographs and cutting books of James Watson (1869-74), the father of Frederick Watson. An unusual array of objects that originally belonged to James Watson can be found in Series 15.
The papers in piece 1 include Watson's baptism and marriage certificates, miner's licences, passport and electoral rights, papers concerning his emigration to Australia in 1856, correspondence with James Frazer in London, letters of Lord Augustus Loftus on financial matters and appoinments (1880-84), letters of the Bishop of Goulburn on the Cathedral Fund (1882-92),
papers on the sale of James Frazer & Co. in 1889-90, invitations, photographs of James and Margaret Watson, and letters concerning the family burial ground (1908-9). The correspondence with Sir Henry Parkes deals with Parkes' financial troubles, New South Wales politics, Treasury administration, visits to Britain, the affairs of the Australian Investment Company, and Watson's resignation as Treasurer in November 1882. The other three letterbooks contain letters from Watson to John Frazer, George Ewan, William Ewan and other relatives and business associates concerning business and family matters, including the death of Margaret Watson in 1887.
The cutting books were compiled by both James Watson and Frederick Watson and contain general articles on politics as well as references to James Watson and other members of his family.
This series contains papers of other relatives of Watson, namely, his grandfathers James Watson (d. 1847) and James Ewan (1811-60), his mother Margaret Watson nee Ewan (d. 1887), his brother Captain Herbert Frazer Watson (1881-1937) and his son James Frederick Watson (1921-40)
The James Watson papers relate to the administration of his estate, 1848-55. The James Ewan papers mainly comprise manuscripts, including an unpublished history of New South Wales, The geography of the Australian colonies (1851), a guide to Sydney (1854), a satirical account of social conditions in Australia prior to 1850, a chronological table, and a copy of The Australian Witness (1853), which Ewan edited.
The Margaret Watson papers include a photograph, cuttings, correspondence (1870-85) and letters, telegrams and cards of sympathy on her death. Correspondents include James Ewan, Lady Sophia Cecil, Elizabeth Watson, Florence Fairfax, Elizabeth Frazer, G.H. Reid and Sir Henry Parkes.
The papers of Herbert Watson consist of letters that he wrote to his brother, including one from Gallipoli in November 1915, photographs, cuttings, a passport and letters of sympathy on his death. The papers of Jim Watson comprise meteorological records kept at Gungahleen in 1930, essays and articles on physics and meteorology, and cuttings and a copy of an obituary.
The most unusual items in the series are some of the original boards used for filing legal papers in the office of the New South Wales Judge Advocate prior to 1823. Other items include commissions and diplomas of Watson and his father, exhibition programs (1879-80), membership tickets, greeting cards, circulars, and cuttings (1936-37)
The series contains a small number of miscellaneous printed items, including copies of Sydney University Public Examination papers (1895-1903), proofs of Hansards (1927) and copies of the Canberra News Bulletin (1937-38). Books from Watson's library have been placed in Series 16.
Most of the objects belonged to Watson's father and include a Treasury despatch box, and two pairs of glasses, a bottle of gold dust, badges, medals and a volume of New South Wales duty stamps (1882). There is also a travelling desk which belonged to Watson.
Several hundred books from Watson's library were acquired with the Watson Papers and have been kept with the Papers. Many of them contain annotations by Watson. They include both Australian and British works, mainly dating from the period 1790-1900.
The Financial statements of the Colonial Treasurers of New South Wales : from the introduction of responsible government on 24th November 1855, to the close of the Parliamentary session of 188081, on the 6th April, 1881; together with an appendix Sydney : Thomas Richards, Government Printer, 1881 (File [unnumbered]) - Box 42
Arrest of Governor Bligh, January 26, 1808 : copy of the original manuscript records (File [unnumbered]) - Piece 62
A facsimile reproduction of correspondence, 1808, concerning the arrest and deposition of William Bligh, Governor of New South Wales. A copy of an illustration accompanying the correspondence is available online.
This addition includes diverse academic papers on early settlement, the story of Canberra, banking, establishing a National Archives, and petitioning the House of Representatives. A large part of the collection comprises bound albums documenting the short life of Frederick Watson's only son James.
Original handwritten copy
Photocopied unpublished history without references or index
Photocopied unpublished history without references or index
Photocopy of 8 chapters and appendices
Canberra Federal Capital Commission; Agitations and Reforms papers, 1928-1938 (File 5) - Box 1 (MS Acc18.053)
Handwritten and typed papers concerned with Watson's election to the Federal Capital Commission and its work, including agendas, minutes and other controversial documents
Original springback folder which housed the papers of File 5
The Writing of Australian History - lecture before the Australian Historical Society, 1915 (File 7) - Box 2 (MS Acc18.053)
Typed, photocopied and incomplete
X-rays; History of Australian Capital Territory; Notes on Banking; Australia Land of Experiments; Some Unexplained mysteries about Capt Cook's Voyage and the First Settlement of Australia; Article on Joseph Banks; Meteorological observations by Lt Dawes; papers relating to the establishment of an Archives Office; exchange of letters re MacCallum Memorial; petition to House of Representatives re Banking
Personal papers relating to the disagreement between Frederick Watson and John Henry Butter, Chairman of the Federal Capital Commission
Original springback folder which housed the papers of File 9
Chapter XXV 1881-1900 Banking; Auction catalogue 1908; photocopy of Windeyer Prize essay by Frederick Watson 'A comparison of the Roman Provincial Government with the British Government in India; Record book of the estate of the late Hon James Watson; exercise book in Frederick Watson's hand labelled 'Thought' about his son Jim
conservation and management plan (1982); clippings, information, photographs
Booklets - 'Constitutional Reform as the basis for the permanent economic restoration of Australia'; 'The probable influence of radio-activity in organic evolution'; 'Public opinion in Australia during the past six years';' Papers relating to the editing of the historical records of Australia'; Copy of New Testament 1881 used by Frederick Watson's father to administer oaths in his office; Pamphlet - The tragic story of Mrs Watson from the Cooktown Museum; Letters-from Daisy Isaacs and Enid Lyons to Mrs Watson
Wood and leather bound volume; a tribute to James Watson, Frederick's son, 1921-1938 (File 14) - Box 3 (MS Acc18.053)
Volume 1 - letters of congratulation at Jim's arrival; photographs; early drawings and writing by James (Jim); correspondence between Jim and his father; school reports
Wood and leather bound volume containing documents relating to James Watson, Frederick's son, 1939 (File 15) - Box 3 (MS Acc18.053)
Volume 2 - correspondence from University; details of Jim's illness and subsequent deaths; condolence correspondence including letters from Neville Howse and Gough Whitlam
Original annotated typescript and published article by Ann Mitchell 'Doctor Frederick Watson and Historical Records of Australia'
Lists of manuscripts of J Frederick Watson; correspondence, 1911-1970s (File 17) - Box 4 (MS Acc18.053)
Correspondence to and from Pauline Watson (Frederick's daughter) concerning her fathers papers
Papers-copy of handwritten pages on Frederick Watson's time as a medical student at University of Sydney; 1880s photograph of Sir Henry Parkes' ministry (including Frederick Watson's father); Publication 'The Story of Queanbeyan'
Pioneers of Australia'; correspondence regarding family history
Final handwritten copies of Frederick Watson's written tributes 'Thought' and 'Jim'; correspondence to Frederick Watson from Lily; single letter from MW MacCallum; written epitaph of Jim by his sister Pauline
Copies of 'Canberran' magazine of Canberra Grammar School, 'The Pauline' magazine of St Paul's College University of Sydney, and 'The Australian Chess Review', all with references to James (Jim) Watson
Papers relating to Sir Walter and Lady Hankinson, Dr Frederick Watson's second daughter, 1911-1939 (File 22) - Box 4 (MS Acc18.053)
Letters, photographs, ephemera