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Watson, Archibald, 1849-1940.
Diaries and correspondence

MSS 0261

Biographical note

Archibald Watson was born in1849 at Tarcutta, New South Wales, the eldest son of Sydney Grandison Watson, a wealthy Victorian pastoralist of Scots-Indian descent, and his wife Isabella. Educated in Sydney and at Scotch College, Melbourne, Archibald excelled in scripture and was a champion light-weight boxer.

Acting as his father's agent, he became involved in blackbirding (the importing of indentured labour) aboard ‘The Carl’ on her 1871-72 venture in the Solomon Islands. On returning to Levuka, Watson was arrested and charged with piracy but was later discharged from his bail on entering into his own recognizance. The captain Joseph Armstrong was later sentenced to death for murder and atrocities committed during her previous voyage.

In 1873 he travelled to England and Germany where he studied medicine at the Georg-August Universität of Göttingen (M.D., 1878) and the Université de Paris (M.D., 1880). In England he obtained the licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, London, and became a member and fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He also studied surgery under Joseph Lister at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School.

Watson was appointed Elder Professor of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide in 1885, and served as lecturer in pathological anatomy from 1887 to 1903 and lecturer in operative surgery from 1887 to 1919. He was an inspiring teacher, but also prone to autocratic and at times idiosyncratic behaviour. In 1895 he became involved in the controversial dispute involving Royal Adelaide Hospital staff.

Watson kept daily records of his patients and operations he witnessed, including observations made in the Unites States, China, South America, Japan, Russia and New Zealand, and during service with the Natal Field Force in the South African War and the first World War in Egypt and Greece. His notebooks have been preserved in the archives of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, Melbourne.

An erratic and eccentric genius, Watson lived an unconventional life and travelled widely. Watson retired in 1919 and lived his last years on Thursday Island, studying the Aborigines and collecting marine specimens.

Adapted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry by Ronald Elmslie and Susan Nance, and The Wakefield companion to South Australian history.

Contents 40 cm.

Photocopies of diaries, correspondence and notebooks from the Papers of Hedley R. Marston held at the National Library of Australia, originally requested by Professor Elmslie, found in the archives of Judith Lloyd, Medical Librarian, following her retirement.

See also MSS 0195. Jennifer M. T. Carter. Papers concerning Professor Archibald Watson and used in the writing of Painting the Islands Vermilion: Archibald Watson and the Brig Carl by Jennifer MT Carter

Box 1

Coloured copy of portrait of Archibald Watson b W.S. McInnes, in frame

Photocopied listing of the National Library’s  MS 1682/33-68H.R. Marston Collection – Papers of Prof. A. Watson

Archibald Watson Diaries 1874-5, 1878-9, 1884-1918, 1923-39

Various scientific notebooks re medicine, mineralogy, and fish.

Other miscellaneous papers and newspaper clippings, including copies of papers relating to Bully Hayes and the brig Carl.

Box 2

Correspondence (largely unsorted) ca 1848-1940

Cheryl Hoskin
December 2020

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