Watson family


In my Cottage on the hill
Peace and plenty now are mine
Here I can be happy still
And improve each happy hour of time
Here no idelers will be found
Each exerts their little skill
Happy faces beam around
In my Cottage on the hill

Joyfully each morn we arise
And our cheerful meal prepare
Grateful for each day’s supplies
Then to labour all repair
Here by ties of nature bound
To each other all are still
Here may we in peace by found
In our Cottage on the hill

By Mrs John Watson

Emma Ann Watson lived off Hawker Street, and wrote poetry.

Emma Ann Watson lived off Hawker Street, and wrote poetry.

Emma Ann Watson was born on August 7th 1815 to Captain David Young and his wife, Margery, in Whitechapel, London.

Emma’s love of writing poetry in later life has left behind a treasure trove of family history. Her father was lost at sea in the Gulf of Florida when his ship the Isle of Thanet went down in a storm just two days after she was born. Her mother remarried but when Emma was about 13 her stepfather was declared bankrupt and sent to debtors’ prison. With all their wealth gone and the property sold to pay debts, the servants had to be dismissed. The family plate had already been sold by her drunken stepfather. In a Cinderella-like story, her half sisters went to a kind paternal aunt but Emma went into service. She, who had been brought up to look down on servants, spent more than three years as a servant girl.

Then Emma met a young printer named John Watson. She was five months pregnant and just 18 when she married John, aged 20, a young man she felt beneath her. Life was difficult in those first few years of marriage. They suffered a great deal of hardship as they moved around the City of London in search of a living. Their second son was born in 1836, a third in 1839 and a fourth in 1841.

John Watson was a pressman, a chandler, town crier, grazed cows for milk and butter, and made medicines for sick people.

John Watson was a pressman, a chandler, town crier, grazed cows for milk and butter, and made medicines for sick people.

After nearly eight years of poverty and with four sons, the family applied for a free passage to New Zealand on the Clifton and arrived in Port Nicholson in February 1842.

Settling in Wellington, their fortunes changed and John became one of the first pressmen for the “Spectator” and then for the “Independent” and the “Evening Post”.  Nine more children were born between 1843 and 1859.

John Watson was granted part of Town Acre 400 on Mt Victoria in 1852. It seems that John may have had other sources of income than printing because in 1852 he was a “Bellman or Town Crier” – and grazed a few cows for milk and butter. From 1856-58 he was a chandler. He also made medicines for sick people and earned the nickname “Doctor Watson”, which may have been influenced by the fact that the Watson house was off Doctors Common, the steps going up from Hawker Street.

Hawker Street, circa 1878. John Watson's house is marked with a cross. (From the collection of Lesley Keil)

Hawker Street, circa 1878. John Watson’s house is marked with a cross. (From the collection of Lesley Keil)

Two of Emma and John’s children died in infancy and were buried in twin graves at the back of the property on Mt Victoria (though probably later disinterred and re-buried).
All was not well with the Watsons, however. Emma seems to have undergone some trauma or crisis. Her poetry tells how her second son, David, gave her shelter in Wellington in her distress and then son Charles helped her leave Wellington on the steamer Taranaki in 1867. They arrived in Picton at 9.00 pm at night and had trouble finding a hotel room. The next morning they set off for Renwick on top of a man’s wagon but had to spend two nights at Hathaway’s Ferry Hotel on the Picton road because heavy rain had flooded the plain. Eventually they got to Blenheim on horseback and went on to Renwick by trap, where Emma lived with her son George for a time. Charles then set her up in a nice home in Renwick with his brother Sidney and himself.

Whatever it was that had happened, Emma was very bitter towards her husband, John. Twice she put bogus death notices for him in the Evening Post and Marlborough Express. She also referred to herself as a widow long before John died in 1889.

John owned the part of Town Acre 400 probably until 1876, though he also owned other property in Mt Victoria by then, in Queen Street and Roxburgh Street. In 1880, he married a 45-year old widow, Eleanor Ford, though he had not been divorced from Emma.

Of their children, John Watson, the eldest, established a bakery on Mt Victoria at least twice. He named it Blackwall Bakehouse after the place he had left from on the Clifton as a seven-year old, Blackwall Buoys in Gravesend. His mother wrote a poem titled The Exile about John in 1868, saying that he was small of stature, sometimes drank heavily, that his very fault was the softness of a woman, and that he wrestled with besetting sin. In another poem three years later she said that he would share his last shilling with her and, though not of strong mind, and was kind and a true friend.

Second son, David, also learned the baker trade and set up his own bakery business in Ghuznee St in 1857 making bread and meat pies. His first wife died and he made application to marry again in 1874 but the marriage was not solemnised – his younger brother Sidney had had a daughter by the same woman in 1866, although she was not registered as illegitimate. David then had a child by another woman and, after she died married twice more, fathering a total of 26 children.

George Henry Watson, the third child, was three when he came to New Zealand with Emma and John and left Wellington early. By the time he married in 1863, aged 24, he was a farmer and had been living in the Wairau Valley for two years. He and his wife had moved to Renwick by 1864.

Charles, the fifth son who helped Emma flee Wellington in 1867, was born here in 1843. He served an apprenticeship as a printer at the Independent before crossing Cook Strait to settle with his brothers in Marlborough in about 1865.

Emma died in 1896, aged 1882 at the Wairau Hospital in Marlborough. She had become well-known in the Marlborough District and many of her poems and letters to the editor had been published in the 30 years she lived there.

[From The Watson Family of Mount Victoria and Beyond . . . by Lesley Keil, ISBN0473-040670 ]