WATSON, John Christian (1867-1941)


WATSON, John Christian (1867-1941)
first Labour prime minister of Australia
son of George Thomas Watson, was born at Valparaiso, Chile, on 9 April 1867. Brought to New Zealand as a child he was educated at Oamaru state school and was then apprenticed as a printer to the North Otago Times. He arrived in Australia in 1886, worked as a compositor, and first came into prominence in the Labour movement in 1893, when at the age of 26 he was elected president of the Sydney trades and labour council. He was also elected president of the Australian labour federation, and in July 1894 entered the New South Wales legislative assembly as member for Young. He held the seat until he resigned in 1901 to enter federal politics. He was then elected to the house of representatives for Bland. Labour returned 16 members to that house and eight to the senate, and few realized at the time how important the party was to become. The appointment of Watson as its leader was a very wise move. He held moderate views, and his courtesy and tact were strong assets. Though small in numbers his party was united and able from the first to exercise considerable influence on governments which did not command a majority in either house. At the Commonwealth election held in December 1903 Labour gained several seats in the house of representatives and Deakin (q.v.) was defeated soon after the house met in March 1904. Watson was sent for and formed the first Commonwealth Labour ministry, becoming himself prime minister and treasurer. He now had 25 supporters and faced the almost impossible task of controlling a house with nearly twice that number in opposition. Deakin as leader of the opposition, however, had promised him every consideration and the attempt was made. Watson did all that could be done, but he was committed to an arbitration bill which adopted the principle of preference to unionists, and in August the carrying of an amendment against the government led to his resignation. He was succeeded by Reid (q.v.) whose ministry lasted only 10 months. Reid had been conducting a strong campaign against socialism and Watson showed ability in defending the attitude of his party on this question. Though always a fair antagonist he could be very incisive, as in his summing up of the Reid government. "I think we shall all welcome the disappearance of a ministry that has neither achievement in the past, policy in the present, nor prospects in the future."
Deakin formed his second ministry in July 1905 which held office for three and a half years, a much longer term than that of any of its predecessors. He was dependent on the Labour party and was accused of saying "Yes, Mr Watson" to every demand of the Labour leader. That was not true, for Deakin did preserve some measure of independence: but Watson's only choice lay between Deakin and Reid of whom he much preferred the former, and Deakin himself was not unsympathetic to many of the ideals of the Labour party. A means of living together was found and important legislation was passed. There was, however, much party feeling, and no little bitterness was at times brought into the debates. Watson's health had been deteriorating, and in 1907 he resigned the leadership of the party. He was succeeded by Andrew Fisher (q.v.) who became prime minister in November 1908. Watson was not a candidate for office in this ministry, and on the expiration of the third parliament in 1910 he finally retired from politics. He was prominent in the attempt to found a daily Labour newspaper in Sydney, and was appointed managing director. In 1916, however, his advocacy of conscription resulted in his expulsion from the Political Labour League. He took no further part in politics but acquired interests in and became a director of several companies. He was also president for many years of the National Roads and Motorists' Association of New South Wales. Watson was married twice, (1) in 1889 to Ada Jane Low, (2) in 1925 to Antonia Lane. He died at Sydney on 18 November 1941 leaving a widow and a daughter.
Watson was only 43 years old when he left politics. But the early days of federation were very trying for the party leaders, and he was possibly lacking in some toughness of fibre. He was in office for only four months but left a much greater impression on his time than this would suggest. He came at the right moment for his party, and nothing could have done it more good than the sincerity, courtesy and moderation which he always showed as a leader.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 November 1941; The Age, Melbourne, 19 November 1941; H. G. Turner, The First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth; G. H. Reid, My Reminiscences; W. Murdoch, Alfred Deakin: A Sketch; Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, 1915.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • John Christian Watson — (* vermutlich 9. April 1867 in Valparaíso, Chile; † 18. November 1941 in Sydney, New South Wales) war ein australischer Labour Politiker und der 3. Premierminister des Landes. Seine …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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