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John Oxley Library

Who was F.J. Watson?

By JOL Admin | 8 October 2010

Recently we received a very interesting enquiry regarding the date of death of F.J. Watson, the author of the 1944 publication Vocabularies of Four Representative Tribes of South Eastern Queensland (REFJ 499.15 WAT).  Finding this information involved a great deal of detective work and in the process unearthed some interesting information about the elusive F. J. Watson.

The first piece of the puzzle was to establish what the initials F.J. stood for.  The National Library of Australia's digitized newspapers ( were searched and several letters to the editor by F.J. Watson, concerning aboriginal placenames, were located in copies of the Brisbane Courier from the 1930s.  These letters were signed F.J. Watson, Toowong.  The next step was to check the Queensland Post Office Directories (held on microfiche)These directories were published between 1868 and 1949 and include an alphabetical listing of residents of the state and their addresses.  An entry was found in a 1930s directory for a Fred. Watson from Toowong.  More precise information was required so the Queensland Electoral Rolls (held on microfiche) for the subdivision of Toowong were checked.  An entry appeared in the 1931 roll for Frederic James Watson of Grosvenor Street, Toowong.  His occupation was given as dairying instructor.  In the preface to Vocabularies of Four...  Watson describes himself as being "an itinerant officer of the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Stock" for 25 years.  This confirmed that F.J. Watson was in fact Frederic James Watson of Toowong.

With a full name it was then possible to check the Queensland Death Indexes (microfiche).  The problem was that there were several deaths recorded for men with the name Frederic (Frederick) James Watson.  Who was the right one?  A more deeper study was made of Watson's book which provided additional information about his life.  He states "In 1876 my father, mother and family arrived in Queensland and joined my uncle, who, within recent years had selected property on the Mary River". Watson also states that he was 8 years old at the time and had a younger brother and sister.  With this information it was possible to check the online index to Assisted Immigrants to Queensland 1848-1912 on the Queensland State Archives website (  The Watson family, including Frederic James (aged 7) were located arriving in Queensland on the ship "Western Monarch" on the 27 March 1876.  The family comprised the father, David Watson, and mother, Mary A. Watson, as well as six children ranging in age from 1 year to 16 years.  With the names of F.J.'s father and mother it was possible to recheck the death indexes as these include the names of parents.  An entry appeared for the death of Frederic James Watson on the 10th April 1947.  His father was David Watson and his mother's maiden name was Mary Anne Reith.  I then located a funeral notice in the Courier Mail (12/4/1947).  Further searching unearthed an obituary in the Courier Mail on the 17th of April.  It is transcribed here in full:

Keen Student of Aborigines Dead

The recent death of Mr Frederick James Watson, of Toowong, aged 79, removes another of the comparatively small band of men who strove for wider recognition and knowledge of the lore and language of the pure-blood aborigine.  Of English birth, Mr Watson in his 70 odd years of residence in Queensland travelled much of the coastal and south-western areas, first as engineer and later as an officer, for nearly 25 years, of the Department of Agriculture and Stock.  Since his retirement Mr Watson devoted most of his time to a study of the traditions and languages of the south-eastern aboriginal tribes, and as a fellow and an associate member of the Queensland Place Names Committee was the author of a well received vocabulary of the Kabi, Yugumbir, Yugarabul and Wakka tribes.  (Courier Mail, 17/4/1947)

  Source: Watson, F.J.,  Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland, Brisbane, Qld.: Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (Queensland), 1944.

Vocabularies of four representative tribes of South Eastern Queensland has been selected for digitization as part of the State Library of Queensland's Indigenous Languages Project and will be available to view through our Onesearch catalogue in due course. See these other items on the catalogue that have been tagged as part of the Indigenous Languages Project.


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