Royal Reels: Gambling


This goldfield cover has four Victorian 1d ‘Half-Length’ stamps, two orange-brown and two pink, postmarked with 3 Barred Numerals ‘9′ of Beechworth, and the cover is addressed to John Watson, Smyths Creek, Ballarat. A black manuscript is written vertically upwards at the left side, and reads in part ‘Detained for/ 1d postage (Figure 1).

There are 3 postmarks on the reverse, one for the originating BEECHWORTH/ [crown]/ SP 13/ 1853, a transit mark of MELBOURNE/ A/ SE 22/ VICTORIA and a third for arrival at SMYTH’S CREEK/ [crown]/ SE 27/ 1853/ VICTORIA (Figure 2).

John Boyd Watson, a mining magnate and investor, was born in September 1828 at Paisley, Scotland, son of James Watson, cabinetmaker, and his wife Margaret, née Boyd. He received little schooling and on 14 March 1841 arrived in Sydney in the ‘Orestes’ with his parents, four brothers and two sisters. Another source stated that the ‘Orestes’ sailed from Liverpool, England with ‘bounty immigrants’, via the Cape of Good Hope and arrived in Sydney Cove on 14 May 1841, after a journey of 128 days (Figure 3).

The family settled at Windsor where Watson became a currier (a person who dresses and colours leather after it is tanned). He moved to Sydney but in 1850 left for the Californian diggings. On his return, he set off for the Victorian gold fields, and in late 1852 reached Bendigo Creek, where he took up a highly profitable claim at the Fifth White Hill. He was quick to realize the potential richness of the Bendigo reefs, and was amongst the first to erect a crushing battery.

Watson’s initial quartz-mining venture was the Old Chum Claim on New Chum Hill. Next, with a partner he bought a claim in Paddy’s Gully, from which he derived the sobriquet of ‘Paddy’ and the nucleus of his fortune. With others he floated the Cornish United Co. and in the late 1860s secured an interest in the adjoining Golden Fleece, Kent and Garden Gully claims, later buying and amalgamating them under one lease as the Kentish Mine, which he owned until 1889. It produced huge amounts of gold in 1871-80, one reef alone yielding about thirteen tons of gold valued at some £1,500,000. Watson had interests in other Sandhurst (Bendigo) mines but generally invested in real estate and commercial ventures. He owned much property in Sandhurst and his extensive Melbourne holdings included the freehold of some of the most valuable inner-city properties. He was a founder, director and principal shareholder of the Federal Bank and a large shareholder in the Melbourne Tramways Co., the Deniliquin and Moama Railway Co. and a Sydney steamship company. He had mining and pastoral interests in Queensland, owned wharves in Sydney and in 1879, with a group of Sandhurst investors, he launched the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

John Watson married Mary Ann Covell at Sandhurst in 1861 and she bore him 4 sons and 5 daughters. In the mid 1870s the family moved to Melbourne, but retained close links with Sandhurst. Watson died of tuberculosis in Sydney on 4 June 1889 on his return from a visit to San Francisco and he was buried in Back Creek cemetery in Sandhurst. His Victorian assets were valued for probate at £976,549.

He was retiring in nature and was described in his obituary in the Bendigo Advertiser as ‘a close and plodding sort of man’, but none could deny his business astuteness. He did not parade his affluence and sought no public role in the community. Glen Watson in the Musgrave Ranges is named after him.

The on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography provided most of the information on John Boyd Watson.

Categories: Mining