Archibald WATSON

WATSON, Archibald

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 28 November 1914, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Major
Last Unit: 1st Stationary Hospital (AIF)
Born: Tarcutta, New South Wales, Australia, 27 July 1849
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Scotch College, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation: Surgeon, Anatomist
Died: Natural Causes, Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia, 30 July 1940, aged 91 years
Cemetery: Thursday Island Cemetery
Memorials: Adelaide Royal Adelaide Hospital WW1 Roll of Honour, Adelaide Treasurer and Chief Secretary Roll of Honour, Adelaide University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll, The Adelaide Club Great War Roll of Honour
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World War 1 Service

28 Nov 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Adelaide, South Australia
5 Dec 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Major, Officer, 1st Stationary Hospital (AIF),

--- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '23' embarkation_place: Melbourne embarkation_ship: HMAT Kyarra embarkation_ship_number: A55 public_note: ''

5 Dec 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Major, Officer, 1st Stationary Hospital (AIF), HMAT Kyarra, Melbourne
7 Mar 1916: Discharged AIF WW1

Help us honour Archibald Watson's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Monty Kemsley

Archibald Watson was born on 27 July 1849 at Tarcutta, New South Wales. Eldest son of Sydney Grandison Watson, a pastoralist, and his wife Isabella née Robinson. He was educated in at a national school in Sydney and in 1861-67 Scotch College, Melbourne. Archibald excelled in scripture and was a champion light weight boxer. He travelled to Levuka, Fiji, on March 10th 1871. He was aboard the second voyage of the brig Carl with his father, acting as his agent. On returning to Levuka Watson was arrested and charged with piracy. On July 16th 1872 Watson was discharged from his bail, he then left for Melbourne.                 

In 1873 he travelled to England and Germany where he studied medicine at the Georg-August Universität of Göttingen and the Université de Paris. In England he obtained the licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries, London, and became a member and fellow of the Royal College of surgeons. While assistant demonstrator of anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School.

In 1885 he was appointed Elder professor of anatomy at the University of Adelaide; he also became a lecturer in pathological anatomy (1887-1903) and in operative surgery (1887-1919). He used vivid language and rapid blackboard sketches to teach, this made his teaching style dramatic and intense.

Watson initially contributed to medical meetings and based his publications on experiments and experience. He developed the habit of recording a daily diary of the details of patients and operations. This diary included precise descriptions and accurate diagrams drawn in black pen and water colour. He also kept a daily account of his expenses. Most of these notebooks have been preserved and are considered artefacts. He recorded and performed operations and post-mortems in Australia, England, the US, South Africa (during the South African War) and Egypt and Greece. He visited China, South America, Japan, Russia and New Zealand where he usually watched leading surgeons operate. He majorly influenced Australian surgery through his master of anatomy, practice and passion.

Watson was an erratic histrionic genius, he dressed in an old canvas coat and spectacles, he spoke six languages fluently and had a firm voice. His acid wit and racy vocabulary made him an excellent speaker. He was loved by his family and close friends who called him “Archie”, most of his students and colleagues called him “Proffie” and “Wattie”. He rode a succession of motor cycles around Adelaide and through the country.


Biography contributed by Annette Summers

WATSON Archibald

MD(Gottingen) MD(Paris) MD FRCS LSA


Archibald Watson, was born on 27th July 1849 in Tarcutta NSW. He was the eldest son of Sidney Grandison Watson, a wealthy pioneer pastoralist of the Upper Murray who had settled in Walwa in 1840. His mother died from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy.  He was educated at the National School in Sydney and Scotch College, Melbourne. Leaving school he travelled to Fiji on the brig Carl in what has subsequently been alleged to be a blackbirding mission. He was arrested on piracy charges and later released on bail, he returned briefly to Australia before setting off to Europe to study medicine. He distinguished himself with his MD theses Gottingen 1878 and Paris in 1880 before travelling to London where he took the LSA and FRCS in 1882 and 1884. He was a Demonstrator in Anatomy at Charing Cross Hospital when he applied, successfully, for the inaugural Elder Chair of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide. He was later to be appointed lecturer in surgery, pathologist and finally surgeon at the Adelaide Hospital. He became involved in the ‘Adelaide Hospital Row’ which closed the medical school for over 3 years. During this time the Boer War took place and Watson joined the Natal Field Force in 1900 as consulting surgeon and later the Johannesburg Volunteers in 1900-1901. He wrote” I was surprised at the number of soldiers with hammer toes, flat feet, varicose veins, visceral pthisis, skeletal syphilis, mental aberration, hernia and defective dentition and the absence of the means of treating it” He was awarded the Queens South African Medal with the Natal clasp. Watson became the consulting surgeon to the Military Forces of the Commonwealth in 1906. It was said that Watson had a ‘puckish sense of humour and a passionate dislike of pretension and insincerity. His condemnation of ineptitude was like a roll of thunder; when ineptitude was coupled with pomposity, the lightning of his wit struck.’ He was well loved however-even by those who understood him least and his knowledge was well respected. He was a surgical anatomist whose surgical ideal was the gentle handling of tissues, the knowledge of and use of anatomical planes in the surgical approach, and control or prevention of haemorrhage by ligation of the feeding vessels. He was fluent in 7 languages and had a passion for motor bikes, some with an attached wicker passenger sidecar. His professional and personal diaries are with the RACS and the National Library respectively. The professional diaries contain many original observations and superb anatomical and pathological drawings. The personal are reputed to contain details of his private relationships.

Watson, at the age of 65, joined the AIF at the rank of major and was posted to 1ASH in November 1914 as a surgeon. He travelled to Egypt on the Kyarra. At some point he transferred to 1AGH and saw service in Egypt, Lemnos and Gallipoli. He performed post mortem examinations as required although the details of a lot of these have been lost over time. It is likely that he acquired the Nubian mummy now in the South Australian Museum during this time; the mummy is interesting for a number of reasons not least the Australian bayonet wound to the abdomen. He returned home having completed his service in 1916 and was discharged on 7th March 1916. He was issued with the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. The Director of Medical Services, Colonel Neville Howse VC, discouraged Watson returning to overseas service as; ”He is a  very charming man but his presence has a very bad influence on the younger men of any unit”.

Watson returned to the University of Adelaide. He later retired to Darwin where he did much to improve the standards of surgical care in the tropics. He made the Federal Hotel, Thursday Island his home from 1936. Archibald Watson died on the 30th July 1940 on the veranda of the Federal Hotel three days after his 91st birthday. He never married and had no known children.


Blood, Sweat and Fears: Medical Practitioners and Medical Students of South Australia, who Served in World War 1. 

Verco, Summers, Swain, Jelly. Open Books Howden, Adelaide 2014. 

Uploaded by Annette Summers AO RFD