Annetta Watson

Annetta Watson (1849/50–1889)

20 March 2021 - Edited by David Alston

Andrew Watson’s closest relative, and constant companion during his early years was his sister Annetta. She was known by a variety of names: Annette, Annie and sometimes Netta, but official documents struggle with variations. The names 'Annetta' and 'Annette' are coupled together as if no one could be sure which was her proper name. In her father’s last will and testament, she is repeatedly referred to as 'Annetta or Annette Watson' and, confusingly, she also coupled the names together in her own will.

Six or seven years older than Andrew, Annetta’s exact birth date is unknown. Born in 1849 or 1850, she spent her early years in Demerara before being sent to England with Andrew when she was only seven or eight. Being older, she might have taken on a protective role with Andrew, and the trauma of the separation from their mother and the experience of transportation to England might have bound them together, remaining close throughout their lives.

The age difference between the siblings could shed some light on their parent’s relationship. Five or six years between the birth of the children could suggest longevity in their parents' relationship. Later, Anna would receive £250 from Peter Miller Watson's Last Will and Testament indicating she was in Miller Watson's thoughts before he died. But this act might simply be compensation for taking her children.

Unlike her brother, Annetta did not attend a public school. Her first appearance in the historical record is in the 1861 census for Colton, Staffordshire, when she was eleven years old. Accompanied by her brother, they are listed in the Census return at a school for young ladies run by Elizabeth Buchanan.

In the 1871 Census, Annetta is living with her uncle, William Robertson Watson, in Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders.

She may have been the first occupant of ‘Ploral Cottage’, built around 1870 by a local stonemason. In the census, 21-year-old Annetta is registered as unmarried, and her occupation is described as an ‘annuitant’. Her uncle William Robertson Watson is also listed, aged 65 and the ‘Head’ of the household. He is also described as an ‘annuitant’. Whether William’s annuity included the guardianship of Annetta is unclear, but uncle and niece shared a cottage. A domestic servant named Ann Matheson, from Brellburn was also present.

In a letter from Demerara, dated 19th November 1850, sent to his stepsister Anne Parker, William’s brother, Peter Miller Watson said:

‘William well but doing nothing - memory-impaired - hardly expect him to be fit to have charge of an estate - as I wrote to you after my arrival, he would be better at home but has no desire to go.’

If William suffered from mental illness or some malady that affected his mental state, it might explain why the details of William’s annuity are outlined explicitly in Peter Miller Watson’s Will. Precise quarterly payments were to be made, even listing the day of the month on which it should be paid. This specificity suggests William may have been unreliable or irresponsible with money.

William would later move to Edinburgh, perhaps finding Ploral Cottage too small or inconvenient or not to his taste. However, by moving to Edinburgh, he left Annetta, a single woman with an income, alone and vulnerable.

In 1872 or 1873, she fell victim to John Hunter Stevenson, a man twice her age. Born and baptised in Paisley, Scotland in 1829, but had been living in London for many years. Alternating between the use of the surname, ‘Stevenson’ or ‘Stephenson’, he had been a commissioning agent, a tea merchant, an East India merchant, and had been bankrupt more than once in his life.

On 30th September 1873, Annetta married John Hunter Stevenson. She had also inherited £1000 from the Will of her step-aunt, Anne Traill, and this would not have gone unnoticed for a man like Stevenson. The marriage took place at Innerleithen in Scotland, after which they moved to Brighton, Sussex, where they stayed for seven months. The marriage was ‘irregular’, meaning they were valid in Scotland but were not conducted according to the procedures of the church. Instead, a man and a woman made a declaration in front of two witnesses, hence the other name for an irregular marriage, ‘marriage by declaration’. By showing proofs of their marriage the parties could obtain a warrant of a sheriff or sheriff substitute to have the marriage registered by the local registrar. Annetta and John, however, did not register their marriage in Scotland. Churches disagreed with these marriages in principle, but accepted them for fear that couples would otherwise 'live in sin’. After moving to Kensington in 1874 Annetta and John registered their marriage there.

Seven months after their wedding, Annetta gave birth to a baby girl. The BMD Index records the birth of ‘Stephenson, Female’ in April 1874, in Kensington, London. Sadly, a record also appears for the same month, recording ‘Stephenson, Female’, 0 years old, in the death records.

Removing themselves to Brighton immediately after the wedding indicates Annetta had been pregnant at the time of the marriage. Seven months in Brighton would allow the pregnancy to come to term, potentially concealing the uncomfortable mathematics.

Unsurprisingly, the marriage failed, and Annetta filed for divorce. She made two applications to the court: An Application for Protection of Earning on 8th February 1875 and another for a Decree Nisi. At the time of the filing, Annetta was living in Weymouth Street, off Portland Place in London, in a short-term rental apartment, but by July had moved to Disraeli Road in Putney. The first filing described her abandonment by Hunter Stevenson that on or about 1st May 1874, he left her, returning for one night in December later that year, to ‘cohabit’ before deserting her again. Citing desertion, Annetta asked the court to protect her annuity, the total of which was £997, from her husband, who had failed to provide any financial support for her over the previous year. She said Hunter Stevenson asked her to move out of the home they had occupied as man and wife, so he could put it up for rent, forcing her to find alternative accommodation. She said that he borrowed money from her, even though he received a respectable income from his profession as a merchant.

The judgement was to present the case in front of ‘a common jury’, and it appears Annetta ordered her council to have her case ‘struck out of the cases for hearing’, perhaps as she could not bear the thought of the public humiliation this would cause, or because she was advised that she would not succeed.

In the second filing, she described the abandonment in October 1873, a month after their marriage. She said Hunter Stephenson had contracted a venereal disease and in December, ‘wilfully’ passed it on to her. She described this, saying he

“...committed adultery with Selina Deacon. That on divers occasions, he committed adultery with divers women to your petitioner unknown.”.

Hunter Stevenson filed a brief denial, and although the judgement does not appear in the court documents, it is noticeable that Annetta’s annuity, listed in her Will after her death, was £57, far less than she was receiving before her marriage. No judgement appears in the papers, and as Annetta kept the surname of ‘Stephenson’ for the rest of her life, it suggests the filing was dismissed, and she remained his legal wife.

Ten years after her death, in 1899, John Hunter Stevenson was sentenced to a year’s hard labour having been found guilty of share fraud. He died shortly after release in 1900. Perhaps surprisingly, Hunter Stevenson left £1700 17s 9d to his widowed cousin. How much of this was purloined from Annetta may never be known.

No doubt Annetta was utterly humiliated by the proceedings and appears to have left London around 1875 and disappeared. Andrew, now free from school, might have stayed with his sister at this time, providing support and companionship.

Annetta probably wanted to remove herself as far away from Hunter Stephenson and London as possible, but may have felt unable to return to Innerleithen where knowledge of her marriage existed, she moved to Glasgow taking Andrew with her. There appears to be no discernible reason for choosing to move to Glasgow, other than it was a long way from London and in the land of her ancestors.

In November 1875, Andrew registered as a student at the University of Glasgow. Later, in 1879, Annetta accepted the position of music teacher at Bellahouston Academy suggesting she may have living been in Scotland for some time beforehand. A year later she began to give private lessons teaching both music and singing, firstly from her home in Grant Street, then moving to Rosebank Terrace, and finally to 15 Florence Place, where she would spend the rest of her life.

In her early years in Glasgow, she shared her home on Grant Street, Glasgow, close to Queen’s Crescent, with a servant called Mary Gorman. But the relocation from Grant Street to Florence Place via Rosebank Crescent traces a move from a wealthy to somewhat less salubrious location and later, the absence of a servant may indicate a change in her financial circumstances. But at that time, Florence Place was the home to many music teachers, and perhaps Annetta felt it would be advantageous to be surrounded by similar businesses.

Annetta died on 31st March 1889. She died of cirrhosis of the liver and had been suffering from the disease for the previous six years. Whether this was a consequence of alcoholism is unclear. She left her estate to Dr Robert Stewart Pollok, Doctor of Medicine and the G.P. who attended her at her death.

Dr Robert Pollok M.B. & C.M. F.F.P. & S.G. was a general practitioner and the son of a ploughman from Tarbolton, Ayrshire. He rose from his humble background to study medicine at Glasgow University and becoming a well-known G.P., the Physician to the Samaritan Hospital and founded the Obstetrical Gynecological Society. He joined the army around the time of Annetta’s death as surgeon-lieutenant and rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel commanding the 4th Scottish Territorial General Hospital. For his services in the Boer War, he was awarded the Queen’s Medal. He lived in Laurieston House, at 51 Carlton Place and leftover £32,000 in his probate.

After his death, his sisters, following their brothers’ instructions, donated £10,000 to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary to establish ‘The Dr Robert Pollok Ward’. They also donated £10,000 to Glasgow University to create a lectureship for research in ‘materia medica’.

Annetta probably considered herself fortunate to be in the care of such an eminent physician as Pollok, and this may explain why she left everything to him and nothing to her brother or nieces and nephews.

The value of Annetta’s furniture and personal effects were estimated at £136, 18 shillings and 6 pence, and her overall wealth at £213 7s 7d, as stated in the Scottish probate documents. In her Will, the following appeared:

“The proportion of income due to the deceased, from the estate of the late Peter Miller Watson of Waylea [sic] in the Parish of Worplesdon in the County of Surrey formerly of Demerara in the Colony of British Guiana... £56. 9s. 1d.”

Her probate reveals a marked reduction from the amount she petitioned the court to protect from her husband during the unsuccessful divorce proceedings.

Whether her brother reconciled himself to his sister’s misery may never be known. But the circumstances of her marriage, pregnancy, the death of her child and her unsuccessful attempt to seek a divorce, may have caused immense embarrassment and humiliation to not only Annetta but to Andrew, maybe even his extended family. If so, it may be presumed the details of Annetta’s traumas were kept secret and not openly discussed. Yet the failure to protect Annetta from predators like John Hunter Stephenson must have caused acrimony and remorse, emotions Andrew may have carried with him for the rest of his life.

Andrew’s football career was over at the time of Annetta’s death. He was at sea and studying for his second-engineer qualifications while serving as an apprentice on the William Cliff. Annetta died the day before William Cliff docked in Liverpool.

Annetta was only 40 years old.

As with all of Watson's closest relatives, there is more to discover. Current research has only scratched the surface of Annetta's story but there are indications she left a bigger imprint.