Rupert Watson

Rupert Andrew Watson (1878-1948)

Rupert Andrew Watson was born on 13th August 1878. By the time of the 1891 Census, he was in Glasgow being raised by his grandparents. His home is at 75 Houston Street, sharing two rooms with seven people. Listed as ‘Scholars’ in the Census return for 1891, Rupert and Agnes, unlike their father, had not been sent away to school. By this time, almost ten years after their mother’s death, their father had remarried and moved to Liverpool. Their father's playing days were over and he had qualified as an engineer; a profession Rupert would enter too.

For the following two censuses’, Rupert, Agnes and their grandmother remain at Houston Street. By the 1911 census, both Watsons’ are over thirty years old, and neither has married.

Their grandmother, Agnes Gilmour Armour, would live for another year, dying in 1912 at the remarkable age of 86 years, when life expectancy was just 53 years. She suffered from senile decay, and their obligation to her appears to be the sole reason they remained at this address. Agnes likely provided the full-time care of her grandmother, as although Rupert lists ‘marine engineer’ as his occupation’, none appears for Agnes. This indicates Rupert may have been the sole breadwinner plus any rent they could make from taking in lodgers. Their father may have contributed to the household until both Watsons’ came of age, but it seemed in 1911, they relied on Rupert and the lodger’s rent.

In 1915, Rupert left Scotland for Australia. For most of his life, he had been tied to Glasgow and now, having the freedom, he set sail for the other side of the world. However, the timing of his departure is curious as it was only the second year of the First World War. This may indicate Rupert’s objection to the conflict.

In 1915, the war was going badly for the Allies, and the army realised it could no longer rely only on volunteers. The casualties were higher than anyone could have imagined, so plans were made to not only introduce compulsory conscription but also to extend the upper age limit to 41. Raising the age limit would now make the unmarried Rupert eligible to go to war, and he could expect to be called up for service. By the time the Military Service Act 1916 became law, Rupert had already left the country. Maybe Rupert felt he had been deprived of his youth by his obligation to his grandmother, and just as he had been set free, fate conspired to send him to war, perhaps to be killed or maimed. No doubt he felt life was unfair, and like thousands of others, believed the war was wrong on many levels.

However, research in Australian records has identified enlistment records for the 5th Field Artillery Brigade for ‘Rupert Watson’ from 1916. Listed as a ‘Driver’ he remained in service until 1918, returning to Australia after the war ended. Drivers were often conscientious objectors, choosing to undertake non-combatant roles rather than accept internment. It may only be that at the age of 38, the army considered him too old to fight on the front line and assigned him driver duties, but there may have been another reason he left Scotland when he did.

In Sydney, Australia in 1915, Rupert married Agnes Ann Millett Dods, his step-cousin, the daughter of his step-aunt, Agnes Maxwell. Ann Dods was born in Glasgow, five years before Rupert. In that year, her family moved to Yorkshire and stayed there until her father’s death, when she went into service for a string of upper-middle-class families. In the 1891 and 1901 census returns she is listed as a ‘housekeeper’ in Yorkshire. Rupert and Ann may not have spent much time together when young, but there can be little doubt they knew each other before their marriage and may have met on more than one occasion. When and where their relationship began is unknown and perhaps relocating to Australia was more to do with secrecy than freedom.

There is always the possibility they decided to independently immigrate to Australia at the same time and met up again in Sydney by chance. However, Rupert was 38 years old and Ann, forty-two, so a pre-planned elopement may appear more likely.

Their life in Australia has left few traces and the only records found to date, show that Ann died in Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia in 1955, where she had apparently been living on her own since 1935.

Rupert died in a public hospital in New Plymouth, New Zealand in 1948 and is buried in Te Henui Cemetery, New Plymouth. His death certificate states he had lived in New Zealand for 25 years, revealing he parted from Ann around 1923, less than 10 years after their marriage. The New Zealand, Notices of Deceased Estates, indicates he was a ‘watersider’, a variant of the ‘Waterside Worker’ , and was still working at the time of his death.

Rupert’s death certificate lists the occupation of his father as ‘Civil Servant’. Perhaps Rupert’s last remembrance of his father’s occupation was from around the time of his mother’s death, and if so, this may reveal father and son had not communicated in the thirty years of his father’s life. It may only be an imperfect recollection and nothing else, but since 1882, his father had had several occupations. Twenty-seven years after the death of his father, there is a sadness in Rupert’s recollection of his father’s profession and one that we may never fully understand.

Rupert died intestate, ten days after surgery for gum cancer, a condition he had been suffering from for the previous two years. The certificate has been scored out where a wife and living issue would be entered, even saying, “unknown whether widow’. Rupert appears to have had no family with him at his death, and there is a suspicion he died in poverty. He was 65 years old.