Military officer, aide-de-camp, architect, and close personal friend of the Macquaries.
Born on 7 May 1786 in Sallins, County Kildare, Ireland. Son of Charles and Margaret (nee Boyse) Watts. He completed his schooling c.1802 and joined the army on 24 July 1804 as an ensign in the 64th Regiment. Prior to his enlistment he worked briefly in a bank in Dublin and in an architectural firm for approximately 18 months. He was one of seven brothers, all of whom joined the army as commissioned officers; and at least five of them attained the rank of captain.
Soon after his enlistment he sailed to join his regiment in the West Indies and in 1805 was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, as well as transferring to the 46th Regiment. In 1810 (Jan.-Feb.) he was involved in the capture of Guadeloupe from the French, returning to England in 1811, followed by garrison duty on the island of Jersey until June 1812. On 16 June the 46th Regiment returned to the Isle of Wight where they remained until August 1813 when they received orders to proceed to New South Wales to relieve the 73rd Regiment. The first two detachments embarked on board the Windham and General Hewitt on 23 August 1813, followed by a third detachment (3 months later) on the Three Bees. Lieut. Watts travelled on the Windham arriving in Sydney on 11 February 1814 with his commanding officer Lieut.-Colonel George Molle.
He was appointed Macquarie's aide-de-camp on 3 June 1814, replacing Lieut. John Maclaine (Macquarie's cousin). From the outset Macquarie drew upon Watts' architectural experience and interest, and gave him the task of furnishing plans for a new military hospital to be erected on Flagstaff Hill (Observatory Hill) in Sydney. [This building is now the headquarters for the National Trust of Australia (NSW)].
The success of his work led to more commissions, most of which were carried out in the Parramatta area: they included the repair and improvement of Government House (1815 -1816), the design and building of a new hospital (1817 -1818), a new military barracks (1818 -1820), the addition of the two steeples to St. John's Church (1818 -1819), repairs to the road to Parramatta (and the associated bridges), as well as the construction of a dam across the Parramatta River (1818) to provide a fresh water supply to local inhabitants (and to prevent the influx of salt water carried by the tidal flow of the river in its upper reaches).
Watts' architectural work was based on plain, straightforward adaptations of Georgian models, and there is indirect evidence that he had brought a number of architectural textbooks with him to New South Wales (or had them sent out to the colony) including: Isaac Ware The Complete Body of Architecture. 1756 (2nd ed.); Abraham Swan Collection of Design in Architecture (1757); Colin Campbell Vitruvius Britannicus; (and possibly J. Gibbs, A Book of Architecture, and a French edition of Andrea Palladio I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura) .
Of greater importance, in many ways, was the personal support that Watts provided to the Macquaries- and the evident high regard that they held for him .
Watts supported Macquarie wholeheartedly in his attempts to change the prejudices held by many civil and military officers, and free settlers, against associating socially with emancipists. However Macquarie felt deeply slighted and insulted by the behaviour of the commanding officer, Colonel Molle, and many of the officers of the 46th Regiment who refused to attend civil functions at Government House whenever emancipists were in attendance. Macquarie wrote to Lord Bathurst and the Duke of York giving an account of these acts of insubordination, while at the same time adding a list of loyal and well- behaved officers, including his own aide-de-camp, John Watts.
Watts lived with the Macquaries for five years and came to be regarded as one of their family. He accompanied them on all official engagements, and is listed among those in attendance on the Macquaries for the tours to Bathurst (1815) and the Cowpastures (1815) He clearly developed a close attachment to young Lachlan Macquarie and appears to have worked closely not only with Elizabeth Macquarie in the development of architectural plans and modifications to Government House and St John's Church at Parramatta. The esteem with which the Macquaries held Watts is also reflected in a set of miniatures that they presented to him (of themselves and Lachlan) prior to his departure from New South Wales.
With the arrival of Lieut. Hector Macquarie (Macquarie's nephew) in April 1818 Watts offered to step aside to allow him to become the new aide de camp. This offer was rejected, though Lachlan Macquarie encouraged Watts to seek promotion and if this had not occurred within the next six months he should resign and return to England to press his case. After 8 months, when there was no news of promotion, he tendered his resignation (on 24 December 1818); and Macquarie granted him leave of absence for two years from his corps and duty, dating from the time of his departure for England, so that he could settle his private affairs.
He sailed for England on board the transport Shipley on 1 April 1819. Macquarie gave him official despatches to take back with him, as well as a number of personal presents, including birds, plants and artefacts, to be presented to members of the Royal Family and the Secretary of State.
Not long after his arrival in England Watts received a captaincy in the 73rd Regiment on 24 February 1820. The regiment did not return from its tour of duty in Ceylon until 1821 and as a consequence he was relatively free to pursue his social engagements and family obligations until that time - though no details of his movements and activities have survived. It is clear, however, that he was in England when the Macquaries returned to London in July 1822. He most probably visited them there and then was invited to join them in the near future in Scotland.
Watts was able to arrange for seven weeks leave from his regiment and met the Macquaries in Glasgow on 2 September 1822. He accompanied them on visits to the homes of Elizabeth's widowed sister, Margaret Campbell, at Campbeltown, and her brother John, at Airds, near Oban, as well as an extended visit to the Isle of Mull between 12 September and 10 October when the Macquaries were meeting with kinsmen and investigating the state of their 'Jarvisfield' estate. There were additional visits in the environs of Oban, on the mainland, afterwards. It was during this time that Watts formed a close acquaintance with Elizabeth Macquarie's niece, Jane Campbell, daughter of Margaret Campbell, and soon afterwards he made a proposal of marriage; and they were married on 16 January 1823. The Macquaries did not attend the ceremony as they were absent from Britain on their 8 month tour of Europe.
John Watts only remained in the army for a brief period after his marriage - resigning his commission in the 73rd Regiment in 1824. For the next thirteen years he lived at Campbeltown, raising a family of seven children, with occasional visits to his parents in Dublin.
In late 1834 he wrote to Elizabeth Macquarie asking her to write a letter on his behalf to the Home Secretary, Henry Goulburn, in support of a request for an official appointment in Van Diemen's Land. Though the letter was unsuccessful it provides a useful insight into the character of Watts, and the degree of friendship that existed between them. Her letter is dated 9 January 1835 - just two months before her death on 11 March 1835.
Watts and his family continued to live in Scotland until 1837 and then moved to Ireland for almost three years; however, in 1840, he decided to emigrate to South Australia. The family sailed from Greenock on 17 September 1840 on board the John Cooper, and they reached Port Adelaide on 8 March 1841, where Watts took up an appointment as Postmaster General on 1 April 1841. He retained this position until his retirement on 29 June 1861.
Public Record Office: Colonial Office. PRO: CO 323/140. Elizabeth Macquarie to Henry Goulburn, (Letter dated 9 January 1835).
Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of the Colony of New South Wales. (House of Commons Paper 448, 19 June1822 ). Adelaide, Libraries of South Australia, 1966. [Australiana Facsimile Editions No.68] p.28.
Report of the Commissioner of Inquiry, on the State of Agriculture and Trade in the Colony of New South Wales. (House of Commons Paper 136, 13 March 1823 ). Adelaide, Libraries of South Australia, 1966. [Australiana Facsimile Editions No. 70] p.107.
Broadbent, James. The Australian Colonial House: architecture and society in New South Wales 1788-1842. Sydney, Hordern House, 1997.
Philipp, F. A. "Notes on the Study of Australian Colonial Architecture. " Historical Studies - Australia and New Zealand. Vol. 8 November 1957 - May 1959, Footnote 21, pp.412
Macfarlane, Margaret and Alastair. John Watts: Australia's Forgotten Architect 1814-1819 and South Australia's Postmaster General 1841 - 1861. Bonnells Bay, NSW. Sunbird Publications, 1992.
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