Watson, James Robertson C.1889


The Willoughby District Historical Society in Sydney, Australia was recently presented with 8 books and associated loose papers relating to elocution competitions in Dundee, Scotland at the end of the 19th century. The books were found in a house at 10 Bourmac St, Northbridge, Sydney. Unfortunately, we do not have any further information on their provenance. Our assumption, based on written information in the books, is that a James R Watson may have migrated from Scotland to Australia at some stage (as the books appear to have belonged to him).

The two main identities featured in the books are James R Watson and Ross Campbell.

Perhaps the most interesting of the books is a hard-covered notebook of James R(obetrson). Watson, Dundee, 1889. There are a number of newspaper clippings in the book (unfortunately undated) but likely c.25 April 1889. The clippings are from the:

  • Courier and Argus
  • Dundee Advertiser
  • Evening Telegraph

The clippings tell the story of dramatic recitals and elocution competitions held in the Gilfillan Hall on 25 April 1889. It appears that an elocution teacher (Ross Campbell) recited at the competition but that also one of his pupils, J.R. Watson was awarded a gold medal for his recital. The silver medal was won by a Mr David Pae. There are a number of other local names cited in the articles.

This book, owned by J.R Watson appears to contain various handwritten story’s, poems and plays that were used for elocution practice and performance, For the majority of passages the original source is acknowledged. However, there are some passages that may, or may not be original pieces.

There are another two notebooks that appear to have also been penned by Watson. One of them is a ‘Sight Protecting Manifold Order Book’. It has numbered pages plus ‘carbon copy’ facility to make a duplicate copy. The fascinating thing is the apparent lack of carbon (and smudging) on the pages. The highest quality carbon-copy I have seen (but I am no expert).

There are also a number of handwritten sheets with similar content to the note books.

There are 5 printed books:

Campbell, Ross, (undated), Original Humorous Character Sketches, W & D. C. Thomson, Weekly News Office, Dundee. There is a name inside that looks like W (?) B. Bo(a)ucher. This would likely be the Ross Campbell, the teacher referred to in the news clippings.

Stewart, Andrew (Ed.), (undated), Humorous Readings, John Menzies & C0. Ltd. Edinburg and Glasgow

Stewart, Andrew, (undated) Readings, Pithy and Pawkey, John Menzies & C0. Ltd. Edinburg (name inside J, Robertson Watson

No author (undated) Games and Amusements (no publisher)

No author, 1908, Barefoot Sketches, no publisher. Preparatory Noteby B.J.G.M. June 1908. The sketches were first given to the public serially in The Northern Scot.

We have been unsuccessful in gleaning more information about Watson and Campbell. There were some elocution competition in Australia in the early 20thcentury, but not many in Sydney.
If anyone has an interest in the artefacts they should contact the Willoughby District Historical Socity at the details below.

–Terry Fogarty