Fremantle Stuff > People > John Watson

John Watson

Carpenter John Watson constructed the Boys Reformatory buildings on Rottnest Island 1880-81. He stayed on as the Reformatory Superintendent for the whole of its duration, until 1901.

A Pioneer's Memories.
Mr. John Watson of Claremont formerly the superintendent of the boys' reformatory school at Rottnest, will celebrate his 86th birthday to-day [5 June 1931]. He was born in Perth, and his knowledge of the early days of the town, have proved of historical value.
Mr. Watson was married 62 years ago. His wife, formerly Miss Annie Linthore, was also born in Perth, and she will celebrate her 84th birthday on June 27. The couple have three sons and one daughter. One of the sons, Mr. C. Watson, is secretary of the Child Welfare Department: another son retired from the position of supervisor in the telegraph branch of the Postal Department, Perth, 12 months ago; and the third son is an officer in the Postal Department.
Thirty years ago Mr. Watson retired from the position of superintendent of the boys' reformatory at Rottnest, after serving 24 years in that capacity. He opened the school at the direction of Sir William Robinson, who was then the Governor, and he closed the institution in 1902. Over 50 years ago he was given the contract to build the reformatory at Rottnest, and, when the work was completed he was appointed superintendent on the recommendation of Anthony O'Grady Lefroy, a former Colonial Treasurer, and father of the late Sir Henry Lefroy.
Interviewed at his home at Claremont yesterday, Mr. Watson spoke of life in the early days of Perth. He was born in a little house - since demolished - at the corner of Spring-street and Mount-street. The spring from which Spring-street derives its name is now in the grounds of the house occupied by the Anglican Archbishop of Perth. In the early days the spring provided the water for Stanley's Brewery, which was controlled by Mr. James Stokes.
Mr. Watson was a witness before the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the wreck of the sailing ship City of York which went on the reefs at Rottnest many years ago. Of the wreck of this vessel Mr. Watson retains vivid recollections. The City of York was bound from New York to Fremantle. A bush flare lighted near the lighthouse at the west of the island was mistaken for the light of the pilot boat. The City of York sailed straight ahead on to the reef. The City of Benares left New York at the same time as the City of York, both vessels being bound for Fremautlc. The captain of the City of Benares was the father of the mate of the City of York and they left New York, wondering who would reach the destination first. The City of Benares which made the voyage via Torres Strait, arrived at Fremantle two days after the wreck. The captain was just in time to attend the funeral of his son. Mr. Watson helped to bring some of the bodies of the seamen of the City of York ashore.
Before he entered the Government service Mr. Watson was a partner with Mr. G. H. Roe. a son of Captain Roe, the Surveyor-General of the Colony, in a venture with a pearling lugger, the 'Gift.' The vessel was originally built for missionary work in the South Sea Islands., but proving unsuitable for this purpose, she was sold to Mr. Manning, a merchant of Fremantle, who employed her in the coastal trade between Fremantle and Champion Bay. The 'Gift' was then bought by Mr. Roe in partnership with a Mr. Passie and was fitted out for a pearling cruise. Malay divers were secured at Macassar, and also from the island of Alor. The captain of the vessel was murdered by the Malays in his sleep, and the other white men had a narrow escape. They left the vessel in a dinghy, and the Malays sailed away. Later, Mr. Watson bought a half share in the schooner and left Australia with Mr. Roe to try and locate her. The Malays abandoned the vessel at the island of Salayer, about 150 miles from Macassar. They went ashore, began drinking and fighting, and boasted of running away with the schooner. They were arrested and sent to Macassar where the ringleaders were subsequently identified by Mr. Roe. The boat was recovered, and, after a season spent in pearl fishing off the North-West coast, Mr. Watson sold his share in the vessel to Mr. Roe.
Mr. Watson treasures a letter from Mr. James Longmore, former Inspector of Industrial and Reformatory Schools, received on his retirement from the position of superintendent of the Boys' Reformatory at Rottnest. Mr. Longmore now resides in England. Another letter of which Mr. Watson is proud, is from Sir Gerald Smith, a former Governor, giving him permission to shoot wallaby in the grounds of Government House, Rottnest, when the Governor was not in residence there. The letter was written in 1897. The knowledge which Mr. Watson possesses has been of assistance to those in terested in the history of the early settlement of Perth. He was able to point out the exact sites of Kingsford's mill (half way along Mill-street), and Reveley's Mill, which was located at the rear of the present Technical College. Mr. Watson is one of the few people who remember the old mill at South Perth, during the days when it was operated. He played in the vicinity in 1838. West Australian, Friday 5 June 1931, p. 20.

The Boy's Reformatory, 1880-81, is one of the few colonial buildings on Rottnest Island not constructed by Henry Vincent. John Watson built the structure and became the reformatory superintendent for all of its 20-years of operations to 1901. The reformatory buildings are now used as holiday accommodation as part of the Rottnest Lodge. Aboriginal boys and boys in trouble with the law were sent to this reformatory. Here they were taught carpentry, gardening and joinery. Wikipedia.

A reformatory for boys was opened on 16 May 1881. The reformatory buildings were adjacent to the Quod and included a workshop, a kitchen, two large dormitories, a school room and four small cells. Carpenter John Watson constructed the buildings and became Reformatory Superintendent for the life of the establishment. Watson taught the boys carpentry, joinery and gardening.
In May 1898 two boys disappeared, apparently drowned, after escaping from the reformatory and stealing a dinghy.
After twenty years of operation, the facility closed on 21 September 1901 when the remaining 14 inmates were transferred to an industrial school on the mainland.
The reformatory buildings are now used as holiday accommodation as part of the Rottnest Lodge. Wikipedia.

Carpenter John Watson was asked to construct the Boys Reformatory buildings on Rottnest Island and these included a workshop, kitchen, two large dormitories, a school room and four small cells. Upon completion of the building work, Watson decided to stay on as the Reformatory Superintendent and to teach the boys carpentry, joinery and gardening.
The Reformatory closed in 1901. Since 1909 the Reformatory buildings have been used as holiday accommodation, operated as part of the Lodge. Rottnest official site.

References and Links

Heritage Council.

Wikipedia page for Colonial Buildings of Rottnest Island

Wikipedia page for Rottnest

Garry Gillard | New: 11 February, 2016 | Now: 19 November, 2018