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Watson, George Herbert (1894–1963)

by D. F. Branagan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

George Herbert Watson (1894-1963), mining dredge designer, was born on 2 April 1894 in Port Melbourne, eldest of four children of Henry Edward Watson, a carpenter from New Zealand, and his Victorian-born wife Charlesena Mary, née Cuthill. George began work in 1911 as an apprentice in the Victorian Railways' workshop at Newport, spending more than a year on a training course at the Working Men's College in the city. In 1915 he was a draftsman living in Port Melbourne. On 5 May that year he married Gertrude Maud Agar, a furniture saleswoman, at the Presbyterian Church, Albert and Middle Park.

By 1927 Watson was working in the Malayan tinfields for Alluvial Tin (Malaya) Ltd. His technical ability was recognized by the company, which sent him to Holland to buy suitable dredges, then supervise their construction. In the 1930s Watson became closely involved with Ambrose Pratt in Peninsula Tin N.L. and with E. H. and F. G. Pratten as a fellow director of Alluvial Gold Ltd and associated companies which operated in Asia, New Guinea and New Zealand. In 1937 Watson assigned to Alluvial Mining Equipment Ltd his copyright for the Newstead dredge and bucket dredges he had designed for the Victoria Gold Dredging Co. N.L.

Watson, working from Sydney, designed and constructed gold dredges for use in Victoria and New Zealand. He was managing director of Peninsula Tin N.L. and others of the group's companies operating in Malaya and New Zealand by 1937. Walter Burley Griffin's associate E. M. Nicholls designed a house for him at Point Piper. After World War II ended, Watson was appointed to the first inspection party organized by the British government to visit the Malayan tinfields to consider rehabilitation of working equipment and compensation for individual companies. He began to diversify his activities. Retaining his directorships in the Malayan companies, he joined (1949) the board of Burma-Malay Tin Ltd. As chairman of Tableland Tin Dredging N.L., he complained in 1951 that price fixing was detrimental to the Australian tin industry.

From 1945 to 1952 Watson was part-time chairman of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission, a statutory authority attached to the Commonwealth Department of Munitions. The Commonwealth parliament's Joint Committee of Public Accounts investigated the commission in 1955 and found that Watson could not 'escape blame for the conditions that developed', namely 'waste, inefficiency, misjudgment and chaos' at the aluminium works at Bell Bay, Tasmania. He and his fellow commissioners were also criticized for granting contracts to companies with which he was involved. Watson denied that he had been involved in improper practice, and pointed out that he had only been a part-time chairman, and that the government should have appointed a full-time one if it wished for a tighter rein on its affairs.

Watson had been managing director of Commonwealth Engineering Co. Ltd since 1947. His previous connexions may have influenced the sale of the company's diesel-hydraulic rail cars to Malaya in 1957. He also visited South Africa to promote sales in 1959. George Watson died of cancer on 27 May 1963 at his Darling Point home and was cremated. His wife and their two sons and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1954-55, nos 69 and 69A
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives, Commonwealth), 14 Oct 1954, p 1983, 1985
  • Industrial Australian and Mining Standard, 1 June 1937, p 149
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Apr, 28 Aug 1945, 11 Oct 1946, 25 Oct, 9 Nov 1949, 28 Nov 1951, 15 Oct, 10 Dec 1954, 22, 23 Feb, 3 June 1955, 28 May 1963
  • Newport Apprentice Training Scheme (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University Archives)
  • copyright files, A1336, items 29501 and 29502 and Dept External Affairs file, A2937, item 255 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'Watson, George Herbert (1894–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/watson-george-herbert-11976/text21467, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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