Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Watterston (1845–1931)

by John Hurst

This article was published:

David Watterston (1845-1931), journalist, was born on 2 January 1845 at Balgone Barns, Haddingtonshire, Scotland, youngest son of James Watterston and his wife Catherine, née Broadwood. He came to Victoria with his parents in 1853 and was educated privately and at denominational schools in Melbourne. In 1860, after being employed for two years as a lawyer's clerk, he moved with his widowed mother and two sisters to Queensland where he worked as a junior reporter with the Ipswich Herald (Queensland Times). Joining the Brisbane Courier in 1865, he became a member of its parliamentary reporting staff, while also contributing articles to the Queensland Express and Queensland Guardian.

In 1869 Watterston returned to Melbourne as a reporter for the Argus; he remained in that post until 1873 when he went to London to receive specialist treatment for eye trouble. Back in Victoria in 1875, he worked briefly for the Department of Education where one of his colleagues was Jules Francois Archibald. Watterston rejoined the Argus in 1876 and was sent to the United States of America to cover the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. In 1879 he accompanied the Victorian premier (Sir) Graham Berry to London and covered Berry's unsuccessful mission to persuade the secretary of state for the colonies to introduce a bill into the Imperial parliament to amend the Constitution of Victoria. Watterston represented the Argus at the Sydney International Exhibition at the Garden Palace and in 1880 took charge of newspaper work connected with the exhibition in Melbourne. He was special correspondent for the Argus during the Australian tour of the princes, Edward (Duke of Clarence) and George (King George V), in 1881. Later that year he became chief of the Argus reporting staff.

Appointed editor of the Australasian in 1885, Watterston held that position with distinction for eighteen years. From 1903 to 1906 he was editor of the Argus, after which he became representative of the trustees of the Edward Wilson estate on the council of management of the Argus and Australasian. He retired in 1928. Respected for his wit, insight and knowledge of public affairs, he showed as an editor 'rare literary discrimination, a just sense of values and a mastery of detail'. He believed that he served the proprietors best when he served the public best.

Seen by Melbourne Punch in 1914 as 'a tall, gaunt, stern, grey-haired, grey-bearded man', Watterston was regarded as one of the ablest newspapermen of his generation. He had been part of a brilliant coterie of writers for the Argus in the 1880s and 1890s, among them Marcus Clarke and 'The Vagabond', John Stanley James. An enthusiastic amateur botanist, Watterston numbered among his many friends (Sir) Baldwin Spencer, whom he had recruited as science writer for the Australasian. Watterston was a member of the Melbourne Club and a life member of the Yorick Club where his portrait by John Longstaff was hung. He died, unmarried, at his Armadale home on 23 July 1931 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gordon, An Eyewitness History of Australia (Adel, 1976)
  • D. J. Mulvaney and J. H. Calaby, ‘So Much That is New’ (Melb, 1985)
  • Newspaper News (Sydney), 1 Aug 1931
  • Punch (Melbourne), 6 Aug 1914
  • Argus (Melbourne), 24 July 1931
  • Bulletin, 29 July 1931.

Citation details

John Hurst, 'Watterston, David (1845–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 January, 1845
Balgone Barns, Haddingtonshire, Scotland


23 July, 1931 (aged 86)
Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.