John Christian Watson – Fact sheet 212

John Christian Watson
John Christian Watson (NAA: A1200, L11176A)

Prime Minister of Australia April–August 1904

John Christian (Chris) Watson was born at Valparaiso, Chile in 1867, but spent most of his childhood in New Zealand. He migrated to Australia in 1886 and found work in Sydney as a newspaper compositor. Watson became active in the Typographical Association of New South Wales and the New South Wales Trades and Labor Council, becoming Council President in 1892. During the 1890s he was prominent in the formation of the Labor Party in New South Wales and represented the party in the Legislative Assembly as member for Young (1894–1901).

Watson was elected to the new Commonwealth parliament in 1901 as Member for the New South Wales seat of Bland, and held this seat until becoming Member for South Sydney in 1906. He was leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party from May 1901 to October 1907, during which time Labor, while sitting on the cross benches between Alfred Deakin’s Protectionist government and the Free Trade opposition, regularly held the balance of power.

Unable to secure Labor support for its Conciliation and Arbitration Bill, Deakin's government fell in April 1904. Watson was commissioned to form a government – the first national labour government in the world – in which he served as Prime Minister and Treasurer. Lacking reliable alliances with either the Protectionists or Free Traders, Watson's government was short-lived. When Labor introduced an amended Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in August 1904 it was also defeated in parliament. Watson resigned and was replaced as Prime Minister by George Reid, leading a conservative Free Trade–Protectionist coalition.

Watson was replaced as Labor Party leader by Andrew Fisher in 1907, and although he remained in parliament until 1910, he was not given a ministry in Fisher's government of 1908–09.

Out of parliament, Watson ended his association with the Labor Party in 1916 over the question of conscription. He became active in business and from 1920 until his death in 1941 was president of the National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA).

Research guide – Our First Six: Guide to the Archives of Australia's Prime Ministers

National Archives holdings relating to Chris Watson

The National Archives holds a range of records relating to Chris Watson’s years in parliament, including his short term as Prime Minister.

In the table below, reference numbers direct you to the item or series in RecordSearch, the Archives database. There you can find more information. In many cases you can view entire digitised records. The information will appear in a new browser window.

Collection references

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
SeriesLetter from John Watson MP and associated correspondence about enforcing of minimum wage for workmen employed in connection with contracts for saddlery for military contingents1902A6443, 610
ItemWatson ministry (27 Apr – 17 August 1904) – oaths and correspondence relating to appointments and resignations1904A5447, 5
Item– oaths and correspondence relating to appointments and resignations1904A5447, 6
ItemRequest by the Prime Minister, Mr John Christian Watson, for a dissolution of the Commonwealth Parliament on the defeat of his Ministry1904A6661, 1079
ItemRequest by the Prime Minister, Mr John Christian Watson, to see the Governor-General in Melbourne1904A6661, 1151
ItemGovernor General’s Office – correspondence – concerning the fall of the Deakin Government and forming of the Watson (Labour) Government1904A6662, 237
ItemPhotostat copy of secret despatch from Governor-General to Secretary of State for the Colonies about Watson's government1904CP201/1, 1
ItemHistoric Memorials – portrait of Mr JC Watson1913–15CP103/11, 306
ItemHon. JC Watson – appointment as Honorary Organiser in regard to scheme to provide employment for returned soldiers – also appointment of Mr DJ Quinn as secretary1915–17A2, 1916/3631
ItemSuggestions by John Christian Watson, Honorary Organiser, federal parliamentary War Committee, regarding a proposed scheme in the Rutherglen area to raise funds for the benefit of returned soldiers1916–17A2479, 17/1410
ItemWatson, JC about Aungur Limb (artificial limbs for returned soldiers)1917A2479, 17/507
ItemDecision to invite Mrs JC Watson (Mrs Antonia Watson), wife of former Prime Minister John Christian Watson, to the opening of parliament at Canberra1926A6680, DY16/3
ItemCondolences – Watson, The Hon John Christian1941–42A461, 700/1/452
ItemJC Watson, ex Prime Minister, biographical notes1957A463, 1957/1995

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