William Henry Watson

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Sir William Henry Watson QC (1 July 1796 – 13 March 1860), was a British politician and judge.


Early life[edit]

Watson was born at Nottingham,[1] the son of John Watson, captain in the 76th Foot, by Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Grey of Bamburgh, Northumberland.


He was educated at the Royal Military College, Marlow, and given a commission in the 1st Royal Dragoons by the Duke of York on 7 May 1812, serving with his regiment in the Spanish peninsula. When it was reduced in 1814 he exchanged into the 6th Dragoons on 13 April 1815, with whom he served in Belgium and France. He was present at the Battle of Waterloo and at the entry of the allied armies into Paris. He was placed on the half-pay list on 25 March 1816.

The next year Watson entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn, and by hard work soon became competent to practise as a special pleader, and continued to do so until 1832, when he was called to the bar in Lincoln's Inn. He joined the northern circuit, where he found work and became popular.

In 1841 he entered the House of Commons as liberal member for Kinsale, for which borough he sat till 1847. In 1843 he became a Q.C. and a bencher of his inn. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Newcastle-on-Tyne in the liberal interest, July 1852, but in 1854 he was elected member for Hull, and sat as such until on 3 November 1856 he was created Baron of the Exchequer, to succeed Sir Thomas Joshua Platt. He was knighted on 28 November of the same year.

Watson proved himself a judge possessed of clear head and strong mind, but his career on the bench was very short. On the conclusion of his charge to the grand jury of Montgomeryshire Spring Assizes at Welshpool, 13 March 1860, he was seized with apoplexy, and died, aged 63, at his lodging, fifteen to twenty minutes later.[2] He was buried in the churchyard of Christ Church[3] in the town on 17 March.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Watson married, first, in 1826, a daughter of William Armstrong of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and sister of Lord Armstrong; secondly, in 1831, Mary, daughter of Anthony Hollist of Midhurst, Sussex. His grandson William Watson-Armstrong was ennobled as Baron Armstrong in 1903.


He was distinguished as an advocate by honesty and earnestness rather than eloquence, but was a sound lawyer and the author of two (for a time) standard professional works:

  • A Treatise on Arbitration and Award, London, 1825, 8vo; 3rd ed. 1846.
  • A Treatise on the Law relating to the Office and Duty of Sheriff, 8vo, 1827; 2nd ed. 1848, by William Newland Welsby.


  1. ^ According to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004); 'Bamborough' (Bamburgh), according to his original Dictionary of National Biography article (published 1899).
  2. ^ "Awfully Sudden Death of Mr Baron Watson". Shrewsbury Chronicle. 14 March 1860. p. 3.This varies from later information in Dictionary of National Biography (1899) that he took ill on the 12th in court and died the day later.
  3. ^ His sketch in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography vaguely says he was "buried at the new church in Welshpool", Christ Church being only built the same century, with St Mary's being the town's older parish church.
  4. ^ "Welshpool. Funeral of the late Baron Watson". Shrewsbury Chronicle. 17 March 1860. p. 3.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Thomas
Member of Parliament for Kinsale
Succeeded by
Richard Samuel Guinness
writ suspended
Title last held by
Viscount Goderich
James Clay
Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull
With: William Digby Seymour
Succeeded by
James Clay
William Digby Seymour