Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Watson, Justly

WATSON, JUSTLY (1710?–1757), lieutenant-colonel royal engineers, son of Colonel Jonas Watson, royal artillery, by his wife Miriam, was born about 1710.

The father, Jonas Watson (1663–1741), served over fifty years in the artillery, and after distinguishing himself, first in the campaigns of William III in Ireland and in Flanders, and then in those of Marlborough, succeeded to the command of the artillery of the train. He was promoted to be lieutenant-colonel on 17 March 1727, and commanded the artillery at the siege of Gibraltar in that year. He was employed in the command of the artillery on several expeditions until he was killed at the siege of Carthagena on 30 March 1741. He left a widow, Miriam, and a family of children. His widow was granted a pension of 40l. per annum in acknowledgment of her husband's services.

Justly Watson entered the ordnance train as a cadet gunner about 1726, and served during the siege of Gibraltar in 1727 under his father, who commanded the ordnance train there. On 13 June 1732 he received a warrant as practitioner-engineer, and was promoted to be sub-engineer on 1 Nov. 1734. He received a commission as ensign in Harrison's foot on 3 Feb. 1740, and in June was appointed to the ordnance train of the conjoint expedition, under Lord Cathcart and Sir Chaloner Ogle, to join Vice-admiral Vernon in the West Indies. He spent some months in the Isle of Wight in instructing the men of the train, and sailed on 26 Oct., arriving at Jamaica on 9 Jan. 1741.

Watson accompanied the expedition under General Wentworth, who had succeeded to the command on Cathcart's death, to Carthagena in South America, Jonas Moore [q.v.] being chief engineer, and took part in the operations from 9 March to 16 April, including the siege and assault on 25 March of Fort St. Louis, when Watson accompanied the successful storming party, the attack on other works in Boca-Chica harbour [see Vernon, Edward], and the assault of Fort Lazar, where he so greatly distinguished himself in the unfortunate affair of 9 April that he was promoted on the following day by Wentworth to be lieutenant in Harrison's regiment of foot for his gallantry.

Watson returned to Jamaica on 19 May 1741. He was promoted to be engineer-extraordinary on 11 Aug., when he was serving in the expedition to Cuba. He returned to Jamaica in November. In March 1742 he sailed from Jamaica in the abortive expedition, under Vernon and Wentworth, to attack Panama, landing at Portobello. Watson made a plan of the town, harbour, and fortifications of Portobello, which is in the king's library in the British Museum. On his return to Jamaica, and the recall of the expedition to England in September, he took charge of the works at Jamaica as chief engineer there, and his plans of Charles Fort and the Port Royal peninsula are in the archives of the war office.

In 1743 he visited Darien and Florida, under special orders, and made surveys and reports as to their defence. His plan of the harbour of Darien and adjacent country on the Isthmus, where Paterson's Scottish company settled in 1698, and his survey in two sheets of the coast from Fort William, near St. Juan river, to Mosquito river, with a plan of the town of St. Augustine, are in the British Museum. Watson returned to Jamaica, and was promoted to be engineer in ordinary on 8 March 1744. He sent to the board of ordnance a plan of Port Royal with its fortifications, and himself returned to England in the autumn of 1744. He was promoted to be captain-lieutenant in Harrison's foot on 24 Dec. 1745.

On 30 April 1746 Watson joined the conjoint expedition under Admiral Richard Lestock [q. v.] and Lieutenant-general St. Clair for North America. Its destination, however, was changed for the coast of Brittany, and he took part in the siege of Port L'Orient from 20 to 27 Sept., and the attack on Quiberon and capture of forts Houat and Heydie, after which he returned to England with the expedition. He was promoted on 2 Jan. 1748 to be sub-director of engineers, and appointed chief engineer in the Medway division, which included Gravesend and Tilbury, Sheerness, Harwich, and Landguard forts. There is a plan in the war office drawn by Watson, dated 1752, showing the cliff and town of Harwich and the encroachments of the sea since 1709; and another, dated 1754, of a proposed breakwater at Harwich Cliff; also a plan of Sheerness and its vicinity, indicating the boundaries of public lands.

On 17 Dec. 1754 Watson was promoted to be director of engineers, and was sent to Annapolis Royal as chief engineer of Nova Scotia and of the settlements in Newfoundland. His stay in North America at this time was short, as he was specially selected for service on the west coast of Africa, where he arrived before December 1755. An address to the king had been carried in the House of Commons on the defenceless state of the British possessions on the west coast of Africa, and Watson visited the military stations along the Gold Coast at Whydah, James's Island, Accra, Prampram, Tantumquerry, Winnebah, Annamaboe, Secondee, Dixcove, and Cape Coast Castle. He returned to England in the summer of 1756, when his reports and plans were approved and the House of Commons voted money to carry out his proposals.

In October and November 1756 Watson examined Rye harbour and reported on the measures necessary to improve it; and towards the end of the year again sailed for Annapolis Royal to resume his appointment as chief engineer in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. On 14 May 1757 he was commissioned, on the reorganisation of the engineers, as lieutenant-colonel of royal engineers. He died suddenly in the summer of 1757 from the effects of poison administered in his coffee, it was believed, by a black female servant.

Watson's widow, Susan, was granted a pension of 40l. a year from 1 Jan. 1758 in consideration of her husband's services.

[War Office Records; Royal Engineers Records; Kane's List of Officers of the Royal Artillery; Porter's History of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Connolly Papers; Gent. Mag. 1741; Cust's Annals of the Wars.]

R. H. V.