Story of a Photograph: The Watsons (Part One)

Photographs are great for capturing a moment in time. Nowadays cameras are everywhere as most people carry one in their pocket on their smartphone. But 100 years ago photography was an expensive hobby, so few people could afford to take and develop photographs. One photographic collection we hold belonged to Christine Carr and her father George T Watson. There is a wide range of photographs in the collection, everything from portraits, wedding photographs, local events, scenery to family gatherings. The photograph that most interested me was a photograph of 8 men sat on a bench. Who are these men? What are their names? Why are they all sat together like this?

Well what do we know from the picture? There are 8 men sat on a bench in a garden. 5 are dressed in WW1 era military uniforms, so this dates the picture to between 1914 and 1918. One is in RAF uniform so we can narrow the date down further to 1917-1918. Luckily for us, their first names are written on the photograph mount, they are: George, Albert, Harry, Bob, Will, James, David & Fred. There is some family resemblance between some of the men, so perhaps they are related – cousins maybe? Or are they just friends? The one thing I knew for sure was that the man on the left is George T Watson. The other men appear in other pictures in the collection but their full name or any other clues are not given.

Watson, George Thomas
George Thomas Watson, c. 1911

So I decided to find out if George had any brothers. I decided to look him up in the 1901 census. After a bit of searching I found him at 3 Dalhousie Terrace on Perth Road, with his father George, a Printer Compositor, and mother Margaret. Also with him were his 9 siblings, including his 7 brothers – Albert, Harry, Robert, William, James, David and Alfred – and 2 sisters, Jeannie and Helen. The names were a match, so it seems that the 8 men in the photograph are all brothers!

Watson Family
The whole Watson family. The eight brothers plus sisters Jeannie and Helen and mother Margaret Innes Paton in the middle.

But where was the photograph taken? We can see that the bench is in front of a hedge, with the house and steps on the left hand side. The property looks like its made of stone, probably a 19th century villa. Dalhousie Terrace on the South side of Perth Road between Windsor Street and Strawberry Bank, is, well, just that, a terrace and does not fit the description. So did the family move? Its quite possible given the 16 year gap between the census and the photograph! Tracing George Watson (the father) through the Dundee directories we see that he moved to 8 Aberlemno Terrace, on the other side of the junction with Windsor Street in 1905. He then disappears from the directories after 1906. A quick check of the indexes on ScotlandsPeople confirmed that he died in that year. However George T Watson and Mrs George Watson are still listed at that address. In 1908 they moved to 44 Farington Street, or Bona Vista as it was also known. Looking at modern images of this street, this fits in a lot better with the photograph. Mrs Watson is listed at this address until 1923. So this must be the house where the photograph was taken. Looking back at the photograph albums, some clearly show family members outside a house number 44.

Watson, Margaret and James on motorbike and sidecar
James Watson shows off his new motorbike and sidecar to his mum, outside their home at 44 Faringdon Street. She doesn’t look too amused!

If you look up 44 Farington Street on Google Streetview you will see that the hedge is still there, but sadly the bench is long gone. You can even see the front wall matches the above picture, although the vehicle outside looks a little different…

So what happened to these brothers?

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