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Hon. Chris Watson

1867 – 1941

John Christian Watson, known as Chris Watson (1867-1941), Australia’s third Prime Minister, was born in Valparaiso, Chile, grew up in New Zealand and left school at 10 years of age to work on railway construction projects. He worked as a compositor for the North Otago Times before migrating to Sydney when he was 19, securing a job as a stablehand at Government House, later gaining employment again as a compositor. He quickly became prominent in the trade union movement and NSW politics, entering NSW Parliament in 1894. Swept into the debates around Federation, Watson opposed the final terms of the Commonwealth Constitution but accepted the ‘the mandate of the majority’ when it passed in the 1900 referendum. Known for his friendliness, tact and courtesy, Watson was elected to the first Federal Parliament in 1901. As the inaugural leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, Watson formed the first Labor government in April 1904. However, the complicated political situation in which none of the three main political parties was able to form a majority saw his government last only until August. Upon his decision to step down from the Labor leadership in 1907. Melbourne Punch declared that Watson had been ‘probably the finest personality the Labour cause’. He retired from politics in 1910 and later became a leading figure in the establishment of the National Roads and Motorists' Association (NRMA) and the first chairman of the Australian Motorists Petrol Co. Ltd (Ampol
Updated 2019