Views from the Manse – Annie Watson

2nd September 2020

In 1850 or thereabouts John Watson and his wife Anne moved into the forest beside the Cudgee creek not far from Warrnambool. He was a stonemason and built ‘Haverhill’ house for his family.  Over the years Annie presented him with nine children so the house was well filled and the couple had a tremendous impact on the area. John became a persuasive evangelist and, after being convinced of the need for adult Baptism formed the Cudgee Baptist Church.       

But this is not about John Watson and his celebrated church where a revival in the 1860’s was so noteworthy that the Baptist Association sent the Rev William Poole to Warrnambool on a steamer to hold baptismal services at Cudgee and establish a church at Warrnambool.

No this is about his remarkable wife Annie.   She was a young wife when she arrived in Cudgee and lived there until her death in Nov 1906 aged 76 years and nine months.

She was greatly admired and respected by all. The women of the district were especially appreciative as she was their confidante, nurse and a midwife and for years delivered most of the children in the area.  She had nine children of her own and several of her descendants still live around Warrnambool.  

Of the nine children I can only positively identify a couple and have not attempted to produce a complete genealogy. Most of the information comes from the gravestones in Warrnambool cemetery and these are not only old and hard to read but also have some confusing entries.

For example one headstone has an entry for a boy who died aged five that reads as if the woman entered below him was his wife.

On the headstone for John and Anne Watson we also have Grace Grant Watson who died on Jan 6th 1863 aged 3 years. Then in 1869 they had another daughter whom they also named Grace. She died in 1938 aged 69. At the time it was common to name a later child after one that died young but we would hesitate to do that today.

Although Annie had her own share of suffering it was in the care for others for which she is remembered.

Childbirth at the time was very dangerous. Births occurred naturally at home with no anaesthetics, no antiseptics, and no thought of surgical intervention. This resulted in a high mortality rate among both infants and mothers.

No doubt Annie had her share of sorrows with complications, miscarriages, stillbirths, and deaths but she also had the deep satisfaction of delivering dozens of healthy babies who grew up to be well and strong.

She shouldered an enormous responsibility and no doubt had an intense emotional response to the joys and sorrows of her calling.  

By the time she died travel was becoming easier and with a local hospital being built in Warrnambool the possibility of accessing specialist support became a reality.     

In 1871 the church presented John Watson with a buggy as a token of their esteem and one wonders if Annie ever used it to transport one of her charges to the Warrnambool hospital for some urgent medical assistance.