Andrew Watson 1 [Heath 1866–1871]

Born in Demerara, British Guiana (now Guyana), Andrew was the son of Scottish sugar plantation manager and former slave owner Peter Miller Watson, who was born in Kiltearn on , the son of James Watson, and died in Surrey on ,2 and local girl Hannah Rose.

Head of young Andrew Watson
Young Andrew Watson

The 1861 census shows four-year-old Andrew staying with 54-year-old widow Elizabeth Buchanan in Staffordshire, along with 11-year-old Annette Watson, his sister, and Emma McLagan, 19 — the third of the three ‘visitors’ to be listed as born in Georgetown, Demerara.

Rev Thomas Cox, who had married 39-year-old Elizabeth Buchanan in 1857, perhaps a relation of the other Elizabeth, says that Andrew Watson was admitted to the Heath Grammar School in 1866.3

At some point Peter Miller Watson returned to Britain and bought a property in Weylea, near Guildford, where he died in 1869. He left £35,000 — the equivalent of many millions today — mostly to Andrew, but also to provide for Annette, which is likely to have helped pay for Andrew to attend Heath Grammar School.

In the 1871 census, Andrew is listed as one of eight boarders at Heath Grammar School in the household of Rev Thomas Cox; but the King’s College School records reveal that Andrew had moved to Wimbledon by the start of the 1871/72 school year; King’s College School records show that he was outstanding at sport.4

Andrew left Wimbledon in 1875 to study natural philosophy, mathematics, civil engineering and mechanics at Glasgow University but left after a year because while in Scotland he came to national prominence as a talented footballer. He joined Queen’s Park — the country’s premier side — from Parkgrove, where he had also been match secretary, and won his first medal in the 1880 Glasgow Charity Cup final.

He made his international debut playing left back and captaining Scotland in a 6–1 victory over England on at the Kennington Oval, the heaviest home defeat England has ever suffered.

Andrew won a total of three international caps for Scotland, which would have been more had he not moved back to London in 1882 at a time when only home-based Scots were selected for the national side.

Tragedy struck Andrew in the autumn of 1882 when his wife Jessie, whom he had married in 1877, died. Their two children were sent back to Glasgow to live with their grandparents, leaving Andrew to combine his engineering career with playing football at a high level, which he did in both London and Scotland.

For the next three seasons he played in the FA Cup for Swifts, getting as far as the quarter-finals, and turning out on occasion for other clubs, including Brentwood and Pilgrims. More significantly in terms of his social status, he was sufficiently well regarded not just as a player but as a gentleman amateur footballer to be invited to join the exclusive Corinthians club. He toured with them twice, the highlight being an 8–1 crushing of FA Cup holders Blackburn Rovers in 1884.

As a man of independent means, Andrew could afford to travel regularly to Glasgow to visit his children and play for Queen’s Park, mostly in charity cup ties but also at the opening of the second Hampden Park in 1884. He came back to Scotland for a year to take part in Queen’s Park’s successful campaign, which brought him his third Scottish Cup winner’s medal in 1886.

In the summer of 1887, Andrew and his second wife Eliza Kate Tyler moved from Glasgow to Liverpool, where he worked as a maritime engineer and played for Bootle F.C., an ambitious club who were Everton’s main rivals and reached the FA Cup fifth round.

Bootle offered wages and signing-on fees to a number of prominent players, with Andrew Watson the star attraction. While the amount of money Andrew may have received from Bootle pales into insignificance when compared with the wages modern day international football stars receive, any payments would be enough to secure Andrew another place in football history as the first black professional footballer.

From his Merseyside base, Andrew spent the next 20 years working on ships and sat exams to qualify as an engineer.

Andrew, Eliza and their two children, Henry and Phyllis, moved back to London after his retirement and settled in Kew, where he died of pneumonia at 88 Forest Road on , aged 64. He is buried in Richmond Cemetery — just seven miles from King’s College School, where his sporting talent was first noted.

1 Some accounts give his date of birth as but the censuses of 1861, listing him as 4, and 1871, listing him as 14, were both taken in April and his gravestone says
2 Peter Miller Watson
3 Thomas Cox A popular history of the Grammar School of Queen Elizabeth, at Heath, near Halifax Halifax: F King 1879 p. 97
4 Andrew Watson: First Black British International Footballer

Updated

At a meeting earlier in the year [2003], Russell Smith broke the news to an astonished committee that it appeared more than likely that the first captain of the Scotland association football team was in fact an old boy of Heath School. A BBC television producer has been doing research on the topic and the trail had led to Heath! A rather faded photograph dating back to 1865 had been unearthed from the archives, depicting the school football team and purporting to include a young man with a likeness to Andrew Watson, known to have captained Scotland in 1881.

Born in Guyana, dying in Australia, Andrew Watson's life embraced Crossley and Porter orphanage, Heath, Rugby school, Cambridge University, and clearly much else. Russell’s lengthy explanation involved Dundee, the Jute Trade, dodgy parentage, imperialism, et al. Filming took place at Heath in May, and the resulting documentary is reputed to have already been shown on Scottish television, though to date the editor has not come across anyone who claims to have seen it.

However, David Bottomley has sent two photographs of the Queen's Park FC in 1880–81 and 1884–85, both containing Andrew Watson, who represented the club from 1879–86, playing at full-back and half-back. He bears more than a passing resemblance to the lad in the school photograph. No doubt more details will emerge in due course.

Note: there is no mention of Crossley and Porter orphanage, Rugby school, Cambridge University or Australia in the updated biography above.

First appeared in Newsletter dated

Addendum

The Liverpool poet, Malik Al Nasir, born Mark Watson, was so struck by his own resemblance to Andrew Watson in the BBC Scotland programme that he embarked on a journey to try and find out whether he was in some way related to Andrew Watson.

His story to date is on the BBC website. He has discovered that Andrew’s great-grandfather, George Robertson, lived in Kiltearn and had three daughters, two of whom married men who joined him in the plantation business. Originally operating in Grenada in the 1790s, they moved operations to the Demerara region of Guyana after the 1795 slave revolt in Grenada.

It is not clear whether Peter’s father, James, joined the company but, like his brothers, Henry and William, Peter did and went out to Guyana, probably in the 1830s, where he was listed as owning and managed two sugar plantations — Le’ Bonne Intention and Plantation Zeebrugge. Malik also found that he had managed the Woodlands plantation on the area of which his own relatives in Guyana now live.

Presumably, Peter carried on managing the company’s operations in Guyana after the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act as his daughter, Annette, Andrew’s older sister, is not born until sixteen years later.

Malik has embarked on a PhD to see if he can find out more about the company and the role it played in the slave trade.