James Watson, Victorian Waterworks Engineer 1844-1919
The History and Heritage Group, which meets once a month, was treated to a talk by Chris Hossack about ‘The Life and Times of a Victorian Waterworks Engineer 1844-1919’. The presentation described a talented and sought after man, James Watson, who was also Chris Hossack’s great grandfather.
James Watson learnt his skill while being apprenticed to a Mr John Johnstone in Douglas, and then went on to start his own business in Lanark. At a time when there was much progress in the transportation of clean water to residents, Watson oversaw some crucial developments as part of great expansion plans.
Watson’s move to Dundee, where he was Chief Engineering Assistant to Mr Mackison, came at a time when the city suffered poor sanitation and disease. Cholera was rife as drinking water was often contaminated with human-waste. James Watson’s appointment as engineer by Dundee Water Commissioners lay the platform from which he oversaw the successful construction of the Clatto reservoir. Whilst residing in Dundee, he was one of the first to be informed of the Tay bridge disaster, which occurred on Sunday December 28th 1879. A section of the bridge had come apart and fallen in the river, along with the passenger train travelling across it. There were around 200 casualties, and the horror of the event is felt through a poignant entry from James Watson’s diary. Watson’s words, “Many an anxious and sorrowful heart in Dundee that night. Never such a catastrophe has happened “ depict the sorrow and gloom that must have descended over the town.