Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of DAVID MEREDITH SEARES WATSON FRS (1886 - 1973)

This record is held by London University: University College London (UCL) Special Collections

Details of NCUACS 42.4.93
Reference: NCUACS 42.4.93
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of DAVID MEREDITH SEARES WATSON FRS (1886 - 1973)











The material is presented in the order given in the List of Contents.


Section A, Biographical, brings together biographical accounts, records of Watson's numerous honours and awards and family papers. The material includes the Royal Society memoir, an account of Watson's early days and family background by his daughter Janet, recollections by his research assistant Joyce Townshend and Watson's curriculum vitae and bibliography. The documentation of Watson's honours and awards spans over forty years and includes election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society (1922), the Darwin Medal of the Royal Society (1942) and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society (1965). Also of interest are the correspondence about the Directorship of the British Museum (Natural History) in 1937, correspondence about the presentation volume on the occasion of his retirement from the Jodrell Chair in 1951 and correspondence and papers relating to his final retirement from research in 1965. The family papers include letters from his sister Constance Mary Watson, 1905-1909, and material relating to his mother's family especially the letters of his grandfather Samuel M. Seares, 1871, 1879-1882. An exceptional survival are papers of Charles J.B. Hutchinson, who emigrated to Australia after his engagement to Watson's mother was broken off.


Section B, Scientific correspondence, presents Watson's correspondence with leading palaeontologists in Africa, America, Australia, China, England and Europe, especially Germany, Russia and Scandinavia. Most of Watson's palaeontological correspondence was arranged by country and regional grouping and this arrangement has been respected. However, he kept his correspondence with the South African palaeontologist Robert Broom and his research assistant Joyce Townshend as separate sequences. There are few copies of outgoing letters before the end of the Second World War.


Section C, Photographs, provides photographic records of Watson's career, his scientific colleagues, and his family. There are photographs documenting his career from the South African expedition onwards, photographs of his predecessor at UCL J.P. Hill and of Robert Broom and a photograph of Watson as a boy with his Seares relatives amongst the family photographs.


There is also an index of correspondents.


Compiled by Peter Harper and Timothy E. Powell


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


British Petroleum plc


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Wellcome Trust


We are very grateful to Mrs Sutton for making the papers available.

Date: 1568 - 1622, 1846 - 1974
Related material:

During his lifetime D.M.S. Watson made the following dispositions:


1. His father's lecture notes taken at the Royal College of Mines 1865-1867 (Archives, Imperial College London).


2. Archival material, including photographs, relating to the Zoology Department, University College London (Archives, UCL).


3. Palaeontological books and reprint collection (Library, UCL).


4. Scientific Food Policy Committee papers, 1940-1941 (Library, Royal Society, London).


5. Fossil collection (University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge).


Watson retained in his possession an early sound recording made on an Edison tinfoil phonograph which has now (1993) been offered to the Science Museum London. The recording is accompanied by a note by Watson dated 14 November 1950: 'This is a very early record made by Edison's phonograph, as I remember it was given to my father, by Edison, being the first reproduction of speech produced in Manchester.'

Held by: London University: University College London (UCL) Special Collections, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Watson, David Meredith Seares, 1886-1973, palaeontologist

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received in March 1993 from Mrs Betty Sutton, the widow and second wife of Professor John Sutton FRS. Professor Sutton's first wife was Professor Janet Watson FRS, the younger daughter of D.M.S. Watson.

  • Palaeontology
Administrative / biographical background:

David Meredith Seares Watson was born in 1886 in Higher Broughton near Salford, Lancashire. His parents were David Watson, a chemist and metallurgist who became Managing Director of the Broughton Copper Company, and Maria Louisa Watson nee Seares. He had one sister, Constance Mary Watson, who read classics at Manchester University graduating with first class honours at the age of nineteen. She died tragically young in 1909 during her second year at Somerville College Oxford. D.M.S. Watson was educated at a small private school to 1900 and then Manchester Grammar School, 1900-1904. He entered Manchester University in 1904 intending to read chemistry but switched to geology as his main subject on the advice of Professor Boyd Dawkins. He graduated with first class honours in 1907, becoming Beyer Fellow in 1908 and taking his M.Sc. and becoming a demonstrator in 1909. His early research interests were in palaeobotany in Manchester, 1906-1910, and fossil reptiles in Manchester and London, 1907-1911. In 1911 J.P. Hill, the Jodrell Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy at University College London, invited Watson to become an honorary lecturer in palaeontology at UCL. With £100 from the Percy Sladen Trust he went to South Africa in 1911 where he met the palaeontologist Robert Broom and spent ten months collecting fossils in the Karoo. From 1912 to 1914 he was based at the British Museum (Natural History), visiting many German museums and continuing to teach at UCL. In June 1914 he went to Australia to look at Permian and Triassic rocks there and early in 1915 went on to North America where he collected fossils in Texas and made the acquaintance of such leading American vertebrate palaeontologists as S.W. Williston, H.F. Osborn, W.K. Gregory and W.D. Matthew. On his return to England he took a technical commission as lieutenant in the RNVR (transferring to the RAF in 1918 as captain) working on balloon and airship fabrics.


After the war Watson researched for some time at Newcastle upon Tyne on coal measure amphibia and fishes. In 1920 he returned to UCL and in 1921 succeeded J.P. Hill as Professor of Zoology there, a post he held for thirty years until retirement. He arranged for the continuation of the work on embryology which Hill had instituted, gave G.P. Wells responsibility for comparative physiology and welcomed J.B.S. Haldane to develop his work on genetics. His international reputation attracted many research students to UCL and he secured improved accommodation for the department. In 1928 Joyce Townshend joined the department as part-time secretary and illustrator of his scientific papers, beginning a working relationship which was to last for nearly forty years. During the Second World War, when the department was evacuated to North Wales, Watson served as secretary of the Scientific Subcommittee of the Food Policy Committee of the War Cabinet. He was a Trustee of the British Museum, 1946-1963. On his retirement in 1951 he accepted appointment as Alexander Agassiz Professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. Returning to UCL he was given a room by his successor P.B. Medawar and he continued to work on fossil vertebrates with the assistance of Joyce Townshend who was supported by annual grants from the Royal Society. Watson finally retired from scientific research in 1965 and died in 1973 at the age of 87. Watson researched widely in vertebrate palaeontology including important work on fishes, amphibia, reptiles and mammals. He received many honours and awards including the Lyell Medal (1935) and Wollaston Medal (1965) of the Geological Society of London and the Linnean Medal of the Linnean Society of London (1949). Watson was elected FRS in 1922 (Croonian Lecture 1924, Darwin Medal 1942).


In 1917 Watson married Katharine Margarite Parker who was an embryologist and had worked with J.P. Hill. They had two daughters, the elder, Katharine Mary (later Mrs Powell) who became a farmer and the younger, Janet Vida who became a distinguished geologist (married to Professor John Sutton FRS) and was herself elected FRS in 1979.


For a full account of Watson's career see F.R. Parrington and T.S. Westoll, Biographical memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 20, 1974, on which the above outline has freely drawn.

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