D M S Watson Papers

Scope and Content

Papers and correspondence, 1846-1974, of David Meredith Seares Watson and his family, largely comprising biographical material and family papers, scientific correspondence, and photographs, also including a few Exchequer receipts, 1568-1622.

Biographical material, 1886-1974, includes Watson's birth certificate, 1886; documentation, including certificates and correspondence, of Watson's career, honours and awards over a period of forty years, including election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society, 1922, the award of its Darwin medal, 1942, and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society, 1965; correspondence about the Directorship of the British Museum (Natural History), 1937; correspondence about the presentation album on his retirement from the Jodrell Chair, 1951; correspondence and papers relating to his final retirement from research, 1965; obituaries, 1973; F R Parrington and T S Westoll's memoir of Watson from 'Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society', 1974; an account of Watson's early days and family background by his daughter Janet Vida; recollections by his research assistant Joyce Townsend; Watson's curriculum vita and bibliography.

Family papers include the birth certificate of Watson's father, David, 1846, correspondence with his wife Mary, 1888, and a letter of condolence to Mrs Watson on her husband's death, 1899; diaries of Mary Watson, 1881, 1885; birth certificate of their daughter Constance, 1888, letters from Constance to her brother David Meredith Seares Watson, 1905-1909 and undated; papers relating to Katharine Margarite Watson (née Parker), Watson's wife, including her birth certificate, 1891, marriage certificate, 1917, death certificate, 1969, and various correspondence; papers relating to Watson's daughter Katharine Mary, including letters of congratulation on her birth, 1918, and letters to her parents, 1950, 1955; material relating to Watson's mother's family, including letters of her father Samuel M Seares, 1871, 1879-1882; papers of Charles J B Hutchinson, 1879-1880, who emigrated to Australia after his engagement to Watson's mother was broken off but who remained in correspondence with her aunt, Fanny Rossiter; other Parker family papers, 1929-1972; miscellaneous other personal correspondence, 1896-1965.

Four Exchequer receipts dated 1568, 1580, 1616 and 1622 were found enclosed with a letter to Watson's wife.

Scientific correspondence of Watson, sometimes including photographs of fossil specimens, with leading palaeontologists in Africa, 1947-1953, America, 1915-1964, Australia, 1931-1962, China, 1926-1927, 1935-1964, England, 1913-1914, 1920, 1926-1960, France, 1930-1936, 1945-1956, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, 1920-1962, Russia, 1920-1962, and Scandinavia, 1922-1964, and with the palaeontologist Robert Broom, 1911-1950, and Watson's research assistant Joyce Townshend, 1929-1973, also including a few letters from Watson's wife and scientific colleagues, and an obituary of Watson, 1974; correspondence and papers on bones found at Qau, Egypt, 1930-1957, 1972; miscellaneous other palaeontological correspondence, 1912-1967. There are few copies of Watson's outgoing letters before the end of the Second World War.

Photographic material comprises photographs documenting Watson's career, [1912]-1965 and undated, some including colleagues; photographs of scientific colleagues, 1911-1951 and undated, including Watson's predecessor as Professor at University College London, J P Hill, and Robert Broom; album of photographs and signatures presented to Watson, 1951; undated family photographs, including a photograph of Watson as a boy, photographs of members of the Seares and Parker families, and photographs of Watson's wife, Katharine Margarite, and daughter, Katharine Mary; photographs of unidentified fossil specimens.

Royal Society Darwin Medal Award given to Watson, 1942.

Administrative / Biographical History

DMS Watson was born at Higher Broughton, near Salford, Lancashire, only son of the two children of David Watson, chemist, metallurgist, and pioneer of the electrolytic refining of copper, and his wife Mary, daughter of Samuel Seares, a London stockbroker, 1886. He was educated privately and at Manchester Grammar School and entered the University of Manchester in 1904. He intended a career in chemistry and industry, but in fact specialised in geology, and while an undergraduate began to study preserved plants from Coal Measures deposits, producing a seminal paper with Marie Stopes on coal balls in 'Philosophical Transactions', vol 200B, 1907.

Watson was appointed Beyer fellow at the University of Manchester in 1908 and became interested in fossil reptiles and other vertebrates, visited many fossil localities in Britain, and worked intensively in the British Museum (Natural History) (BMNH), 1908-1911. He became interested in the BMNH collection of fossil reptiles from the Karoo (Karroo) of South Africa, and to further his knowledge collected extensively there, met the palaeontologist Robert Broom, and set up a subdivision of the Beaufort Series into biostratigraphical zones in 1911. That year he was invited by James P Hill to be honorary lecturer in vertebrate palaeontology at University College London, and was Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology, University College London from 1912-1921.

He travelled to Australia and North America in 1914-1916, returning to Britain and taking a technical commission as lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1916-1918, transferring to the Royal Air Force as a captain, working on airship and balloon fabrics in 1918. After World War One, he conducted research at Newcastle upon Tyne on coal measure amphibia and fish and returned to University College London in 1920, succeeding A V Hill as Jodrell Professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in 1921.

During WWII, Watson supervised the evacuation of the department to Bangor before becaming Secretary of the Scientific Subcommittee of the Food Policy Committee of the War Cabinet in 1940. In 1945 he returned to University College in Bangor and, when the war-damaged department was made habitable, in London. He remained at UCL until he retired from his chair and became Emeritus Professor in 1951, then was appointed Alexander Agassiz visiting professor at Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard, 1952-1953. However, he continued to have the use of a room at UCL and with his secretary and illustrator since 1928, Joyce Townsend, continued to write papers until his full retirement from scientific research in 1965.

In 1917 he married Katharine Margarite Parker and they had two daughters, Katharine Mary and Janet Vida. D M S Watson died in 1973. See also F R Parrington and T S Westoll's memoir in 'Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society', vol xx (1974), pp 483-504.


By section as follows: Biographical (Ref: A, subdivided into biographical and bibliographical; career, honours and awards; business and financial; non-scientific interests; family and personal; certificates); Scientific correspondence (Ref: B, arranged largely by country or regional grouping but with separate series for Robert Broom and Joyce Townshend, and miscellaneous correspondence arranged chronologically - some correspondents appear both in the geographical and in the chronological sequences); Photographs (Ref: C, subdivided into D M S Watson; scientific colleagues; family; fossils).

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to University College London from the NCUACS in 1993. Royal Society Darwin Medal Award given to Watson, 1942, transferred to the Manuscripts Room from University College London Library in 1993.

Other Finding Aids

Fully catalogued and detailed list available on the online catalogue

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (NCUACS) in March 1993 from Mrs Betty Sutton, second wife and widow of Professor John Sutton, whose first wife was Professor Janet Vida Watson, the younger daughter of D M S Watson.

Related Material

University College London Special Collections holds miscellaneous papers and letters, 1919-1932, put together by Watson in 1932 and relating to appeals and investigations for a new building and endowment for the Department of Zoology at University College London (Ref: MS ADD 37); various correspondence of Watson, 1914-1966 (Ref: MS ADD 112); correspondence of Watson with Jane S Scarff, 1934-1935, concerning the donation of her husband's pamphlet collection to University College London (Ref: MS ADD 336); a typescript description by Watson of the purchase of Schoolbred's Mews by University College London [1950s] (Ref: MS ADD 341); a cartoon memento of the opening of the new Zoology Department, 1933, given by Watson to the Zoological Society (Ref: MS ADD 342); a letter from F Orlov to Watson, 1955 (Ref: MS MISC 50). University College London Records Office holds a file on Watson (Ref: Archive Files Box 7 File 94/2, Honours and Awards).

Cambridge University, Museum of Zoology, holds drawings, papers, and Watson's fossil collection. The Royal Society, London, holds papers of the Scientific Food Policy Committee, 1940-1941, deposited by Watson. Imperial College London holds lecture notes by Watson's father, David Watson, from the Royal College of Mines, 1865-1867 (Ref: B/WATSON); papers of Professor John Sutton, some relating to his wife Janet Vida Watson, daughter of D M S Watson (Ref: B/SUTTON). The Science Museum, London, holds an early sound recording found with the Watson papers. The Geological Society of London holds correspondence and papers, 1923-1992, of Watson's daughter, the geologist Janet Vida Watson (Ref: GB 0378 LDGSL 1078).