Watson, James

, a learned English lawyer, and one of the judges of the supreme court of judicature at Bengal, was born November 25,1746, in the parish of Great Chishill, in the county of Essex. He was the eldest son. of the Rev. James Watson, D. D. an eminent presbyteriau minister, then pastor of a dissenting congregation in that place, as well as of Melbourne, in the county of Cambridge, fey Anne his wife, the daughter of John Hanchet, esq. of Crissel Grange, in the county of Essex. Though the retired situation in which this family lived, and the talents of the father, were very favourable to a domestic education, yet the son was very judiciously placed under the care of the Rev. Mr. Banks, a clergyman in that neighbourhood, under whose tuition he was prepared for the peculiar advantages of a public school. Accordingly, Dr. Watson having discovered the progress that his beloved child had made in the elements of language, sent him to the metropolis, and placed him under the care of a person with whom he could confide, that he might be admitted into St. Paul’s school.

That seminary was then under the superintendence of the very learned and amiable Mr. George Thicknesse, of whom his worthy pupil always spake with the deepest reverence. While, however, he was embellishing his mind with the rich stores of classic literature, a violent fever impeded the pursuit, and compelled him to return to the country for the restoration of his health. This desirable end being accomplished, his venerable parent conducted him to London, removing thither indeed with his family. Having expressed a strong inclination for the ministerial profession, which might naturally be expected from the powers of eloquence he discovered, he was placed at the academy for Protestant dissenting ministers, then kept at Mile-end, near London, by John Walker, D. D. Thomas Gibbons, D.D. and John Conder, D. D.

Here he added considerably to his stock of knowledge, and at length entered upon his profession. He spent one year in assisting Mr. Newton of Norwich, and then repaired to the university of Edinburgh, where he acquired | the esteem of some of its most eminent professors, especially the late principal Robertson, and as a proof of it, that university afterward conferred upon him the degree of doctor of laws. On his return to England, he was invited to succeed the late Rev. Mr. Williams, of Gosport. This invitation he accepted, and was ordained pastor in 1771. His ministrations being, however, unacceptable to a minority, occasioned a separation, which by his prudence and mildness very little interrupted their harmony. He generally preached thrice each Sunday, and was constant, unremitting, and peculiarly tender and consoling in his visits to the sick and afflicted. But at length, through the persuasions of some friends, who had discerned his talent for disputation, and had witnessed his clear and intimate acquaintance with the laws of his country, he was induced to change his profession, and enter himself at the InnerTemple. Accordingly he relinquished the ministry in the summer of 1776.

Mr. Watson chiefly resided at Titchfield, a pleasant village in the neighbourhood of Gosport, and there availed himself of the professional knowledge of the late Mr. Missen, recorder of Southampton. In August 1777, he married miss Joanna Burges, who then resided with her grandmother at Titchfield. She was the daughter of a gentleman who was long resident at Calcutta. By this union he had fourteen children. Soon after his marriage he removed to London.

In 1778, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in a very honourable manner, having previously acquired the friendship of its president sir Joseph Banks, the late Dr. Solander, and several other men of eminence. In the autumn of 1780, he was called to the bar, and travelled the western circuit, where he always met with that reception which his friends had promised and his abilities warranted. Having commenced this profession, at this period of his life, he deemed it very expedient to be uncommonly assiduous in his application to the study of the law. This attention to business he paid to the last, allowing himself little rest, seldom indulging in relaxation of any kind. In July 1783, his excellent father departed this life. On his removal to London, he had been chosen pastor of a congregation in the Borough of Southwark, and continued in that relation till his death. At the close of 1787, Mr. Watson was called to the rank of serjeant, with Messrs. | Runnington and Marshall. The year before he was elected recorder of Bridport in Dorsetshire, and was then so much esteemed by the corporation, that in the last parliament he was chosen one of their representatives without any opposition. His attendance in the senate was frequent, and though he did not signalize himself so much in debate as some others have done, yet he rendered himself useful as a chairman upon several committees, for which indeed his firmness, tempered with sweetness, admirably qualified him. But he reserved his greatest strength for the India court of proprietors, of which he was one, and where he frequently spoke with much applause.

On the much-lamented death of the very celebrated sir William Jones, Mr. Watson was appointed to succeed him in March 1795, an honour which he, and every one connected with him, very deeply felt; but while he was preparing for his voyage, his filial piety suffered a deep blow, death depriving him of his valuable mother, who departed this life on the 26th of April that year. But on the 8th of July, having been previously knighted, though far from agreeable to his modest disposition, he, accompanied by his lady, and two eldest children, set sail for Calcutta in the Berrington. The voyage was long and stormy, for they did not reach their destination till Feb. 27, 1797. It being term-time, on his arrival at Calcutta, he was immediately called upon to discharge the duties of his office, and went through the business with the utmost spirit and reputation. But a period was soon put to his active services, for on April 29th he was seized with a fever, of which he died May 2. Next day he was inferred with the customary honours of his rank, his corpse being followed to the grave by a numerous concourse of the gentlemen of the settlement, who had been led to form considerable expectations of his merit. 1


Gent. Mag. 1797. Univ. Mag. for 1798.