Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Watson, John Forbes

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WATSON, JOHN FORBES (1827–1892), physician and writer on India, born in Scotland in 1827, was the son of an Aberdeenshire farmer. He was educated at the university of Aberdeen, where he graduated M.A. in March 1847, and M.D. on 5 Aug. 1847. After completing his medical studies at Guy's Hospital, London, and at Paris, he was appointed assistant surgeon in the Bombay army medical service in August 1850. He served with the artillery at Ahmednuggur and with the Scinde horse at Khangur, now Jacobadad, and was afterwards appointed assistant surgeon to the Jamsetjee Hospital and lecturer on physiology at the Grant Medical College, where for a time he also acted as professor of medicine and lecturer on clinical medicine. Returning to England on sick leave in 1853, he spent some time at the School of Mines in Jermyn Street, and in investigating the sanitary application of charcoal, on which he published a pamphlet in 1855. He was then appointed by the court of directors to conduct an investigation into the nutritive value of the food grains of India, the result of which formed the basis of public dietaries in India. In 1858 he was nominated by the secretary of state reporter on the products of India and director of the India Museum, appointments which he held till the transference to South Kensington of the India Museum at the end of 1879.

In connection with his department he established a photographic branch, in which numerous illustrations were executed depicting Indian life and scenery, and large maps of the country in relief. They were used to illustrate not only his own works, but also those of other eminent writers. In 1874 Watson submitted to government a proposal for the establishment of an Indian museum and library, together with an Indian institute in a central position, where candidates for the civil service might pursue oriental studies. His plea for an Imperial museum for India and the colonies was supported by the Royal Colonial Institute, and it assisted materially in the establishment of the Imperial Institute at South Kensington. He represented India at the international exhibitions held at London in 1862, at Paris in 1867, and at Vienna in 1873, and at the South Kensington annual exhibitions from 1870 to 1874. He retired from the India Office in 1880, and died at Upper Norwood on 29 July 1892. He was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1889.

Watson was the author of:

  1. ‘The Textile Manufactures and the Costumes of the People of India,’ London, 1866, fol.
  2. ‘Index to the Native and Scientific Names of Indian and other Eastern Economic Plants and Products,’ London, 1868, 8vo.
  3. ‘International Exhibitions,’ London, 1873, 8vo.

He also drew up catalogues for the Indian departments at several of the international exhibitions, and with John William Kaye edited Meadows Taylor's ‘People of India,’ London, 1868–1872, 6 vols. 4to.

[Journal of the Soc. of Arts, 12 Aug. 1892; Men and Women of the Time, 1891; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit.]

E. I. C.