John Christian Watson

John Christian ‘Chris’ Watson (1867-1941) was born Johan Christian Tanck, in Valparaiso, Chile. His mother – an Irish woman who had emigrated to New Zealand - had married a Chilean of German descent. Watson was still an infant when his father died. His mother returned to New Zealand and married again. Watson took his step-father’s name and grew up in New Zealand, starting work on the railways at the age of ten. He moved to Sydney in 1886 and first worked as a stablehand at Government House. Eighteen years later he became prime minister, leading a short-lived minority Labor government in 1904. His origins were kept quiet: he had never been naturalized as a British subject, and was thus not legally entitled to hold a seat in Parliament. Watson’s skilful leadership of the new party was essential to its success in later years. He retired from leadership in 1907 and Parliament in 1910.

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27 April 1904

Chris Watson becomes Prime Minister

Labour Party leader John Christian Watson replaces Alfred Deakin as Prime Minister when Deakin’s Protectionist government falls due to Labour’s refusal to support the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill. Watson, at 37, is Australia’s youngest prime minister to date. For more information, visit the Australian Prime Ministers Centre.


Chris Watson c.1904.
27 April 1904

First Labor government

John Christian Watson is the first federal Labour (renamed Labor in 1912) Party leader and Labour Prime Minister. His government lasts just four months. Watson is expelled from the Party in 1916 for supporting military conscription.


The Honourable John Christian Watson.