Frederick Watson

46 years of service to the people of Bulls and surrounding communities.

Frederick Watson
Dr F Watson. Collection of Bulls Museum. Image used with permission.

Frederick Watson was the town doctor for Bulls and surrounding communities between 1900 and 1946. Born in 1869 in Cheshire, England, Watson was educated at Cambridge and St George’s University of London where he qualified in medicine. He came to Aotearoa New Zealand after two years as a ship’s surgeon and immediately settled in Bulls to take up the reins of the town’s doctor; the fifth the town had had since 1857.

Animals played a large role in Dr Watson’s life. In 1904 Doctor Watson married Ethel Margaret Keiller. Ethel was related to a local breeder of polo ponies, and she and her husband started breeding animals at their High Street home. Doctor Watson bred Jersey cows, dogs, and ducks, and Ethel bred Siamese cats. With his experience with animals, on occasion Watson was called on to provide veterinary services.

In 1911, Doctor and Mrs Watson gave a Siamese cat to Wellington Zoo!
Image Description
Rangitikei Bridge at Bulls - Photograph taken by Edwards & Blake. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 :Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001082-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

As well as breeding Jersey cows and winning awards for doing so, Dr Watson was involved in an accident on Bulls bridge in 1907 when it was overrun by cattle. His cart was damaged, and he sought payment for damages from the man responsible for the herd. However, the judge in the case said, “both parties had an entirely equal right to use a public highway,” and as no proof of negligence was provided by Dr Watson, no payment for damages was required. Another major animal-related milestone in his life was when a horse rolled on him in a point-to-point steeplechase, crushing his ribs and breaking his leg.

Image Description
Bulls. Whites Aviation Ltd: Photographs. Ref: WA-27320-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

There were many instances of Dr Watson reporting on environmental issues that impacted the health of the communities around Bulls. He wrote to the Manawatū County Council about the unsanitary Makowhai Stream in 1904 which prompted a visit by the sanitary officer. In 1911 he raised the issue of run off from the creamery in Ohakea, and in 1920 reported the condition of the Tutaenui Stream below the Rangitikei Dairy Factory that resulted in the District Health Officer sending notice to improve to the factory.


The scope of Dr Watson’s duties was vast. He provided medical evidence in an attempted murder case, was the first doctor on the scene of a suspected poisoning, and attended farming, cycling and car accidents. Watson reported outbreaks of scarlet fever and measles in the community and lectured to members of the St John Ambulance Association. He was the honorary medical advisor to the Te Kawau Rugby Sub-Union – the committee wanted a first aid officer for each district as there were “a number of fairly serious injuries and there was seldom any person present who was capable of rendering first aid.” This was all on top of seeing patients from his home practice.

Doctor Watson donated a set of bowls to the Bulls Bowling Club, and a football to Rongotea School. He would often give chocolate to his young patients and was known to make and give gifts to his staff. There are many remnants of Dr Watson’s presence in Bulls in Bulls Museum; one such object was an inkwell shaped like a bear, made by the doctor and gifted to Mavis Sanson (née Schulz), who worked for him in the 1920s and ‘30s. Dr Watson was known as a kind and community-minded man.