The story of Doctor Janet Paterson Watt.

A Loved Penshurst Doctor.

Janet Watt was born to a family which gave their lives to the welfare and advancement of humanity. Her parents were the Rev. William Watt and his wife Jessie, who were missionaries in the New Hebrides. Janet was born at Richmond, Victoria, in 1902 when the couple were on furlough from the New Hebrides. She spent about 7 years in these mission fields.

Her father William Watt was born on the 8th August 1843 at Maxwelton, East Kilbride, Scotland. Williams’s first wife was Agnes Craig Paterson whom he married on the 29th April 1868 at Eastwood Renfrew Scotland. There were no children from this marriage.

The Rev Watt continued to toil away on Tanna Island, however it was to be 12 years of patient witness before he had his first converts. In 1880, he baptized two men and four women with five more in 1884. The Committee noted however that, "The Mission just holds its own". The loss of his devoted wife Agnes in 1894 left him carrying on alone. The natives, to whom she was known as "Misi Bran", deeply and genuinely mourned her. They carefully tended her grave on Tanna.

In 1894, Rev Watt generously - or desperately - offered to forgo his stipend (salary) for two years so that another Missionary could be appointed to support him. Further assistance came slowly. Rev Alexander Gillies from Orkney arrived at Kwamera on Tanna in 1897 (20 years after the Rev Watt's first request for assistance), however by 1900 he too had suffered a breakdown in health leaving Rev Watt to struggle on again alone.

William Watt remarried around 1900. His new wife was Jessie Paterson who was born in Portland in 1863. Her parents were William and Janet (Hoggan) Paterson. On a Furlough to Melbourne Jessie and William had their first child Janet Paterson Watt in 1902. It is believed that their second child Thomas was born in the New Hebrides.

Jessie was a teacher at the Tangoa Teachers' Training Institute before she was married. This highly successful institution opened at Tangoa in 1895 specifically to train native teachers and was supported by all the Protestant Missions working on the islands. The missions considered that it was important to equip the native people with a Christian based education and training in the almost total absence of any organized Government attempt. The influence of the Church in the area of education in these and later years was significant and pivotal for the islands to be able to slowly take control of their own affairs in future years.

Reverend William Watt served in the New Hebrides 1869 till 1910. He retired to Melbourne where he served as Secretary of the Australian Presbyterian Mission.

William died at Canterbury Victoria on the 29th March 1926. He was buried at Box Hill Cemetery where his wife and son Thomas are buried in location P-NS-0243.

Thomas died in September 1933 he was buried on the 12th September 1933.  Jessie died on the 5th August 1942.

Portland Guardian (Vic), Thursday 13 August 1942.



The death occurred-early this month of Mrs. Jessie P. Watt, was a daughter of the late Mr. and, Mrs. William Paterson pioneers of Narrawong. 'Mr. Alex Paterson, of Hurd Street, Portland, is a brother.


Janet Paterson Watt and her brother Thomas Watt

The late Mrs. Watt was for many years missionary in New Hebrides Islands, where she married the late Rev. Wm. Watt. Mrs. Watt was also well known in Portland many years ago for her Christian work. She opened the Presbyterian Sunday School at Wattle Hill.' Dr. Janet Watt, of the Base Hospital, Hamilton, is a daughter, and a son, Thomas is deceased.

Portland Guardian (Vic) Thursday 27 June 1929

Missionary Doctor. The New South Wales "Presbyterian," the official organ of the Presbyterian Church in that State, has the following:

The Goodlet Hospital in Sholinghur gift to India of those generous friends of missions, the late Colonel and Mrs. Goodlet a fine and spacious building of grey Sholinghur granite, in a beautiful position, and with ample grounds, is one of the most beautiful in Southern India. But for years the work it is capable of doing has been hampered by lack of a permanent doctor in charge. Temporary doctors have succeeded one another at longer or shorter intervals, and each break of regime meant a handicap to the work. Sometimes we were without any European doctor, and have been dependent on the generous help of the neighbouring missions. For these reasons we the more rejoice that there is now on her way to India one who has undertaken the work as a life-work, in the person of, Dr. Janet Watt. Miss Watt is the daughter of missionary parents. Her father, Rev. William Watt, was one of the pioneers of Tanna, New Hebrides.

After the death of his first wife, he laboured for many years among a treacherous and cannibal people, in loneliness and with little encouragement, without a single convert, but with a faith that at length was amply rewarded. When he married Miss Jessie Paterson, teacher at the Tangoa Teachers' Institute, a large Christian Church had been gathered in, and among these people Janet was born, and lived, for the first seven years of her life. 

The impressions of these early days were never effaced, and in her address from St. Stephen's pulpit, on Foreign Mission night, she drew a vivid picture of the parting from these people, whose grief at losing their missionary so touched her that she determined to devote her life to the work. With this end in view, she was educated and undertook a medical course, always with the wish to return to the New Hebrides and the people she loved. But as the end of that course approached it seemed that there would be no opening for a woman doctor on that field, and just at the same time the needs of Sholinghur were brought to her notice. Realising that the needs of India's women and children were even more clamant; and that this open door was God's call to her, she accepted the offer that was made, and two years ago was set apart, at Assembly time, as Missionary of the New South Wales Church. Having now successfully completed her course, she goes out, as the representative of the Girl's Auxiliary; who for many years have undertaken the doctor's salary in Sholinghur, 'Though brought up and trained in Victoria, Miss Watt has met at number of our young people on her two visits to Sydney, and is quite willing to throw in her lot with us, and glad to be their representative.

We feel that we are sending out one qualified by natural gifts, and still more by an earnestness of purpose and true missionary spirit. Our thoughts and prayers go with her as she leaves kith and kin to go to a strange land and an untried work that God will accept the life's service offered and use it abundantly for the well being of the people of Sholinghur and His own glory. Miss Watt sailed from Melbourne on the 4th June by the Mooltan. (Dr. Janet Watt, whose photo appears on the front page of the above journal, has a close connection with Portland, her mother being a native of the district. Her grandfather the late Mr. William Paterson, of Narrowong, landed it Portland Bay in 1855, and lived in the district for over sixty years. Her uncle, Mr. Alex. Paterson, lives at North Portland, and has had his home there for many years. Dr. Watt will leave the Mooltan at Colombo, and travel by train through Ceylon, then across Palk Straits to India.

In 1926 Dr Ryder who had been appointed for one year, left the Mission and Dr Mary Silver was appointed to the hospital. Mr Turnbull on completion of a second term in the field intimated to the great regret of the Church that he would not return. Dr Robinson and Dr Slater had been appointed to the hospital for a term of two years. Dr Janet Watt, Nurse Lang, and Miss McCredie were set apart by the Assembly for service in India. It was found later on, however, that Miss McCredie could not go for health reasons. In 1928 Mr Coombes had to come out for health reasons and Dr Robinson resigned. In 1929 it was reported that Mr and Mrs C. S. Boyall had sailed and after a year spent in language study they would be stationed at Pallipat. In 1930 a gift of £1000 from Mrs Kirkland to build a girls' boarding school at Sholinghur was announced. In 1931 the Pallipat congregation elected their own pastor, Mr J. Manickan. Nineteen thirty-two was a memorable year for Sholinghur, for on 30th January of that year the church which had been erected was dedicated. In Pallipat the church had been opened in September and the congregation was rejoicing in the fact that they now had their own Minister chosen by themselves. Mr and Mrs Turnbull who were finally retiring from the field had a series of farewells at which the people feelingly and sincerely expressed their appreciation and regret. The year 1934 was marked by the retirement of Dr Watt

Dr Watt came to the service of the people of Penshurst and district nearing the end of 1939. She served at the Hamilton Base Hospital for a period of over 3 years, 1942-45, during the war, and at this time gave Penshurst periodical and on-call service. She resumed full time practice here at the end of 1945.

The Argus (Melbourne), Saturday 16 September 1939


PENSHURST.-Dr. Janet P. Watt has been appointed medical officer to the Mt. Rouse Shire Council in place of Dr. T. R. B. Courtney, who has disposed of his practice.


World War II calls removed resident local doctor services to concentrated population areas. This coupled with petrol restrictions, resulted in the Nursing Sister (Sister Agnes O’Brien for the final seven years), being called upon for many emergency cases while Doctors travelled from or patients were transported to them at Hamilton or other distant centres.


Penshurst Hospital 1928

St Martin's Private Hospital (left) provided medical support over several generations to the community of Penshurst and, in particular, it was the place where most people were born. Doctor Janet Paterson Watt, who served in the area for many years, and was unusual as a woman in her profession in the mid twentieth century (especially in a small community). Dr Janet Patterson Watt was the medical practitioner, Sister McKechnie, and Sister O'Brien, were the nurses

Return to residence of Doctor Janet Watt at Penshurst brought public agitation for a new public hospital.

Approaches were made to the Hospitals and Charities’ Commission. On 20th December, 1950, six members of the Committee - Pastor E. W. Wiebusch (chairman), Dr. Watt, Mrs. J. B. Whitehead and Messrs. F. Dunkley, J. J. Collins and C. G. Ross - met Mr. Armstrong, architect and representative of the Commission and were offered a hospital. It was to be an imported prefabricated structure to accommodate 16 beds. The offer was accepted by the full committee which comprised of the above six plus Cr. R. Schramm and Messrs. I. W. Gunn, A. B. Ritchie, P. Mirtschin, E. A. N. Kelly and A. W. Hill and Mrs. R. B. Cheshire.

Some of the prefabricated sections were delivered to the site before changes in ideas on hospital structures generally resulted in a change of design and type of building for Penshurst. This caused a time lag and it was not until 16th December, 1956, that the present building, embracing six beds, doctor’s consulting rooms and nursing staff quarters, was dedicated as a memorial to those who served in world wars by Pastor Wiebusch.

The hospital was officially opened by Dr. J. H. Lindell, chairman of the Hospitals and Charities Commission on 2nd October, 1957, following a satisfactory period of operation. Local contribution towards the cost of construction had been practically met at this time - shown at buildings ₤52,000 and furnishings and equipment ₤6,000 odd.

Memories from Penshurst’s Past

Jack Chesswas gives us these memories of Dr Janet Watt and the hospital.

“The late Janet Watt was our doctor in those days, and she was also here when we got our new Memorial Hospital. The then Manager Secretary of Hamilton Hospital, was also responsible for our district hospital, but would not actually do anything to get the hospital functioning. Our hospital board president, Pastor Weibush, came to me and asked if my wife Jeannie would go to the hospital and get it ready for the opening and running as well. My answer was:" Pastor, I am agreeable, but it is up to Jeannie". Next morning Jeannie went to the hospital in uniform and told the sisters present, Srs. Dawn Ley, Lois Herman, and one of the domestic staff, Jean Heatherall, and possibly others I cannot remember: "The Hospital is now open, and you are all on duty". Jeannie and the other staff got busy to list everything that was needed for the Hospital . The Manager Secretary Keith Pittock was asked to write down the list of the requirements. After a few minutes, Jeannie asked Mr. Pittock to read back what he had written. He had not written down one single item! Jeannie said "Mr. Pittock, you had better write down everything I tell you, and if the items are not at this hospital by 3.30 pm, I have a truck standing by to come and get the goods!" All the items were at the hospital by 3.30 pm that day, and the hospital was ready for its first patient. Wasn't Dr. Watt pleased? Jeannie was the first Charge Sister (Matron, now Director of Nursing). The very first patient was Mrs. Elsie (Garry) Uebergang; the first baby born there was Steve Nicolson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Nicolson, and Bill Keilar was the first to die there. I myself was a member of the Hospital Committee for about a year”

Dr Janet Paterson Watt passed away on the 9th March 1958.

The following obituaries convey the esteem she was held in by the community.

Penshurst Free Press, 12th March 1958, page 1


A lifetime of service given to the care and welfare of others ended suddenly and peacefully at Penshurst on Sunday afternoon when Dr Janet Paterson Watt passed away. She had actively followed her professional calling at the Penshurst and District Memorial Hospital until 1.45 pm on Sunday, and then retired home to rest prior to further appointments at 5.00 pm that day. When she did not appear for the appointment, and could not be contacted by telephone, Matron contacted her neighbour, Mr C Dean, and he and Dr Watt’s aged aunt, Miss Margaret Paterson, who lived with her, found that she had passed away peacefully.

The deceased lady had not been in good health, having only returned home from a little over a week in the Hamilton Base Hospital on the previous Sunday. She immediately forgot her own ailment, and proceeded with the care of her patients, who were drawn from all parts of the surrounding district.

She was in her 55th year, and was born to a family which also gave their lives to the welfare and advancement of humanity. Her parents were the late Rev. William Watt and his wife Jessie, who were missionaries in the New Hebrides and India, and she was born at Richmond, Victoria, when the couple were on furlough from the New Hebrides. She spent about 10 years in these mission fields. Her only brother, Thomas, is predeceased.

Dr Watt came to the service of the people of Penshurst and district nearing the end of 1939. She served at the Hamilton Base Hospital for a period of over 3 years, 1942-45, during the war, and at this time gave Penshurst periodical and on-call service. She resumed full time practice here at the end of 1945.

Her public interests were many and varied. She was a staunch member of St Andrews Presbyterian Church, and at the time of her death was secretary to the local Board of Management and to the Penshurst/Dunkeld central board. She had joined wholeheartedly with citizens in the battle to have the hospital constructed at Penshurst, and she was probably the most thrilled person in the community when it was officially declared open for use just over 7 months ago. She was a member of the original committee.

Deceased played a big part in the original establishment of the Penshurst and District ambulance service, now part of the Glenelg regional service, and was still an active delegate to this branch of community service. The swimming baths was another of her interests and she had been president of this committee for several years, always aiming for the objective of a new and modern pool in the interests of public health and the township. Establishment of the modern Infant Welfare Centre building was in no small measure due to her energetic leadership in the initial stages.

She had also been a keen member of the Mechanics Hall committee, and of the Penshurst Hospital Ladies Auxiliary, and the local CWA branch.

To summarise this obituary, Dr Janet Paterson Watt gave a lifetime of unselfish service to the individual through her medical skill, and gave the community the same unselfish service through her well directed efforts for organisations, which had the welfare of the community as their chief objective.

The Rev Mr T B Howells conducted a short memorial service in St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Penshurst, yesterday, Tuesday, afternoon, after which the funeral took place to the Boram Boram cemetery. Just on 70 cars conveyed mourners in the funeral cortege. An unusual feature was the large number of women present. The coffin bearers were Rev Mr Howells, and Messrs Kevin Finlay, R B Cheshire, J G H Ryan, Max Nicholson and Paterson.

Hamilton Spectator, Tuesday March 11, 1958, page 1


The death occurred on Sunday at her Penshurst home of Dr Janet Paterson Watt (54), one of the best known and respected medical practitioners in the Glenelg district.

The daughter of the late Rev. William Watt of the New Hebrides and Canterbury, Dr Watt was a member of the country honorary medical staff of the Glenelg Base Hospital, and honorary medical officer to the Penshurst District Memorial Hospital at the time of her death.

During the last war she was for some time senior resident medical officer at the Glenelg Base Hospital, and worked long hours in the absence of male doctors.

She was one of the prime movers in the creation of a blood bank at the base hospital. In a personal tribute yesterday the manager of the Glenelg Base Hospital (Mr K H Pittock) said that Dr Watt would always be remembered for her genuine interest in her patients.

“Dr Watt was a doctor who thought first and foremost of patient care. Her death is a great loss to the district and her cheerful personality will be missed by her colleagues,” he said.

The funeral leaves the Penshurst Presbyterian Church after a service at 2pm today.

by Ron Heffernan, Mount Rouse & District Historical Society Inc, 2015

Note: a complete 40 page history of Janet Watts family is available from the History Centre. It includes the history of her fathers time as a Missionary in the New Hebrides.


Trove newspapers: Hamilton Spectator and Penshurst Free Press

The New South Wales "Presbyterian," the official organ of the Presbyterian Church.

© Copyright 2022 Mt Rouse & District Historical Society. All Rights Reserved.

Built with ‌