William Watts

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William Watts (c. 1722 – 4 August 1764) was chief of the Kasimbazar (or Cossimbazar) factory of the British East India Company. He lived in Bengal, and he was proficient in Bengali, Hindustani and Persian languages.


Robert Clive assigned William Watts with the responsibility of acting as the representative of the company to the Nawab's court at Murshidabad.

Robert Clive engaged him to work out a secret plan for the final overthrow of Siraj Ud Daulah and to install a favourable Nawab on the masnad. Watts thus set up contact with the dissident amirs of the Murshidabad durbar including Mir Jafar, Rai Durlabh and Yar Lutuf Khan. William Watts played a role in forging the grand conspiracy against Siraj Ud Daulah which led to his final overthrow at the Battle of Plassey. On 5 June 1757 he personally visited Mir Jafar and obtained his oath of allegiance.

In recognition of his services he was given £114,000 from the Nawab's treasury and made the governor of Fort William on 22 June 1758, in place of Roger Drake who had deserted the fort when it was attacked and captured in June 1756. This had been the location of the Black Hole of Calcutta on 20 June 1756.

Four days later he resigned in favour of Robert Clive to return to England.

He wrote a book Memoirs of the Revolution in Bengal which was published in 1764.

On his return to England he built the South Hill Park mansion which lies to the south of Bracknell, Berkshire which is now an Arts Centre.

In June 1764, he was in the process of buying Hanslope Park, Hanslope, Buckinghamshire, but died in that August. The sale was completed for his son Edward, who became Lord of the Manor.

William is buried in the Watt vault in Hanslope church.


Watts was born about 1722, a son of William Watts of London, an academy master (teacher), and his first wife Mary Hills.[1]

On 24 March 1749 in Calcutta, William married Frances Altham, née Croke (10 April [1725] 1728 – 3 February 1812), a well-connected widow. She lived most of her remarkably long life in that city, which in 1772 became the de facto capital of British India. Known to generations as "Begum Johnson", she was born the second daughter of Edward Croke or Crook (1690 – 12 Feb 1769), Governor of Fort St. David, 100 miles south of Madras (now Chennai). Her first marriage was to Parry Purpler Templer, nephew of the then Governor of Calcutta, Mr Braddyll. Her first husband and their two children died within a couple of years. Frances married secondly James Altham, but he died less than a fortnight after the wedding. Two years later, in 1749, she married thirdly William Watts, who was by this point senior member of the council in Bengal. The couple were caught up in the turmoil surrounding the succession of Siraj ud-Daulah on the death of his grandfather Alivardi Khan. After the death of Watts in 1764, Frances spent ten years as a widow, and then married her fourth and final husband, Rev William Johnson, principal chaplain of Fort William; hence, Begum Johnson.[2] [3] [4] The mother of Frances was Isabella Beizor, from a Portuguese family.[5] Although there has been speculation that she might have an Indian ancestor, there is no proof of this.

Watts died in August 1764, leaving three surviving children (one child, William, died in infancy). These were also the only surviving children of Frances. Their daughter Amelia was the mother of the prime minister Lord Liverpool.[6] Their daughter Sophia married George Poyntz Ricketts, who on the recommendation of his brother-in-law was appointed Governor of Barbados 1794-1800.[7] Their son Edward staying in Hanslope Park.

After death

Grave of his third wife, at St. John's Church

When William Watts died in 1764, Frances returned to India to settle his estate. Although a wealthy young widow aged 36, it was ten years before she married William Johnson in 1774, a chaplain of the Presidency of Fort William. Frances became known as the 'Begum' Johnson; in 1990 the British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia published a book entitled The Calcutta of Begum Johnson, taking her name to sum up an age.

By 1787, the Johnson marriage was declared at an end, and Frances offered William a settlement and an annuity, with which he returned to England. Frances was 59 years old and never married again.

She died in Calcutta on 3 February 1812. Her memorial in St. Johns Church, Calcutta states 'The oldest British resident in Bengal, universally beloved, respected and revered'.


  1. ^ Edward J. Davies, "Thomas Watts, M.P., and William Watts, Governor of Fort William and Grandfather of Lord Liverpool", Genealogists' Magazine, 32(2016-18):185-90.
  2. ^ Blechynden, Kathleen (1905). Calcutta, Past and Present. p. 147. 
  3. ^ Begum Johnson's memorial at St. John's Church, Calcutta
  4. ^ For a fuller biography, which details her career in 1756, when she and her husband were honorably treated by the Nawab of Bengal. Mrs Watts returned to India around 1769, possibly because she didn't feel comfortable in England, having grown up in warmer India, and ostensibly to settle her late husband's tangled business affairs.
  5. ^ Edwards-Stuart, Ivor (1990). The Calcutta of Begum Johnson. British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia. p. 4. 
  6. ^ John Cannon, "Jenkinson, Charles, first earl of Liverpool (1729–1808)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online ed., Sep 2013.
  7. ^ "Summary of Individual | Legacies of British Slave-ownership". www.ucl.ac.uk. Retrieved 8 December 2017. 

External links

  • Hanslope and District Historical Society
  • Grave of Begum Francis Johnson, at St. John's Church complex, Calcutta
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