The Watson Bros of “Merluna”, Cape York.

Not long after the three Watson Bros from Grandie Watson’s first marriage to Isobella Robinson, settled Gregory Downs three of their half brothers from their father’s second marriage to Constance Armstrong also travelled north to seek their fortune on Cape York.

Fired by reports brought back by the Jardine Brothers (Frank & Alick) in their expedition through Cape York Peninsula in 1864-65, and the explorations of explorer and prospector, William Lakeland, came three more brothers, Grandie, Leo and Edward (Edmund or Eddie) Watson.

The Watson’s followed closely upon the heels of the Massey brothers, Glenville and Charles, who took up Rokeby Station on the South Coen River in 1884. Charles Massey was killed by the aboriginals shortly afterwards.

Initially, in 1881-2, young Grandie (named after his father) aged only 18, had taken up some worthless country he named Walwa Plains about 100 kms from Cooktown, on the Kennedy River. He stocked this country both with cattle he had purchased in Victoria and driven overland and some cattle were also supplied from Gregory Downs. Grandie subsequently abandoned Walwa Plains around 1886 and took up country further north on part of Pioneer Downs which he named Merluna (an aboriginal word meaning clever), located between the Archer and Batavia Rivers on Cape York, then the most northerly cattle station in Queensland.

Merluna & Watson River turnoff On Cape York

In 1886 his brother’s Leo and Eddie joined him aged 18 and 15 respectively! In 1887 more cattle arrived at Merluna from Gregory Downs.


At first Merluna was registered in the name of their father, S G Watson, but in 1888 it was transferred to the three brothers. Part of York Downs was also acquired by S G Watson.

The brothers had a hard struggle to keep the station going, and for sometime it scarcely paid for its upkeep. Often they took small mobs of cattle to Coen and received 35/- a head for them. When the gold rush at Egagoolah started, the Watson’s sold their bullocks for ₤8 a head.

On the 11 May 1889, Eddie Watson attended a muster on Pine Tree Station, owned by Pat Fox and only 5 miles from the Mein Telegraph Station. The Pine Tree homestead was a primitive bachelor quarters built of bark and slabs. The day the musterers arrived back at the homestead for provisions, Jack and Louisa Boyd had also arrived at the station and there were a lot of wild-looking aboriginals about the place. Jack Boyd was a drover and cattle buyer who was a friend of the Watson Bros who was later to manage Merluna for them.

The Pine Tree Station manager, Bill Nicholls, who was part aboriginal, assured the visitors they were friendly and wanted them to stay the night at Pine Tree before continuing their journey.
The visitors, however, declined the offer, and went on to the Mein Telegraph Station where they camped the night.

All was well at Mein telegraph station when the visitors went to bed in the fortress-like building that night, but such was not the case at Pine Tree.
At about 3 o’clock in the morning, a little aboriginal boy named Carpenter, arrived at the Mein Telegraph Station from Pine Tree, and told the Boyd’s that:-
“Wild blackfella, he creep up, killum white mans-big fella kill.”

Apparently, just after midnight, by the light of a full moon, the tribesmen (from a nearby big camp of Aborigines) had crept up to the Pine Tree homestead and launched their attack on the sleeping white men.
Eddie Watson died from a knife-thrust through his jugular vein; Jim Evans had his jaw and neck chopped with a tomahawk and spears grazed the Chinaman’s head. More spears embedded themselves in the wall close to Bill Nicholls’ bed before he rushed to the doorway of the hut, firing his revolver.
Arriving at Pine Tree, the Boyd’s found Eddie Watson dead and a stockman named Jim Evans, had been battered by a tomahawk, but a low roof under which he was lying saved his life. His jaw was broken and a piece of axe blade was embedded in his mouth. The blacks had fled when met by gun fire from the homestead.

Brisbane Courier Newspaper Report 14th May 1889

The grave of Eddie Watson can still be seen on the rise near the stockyard, at the old deserted Pine Tree homestead.

It seems Merluna was not without its problems and with Eddie’s death did not hold pleasant memories, so the Watson’s sold it in 1914.

We understand that the various runs which made up Pioneer Downs (which had been first taken up by Sefton and Cox in 1884) were transferred to S. G. Watson in 1886 and subsequently to G.J.A. Watson, E.S. Watson and L.T. Watson in 1888. Pioneer Downs was known as Merluna from this date onwards and its name officially changed to Merluna in 1912.

Back in 1876, when the Gregory Downs Watson’s were starting on their way west from Townsville, their father “Grandie” had stayed back and takenover Townsville Station and registered the brand XNO after his 4 year old son (by his second marriage) Xenophon. He returned soon after to Walwa Station on the Upper Murray (then known as the Hume).
Many years later this XNO brand was transferred to “Merluna” on Cape York, where it is still in use today.

Unfortunately Xenophon “Xeno” Tarquin Watson was only to survive 6 years. On Saturday 8th March 1879 he went fishing on the bank of the Yarra River and did not return. The following Wednesday his body was found floating near the opposite side of the river, near Studley Park. He was buried in the C of E section of St Kilda Cemetary on 12th march 1879 adjacent to the grave of his baby brother Sydney and his uncle Harry.

Of the other two Watson brothers from Merluna, Grandie died at Lovatt, Moss Vale in 1937. Leo was killed in a car accident on the Highway at Wyalong on 13 December 1937. There were four people in the car and they had been inspecting sheep at Mount Hope and were returning home when the accident occurred.

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