As a resident of Watsons Bay, a visitor to the area or a guest of this website, you are sharing a unique space with a number of prominent Australians.

The original inhabitants of what is now Watsons Bay were the Gadigal people, who referred to the area as Kutti. Nanbarry, a young Gadigal man, told the first European settlers about the lifestyle of his clans-people who lived here. Cora Gooseberry of the Murro-ore-dial clan was among those still fishing here in the 1840s.

First Fleet seaman Jacob Nagle recorded Governor Arthur Phillip and an expedition party camping at Camp Cove before they travelled on to Sydney Cove.

Permanent residents started settling in Watsons Bay in 1790 with midshipman Daniel Southwell leading the way. The modest cottage he lived in was visited by Australian pioneer Elizabeth Macarthur in an early recreational trip to the area. Her son-in-law and New South Wales Premier Henry Watson Parker later settled in the area. His house was subsequently bought by another NSW Premier, Sir John Robertson, who became a prominent resident of Watsons Bay at the end of the nineteenth century. Robertson’s daughter, Margaret-Emma Robertson, married Russian scientist, Nikolai Miklouho-Maclay, who established the marine research station at Watsons Bay.

With its location near the entrance to Sydney Harbour, Watsons Bay was an early base for harbour pilots including Robert Watson, who gave his name to the suburb. He had settled in the area by 1911 and went on to become the first lighthouse keeper at South Head. Another pilot, Thomas Watson, later succeeded him in this role.

In the nineteenth century a number of government officials and gentry settled in Watsons Bay, along with fishermen, tradespeople and Portuguese sailors. There were 13 households in 1841, which had grown to 64 by 1880. Fisherman Henry Newton and his wife Hannah opened a small tea room on Marine Parade in 1885. Their granddaughter Alice Doyle later transformed the tea rooms into the renowned Doyles restaurant.

The fishermen in the Watsons Bay area comprised a diverse and colourful group of people, some of whom are named on a plaque near the "Tree of Knowledge" close to the wharf. The stories of many characters from the last century in Watsons Bay were recorded by the late Vince Marinato, whose family operated a shop on the wharf from 1904 to 1968.

Novelist Christina Stead grew up in Watsons Bay as did the painter John Olsen. With its inspirational natural beauty and intimate village feel, the area continues to appeal to many artists and writers.

Watsons Bay's resident population of approximately 700 people is joined every day by sightseers taking in the breathtaking scenery of the area, including The Gap, Camp Cove and South Head. Anyone with an interest in Australia’s past will also appreciate the historical heritage of the area.

Elizabeth Macarthur
Dixon Galleries, State Library of NSW, DG221