Sir William Watson Cheyne

Sir William Watson Cheyne

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Sir Watson
Sir William Watson Cheyne as an older man

Exhibition at Fetlar Interpretive Centre
Part of the exhibition at Fetlar Interpretive Centre

William Watson Cheyne was the son of Andrew Cheyne, illegitimate son of John, the brother of the laird of Tangwick in the North Mainland of Shetland. Andrew followed a career at sea, and by 1841, at the unusually young age of 23, was in charge of a ship in the South Seas, embroiled in the lucrative and dangerous South Sea sandalwood trade. He went on to publish books and to map hitherto uncharted parts of the area, and an account of his voyages can be seen at Tangwick Haa Museum in Shetland's North Mainland, Andrew's birthplace.

William's mother was Eliza Watson, daughter of the Rev. Watson, Church of Scotland Minister in Fetlar. William was born on his father's ship anchored off Hobart, Tasmania in December 1852, and shortly after his parents' return to Shetland after two years away from home, his mother died of tuberculosis. The young William was brought up at the Manse by his grandfather, and, after the latter's death, by his mother's sisters, one of whom was married to the Rev. Webster, Watson's successor. Eliza's family blamed Andrew Cheyne and the long voyage for her early death, and the young William was brought up as William Watson, being told nothing of his father's name or identity until years later.

William Watson's aunts were determined to quell his ambitions of a career at sea, and took him to be educated at Aberdeen Grammar School in 1864 at the age of 12. In 1868 he entered Aberdeen University, and several years later Edinburgh University. Around this time his father died, and when he was finally made aware of his father's identity, he resumed his full name: William Watson Cheyne.

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Fetlar Interpretive Centre,

Beach of Houbie, Fetlar, Shetland, ZE2 9DJ.
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