Watson, William (1804–83), engineer, was born in Dublin on 23 February 1804, the only surviving son of William Watson, a bookseller who was descended from a Worcestershire family. He entered TCD on 3 July 1820, graduating BA (1825) and MA (1832). Following graduation, he joined the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company (CODSPC), headed by Charles Wye Williams (qv), and became the manager of a subsidiary company, the Inland Steam Navigation Company. This was formed in 1828–9 to develop the CODSPC business on the River Shannon and the Grand Canal as feeder services for its seagoing operations, and Watson was responsible for improvements in barge and passenger boat design. In 1839 he took out the first patent for composite-built ships (British Patent no. 8104). He was appointed as a joint managing director of the CODSPC with C. W. Williams in 1843, and became chairman around 1860–62 after the latter had stood down on account of either infirmity or old age. Although the company and its subsidiaries were active in several sectors of the Irish shipping industry, and were at the forefront of mercantile enterprise and technical development, it was best known to the general public for operating the mail and passenger service between Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) and Holyhead, the contract for which it had been awarded in 1850, when Watson had led the negotiations with the government. The contract was renewed in 1860 in a joint arrangement with the London and North Western Railway Company (LNWR), which ran the rail element from London to Holyhead, when they built four paddle-wheel propelled vessels, Ulster, Munster, Connaught, and Leinster, for the route.
Watson was elected an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 7 December 1852 and was an associate member of the Institution of Naval Architects from its formation in January 1860. His paper ‘On the communication between London and Dublin’ was published in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (xxii (1862–3), 534–603). He was a leading member of the Dublin port and docks board and in 1876 played a pivotal role in the reconstruction of the Carlisle (latterly O'Connell) Bridge in Dublin. He died 10 April 1883 at his home, 25 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, shortly before the mail contract was renewed, and was buried at the city's Mount Jerome cemetery. The east window of St Cybi's church at Holyhead was dedicated as a memorial to him in August 1897, and his portrait is in the Maritime Institute of Ireland, Dun Laoghaire. Watson had married, on 2 October 1834, Sarah, the daughter of the Rev. Canon W. Moore Morgan, rector of Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. Two of their sons, William and Edward, joined their father in the management of the CODSPC.
William Watson (1842–1918), the eldest son, was born 28 April 1842. He entered TCD in 1862 and graduated MA (1867). After obtaining his degree he received practical training at the marine engineering firm of Ravenhill, Salkeld, & Co., Millwall, which had supplied the machinery for the Leinster and the Connaught, then in 1867 was appointed as an assistant manager of the CODSPC. He was elected to the board as an assistant managing director in May 1872, became a joint managing director in November 1875, and was nominated chairman following the death of his father in 1883. The contract for the Irish mail was renewed that year for an accelerated service introduced on 1 July 1884, for which their four ships were reconditioned and upgraded with new machinery. When the contract was further renewed for twenty years on 1 July 1895, four twin-screw steamships having the same names as their predecessors were built and introduced into an accelerated mail service from February to October 1897. Watson was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1884 and of the Institution of Naval Architects in 1886, and he was created a knight bachelor by the lord lieutenant of Ireland on 2 August 1897. An active member of various shipping committees, he took a leading part in consolidating the several merchant shipping acts and the passing into law of the 1894 Merchant Shipping Act. He was a senior commissioner of the board of Irish lights, a member of the Dublin local marine board, a JP, and deputy lieutenant for the city of Dublin. In 1868 he married Janet Frances (d. 1876), the second daughter of the Very Rev. Dr H. B. Macartney, dean of Melbourne, and left one daughter and one son. Watson died 9 March 1918 at the family home, 25 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin, and was buried in the family plot at Mount Jerome cemetery.
Edward Watson (1846–1937), the third son of William Watson and his wife, Sarah, was born in Dublin on 13 June 1846. He was educated at TCD, graduating BA (1869) and MA (1872). He was admitted a student member of Lincoln's Inn, London, on 19 May 1869, and was called to the bar on 27 January 1873. However, he did not practise as a barrister, and later in 1873 joined the CODSPC, probably as an assistant manager on the commercial side. He was elected to the board in 1883 to succeed his recently deceased father as a joint managing director and became the chairman on the death of his brother in 1918. The British and Irish Steam Packet Company (B&I) acquired control of the services operated by the company to Liverpool and Manchester in 1919, and B&I became part of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company the following year when it was taken over by the Coast Lines Group. The CODSPC lost two of its four mail vessels during the First World War: Connaught, requisitioned for troopship duties, was torpedoed in the English Channel in March 1915 and Leinster was torpedoed off the Kish Bank while on the passage from Kingstown in October 1918, just one month before the end of hostilities, when 500 passengers and crew lost their lives. In November 1920 the prestigious Irish mail contract went to its competitor at Holyhead, the LNWR. Because of the war, this latter contract had been extended from 1915 on a yearly basis, and its loss was to precipitate the demise of the company, which, although still solvent, ceased business in 1924, just over 100 years after the first ship of a predecessor company, the City of Dublin, had gone to sea. Watson, who also served as a JP and a member of the Dublin local marine board, wrote a book, Royal Mail to Ireland, about the route via Holyhead, that was published in 1917. He resided at Bray, Co. Wicklow, where he died 16 October 1937, leaving one daughter, and was buried at Deansgrange cemetery, Blackrock. His wife, Adeline Frances, had predeceased him in March 1915.