Watling was a convict and artist, born in Dumfries, his parents died during his infancy and he was brought up by a maiden aunt. His education, which was well above average, obviously included a thorough grounding in art and eventually he formed his own ‘academy’. In 1788 he was charged with forging guinea notes on the Bank of Scotland. He denied his guilt, but rather than risk conviction and execution he asked to be transported and was sentenced to fourteen years.
In July 1791 Watling was one of 410 convicts who sailed in the convict transport the Pitt for New South Wales. He escaped at Cape Town, but was soon arrested by the Dutch, imprisoned and taken aboard the Royal Admiral, in which he reached Sydney on 7 October 1792. He appears to have been assigned almost immediately to the surgeon-general, John White, an ardent naturalist, who made extensive use of his artistic skill. When White left the colony in December 1794 it is thought that Watling may have been assigned to the judge-advocate, David Collins.
Watling’s prospects improved with the arrival of Governor John Hunter, himself an enthusiastic and able artist. Within a year, in September 1796 Watling was given a conditional pardon and on 5 April 1797 it was made absolute. While in the colony Watling had a son, presumably by a convict woman, and when he left Sydney he took the child with him. From 1801 to 1803 he lived in Calcutta, earning a precarious living as a miniature painter. He returned to Scotland and on 10 January 1806 was tried at Edinburgh for a series of forgeries allegedly committed at Dumfries between November 1804 and March 1805. He was discharged on a verdict of ‘not proven’. Later he moved with his son to London where, in indigent circumstances and suffering from cancer of the left breast, he applied to Hunter, now an admiral, for help and received some assistance from members of the Royal Academy.
Neither the date nor place of his death are known.
Ref: Source ADB
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