Nelson & His World

J Watlen R.N.
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Author:  tycho [ Mon Nov 28, 2016 9:36 am ]
Post subject:  J Watlen R.N.

Can anyone give me any information on an 18th century seaman, T Watlen?

I collect, in a desultory fashion, 18th century engraved sheet music and came across a sonata for pianoforte or harp with violin accompaniment composed circa 1770-1790 by 'T. Watlen, late of the Royal Navy' .I'd be intrigued to know more about him. ... scores.htm

I have a piece by Captain Harington R.N. who, I discovered, was a member of a disntinguished musical family who lived in Bath. This piece was a charming, but simple song, not nearly as ambitious as Watlen's sonata.

Author:  Phil [ Tue Nov 29, 2016 12:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.


Looking at the illustration of the sheet music cover in your Darvil's link, I wonder if the 'T' is actually a J.

My search on the internet hasn't brought up a T Watlen but a John Watlen comes up on the Highland Music Trust website ( This has biographical sketches of early Scottish Musicians & Music Sellers and says. "John Watlen - the earliest notices occur in 1788 in the list of subscribers to Niel Gow's second Collection and in Peter Williamson's Directory. The former describes him as a "Music Master & Tuner" "

A search for J Watlen then brings up an entry on google books which has an ebook entitled La Belle Assemblee Vol 3. This has a section entitled " Bell's Monthly Compendium of advertisements for November 1807" An advert entitled " music taught on a new & superior principle" mentions a Mr Watlen of Leicester Place, Leicester Sq. No first name or initial given but interestingly he is a composer of songs entitled " The Battle of Trafalgar 5s. " and " The Surrender of Toulon 4s" it goes on to say he gives lessons in singing and the piano forte to grown up Ladies & Gentlemen. Unfortunately I'm not able to copy over the complete entry.

No mention of any earlier career for him in the Royal Navy but I hope the above information refers to the same gentleman that you are looking for and this gives you some more leads to work on. At the very least you know of two more examples of sheet music that you may want to look for and add to your collection.



Author:  Mark Barrett [ Tue Nov 29, 2016 7:58 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.

Wow! Thanks for that Phil. It led me to take a look on one of the newspaper databases - and look what I found.

Proof positive that it is the same man.

This is from the Morning Post 17th January 1806.

I had never heard of him or his Navy related music before.

Interesting that the little snippet from the newspaper describes him as "officer." That makes it worth looking to see if I can find any record of his naval service.

I won't hold out too much hope as it could be exaggeration, or he might have been a warrant officer etc. etc.

But I will take a look in a couple of places . . . just in case!

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Author:  tycho [ Tue Nov 29, 2016 9:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.

Many thanks, Mark & Phil, for coming up so quickly with so much information.

I've just had a quick look at the British Library on line catalogue and found over 50 musical works by J[ohn] Watlen. (You were right about that initial, Phil.)

JW was very versatile: there are a number of sea-related pieces, and many Scottish-themed works, so maybe he was a Scotsman. And what about 'Anna, thou my first and my only chosen'?

I've changed the title of the thread to J Watlen RN

Author:  Phil [ Wed Nov 30, 2016 5:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.


I'm glad you found the information from us useful.

I did come across a reference to the piece 'Anna' you mention in my search yesterday but as it only had the name of Robert Burns beside it, I didn't investigate further.

Having gone back into it today, it has led me to a site called "The Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection " in the Johns Hopkins University in America. This is apparently a collection of over 29,000 pieces of American popular music from 1780 to 1980. It has the complete score for ' Anna ' available free to view. It's in this collection, as this particular edition was printed and sold by J & M Paff of Maiden Lane New York. So if you haven't looked at the full score on the British Library site, you may be interested in the Lester Levy site. Using their Search, it is under Anna: a Favorite Song .

As you say John Watlen appears to be a versatile and quite prolific composer, so I wondered if there was more biographical information somewhere about him. A further search has revealed a short piece about him in the " Dictionary of Composers for the Church in Great Britain & Ireland " by Maggie Humphreys and Robert Evans published in 1997. It says:

" May have served in the Royal Navy. Worked for the music-sellers Corrie & Co of Edinburgh around 1788. First secretary of the Edinburgh Musical Fund which was established in 1790. Started his own business as tuner, teacher & music-seller in Edinburgh but this business failed in 1798. He then went to London and started business in Leicester Place, Leicester Square. His works include an anthem 'Lord's Prayer' a Sonata for Harpsichord and Violin (1798) and Grand Sonata for Piano & Violin (1800) "

Unfortunately nothing more is added in this about his later life but one more snippet I picked up from a reference in the " Universal Register " mentions he was declared bankrupt in May 1827.


Author:  Mark Barrett [ Wed Nov 30, 2016 7:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.

Well I really thought I had cracked it here. But then hit a brick wall. How often does that happen??!!

As you see this advert from March 1806 says that Watlen served on HMS Defence.

But the statement is somewhat ambiguous. He certainly wasn't at Trafalgar and I don't think Defence was involved at Toulon in 1793.

From what I can see Defence was laid up between 1786 and 1793.

So was Watlen's service 1786 or prior? That would tie in with him working for Corrie & Co. in 1788 per Phil's post.

I'll just have to submit that as a possibility.

That has exhausted all my research resources - so I think that is me done!!

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Author:  Phil [ Thu Dec 01, 2016 3:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.


Great work as usual Mark. Unfortunately these brick walls appear all to frequently. Mr Watlen's illustrious naval career is certainly proving elusive.

With that in mind, I thought I'd have one more look and decided to take the high road to Scotland and see what they might have archived.

He turned up in the National Library of Scotland website. A couple of references to his sheet music compositions that we already know about were there but then a long transcript listing Scottish business's and their owners and other individuals for the period came up. It looks as though it has been made up from various directories and marriage records etc. and was a little disjointed in style. However John Watlen's notes in it were as follows:

John Watlen - music warehouse Edinburgh
13 North Bridge 1793-94
North Bridge 1795
34 North Bridge 1796-97
music master Hermitage, Abbey Hill 1799
No number 1794
Married Mary daughter of late Archibald Megga(e)t writer 4 March 1797
John Watling(?) musicseller North Bridge admitted to Sanctuary for debt at Holyroodhouse 25 June 1798

Edin.Dir: Edin Marr: Cadell

With this little bit of family history, I thought I would try that route and searched his name and London address in Leicester Sq.

This led to a page belonging to a private family tree Watlen.php . The site itself is dedicated to research in Debenham & Debnam Family History.

John Watlen's entry is in the form of a Timeline and is easy to follow. It confirms a lot of what we have already discovered and provides some further information about his later life, although it doesn't focus that much on his actual composing or teaching career and unfortunately for us, does not mention his naval career at all.

The Timeline has him being born in 1764, this is an estimation calculated from his age of 69 recorded in St Anne's Church , Westminster parish register, on his death on 2 October 1833. From 1764 to his taking up employment with Corrie & Co around 1788 there is no information recorded about him at all. But plenty of time of course in that period to have had some sort of career at sea. A pity we don't know more of his parents background or where he was born.

So one all with the brick wall's Mark and like you, I think I have exhausted my research ideas too, certainly for now.


Author:  tycho [ Thu Dec 01, 2016 6:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.

Well, what can I say? I am amazed that you have both come up with so much background information to my man. Many thanks indeed!

Author:  Mark Barrett [ Sun Dec 04, 2016 5:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.

I meant to say previously that I checked in the book "Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy 1660-1815". This was a 1994 publication of the Navy Records Society and purports to include all men of the rank of lieutenant and above during that period.

There is no unfortunately mention of John Watlen.

So did JW serve in the Navy at all? Was his rank exaggerated? Was he possibly a warrant officer? Did the Commissioned Officers book wrongly exclude him?

It would be interesting to take a look at the muster books of HMS Defence prior to her being laid-up in 1785/5 and see if the answer is there. So if there are any volunteers for that mission . . . ! :)

Author:  Phil [ Sun Dec 04, 2016 6:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: J Watlen R.N.

Could his seagoing career have been in the merchant service, perhaps on East Indiamen as an officer?


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