John Watson was born on New Year's Eve 1832, the first son of a village cobbler from Weardale, a rural area in the north of England. Both John and his younger brother Stephen trained in the family business, and supported their mother Jane after she was widowed in 1856.
At age 15, John developed a strong interest in the Primitive Methodist church, first becoming a local preacher, then a qualified minister in 1862. His wife, Mary Phillips, was the daughter of his superintendent minister, but she died soon after they were married. In 1870, John married a second time, to Eleanor Cook (Ellie), whose father was a prominent layman in the Newcastle church.
In 1879, the family sailed for South Africa, where John worked as a missionary in the small town of Aliwal North. Of John and Ellie's 4 children, only daughters Kate and Annie survived, their 2 boys dying in South Africa. Saddened by this double loss, they decided to emigrate again: this time to Adelaide, Australia, near the home of Ellie's sister, Kate Parker. The family returned to England in 1889, to be close to John's aging mother. Both daughters subsequently married P. M. ministers.
John Watson was well educated, and successful in his chosen work. In later years, he held a number of prominent positions: as Principal of the Primitive Methodist Training College in Manchester from 1893-97; six times Delegate to the British P.M. Conference, including Secretary in 1890 and President in 1895-96; and as President of the British Christian Endeavour Union in 1901-02. In 1897, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Victoria University, Toronto, in recognition of his accomplishments.
John's wife Ellie died in 1901: he was deeply affected, and collapsed a few months later from over-work. His final years were spent quietly in Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, where he died in 1913.