John Henry Watson was born in 1852 at Ballydarton House. His father, Robert Gray Watson, was one of the most famous and longest-standing Masters of Foxhounds in the British Isles of the 19thCentury. John followed in those footsteps with a notable Mastership of the Meath Hounds succeeding the Earl of Fingal, from 1891 until his death in 1908. John and his father both played in the first Polo game played in County Carlow in 1872.
His uncle was also famous. George John Watson emigrated to Australia in 1850. A colourful character, he was a founder member of the Racing Club of Victoria. He was known as ‘The Prince of Starters’ for his long tenure as the first starter of the Melbourne Cup. This horse race is still held annually as the “Race that stops a Nation”.
John Henry soldiered in India with the 13th Hussars Light Cavalry Regiment, based at Lucknow. He held his Commission from 1873 until 1883. The Regiment secured the rear guard during the march back, following the Relief of Kandahar. There he played Polo, won the Silver Spear and won the Grand Military Steeplechase of India and no doubt enjoyed his Gin and Tonic.
After returning to Ireland, he formed his celebrated “Freebooters” Polo team to capture the All Ireland Cup in 1884; a trophy he went on to win 9 times. John Henry earned his sobriquet as "The Father of the Game," when he drew up the Rules of Polo for the Hurlingham Club and invented the back-hand stroke
In 1886, JHW captained the British team (pictured) who went to Rhode Island, USA for the inaugural international against the United States, soon to be known as the Westchester Cup. Britain won and then retained the cup in the re-match of 1890.
Watson suffered a heart attack in his last game in 1905. Another player caught him as he fell from his pony. He died at his home in Bective in County Meath, Ireland, 3 years later.