Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Watsons, the n.

[the Watson Brothers (fl.1880s–1910s). They were legendary punters but their background is unknown; poss. b. in Bendigo, Victoria they have been variously cited as Sydney hoteliers and outback shearers in New South Wales]

1. in context of gambling.

In phrases

bet like the Watsons (v.) (also play it up like the Watsons, play up (the coin/money) like..., wager like...)

(usu. Aus.) to bet heavily.

[US]United Service mag. Aug. 160: Their new and unique (to him) expressions [...] ‘You play ’em like the Watsons,’ ‘If you were drawing to an empty bottle you could get a cocktail’.
Port Pirie Standard (SA) 22 May 4/1: the Loco barrickers [sic], who were in great force, and ‘playing up their money like the Watsons’.
Port Pirie Standard (SA) 14 Aug. 3/3: So I played up the coin like the Watson’s, but came a cropper,.
[Aus]Kapunda Herald (SA) 10 May 4/1: [H]e used to back horses like the Watson’s, but the ‘Irish Agitator’ taught him a lesson.
Exporess & Teleg. (Adelaide) 1/2: ‘If I could do like those covesh did (hic) I'd be a flaming niillionairsh. Wot ’ud I do then, whysh, play it up like the (hic) Watsons’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 8 Mar. 4/6: Six men were fined in Melbourne during the week for gambling [...] They should come over here, where they will not be fined but encouraged by the Government to play it up ‘like the Watsons’.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 27 June 16/5: Arnold was ‘betting like the Watsons’ with Bob at Brighton Gun Club.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 20 Apr. 6/6: [in non-racing context] ‘I [i.e. a politician] had a lovely time. No shortage of revenue, plenty of loans, tons of grants from Bruce and Co. And I played it up like the Watsons!’.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 7 Feb. 5/3: [He] had been told by the popular mentor to open the purse and pop a decent poultice on to Ptolemy [...] those ribbed up should bet like ‘The Watsons’.
[Aus]Sydney Sportsman (Surry Hills, NSW) 30 Sept. 6/2: Dr. Sinclair and Mr. A. M. Cooley were busy men at Hawkesbury last Saturday. While the doctor might not have been plonking it on, Mr. Cooley was wagering ‘like the Watsons’.
Chronicle (Adelaide) 16 May 15/2: ‘Playing it up like the Watsons’ was a favorite phrase years ago. The phrase was generally made applicable to anyone spending his money freely, but why the Watson family were introduced particularly the writer knows not.
[Aus] in L. Glassop Lucky Palmer 163: ‘I’ll say you done ’em. Why, you took on the whole school.’ ‘Yeah,’ said ‘Lucky’. ‘I bet well when I’m holding.’ ‘Bet well? You bet like the Watsons.’.
[Aus]J. Holledge Great Aust. Gamble 44: ‘Andy was a very wealthy man, and he would bet like the Watsons, especially on my advice’.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 257: bet like the Watsons, to bet large sums of money (commemorating some noted big bettors named Watson).
[Aus]Age (Melbourne) 31 Oct. 22/3: Whatever you do on Cup day, make sure you ‘bet like the Watsons’ and punt until your nose bleeds.
wadded like the Watsons (adj.) [wad n.1 (1)]

of a racehorse, to be the subject of heavy betting.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 7 Nov. 4/3: The son of Spearfelt was wadded like the Watson's for the Hotham.
: Judged on [...] form shown at Moonee Valley when he started favorite, Quixotic couldn't have won today's race with a start. Yet he was wadded like the Watsons.

2. suggesting retribution, failure [done adj. (6); the Watsons being heavy bettors, they could presumably be heavy losers too].

Express & Teleg. (Adelaide) 4 Dec. 7/6: [W]e would probably be done like the Watsons if we attempted such a thing.

3. in context of excess, indulgence.

[Aus]Sun (Kalgoorlie, WA) 22 Apr. 7/4: One somewhat youthful ‘Belt’ publican [...] is playing it up like the Watsons — ‘drag’ parties and suppers. Beware, take care!
Referee (NSW) 7 Oct. 14/1: So write your cheques and figures, like the Watsons used to do, and / Paint the blinkin’ township all in red.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 18 Sept. 44: [headline] They're Spending Like The Watsons! Aussies In London Pay £100 A Week For Suite In Hotel.

4. in fig. uses, implying success, energy, speed, movement.

[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 1 Feb. 17/5: 'Holmes told me that there was no need to be frightened, as there would be no shooting. He said. “As soon as they see those two men they'll hand it over like the Watsons”’.
[Aus]Armidale Exp. (NSW) 18 July 4/6: He takes a ball well, tackles like the Watsons, and can run up to his three-quarter [sic] and set them going.
[Aus]Williamstown Chron. (Vic.) 17 July 3/2: Smith made fewer errors, his iron shots being gems, while he putted like ‘the Watsons’.
[Aus]Western Mail (Perth) 4 Jan. 18/3: [W]e found the place deserted. Matui and his family had gone through like the Watsons.
[Aus]Shepparton Advertiser (Vic.) 21 Apr. 12/1: His friendly smile will be missed [...] also his ever-ready answer to ‘how are you going, Boxer,’ being ‘Just like the Watsons’.
[Aus]Sporting Globe (Melbourne) 2 May 8/6: Alex auctioned everything from a pair of ducks to a bottle of whisky [and] the locals bid like the Watsons.
[Aus]St George Call (Kogarah, NSW) 25 June 8/3: B.-K.’s brand new hall went in the river; some young local fished it out and ‘shot through’ like the Watsons, ball and all!