Lives of the fellows

William Siegfried Dawson

b.27 April 1891 d.13 March 1975
BA Oxon(1914) BM BCh(1916) MA(1918) MRCS LRCP(1919) MRCP(1920) DPM(1921) DM(1923) FRCP(1933) FRACP(1938) FANZCPsych(1965)

Dawson will be remembered by the older generations of graduates in medicine of the University of Sydney as the second Professor of Psychiatry at the university from 1927 to 1951. Most will readily recall the small book he wrote — Aids to Psychiatry — the students vade mecum and crammer — which reached eight editions.

The Professor will also be gratefully recalled by the elders of the tribe of psychiatrists for the important role he played in the foundation in 1946 of The Australasian Association of Psychiatrists (transmuted and incorporated in 1963 as The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists). Professor Dawson was the inaugural President — an obvious selection at that time as he was the only Professor of Psychiatry in the whole of Australia and New Zealand. His Presidential address was delivered in Melbourne on 9th October 1946, and was entitled ‘Medical Education in Psychiatry in Australia', Med. J. Australia 1946, 2, 721.

Dawson was born in the Yorkshire Dales. He graduated in medicine in 1916 and forthwith joined the RAMC and served in East Africa. There he contracted filariasis, which was to plague him for the rest of his life in the form of chronic lymphatic obstruction of his leg with gross oedema, and flare ups from time to time. Though materially handicapped he never complained or even mentioned the disability. He rejoined the RAMC in world war II — how he managed to be accepted as medically fit is shrouded in mystery. However he served with the Australian forces in the Middle East in 1941-42 as senior psychiatrist with the rank of Lieut. Colonel.

He trained as a psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital (now the Institute of Psychiatry) for five years to 1927. He had a brilliant academic record — Rockefeller Medical Fellow for a year, and also accomplished the rare feat of being awarded the Gaskell Gold Medal and Prize, and the Bronze Medal and Prize of the (then) Royal Medico-Psychological Association in the one year.

Though always courteous, he was ever a shy, reserved, sensitive, retiring man. He evinced outwardly little concern for his public image, and indeed had no talent at all in projecting it. Yet those few who penetrated his reserve and got through to the man were amply rewarded by his loyal friendship, his gratitude, and wish to give. One also would be heartened for him by meeting his wife. She was very much an English woman ever, but theirs was a happy marriage and she adored "her Will".

His later years were marred by increasing deafness, and then there followed the death of his wife. These sad happenings left him very much alone and isolated. He thus decided eventually to return to England and to live there with his sister. Before he departed The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists made him an Honorary Fellow — a source of pride and pleasure to this basically simple and humble man.

Further affliction was yet to come to him. He was ever an avid reader, but his vision slowly and relentlessly failed him. Thus his letters to his few Australian friends got shorter, and his writing deteriorated, and last Christmas but three or four words arrived on a card. So the twilight of his life was tragic for him, but he accepted all with courage and fortitude.


[Aust. NZ. J. Psychiatry, 1975, 9(2), 119]

(Volume VI, page 144)

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