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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dawson, William Siegfried (1891–1975)

by Stephen Garton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

William Siegfried Dawson (1891-1975), psychiatrist, was born on 27 April 1891 at Skipton, Yorkshire, England, son of William Harbutt Dawson, newspaper editor, and his wife Anna Clara Augusta, née Gruetz. Will was educated at Skipton Grammar School (1898-1903), Sedbergh School (1903-06), Dulwich College (1906-10) and Trinity College, Oxford (B.A., 1914; M.B., B.Ch., 1916; M.A., 1918; M.D., 1923). Commissioned lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps Special Reserve on 20 May 1914, he served in East Africa and Egypt in 1916-19 and was promoted captain in January 1917; he contracted filariasis, which left him with a permanent gross oedema in his leg.

Returning to England, Dawson became a physician at St Thomas's Hospital, London. In 1920 he joined the mental hospitals service of London County Council. Next year he obtained his diploma of psychological medicine from the Royal colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, and was appointed senior assistant at Maudsley Hospital and lecturer in psychiatry at the University of London. He gained a reputation as one of England's most promising psychiatrists and was awarded the Gaskell gold medal, a bronze medal and prizes of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association. In 1925 he was a Rockefeller fellow and worked with Adolf Meyer at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, United States of America. While there, he developed continuing interests in medical education, delinquency, child guidance, and the links between psychiatry and social work. He wrote a widely respected textbook, Aids to Psychiatry (London, 1924), which ran to eight editions.

Dawson married Gladys Lyle Paton with Church of England rites at St Matthew's Church, Denmark Hill, Lambeth, on 29 January 1927; they were to remain childless. Appointed professor of psychiatry at the University of Sydney, he took up his post in March for a seven-year term. As well as teaching, he was honorary adviser (from 1928) to the Australian Institute of Industrial Psychology; he was also consultant to the psychiatric clinics at Broughton Hall and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, under the control of the Department of Public Health. In 1934 Dawson was unable to reach agreement with the university over his right to private clinical practice. Against the wishes of the government, the university advertised a lectureship to which Dawson was appointed in 1935; he was then allowed to pursue private practice. The university eventually agreed to allow the professor to treat referred patients as part of his consulting practice and in 1937 he was appointed to the chair for a further seven years. He was re-appointed in 1944 and retired in 1951.

Elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1933, Dawson was a foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. In 1946 he was elected inaugural president of the Australasian Association of Psychiatrists and in 1964 was made honorary fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

A captain (from 1940) in the Reserve of Officers, Australian Army Medical Corps, on 25 August 1941 Dawson was appointed lieutenant colonel and consultant psychiatrist in the Australian Imperial Force. He embarked for the Middle East in September and served as medical psychiatrist at A.I.F. Headquarters. His leg proved debilitating and he returned to Sydney where he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 7 July 1942.

Six ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, with blue-grey eyes and dark hair, Dawson was regarded by his colleagues as shy and retiring. Others found that, in his later years as professor, the bright, dynamic psychiatrist had become cynical and disillusioned with his work. After Gladys died, in 1964 he returned to England and lived with his sister at Oxford. He died there on 13 March 1975.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 9, 1975
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 24 Jan 1976, p 98
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stephen Garton, 'Dawson, William Siegfried (1891–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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