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Fawsitt, Charles Edward (1878–1960)

by Ursula Bygott and K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Charles Edward Fawsitt (1878-1960), professor of chemistry, was born on 8 May 1878 at Govan, Lanark, Scotland, son of Charles Albert Fawsitt, a chemist's manager, and his wife Mary, née Pollock, whose uncle founded the local shale oil industry. Educated at a Glasgow high school and the University of Edinburgh, he did doctoral work in physical chemistry under Ostwald at Leipzig on an 1851 Exhibition scholarship. After further research at Aachen, London and Birmingham, Fawsitt returned to Edinburgh to assist Crum-Brown, his former teacher, and to take a D.Sc. degree. In 1904 he moved to Glasgow to lecture in metallurgical chemistry and to further his research into corrosion and the reaction between iron and sulphuric acid. When several British universities were requested by the University of Sydney to suggest candidates for its chair of chemistry, vacant on the retirement of Archibald Liversidge, Glasgow nominated Fawsitt. In October 1908 he was appointed by the senate and took up the position in the next year. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney, on 16 December 1909 Fawsitt married Lena, daughter of Rev. Dr Matthew Gardner of Hyndland church, Glasgow; there was one daughter of the marriage.

On his arrival Fawsitt found a department modest in membership but well off for equipment and buildings. It was a time of concern for the expansion of chemistry into industry and the practical application of science. In 1910 Fawsitt expanded his courses to include the newly popular physical chemistry and made organic chemistry compulsory. Two years later funds were provided to found a chair in organic chemistry, pure and applied—a compromise between Fawsitt's emphasis and the official policy of encouraging industrial chemistry.

Research took little of Fawsitt's personal attention. He published papers on corrosion and allied topics in local journals but he had a greater talent for encouraging the research projects of his colleagues and students. Despite friction, in the 1930s and later, with the second organic chemistry professor, Fawsitt built up a distinguished group of lecturers, setting the scene with his own lucid, precise mode of teaching. Dean of the faculty in 1923-29 he pressed for the expansion of science; late in World War II, past the usual retiring age, he was preparing successfully for the post-war influx of students and the creation of an extended school of chemistry. He retired on 31 August 1946 and was made emeritus professor.

Fawsitt's concern for chemistry extended beyond the university. From his arrival, he served on the New South Wales Pure Food Advisory Committee. He supported the Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry, as an effective means of co-ordinating academic and industrial work in World War I. Membership of the National Research Council followed in 1919. He served as president of the Royal Society of New South Wales (1919-20), the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (1924-25) and the National Committee of Pure and Applied Chemistry. Courteous and dignified, impressive in stature and manner, Fawsitt was a highly effective chairman. An accomplished pianist, with a Scotsman's devotion to golf and Presbyterianism, Fawsitt had few personal foibles, though his fear of possible contagion led him to sterilize the coins he carried with him. He died at the Scottish Hospital, Sydney, on 16 November 1960 and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £22,573.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Sydney, Union Recorder, 28 Nov 1946, 16 Mar 1961
  • Royal Australia Chemical Institute, Proceedings, Jan 1961
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 May 1919, 17 Nov 1960
  • Senate and Professorial Board minutes, 1908-60 (University of Sydney Archives).

Citation details

Ursula Bygott and K. J. Cable, 'Fawsitt, Charles Edward (1878–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fawsitt-charles-edward-6147/text10553, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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