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Williams, David Edward (1910–1994)

by Michael Vaughan

This article was published online in 2018

David Edward Williams (1910–1994), scholar, investor, and philanthropist, was born on 23 June 1910 at Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales, son of David Williams, general labourer, and his wife Eliza Jane, née Jones. Educated at All Saints’ parish and Penygloddfa primary schools, Newtown, David obtained labouring jobs before migrating to Queensland in 1927 under the government scheme to settle boys in the State. He found work as a farm hand at Crows Nest. In 1930 he entered the Methodist Home Missionaries’ Training Institution, Brisbane. On graduating in 1932, he was sent first to Herberton and then to Gin Gin.

From 1934 Williams studied for the Methodist ministry at King’s College, then situated at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. Following his probationary ordination, he was posted in March 1936 to the church station of Yeppoon and Emu Park. The next year he resigned and obtained employment in Brisbane as a salesman. On 13 October 1938, when a young woman refused his marriage proposal, he battered her with a steel bar and then slashed his own wrists and neck. He was sentenced in March 1939 to eighteen months in gaol for the assault.

World War II having broken out, Williams enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 May 1940. He trained as a nursing orderly and in June 1941 joined the 2/10th Australian General Hospital in Malaya. Two months earlier he had been promoted to acting corporal but was reduced to private in November for insubordination. When Singapore fell to the Japanese on 15 February 1942, he was imprisoned at Changi and not released until September 1945. Back in Brisbane, on 25 February 1946 at the Methodist Church, West End, he married Phyllis Edna Anderson, a sergeant in the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service. On 12 March he was discharged from the AIF. He took up dairying on 650 acres (263 ha) at Ravensbourne, near Toowoomba. By February 1951 he had sold his farm and moved to Brisbane, because of blindness; the condition was attributed to malnutrition while he was in captivity.

A man of fierce and irrepressible determination, Williams undertook full-time study at the University of Queensland (BA, 1955; MA, 1957). The Repatriation Commission provided him with funds and recording equipment, members of the Queensland Braille Writing Association transcribed texts, and his wife and other volunteers read to him. In 1956 he gained first-class honours in philosophy. Awarded a Gowrie scholarship and a university foundation travelling scholarship, he went to Britain to study at the London School of Economics and Political Science (PhD, University of London, 1960). His examiners assessed his thesis, on the metaphysical and political theories of R. G. Collingwood, as having provided ‘a lucid and comprehensive presentation of Collingwood’s main ideas [and as having] argued cogently against misleading current conceptions of those ideas’ (Gardiner and Smellie 1960).

On returning to Brisbane, Williams hoped to lecture in political science at the University of Queensland but he received no appointment. Instead, he turned his sharp mind to investing in the stock market. He exercised extreme caution in purchasing shares and diversified his holdings. Accumulating a portfolio spread across about a hundred companies, he is said to have kept every share he bought. His strategy proved to be lucrative.

Throughout the remainder of his life, Williams devoted much of his time to the affairs of King’s College, which had relocated to St Lucia in 1955. From 1973 to 1993 he was a member of the college’s council. He also served on its board of fellows, where he helped to decide the recipients of prizes and bursaries, to some of which he contributed anonymously. In 1969 and 1970 and between 1977 and 1994 he presided over the King’s College Old Collegians’ Association. Such was his love of the institution that he bequeathed assets worth $1.6 million to it. Another of his interests was the St David’s Welsh Society of Brisbane, of which he was vice-president from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, and to which he made frequent donations.

Ian Grimmett described Williams as ‘tenacious and dogmatic, a formidable opponent in debate’ and as ‘an intensely loyal person, to Queen and country, college and home’ (1994, 18). Despite his blindness, he was a keen gardener and collector of stamps and coins. He died on 8 October 1994 at New Farm and, following an Anglican funeral, was cremated. His wife had predeceased him and his adopted son survived him. King’s College used his bequest to construct the David Williams Building (1998) and to inaugurate an annual memorial dinner and guest lecture in his name.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  •   Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Attack on Girl by Ex-Minister: Rejected Suitor, Found Guilty of Assault.’ 22 March 1939, 4
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Blind, but Now He’s a “Doctor”.’ 1 June 1960, 4
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘He Lost His Sight but Not His Hope.’ 11 December 1952, 3
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘This Student Will Have His Course “Taped”: Blind Ex-Digger (42) Goes to University.’ 7 March 1952, 3
  • Faragher, Trevor. Men and Masters: A Centenary History of King’s College within The University of Queensland. St Lucia, Qld: King’s College, 2012
  • Gardiner, P. C., and K. Smellie. PhD Examiners’ Report, 3 May 1960. Student File–David Edward Williams 1957–1960. London School of Economics and Political Science. Copy held on ADB file
  • Grimmett, Ian. ‘Economist Overcame Blindness.’ Australian, 26 October 1994, 18
  • King’s College Archives. KING 00166 Administration Records (King’s College) Box 111, ‘Bequests, Dr David Williams’
  • King’s College Archives. KING 00166 ‘The Courage of David Williams: 47 year old Father Conquers Blindness.’ Unidentified Newspaper Clipping
  • King’s College Archives. KING 00050 Correspondence (King’s College) Box 37, ‘A11 – Lectures (Williams) Newsclippings [sic] File’
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX5276
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), ‘“Not Satisfied Safe to Let You Out”: Williams for Observation.’ 31 March 1939, 6
  • Wallis, Noel W. Brisbane Welsh: A History of the Saint David’s Welsh Society of Brisbane 1918–2008. Salisbury, Qld: Boolarong Press, 2009
  • Williams Jr, David. Interviews by the author, 5 August and 1 September 2014

Additional Resources

Citation details

Michael Vaughan, 'Williams, David Edward (1910–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/williams-david-edward-18364/text30003, published online 2018, accessed online 24 October 2018.

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