Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Sutherland Dun (1868–1934)

by D. F. Branagan and T. G. Vallance

This article was published:

William Sutherland Dun (1868-1934), palaeontologist, was born on 1 July 1868 at Cleveland House, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England, son of Major Percy Henderson Dun, formerly of the East India Co.'s army, and his wife Catherine Eliza Jane, née Duncan. About a year later the family settled in Sydney, where William was educated at Newington College.

On 8 April 1890 Dun became a probationer in the Geological Survey of New South Wales; from time to time he assisted (Sir) Edgeworth David in his study of the Hunter River coalfield and took charge of departmental exhibits at country and intercolonial centres. By 1891, then an assistant, he had begun a fruitful association with Robert Etheridge junior. Next year Dun published his first scientific paper and at the end of 1892, as an irregular student at the University of Sydney, passed the final examinations in geology and palaeontology with the rank of first-class honours. When Etheridge was seconded to the Australian Museum, Sydney, in 1893, Dun took charge of the survey's palaeontological work and its library. On 6 October 1896 in Sydney he married Jennie McKay.

In 1899 Dun became palaeontologist and librarian, holding the dual appointment until he retired on 30 June 1933. During David's absence overseas in 1897 he lectured at the university and from 1902 was lecturer in palaeontology, a special part-time post that was renewed triennially until 1934. He was also honorary palaeontologist to the Australian Museum.

Dun's publications cover virtually the whole range of palaeobotany and palaeozoology, but his special interests lay with brachiopods and molluscs, particularly late palaeozoic forms. Although of necessity he dealt chiefly with New South Wales fossils, he also investigated collections submitted to him from other parts of Australia. His summary papers on Australian palaeontology, published in 1914 and 1926, reveal his all-round grasp, while his wide acquaintance with geological literature as well as his bibliographical abilities are evident in a series of catalogues on subjects including mining and underground water.

Well-known as a genial character, Dun was respected for his tact, sound judgment, careful work and readiness to co-operate; he had a wide circle of professional friends. A councillor for many years, he was president of the Linnean Society of New South Wales in 1913-15 and of the local Royal Society in 1918. He contributed greatly to the success of the geological programme of the British Association for the Advancement of Science when it met in Australia in 1914, and was a valued associate member of the Australian National Research Council in 1922-34. Directly and indirectly he had an important influence on Australian geology and in 1932 was honoured by a corresponding membership of the Linnean Society of New South Wales.

After a long illness, Dun died of cancer at his Mosman home on 7 October 1934 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by a son and daughter of his first marriage, and by his second wife Mabel, née Edgar, whom he had married at Forbes on 2 December 1909, and by their son and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Linnean Society of New South Wales, Proceedings, 60 (1935)
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal, 69 (1935)
  • Australian National Research Council, Annual Report, 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Oct 1934.

Citation details

D. F. Branagan and T. G. Vallance, 'Dun, William Sutherland (1868–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 July, 1868
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England


7 October, 1934 (aged 66)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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