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Dadswell Family

Eric Dadswell - Australian Wood Scientist

While many may be aware of the Australian Dadswell who achieved fame as a sculptor, fewer are aware that an Australian scientist Dadswell made an equally-significant contribution in the field of forestry.
Eric Dadswell
Herbert Eric Dadswell (known as Eric, and pictured at right) was an Australian whose name became known on the world stage of forestry as a scientist, collector, teacher and friend to many.

Eric was the only son of a Sydney family which had a very traumatic beginning to the Australian part of their life.

His great grandfather Charles Dadswell (born 1817 at Rotherfield, Sussex) became seriously ill during his 1852 voyage to Australia aboard the sailing ship General Hewett.

This was a three masted, fully rigged ship of 973 tonnes built in Bengal in 1812 for the East India Company and used as a transport for mahogany logs. The ship was also once used as a convict transport to New South Wales and possibly Van Diemen's Land, from 1814. It usually had a crew of around 80 and made a number of journeys to Sydney via Port Adelaide and Port Phillip (Melbourne) in the 1850s.

On this occasion the General Hewett was carrying merchandise and 185 passengers from England. An extract from 'Eliza's Diary 1852' (written by a passenger, whose surname is not known) records the ship left London docks on August 14th, sailed to Plymouth, then resumed the voyage, 'crossing the line' (the equator) on October 13th and nearing the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, on November 12th.

She then tells of the death of a fellow passenger on November 22nd, and went on to write "Saturday [November 27th] Mr Dadswell died." So there is a record that Charles Dadswell died on 27 November 1852 while aboard the General Hewett although the exact location is not recorded. According to NSW shipping records, three passengers died during this voyage - two from dysentery and one from fever.

While the NSW passenger list for this trip gives the names of cabin passengers, it does not record the names of steerage passengers (those travelling in the cheaper accommodation formerly used for cargo).
Dadswel family tree
The Dadswell name does not appear among cabin passenger names but it appears that Charles and his four-year-old son Charles Frederick Dadswell (born 1847 in London) were on board - the younger Charles continued onto Australia and when the ship arrived in Sydney almost a month later, on 24 December 1852, he was taken into the care of one of his uncles, Thomas Ovenden Dadswell, (1802-1880) a bootmaker living at 34 King Street.

Charles lived with his uncle for many years, became a bootmaker himself, and in time married Hannah Maria Richardson. Together they produced eight children (two died as infants), including Herbert Edward Dadswell (born 1875 in Sydney). On the death of his uncle in 1880, Charles inherited his relative's sizeable estate.

The son Herbert Edward Dadswell attended Newington College and joined the Sydney Morning Herald as a junior clerk in 1890. In 1901 at Newtown, he married May Walton, daughter of Roland Robert and Rebecca (Kinder) Walton. May was born in West Gorton, Lancashire, England, in 1880 and as a child sailed to Australia aboard the Gulf of Mexico in 1885, along with her parents and five siblings. Herbert and May Dadswell had one child, Herbert Eric Dadswell, born in Sydney on 5 March 1903.

When the Herald's publisher, John Fairfax and Sons, was registered as a company in 1916, Herbert Edward Dadswell became its secretary and two years later also became its chief accountant.

His wife May died in 1919 and two years later Herbert Edward Dadswell (by then 46) married Linda Isabel Quinton, his secretary at the Sydney Morning Herald. Linda was born at Ashfield, NSW, in 1895 and thus was 26 at the time of the marriage. She was the daughter of Alice Maud Quinton.

For many years, Herbert Edward Dadswell and his wife lived in Enmore. He was prominent in Newtown Congregational Church and in 1944 he retired from the newspaper business after 54 years with the John Fairfax and Sons company. He died in Sydney in 1968 when aged 92.

In the meantime, his son Eric studied science at Sydney University where he was awarded a degree at the age of 22, followed by a master's degree when 24.

In between those achievements he was selected as one of the first overseas research students of the newly-established Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR, later to become the CSIRO) and he travelled to the United States for 2 years at the US Forestry Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin.

It was there that he met a biochemist named Inez Margaret Williams, and on 4 June 1928 they married at River Falls, Wisconsin, the town where Inez was born. Eric and Inez sailed back to Australia in 1929 and family stories tell of an awkward arrival. On the wharf was a process server alleging breach of promise of marriage to a Sydney girl. Inez, with support from Eric's father, reportedly found 500 pounds to settle the matter.

From there developed an extraordinary career in Australian forestry and wood science.

For a short time Eric worked at the Australian Forestry School in Canberra but in 1930 the school was transferred to the headquarters of the CSIR Forest Products Division in Melbourne and there Eric took over the running of the Australian wood project, an ambitious task to document Australian timbers and their qualities. These investigations into the anatomy, chemistry, identification and use of wood became his life's work.

Under his direction, the Melbourne team did pioneering work on the wood anatomy of Australian wood species, particularly eucalypts, and resolved major issues in identifying commercially-imported wood species.

The work was published in several CSIR Bulletins and was brought together by Eric in 1941 in a Doctorate thesis at Melbourne University, titled 'Structure, identification and properties of Australian timbers.'

During World War Two, he worked in the New Guinea Forests Unit to help army engineers and Forests Unit personnel to recognise and select the most suitable timber species to use as bridges and in harbour and other engineering works.
Dadswell wood collection
Following the war he rose steadily through the ranks of what had become the CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and he became the Chief of the Division of Forest Products Division from 1960 until 1964.

Widely respected for the depth of his knowledge, he lectured at North American universities and in 1955 was Walker-Ames professor of forestry at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography also lists, among his achievements, being an Australian delegate at international congresses, on forestry as well as forest products. An office-bearer in learned and technical societies, he was a foundation member (president 1950) of the Australian (and New Zealand) Pulp and Paper Industry Technical Association, and a council member (president 1962) of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute. For his contribution to forest products research, he was awarded Queen Elizabeth II's coronation medal in 1953.

In his later years he was also happy in the garden and when trout-fishing. His social life revolved around his family and professional colleagues, and he was a host to many visitors from overseas. Survived by his wife Inez and their two adopted sons (Gordon and Bruce), he died suddenly on 19 December 1964 at his home in East Ringwood, Melbourne. Inez had, over the years, continued her own academic career at Melbourne University, making a study of aboriginal food practices and habits.

Eric's name still remains synonymous with Australia's eucalypt wood anatomy and Australia's largest wood collection, which is one of the world's most important timber resource collections.

Interestingly, one of its recent uses has been use by postgraduate researchers in the fields of archaeology and anthropology seeking to identify charcoal fragments found at ancient Australian aboriginal sites.

A subset of the collection has also found its way to Creswick, Victoria, where it now assists students and researchers at the University of Melbourne's Creswick campus. The main collection, the Dadswell Memorial Wood Collection, contains over 45,000 samples representing 10,000 species, 2200 genera and 240 botanical families. It has been invaluable to students, researchers, teachers, collectors, tradesmen, craftsmen, and hobbyists from Australia and the wider world community.

Abbreviated family tree

Robert Doudeswell (ca1560-1636) married Elizabeth (surname unknown)
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Robert Doudeswell (1606-1676) married Mary Aynscombe (died 1633)
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Edward Dodswell (1659-1736) married Elizabeth Elliott (ca1657-1735)
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Edward Dodswell (1679-1763) married Elizabeth ____ (-1742)
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Robert Dadswell (1711-1781) married Ann Ovenden (-1790)
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Robert Dadswell (1796-1853) married Mary Finch (1776-1820)
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Charles Dadswell (1817-1851) married Elizabeth Hoessner (Charles died while sailing to Australia aboard the General Hewett)
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Charles Frederick Dadswell (1847-1928) married Hannah Maria Richardson (1851-1913) - Charles arrived in Australia aged 4
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Herbert Edward Dadswell 1875-1968 married (1) May Walton 1880-1919 (2) Linda Isabel Quinton 1895-1957
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Herbert Eric Dadswell 1903-1964 married Inez Margaret Williams 1899-1984

Further information

Eric Dadswell biography - Australian Dictionary of Biography
Eric Dadswell biography - Encyclopedia of Australian Science Exhibitions
Dadswell Memorial Wood Collection - CSIRO
Dadswell Wood Collection - Australian National University
FridayOffcuts Newsletter - Partnership saves the Australian Wood Collection

- Report by Harley Dadswell, August 2014

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