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Joseph Henry Dobson

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Joseph Henry Dobson (1878-1954).


1954 Obituary [1]

Lt. Col. J. H. Dobson, D.S.O., D.Eng., D.Sc., M.Sc., Wh.Ex., died at his home in Johannesburg on 29th June, 1954. He was the founder and chairman of Dowson and Dobson, Ltd.

Dr. Dobson, who was one of South Africa's most brilliant engineers, also had a distinguished military career. He was born at Crewe in 1878 and there served a seven-year apprenticeship in the London North-Western Railway Company's workshops. Three scholarships took him through Victoria University, Manchester, and Liverpool University, where he was asked to stay on after graduating in order to do research work in electrical engineering. He went to South Africa as a young man in 1904 to take up the appointment of Professor of Electrotechnics at the Transvaal University College, now the Witwatersrand University. He served the Transvaal University College for a number of years in this capacity.

In 1911 he was appointed general manager of the Johannesburg Gas, Electricity and Tramways Department - a post offered to him following his successful research into the causes of major troubles at the gas works.

During the 1914-18 war Dr. Dobson, as senior engineering officer to the Second South African Division, made recruiting speeches from the steps of the Johannesburg City Hall to obtain the engineers needed. In The East African campaign, in which he reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel, his engineering genius on more than one occasion 'achieved the impossible'. For these services he received the D.S.O. in the field at the hands of General Smuts.

In 1920 Dr. Dobson acquired an interest in the engineering business of the late Mr. R. M. Dowson, the company changing its name accordingly. For Dr. Dobson it was the start of a career which brought great benefits to South Africa in the development of industry.

He pioneered the South African rubber industry in Natal, and the production of industrial oxygen at Germiston, becoming chairman both of the S.A. Rubber Manufacturing Company, Ltd., and of African Oxygen and Acetylene (Pty.), Ltd. At this period, 1926, he still found time to take the degree of Doctor of Engineering at Liverpool University, and started to write a series of twenty-one technical papers which won him the highest awards from the several mining and engineering institutes before which they were read.

He was an early and enthusiastic advocate of a steel industry in South Africa. When Iscor was founded in 1928 he was one of its first directors. He also became chairman of the Union Steel Corporation. Five years later, at the critical time when the Corporation was approaching production, its general works manager died. At the particular request of the Union Government and of his co-directors of Iscor, Dr. Dobson agreed to withdraw from his own business for three years to take charge of the Iscor works, a task of which he made an immediate success. On his return to the chairmanship of Dowson and Dobson, Ltd., he took an active interest in many other new industries such as the manufacture of asbestos-cement products.

During the 1939-45 war Dr. Dobson was characteristically energetic as honorary chairman of the National Anti-Waste Organization. At the end of the war he devoted much time towards the rehabilitation of handicapped ex-servicemen.

Dr. Dobson was twice awarded the gold medal of the South African Institute of Engineers and was also a gold medallist of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, and of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, London. The London award, the Moulton Medal, was made to him for his paper on 'The Development of Temperature and Humidity Conditions of the Atmosphere of Mines of Great Depth'. The same paper won him the J. Bernard Hall prize in 1938 from this Institution.

Dr. Dobson was a former president of the South African Institute of Engineers, of the South African Institute of Electrical, Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society and of the Associated Scientific Technical Societies of South Africa. He was vice-president of the Institute of Chemical Engineers, London, from 1941 - 1943. In 1946, the University of the Witwatersrand conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in Engineering. He was a member of the Council of the Witwatersrand Technical College, and a Fellow of the Royal Society (South Africa). Dr. Dobson was elected a Member of the Institution in 1910, and has been a member of the South African Advisory Committee of the Institution since 1945.


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