DYSON, WILLIAM HENRY (1880–1938)
William Henry Dyson was one of Australia’s most famous cartoonists and satirists. He was born in Ballarat, and his career began at the age of 17 when he was encouraged by his elder brother, writer Edward Dyson (1865–1931), to submit his drawings to the Bulletin.
In 1907, the Bulletin’s sister publication, the Lone Hand, was established, giving Dyson a further small income. The following year, his first political cartoons were published in full colour on the covers of Randolph Bedford’s mining magazine, the Clarion. But payment was poor and opportunities limited. Following an exhibition of his caricatures of notable personalities in public life, held in Melbourne’s Royal Arcade in 1909, Dyson and his wife Ruby (Norman Lindsay’s sister) sailed for London.
Dyson initially made little progress in Britain; however, in 1912 he was appointed as a cartoonist on the staff of the newly established Labour newspaper the Daily Herald, where he was given a free hand to express his own politically radical ideas. The result—published on a full page—admonished capitalist greed, unemployment, hunger and the multiple social evils that existed.
With strong hints of political turmoil on the European continent in the London press prior to World War I, Dyson rose to the occasion. His anti-Kaiser KULTUR cartoons, drawn in the ‘grand allegorical manner’, enhanced his reputation with the intelligentsia, including with H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and C.K. Chesterton.
But his triumphs were not to last. Devastated by the war, and the sudden death of Ruby from the influenza pandemic, Dyson accepted an offer from (Sir) Keith Murdoch to return to Australia and take up a position as cartoonist on the Melbourne Herald.
The move was a disaster: he had frequent stand-up quarrels with Murdoch, who was not mentally equipped to appreciate Dyson’s ironic satire, insisting he comment only on local affairs. Dyson thought otherwise, believing Melbourne was stuffy and smug, and remote from greater world affairs. This conflict of opinion could only end in one way: Dyson was edged out of his field to produce caricatures of musical comedy actors playing Melbourne theatres.
After five years, his contract finished and Dyson returned to England and rejoined the Daily Herald. His last years were overshadowed by grief at Ruby’s death, his own health problems, dark depressive moods and repeated editorial interference. With one of the most robust minds of his times, Dyson’s force and irony have never been approached by any Australian cartoonist then, or since.
REF: V. Lindesay, The Inked-In Image (1970).