MASSON, Sir David Orme (1858-1937)


MASSON, Sir David Orme (1858-1937)
scientist
was the son of David Masson, professor of rhetoric and English literature in the university of Edinburgh, and his wife, Emily Rosaline Orme. He was born in London on 13 January 1858, his father being then professor of English literature at University College, London. Masson was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and then at the university, where he graduated in arts and science. He studied under Wöhler at Göttingen before obtaining a position with (Sir) William Ramsay at Bristol, with whom he did valuable research work on phosphorus. He returned to Edinburgh university in 1881 with a research scholarship for three years, towards the end of which he obtained his D.Sc. degree. It was during this time that he took part in the founding of the students' representative council and the students' union. His researches at this period included investigations in the preparation of glyceryl trinitrite and its properties, and the composition and properties of nitroglycerine. In 1886 he was appointed professor of chemistry at the university at Melbourne, and he arrived in Australia in October of that year. His inaugural lecture, given on 23 March 1887, on "The Scope and Aim of Chemical Science", showed that the university had gained a scientist of distinction, and a lecturer who could make his subject interesting both to students and laymen. Though there were few students in chemistry, the laboratory equipment was inadequate even for them, and one of Masson's first tasks was the preparation of plans for a new laboratory and lecture theatre. There was a steady growth of students and, as the staff was small, Masson was much occupied with teaching work for many years. He contrived, however, to find some time for research, and during his first 20 years at the university contributed important papers to leading scientific journals.
In 1912 Masson became president of the professorial board, and in that capacity during the next four years undertook much of the work that in a present-day university would be done by a paid vice-chancellor. He also did important scientific work in connexion with the 1914-18 war. In 1915 he was asked by the then prime minister W. M. Hughes to act as chairman of a committee to draw up a scheme for a Commonwealth institute of science and industry, but difficulties arose and it was not until 1920 that the institute was established. In 1926 it became the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, of which Masson was a member until his death, and which has done invaluable work. Other activities included his participation in the organization of Mawson's expedition to the Antarctic in 1911-14, and his interest in the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, of which he was president 1911-13. As chairman of the organizing committee he had much to do with the holding of the British Association meeting in Australia in 1914. When his old friend, Sir William Ramsay, retired from his professorship at University College, London, in 1913, Masson was offered the position, but he had developed so many interests in Australia that he decided to refuse the appointment. Among societies in which he was interested were the Melbourne University Chemical Society, the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria, both of which he founded, and the Australian Chemical lnstitute of which he was the first president (1917-20). He was associated with Sir Edgeworth David (q.v.) in the founding of the Australian National Research Council, and was its president in 1922-3. At the end of 1923 Masson retired from his chair at Melbourne and became professor emeritus. After his resignation he continued his interest in the progress of chemical science, and sat on several councils and committees. He died at Melbourne on 10 August 1937. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London, in 1903 and was created C.B.E. in 1918 and K.B.E. in 1922. He married in 1886 Mary, daughter of Sir John Struthers, who survived him with a son and a daughter. Lady Masson did valuable work during the 1914-18 war, and was created C.B.E. in 1918. The son, James Irvine Orme Masson, born at Melbourne in 1887, had a distinguished academic career. He became vice-chancellor of the university of Sheffield in 1938, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1939. He published Three Centuries of Chemistry in 1925. A daughter, Flora Marjorie, now Mrs W. E. Bassett, published in 1940, The Governor's Lady, and another daughter, Elsie Rosaline, who married the distinguished anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski, and died in 1935, was also a writer; she published An Untamed Territory in 1915.
Tall, strong and handsome, with much charm of manner, Masson had also wisdom and natural dignity. His wit was unforced and he could even dignify a pun. When after the conscription referendum in 1917 someone said "I am disappointed. I thought the people's horse sense would have guided them". "Horse sense," said Masson, "the only thing horse-like about them was that they said nay." This was one of his lighter moments in a career of hard work. He was admirable as a chairman of committees and was a great administrator, with ideals of service, and an inspiring teacher with a gift of lucid exposition. He did brilliant work as a researcher showing great originality and foresight in a long series of papers, and he was a leader in everything relating to science both at the university of Melbourne, and in the wider field of Australia. Among his students were (Sir) David Rivett who succeeded him in his chair, and E. J. Hartung who followed Rivett. Bertram Dillon Steele (q.v.) was also one of his students.
A. C. D. Rivett, The Journal of the Chemical Society (particularly valuable for the account it gives of Masson's research work), 1938, p. 598; Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, vol. 124b, p. 378; Sir Ernest Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne; The Argus, 11 August 1937; Who's Who, 1940; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • David Orme Masson — For other people named David Masson, see David Masson (disambiguation). Sir David Orme Masson KBE FRS[1] (13 January 1858 – 10 August 1937)[2] was a scientist born in England who emigrated to Australia to become Professor of Chemistry at the… …   Wikipedia

  • Masson — /ˈmæsən/ (say masuhn) noun Sir David Orme, 1858–1937, Australian scientist, born in England …   Australian English dictionary

  • Orme — may refer to: Contents 1 People 2 Places 3 Other 4 See al …   Wikipedia


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