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J Med Biogr. 2006 Feb;14(1):46-53.

Sir William Dunn (1833-1912): the man, his trust and his legacy to science and medicine.

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  • 1The Sir William Dunn School of Pathology, Oxford, UK. eric.sidebottom@path.ox.ac.uk


William Dunn had no direct connections with medicine. He belonged to that Victorian generation of Scottish pioneers who went overseas to make their fortunes and, yet, devoted their money to numerous charitable purposes, mainly at home in the UK. His family origins were modest; born in Paisley, near Glasgow on 1 September 1833, he died in 1912 with an estate valued at 1.3 million pounds sterling. His fortune was made from a large worldwide trading empire with roots in South Africa, where he emigrated as a young man of 19--but later controlled from London. In his will, dated 4 November 1908, the key clause was 'to advance the cause of Christianity, to benefit children and young people, to support hospitals and alleviate human suffering, to encourage education and promote emigration'. After making provision for about half the total, he left the remainder in the hands of trustees. They allotted about 120 small sums to hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages and like institutions, but then decided that larger projects would be more likely to be permanent memorials to Sir William. After consulting the President of the Royal Society, Sir William Hardy, and the Secretary of the Medical Research Committee, Sir Walter Fletcher, the trustees gave 210,000 pounds sterling in 1920 to Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins in biochemistry in Cambridge and 100,000 pounds sterling in 1922 to Professor Georges Dreyer in pathology in Oxford. Between them, these two laboratories have 'spawned' nine Nobel Prize winners. The 'alleviation of human suffering' achieved would surely have pleased Sir William and his trustees.

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