Willian (Will) Henry Dyson

Born Alfredton, Victoria 1880
Died London, England 1938

By Lindsay Foyle

Working on The Daily Herald, in London before the first the First World War started, Will Dyson became one of the most internationally celebrated cartoonists of the time. He held a successful exhibition of war cartoons in January 1915 in the Leicester Galleries in the centre of London.

He and his wife Ruby Lindsay had become well established in London in the six years they had been living there. In fact, he was one of the best know cartoonists in the world. While Dyson’s reputation had been growing Ruby was busy established herself as a much-sought-after magazine and book illustrator. She was also continuing to contribute to The Bulletin in Sydney, sending back many cartoons signed ‘Ruby Lind’.

Dyson’s Kultur Cartoon exhibition was followed by a book, which came out in May with a forward by H G Wells. Both the exhibition and book proved to be very popular. But not with everyone. There were reports that King George V and Queen Mary wanted the cartoons banned. Apparently, they thought of them as an attack upon the institution of the monarchy and that their blood relatives, the German Emperor and the Crown Prince would be insulted by them.

Willian (Will) Henry Dyson was born in Alfredton, Victoria on the outskirts of Ballarat, and grew up in South Melbourne. He was a self taught artist who sent drawings to most of the publications that might accept contributions. He had one acceted by The Bulletin when he was 17. For a time Dyson worked in Sydney and in 1904 was contributing to The Referee. Later that same year he received an offer to move to Adelaide to work on The Critic.

Dyson married Ruby Lindsay (sister of Norman) in 1909 and they soon left for London. In 1912 Dyson was appointed cartoonist-in-chief at £5 a week to the new newspaper, the Daily Herald. He was given carte blanche and his cartoons fill an entire page. It proved to be sensational. In December 1916 he became Australia’s first war artist to be appointed outside the ranks and was commissioned as a Lieutenant. On the Western Front, Lieutenant Dyson was twice wounded. When he returned to the front he continued producing his drawings of humanity under fire. After the war ended in 1918 he returned work on The Daily Herald.

The Spanish flu epidemic was sweeping the world in 1919 and it claimed the life of Ruby. Dyson was devastated and his whole world crashed. There are no definitive estimates of how many people in the world died in the epidemic, however it is thought between 50 and 100 million were lost. Dyson struggled with his loss. He produced a book of Ruby’s drawings in 1920 and another book of poems in her memory. At Smith’s Weekly, which had only just been launched, they thought he might like to return home to Australia and offered him a job. He considered it, but turned it down. He thought his independence would be curtailed.

By 1925 things had changed and he accepted an offer from Keith Murdoch to work for the Herald and Weekly Times group in Melbourne. He was expected to contribute to Punch, but it folded and contributed to Table Talk and The Herald. Without Punch to contribute to, he may well have regretted the earlier offer from Smith’s Weekly to work on the paper.

As soon as his contract concluded in 1930, Dyson returned to England. He stopped briefly in America where he exhibited a series of etchings and dry-points in several major cities. Back in London he re-joined The Daily Herald.

Dyson died suddenly on 21 January 1938 from a long-standing heart condition. His death made newspaper headlines around the world. His last cartoon, published on the day of his death, showed two vultures perched on a crag watching Franco planes bombing defenceless Barcelona. They were saying, 'Once we were the most loathsome things that flew!'

Will Dyson entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2009.

Further reading