Compiled by George Jelliss
Thomas Rayner Dawson (1889-1951)
Obituary from FAIRY CHESS REVIEW, Vol 8, No 2, February 1952
IN MEMORIAM T. R. D. obit 16th December 1951
T R D, who had been in failing health for some time, passed away on December 16th,
1951. The cause of death was arterial sclerosis.
The Fairy Ring – T.R.D’s own comprehensive designation of the friends of the Fairy Chess
Review – will wish to pay its own tribute to one who, for the last twenty-one years through
the medium of these pages, has been a constant source of enjoyment, encouragement and
goodwill. At the same time, one senses that T.R.D. may be accounted a “mere this”
or “mere that” and so, in common justice, regard must be had to the
many-sidedness of his genius. Above all he was a highly successful and outstanding member
of his own profession, in which he had an international reputation. I therefore regard it
as fitting that I should commence with the notice from The India-Rubber Journal of December
22nd, 1951. This is given with due acknowledgment:–
“Mr. T. R. Dawson, who as head of the Intelligence Division of the Research
Association of the British Rubber Manufacturers was responsible for the creation of the
world-famous rubber library at Croydon, died on December 16th, 1951, at the age of 62.
“Thomas Rayner Dawson, M.Sc, F.R.I.C., F.I.R.I., was a Yorkshireman, born at Leeds on
November 28th, 1889. He graduated with 1st Class Honours in Chemistry at Leeds University
“In January 1922, he joined the staff of the RABRM and was at the time of his death
the earliest member still left with the Association. He had gained an outstanding and
well-deserved reputation for the Intelligence Service and Library on Rubber, which was
built up at Croydon and which has come to be known as the ‘Dawson’ system of
rubber literature documentation.
“Mr. Dawson had for long been prominent in the work of the Institution of the Rubber
Industry, of which he was a vice-president, a member of the examinations and qualifications
board, a member of the executive committee and a member of the sub-committee on the Annual
Report of Progress of Rubber Technology. He had formerly served as a member of council, and
as Chairman of the London section.
“Mr. Dawson was the author of several valuable reference works, including the
‘Overall Report on the BIOS Investigations of the German Rubber Industry.’ He
was joint author with B. D. Porritt of ‘Rubber, Physical and Chemical properties,’
and had been editor since 1926 of the RABRM ‘Summary of Current Literature.’
More recently, he had done much valuable work towards the compilation of the History of the
Rubber Industry, the publication of which he has not lived to see.”
This objective account tells us what we would have expected – T.R.D. was not only an
outstanding exponent of his profession; he also served it and its members with a true
To these notes on his professional work I would add that he has recently written the
article “Rubber” for Chambers’ Encyclopaedia, and that one of his last
writings was an article on the same subject for the Encyclopaedia Americana. Also I suspect
that the Dawson system of chess problem classification is a close relative of his system of
rubber literature documentation.
Next we must have regard to that most excellent and comprehensive (as regards Chess)
article in the British Chess Magazine of March 1951 after T.R.D. had relinquished
the office of Problem Editor of that paper. For the sake of completeness and for the
information of those who missed it, I give the following facts from that article, with due
T.R.D. was a nephew of the late James Rayner, himself a noted chess problemist who edited
B.C.M. problem pages from 1889 until his death in 1898. T.R.D. published his first problem,
a two mover, in 1907.
His Chess Editorial work:–
- 1909 Endings in Chess Amateur (also 1919-30 Fairy Chess in the same Journal).
- 1922-31 The Problemist, the Journal of the British Chess Problem Society.
- 1930-51 The Fairy Chess Review, originally The Fairy Chess Supplement of The Problemist.
- 1931-51 Problem Pages, British Chess Magazine, also for many years the Endings section.
- At various times – the problem pages of Eco degli Scacchi, The Half Hour,
L’Alfiere di Re, the London “Evening Standard” and the Braille
Chess Magazine – this last a characteristic labour of love which he sustained
for thirteen years.
- The British Chess Federation Award Pamphlets for their first three years.
His Chess Publications:–
- 1915 Retrograde Analysis (with W. Hunsdorfer).
- 1922 Fata Morgana (with Birgfeld, Nanz, Massmann, Pauly).
- 1928 Asymmetry (with W. Pauly).
- 1935 Caissa’s Wild Roses.
- 1936 C. M. Fox, His Problems.
- 1937 Caissa’s Wild Roses in Clusters.
- 1938 Ultimate Themes.
- 1947 Caissa’s Fairy Tales.
His Chess Problem Compositions include 5,320 fairies, 885 direct mates, 97 self
mates and 138 endings. Outstanding are his First Prize Essay in L’Echiquier, 1928, and his
Homogeneous Pawn Promotion Thesis and Problems which won First Prize in the British Chess
Federation Tourney No. 21, 1936. 120 of his problems have been awarded prizes, and 211
honorably mentioned or otherwise commended.
I close these abstracts from the B.C.M. March 1951 Article with the following quotation
which crystallises T.R.D.’s significance in a manner which defies improvement:–
“To these pages Mr. Dawson brought a rare literary ability and a scientific
single-mindedness of purpose that for many years has made them unique in chess journalism.
In 1933, with an article on pawn switch modes, he lit a tiny flame that burned and has gone
on burning, illuminating one of the most complete investigations into any problem theme. In
this article, small but very significant in itself, is mirrored Mr. Dawson’s
insistence upon the scientific and methodical approach to all problem work. This same
sincere belief that order and method are indispensable to any progress in the chess problem
resulted fifteen years later in the historical essays on Systematic Terminology – one
of the most remarkable contributions to pure thought in the problem domain yet
“Mr. Dawson has thus run the entire gamut and experience of composition ever
revealing himself both in his work and writings as a seeker of essential truths and
beauties, endowed with the ability to pass his discoveries on to others so that their
wonders may be shared, enjoyed, and carried forward.”
We of the Fairy Ring appreciate this in a way which few others possibly can and for us it
is unnecessary to elaborate T.R.D.’s power and scope in the art, understanding and
presentation of the chess problem in all its forms. Suffice it to say that every chess
journal of note in Europe and America felt his influence, most of them directly.
And now, what manner of man? I would say of middle height, portly withal, comfortable and
avuncular, a genial Yorkshireman, always essentially himself and quite devoid of
“side” and similar nonsense; equable, never ruffled, never in a hurry, but
light on his feet; a voice soft yet deep and full, a sparkle in his eye. Intellectually –
a giant, in the range of his effective thought more extensive than most of us can
appreciate; in his speed of working, supersonic – to use present day jargon. A lover
of the open air, the Yorkshire Dales for preference, but he could make do with Surrey and
the Downs. In his spare(!) time he showed a taste for light literature and it was quite
normal for him to read from fifteen to twenty books a month. An inspection of his study and
what he left behind helps us to realise the scale and scope of his non-professional
activities – the great collection of thousands of classified fairy chess problems in
twenty filing cabinets, six more of orthodox chess problems and mathematics, his own
problems in fifteen loose leaf binders, a binder with a sheet for every FCR solver,
recording solving scores; two further books of cross references by classification to all
his chess problems and to the puzzles and problems of numerous types of which he had a
large collection; five ms. quarto note books on pure geometry, in effect the solutions of
over a thousand geometry problems, all beautifully set out: three large quarto ms. books,
“Notes on the Theory of Numbers”; five volumes of chess problem
“stories” from which Caissa’s Fairy Tales appear to have been compiled; a
sixth volume of Original Puzzles – indeed he had a flair for puzzles of any kind.
There are his little diaries which record every one of his chess problems on the day of
composition; his note books (which I understand go back many years) recording every book he
read. His light reading comprised thrillers of all kinds, scientific fiction and
“good yarns”. Under May 1951 there are entered as read thirty books, and among
the authors are O. Stapledon, E. F. Benson, “Sea-Lion”, A. M. Low, E. R.
Burroughs, C. S. Lewis, V. Stratten, D. Keyhoe (The Flying Saucers are Real!). Under
March 1945 are entered twenty-four books including five by R. A. Freeman and fourteen by
D. L. Sayers.
Another packet reveals in T.R.D.’s own hand, a copy of Sam Loyd’s Puzzle
Magazines – 217 quarto sheets. This reminds us that T.R.D. was a great
“writer”, indeed one is tempted to embark on the type of speculation –
“If all the ms. sheets T.R.D. produced were placed end on end they would encircle the
world ...” I myself have a pile a good inch thick of correspondence on chess and
mathematics problems and various topics. This is just the residue, when the incidental has
been discarded, and I am only one of his many correspondents. Truly a master of method,
system, power and concentration. Do we all realise that every word of every F.C.R. was
written out by T.R.D.? Have we thought of what is involved in producing the Solving
Record? And one trembles to think how many letters he must have had from “earnest
enquirers” and similar types. No doubt he dealt kindly with them all.
Apart from his professional and chess publications, he also published work in The
Mathematical Gazette, notably a most original innovation, “Match-stick
Geometry”. I believe that when chemistry and rubber claimed T.R.D., mathematics lost
an exponent of unusual power and originality. Certainly as a geometer and an analyst he
would have made his mark. He had a remarkable insight into algebraic problems and an
unusual power of generalisation. This power of generalisation is the key to his chess work
and probably to all his work. I do not believe that he was attracted by the merely
unorthodox (although he sometimes published it); he saw things “whole”; he saw
“the relationships between things” in a manner and on a scale denied to the
rest of us. I have always felt that Fairy Chess is an unfortunate misnomer, unfortunate
because it suggests the bizarre and the unreal, with a dilettante exponent.
His sense of public duty was expressed in his very active Presidency of the British Chess
Problem Society from 1931-43 and in his work as an air-raid warden. I confess that I lack
details of this but, need one say more than that he held a post of responsibility in
Croydon (of all the uncomfortable places) and he stuck to it throughout the period of
enemy activity! I recollect his telling me that he solved some 400 problems in geometrical
conics during the “all-clear” intervals of his A.R.P. duties.
And so we bid farewell to our friend T.R.D., our editor of F.C.R., the provider of many
good works, and the inspirer of many more. A fount of ideas he helped to remove our
blinkers, he set us on new ways; a friendly man, modest, and at heart, I believe, a
romantic. We shall remember him with gratitude and with pride, not to say affection.