Family Treasures - Cylinder

The next of my family treasures is a cylinder originally owned by my great great grandfather Dr William Lee Dawson.

Dr William Lee Dawson 1819 - 1871

Two weeks ago I bit the bullet and undid the precious cylinder. I’m not sure how many times it has been opened and the contents removed. However, I don’t think it would have been all that often.

Cylinder containing medical certificates dating from 1845.

The cylinder probably was purchased some time between 1845 when my great great grandfather began his medical training at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin and 1853 when he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

Almost immediately afterwards he sailed for New York aboard the Asia steam ship and afterwards he joined the Dee, sailing round the Carribean. His diary tells us that he resigned as he was not satisfied with the conditions for Surgeons as they did not have the same privileges as other officers.

In 1854 William Lee Dawson became the surgeon aboard the Mootan bound for Hobart Town.  The cylinder had now been from Ireland, to England, to New York and the Carribean, back to England and then on to Hobart Town. The cylinder stayed in Tasmania until Dr Dawson’s death in 1871. About 12 months later his widow Emma moved to Melbourne and the cylinder stayed there until this century.

I was given the cylinder about 6 years ago, as the custodian knew of my great interest in the family. I had previously written a book, Kilronan to Franklin and Beyond – The Story of Dr William Lee Dawson and his Descendants and some of the contents of the cylinder were published in the book.

What is in the cylinder? There are 27 certificates from various medical institutions in Dublin. Each course of study earned a certificate – from anatomy and physiology, surgery, diseases of the eye, to midwifery and diseases of women, lectures and dissections. From St Vincent's Hospital, the Apothecaries Hall, Mercer's Hospital, Coombe Lying in Hospital to the Dublin School of Medicine and the School of Anatomy, Medicine and Surgery.

As well there are letters of reference obtained during his studies, a letter with a duplicate copy written by the Colonial Secretary stating the immigrants on board the Mooltan arrrived in a clean and healthy condition. Another certificate appoints Dr Dawson as the Surgeon of the Huon Rifle Company Southern Tasmanian Volunteers in 1861.

 Now to your collective wisdom. What do I do with these treasures? I want to get them scanned so that I actually have a digital copy. Do I roll them back up and put them back in the cylinder? Do I place them in archival material? I am concerned that separate from the cylinder they may become lost. Some of the larger certificates are quite damaged on the edges as they have been crammed into the cylinder. So you can see that I am concerned about what is the best course of action. Any suggestions?


  1. While I am no archivist, personally I would photograph and scan the items, then put them back together, and store in an archival safe container. I'd also put some kind of note in the box, explaining the significance of the items, so others will know what they are when they come across them. That's just my own opinion though.


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