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Bassett, William Frederick (1824–1910)

by J. L. Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

William Frederick Bassett (1824-1910), medical practitioner and educationist, was born on 26 October 1824 in London, son of Thomas Prichard Bassett and his wife Martha, née Lee. He was brought up on the Continent, where he attended schools in Brussels and Germany. He returned to England for his professional training and studied medicine in London (M.R.C.S., 1849; L.S.A., 1850), and won the Snow medal. He is said to have studied under Michael Faraday who later corresponded with him. Bassett arrived at Sydney on 30 May 1851 as surgeon in the Windsor. In July he was appointed assistant surgeon at the Lunatic Asylum, Parramatta, at a salary of £150 which was increased to £216 13s. 4d. in 1853.

From 1834 to 1865 virtually no formal class 'continuation' education was available in New South Wales, although at various Schools of Arts significant numbers of adults attended 'popular science' lectures. Bassett took part in giving such lectures at Parramatta in the 1850s, his particular topic being 'The Chemical Relations of the Metals'. About 1858 he entered private practice in Parramatta. In 1860 he was joined by George Hogarth Pringle (M.D., Edinburgh, 1852), who had trained in England with Joseph Lister and was admitted by the Medical Board in Sydney in October 1859; at the end of 1860 he took over Bassett's remaining part-time government posts. In 1854 at Parramatta Bassett had married the widow Maria Theresa Sutherland, née Shinnor, of Flower Hill, County Cork. Abbot Henry Gregory's appointment of Bassett to the board of the Catholic Orphanage at Parramatta in 1859 created difficult problems for Archbishop John Bede Polding.

In 1864 Bassett and his wife accompanied Robert Towns to Queensland; soon after their return they moved to Bathurst where Bassett was appointed public vaccinator on 14 June 1865. On 10 February 1870 Bassett was appointed visiting surgeon to Bathurst Gaol and on 4 October government medical officer at Bathurst. Although he did not relinquish his duties at the gaol until 1909, he retired from most other work in 1903 and was presented with an illuminated address. The local press reported that 'he spoke feelingly in reply, and thanked them for their remarks, but said that he was quite at a loss to account for their kindness as he was not aware that he had done anything but his duty'.

In Bathurst Bassett continued his interest in adult education and began classes in chemistry; thus he is credited with starting the first classes in technical education in New South Wales outside the County of Cumberland; a full-time resident master was appointed teacher of chemistry in Bathurst in 1882. Bassett also was a vice-president of the Bathurst School of Arts for many years. His lectures no doubt reflected the district's gold mining fever; he appears to have been a partner in several unsuccessful small mining companies and in 1874 applied for a mining patent. In 1886 he published a pamphlet, Energy; or, Thoughts on Inductive Reasoning in its Bearing on Natural Religion.

His interest in education resulted in his membership of the inaugural council of All Saints College, Bathurst, which opened in 1873; he also became a much respected medical officer at the Convents of Mercy. His civic interests included negotiations, after the gaol was moved, to use the site for the formation of Machattie Park, named after another medico; Bassett was one of the first trustees. In 1871 he was sworn in as a magistrate and sat on the local licensing bench for some years. In 1868 he helped to form a volunteer corps at Bathurst and was an honorary member at £1 a year; earlier he had been a member of the Parramatta Corps. Much respected throughout the Bathurst district for his yeoman service in humanitarian and educational spheres, he died on 25 March 1910 and was privately buried in the Anglican section of the Bathurst general cemetery.

Predeceased by his wife, a Catholic, who had died in 1891, he was survived by three sons, three daughters and a stepson. The two oldest sons were educated at Launceston Grammar School, their father obviously desiring the best education for them. The eldest, William Frederick Prichard, studied medicine at Edinburgh (M.R.C.S.; M.D., 1880). After practising in Lithgow and at Bathurst Hospital, he joined his father in practice; he took a great interest in municipal affairs and during one of his terms as mayor, his two brothers were mayors of Carcoar and Wellington.

Select Bibliography

  • K. M. Brown, Medical Practice in Old Parramatta (Syd, 1937)
  • National Advocate, 26 Mar 1910
  • New South Wales, Returns of the Colony (State Records New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. L. Stewart, 'Bassett, William Frederick (1824–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/bassett-william-frederick-81/text4283, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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