Robert Arthur Dawbarn, electrical engineer, was educated at Tettenhall College, Staffordshire, and while serving an apprenticeship also attended engineering classes at Anderson's College (later the West of Scotland Technical Institute). In 1881 he was appointed assistant engineer to the British Electric Light Company and three years later joined the staff of J.S. Raworth to work on ship lighting. From 1885 to 1887 he worked for Siemens Brothers and Co. and in the latter year went to the Brush Company. A year later he became chief assistant engineer to J.S. Raworth, who was then superintending engineer to the Brush Company. In this position he was responsible for many electric lighting schemes. In 1899 he visited Australia on behalf of the Brush Company and on his return was appointed superintending engineer. However he left the company in 1900 to become a consulting engineer and partner in the London firm Mordey and Dawbarn, electrical engineers. He was elected an associate (1888) and later a member (1894) of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1906).
In August 1902 Mordey and Dawbarn were appointed as engineers for the extension of the Johannesburg power station and the construction of electrical tramways. They remained consulting electrical engineers to the Johannesburg Municipal Light and Power Department until 1908, despite the fact that their recommendations that gas engines be used to generate electric power and that three distinct systems of electricity supply be used for the electric tramways led to severe and costly problems. In 1903 the firm reported on electric lighting and tramways for Pretoria, and the next year submitted a proposal for the electrification of the railway from Springs to Randfontein. In 1905 they provided advice on the Johannesburg telephone system, and during 1905-1906 reported on the supply of electricity to government departments in Durban.
Dawbarn was in South Africa in 1906 and presented a paper on "Power generation and distribution" at the annual meeting of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science in Kimberley that year. His paper was published in the association's Report for 1905/1906 (pp. 468-478). It dealt with the efficiency of electrical power generation using either steam engines or engines burning coal gas, and the economic advantages and disadvantages of locally versus centrally generated electric power.