Anton Heinrich von Dessauer, mining and metallurgical engineer, was the son of Dr Heinrich von Dessauer, medical practitioner, and his wife Antonie, born Hochfaerber. He was educated in South America and at the Polytechnic School at Muenchen, Germany. In 1887 he obtained the government diploma in mining engineering at the Koenigliche Bergakademie (Royal School of Mines) in Freiberg, Sachsen, Germany. Subsequently he worked in various mining regions in Germany, Turkey, and Hungary. In 1892 he came to South Africa and was employed as assistant engineer by the firm Wernher, Beit & Co., Johannesburg. A year later he became assistant consulting engineer to Goerz & Co. until 1896. After a brief spell as general manager of the Van Ryne Estate he set up his own business as consulting engineer that same year.
Von Dessauer made his first contribution to the scientific literature on southern Africa as co-author of a paper by K.A. Redlich, "Ein beitrag zur Kenntniss der Umtali-Districtes (Manica, Mashonaland)", which was published in the Oesterreichische Zeitschrift fuer Bergwesen (1897). The next year he produced a paper on a quite different topic, "The Carlin tube (A new metal-mercury connection for the electric current in electrolysis)". This was read before the Chemical and Metallurgical Society of South Africa (Johannesburg) on 21 May 1898, and published in the society's Proceedings (Vol. 2, pp. 333-337). Von Dessauer was an associate of the society.
During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) von Dessauer served in a volunteer corps and later as staff captain attached to the Military Intelligence Department. By 1903 he was back in Johannesburg and became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. He served as a member of council for Johannesburg in 1904/5, and for the Witwatersrand from 1907 to 1910. In 1905, after the joint meetings of the British and South African Associations for the Advancement of Science, he acted as sub-editor of the papers on anthropology (Section H), which were published as part of the Addresses and papers... read at the meeting. His scientific interests therefore extended beyond geology and mining engineering.
Most of Von Dessauer's contributions to geology were presented at meetings of the Geological Society of South Africa, of which he became a member in 1904. He read papers on "Some shales in and observations on the dolomite of Pilgrim's Rest" (Transactions, 1909, Vol. 12); and "Notes on the vertical and bedded veins of Pilgrim's rest" (Transactions, 1912, Vol. 15, pp. 146-154). Furthermore, as reported in the society's Proceedings, he participated in the discussion of a number of papers between 1905 and 1914. With Hans Merensky* he searched for platinum in the chromium ores of the Bushveld Igneous Complex, motivated by the fact that platinum had been found in association with similar ores in the Ural Mountains, Russia. Though they did find some platinum, it did not occur in recoverable quantities. Their findings were reported by A.L. Hall* and W.A. Humphrey* in 1908 (Transactions, Vol. 11), with the authors' own findings resulting from similar prospecting. Von Dessauer was elected vice-president of the Geological Society of South Africa for 1910, 1913 and 1914.
During World War I (1914-1918) von Dessauer was interned as an enemy subject. He was released in August 1919.