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Dodd, Alan Parkhurst (1896–1981)

by R. E. McFadyen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Alan Parkhurst Dodd (1896-1981), entomologist, was born on 8 January 1896 at Upper Ithaca Creek, Brisbane, fifth of eight children of Frederick Parkhurst Dodd, a Victorian-born clerk who was to become a well-known naturalist, and his wife Jane Gertrude, née Dempsey, who came from Ireland. The Dodds moved to Townsville in 1899 and shortly after to Kuranda. From childhood Alan was involved in the family business of collecting and preserving insects for sale worldwide. Educated at Kuranda State and Townsville Grammar schools, in 1912 he was appointed assistant-entomologist with the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations, Gordonvale. He worked under A. A. Girault, writing up to eight scientific papers a year on Microhymenoptera, in particular minute scelionid wasps. Tall and gangly, he had dark hair and a long thin face with a somewhat morose expression.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 February 1916, Dodd served on the Western Front in 1917-18 as a medical orderly with the 15th Field Ambulance and took three months’ leave in 1919 to study natural history at the British Museum, before being discharged in Brisbane in October. He returned to his position at Gordonvale, and in 1921 became a laboratory assistant with the new Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board, Commonwealth Institute of Science and Industry, under Thomas Harvey Johnston, who had attempted unsuccessfully to control the weed with the moth Cactoblastis cactorum. In 1924-25 Dodd, now senior entomologist, directed the board’s investigations in North and South America. With the assistance of an Argentinian, E. E. Blanchard, he collected live specimens of Cactoblastis from Argentina and arranged for their shipment back to Queensland. In his report he thanked Blanchard for `his ever-willing assistance’. The insects, reared and host-tested in Brisbane by John Mann, had by 1930 destroyed the prickly pear, which had spread over an estimated 65 million acres (26.3 million ha), but Dodd never again publicly acknowledged the roles played by Blanchard and Mann.

The successful control of prickly pear established Dodd as a leading scientist, and in 1925 he was named officer-in-charge, prickly pear investigations. In 1939 he was appointed MBE. He published The Biological Campaign against Prickly Pear (1940). When the Prickly Pear Board was wound up in 1939, its facilities at Sherwood, Brisbane, and remaining staff were taken over by the Queensland government to form a biological section within the Department of Public Lands, with Dodd as director. Although an excellent naturalist with a wide knowledge of insects, he was difficult and autocratic, and distrustful of scientists with degrees. As a result the biological section achieved very little under his leadership. He retired in 1962 and that year was appointed OBE.

Dodd was a founding member (1923) of the Entomological Society of Queensland, serving as president in 1938 and 1945, and becoming an honorary life member in 1962. A bachelor whose only interest was his work, he lived alone or with siblings in his house near the research station. Many Australian insects, and a second species of Cactoblastis, were named after him. Dodd died on 3 July 1981 at Chelmer and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 1981, p 8
  • Entomological Society of Queensland, News Bulletin, July 1988, p 43
  • R. E. McFadyen, The Harrisia Cactus Eradication Scheme (M.Pub. Ad. thesis, University of Queensland, 1990) and for bibliography.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. E. McFadyen, 'Dodd, Alan Parkhurst (1896–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dodd-alan-parkhurst-12425/text22339, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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