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Sir Edward (Ted) Ford (1902–1986)

by Michael B. Tyquin

This article was published:

Sir Edward (Ted) Ford (1902-1986), physician and professor of preventive medicine, was born on 15 April 1902 at Bethanga, Victoria, son of Australian-born parents Edward John Knight Ford, arsenic man, and his wife Mary Doxford, née Armstrong. Educated at Clunes Higher Elementary School, he joined the Postmaster-General’s Department in April 1917 as a telegraph messenger. He was employed as an assistant in the accounts branch when he matriculated at the age of 24 and entered the medical faculty at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1932; MD, 1946). During the Depression he supported himself by coaching other students and continuing to work for the PMG.

After serving as a resident medical officer at the Melbourne Hospital, Ford was appointed Stewart lecturer in anatomy at the university in 1933. From 1934 to 1936 he was a senior lec­turer in anatomy and histology. He came under the charismatic influence of Frederic Wood Jones, who fostered his love of books, and developed an interest in physical anthropology and then tropical medicine. In 1937 he moved to the University of Sydney, where he lectured at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine; he obtained its diploma in tropical medicine in 1938. For much of 1938-39 he was engaged on field studies for the Papuan administration. He then served as medical officer-in-charge of the Commonwealth Health Laboratory in Darwin.

On 1 June 1940 Ford was appointed major, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. Given command of the 1st Mobile Bacteriological Laboratory, he arrived in the Middle East in March 1941. He was attached to the 2/3rd Casualty Clearing Station in Syria from July to January 1942. Back in Australia in March, he was promoted to temporary lieutenant colonel in August (substantive in September) and made assistant-director of pathology, I Corps (and also New Guinea Force). In December he successfully appealed to General Sir Thomas Blamey for anti-malarial work to be given a higher priority and for vigorous control measures to be introduced. Appointed as malariologist, Land Headquarters, Melbourne, in March 1943, Ford played an increasingly important part in the AIF’s efforts to counter the inroads of mosquito-borne malaria in New Guinea and northern Australia. Among his best-known works was Malaria in the South West Pacific (1943). He became director of hygiene, pathology and entomology in March 1945, and was promoted to temporary colonel in May. On 25 June 1946 he transferred to the Reserve of Officers. He had been mentioned in despatches (1943) and appointed OBE (1945).

For his doctorate Ford wrote a thesis entitled `Malaria Control in Australia and the Pacific Dependencies: With Special Reference to Antimosquito Methods’. Awarded a Rockefeller fellowship, he gained a diploma in public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 1947. That year he was appointed professor of preventive medicine and director of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at the University of Sydney—positions which he retained until his retirement in 1968.

Among his many positions in academia, Ford was dean of the faculty of medicine and a fellow of the senate of the University of Sydney in 1952-57, and acting vice-chancellor in 1960-61. A member (1947-68) of the National Health and Medical Research Council, he accompanied the first Australian medical delegation to China in 1957. He sat on the inaugural council of Macquarie University, Sydney, helped to establish the medical school of the University of Western Australia and served on Sir Leslie Martin’s committee on the future of tertiary education in Australia. He also found time to be a board member of Sydney University Press. Serving in the Citizen Military Forces, he was director of army health in 1953-64. He was knighted in 1960.

Ford’s contributions to medicine, science, literature and history were recognised by many awards: he was a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1946), the Royal College of Physicians, London (1958), the (Royal) Australian College of Medical Administrators, the Zoological Society, London, and the Royal Sanitary Institute, London (later the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health), and an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australia (1971) and the Royal Australian Historical Society (1957). In 1969 the RCP and the RACP (of which he was to be vice-president in 1970-72) awarded him the (Sir) Neil Hamilton Fairley medal. He was granted an honorary D.Litt. By the University of Sydney in 1971.

Sir Edward’s high-pitched voice and gentle manner concealed great single-mindedness, unfailing logic and a talent for using simple words beautifully chosen. He had little patience with red tape. Known as Ted to his friends and colleagues, he was not only hospitable but also something of a gourmet. His greatest passion, however, was collecting books and during his lifetime he donated thousands of valuable works, including early Australiana, to the libraries of the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and the RACP. From 1958 until his death he was an active curator of the RACP’s library. He made a number of notable contributions to Australian medical history, including the important reference work Bibliography of Australian Medicine 1790-1900 (1976). A member of the Australian and Sydney clubs, he also belonged to the Sydney group of the Round Table. He never married and spent his last years at Cahors, an art deco apartment building at Potts Point, where he mixed with an eclectic group of artists and professional people. Ford died on 27 August 1986 at his home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Clinical Problems of War (1952)
  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (1953)
  • J. Hetherington, Blamey (1954)
  • A. S. Walker, The Island Campaigns (1957)
  • J. A. Young et al (eds), Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine (1984)
  • Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London, vol 8 (1989)
  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2, 1976-1990 (1994)
  • M. Tyquin, Little by Little (2003)
  • T. Sweeney, Malaria Frontline (2003)
  • University of Sydney, Gazette, Nov 1967, p 214
  • Ford papers (Royal Australasian College of Physicians Library, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael B. Tyquin, 'Ford, Sir Edward (Ted) (1902–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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