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Arthur Todd Holroyd (1806–1887)

by H. T. E. Holt

This article was published:

Arthur Todd Holroyd (1806-1887), physician, explorer and jurist, was born on 1 December 1806 in London, the youngest child of Stephen Todd Holroyd, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Lofthouse. Educated at private schools and Ripon Grammar School, Holroyd studied medicine in Winchester at 18, the Webb Street School of Anatomy, Southwark, the University of Edinburgh (M.D., 1830) and Christ's College, Cambridge (M.B., 1832). Prominent in medical associations, he had become a fellow of the Zoological Society of London in 1826 and of the Linnean Society in 1829. In 1830 he married Sophia Rachel Abbs of Durham. He practised as a physician in London but, dissatisfied with his prospects, entered Lincoln's Inn in 1835. He studied Italian in Rome and in Egypt explored above the second cataract, and became the first European to cross the Bayuda desert to Khartoum and the first Englishman to visit Kordofan. His disclosures of horrifying slave hunts led to their abolition by Mahommed Ali Pasha. Familiar with Arabic he travelled through Sinai, Palestine and Syria. In 1839 in London he read a paper on his Kordofan expedition and was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In May 1841 he was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn and practised on the northern circuit. A director of the Commercial Bank of London, he was interested in the New Zealand banking system and in 1843 migrated there. In Wellington he practised as a barrister and solicitor, and moved to Sydney in 1844 after the Kororareka affair.

Holroyd was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 31 October 1845 and built up a lucrative practice, sometimes acting as crown prosecutor. He represented Western Boroughs in the Legislative Council in 1851-56 and in the first Legislative Assembly in 1856-57 when he was chairman of committees. In 1861-64 he sat for Parramatta and in 1863 became secretary for public works under James Martin. Cleared by a select committee in April 1864 from the charge that he had abused his trust by selecting mineral lands at Illawarra, he resigned his portfolio in October after William Arnold charged him with having obtained the appointment of Dr Hamilton to the commission of the peace 'for a pecuniary consideration', a charge which failed after investigation at the bar of the House.

In 1860 as acting chairman of the Quarter Sessions Holroyd roused public indignation by his leniency to a prisoner convicted for horse-whipping John Dunmore Lang. Holroyd maintained that if persons published offensive matter they must expect personal attacks or civil actions. In May 1866 he was appointed master in equity of the Supreme Court. In 1879 he acted as a Supreme Court judge for a month and became the first master in lunacy. In 1881 solicitors complained about his 'extraordinary conduct' but the minister of justice found his offence was 'more to be attributed to infirmity of temper than to any more serious misconduct'. He resigned both masterships and in 1885 published Suakim and the Country of Soudan for the information of the New South Wales contingent.

Holroyd had many interests. He was a director of the Australian Mutual Provident Society and the Ophir Gold Mining Co. and a member of the Chamber of Commerce. At his Merrylands estate, Sherwood Scrubs, he experimented with English fodder plants, cultivated an orangery, and manufactured agricultural drain-pipes and tiles at his Sherwood Drain and Tile Works (later Walker Benson Pty Ltd). In 1872 he was largely responsible for establishing the municipality of Prospect and Sherwood (Holroyd) and was its first mayor. With a bowling green of his own, he published a pamphlet on bowling and its rules in 1874 and was patron of the New South Wales Bowling Association. He was also a trustee of the Agricultural Society of New South Wales and the Sydney Grammar School, an original fellow of St Paul's College, University of Sydney, and a committee member of the Union Club. He had a notable collection of African and Aboriginal arms and curiosities. Holroyd was a prominent Freemason and in 1867-77 was district grand master of the English constitution.

Holroyd died at Sherwood Scrubs on 15 June 1887 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his only child Emily Sophia, daughter of his first wife, and by his second wife Elizabeth, née Armstrong, whom he had married on 5 August 1868 in the Parramatta Registry Office. Emily wrote books on the Far East. His estate, valued at £13,000, was sequestrated in 1889. He left his library and £500 to St Paul's College and £200 to the Zoological Society of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Chapman, The New-Zealand Portfolio (Lond, 1842)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1855, 1, 423, 1856-57, 2, 172
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1863-64, 1, 1315, 1398, 4, 257, 1864, 1, 135, 1881, 2, 705
  • J. Jervis, ‘The Beginnings of Settlement in the Parish of St. John’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 19 (1933-34)
  • Empire (Sydney), 22 Apr, 3 July 1856
  • Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • insolvency file 1191 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

H. T. E. Holt, 'Holroyd, Arthur Todd (1806–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Arthur Holroyd, n.d.

Arthur Holroyd, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 170820

Life Summary [details]


1 December, 1806
London, Middlesex, England


15 June, 1887 (aged 80)
Sherwood Scrubs, New South Wales, Australia

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