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Peggy Elizabeth Roberta Read (Lady Humphreys) (1913–2000)

by Laura Cook

This article was published online in 2024

Dr. Roberta Read & Adam, by unknown photographer

Dr. Roberta Read & Adam, by unknown photographer

Workers' Educational Association Annual Report, 1979

Peggy Elizabeth Roberta Read (1913–2000), veterinary surgeon, was born on 30 April 1913 at Exeter, England and adopted by Herbert Iszard, a wealthy courier and haulage contractor, and his wife Emma Beatrice, née Fox, both hailing from what is now Greater London. Their only child, Peggy was educated at North London Collegiate School and attended a finishing school in France. Encouraged by her father’s belief in her abilities, her early ambitions centred on human medicine but, moved by the plight of working horses used in the haulage industry, she instead resolved to become a veterinarian. After passing the preliminary examination in 1932, she attended the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which had begun admitting women a decade earlier. Following a break in studies to recover from injuries sustained while racing her Jaguar in Monaco, she graduated as a member of the RCVS on 8 July 1937.

Iszard began her career at a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) clinic before managing the ‘pets’ corner’ at London Zoo in 1938, where she hand-reared young animals and helped educate children about wildlife and pets. She resigned when she came to understand that, being a woman, her ambition to become a zoological veterinarian would likely remain unfulfilled. Subsequently taking up a position in the pet department at Selfridges & Co., she also advised on pet care on British Broadcasting Corporation radio and ran her own veterinary practice at Wembley. As World War II descended on London, she joined the National Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee, rescuing lost pets in a converted ‘animal ambulance’ and euthanising the injured.

On 3 November 1939 Iszard married Vernon Reginald Pashley, a biscuit salesman, at St John the Evangelist Church, Wembley; the partnership ended in divorce. Her second marriage on 28 July 1944 to Lieutenant Robert William Sanders, Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve, at Hendon prompted her move to Australia. In April 1946 she departed England aboard the RMS Rangitata alongside over two hundred other war brides. Remarkably tall, slim, and attractive, with dark hair and grey-green eyes, upon arriving in Adelaide Roberta (Robbie), as she came to be known, modelled for the Myer Emporium department store.

Sanders joyfully recommenced veterinary medicine after news of her qualification spread and customers began requesting her professional skills. After registering with the South Australian Veterinary Surgeons’ Board, she initially worked at a practice in suburban Rose Park. Her parents joined her in Adelaide in 1949, gifting their daughter Glynde House, a historic estate at Payneham in the city’s north-east. There she established her own practice in the home’s former laundry. She became involved with the local community, including as president (1949–51) of the Soroptimist Club, but also faced personal challenges. Her marriage ended in divorce in 1951: she was accused of committing adultery with her brother-in-law, William Charles Sanders, a photographer, though others believed she had been swindled out of some of her land and money by her husband and that this had led to the separation. She maintained a relationship with William for several years, including the ten months they spent in England over 1952–53. While he is often referred to as her third husband, it does not appear that they legally married.

During the 1950s Sanders developed a specialisation in companion animals, advocating for minimally invasive flank surgery in desexing cats and dogs. Her enthusiasm extended to larger animals, including the working horses at Coopers Brewery. She also revived her interest in zoological surgery, performing a remarkable and successful procedure to save an Ashton’s Circus lion by blood transfusion in 1954.

By 1960 Sanders’s relationship with William had ended, and on 30 September that year she married London-born Frederick George Read, an army officer who became her practice manager. With his support, she expanded the facilities at Glynde House into a purpose-built veterinary hospital. Respected by colleagues and clients alike, she also directed her energies to raising veterinary medicine’s profile. Read spoke publicly on responsible pet ownership, including at the Workers’ Educational Association, as the ‘resident vet’ on Adelaide radio station 5DN, and on Australian Broadcasting Commission television. An avid and wide-ranging reader, she could converse with talkback radio callers on almost any topic. She was a lifelong supporter of the RSPCA, was elected South Australian divisional president of the Australian Veterinary Association in 1966, and was a member of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists.

Described as ‘flamboyant, fashionable and fierce’ (Williams 2000, 76), Read was known to arrive at house calls in a broad-brimmed hat and gloves before donning her surgery gear. Driven to outbursts when confronted by animal abuse or neglect, her quick wit and passion popularised the veterinary sciences. Often accompanied by her Great Dane, Adam, or one of her many other dogs, she had no children and considered her pets to be family. In 1981 she was appointed AM for her animal welfare work, before retiring from professional veterinary practice the following year.

After her husband’s death on 26 November 1992, Read met Sir Olliver William Humphreys, a retired English electrical engineer, on a cruise. They married on 8 May 1993 in a registry office in Surrey, England, and lived between there and Adelaide until he died in 1996. Increasingly frail in old age, she was cared for in her final years by Neville Craig, a younger man who moved in and drove her around town in her Jaguar. She died on 21 March 2000 at Wakefield Hospital and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery, Adelaide. Guests at her funeral were encouraged to donate to the Animal Welfare League of South Australia. In 2006 she was honoured posthumously when she was named by the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Veterinary Science on the list of one hundred ‘Outstanding Women Veterinary Science Graduates’ and was awarded a Belle Bruce Reid medal.

Research edited by Michelle Staff

Select Bibliography

  • Giesecke, Robin, and D. B. Lindsay. ‘Obituary: Peggy Elizabeth Roberta Read, AM (Lady Humphreys).’ Australian Veterinary Journal 78, no. 11 (November 2000): 785
  • Greater Than Their Knowing: A Glimpse of South Australian Women 1836–1986. Netley, SA: Wakefield Press, 1986
  • Jones, Helen M., Robin Giesecke, and Paula H. Jones. She’s No Lady, She’s the Vet! Stories from 100 Years of Female Vets in Australia. Bulls Creek, WA: Fair Jo Publishing, 2019
  • National Archives of Australia. D400, SA1960/11340
  • Partington, R., and J. Shaw. ‘Interview with Peggy Iszard.’ NLCS Magazine 60, no. 192 (July 1939): 624–25. North London Collegiate School Archives
  • Slatter, Peter. Personal communication
  • Williams, Nadine. ‘Passion for Pets.’ Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 April 2000, 76

Additional Resources

Citation details

Laura Cook, 'Read (Lady Humphreys), Peggy Elizabeth Roberta (1913–2000)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/read-lady-humphreys-peggy-elizabeth-roberta-33449/text41819, published online 2024, accessed online 22 February 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Dr. Roberta Read & Adam, by unknown photographer

Dr. Roberta Read & Adam, by unknown photographer

Workers' Educational Association Annual Report, 1979

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Humphreys, Lady Peggy Elizabeth Roberta
  • Iszard, Peggy Elizabeth Roberta
  • Pashley, Peggy Elizabeth Roberta
  • Sanders, Peggy Elizabeth Roberta
Birth

30 April, 1913
Exeter, Devon, England

Death

21 March, 2000 (aged 86)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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