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Frederick Augustus Todd (1880–1944)

by A. J. Dunston

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Frederick Augustus Todd (1880-1944), professor of Latin, was born on 14 March 1880 at Alexandria, Sydney, fourth child of native-born parents, William Alexander Neil Todd, bootmaker, and his wife Margaret Ann, née Lappin. Educated at Sydney Boys' High School, he won the James Aitken scholarship for general proficiency at matriculation and the Cooper scholarship for classics (proxime accessit). At the University of Sydney he studied Latin and Greek under Thomas Butler and Walter Scott, and won the Cooper scholarship in 1899 and 1900. He graduated B.A. in 1901, with first-class honours in Latin and Greek, the University medal for classics and the Woolley travelling scholarship.

Enabled to study at Leipzig and the University of Jena, Germany, in 1902 Todd was admitted to the classical seminar of two of the most distinguished Latinists in Europe, Professors G. Goetz and R. Hirzel. He graduated Ph.D. in classics magna cum laude in December 1903; his thesis, De Musis in Carminibus Poetarum Romanorum Commemoratis, was published at Jena that year.

Earlier in 1903 Todd was appointed assistant lecturer in Latin at the University of Sydney. He was acting professor of Greek in 1908 and of Latin in 1909. Assistant professor of Latin (1913) and acting professor (1920), he succeeded Butler in the chair in 1922. He was a stern upholder and defender of what he saw as the university's traditions and responsibilities. With E. R. Garnsey, he founded the Classical Association of New South Wales in 1909; secretary of the University Extension Board (1912-21), for over twenty-five years he was a member of the Board of Examiners (later Board of Secondary School Studies). In these capacities he made his influence and that of his discipline felt in the general education and intellectual life of city and country alike. In 1924 he was unsuccessfully sued for alleged defamation by a schoolteacher whose competence he had questioned at a meeting of examiners; Todd was defended at public expense. Engaging in all the university union's activities, he was its president in 1914. While on leave in 1924 he represented the university at the Imperial Education Conference in London. He was dean of the faculty of arts and a fellow of senate in 1930-37.

Duties of this nature exacted a heavy toll from Todd and the major original work in classics predicted by Goetz did not materialize. However, his philological notes and papers in the Classical Review and Classical Quarterly provide ample evidence of scholarship and an extensive reading of classical literature. His book, Some Ancient Novels (Oxford, 1940), based on a series of Extension Board lectures, was a pioneering introduction to the subject: Oxford University Press suggested that he undertake a much larger study, but Todd did not do so, perhaps because he planned a work on Pompeian metrical inscriptions. His greatest contribution to scholarship was his teaching and the imposing array of former pupils who carried on the classical tradition in universities and schools.

Todd's personality aroused strong reactions both of affection and of antipathy, the latter possibly because he 'sometimes identified the opinions he disliked with the men who held them'. On occasions he struck his colleagues as being acerbic: the historian G. A. Wood called him 'the Metternich of the University'.

From August 1914 Todd was a military interpreter, termed an assistant censor from 1916. On 16 October 1918 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, but did not go overseas. At Holy Trinity Church, Marrickville, on 4 February 1919 he married Florence Helen Grahame Glover who graduated in arts later that year; they lived at Mosman. For his children's enjoyment, he compiled a collection which he entitled Nugarum Liber. This scrapbook, mainly hand-written, includes copies of his translations from and into classical verse, the subjects ranging from Sappho to nursery rhymes; it also contains letters and press-cuttings of events and controversies in which he had participated: the volume reveals the congenial side of his nature.

Survived by his wife, three daughters and two sons, Todd died of coronary occlusion at the university on 13 June 1944 and was cremated with Anglican rites. The university war memorial hymn for the carillon, Campanarum Canticum, for which he had composed the inspiring words, was played when the quadrangle was stilled concurrently with his funeral service at St Augustine's Anglican Church, Neutral Bay.

Select Bibliography

  • H. E. Barff, A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Syd, 1902)
  • A. R. Chisholm, Men Were My Milestones (Melb, 1958)
  • R. M. Crawford, ‘A Bit of a Rebel’ (Syd, 1975)
  • H. D. Jocelyn, ‘Australia-New Zealand: Greek and Latin Philology’, in La Filologia Greca e Latina Nel Secolo xx, 1 (Pisa, Italy, 1989)
  • University of Sydney Union, Union Recorder, 13 July 1944
  • Todd papers (University of Sydney Archives).

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Citation details

A. J. Dunston, 'Todd, Frederick Augustus (1880–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 March, 1880
Alexandria, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


13 June, 1944 (aged 64)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.