Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Henry Todd (1859–1931)

by Margaret Bettison

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Ellen Joy Todd

Robert Henry Todd (1859-1931), medical administrator, and Ellen Joy Todd (1860-1948), journalist, were husband and wife. Robert was born on 10 July 1859 in Old Burlington Street, London, son of Armstrong Todd, surgeon, and his wife Frances Alicia, née Kinahan. Educated at Christ's Hospital school, Hertford College, Oxford (B.A., 1882) and Trinity College, Dublin (M.B., Ch.B., M.D., 1886), he gained a diploma in state medicine and in 1887 was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Ellen was born on 16 May 1860 at Woolwich Arsenal, Greenwich, Kent, daughter of Captain Andrew Orr, Royal Artillery, and his wife Lucy Erskine, née Acworth. After Andrew's death in 1870, Lucy and her seven children lived with her father, an Anglican clergyman, at Wimborne and Stoke. The girls were educated at home and learned Italian.

In Monkstown parish church, Dublin, Robert and Ellen were married by her grandfather with Church of Ireland rites on 14 June 1887. Robert sailed as ship's surgeon in the Hawkesbury, reaching Sydney with his bride in October. He practised in the suburbs and was honorary anaesthetist at (Royal) Prince Alfred Hospital; she was a founder of the Ladies' Club in 1889. Moving to Maclean on the Northern Rivers in 1889, Todd was government medical officer at Grafton and Ellen secretary of the local St John Ambulance Association.

When an infection permanently weakened his wrist, Todd returned to Sydney in 1892 and studied law; he was admitted to the Bar on 23 February 1894 and practised until 1926. He was deputy city coroner in 1899-1904 and chaired several industrial boards. Intensely musical, he was honorary secretary of the Sydney Amateur Orchestral Society and played the clarinet in its orchestra under Roberto Hazon. As associate to (Sir) Charles Mackellar, in 1903-04 Todd was largely responsible for drawing up the report of the royal commission into the decline of the birth-rate. He was a member of the Medical Board of New South Wales in 1907-28 and lectured in medical jurisprudence (1910-31) and in ethics of medical practice (1922-31) at the University of Sydney.

Meanwhile Ellen contributed to the Echo, Illustrated Sydney News and to Louisa Lawson's Dawn. Joining the staff of the Australian Town and Country Journal under the editorship of Walter Jeffery, she supplied book reviews and theatrical and musical critiques, as well as the obligatory social notes. From January 1906 until 1923 she was foundation editor of the weekly Woman's Budget, published by S. Bennett Ltd. In the first issue it claimed to be 'WRITTEN by WOMEN for WOMEN'. Although the magazine featured items on cookery, dressmaking and fashion, it also included articles of wider interest and provided an outlet for women writers. Circulation under her editorship was estimated to have reached 150,000 weekly.

A council-member of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association from 1896, Todd was its honorary secretary in 1908-31. He helped to found the Federal Council in Australia of the B.M.A. in 1912, drafted its constitution and was secretary from 1918. As company secretary he also set up the Australasian Medical Publishing Co. Ltd in 1913 to produce the Medical Journal of Australia. Unstinting with his time, he was consulted by council-members and State branches. He was elected a vice-president of the B.M.A. in England (1922), was awarded the Federal Council's gold medal (1923) and served on the Commonwealth royal commission on health in 1925.

A trustee of Taronga Zoological Park, Todd personally conducted the elephant, Jessie, from Moore Park to her new home. With classical features and silver hair, Robert was dapper in appearance. The Todds' large and comfortable home at Double Bay was filled with books. Ellen enjoyed playing contract bridge. Whenever the maid left, she persuaded a neighbour's daughter to cook for her. A small-boned, bustling woman with patrician manners and old-fashioned black clothes, Ellen 'almost ran with quick little steps' rather than walking.

Robert died at his home on 14 December 1931 and was cremated with Anglican rites. From 1933 until 1940 Mrs Todd worked in an honorary capacity for the Empire Gazette, edited by Adela Pankhurst Walsh. Looking Back, Ellen's recollections of social and artistic life in Sydney, was published in 1938. Her Rhymes at Random had appeared in 1917. She died on 24 February 1948 at Double Bay and was cremated with Anglican rites; her estate was valued for probate at £20,030. The Todds were childless.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Walker, The Newspaper Press in New South Wales, 1803-1920 (Syd, 1976)
  • Woman's Budget, no 1, 30 Jan 1906, p 11
  • Australasian Journalist, 10, no 7, July 1922, p 148
  • Newspaper News, 4, no 9, Jan 1932, p 10
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 12 Mar 1932, p 379
  • Empire Gazette, no 42, Nov 1933, p 13
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 26 Sept 1891
  • Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 21 Mar, 11 July, 12 Dec 1891, 2 July 1892
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Dec 1931, 26 Feb 1948
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Bettison, 'Todd, Robert Henry (1859–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 30 May 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]


10 July, 1859
London, Middlesex, England


14 December, 1931 (aged 72)
New South Wales, Australia

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