Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederick William Toll (1872–1955)

by Diane Menghetti

This article was published:

Frederick William Toll (1872-1955), army officer and accountant, was born on 18 January 1872 at Bowen, Queensland, eldest son of Benjamin Toll, carpenter, and his wife Annie, née Richards, both English born. The family soon moved to Charters Towers where Frederick was educated at the Normal School; at Brisbane Grammar School in 1888 he joined the army cadets. Back at Charters Towers, he became an accountant, was commissioned in the Kennedy Regiment on 2 February 1892 and promoted captain in 1897. On 22 September 1894 he had married English-born Emma Bone (d.1901), a shop assistant, at St Peter's Anglican Church, Townsville.

Volunteering for service in the South African War, Toll sailed with the 2nd Queensland contingent as a special service officer in January 1900. From Cape Town, he joined Lord Roberts's army in the occupation of Bloemfontein, commanding an infantry company of the (44th) Essex Regiment; he was next a field-aide and acting aide-de-camp on the 18th Brigade staff. Toll saw action during the advance to Kroonstad, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Belfast. After the capture of Nellspruit he was appointed provost-marshal and commanded troops who returned to Brisbane in December.

As second-in-command of the 5th (Queensland Imperial Bushmen) contingent, Toll returned to South Africa in March 1901. He was promoted major in April, commanded the contingent from 1 August in actions in the Cape and Orange River colonies and the Transvaal, and was captured briefly by Boers in January 1902. He reached Brisbane in April; his appointment terminated in July. At Charters Towers, Toll's enthusiastic letters to his father had received wide press coverage and the return of the town's 'favourite son' was fêted. He had been mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Queen's South Africa medal (with five clasps) and the King's (with two).

On 31 October 1904 at Charters Towers Baptist Church Toll married English-born Maria Louisa Berry; abandoning plans to settle in South Africa, they returned to Queensland. In 1906 he became manager of Mt Molloy sawmill. For various periods he served in the militia and cadets, and in 1913 was awarded the Volunteer Officers' Decoration. Enlisting again for overseas service on 7 November 1914, he embarked for New Guinea in January 1915, leading the 3rd Battalion, Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, with the rank of major (lieutenant-colonel from 1 March). As officer commanding the troops in Rabaul, he was twice acting administrator of New Guinea in the absence of Colonel (Sir) Samuel Pethebridge. With the formation of the 8th Infantry Brigade, Australian Imperial Force, Toll was given command of the 31st Battalion and posted to Egypt in November. He served in the Middle East for six months and embarked for France in June 1916. The battalion fought under Toll at Fromelles in July (for which action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order), Bapaume (March 1917) and Polygon Wood (September). Between 28 October and 14 November he temporarily led the brigade and in November was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O. Seriously injured and gassed at Polygon Wood, he was evacuated to Britain in January 1918. Having served with the A.I.F. Administrative Headquarters in London, he returned to Australia in March 1919 and his appointment terminated in May. He had twice been mentioned in dispatches by General Haig. Toll became commissioner for war service homes, then managed timber businesses in Brisbane and at Mackay. On 18 February 1932 he retired with the rank of honorary colonel.

Despite his prowess as a marksman, athlete and Rugby footballer, early photographs depict Toll as slightly built, with fine eyes, a generous mouth and even more generous ears. He was a foundation member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, its Brisbane vice-president in 1924-27 and Mackay president in 1928-30. In poor health, he returned to Brisbane in 1930 for medical attention and settled at Woody Point. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1939. During World War II he was district manpower officer, then services liaison officer. Late in life he collected material for a book on the Boer War. Toll died on 6 November 1955 at Greenslopes repatriation hospital, Brisbane, and was cremated. He was predeceased by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage: the son had been killed at Gallipoli.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-17 (Syd, 1929, 1933)
  • S. S. Mackenzie, The Australians at Rabaul (Syd, 1927)
  • D. H. Johnson, Volunteers at Heart (Brisb, 1974)
  • Northern Miner, 21 Oct 1899, 15 May–4 July 1900, 17 Mar 1901, 17 Mar 1902
  • Queenslander, 16 Mar 1901
  • Charters Towers Mining Standard, 7 Apr 1902
  • J. Neal, Charters Towers and the Boer War (B.A. Hons thesis, James Cook University, 1980)
  • D. Menghetti, Charters Towers (Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University, 1984)
  • R. Burla, Portrait of a Citizen Soldier: Lt-Col Frederick William Toll (typescript, privately held)
  • war diary, 31st Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • Charters Towers City Council, minute books (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Diane Menghetti, 'Toll, Frederick William (1872–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 18 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]


18 January, 1872
Bowen, Queensland, Australia


6 November, 1955 (aged 83)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.