Sir Charles Todd may not be a name that immediately comes to mind when thinking of tech innovators but he did for Australian communications is unprecedented and truly remarkable.

Todd devised plans to lay the first telegraph pole linking Adelaide and Darwin, which came to be known as the Adelaide-Darwin Overland Telegraph Line – the beginnings of the first Australia-wide communications network.

He accomplished the Overland Telegraph with minimal fuss in two years. Today, the modern equivalent – the NBN -- is expected to take approximately 10 years to roll out across Australia.

In addition to being an electrical engineer, Todd was also an experienced astronomer and meteorologist.

Now, more than 100 after his death, the first biography of Sir Charles Todd has been released.

The biography titled, "Behind the Legend, the many Worlds of Charles Todd", was written by Emeritus Professor Denis Cryle, CQU.

At the book’s launch late last month, Cryle outlined the enormity of the task by indicating it took three researchers and a period of 35 years to get a reasonable story together about this giant of colonial science and technology.

The event on April 26 was mounted by the Charles Todd Research group comprising South Australian representatives of ACS, Engineers Australia, the Australian Meteorological Association, the Astronomical Society of SA, Surveying and Spatial Sciences Institute and the Philatelic Society of SA.

ACS President Anthony Wong was in attendance.

Todd's professional reach extended well beyond telegraphic work and he is claimed as a founding father to all of the professional institutions outlined above.

At times, Todd held the formal and informal South Australian titles of Government Astronomer, Government Meteorologist, Head of Electric Telegraph, Post Master General, Government Electrician, and Colonial Timekeeper. At Federation, the special position of Assistant Postmaster General of Australia was created as he was too old to take on the full Postmaster General duties.  (Fact: Alice Springs was named after Todd's wife, Alice.)

Barry Todd with a cardboard cut-out of his great grand father, Sir Charles Todd

Speakers on the night included:

  • Author Denis Cryle, Todd family member
  • Barry Todd (great grandson)
  • Prof Eric Richards (Flinders University) who set the colonial scene at Todd's arrival in 1855
  • Richard Venus, Engineers Australia on Todd's contribution to electrical engineering (some of Todd's Standards of Performance, created at Federation, still form part of our electricity regulations today)
  • Professor Marie Wilson, UniSA Pro Vice Chancellor Business and Law on Todd as an effective technology entrepreneur.

The event attracted 145 people, with many Todd family descendants and a number of interstate attendees. Registration had to be closed four weeks before the launch because capacity had been reached -- almost unheard of for a biography launch of a colonial Australian.

The Todd Research Group is continuing its work and is in the process of building where further information about Todd's 65 year professional career can be found.

Further enquiries can be made at

‘Behind the Legend: The Many Worlds of Charles Todd’, by Denis Cryle is published by Australian Scholarly Publishing and can be purchased here for $49.95.

This article was contributed by Mac Benoy, for the T.R. Group, with additional notes by Roulla Yiacoumi. All photos by Mac Benoy.