People: Charles Todd

Name Todd, Charles
Place of work Greenwich
Employment dates
6 Dec 1841 – Dec(?)1844, Dec(?) 1845 – Jan 1847  &  May 1854 – Mar 1855

Posts 1841, Dec 6

  1844, Dec Laid off at Greenwich, employed elsewhere (RGO6/526)
1845, Dec Computer (RGO6/526)
1847, Feb Laid off at Greenwich (RGO6/526)

1847, Dec(?)

To Cambridge University Observatory as Junior Assistant
May 1854 Assistant at Greenwich

Born 1826, Jul 7


Died 1910, Jan 29


Family Links Older brother of Henry Todd (Computer 1855–1856)

Known addresses 1844–1847 4 King Street (RGO6/526)

Sir Charles Todd c.1890. State Library of South Australia, image number B-11290

Charles Todd was born in Islington and brought up in Greenwich. He joined the Observatory in 1841 at the age of 15 as a Boy Computer to work on the Planetary and Lunar Reductions. In 1846, he is also recorded as having undertaken observing duties. In 1847 he was recommended by Airy for the post of Junior Assistant at the Cambridge Observatory. He remained at Cambridge until the resignation at Greenwich in 1854 of the Assistant John Henderson. When offered the post by Airy, Todd didn’t hesitate to accept (RGO6/3) though there were implications for his brother with whom he shared accommodation. He rejoined the Royal Observatory in May 1854. As well as undertaking observing duties he also took on responsibility for the galvanic apparatus which was used amongst other things to drop the Time Balls at Greenwich and Deal. In 1855, John Henderson having declined the offer, Todd was recommended by Airy for the post of Astronomical and Meteorological Observer, and Head of the Electric Telegraph Department in South Australia, a post that paid a substantially higher salary. Having been appointed on 10 February, he married Alice Bell, arriving with her in Adelaide on 4 November 1855. His post at Greenwich was filled by George Criswick, a former Greenwich Computer who had been appointed to the post of Junior Assitant at Cambridge when Todd had moved to Greenwich.

In Australia, he connected Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney by electric telegraph. He is best known for the later extension of the telegraph system to Darwin on the north coast, which enabled Australia to connect to the rest of the world via the undersea cable. He was knighted in 1893. His daughter Gwendoline married the physicist William Henry Bragg and was mother of William Lawrence Bragg, both of whom shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1915. William Henry Bragg seved on the Observatory’s Board of Visitors from 1920 until 1940, and was its chairman from 1935–40 .



Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol. 71, p.272 (1911)


Further reading

Todd, Sir Charles (1826–1910), Australian Dictionary of Biography

Proceedings of the Parliament of South Australia (1855)

The Singing Line, Alice Thompson (Doubleday 1999) – a book written by Todd’s Great Great Granddaughter who retraced his route across Australia in the 1990s.

Behind the Legend: The Many Worlds of Charles Todd, Denis Cryle (2017)