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Joseph Espie Dods (1874–1930)

by Robert Likeman

Joseph Espie Dods (Espie), soldier and doctor of medicine, was born on 29 June 1874 in Shepherd's Bush, London, the youngest of the three sons of Robert Smith Dods, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Gray, née Stodart. Robert Dods had emigrated from Scotland in 1857, and made his fortune by victualling the prospectors on the goldfields of Central Otago in New Zealand. In 1866 in Melbourne he married the daughter of another expatriate from Edinburgh, James Dickson Stodart.  In 1870 the Dods family returned to Scotland to retire. However Robert Dods became ill and died in 1876. In 1878 Elizabeth returned to Melbourne with her three sons and settled in Brisbane. In 1879 she married Dr Charles Marks who had been the surgeon on the ship which had brought them back to Australia.

Espie Dods was educated at Brisbane Grammar School and at Morat (Murten) in Switzerland. In 1892 he entered medical school in Edinburgh. His eldest brother Robin was already in Edinburgh studying architecture. Dods graduated in 1897, and then went to Trinity College Dublin to study for the Diploma of Public Health, which was awarded by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ireland. After working as a ship's doctor on voyages across the North Atlantic in 1898, he returned to Brisbane in 1899. He had been commissioned in the Queensland Defence Force as a Lieutenant in 1898, and in May 1899 as soon as he was registered as a medical practitioner in Queensland, he was promoted Captain. The Second Boer War began in October 1899, and Queensland was the first of the colonies to offer troops for service in South Africa. Dods was selected as Medical Officer to the Contingent. This may have been facilitated by his step-father, who was by now  a Lieutenant Colonel in the Militia and a Member of the Legislative Council. The contingent embarked for Cape Town on 1 November 1899.

Dods was awarded the Queen's South Africa medal with four clasps, the Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Driefontein, and  Johannesburg.  He distinguished himself at Sunnyside by staying out overnight in the bush with a wounded officer, and bringing him in the next morning. Dods arrived back in Australia in December 1900. He spent 1901 undertaking a number of locums, including one for Dr Charles Wray the Government Medical Officer. In May 1902 Dr Wray died from plague, contracted while performing an autopsy on a victim of the outbreak of April that year. Dods immediately stepped up into the position which he was to occupy for the next twenty-eight years.

In February 1906 Dods married Anna Ruth Walker, daughter of William John Walker, Secretary of the Australian Mutual Provident Society. They were to have four children, a daughter and three sons. Dods's mother had a house built for the newly-weds at 97 Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. The building still stands, and is known today as Dods House. As time passed, Dods became a prominent figure in the Brisbane medical community. In 1913 he was elected President of the Queensland Branch of the British Medical Association. He held this office for a second time in 1918 on his return from the Western Front.

In September 1914 Espie was appointed Regimental Medical Officer of the 5th Light Horse Regiment, which was raised in Queensland. The unit embarked in Sydney on 20th December, and after training at Maadi near Cairo, it landed at Gallipoli on 21st May. In August Dods was wounded while treating a wounded man in the open during an artillery barrage. He was evacuated to Egypt, and subsequently awarded the Military Cross for his bravery. After recuperating in Alexandria, he returned to Gallipoli in late October. After the withdrawal from Anzac, Espie was promoted Major and posted to the headquarters of the 1st Division as Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services. He went to France with the division, and was in charge of casualty regulation for their attack on the village of Pozières, and afterwards on Mouquet Farm. For organising the efficient evacuation of the wounded he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel in January 1917, and returned to Australia in April 1917.

Dods resumed his duties as Government Medical Officer and Health Officer for the Port of Brisbane. He was Visiting Surgeon to Brisbane Prisons, the Lock Hospital, the St Helena Penal Colony, and the Peel Island Leprosarium. He was also required to perform forensic autopsies and to give evidence in court, and to attend judicial executions at Boggo Road Gaol (although the last of these was in 1913).  He remained in the CMF, and was active in the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia, the forerunner of the RSL. He was much in demand as a speaker at a wide variety of functions. In 1929 he took Long Service leave, and travelled to Europe. This trip included the presentation of his wife Ruth and daughter Margaret to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace by Lady Ryrie.

Dods was a very sociable man, well liked and widely respected. He was an enthusiastic bridge player. He was elected President of the Queensland Club in 1922 and was re-elected to the office three times. This record of service to the Club was later equalled by Sir William Glasgow, but never surpassed by anyone.  However Dods's life was always tinged with sadness. His brother James Stodart Dods died in 1902, his mother Elizabeth Marks in 1908,  his close University friend James Patterson in 1914, his other brother Robert Smith Dods (Robin) in 1920, and his mother-in-law Margaret Walker in 1924.

In December 1930, without warning and inexplicably, Dods took his own life at his home on Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. He was 56. He was survived by his wife Ruth, his sons William, Robin, and James, and his daughter Margaret (Peggy). He was buried in the South Brisbane Cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £7597, and was left entirely to Ruth. She received 410 letters of condolence, an indication of the affection which many felt for Dods. His obituary in the Medical Journal of Australia in March 1931 includes these words, 'His judgment was sound and his advice on ethical matters was generally accepted. Those who were privileged to be received in his home knew him as a genial host and saw in him a devoted husband'.

Select Bibliography

  • R. K. Likeman, 'Tis but the Time. The biography of LtCol Joseph Espie Dods DSO MC (AAMC), Slouch Hat Publications, McRae Vic, 2007
  • Dods, J.E.,  Letters and telegrams relating to war service of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Espie Dods, including a diary kept while at Gallipoli. Australian War Memorial, Canberra PR86/034 

Additional Resources

Citation details

Robert Likeman, 'Dods, Joseph Espie (1874–1930)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 June 2024.

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