Emil Torday (Biographical details)

Emil Torday (anthropologist; Hungarian; Male; 1875 - 1931)

Also known as

Torday, Emil; Torday, E


Leading anthropologist; born in Budapest, Hungary on 22 June 1875 into a family of landowners in Torda. Educated in Hungary and Germany. He undertook his higher education at the University of Munich but left the institution without completing his degree and subsequently undertook work in a Brussels Bank.
Torday's African encounters began with his colonial position at Lake Mweru in the south east of Congo Free State. His administrative position left him plenty of free time to pursue his love of languages, by the time of his death he spoke 14 fluently, and his growing interest in the Luba culture. When his appointment came to an end in 1904 Torday returned to Europe where he met Thomas Athol Joyce curator at the British Museum. This relationship resulted in Torday acting as an agent for the British Museum on his subsequent expeditions to the Belgian Congo whilst under the employ of the Compagnie du Kasai and during his own expedition in 1907.
Whilst on expedition Torday undertook significant ethnographic surveys which involved surveying the peoples of the the Kwango-Kwilu river basin and of the Kasai. During this time he gathered a 3000 strong collection which is now held by the British Museum. The centre point of his work is considered to be his work with the Kuba people.

In 1909 Torday returned to Europe and published his expedition's results. His work was recognised in 1910 when he was awarded the Imperial Gold Medal for Science and Art by the emperor of Austria. He married Gaia Rose Macdonald in 1910 and his daughter was born in 1912. He subsequently went on to Philadelphia to lecture and curate in 1913.

After his lectureship at Philadelphia Torday began a medical career in London but it was cut short by the beginning of the First World War during which he cared for prisoners of war. After the war Torday continued his anthropological work publishing his last substantial piece "Descriptive Sociology African Races" in 1930. He died of heart failure at the French Hospital Shaftesbury Avenue on the 9th of September 1931.


John Mack, 'Emil Torday and the Art of the Congo 1900-1909', BMP.