Fred Toppin was a professional collector of natural history specimens. During 1904-1905 he was hired by Dr Ernest Warren*, first director of the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg, to collect zoological specimens for the museum. Warren instructed him to collect anything from snails to large mammals. He visited remote parts of Zululand, such as the junction of the two Umfolozi Rivers, Dukuduku Forest, and Kosi Bay, and was probably the first to collect that far north since R.W. Plant*.
In 1908 Toppin applied to the Natal government for 500 acres (c. 200 ha) of land anywhere between the Hluhluwe and Mzineni Rivers, in the Hlabisa district of Zululand. Five years later he asked for a site to erect a store on crown lands in the nearby Ubombo Division. He was married, but his wife resided in England and had no contact with him after 1906. He was killed while on active service during World War I (1914-1918).