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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rumpf, Ann (1849–1925)

by Joan Kent

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Ann Rumpf (1849-1925), manufacturer and entrepreneur, was born on 13 April 1849 at Poughill, near Cheriton Fitzpaine, Devon, England, a younger daughter of William Melhuish, farmer, and his wife Christina, née Passmore. Following disharmony at home, Annie with her siblings William and Mary migrated to New Zealand, arriving at Lyttelton on 14 October 1866. Annie and Mary found work as domestic servants while William farmed at Hawkes Bay. At Auckland on 22 September 1868 Annie married Johannes Rumpf, a German farmer from Frankfurt on Main. Their only son was born in February 1870.

Johannes probably arrived in Sydney late in 1871 and was soon followed by his wife and son. He worked as a miner before establishing himself as a billiard-saloon proprietor in Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Three daughters were born between 1872 and 1877 while they lived above the saloon.

When discord emerged within the marriage, Annie was not prepared to accept 'a woman's lot'. By small-scale trading activities she bought a property at Ashfield in 1881. This she mortgaged late in 1885 to buy two blocks, each with a shop and residence, in Newtown Road (King Street), Newtown. She acquired adjoining properties as they became available, using the mortgage on one property to finance the next, sometimes establishing a family member in the existing business.

One such business was Rashleigh & Co.'s galvanized ironworks which she acquired in 1893 and renamed the Mount Eagle Tin Plate Metal Works. She managed the business so successfully that by 1907 it was necessary to expand. She designed and built well-ventilated new premises in adjoining Wilson Street, later erected buildings on the corner of King and Forbes Street and had already invested in land at the fashionable Blue Mountains village of Leura, where the family retired at weekends.

As shopkeepers Mrs Rumpf and her daughter Maude became involved in municipal and State politics in the agitation surrounding the introduction of the Early Closing Act of 1899 and remained influential and active workers for the Liberal Party for many years. The Rumpfs actively supported the local Congregational Church; Annie's religious principles found practical expression in adopting and raising her illegitimate granddaughter.

After a mounted delivery-boy caused her sulky to overturn in Centennial Park in 1906, her case for damages under the Masters and Servants Act was non-suited. On hearing that the defendant's employer had privately (and unwisely) suggested that the negligence was hers, Annie retained (Sir) George Reid and Francis Boyce, successfully appealed in the Supreme Court and eventually received substantial compensation for her injuries.

Her success as a businesswoman made her vulnerable to the demands of her estranged husband and she transferred her property in 1907 to her daughter Maude, who retained it until Johannes died in poverty in 1911. Anti-German sentiment during World War I led Annie to resume her maiden name. In 1917 she retired from business. Survived by a son and two daughters and her adopted daughter, she died at her Petersham home on 22 May 1925 and was buried in the Independent section of Rookwood cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at over £12,000. Of outwardly severe appearance, determined, and inclined to benign dominance of her family, Annie Rumpf by her own efforts achieved financial security, respectability and social acceptance.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Chubb, Jubilee Souvenir of the Municipality of Newtown 1862-1912 (Syd, 1912)
  • State Reports, New South Wales, 1907, p 260
  • Lyttelton Times (Christchurch, New Zealand), 15 Oct 1866
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 15 Mar 1907
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23, 25 May 1925
  • Newtown rate assessment books, 1878-1930 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joan Kent, 'Rumpf, Ann (1849–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Melhuish, Ann

13 April 1849
Poughill, Devon, England


22 May 1925
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence