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Rupp, Herman Montague Rucker (1872–1956)

by L. A. Gilbert

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

Herman Montague Rucker Rupp (1872-1956), clergyman and botanist, was born on 27 December 1872 at Port Fairy, Victoria, second child of Rev. Charles Ludwig Herman Rupp, Prussian-born Anglican clergyman, and his Tasmanian wife Marie Ann Catherine, née Rowcroft, who died soon after Montague's birth. After attending a small Presbyterian school and Koroit State School, he was sent in 1884 to the Junior Grammar School, Geelong, conducted by his uncle, Alfred Rowcroft. He was encouraged in botanical study as a boarder (1885-91) at Geelong Church of England Grammar School where another uncle, the naturalist J. B. Wilson, was headmaster. Rupp won a scholarship to Trinity College, University of Melbourne (B.A., 1897). While there, he presented Wilson's letter of introduction to Sir Ferdinand Mueller, botanized during vacations and won further scholarships in natural history and theology.

Rupp was made deacon on 28 May 1899 and ordained priest on 2 June 1901. Appointed first to Colac-with-Beeac, he served at Yea (1906-08) and in New South Wales at Tamworth (1903-04), where he married Florence Mabel Dowe (d.1956) on 29 December 1904, then at Warialda (1904-06), Copmanhurst (1908-11) and Barraba (1911-14). Between 1914 and 1920 he travelled widely for the Australian Board of Missions before being attached briefly to Holy Trinity, Hobart, and St Aidan's, Launceston (1921-22). Thereafter he served in New South Wales—Bulahdelah (1923-24) where he found 'the most wonderful paradise of wildflowers', Paterson (1924-30), Weston (1930-32), Pilliga (1932), East Maitland (1933), Woy Woy (1933-36) and Raymond Terrace (1936-39). An energetic and compassionate parish priest, he appreciated the problems of rural life in drought and depression. A 'High Churchman by conviction and long experience', he disliked 'extremes of any sort' and was offended by bigotry or narrow-mindedness.

Rupp had begun recording his botanical observations and specimens in 1892, and from 1899 made 'a census of the native plants' of his parishes. By 1924 he considered that it was time to 'concentrate on the family which had always attracted me most—the orchids' and gave some 5000 other specimens to the University of Melbourne's botany school. He sent 'some MSS notes on orchids' to J. H. Maiden who had them published in the Australian Naturalist (April 1924). During the next thirty years Rupp published over 200 papers, chiefly on orchids, including descriptions of four new genera and over seventy new species, mainly in the Victorian Naturalist, North Queensland Naturalist, Australian Orchid Review, and the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales and in the Australian Encyclopaedia (1958). He also wrote two authoritative books, a Guide to the Orchids of New South Wales (1930) and The Orchids of New South Wales (1943; reissued with supplement, 1969).

In retirement Rupp lived in Sydney first at Northbridge then at Willoughby, cultivating native orchids, writing about them and working as honorary curator of orchids at the National Herbarium of New South Wales, to which he presented his own collection of 1500 specimens representing some 470 species. He belonged to the Naturalists' and Linnean societies of New South Wales and the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria. He was awarded the (W. B.) Clarke medal by the Royal Society of New South Wales (1949) and the Australian Natural History medallion by the Field Naturalists' Club (1954).

Rupp ('pronounced Rupe') was a friendly, jovial man, who long retained a youthful appearance and enthusiasm. In the best tradition of the nineteenth-century clergyman-scientist, he was generous with his means, time and knowledge, a tireless investigator and a fluent correspondent whose letters were spiced with a delightful sense of humour. He wrote that one 'of life's pleasures for me is corresponding with orchidy folks', including R. S. Rogers and W. H. Nicholls.

Survived by two daughters and a son, Rupp died on 2 September 1956 at Mosman and was cremated after a service at St Thomas's Church, North Sydney. He is commemorated by species of Acacia, Boronia and Prasophyllum which he first brought to scientific notice.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Orchid Review, June, Sept 1941, June 1945
  • Victorian Naturalist, Mar 1953, Nov 1956
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Sept 1956
  • Rupp papers (Royal Botanic Gardens Library, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

L. A. Gilbert, 'Rupp, Herman Montague Rucker (1872–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rupp-herman-montague-rucker-8298/text14545, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 November 2014.

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

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