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Tepper, Johann Gottlieb Otto (1841–1923)

by Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Johann Gottlieb Otto Tepper (1841-1923), by unknown photographer, 1898

Johann Gottlieb Otto Tepper (1841-1923), by unknown photographer, 1898

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 14104/10a

Johann Gottlieb Otto Tepper (1841-1923), botanist, schoolteacher and entomologist, was born on 19 April 1841 at Neutomischel (Nowy Tomysl), Posen, Prussia (Poznan, Poland), one of eight children of Joh Christoph Tepper, baker and later farmer, and his wife Johanna Wilhelmina, née Protsch. The family migrated for religious reasons, reaching Port Adelaide in the Gellert in December 1847. Schooled at Hoffnungsthal, Otto left at 14 to farm in nearby Lyndoch valley and spent four years as a shearer in the Mount Bryan district. He was described as a storeman when he was naturalized on 5 April 1865 at Tanunda.

After completing examinations to become a public school teacher, Tepper was appointed to New Mecklenburg (Gomersal) in the Barossa Valley in December 1867. On 22 April that year at Redbank he had married Jane Brock with Presbyterian forms. They were divorced in 1874. He taught at Two Wells (1869), Monarto (1872-73), Nuriootpa (1873-78), Ardrossan (1878-81) and Clarendon (1881-83). Between 1873 and 1883 he wrote a series of natural history papers about Nuriootpa, 'Notable Native Plants about Ardrossan' and 'Die flora von Clarendon', the latter for a German scientific magazine, Botanisches Centralblatt.

In March 1883 Tepper was appointed natural history collector at the South Australian Museum; in 1888 he was promoted to entomologist, numismatist and librarian there. Many of his entomological papers were later to appear in the Garden and Field and in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, which society he joined in 1878; he was an honorary fellow from 1912, and was sometime chairman of its field naturalists' section. In 1879 he became a fellow of the Linnean Society of London and a life member of the Society of Science Letters and Art (London), receiving their medal in 1898.

A capable artist, Tepper sketched South Australian countryside scenes and the orchids of the colony. With his friend Ralph Tate he was partly responsible for the reservation of Flinders Chase on Kangaroo Island as a national park. In 1880 he suggested that native plants 'deserve a place in our gardens and parks'. Tepper's efforts to secure a plot of trees, marking the site of a settlement near Lyndoch in 1839, led to its later acquisition by the District Council of Barossa. He was an associate, later committee member, of the Society for the Protection of Birds (Adelaide branch), formed in 1894, and a member of the South Australian Gardeners' Society for over thirty years. Short, with a full beard, he was described as 'a very kindly gentleman with a trusting nature'. H. M. Hale wrote that Tepper was a heavy pipe smoker, his room at the museum redolent of 'a not unpleasant mixture of naphthalene and tobacco'. An ardent collector of books, papers, stamps and coins, he was a prolific contributor to magazines, journals and newspapers.

Tepper retired from the museum in 1911. While reclining in his favourite Morris chair, he died on 16 February 1923 at Norwood. His son and two daughters survived him, inheriting an estate sworn for probate at £2165. Several plants and fungi have been named after him, including Dodonaea tepperi, Helichrysum tepperi and Stylidium tepperianum (endemic to Kangaroo Island). He described 164 insect species and some were named after him. Tepper's sketchbook was donated by his grandson to the South Australian Museum; the State Library of South Australia and the Field Naturalists' Society hold copies of his orchid drawings.

Select Bibliography

  • D. N. Kraehenbuehl, ‘The Life and Works of J. G. O. Tepper, F.L.S., and his Association with the Field Naturalists’ Section of the Royal Society of South Australia’, South Australian Naturalist, 44, no 2, Dec 1969, p 23
  • Garden and Field, Sept 1907, p 11
  • Adelaide Chronicle, 24 Feb 1923, p 47
  • Tepper papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • family information.

Citation details

Darrell N. Kraehenbuehl, 'Tepper, Johann Gottlieb Otto (1841–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tepper-johann-gottlieb-otto-13215/text23929, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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