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Leonard Rodway (1853–1936)

by Ann Elias

This article was published:

Leonard Rodway (1853-1936), botanist and dentist, was born on 5 October 1853 at Torquay, Devon, England, thirteenth child of Henry Barron Rodway, dentist and inventor of the Rodway life buoy, and his wife Elizabeth, née Allin. Educated at Birmingham and in the Thames Marine Officers' Training Ship, Worcester, he spent three years in the mercantile marine before turning, after illness, to a family tradition in dentistry. Training at Middlesex Hospital, London, he gained the licentiateship in dental surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1878 and migrated to Queensland. In Brisbane on 19 May 1879, with Presbyterian forms, he married Louisa Susan Phillips, a dentist's daughter. They settled in Hobart Town next year.

Rodway was registered under the first Tasmanian Dental Act 1884, and practised in Hobart until 1923, acting as honorary dental surgeon at the Hobart General Hospital in 1890-1922. He is, however, chiefly remembered for his interest in botany, another family tradition. He devoted his spare time, energy and financial resources to preparing an exhaustive catalogue of Tasmania's native and naturalized plants: he made many field trips, described many new species and built up a comprehensive collection of specimens. Between 1892 and 1928 he presented scientific papers, principally to the Royal Society of Tasmania to which he was elected in 1884, and published The Tasmanian Flora (Hobart, 1903), a standard reference for forty years, Some Wild Flowers of Tasmania (Hobart, 1910) and Tasmanian Bryophyta (Hobart, 1914-16).

In 1896-1932 Rodway was honorary government botanist. In this capacity he made an enormous contribution to the study, teaching and application of botany during a period when such work depended on the initiative of individuals and voluntary organizations. He corresponded with the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and exchanged with interstate and overseas herbaria. He acted as adviser to the Agricultural and Forestry departments, and worked towards a Tasmanian herbarium as a basis for the agricultural industry. This herbarium was finally established in 1928, with Rodway as director, and by 1936 had incorporated the larger part of his own valuable collection.

As trustee of the Tasmanian Museum and Botanical Gardens in 1911-28 and then director of the latter, Rodway pressed for an economic role for the gardens, deprecating their use as 'public gardens' rather than as a nursery for acclimatization and experimentation. Similarly, he sought to promote the museum as an information bureau on scientific matters. His role as educator was formalized by his term in 1923-29 as lecturer in botany at the University of Tasmania, but his most effective teaching was accomplished through the Tasmanian Field Naturalists' Club. 'Rod' was a foundation (1904) member of the 'Field Nats', and a popular leader at its meetings, excursions and in particular its Easter camps. A keen bushman, a member of the Scenery Preservation Board (1916-32) and the National Park Board (1917-32) and associated with many other organizations concerned with scientific education and outdoor recreation, he helped to establish Tasmania's first scenic reserves under the Scenery Preservation Act, 1915. In 1917 Rodway was appointed C.M.G; other honours he received were the Clarke memorial medal of the Royal Society of New South Wales (1924) and the first Royal Society of Tasmania medal (1928).

Rodway's wife had died in 1922, and on 17 May 1923 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Hobart, he married Olive Barnard, an amateur naturalist whose photographs had illustrated Some Wild Flowers of Tasmania. He retired from public life in 1932 and died on 9 March 1936 at Kingston. He was buried with Church of England rites at Cornelian Bay cemetery, survived by his wife and by four sons and a daughter Florence Aline of his first marriage. His botanical work was described as 'a true gift to the people of Tasmania'. A memorial portrait painted posthumously by his daughter hangs in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; several botanical species have been named rodwayi in his honour; and physical features in the Mt Field, Ben Lomond and Cradle Mountain National parks perpetuate his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • Tasmanian Field Naturalists' Club, Reports of Easter Camps, 1906-26
  • Royal Society of Tasmania, Papers and Proceedings, 1928, p 163, 1932, p 58, 1936, p 94
  • Australian Herbarium News, 8, Mar 1951, for list of scientific papers
  • Illustrated Tas Mail, 22 Sept 1932
  • Mercury (Hobart), 10 Mar 1936.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ann Elias, 'Rodway, Leonard (1853–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 October, 1853
Torquay, Devon, England


9 March, 1936 (aged 82)
Kingston, Tasmania, Australia

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