Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Herman Henry Schlapp (1854–1938)

by Christopher J. Davey

This article was published:

Herman Henry Schlapp (1854-1938), metallurgist, was born on 6 March 1854 at Fort Madison, Iowa, United States of America, son of George Schlapp, manufacturer. He was educated in the U.S.A. and Germany, graduating from Davenport High School, Iowa, in 1873 and from the Royal School of Mines, Freiberg, in 1878. He also studied at the University of Leipzig. After a year prospecting in the west of America he joined the American Smelting & Refining Co., Pueblo, Colorado, of which he later became superintendent. On 19 December 1884 he married Emelia Schmidt (d.1896) at Davenport.

In 1886 the Broken Hill Proprietary Co., recruiting skilled metallurgists overseas, appointed Schlapp metallurgist in charge of smelting. He arrived at Broken Hill in April 1887. His first achievement was to improve the efficiency of the five operating thirty-ton furnaces; he was remembered for greatly reducing the smoke from the smelters. During his time at Broken Hill he installed a concentration plant and three new eighty-ton furnaces which increased production from one to ten thousand tons per week, and introduced the Parkes refining process. But despite a world tour he was not able to solve the sulphide problem of Broken Hill ores. In 1892 Schlapp was appointed assistant general manager of B.H.P. but in 1893 he resigned in protest at a reduction in workers' wages, about which he had not been consulted. With William Knox in the mid-1890s he formed Knox, Schlapp & Co., consulting mining engineers and machinery importers of Melbourne.

Schlapp was also closely associated with the development of Mount Lyell, Tasmania. Alerted to its possibilities by his nephew Otto Schlapp, an assayer and mining reporter who later became manager at Mount Lyell, he induced Bowes Kelly to purchase the mine and conducted an early examination which recognized its potential as a copper deposit. When the Mount Lyell Mining Co. N.L. was formed in 1892 he was a major shareholder. He undertook supervision of its development until the arrival of Robert Sticht, next to whom, according to George Meudell, Schlapp was the greatest metallurgist to come to Australia.

Austere, stern-faced and bespectacled with a goatee beard, Schlapp was a strong, popular man who had a reputation at Broken Hill for using 'Monday', the largest sledge-hammer, and for, on at least one occasion, using his fists to deal with a recalcitrant underling. He was a foundation vice-president of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers (Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy), formed at Broken Hill in 1893. It was modelled on the American Institute of Mining Engineers of which Schlapp was also a member. In 1937 he was the third person to receive honorary life membership of the Aus.I.M.M.; previous recipients were Lord Cadman and G. D. Delprat. Schlapp was director of a number of companies including John Sharp & Sons Ltd, Hampden and Cloncurry Copper Mines Ltd, and Arba Tin Mine Co. A crack shot and a keen golfer he was an early member and president of the Victoria Golf Club, Cheltenham. He died at his Toorak home on 7 September 1938 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Three of his four sons survived him. His estate was valued for probate at about £16,000.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Bridges, From Silver to Steel (Melb, 1920)
  • G. Meudell, The Pleasant Career of a Spendthrift (Lond, 1929)
  • G. Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell (Melb, 1954)
  • G. Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • A. Trengove, ‘What's Good for Australia …!’ (Syd, 1975)
  • BHP Half-Yearly Report, 31 May 1892, p 13
  • BHP Recreation Review, 6 June 1925, p 2
  • Australiansian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceedings, Sept 1937, no 107, p lxxx, xciii, Sept 1938, no 111, p xcv
  • BHP Review, Oct 1938, p 21
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1938
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Sept 1938
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Sept 1938
  • co. records of Knox, Schlapp & Co. Pty Ltd (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Christopher J. Davey, 'Schlapp, Herman Henry (1854–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 28 February 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]


6 March, 1854
Fort Madison, Iowa, United States of America


7 September, 1938 (aged 84)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.