A foray into the history of Tasmanian botany brought me to a website featuring what is perhaps the very first botanical-naturalist publication of Tasmania, a century old book titled Some Wildflowers of Tasmania (1910) by Leonard Rodway.
I had learned in my undergraduate years that Leonard Rodway was the head of the first herbarium, but this piece of information was anecdotal at best. There was much more to the man than just the ‘head of the herbarium’.
Leonard Rodway was born in 1853 in England to a dentist Henry Baron Rodway and his wife Elizabeth. He first trained to be a midshipman but eventually followed his father into dentistry. He migrated to Queensland and later Tasmania and was subsequently registered under the first Tasmanian dental act in 1884.
Dentist by trade, Rodway pursued plants during his weekends and holidays and in 1896 became the honorary government botanist.
A self-made authority on Tasmanian plants, Rodway published prolifically in the Royal Society of Tasmania. His magnum opus The Tasmania flora was published in 1903, and became the standard reference on the topic for 40 years until the era of Winifred Curtis began (which shall be covered in another post). Rodway also published a series of monographs, the Tasmanian Bryophyta, between (1912-1916) which, although outdated, still stands as the most complete work on Tasmanian bryophytes by a single author.
Rodway retired from public life in 1932 and passed away in 1936, aged 83.
In a time when the study, teaching and application of botany depended on the initiative of individuals and voluntary organizations, Leonard Rodway single-handedly raised and sustained the ford of Tasmanian botany. In that respect, it would not be too inaccurate to title him “the founder of Tasmanian botany”.
Rodway’s botanical achievements have been described as ‘a true gift to the people of Tasmania’. Several plant and fungal species bear the specific epithet rodwayi in his honour (examples are Eucalyptus rodwayi, Gahnia rodwayi, Entoloma rodwayi) and a number physical features in the Tasmanian highlands (eg. Rodway’s Pass in Mt Field National Park) perpetuate his memory. For the student of botany though, Rodway’s name will always be remembered through verbal transmission, when instructors of field botany pronounce the names of plants which immortalize Rodway.