Australian Orchid Foundation

In memory of


21-01-1915 ~ 15-09-2011

Alick William Dockrill passed away in Atherton Hospital on the 15th September, 2011. In some ways his passing marked the end of the era of amateur orchid botanists stretching back to such names as Robert FitzGerald, William Nicholls, Rev. H.M.R. Rupp and Trevor Hunt.

Alick was born at Enmore, Sydney on the 21st January 1915, the youngest of a family of five. He was introduced to native orchids at an early age by Eric Hayes and Percy Gilbert, both well-known orchid identities in Sydney. In his teens and early twenties he collected specimens and studied orchids widely around Sydney and to the north along the coast. In his mid-twenties he became friendly with Rev. H.M.R. Rupp, the doyen of Australian orchidology in those days. This friendship would last until Rev. Rupp’s death in 1956.

In 1954 Alick published a paper entitled ‘An abnormal Caladenia (C. tesselata Fitz.)’ in the Australian Orchid Review. This was the first of over 80 published papers which appeared in ‘The Australian Orchid Review’, ‘The Orchadian’, ‘Australian Plants’, ‘The North Queensland Naturalist’ and ‘The Victorian Naturalist.’ He was also the author of four books.

In 1955 he described his first new orchids from North Queensland – Acianthus sublestus and Pterostylis carinata. Over the next half century he described some twenty new species, four new genera and numerous new varieties.

While Alick had no formal training as a botanist, he quickly established a reputation as a meticulous observer and recorder and before long was recognised as an authority on orchids. He corresponded with Knowles Mair, Jim Willis and Stan Blake of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane Herbaria, Professor Vermeulen of Amsterdam and Dr R.E. Holttum of Kew among many others.

In 1957 Alick moved with his wife and three children to Cairns, where he found himself in the middle of a rich orchid flora, with many undescribed species and no reference books to work from. Alick set himself the task of illustrating and describing all the orchids of the north. Papers on the orchids of northern Queensland flowed from his pen over the next decade resulting in the publication in 1967 of a book titled ‘Australian Sarcanthinae’ which included four new genera and many name changes in this most difficult group. Soon after this, in 1969, ‘Australian Indigenous Orchids’ was published. This book was a true epic on orchidology in Australia. It included each of the 324 species and varieties and 72 genera of orchids in tropical Australia and also included all the epiphytic species in Australia as a whole. Each species and variety was covered by a full page illustration along with a full description including synonymy, distribution and habitat notes. The line drawings are botanically remarkably accurate considering that they were done with the aid of nothing more than a hand held lens.

Alick struck up a profitable relationship with Malcolm Brown who was a teacher at the remote Cape York Peninsula town of Coen. Mal would send specimens from the wild McIlwraith Range to Alick in Cairns who would identify and describe them, hence the name Dendrobium malbrownii. Other new species to come from this partnership include Trichoglottis australiensis and Pteroceras hirticalcar as well as several new records for Australia.

In 1966 such was Dockrill’s reputation as a botanist that, despite having no formal qualifications, he was appointed Keeper of the Herbarium at Lae Herbarium. His time in New Guinea was difficult for Alick as he lost his wife to cancer and professionally his duties did not permit him much time to research the incredibly rich orchid world in which he found himself.

In 1970 he was employed in the herbarium of the Forest Research Branch of CSIRO at Atherton where he worked until his retirement in 1980. During his retirement at Atherton he worked on a complete revision of ‘Australian Indigenous Orchids’ which was published in 1992.

In March 1991, along with the late Len Lawler, I was privileged to present Alick with an Award of Honour from the Australian Orchid Foundation. This was a well-earned reward for a lifetime devoted to the study of Australian native orchids. He is commemorated by the genus Dockrillia and the species Arthrochilus dockrillii and Hylandia dockrillii, a tree from North Queensland.

Alick’s life was not always easy, particularly in his later years, but was marked by his meticulous and dedicated work. He crossed every ‘t’ and dotted every ‘i’ as can be seen in his publications. He did this not to gain any fame and certainly not for any financial gain as he was never wealthy, but purely for a love of orchids.

The Australian orchid community has lost one of its greatest sons.

Tribute by Bill Lavarack

A donation has been made to the Australian Orchid Trust Fund by the Tropical Queensland Orchid Council, Atherton.

AOTF: 3310