Library of the Arnold Arboretum




Joseph Rock was born in Vienna in 1884, accomplished in several languages -- including Arabic and Chinese -- by the age of sixteen, and earned his degree at the University of Vienna at age 20. There upon he fled from home and family, which had him marked for the priesthood, and arrived in the U.S. in 1905, eventually settling in Hawaii for reasons of health. He became involved in botany and eventually taught systematics at the College of Hawaii. It is, however, his life as an explorer in the Far East which distinguishes him as an uncommon man.

Between 1920 and 1949, Rock spent most of his time in Asia, usually in Yunnan (SW China), sometimes on expeditions variously financed by Harvard, the National Giographic, the U.S. National Museum, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sometimes he traveled on his own funds. During the expeditions he collected plant materials, birds, and mammal skins for his sponsors; he mapped poorly known regions. On his own he studied the cultures and languages of the tribes of Yunnan, particularly the Na-khi people. His wanderings included Tibetan border areas, Uannan, Szechwan, Sinkiang, and Kansu in China; Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam; India; and an assortment of exotic places en passant. He was living in Yannan in 1949 when the Chinese communists expelled him. He returned to Hawaii to devote his time to his manuscripts on China and to botany until his death in 1962.

Rock's bibliography is a scholarly one, with the exception of ten articles written for the National Geographic Magazine (in National Geographic-ese_ in the 1930's. It consists of writings in systematic botany and floristics and of his studies of the "Ancient Nakhi Kingdom." The latter make pretty heavy reading for the many people who are curious about China and were evidently intended for linguists and anthroplogists. Rock's letters and diaries, however, are of a quite different character. He had a unique opportunity to report on political developments as he witnessed them. Few westerners have had his ability with Chinese language, and fewer still have mastered the many dialects which he could understand. Beyond this, the man is a fascinating character: talented, urbane, perceptive, temperamental, and witty. Fortunately, his personal papers are rich in personality.


Taxon 12: 89-102
Sutton, Stephanne Barry. In China's border provinces; the turbulent career of Joseph Rock, botanist-explorer. New York: Hastings House, 1974. 334 p.


Scope and Content:

The Rock papers are primarily field notes for various botanical collections made by Rock, along with other documents pertaining to these collections. There are two main groups of field notes: carbon copies of a typed version of notes made for specimens collected from Dec. 1921 to March 1924, and original handwritten notes made for his 1924-1927 collections, when he was collecting in China for the Arnold Arboretum. There is also a peculiar manuscript labeled "Plants of Iowa-Dr. Rock", which appears to be considerably older and which seems to be a checklist of Iowa flora, arranged by families and including scientific and common names.



The 1924-1927 field notes were probably given to the Gray Herbarium or the Arnold Arboretum in connection with the specimens collected by Rock for the Arboretum. How the other items arrived at the Gray is unknown.


Container List: BOX AD All items are photocopies of originals.

Folder 1: lists of seeds, cuttings, specimens received from Rock, 1925-1927

Folder 2: Field notes, ca. 1925-1926

Folder 3: Field notes, ca. 1925-1926

Folder 4: Field notes, 1926

Folder 5: Field notes, not arranged in numerical order, ca. 1925-1926


Indexed in Main File Under:

Rock, Joseph Francis Charles


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