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Ruth Frappell (1942–2011)

by Leighton Frappell

Ruth Frappell's life was one of service — to historical scholarship, to her church, and to her family. In 1968, Ruth Teale began her long involvement with the Canberra-based project to publish the Australian Dictionary of Biography. As the dictionary's Sydney research associate, she wrote nearly 60 biographies over 40 years of people as diverse as politicians, squatters, medicos, bishops, and even a circus owner. She also wrote for the New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (UK) and published a number of books.

She was born Ruth Teale on March 8, 1942, in Bathurst, the daughter of high school teachers Ken Teale and his wife, Vivian (nee Tanner). A lasting legacy of her childhood was her Anglo-Catholic faith; the churchmanship of the Bathurst diocese was then very ''high''.

The family moved to Sydney in 1953 and Ruth went to Hornsby Girls' High School then to the University of Sydney to read modern history and music as well as studying piano and singing at the Conservatorium of Music. She graduated from the university with honours in history in 1963, then took her masters degree (1968) and, in 1992, her doctorate with a thesis on the history of the Anglican Church in rural Australia.

From 1963 to 1965, Teale served her historical apprenticeship as a research assistant to Professor John McManners, then of the University of Sydney and later Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Oxford, then made her move to the Dictionary of Biography.

In 1970 Teale married Leighton Frappell, a fellow historian. In 1978 she published (as Ruth Teale) the ground-breaking Colonial Eve: Sources on Women in Australia, 1788-1914, which brought historical fact and document to a subject obscured by gender mythology.

She also did extensive research into the history of the Anglican Church in Australia, the focus of which was on the relationship of church and community. Her chapter, ''Imperial Fervour and Anglican Loyalty, 1901-1929'' in Anglicanism in Australia, edited by Bruce Kaye (2002), analyses Anglican tensions between imperial allegiance and Australian citizenship. Her section of a jointly authored history of the diocese of Bathurst, completed just before her death, tells of a diocese moulded by the huge region that it once encompassed, even as it strove to be a unifying force in its turn. Her history of the parish of St Peter's, Cremorne, sets the church as congregation firmly in the context of land division, settlement and transport links on Sydney's lower north shore.

She also joined a project to publish an indexed calendar of the papers and correspondence of the archbishops of Canterbury relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, 1788-1961. Anglicans in the Antipodes (1999), edited by Frappell, Robert Withycombe, Leighton Frappell and Ray Nobbs, traces the historical relationship between the church in Australia and the worldwide Anglican communion.

For services to scholarship in church history, Frappell was elected a fellow of the Religious History Association and president of the Royal Australian Historical Society from 1998 to 2002.

In the evangelical diocese of Sydney, Frappell gravitated to churches representative of the Catholic tradition in Anglicanism. She appreciated ''the beauty of holiness'' and for years sang in the choir of Christ Church St Laurence in the city.

Yet Frappell's religious sympathies were not constricted. She valued Anglicanism's profession to represent complementary aspects of the Christian message and lamented the narrowing of religious sympathy in the diocese. Accordingly, she was active in Anglicans Together and in the Prayer Book Society and Anglican Historical Society. She was also prominent in university bodies such as the Chancellor's Committee of the University of Sydney.

For some years before her death her health was in decline, although this did little to slow her down.

Ruth Frappell is survived by Leighton, her children, Alison, Stephen and Margaret and her granddaughter, Emma.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Leighton Frappell, 'Frappell, Ruth (1942–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Teale, Ruth

8 March, 1942
Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia


31 July, 2011 (aged 69)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.

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