Bryan Philip Darell Duppa was born 9 October 1832 in Paris, France, where his parents, Baldwin Francis Duppa and Catherine Darell, were living at the time. Although not a titled family, they were landed gentry. The family seat, Hollingsbourne House, was in Maidstone, Kent, England. It was to this mansion that Duppa came as a three-year-old in 1835.
Duppa received a classical education at Cambridge University, where he learned French, Spanish, Italian and German, in addition to the required Greek and Latin. In later life, he was known to recite Shakespeare for hours from memory .
Since Duppa had an older brother, Baldwin, who would inherit the Duppa estate, he had to find some other occupation. It seems more likely that he spent some time on his uncle George’s sheep station in New Zealand and that this might have whetted his appetite for further adventure.
Duppa was known to have been in Prescott, Arizona in December of 1863. He became friends with Jack Swilling and it is likely that the two came to Phoenix together in 1867. Recognizing the area’s potential for growth, Duppa homesteaded 175 acres near what is now downtown Phoenix and, in 1870, built an adobe dwelling at what is now 115 West Sherman.
Both he and Swilling were much interested in the evidence of a vanished Hohokam culture on the banks of the Salt River—specifically, its system of canals. When the question of what to name the new settlement arose, Duppa proposed Phoenix, for it suggested a city rising from the ashes of a previous civilization. Duppa is also credited with having named Tempe.
Tall and thin, Duppa was an eccentric man with a flair for the dramatic. Locals took to calling Duppa a ‘lord’ because of his impeccable English accent and classical education. His besetting vice was drink; he liked to gamble and, when in his cups, was as ready to brawl as to spout poetry. He was known to be a ‘remittance man’ who received a generous allowance from his family in England. Every four months, Duppa received a check for $3000, sent in care of his good friend Dr. O. J. Thibodo, who paid Duppa’s bills before handing over what was left. Duppa invariably spent it all on drink and gambling.
In 1872, Duppa sold his homestead in Phoenix to John B. Montgomery and moved to New River, north of Phoenix, where he ran a stage station. The station was no more than a crude ramada with brush walls and hardly a stick of furniture. Passing through the area, Captain John G. Bourke described Duppa as “hospitable to a fault and not afraid of man or devil…or Apache Indian”.
At times, Duppa seemed to prefer a hermit’s existence with only his books to keep him company. During these episodes, he became gaunt and unkempt. When Duppa’s older brother died without heirs, the estate in England could have been his. However, he refused to return to England and take up the life of an English gentleman. All of his younger brothers having predeceased him, the estate eventually passed to one of his cousins.
In later life, Duppa returned to Phoenix, where he lived humbly on a farm near the Salt River. He died 30 January 1892 at the home of his old friend Dr. Thibodo and was originally buried in the Odd Fellows cemetery. However, in 1901, the Daughters of the American Revolution had his body moved to Greenwood Cemetery at 2300 W. Van Buren. Once the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park was established, many good citizens banded together and petitioned to have the remains of the “Father of Phoenix” returned. An elaborate solid copper burial vault and a new casket were provided and, on 26 November 1991, a procession of officials and historical reenactors accompanied the horse-drawn hearse that bore Duppa to his last (it is to be hoped) resting place.
Written by Debe Branning and Donna Carr, last revised 11/22/2012.
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