William Doherty - 1857-1901 - Collectors in East Africa - 16.

By Bernard Verdcourt

Extracted from The Conchologists’ Newsletter, No.122, pp. 60–65 published September 1992

Some extremely interesting minute snails were collected by William Doherty in Kenya and sent to Tring Museum together with larger species. According to the British Museum (Natural History) Mollusca Department accessions book, there were 267 shells in the lot which they purchased from Tring in 1901. Smith accessioned them on 26 December 1901 but had already published a paper on some of the material earlier that year.

For many years I attempted without success to find out something about Doherty. It was not until Carol Gokce (Zoology Department Library) introduced me to Prestwich’s "I name this parrot —" that I found out a few facts. Fortunately he had collected ‘Doherty’s hanging parrot’ (Loriculus philippensis dohertyi Hartert, 1906) and gained a place in this useful work.

William Doherty was born in the USA at Mt Auburn, Cincinnati on 15 May 1857. Under the title of a note he published in 1878 he is given as of ‘University of Cincinnati’ – perhaps a graduate student or a young lecturer. He was presumably a member of the Cincinnati Society of Natural History. A Mr Dury read to a meeting some extracts from a letter from ‘Mr William Doherty now travelling in Borneo’. No obituary was discovered in the journal of this society.

He travelled extensively through Europe, Asia Minor, Persia and India during 1878 to 1882 but collected little or nothing. Later, however, he began to devote himself to natural history collecting and became an excellent collector of insects and land snails; he met Hartert in the Malay Peninsula in 1888 and they travelled together through Assam and in the Naga Hills. He visited the Rothschild Museum at Tring in 1895 and added birds to his field activities when he conducted his major expedition to the eastern tropics. After a period in America he left for East Africa towards the end of 1900 and worked mostly near Lake Naivasha and the Mau Escarpment where he collected nearly 3000 bird skins, innumerable Lepidoptera and the molluscs listed below. It is unfortunate he did not write a book about his travels and sadly he died of dysentery in the Railway Hospital, Nairobi on 25 May 1901.

He wrote little himself but I have unearthed in the invaluable but often overlooked (even by librarians) Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers two papers on molluscs published in the first volume of our own journal (Doherty, 1878, a, b). In one he comments on the possible use of teeth in the mouth of shells to prevent predation but that their existence in mostly only adult shells would not protect the young.

Quite a few snails have been named after him (collected in Borneo, New Guinea, Burma, Naga Hills etc.) apart from the African ones mentioned below, and I suspect the following list is very incomplete:

Adelomorpha dohertyi Fulton, Alycaeus dohertyi Godwin-Austen, Clausilia dohertyi Boettger in Aldrich, Cyclophorus dohertyi Fulton, Diplommatina dohertyi Godwin-Austen, Hypselostoma dohertyi Fulton, Macrochlamys dohertyi E.A. Smith, Nanina dohertyi Aldrich (= Pseudopatula dohertyi), Omphalotropis dohertyi Aldrich and Trochomorpha dohertyi Aldrich. Doubtless many of these are now in other genera or possibly put into synonomy.

Godwin-Austen (1892, 1893) described Alycaeus subculmen, A. granum, A. rubinus, A. ochraceus and A. dohertyi, also Diplommatina dohertyi, D. unicrenata, D. subtilis, D. delicata, D. domuncula and D. concinna from his material. In the first of his papers he gives some further information about the collector:

The arrival of a large collection of land-shells sent me recently by Mr T.H. Aldrich, of Cincinnati, USA and made by Mr W. Doherty in 1889 in different parts of the Naga Hills and Munipur has led me to take up and work out those belonging to the genus Diplommatina.

Mr Doherty made Kohimah in the Naga Hills his headquarters and was there during the summer months; he also collected in the Eastem Naga Hills south of Margarita which is the terminus of the railway from Debrughr to the coal-workings and about 50 miles distant. In this neighbourhood he was, being in quite unexplored ground, very successful as regard novelties, while at the same time he extended the range of other species. Mr Doherty collected the minute specimens himself, while his men were looking after Lepidoptera and Coleoptera; some larger shells were brought to him by the Nagas but he could not get them to search for the small forms.

It seems that the American habit of spoiling the market by paying too much started long ago! Godwin-Austen who paid 4 annas for a new species complains, ‘Mr Doherty was far too liberal in giving the Nagas two rupees for shells’, i.e. eight times as much.

Despite the many Lepidoptera collected in Kenya the epithet ‘dohertyi’ is not listed in the index to Bernard D’Abrera’s monumental Butterflies of the Afrotropical Region, but doubtless there are insects named after him


List of molluscs described from material collected by William Doherty in Kenya

Smith (1903) states that the specimens ‘were collected by the late William Doherty on the Mau Escarpment in the Eastern Province of Uganda at an elevation of 6500—9000 feet.’ At that time the Kenya-Uganda border was far to the east of its present position, reaching almost to Nairobi. Many of the labels read ‘Terminus of the Uganda Railway, September 1900 to April 1901,6500-9000 feet.’ In the excellent account of this railway by Hill (1949) the rail-head was stated to be at Mau Summit in early April 1901 and was probably somewhere between Naivasha and Nakuru in September 1900. Certainly by October 2nd 1899 the rails had reached the point of the Kijabe Rift where the rope incline operated from May 3rd 1900 until November 4th 1901.

The types mentioned are all in the British Museum (Natural History):
Ennea columella Smith, 1903.   Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes 1901.12.21.31–39).
Gulella columella (Smith).
Ennea commoda Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.22–30).
Gulella commoda (Smith).
Ennea insolita Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.40–54, now only 7 specimens left).
Gulella insolita (Smith).
Ennea prodigiosa Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.9–19, two broken)).
Gulella prodigiosa (Smith). (Thiele treated this as a section Mirellia of Ptychotrema and Haas erected a subgenus Thaumetagulella for it.
Ennea ugandensis Smith, 1901.    Kenya, terminus of the Uganda Railway (syntypes, 1901,12.21.1–8; one has been marked with red spot and was chosen as lectotype by Connolly).
Gullela ugandensis (Smith).
Ennea unilirata Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.20–21).
Ptychotrema uniliratum (Smith).
Euonyma pareimena Connolly, 1923.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (holotype and paratypes, 1901,12.21.78–83).
Opeas pareimena (Connolly).
Limicolaria dohertyi Smith, 1901.    Kenya, terminus of the Uganda Railway (syntypes, 1901,12.21.240–242). (one with a red spot marked on the card as holotype but Smith did not designate such types and it is the lectotype chosen by Connolly).
Limicolariopsis dohertyi (Smith).
Martenisia permanens Smith, 1901.    Kenya, terminus of the Uganda Railway (syntypes, 1901,12.21.243–249). (one has atiny label attached presumably by Connolly and is the lectotype.
Trochonanina plicatula (von Martens).
Opeas crenulatum Smith (as crenulata but Opeas is neuter), 1901.    Kenya, terminus of Uganda Railway (syntypes, 1901,12.21.116–125). (‘Holotype’ separated off in a tube but must be a lectotype chosen by Connolly.)
Streptostele crenulata (Smith).
Opeas lentum Smith (as lenta, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.84–87).
Streptostele lenta (Smith).
Opeas venustum Smith (as venusta, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.68–77).
Streptostele venusta (Smith).
Pyramidula (Gonyodiscus) imitata Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.126–129).
Trachycystis abysinica (Jickeli).
Pyramidula (Gonyodiscus) lamellifera Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.136–140).
Trachycystis lamellifera (Smith).
Pyramidula (Gonyodiscus) ugandana Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.132–135).
Punctum ugandanum (Smith).
Subulina dohertyi Smith, 1903.    Kenya, Mau Escarpment (syntypes, 1901,12.21.56–67).
Nothapalus dohertyi (Smith).

Smith also mentions Buliminus bambuseti von Martens var. in his 1901 paper; he had sent material to its author for confirmation which I have seen in Berlin. In my revision of the East African species (1967) I give the locality as escarpment near the Kedong Valley, but the label on the BM specimens (1901.12.21.231–239) states ‘escarpment at end of Uganda Railway 6500—9000 feet.’ Long after the railway had forged ahead to the Mau Summit and beyond (the first train reached Lake Victoria, Kisumu in December 1901) the difficult Kedong Rift section was still being built and was not completed until November 4th 1901. The specimens almost certainly actually came from somewhere in the Mau area.



Aldrich, T.H., (1889).     Notes upon the collection of shells from Borneo with descriptions of new species.J. Cincinn. Soc. Nat. Hist. 12: 23–26, pl. 3.
Aldrich, T.H., (1892).     A new land shell from Sumatra. Nautilus 6: 90, pl. 2/1,2.
Aldrich, T.H., (1898).     Notes on some land and freshwater shells from Sumatra with descriptions of new species Nautilus 12: 1–4, pl.1.
Connolly, M., (1923).     Notes on African non-marine Mollusca, with descriptions of many new species (cont.). Ann. Mag. Nat. Hist. ser. 9, 12: 633–659, pl. 19.
Doherty, W., (1878).     Description of two new gastropods [Somatogyrus trothis, Cionella (Zua) morseana nn. ssp.] J. Conch. 1: 341–342, pl. 4, fig. 1,2.
Doherty, W., (1878).     Remarks on a dentate variety of Conulus fulvus Drap. J. Conch. 1: 344–345 (presumably Euconulus chernisus dentatus (Sterki); Pilsbry does not mention Doherty’s note in his North American Land Mollusca).
Fulton, H., (1899).     A list of the species of land Mollusca collected by Mr. W. Doherty in the Malay Archipeligo with descriptions of supposed new species and varieties. Proc. Malac. Soc. 3: 212–219.
Godwin-Austin, H.H., (1892).     On new species and varieties of the land-mollucan genus Diplommatina from the Gara, Naga and Munipur hill-ranges, Assam. Proc. Zool. Soc. 1892: 509–520.
Godwin-Austin, H.H., (1893).     On some new species of the land-mollucan genus Alycaeus from the Khasi and Naga Hill country, Assam, Munipur and the ruby mine district, Upper Burmah; and one species from the Nicobars. Proc. Zool. Soc. 1893: 592–595.
Hill, M.F., (1949).     The Permanent Way Nairobi, East African railways and Harbours.
Prestwich, A.A., (1963).     I name this parrot — Edenbridge, Kent.
Smith, E.A., (1897).     Description of new species of land shells from New Guinea and neighbouring islands. Proc. Malac. Soc. 2: 286–290, pl. 17.
Smith, E.A., (1901).     On some land shells from Britist East Africa. J. Malac. 8: 93–96, figs. 1–6
Smith, E.A., (1903).     New species of land shells from Central Africa. J. Conch. 10: 315–319, pl. 4.
Verdcourt, B., (1967).     The East African species of the genus Cerastua Strand (= Cerastus (Martens) non Dejean) (Mollusca – Enidae). Rev. Zool. Bot. Afr. 76: 178–199.

B. Verdcourt