By Bernard Verdcourt
Capt. (note 1) Charles Robert Senhouse Pitman, CBE, DSO, MC was born in Bombay, India on 19 March 1890, the son of C.E. Pitman, CIE, but like most children of civil servants and military serving abroad he was educated in Britain. After leaving Sandhurst in 1909 he was gazetted to the Indian Army, 27th Punjabis; he served in Egypt, France and Mesopotamia during the First World War gaining the DSO and MC, then in Palestine from 1918–21 when he resigned his commission to go farming in western Kenya. He collected snails in the Cherangani Hills at this time. In 1925 he accepted the offer of the post of Game Warden of Uganda (the first one) and apart from about eight years of secondment held it until he retired in 1951. The Game Department had only just been formed in 1925 and was at first named the Elephant Control Department which was meant to protect people from the huge herds of elephants that then roamed the Protectorate. His first secondment was to Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) as Acting Game Warden (1931–33) and secondly as Director, Security Intelligence, Uganda (1941–46). During the Second World War he was also Officer in Chief, Uganda Defence Force. For his service to the Empire he was made a CBE in 1950. After his retirement in 1951 he moved to England and lived near the British Museum (Nat. Hist.) where he was an honorary worker. The Uganda Government commissioned him to write a history of the Protectorate which occupied him until 1955, but it was decided not to publish it. He looked on this as four years of his life wasted. I do not know what happened to the manuscript, whether it is in Uganda or England and attempts to trace it have been unsuccessful. (See footnote below, added 13 April 2013) He died in London on 22 September 1975 in his 86th year.
Pitman, essentially a field man specializing in birds, reptiles and mammals, collected a good deal; the British Museum has most of his material including, for example 3000 clutches of eggs, all properly documented. I have been through the accession books in the Mollusca Department and his name is not mentioned between 1911 and 1924 so it is probable he had no early interest in the group but was asked to collect, perhaps by Connolly. There are entries for May 1925 (4 specimens from the Cherangani Hills), November 1925 (14 specimens from the Ruwenzories and S. of Wadelai), October 1927 (26 from Ankole), December 1927 (20 from Lake Victoria – destroyed), February 1928 (2 from Entebbe), August 1928 (6 from Victoria Nile), September 1929 (16 from Butiaba, Lake Albert) and December 1930 (6 from Lake Victoria Mwana I.). Other material reached the museum with Connolly’s own collection. There is further material in other museums, certainly in the National Museum, Nairobi and at Liverpool; in fact I suspect there is a great deal of unworked material around.
Pitman wrote extensively and was reviewing books whilst in bed during his last illness. One of his first contributions was a paper on the eggs of Palestine birds (1921) and he wrote many further papers on birds. Undoubtedly his most important book is A guide to the snakes of Uganda (1938) sponsored by the Uganda Society; 83 species are dealt with and splendidly illustrated in colour. A complete revision of this book dealing with 98 species was published in 1974. His secondment to Zambia resulted in a long report (1934) on his faunal survey containing checklists of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. In 1942 a wildlife conservation department was set up as he had recommended. Apart from scientific papers he wrote two books about his work as a game warden, and also a preface to Joy Adamson’s Born Free. His recommendations of areas suitable for National Parks in Uganda and his organisation of the first two parks formed the basis of conservation in that country.
He served a number of societies and was a member of the British Ornithologists’ Union for 50 years, joining in 1914, elected to the Council in 1952 and Vice-President in 1958 (1960–63 another source); he was awarded the Union Medal in 1968. He was Vice-Chairman of the British Ornithologists’ Club, 1956–59 and Chairman 1960–63, Vice-President of the Fauna Preservation Society and President of the Uganda Society, 1940–41. He was a life member of the East African Natural History Society.
Pitman is said to have encouraged J.P. lonides who became famous for his snake collecting and knowledge of reptiles (see A. Wykes, Snake Man, London, 1960) but since lonides was only ten years younger than Pitman I doubt if there were much either could have taught the other.
He was a kind and courteous man, a meticulous correspondent and extremely hard working and diligent, and remained so long after his retirement. At the time of his death he was working on a book about the elephant.
I suspect Pitman may have had an acid sense of humour. I remember when I first looked over the Coryndon Museum (now National Museum of Kenya) collection of shells with a view to putting it in better order I found a lot of three shells of the very well known and characteristic Burtoa nilotica collected by Pitman, I believe somewhere in the Sudan and clearly labelled with a completely fanciful made-up Greek name (which I now forget but it was something like Erampodites) that had been accepted without question by the Museum authorities. Hugh Copley and H. Graham Turner used to look after the molluscs but knew little about them. I can only assume that Pitman was pulling their leg in a rather wicked manner. Maybe they had irritated him by pretending to know more than they did and their ignorance annoyed him.
Marjorie his wife survived him. There was no mention of any children in any of the obituaries.
List of molluscs described from material collected by Capt. Pitman in East Africa
Gulella benetecta Connolly.
Halolimnohelix iredalei Connolly.
Gymnarion cheranganiensis (Connolly).
Gymnarion pitmani (Connolly).
Limnocolaria martensiana karagwensis Kobelt.
Notes on the types
Connolly makes use of the word ‘type’, e.g. ‘type in my collection’, clearly meaning what is now called a holotype, i.e. the specimen chosen at the time of description to be associated with the name. Connolly identified these specimens by putting them in a separate tube or using coloured cotton wool in the aperture, etc. There seems to me to be no reason why such selected specimens of species Connolly described himself should not be accepted as holotypes. In the case of Halolimnohelix iredalei and its variety there is a curious difficulty. Part of the material came from Pitman thence to the BM when Connolly presented his collection in 1937 and part of it was in the collection purchased from H.B. Preston by the BM in 1911, i.e. the specimens from Rumuruti with no collector stated but probably Robin Kemp. It is not clear from which lot the specimen selected by Connolly as type came. Another curious statement occurs in the case of Helicarion cheranganiensis and Halolimnohelix plana – in both cases Connolly states ‘type in Coll. Cribb.’ This was undoubtedly the Revd C.T. Cribb (1888–1976) who joined the Society in 1910. I can only assume that Pitman had given Cribb the shells and that Connolly had then been shown them. Cribb went off to work in Java about 1925 so may well have handed over some of his material to Connolly.
2. I have seen reports of a paper jointly with J. Adamson entitled ‘Habits of the Giant eagle owl Bubo lacteus’ to be published in the Rhodesian journal Arnoldia but could find no trace of it looking through the run of that publication.
Footnote added 13 April 2013
Virginia Hennessy reported in Mollusc World, Issue 31 p.15, March 2013 that whilst cataloguing the historical collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, she came across an unpublished history of Uganda, compiled in the 1950’s by C.R.S. Pitman. A copy is in the Foyle Special Collections Library at King’s College London, but that so far (2013) the volume of maps and illustrations thought to have accompanied the volume of text has not yet turned up.
Foyle Special Collections Library aims to make the collections known and available to as many people as possible, and encourages researchers and visitors to make use of their material for study and pleasure. Should any readers wish to visit the library, they will find all the relevant information on their website at www.kcl.ac.uk/specialcollections. (P. Buckle)