Kathleen Smythe, 1923-1991

By June Chatfield

Extracted from Journal of Conchology, Volume 34, pp.243–246
Kathleen Smythe
Kathleen Smythe, a member of the Conchological Society since 1965, was a most enthusiastic and intrepid collector of marine shells who specialized in the fauna of the Gulf and was a leading authority on marine molluscs of that region which she visited many times. Her energy was amazing and also her fortitude in the face of severe illness which she battled against for over 15 years. To all who knew her she was a person to be remembered.
Kathleen Smythe was born at Kolar Goldfields, Mysore State, southern India where her father was a mining engineer. She was sent to school in England and went on to read History at Royal Holloway College, University of London but because of wartime conditions she opted to leave College and join the WRNS where she served as an air mechanic to the Fleet Air Arm in Fife, Scotland. After the war she returned to India where she taught, married (in 1948) and where her only son Peter was born. Her husband Bill Smythe, also a mining engineer, was from Cornwall and son of the veterinary surgeon and author R. H. Smythe. Kathie Smythe had a particular affection for her husband’s county of Cornwall, and the surname of Smythe is a Cornish one.
The family went to Tanganyika in East Africa and travelled considerably since Bill Smythe was Inspector of Mines, and there they made many lifelong friends. Holidays were spent on the east coast of Africa and it was here that Kathie Smythe developed her interest in marine Indo-Pacific molluscs and made a shell collection. During their home leave to England she used the facilities of the library and collections of the British Museum (Natural History) to identify east African shells, and that was where I first met her in the early 1960s. She joined the Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1965 and later the Malacological Society of London. Tanzania came under Communist rule and they left Africa in the mid 1960s, returned to England and began to prepare for a new future in Australia. This was not to be, for Bill Smythe died suddenly of a coronary in 1965.
Now, permanently based at Aldwick, Bognor Regis in West Sussex, Kathie Smythe took up various employments and was with the DHSS in legal aid and as Fraud Officer. All her spare time was devoted to shells and there were opportunities to make visits overseas since a number of friends from East Africa days were posted in Arabia. Thence began her long association with the molluscs of the Gulf in which she built up much experience in the field and became a well known authority. This interest in Arabian molluscs started when the Rev H. E. J. Biggs was alive — he gave her the benefit of his experience and knowledge of the literature of this rather special area of enclosed sea and varying salinity. On the death of H. E. J. Biggs in 1973, Kathie Smythe was responsible for the sale of his library to Society members and she acquired some items for her own studies, taking over from Biggs as the conchological expert in the Gulf. Through a colleague at work, she had been put in touch with Major Michael Gallagher, then with the British Army in the Gulf (Bahrain and Sharjah from 1971) who had a general interest in natural history and helped to collect molluscs. During the 1970s, visits followed to Bahrain, Kuwait, eastern Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran (working from the University of Tehran with Professor Tejali Pour and making an expedition to the Island of Hormuz) and from 1980—1988 to Oman. M. D. Gallagher, having retired from the Army, went on contract to the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture of the Sultanate of Oman where he was involved in the Oman Flora and Fauna Survey on Jabal Akhdar and for which Kathie Smythe reported on the terrestrial molluscs of this nature reserve. In 1977 she reported on the seashells collected at Dhofar and was invited to Oman which was visited almost annually from 1980-1988, during this time setting up a National Shell Collection and involved in a mollusc display at the new Natural History Museum in Muscat. She also studied and wrote a book on the molluscs of the nature reserve at Qurm Creek and undertook survey work on the Island of Masirah off the coast of mainland Oman, which she visited with Dr. Donald Bosch, an American Medical Officer in the hospital there who was also interested in conchology.
Kathleen Smythe’s scientific papers were largely of a faunistic nature with check lists of species for specific areas in the Gulf (Smythe 1972, 1975, 1977, 1979 and 1982) but other papers concentrated on individual groups – Salinator (Smythe 1975a & b), Tornatinidae and Retusidae (Smythe 1979) and Fusinus (Sinistralia) (Smythe & Chatfield 1981, Chatfield & Smythe 1982, Smythe & Chatfield 1984). Collecting a good deal in the field in many locations she was able to make observations on the animals in their natural habitat and took many photographs in situ. In the course of this work new species were described and these are listed below. Kathleen Smythe has three books to her name – Seashells of the Arabian Gulf (1982), as Editor of Seashells of Oman by Donald and Eloise Bosch (1982) and Seashells of the Sultan Quabos Nature Reserve at Qurm (1983) which was also printed in Arabic. Further books were planned, including a new much expanded version of Seashells of Oman in joint authorship with Donald Bosch, but this work was prevented by ill health.
Those of us who knew Kathie Smythe will be aware of the immense health problems which she courageously lived with during her most creative time writing papers and books on molluscs of the Gulf in the 1970s and 1980s. In the mid-1970s, being aware of a one-sided sore throat she sought medical advice as a side issue when collecting her hay fever prescription. This was diagnosed as malignant, an operation made immediately followed by radiotherapy. Whilst the cancerous growth was successfully brought under control, scar tissue developed making swallowing difficult – hence a liquid diet for about 15 years and non-functioning of the salivary glands for some years. Radiotherapy also affected tissue in the jaw which led to painful abcesses necessitating further major surgery when a piece of jaw bone was removed. Whilst in hospital following this operation Kathie Smythe was busy, complete with card indexes, files, books and even shells, working on her molluscs. Copies of Seashells of the Arabian Gulf were brought to her in hospital by the publishers Allen and Unwin. Her surgeon was most impressed by this positive attitude to her stay in hospital – time to be used, not wasted! Kathie Smythe had immense energy and following from most of her life spent in the tropics, she was up working very early in the morning and had usually accomplished a good two to three hours of mollusc work before normal breakfast time.
An attempt was made to graft a new piece of bone to the jaw, but this was not successful and the graft rejected and whilst it was being removed, Kathie suffered her first stroke under the operation and wrote little after this time. Over the next few years she had several strokes which affected her speech and use of right arm, but she showed an amazing ability to recover. Her deep interest in molluscs and many onward-going projects kept up her spirits and determination to keep going. She died in hospital in Chichester on 30 June 1991 following a stroke from which she never regained consciousness.
Although an earnest worker, she was a very sociable person, had a good sense of fun and humour, a wide range of interests (she once painted in oils) and a large circle of friends – from her days in east Africa, local natural history societies and many malacological contacts both professional and amateur from all over the world. It is unfortunate that ill health prevented completion of her work. Part of her collection was given to the Natural History Museum in 1990 and it was her wish that the rest should join this. With the recent Gulf war causing such widespread destruction to the environment, the baseline data of molluscs in the collections and publications of Kathleen Smythe have a valuable part to play in the assessment of this effect.

New species described by K. R. Smythe

Retusa tarutana Smythe, 1979
Bullia rogersi Smythe & Chatfield, 1981
Fusinus (Sinistralia) gallagheri Smythe & Chatfield, 1981
Fusinus (Sinistralia) somaliensis Smythe & Chatfield, 1984
Favartia (Favartia) paulboschi Smythe & Hourt, 1984
Latirus bonnieae Smythe, 1985
Costoanachis rassiereusis Smythe, 1985
Anachis raysutana Smythe, 1985
Trochita dhofarensis Taylor & Smythe, 1985
Muricopsis omanensis Smythe & Oliver, 1986
Medusafissurella gallagheri Smythe, 1988


Publications by K. R. Smythe

SMYTHE, K. R., 1972. Marine Mollusca from Bahrain Island, Persian Gulf. J. Conch., Lond. 27: 491–496.
SMYTHE, K. R. & PHILLIPS, W. W. A., 1972. Some observations on the fauna of the Maldive Islands (Indian Ocean) Part VIII Marine shells.J. Bombay nat. Hist. Soc. 69: 290–296.
GOODCHILD, M. & SMYTHE, K. R., 1975. Mollusca. In: RAYNER, R.W., 1975. The Natural History of Pagham Harbour. Part II Plants and Animals other than Birds and Mammals. The Bognor Regis Natural History Society. pp. 54—58.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1975. On the occurrence of Salinator fragilis (Lamarck) in the Arabian Gulf. J. Conch., Lond. 28: 335–338.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1975. Salinator fragilis (Lamarck) – habitat and behaviour. J. Conch., Lond. 28: 339–342.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1979. The Marine Mollusca of the United Arab Emirates, Arabian Gulf. J. Conch., Lond. 30: 57–80.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1979. The Tornatinidae and Retusidae of the Arabian Gulf. J. Conch., Lond. 30: 93–98.
SMYTHE, K. R. & CHATFIELD, J. E., 1981. New species of Fusinus (Sinistratia) and Bullia from Masirah, Oman. J. Conch., Lond. 30: 373–377.
CHATFIELD, J. E. & SMYTHE, K. R., 1982. Living specimens of Fusinus (Sinistralia) gallagheri Smythe and Chatfield 1981 from Masirah, Oman. J. Conch., Lond. 31: 95–99.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1982. Seashells of the Arabian Gulf. Allen and Unwin.
SMYTHE, K. R. (ed.), 1982. Bosch, D. & E. Seashells of Oman. Longmans.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1983. Seashells of the Sultan Qaboos Nature Reserve at Qurm. Adviser for Conservation of the Environment Diwan of Royal Court Affairs, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. Also in Arabic.
SMYTHE, K. R. & CHATFIELD, J. E., 1984. Fusinus (Sinistralia) somaliensis: A new species of whelk from Mogadiscio, Somalia. J. Conch., Lond. 31: 307–310.
GLAYZER, B. A., GLAYZER, D. T. & SMYTHE, K. R., 1984. The marine Mollusca of Kuwait, Arabian Gulf. J. Conch., Lond. 31: 311–330.
SMYTHE, K. R. & HOURT, R., 1984. Favartia (Farartia) paulboschi: a new muricid from Oman. Informations de la Société Belge de Malacologie. Ser. 12, 1:5–8.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1985. Three new buccinids from Oman and notes on Anachis fauroti (Jousseaume) (Prosobranchia: Buccinacea). J. Conch., Lond. 32: 23–35.
TAYLOR, J. D. & SMYTHE, K. R., 1985. A new species of Trochita (Gastropoda: Calyptraeidae) from Oman: a relict distribution and association with upwelling areas. J. Conch., Lond. 32: 39–48.
SMYTHE, K. R. & OLIVER, P. G., 1986. A new species of Muricopsis from Oman (Prosobranchia: Muricacea). J. Conch., Lond. 32: 181–183.
SMYTHE, K. R., 1988. A new species of Medusafissurella (Gastropoda: Fissurellidae), a keyhole limpet from Oman. J. Conch., Lond. 33: 97–101.