C. Roland Pillans (often simply Roland Pillans) was a son of the commercial pioneer Charles Stuart Pillans (1785-1849) and his wife Alida D. Colyn, and a younger brother of Charles Eustace Pillans*. He married Cecilia E.M. Hanafey, with whom he had one son. By 1886 he was living in Rosebank, Cape Town. Pillans succeeded D. May* as secretary of the Cape of Good Hope Meteorological Commission late in 1893. His duties as secretary included visiting meteorological observers throughout the colony who regularly provided data to the commission, to inspect their instruments, compare them with his portable standards, and assess their locations. Such inspections were essential, though not always sufficient, to ensure reliable data. He was succeeded as secretary by Charles M. Stewart* in 1897.
Pillans collected zoological specimens, particularly invertebrates, which he presented to the South African Museum. In 1898 his donations included 86 species of insects, mainly Coleoptera and Hymenoptera, of which eleven species were new to the museum; a valuable collection of scorpions and other invertebrates from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); 15 lizards, and three mice. The next year he sent in a collection of spiders, including five species new to the museum, and a few more scorpions. During 1898-1900 he also presented ants from the Matopo Hills in Zimbabwe.