S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Selous, Mr Frederick Courteney (geographical exploration, zoological collection)

Born: 31 December 1851, London, England.
Died: 4 January 1917, Beho-Beho, near Kisaki, Tanzania.
Mr Frederick Courteney Selous

Frederick C. Selous, hunter, explorer, collector and author, was the son of Frederick L. Selous, chairman of the London Stock Exchange, and his wife Ann Sherborn. He was interested in animal life, particularly birds and butterflies, from an early age. After attending the famous school at Rugby he went to the European continent in 1868 to learn French and German, staying for some time at Neuchatel, Switzerland, and Wiesbaden, Germany.

Soon after his return to London in 1871, at the age of 19, he set out to hunt in southern Africa, disembarking at Algoa Bay early in September. He first travelled to the diamond fields around Kimberley and after a trading trip of five months across Griqualand West and along the Orange River proceeded via Botswana to Matabeleland in April 1872. For the next nine years, except for a brief visit to England from April 1875 to March 1876, he hunted with various companions, traded in ivory and explored, mainly in the region between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers (now Zimbabwe), keeping a record of his travels and the more important specimens of game he shot. Most of his income was derived from hunting elephants for their ivory and selling hunting trophies, leading to later criticism of having killed an excessive number of animals. After his return to England for a short visit in 1881 he published A hunter's wanderings in Africa; being a narrative of nine years spent amongst the game of the far interior of South Africa, containing accounts of explorations beyond the Zambesi, on the river Chobe, and in the Matabele and Mashuna countries, with full notes upon the natural history and present distribution of all the large mammalia (London, 1881, 455p, with many later editions). The book is an outstanding work on big-game shooting and established his reputation as a hunter and explorer. It also secured him commissions from museums and dealers for trophies of big game.

Selous returned to southern Africa in November 1881 for a further decade of hunting, exploration and natural history collection, mainly in the same regions as before, with some financial support from the Royal Geographical Society. As the ivory trade was already declining he also secured an income by acting as guide to hunters and prospectors. He established the "Selous Exploration Syndicate", but the British imperialist C.J. Rhodes, who saw him as a competitor, persuaded him to join the British South Africa Company early in 1890, to act as guide and chief of intelligence to the Pioneer Column when it advanced to the site of present Harare. During the next two years he was employed by the British South Africa Company to establish transport routes in the territory, but was unable to find a route free of tsetse flies between present Mutare and Beira, Mozambique. He left South Africa for another visit to England late in 1892. His adventures during this second period in southern Africa were described in Travel and adventure in south-east Africa; being the narrative of the last eleven years spent by the author on the Zambesi and its tributaries; with an account of the colonisation of Mashunaland and the progress of the gold industry in that country (London, 1893, 503p).

After participating in the Matabele War (1893) Selous was back in England by February 1894. There he married Mary C.G. (Gladys) Maddy in April. They later had two sons. He also bought a house in Worplesdon, Surrey. With his wife he returned to Zimbabwe in March 1895. After serving in the Matabele Rebellion (1896), and managing a land company during 1895-1896, he returned to England and wrote Sunshine and storm in Rhodesia... (1896).

Selous's contributions to geography took the form of several accounts of his explorations published in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, in which he described Mashonaland (1881, 1883, 1890), Matabeleland (1888), his journeys in the interior of south central Africa (1881), and his journey on the upper Zambesi (1889). He also wrote a more comprehensive paper, "Twenty years in Zambesia", in the society's Geographical Journal (1893). In 1892 the society awarded him its founder's gold medal. In two early papers he described some southern African mammals: "On the South African rhinoceroses" and "Field notes on the antelopes of central Soutn Africa", both published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society in 1881. He also contributed descriptions of mammals to a popular work, The living animals of the world (1901-1902), edited by C.J. Cornish, while rodents that he collected in Matabeleland were described by W.E. De Winton in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society in 1896, with short field notes by the collector. He was an observant naturalist with a particular interest in butterflies, collecting specimens during his African hunting trips from the Limpopo River to the Congo, in East Africa, and the Sudan. Though some were sent to England, many were presented to Roland Trimen* at the South African Museum, Cape Town. Trimen used the specimens and associated information when writing his major work, South African butterflies (1887-1889), and named a species of the family Satyridae (Browns) after Selous. The latter's donations to the museum in later years included butterflies and beetles collected in Manicaland (the present Mutare district), including 21 species new to science (1892); two jackall skins (1895); an entomological collection containing rare and valuable specimens made near Bulawayo (1896); and a bontebok (1897). Two other animal skins went to the Port Elizabeth Museum (1891). Of the large number of big game he shot, 33 specimens went to the British Natural History Museum.

Selous made many hunting and collecting trips in other countries as well, for example, in Asia Minor (1894, 1895, 1897), western United States (1897, 1898), Canada (1900, 1901, 1905), Sardinia (1902), British East Africa (1902-1903, 1909, 1911-1912), the Yukon (1904, 1906), Norway (1907), the Sudan (1911) and Iceland (1913). He corresponded with Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, and in 1909, after the latter's presidency, hunted with him in East Africa. Roosevelt wrote a foreword to one of Selous's books, African nature notes and reminiscences (1908). The first two chapters of this work were devoted to a discussion of protective coloration, recognition marks, and the influence of the environment on living organisms. In referring to this work, Barker (1919, p. 138) described Selous as "that Prince of Sportsmen and very competent field-naturalist" and drew attention to "his unrivalled personal experience of the habits of the fauna of South Africa". Meanwhile Selous had also written Sport and travel, east and west (1901) and Recent hunting trips in British North America (1907). His last book, written in collaboration with J.G. Millais and Abel Chapman, was The big game of Africa and Europe (1914). Millais later wrote his biography.

During World War I (1914-1918) Selous, despite his age, served as a volunteer in the 25th Royal Fusiliers with the rank of lieutenant (February 1915) and then captain (August 1915). He landed in Mombasa in May 1915 with his unit and in September 1916 was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for conspicuous gallantry, resource and endurance. He was killed in action early in 1917. The village Selous (since renamed) and the Selous collection of big game in the British Museum (Natural History) commemorate him. During the guerilla war in Zimbabwe in the 1970's the elite Selous Scouts adopted his name.

List of sources:
Barker, C.N. A criticism of the foundations upon which the theroy of mimicry is built. South African Journal of Natural History, 1919, Vol. 1(2), pp. 138-163.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the Trustees of the South African Museum, 1892, 1895-1897.

Cape of Good Hope. Report on the Port Elizabeth Museum, 1891.

Creagh, O'M and Humphris, E.M. The Distinguished Service Order, 1886-1923. London: J.B. Hayward, 1978.

De Graaff, G. The rodents of southern Africa. Durban: Butterworths, 1981.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 2, 1972.

Janse, A.J.T. Glimpses of the development of entomological science in South Africa. Journal of the Entomological Society of South Africa, 1940, Vol. 3, pp. 1-8.

Mendelssohn, S. South African bibliography (Vol. 2, p. 749). London, 1910.

National Union Catalogue, pre-1956 imprints. London: Mansell, 1968-1980.

Oxford dictionary of national biography. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Pinhey, E.C.G. Rhodesian lepidopterists: Frederick Courteney Selous (1851-1917). Rhodesian Science News, March 1979, Vol. 13(3), pp. 94-95.

Royal Society of London. Catalogue of scientific papers [1800-1900]. London: Royal Society, 1867-1925.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979 (Vols 1-4) and Cape Town: SA Library, 1991 (Vol. 5).

Standard encyclopaedia of southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

Tabler, E.C. Pioneers of Rhodesia. Cape Town: Struik, 1966.

Trimen, Roland. South African butterflies: A monograph of the extra-tropical species(3 vols). London: Tr?bner & Co., 1887-1889.

Compiled by: C. Plug