S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Sheppard, Mr Percy Alexander (ornithology, insect collection)

Born: 27 December 1875, Pulau Pinang Island, Malaysia.
Died: 24 February 1958, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Percy A. Sheppard arrived in Beira, Mozambique, in 1898 at the age of 23. He may have had some agricultural experience, for he was soon employed as plantation manager by the Mozambique Company. From early 1906 to 1908 he farmed some 10 km inland from Beira, but in the latter year moved to an agricultural research station at Mzimbiti, near Dondo (some 35 km north-west of Beira). In 1912 he moved to an experimental station north of Vila de Manica, close to the border with Zimbabwe, where he remained until 1918. During his years in Mozambique he collected insects, mainly Coleoptera. He sold one collection of beetles to a collector in Germany, while parts of other beetle collections went to the National Museum in Bulawayo. From 1903 to 1907 he regularly presented insects from the vicinity of Beira, and some from the Matopo Hills in Zimbabwe, to the South African Museum, Cape Town. Most were Coleoptera, with some Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, and Orthoptera. Included was a valuable collection of the families Curculionidae and Chrysomelidae, with five new species, presented in 1907.

Sheppard also observed and collected birds and eggs in Mozambique. He joined the South African Ornithologists' Union in 1906 and represented Portuguese South-East Africa (Mozambique) on its council from 1908 to 1916. His bird observations were reported in the Union's Journal in three papers that established his reputation as an ornithologist: "A list of, and notes on, birds collected and observed in the district of Beira, Portuguese S.E. Africa" (1909, Vol. 5(1), pp. 24-49), "Field-notes on some little-known birds, including two new species, from observations made during the nesting season of 1909 near Beira" (1910, Vol. 6(2), pp. 37-44), and "Additional list of notes on birds collected and observed in Zimbiti district..." (1914, Vol. 10(1), pp. 1-4). He may have collected a number of clutches of eggs that were anonymously presented to the South African Museum from the area of operation of the Mozambique Company during 1903-1905. In the latter year he visited Natal, where he collected a number of clutches that went to the Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg. The birds he collected during 1913-1914, which are in the Natal Museum, were described R.K. Brooke (1966), with a further paper on his specimens following two years later. The genus Sheppardia, based on a robin collected at Mzimbiti, was named after him by A.K. Haagner* in 1909.

In 1916 Sheppard crossed the border to nearby Umtali (now Mutare, Zimbabwe), where he was employed by the railways as a storeman until his retirement in October 1931 at the age of 55. After arriving in Mutare he gave less attention to birds, but started to collect Lepidoptera, which became his special interest. He is reputed to have persuaded the sisters at the local hospital to collect moths for him when on night duty. Though fairly knowledgeable on this group, he did not publish his information. Some of his specimens were presented to the Transvaal Museum, Pretoria, and several species of the family Lycaenidae were named after him. In 1956 he sold his main Lepidoptera collection to the Mutare municipality, which later presented it to the National Museum at Mutare.

Sheppard was a reserved and quiet person, but always ready to discuss aspects of natural history with those he knew. He joined the South African Philosophical Society in 1905 and remained a member for some time after it became the Royal Society of South Africa in 1908. After his retirement he stayed on in Mutare, where he continued to be consulted from time to time on matters of agriculture or natural history. During World War II (1939-1945) he was curator of the Mutare municipal park. He left the town in 1955 to spend his last years with his daughter in Harare.

List of sources:
Brooke, R.K. Distribution and breeding notes on the birds of the central frontier of Rhodesia and Mozambique [including a section entitled "P.A. Sheppard - a biographical sketch"]. Annals of the Natal Museum, 1966, Vol. 18(2), pp. 429-453.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the trustees of the South African Museum, 1903, 1904, 1905, 1907.

Clinning, C. Southern African bird names explained. Johannesburg: South African Ornithological Society, 1989.

Journal of the South African Ornithologists' Union, 1908-1914, Vol. 4, 5, 10.

Pinhey, E.C.G. Rhodesian lepidopterists: Percy Alexander Sheppard (1875-1958). Rhodesia Science News, April 1979, Vol. 13(4), p. 114.

Royal Society of South Africa. Transactions, 1908-1910, Vol. 1, list of members.

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1906-1907, Vol. 16 and 17: Lists of members.

Zimbabwe, Death notices, 1904-1976. FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVBQ-CBKN accessed 4 January 2016.

Compiled by: C. Plug