S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Eyles, Mr Frederick (botany, insect collection, archaeology)

Born: 10 May 1864, Wick, near Bristol, England.
Died: 28 May 1937, Kadoma, Zimbabwe.

Frederick (Fred) Eyles, botanist, politician and journalist, probably resided in Natal Colony for some time, as he published a book, Zulu self-taught (Cape Town, 1900). An edition that included a key was published in Johannesburg the same year. Meanwhile he had arrived in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in January 1899, settled in Bulawayo and in August 1902 founded The Bulawayo Observer. He edited this weekly political and financial journal until it ceased publication in January 1904. In 1910 he moved to the vicinity of Mazowe, a village just north of Harare, where he lived on the farm Tatagura for some years. From 1911 to 1914 he was a member of the Legislative Council, representing the Northern Districts. In the latter year he entered the civil service as statistician and water registrar in the Department of Agriculture. Later he was associated with the Census office and compiled the Report of the director of census regarding the European census taken on 3 May 1921 (Salisbury, 1922).

Eyles had wide scientific interests, many of which were reflected in his activities as a member of the Rhodesia Scientific Association. He became a member of the association in 1899, the year of its formation, and was still a member in 1931. In 1901 he succeeded J.P. Gregoe* as honorary secretary for about a year, continued to serve as a member of council for some years, and eventually was elected president of the association for 1922/3. Initially he collected insects, exhibiting longicorn beetles before the association in January 1900, a collection of Coleoptera (beetles) in February and July that year, and presenting a collection of Coleoptera to the association's museum. The next year his interest had shifted to prehistory. In March 1901 he read a paper on "The origin of the native races of South Africa", being a compilation from various philological and anthropological sources, which was published in the Proceedings (Vol. 2, pp. 30-42). His next paper, "On a cave with Bushman drawings in the Matopos" (Ibid, Vol. 3, pp. 65-69), read in November 1902, included one of the earliest descriptions of Zimbabwean prehistoric stone artefacts, found in the cave. Subsequent papers on "The collection of natural history specimens" (Ibid, 1903, Vol. 4, pp. 33-37) and "Notes on the habits of a young genet" (Ibid, 1907, Vol. 7, pp. 25-28) indicate his wider interest in natural history.

At this time Eyles began to shift his attention to botany. In April 1906 he read a paper on "Ferns and fern allies of Southern Rhodesia" (Proceedings, Vol. 6, pp. 87-91). At the next year's annual general meeting it was announced that he was working on a catalogue of Zimbabwean plants and had already amassed an extensive botanical collection. During the rest of his life he focused on the study of the flora of Zimbabwe. His most important botanical publication was "A record of plants collected in Southern Rhodesia", published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa (1916, Vol. 5, pp. 273-564). It formed the foundation of the study of the Zimbabwean flora. Later he published two papers in the South African Journal of Science: "Constituents of the flora of Southern Rhodesia" (1920, Vol. 17, pp. 181-184) and "Ecological notes on the flora of Salisbury commonage" (1927, Vol. 24, pp. 289-298).

Eyles was appointed botanist and mycologist in the Department of Agriculture of Southern Rhodesia in 1923. That year he spent six months at Stellenbosch, working under P.A. van der Bijl*, to learn more about mycology and plant pathology. Continuing this work in Rhodesia he published a preliminary list of plant diseases in 1926. However, the next year his mycological duties were taken over by J.C.F. Hopkins, while he continued as the department's botanist. During his years in the Department of Agriculture he also edited the Rhodesia Agricultural Journal and wrote articles for it on "Diseases of cotton in Southern Rhodesia" (1924) and "Some diseases of tobacco in Rhodesia" (1924).

After retiring from the department in March 1928 Eyles became curator of the Queen Victoria Memorial Museum and Library in Salisbury (now Harare), spending most of his time collecting plants and building up an herbarium. From 1901 to his death in 1937 he collected some 9000 botanical specimens, which were deposited in the Government Herbarium and National Botanic Gardens in Salisbury. For many years it remained one of the largest botanical collections in the country. Duplicate specimens were provided to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, near London, the British Museum (Natural History), and the National Herbarium, Pretoria. His collections included fungi, kept in the herbarium of the Department of Agriculture in Salisbury, while he also made substantial contributions to the Mycological Herbarium at Pretoria. In 1932 he compiled a list of Rhodesian fungi, but it was not published at the time. His records were later incorporated in a list by J.C.F. Hopkins in 1938. As a result of his botanical work he has been described as the "Father of Rhodesian botany" (Obituary, 1937) and "the foremost pioneer botanist of Southern Rhodesia" (Obituary, 1942). Many of the plant species that he discovered were named after him.

Eyles was a Fellow of the Linnean Society. In 1903 he became a member of the South African Philosophical Society and in 1917 was still a member of its successor, the Royal Society of South Africa. In 1906 he joined the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, serving as president of its Section C (which included botany) at the association's annual congress in Bulawayo in 1911. In his presidential address he presented "A preliminary list of the plants of Southern Rhodesia" (Report, 1911, pp. 277-321). He was still a member of the association's council in 1926. In 1916 he became a foundation member of the South African Biological Society. He died of pneumonia during a collecting trip to the Kadoma district, and was survived by his wife, Ann Eyles.

List of sources:
Bottomly, A. The development of South African mycology and of the Mycological Herbarium at Pretoria. South African Journal of Science, 1929, Vol. 26, pp. 326-331.

Doidge, E.M. South African fungi and lichens to the end of 1945. Bothalia, 1950, Vol. 5, pp. 1-1094 (see p. 42).

Goodwin, A.J.H. A commentary upon South African prehistory up to the introduction of the new terminology. Bantu Studies, 1935, Vol. 9, pp. 291-333; bibliography pp. 387-413.

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by F. Eyles.

Hubbard, P. A bibliography of Zimbabwean archaeology to 2005, Version 1.0, January 2007 (electronic file received from author).

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

[Obituary]: The late Mr Fred Eyles. Proceedings and Transactions of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1937, Vol. 35(1), n.p.

[Obituary]: Fred Eyles. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1942, Vol. 29, pp. xxv-xxvi.

Rhodesia Scientific Association. Proceedings, 1900-1907, Vol. 1-7; also lists of members, 1918, Vol. 16(2) and 1931, Vol. 30.

Royal Society of South Africa. Transactions, 1912, Vol. 1 and 1917, Vol. 6: Lists of Fellows and members; 1916, Vol. 5, paper by Eyles.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1910, 1911, 1918; and South African Journal of Science, 1920-1927, Vol. 17, 23 and 24.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Journal of Natural History, 1920, Vol. 2(2), pp. 293-301, List of members [of the SA Biological Society].

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1907, Vol. 7, list of members.

Southern Rhodesia. Report of the Director of Agriculture, 1925, 1926, 1927.

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

Zimbabwe Scientific Association. Transactions, 1999, Vol. 73 (Centenary Issue): Past Presidents, 1899-1998.

Compiled by: C. Plug