Hello nomad, Ann and the rest of you who’ve been posting to this forum.
I’m sorry to be joining a bit late, but I’ve only just found it.
I was at school (Stroud School, at Highwood House near Romsey in Hampshire) between 1965 and 1969 where IRPH taught us Latin (unsuccessfully in my case) and French (for a short time when I was in the 3rd Form).
It’s been a pleasure to read these tales about IRPH and I’ve ordered a copy of Matthew Oats’ biography which I didn’t know about, so thanks for that – but let me tell you some of my experiences of him.
I recall very well how easily (and wonderfully – if not the best for my academic studies) IRPH could be distracted from teaching us Latin (using Ritchie’s (?) “First Steps in Latin”; book boards invariably defaced to read “First steps in Eating”) to regale us with tales of this big game hunting in West Africa or of butterfly collecting there and in the UK. I clearly recall his tales of shooting big game and of bagging the first ever specimen of the subspecies of Pigmy Hippopotamus which, once stuffed, resided (resides still?) in display in the Natural History Museum in London.
I also remember that IRPH owned a small, burgundy-red, Bedford van which I suppose served him well, both for commuting between school and his home in Burnham-on-Sea, and for his forays into the Hampshire and Wiltshire countryside in search of butterflies. I once recall him showing us a black-and-white photo of himself, standing in the road beside his van, holding his High butterfly net which stretched up to the top of a nearby oak tree and which he used to catch Purple Emperor butterflies. My recollection is that this photo was to appear in an upcoming issue of the Radio Times to accompany an article promoting a radio programme where he, and/or his butterfly collecting, was to feature.
On another occasion, one of the boys in the class asked him: “Sir, what’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?”. This, as best as I can recall, was the substance of his reply:
On several occasions, he had frequented the same café on some UK railway station where he would always order a ginger beer. Each time, having taken the top off the bottle, the waitress would hurriedly pour some of the contents into a glass, give it to him, and then put the (not empty) bottle under the counter top – presumably to sell what was left on to another customer or drink herself later. On this occasion however, after the waitress had finished pouring his ginger beer and moved away, he leant over the counter, retrieved the bottle and emptied what she had left into his glass. We loved to presume how, having drained his glass, he would have smiled triumphantly at the waitress and walked away.
Sometime in 1968 or 1969 he took a group of about 12-15 of us in a minibus to his home in Burnham-on-Sea. The walls of his (huge) study were covered by his big game trophy collection and the body of the room filled with the cabinets that housed his amazing butterfly collection. I clearly remember his pride and joy were the trays of magnificent Purple Emperors. We returned to school via Cheddar Gorge where we visited the caves. The following day he took us all to task for the parlous state in which we had left the minibus (currant buns seemed to feature a lot).
Anyway, while I’ve been interested in nature and wild animals since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, it was IRPH’s influence that lead me to start collecting butterflies myself, which I did for some 5 years (before I properly understood the conservation importance of just watching them and not killing them). This, in part, was an important factor that lead me onto University to study Biology (a first degree and PhD) and subsequently a wonderful and fulfilling career in biological research (fish migration).
I see now what a wonderful and passionate man he was and how he made a significant contribution to Zoology. I just wish, at the age of 11 and 12, I’d understood this better and spent more time listening and learning from him rather the fooling about. Nonetheless, I have no doubt about the role he played by inspiring my early interests in Biology and for that I am forever thankful.
That is a very interesting personal account of quite a fascinating man and I enjoyed reading it very much. His pride and joy, his personal collection, together with his drawers of Purple Emperors that you saw at his home at Burnham-On-Sea are still treasured today by the Bristol Museum. It is so nice to hear that by meeting him, he instilled a love of nature in you that led to a successful career. Peter.