Caught by the River

Oliver Kite – Springtime in Salisbury

5th June 2011

(Previous posts relating to Major Kite can be found HERE)

Hello Jeff,
I assume that you’ve received some emails about Oliver Kite, but I thought I’d let you know what I’ve read, and heard, about his ‘dark’ side.

The basic accusation seems to be that Kite cashed-in on knowledge which was conveyed to him by Frank Sawyer, and that he sought to claim credit for developing much of it. During Kite’s lifetime – as far as I can tell – he did seem to acknowledge Sawyer’s debt in person, and in print. It appears that many of Sawyer’s supporters came to resent Kite after the latter’s death, when new editions (without Kite’s input or approval) of Nymph Fishing in Practice were published. The text in some of these latter versions was, apparently, far less deferential toward Sawyer which raised some hackles, if you will.

There is another story that Kite purchased a white Jaguar car which he left parked in the street outside his cottage, in view of the Sawyers, who lived opposite him. It has been suggested that he acquired the car effectively ‘on doctor’s orders’, because it was the only automatic vehicle available, and due to his increasingly serious heart condition was, it has been asserted, recommended by his physician. Sawyer’s wife was, reputedly, so angered by this ostentatious display of wealth – acquired at the expense of her less media savvy husband – that this caused the breakdown in the Sawyer-Kite friendship.

For what it’s worth, Sawyer probably did have some reasonable grounds for animosity, but Kite was not the devil incarnate as some have suggested.

On another matter (Matt’s Bird of the Week, 18/5), Tibbles’ responsibility for the extinction of the Stephens Island Wren is apocryphal. Subsequent to Tibbles’ death, it appears that a pregnant cat was released onto the island. The population of these animals increased, and this is what, most likely, caused the extinction, not Tibbles. It’s also worth noting that the wren was widely distributed throughout what came to be known as New Zealand, and it was Maori settlement which immediately preceded the species’ extinction there. To the best of my knowledge, the Maori did not introduce cats to New Zealand, so that extinction was probably caused by the Polynesian rat; so while cats may have delivered the coup de gras to the Stephens Island Wren, Matt’s ailurophobic assessment of the wren’s demise is inaccurate.
I hope this is of some interest.
Simon (Smolski)