1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kirk, Sir John

KIRK, SIR JOHN (1832–  ), British naturalist and administrator, son of the Rev. John Kirk, was born at Barry, near Arbroath, on the 19th of December 1832. He was educated at Edinburgh for the medical profession, and after serving on the civil medical staff throughout the Crimean War, was appointed in February 1858 physician and naturalist to David Livingstone’s second expedition to Central Africa. He was by Livingstone’s side in most of his journeyings during the next five years, and was one of the first four white men to behold Lake Nyassa (Sept. 16, 1859). He was finally invalided home on the 9th of May 1863. The reputation he gained during this expedition led to his appointment in January 1866 as acting surgeon to the political agency at Zanzibar. In 1868 he became assistant political agent, being raised to the rank of consul-general in 1873 and agent in 1880. He retired from that post in 1887. The twenty-one years spent by Kirk in Zanzibar covered the most critical period of the history of European intervention in East Africa; and during the greater part of that time he was the virtual ruler of the country. With Seyyid Bargash, who became sultan in 1870, he had a controlling influence, and after the failure of Sir Bartle Frere’s efforts he succeeded in obtaining (June 5, 1873) the sultan’s signature to a treaty abolishing the slave trade in his dominions. In 1877 Bargash offered to a British merchant—Sir W. Mackinnon—a lease of his mainland territories, and he gave Kirk a declaration in which he bound himself not to cede territory to any other power than Great Britain, a declaration ignored by the British government. When Germany in 1885 claimed districts considered by the sultan to belong to Zanzibar, Kirk intervened to prevent Bargash going in person to Berlin to protest and induced him to submit to the dismemberment of his dominions. In the delicate negotiations which followed Kirk used his powers to checkmate the German designs to supplant the British in Zanzibar itself; this he did without destroying the Arab form of government. He also directed the efforts, this time successful, to obtain for Britain a portion of the mainland—Bargash in May 1887 granting to Mackinnon a lease of territory which led to the foundation of British East Africa. Having thus served both Great Britain and Zanzibar, Kirk resigned his post (July 1887), retiring from the consular service. In 1889–1890 he was a plenipotentiary at the slave trade conference in Brussels, and was one of the delegates who fixed the tariff duties to be imposed in the Congo basin. In 1895 he was sent by the British government on a mission to the Niger; and on his return he was appointed a member of the Foreign Office committee for constructing the Uganda railway. As a naturalist Kirk took high rank, and many species of the flora and fauna of Central Africa were made known by him, and several bear his name, e.g. the Otogale kirkii (a lemuroid), the Madoqua kirkii (a diminutive antelope), the Landolphia kirkii and the Clematis kirkii. For his services to geography he received in 1882 the patrons’ medal of the Royal Geographical Society, of which society he became foreign secretary. Kirk was created K.C.B. in 1900. He married, in 1867, Miss Helen Cooke.