Biographies: Sir John Kirk (Scotland/England, 1832-1922)


Figure 1.--This caninet card portrait showd the family of Sir John Kirk and his seven children in 1909. The photiographr has signed the portrait, but it is difficult to read, something like Lang Sinno. It is not clear where they were living at the time, probably some where in the London area. The younger son wears an Eton suit. We suspect he was a student at Eton College, although some boys wore suits like this that were not students at Eton.

Sir John Kirk was a Scottish physician, naturalist, explorer, and British diplomat. He served as Consul General in Zanzibar. As that Arab Sultunate was central to the Arab slave trade in East Africa, he played an important role in ending the Indian Ocean slave trade. John was born in Barry, Angus, near Arbroath, Scotland. We know nothing about his parents or childood other than he grew up in Scotland. While he grew up in and was educated in Scotland, his adult life was primarily spent in England. An elder brother was the engineer, Alexander Carnegie Kirk. John himself earned a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh. As a natralist he became interested in Africa which linked him to join Dr. David Livingstone on the Second Zambezi Expedition from Zanzibar as a botanist (1858-64). This assoiciation caused him to become commited to ending the slave trade in Africa. He, however, was not impressed with Livingstone as a expedition leader writing that he was 'out of his mind and a most unsafe leader'. He remained in Zanzibar when Linvingston left for his next expedition. Kirk would be appointed British Vice Consul to the Zanzibar Sultunate. He would spend the next several decades in Zanzibar, rising to Consul General. He worked tirelessly to end the Indian Ocean slave trade. Krk was an avid photographer and botanist and published many papers from his findings on Zanzibar and the Comorro Iskands and travels in East Africa. He developed a strong relationship with successive directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Childhood

John was born in Barry, Angus, near Arbroath, Scotland. Angus is a North Sea coastal county un the Scottish Higlands. We know little about his parents other vthan the fct that his father was a clergyman. All we know about his childhood is that he grew up in Scotland. While he grew up in and was educated in Scotland, his adult life was primarily spent in England. An elder brother was the engineer, Alexander Carnegie Kirk.

Education

John himself earned a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh.

Crimean War

He served on the civil medical staff during the Crimean War.

Explorer

As a natralist he became interested in Africa which linked him to join Dr. David Livingstone on the Second Zambezi Expedition from Zanzibar as a botanist (1858-63). This assoiciation caused him to become commited to ending the slave trade in Africa. He spent 5 years tramping across East Africa with Livingstone. He, however, was not impressed with Livingstone as a expedition leader writing that he was 'out of his mind and a most unsafe leader'. He was returned home toi recuperate (1863).

Diplomat

Kirk remained in Zanzibar when Linvingston left for his next expedition and returned to England to recuperate. The reputation that he acquired while with Livinstone led to his appointment as acting surgeon to the political agency in Zanzibar (January 1866). He was then appointed British Vice Consul to the Zanzibar Sultunate. Kirk worked with both Sultan Majid and his successor, Sultan Barghash. Kirk would spend the next several decades in Zanzibar, rising to Consul General. He worked tirelessly to end the Indian Ocean slave trade. The various British consuls on Zanzibar took the lead in the anti-slave-trade movement in East Africa. The British began by offering guarantees of continued protection to the the Sultan if he would limit the scope of the slave trade (1850s). Several consuls played importsant roles. Henry Adrian Churchill, of English-French parentage who grew up in Turkey was appointed consul (1865). His English father was a respected archeologuists and Churchill had valuable language skills. He dedicated himself to the the abolition of the slave trade on Zanzibar, knowing that success there would lead to undercutting the slave trade thrioughout East Africa. Churchill's health deteriorated, probably because of the tropical climate and his heavy work load. John Kirk, the Vice Consul and his doictoir, advised him to return to London for health reasons (1869). He departed (December 1870) leaving Kirk in charge as acting Consul. Kirk has experiece in Africa. He was a respected naturalist and had been a companion to explorer Dr. David Livingstone. Kirk through himself into Churchill's work. He faced a turning point (June 1873). It is at this time thet he received received instructions from the Foreign Office London on the Zanzibar slave trade. He was ordered to present an ultimatum to Sultan Bargash. The British Government ordered Sultan Barghash to stop the slave trade and close the slave market. He was ordered to threaten a naval blockade. But the Foreign Office also instructed him not to threaten a blockade which would be seen as an act of war and drive the Sulatn to seek French protection. Kirk only showed the Sultan the first blockade instruction. Sultan Barghash capitulated within two weeks. [Lloyd, pp 264-68.] Kirk was rewarded by appointment full Consul in Zanzibar (1873) and Consul in the Comoro Islands (1875). He spent most of his time in Zanzibar. He was promoted to Consul General (1881). Kirk's diplomacy along ith the European Scramble for Africa helped brng this evil chapter of histiry to a close. He continued to work closely with Sultan Barghash, who came to see him as a trusted adviser. Kirk's main argument was that Zanzibar anbd the Sultan would be better off wuthout the slkave trade. And this prioved to be the case. During the 1870s the Sultan enlarged his domaine abd increased his revenues through legitimate commerce. Kirk convinced the British government to discourage Egyptian expansion along the East African coast (1875). He failed to convince the British government to defend the Sultan mainlanbd territories from the Germans (1884). The area became German Southwest Africa (1884). This is modern Tanzania. He retired from the diplomati service (1887). He came out of retirement to serve as British Minister Plenipotentiary at the Slave Act Conference in Brussels (1890). Because of his achievements he was seen as the most qualified individual.

Photography

Kirk photographed the peope and land scapes throughout East Africa. We see both ethnographic images and portraits of infividuals, including slave traders. His ethnographic photograohs are pariculsrly interesting because they are some of the earliest photographs we have of the people of Zanzibar abnd East Africa as wll as the Comoro Islands. While Kirk is best known as a diplomat and his woirk to end the Indian Ocean slave trade, he by all accounts was a highly competent photographer, a still complicated skill in the 1860s. Becsause of the climate, Kirk preferred the calotype to the collodion process. He joined David Livingstone Zambesi expedition (1858-64) as a naturalist. He brought his camera and chemicals along and made many calotypes. He was not the official expedition photographer. This task was assigned to Charles Livingstone, the explorer's brother. Charles Livingstone was by most accounts a rather unpleasant individual. While he was the expedition's official photographer, he had virtually no photographic skills. He rushed lear a little about the wet collodion process just a few weeks before the expedition left Zanzibzr. He does seem to have been close to his brither despite being described as malicious and lazy. His incompetence as a photograpoher ecxplsin why he produced sio few quality imsges and most illustrations of the Expedition are drawings. He sold his collodion plates to the Foreign & Colonial Office, but vurtually none have survived. Most of the imsges we have are the Calotypes taken by Kirk. After the Expedition, Kirk sopehntt several decades in Zanzibar here he ccintinued to csoture fascinating images of tghe island as well as East Africa anbd Comorois. While no on the march with Livingstone, Kirk switched to the albumen proicess fir mny oif his ethographic portraits. .

Naturalist

Krk was an avid photographer and botanist and published many papers from his findings on Zanzibar and the Comorro Iskands and travels in East Africa. He developed a strong relationship with successive directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Family

Here we see Sir John's family in 1909 (figure 1). Sir John was born in Scotland, but because of his diplomatic career appears ti have become more associated with England. The 1909 portait we have found certainly looks very English, a family you might expect of an important diplomat. An important diplomat would have wanted a home in or near London. Of course Sir John spent most of is diplomatic career in Zanzibar. He is buried in Seven Oaks south of London, not in Scotland. So we suspect that the Kirk family can best be described as an English family. Here the wife can also decide the chsaracter of the fammily. Sir John married Miss Helen Cooke (1867). The problem is that we do not know any thing about her. We suspect she was English, but do not know for sure. This was at an early stage of his diplomatic careeer, so the older children were presumbly raised in Zanzibar. Here we just do not have details. His daughter, Helen, married Major-General Henry Brooke Hagstromer Wright. The General was the broyher of bacteriologist and immunologist, Sir Almroth Edward Wright and of Sir Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright, Secretary and Librarian of London Library. Kirk’s son was Colonel John William Carnegie Kirk, also a naturalist. He published the book, A British Garden Flora.

Sources

Hazelll, Alastair. The Last Slsve Market.







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Created: 5:19 AM 5/31/2018
Last updated: 4:20 PM 5/31/2018