John Kirk (explorer)

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John Kirk, retired

John Kirk CMG KCB (19 December 1832 – 15 January 1922) was a Scottish physician, naturalist, companion to explorer David Livingstone, and British administrator in Zanzibar. He was born in Barry, Angus, near Arbroath, Scotland and is buried in St. Nicholas's churchyard in Sevenoaks, Kent, England. He earned his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh. He was a keen botanist throughout his life and was highly regarded by successive directors of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: William Hooker, Joseph Dalton Hooker and William Turner Thiselton-Dyer.


After the death of Livingstone, Kirk pledged to continue Livingston's work to end the East African slave trade. For years he negotiated with the ruler of Zanzibar, Sultan Bargash, gaining his confidence and promising to help enrich the East African domain through legitimate commerce. The Sultan banned slave trading in 1873 and by 1885, the region was larger and more profitable.

In 1882 he was awarded the Patron's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his achievements.[1]

He succeeded Henry Adrian Churchill as British Consul in Zanzibar, after Churchill died in office in 1886.[2]


Kirk had a daughter, Helen, who married Major-General Henry Brooke Hagstromer Wright CB CMG, the brother of the famous bacteriologist and immunologist, Sir Almroth Edward Wright and of Sir Charles Theodore Hagberg Wright, Secretary and Librarian of London Library. Kirk had a son Colonel John William Carnegie Kirk author of A British Garden Flora. The engineer, Alexander C. Kirk, was John Kirk's elder brother.


Kirk's red colobus of Zanzibar, Procolobus kirkii, taken at Jozani Forest, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

According to sources,[3] Kirk first drew zoologists' attention to the Zanzibar red colobus,[4] which is also commonly known as Kirk's red colobus. This species, Procolobus kirkii, which is endemic to Zanzibar, is named after him.

Also, a species of african lizard, Agama kirkii, is named in his honor.[5]


  • 'Account of the Zambezi District, in South Africa, with a Notice of Its Vegetable and Other Products', Transactions of the Botanical Society (1864), 8, 197–202....
  • 'Ascent of the Rovuma', Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London (1864–1865), 9, 284–8.
  • 'Dimorphism in the Flowers of Monochoria Vaginalis', Journal of the Linnean Society: Botany (1865), 8, 147.
  • 'Extracts of a Letter of Dr. Kirk to Alex Kirk, Esq., Relating to the Livingstone Expedition', Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1859), 185–6.
  • 'Hints to Travellers – Extracts from a Letter from John Kirk', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1864), 34, 290–2.
  • 'Letter Dated 28 February Replying to Dr. Peters', Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1865), 227.
  • 'Letter from Dr. John Kirk (of the Livingstone Expedition), Dated H.M Ship Pioneer, River Shire, East Africa, 14 December 1861.' Transactions of the Botanical Society (1862), 7, 389–92.
  • 'Letter from Dr. John Kirk, Physician and Naturalists to the Livingstone Expedition, Relative to the Country near Lake Shirwa, in Africa', Transactions of the Botanical Society (1859), 6, 317–21, plate VII.
  • 'Letter from John Kirk to Professor Balfour', Transactions of the Botanical Society (1864), 8, 110–1.
  • 'List of Mammalia Met with in Zambesia, East Tropical Africa', Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (1864), 649–60.
  • 'Notes on the Gradient of the Zambesi, on the Level of Lake Nyassa, on the Murchison Rapids, and on Lake Shirwa', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1865), 35, 167–9.
  • 'Notes on Two Expeditions up the River Rovuma, East Africa', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1865), 35, 154–67.
  • 'On a Few Fossil Bones from the Alluvial Strata of the Zambesi Delta', Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (1864), 34, 199–201.
  • 'On a New Dye-Wood of the Genus Cudranea, from Tropical Africa', Journal of the Linnean Society: Botany (1867), 9, 229–30.
  • 'On a New Genus of Liliaceæ from East Tropical Africa', Transactions of the Linnean Society (1864), 24, 497–9.
  • 'On a New Harbour Opposite Zanzibar', Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London (1866–1867), 11, 35–6.
  • 'On Musa Livingstoniana, a New Banana from Tropical Africa', Journal of the Linnean Society: Botany (1867), 9, 128.
  • 'On the "Tsetse" Fly of Tropical Africa (Glossina Morsitans, Westwood).' Journal of the Linnean Society: Zoology (1865), 8, 149–56.
  • 'On the Birds of the Zambezi Region of Eastern Tropical Africa', Ibis (1864), 6, 307–39.
  • 'On the Palms of East Tropical Africa', Journal of the Linnean Society: Botany (1867), 9, 230–5.
  • 'Report on the Natural Products and Capabilities of the Shire and Lower Zambesi Valleys', Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London (1861–1862), 6, 25–32.
  • 'Report by Sir John Kirk on the Disturbances at Brass' (Great Britain: Colonial Office, 1896)


  1. "List of Past Gold Medal Winners" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 24 August 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Zanzibar History
  3. Kirk's red colobus, Procolobus kirkii
  4. Inventory Acc.942 Papers of Sir John Kirk GCMB KCB and Lady Kirk née Helen Cooke. National Library of Scotland: Manuscripts Division.
  5. Beolens B, Watkins M, Grayson M. 2011. The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Kirk", p. 142).
  6. Author Query for 'J.Kirk', International Plant Names Index Invalid |mode=CS1 (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Anonymous 1908 Ibis Jubilee Supplement
  • Foskett, Reginald, ed. 1965. The Zambesi Journal and Letters of Dr. John Kirk, 1858–63. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.
  • Martelli, George. 1970. Livingstone's River: A History of the Zambezi Expedition, 1858–1864. London: Chatto & Windus.
  • Liebowitz, Daniel. 1999. The Physician and the Slave Trade: John kirk, the Livingstone Expeditions, and the Crusade against Slavery in East Africa. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
  • Ferguson, Niall. 2003. Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World. London: Penguin Books. pp. 156–8, 236–7, 239.
  • Dritsas, Lawrence. 2005. "From Lake Nyassa to Philadelphia: A Geography of the Zambesi Expedition, 1858–64." British Journal for the History of Science 38, no. 1: 35–52.
  • Hazell, Alastair. 2012. "The Last Slave Market: Dr John Kirk and the Struggle to End the East African Slave Trade". London: Constable

External Links