Harry Borrer Kirk

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Harry Borrer Kirk (9 March 1859 – 1948) was a New Zealand school inspector, biologist and university professor.

Public life[edit]

He was born in Coventry, Warwickshire, England on 9 March 1859 to Thomas Kirk and Sarah Jane Mattocks, the family emigrated to New Zealand arriving in Auckland on 9 February 1863 and Wellington in 1874 when Thomas Kirk was appointed to Wellington College. Harry studied for University of New Zealand exams at home, gaining a BA in 1882 and a MA 1883, after which he joined the Department of Education first as a clerk and then as an inspector of native schools. As an inspector, he spend almost two decades travelling the country, collecting botanical specimens as he went.[1]

As was typical at the time, Kirk saw Pākehā education as a force for 'elevating' Māori.[2] The 1880 Native Schools Code held that te reo Māori was only to be used to 'learn English more effectively' and Kirk stated in a report:

I think the teacher should cease to use Maori in school when the necessary explanation can be made in English. It is quite likely that the children will readily understand instruction given in Maori and that they will make the greater progress in certain subjects, such as Writing and Arithmetic, but they will not trouble themselves to understand English if the teacher will speak Maori. It is to be borne in mind that English is not only an important subject in itself but that it is a 'key' subject to others.

— Harry Borrer Kirk, The Provision of Education Services to East Coast Maori. John Barrington, August 2007. quote taken from 'Inspection Report, Tikitiki, 15 March 1889.BAAA 1001/640c. ANZ-A. DB.'

In 1903 Kirk was appointed inaugural chair of biology to Victoria College (now Victoria University of Wellington)[3] and he largely devoted the rest of his life to building up the biology capabilities of the university.[1][4][5]

During the First World War he produced several innovations in military camps for to reduce fly contamination,[6] and he is said to have refused a Captain's commission.[7]

Family life[edit]

Kirk married Annie Lamont[1] (or La Monte[8]) on 10 July 1885 in Dunedin. They had two children Ethelwin Gladys and Hilda Gyneth, Kirk lived with them after Annie's death in 1927. After he retired in 1944, he was cared for by his unmarried sister Cybele Ethel Kirk,[9] who had been active, along with their sister Lily May Kirk,[10] in the women's suffrage movement.[1] The family were active in the Baptist Union of New Zealand,[9][10] with Harry being a listed as a Mortgagee in the Baptist Union Incorporation Act 1923[11]


Two buildings on the Kelburn campus of Victoria University of Wellington are named after Kirk, called the Kirk Building and the Old Kirk Building[12]