William Forsell Kirby

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
William Forsell Kirby

William Forsell Kirby (14 January 1844 – 20 November 1912[1]) was an English entomologist and folklorist.


He was born in Leicester. He was the eldest son of Samuel Kirby, who was a banker. He was educated privately, and became interested in butterflies and moths at an early age. The family moved to Brighton, where he became acquainted with Henry Cooke, Frederick Merrifield and J. N. Winter.[2] He published the Manual of European Butterflies in 1862.

In 1867 he became a curator in the Museum of the Royal Dublin Society, and produced a Synonymic Catalogue of Diurnal Lepidoptera (1871; Supplement 1877).

In 1879 Kirby joined the staff of the British Museum (Natural History) as an assistant, after the death of Frederick Smith. He published a number of catalogues, as well as Rhopalocera Exotica (1887–1897) and an Elementary Text-book of Entomology. He also did important work on orthopteroid insects including a three volume Catalogue of all known species (1904, 1906, 1910). He retired in 1909.

Kirby had a wide range of interests, knew many languages and fully translated Finland's national epic, the Kalevala, from Finnish into English. Kirby's translation, which carefully reproduces the Kalevala meter, was a major influence on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, who first read it in his teens. Kirby also provided many footnotes to Sir Richard Burton's translation of the Arabian Nights.[2]

A short biography of Kirby, with particular reference to his work on phasmids, was published by P. E. Bragg in 2007.[3]

Works and Achievements[edit]


An illustration of Thopha saccata appearing in Kirby's 1885 Elementary text-book of entomology
  • Manual of European Butterflies, 1862
  • Synonymic Catalogue of Diurnal Lepidoptera, 1871
  • Catalogue of the collection of diurnal Lepidoptera formed by the late William Chapman Hewitson of Oatlands, Walton on Thames; and bequeathed by him to the British Museum, John Van Voorst, London; 246 pp.
  • with Henley Grose-Smith Rhopalocera exotica; being illustrations of new, rare, and unfigured species of butterflies.London :Gurney & Jackson,1887-1902. complete text and plates
  • A Hand-book to the Order Lepidoptera, 1896
  • Elementary Text-book of Entomology
  • Hand-book to the order Lepidoptera, 1897
  • Marvels of Ant Life, Circa 1890s
  • Familiar butterflies and moths, 1901
  • The Butterflies and moths of Europe, Cassell & Co. Ltd., London, 1903: 432 pp.
  • A Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera, (3 volumes) British Museum (Natural History), London: 1904, 1906, 1910

He is also acknowledged in other scientific works:


  • Contributions to the Bibliography of the Thousand and One Nights and Their Imitations, 1886 (An appendix to Volume 10 of Richard F. Burton's translation of The Nights)
  • The Hero of Esthonia, and Other Studies in the Romantic Literature of That Country, 1895
  • Kalevala: The Land of Heroes, 1907. ISBN 978-0-674-50000-6


  1. ^ Who's Who 1914, p. xxii
  2. ^ a b Rao, B.R. Subba (1998) History of entomology in India, Institution of Agricultural Technologists, Bangalore
  3. ^ Bragg, P.E. (2007) Biographies of Phasmatologists – 4. William Forsell Kirby, Phasmid Studies, 16(1): 5–10

Further reading[edit]

  • The Natural History Museum at South Kensington by William T. Stearn ISBN 0-434-73600-7

External links[edit]

Individual titles