William Umpleby Kirk

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William U. Kirk
Sir Almeric Paget's yacht "Ma'oona", photographed by Kirk[1]

William Umpleby Kirk (1843 - 1928) was a pioneer photographer of the late Victorian period.[2][3][4] He was born in Hull and grew up in nearby Market Weighton where, in the early 1870s, he set up his first photographic studio. Examples of his work from that period have survived and are collected.[5] In 1881 Kirk moved his family and his business to Cowes, Isle of Wight.[6] Cowes at that time was the international centre of yachting, the sport of royalty, the rich and the privileged. At Cowes yachts were raced, bought, sold and shown off. The rich and the titled came to Cowes to meet each other, to play and to be seen. Kirk photographed the boats and their owners afloat and ashore. He specialised in marine photographs, in portraiture e.g a copy of Kirk's photograph of The Marquis of Ormonde is held in the British National Archives at Kew.[7] He photographed groups at house parties, tutor groups and sports teams of Naval Cadets at Osborne Naval College.[8] His photographs of the sumptuous interiors of large yachts remain to record that era.[8]

Kirk's reputation grew when he photographed Queen Victoria's yacht HMY Alberta at a speed of 10 knots entering Cowes Harbour; this is said to be one of the first British photographs of a vessel in motion.[9][10] and to have earned him the Royal Warrant.[11][12] Photographs by Kirk of the yachts Bona and Ailsa, for example, were sold by auction at Christie's, New York[13] and his work is sought by collectors.[14]

A collection of Kirk's work is held by the Isle of Wight County Council and is reviewed by Ian Dear.[2] An extensive, but as yet uncatalogued collection of Kirk's original 8" x 10" glass plates is held by the Gallery, Classic Boat Museum, East Cowes.[8]


  1. ^ Published in a supplement to "The Yachtsman", October 8th, 1908 (British Library, UIN: BLL01013930972)
  2. ^ a b Dear, Ian (1988). The Great Days of Yachting: From the Kirk Collection. B.T. Batsford Limited. ISBN 9780713457537. 
  3. ^ Crookes & Hepworth (1896). The Photographic news for amateur photographers, Volume 40. Cassell, Petter, and Galpin. p. 559. 
  4. ^ Bowker, R.R. (1990). American Book Publishing Record: BPR annual cumulative. Bowker. p. 835. ISBN 9780835230421. 
  5. ^ "Cabinet Photograph Sold". Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  6. ^ "Kirk Notes". Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  7. ^ "The National Archives, Kew, London. Ref COPY 1/419/270
  8. ^ a b c "Classic Boat Museum". Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "Cowes Yacht Photographers". Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Friends of Northwood Cemetery". Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "All At Sea". Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  12. ^ "The Daily Sail". Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "Christie's". Retrieved 16 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Arcadja". Retrieved 16 April 2012.