Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 77, 1948-49
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Harry Borrer Kirk (1859–1948).
Harry Borrer Kirk First Professor Of Biology
Appointed 1993
This Building Is Founded Upon His Great Services
To Victoria College Which Stands Enriched By His
Inspiration And Example
Colleagues And Students Of 1903–40 Hereby Record
Their Gratitude Affection And Esteem
Sb Taumata – He Whare Not

Kirk was one of the original Fellows (1919) of the New Zealand Institute (now Royal Society of New Zealand); President, 1922–23; a prominent member of the old Wellington Philosophical Society; President, 1907–08; a former member of the Academic Board of the University, and of the Senate, 1915–20; and for many years chairman of the Management Committee of the Dominion Museum.

As far as the writer of this short notice could learn during a friendship lasting well over sixty years, Kirk had two faults only— if, indeed, they were not virtues. Firstly, he never could say NO to anyone, however importunate, who appealed to him for help, thus steadily adding further strain to his already overtaxed eyes, and, secondly, he could not realize that though the hands of the laboratory clock moved ever on, his own strength did not progress with them.

Work, continued far into the night and usually involving considerable eye-strain, together with neglect to take sufficient rest, at last brought him so low that he had to vacate the chair which he had filled with such distinction for full forty years.

Forty years! Surely a long spell in any senior academic position, and yet, during those forty years Kirk, often working almost single-handed, had seen his biology department move from its original cramped and dingy quarters to take possession of the mighty block perched high up on the eastern slope (He taumata — He wharenui), a block almost entirely due to his enthusiasm and wise planning; had lectured to hundreds of eager students; had efficiently discharged his duties to his colleagues; and still, in some wondrous way, had actually managed to keep himself well abreast of his rapidly moving sciences.

Those who should know—younger men just freed from other and larger universities abroad—were amazed at his energy, and gladly testified that despite the fact that “the space of those forty years was one of rapid advance in the biological world,” yet “Kirk's material was always fresh.”

Surely forty such arduous years had earned a short period of happy leisure; but it was ordained otherwise. Relief had come to him too late.

An old football injury had now made movement painful, and his eyesight had almost completely failed. So, when freed at last from academic work, he would fain have read again old treasured books, written up some of his notes, and jotted down a few of his reminiscences, he had, perforce, to rest for most of the day, to have his reading done by others, and be content with the eyes of memory;

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yet still, even to the very day of the accident which doubtless hastened his end, always attempting to be of some service to others.

He died at Hamilton on 15th July, 1948.

The irresistible charm which Kirk exercised upon all who had the privilege of knowing him was only partly due to his undoubted talents, only partly to the clearness of his ideas and his great desire for perfection in detail. It was due far more to those qualities which placed him so high as a man: due to his devotion to others, to the warm and lasting friendship extended to all whom he thought worthy of it, due to his great unselfishness and conscientiousness, his ready and just appreciation of the services of others—in short, to all those qualities which spring from an upright and honourable character. *

His influence reached “from one end to another, mightily,” and sweetly did he order all his doings.

W. P. E..

[Footnote] * The concluding words of this paragraph are taken, almost without alteration, from a sincere tribute (paid in 1851) to Sweden's foremost scientist: they might well have been written in Kirk's honour, for none could deserve them more.