Professor Harry Borrer Kirk, of opossum fame, and his father, Professor Thomas Kirk, the chief Conservator of State Forests, were outstanding identities in the world of botany in New Zealand.
Thomas Kirk was born in Coventry in 1828, and showed an early enthusiasm for botany, taking work in a nursery garden and then in a sawmill. He was destined never to be prosperous, but was particularly poor when he decided in 1863 to emigrate with his wife and five children to New Zealand.
He was a while finding a steady job, trying out the occupations of timber merchant, surveyor and freeholder before settling down as curator of the Auckland Museum in 1868. However right from the time he landed he found opportunities to make numerous botanical explorations of the Auckland province, and send gifts of plant collections all over the world.
Later, in 1874, he became a lecturer in natural sciences at Wellington College, and then in 1881 became lecturer in biology and geology at Lincoln College. In 1885, with the growing national concern with the future of the New Zealand timber industry, he was appointed Chief Conservator of State Forests, and was the first to organise the branch of the Department of Lands and Survey that became the State Forest Service. In 1888, because of economic conditions, he was compulsorily retired.
He was the originator of schemes of protection for New Zealand's native forests, and during his term 320 000 hectares became forest reserves. From 1863 to the time of his death in 1898 he corresponded with botanists all over the world, promoting the unique qualities of the New Zealand bush. And yet, when his widow found herself in impoverished circumstances after his death, the New Zealand government refused to give her a pension.
His third son, Harry Borrer, followed in his father's footsteps, travelling far and wide through the native forests, collecting both plants and animals. In 1903 Harry was appointed to the newly established chair of biology at Victoria University of Wellington. A charismatic figure with his shock of silver hair, he founded the departments of zoology and botany, and became famous as an outstanding teacher. He died in Hamilton in 1948.
Professor Harry Borrer Kirk in 1930.