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The Kirk Papers is a collection of photographs and papers belonging to East Africa pioneer Sir John Kirk. It was acquired for the National Library of Scotland in 1998/1999 with the help of a grant of £55,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Though not as well-known as his friend and fellow-explorer David Livingstone, Kirk was a trail-blazer of empire in East Africa and a man of eminence in his day. Born in Barry, Angus, in 1832, Kirk qualified in medicine at Edinburgh University and then volunteered for medical service in the Crimea. An accomplished botanist, zoologist and diplomat, he was also a talented photographer. This is evident from the collection of over 250 photographs, many of them stunning.
Kirk acted as chief assistant to David Livingstone on the second Zambesi Expedition (1858-1863). A near-fatal accident in the Kebrabassa Rapids cost him a large amount of material and equipment, but a great deal remains: notebooks charting climactic and other conditions, detailed meteorological observations, a collection of photographs, including one of the 'Ma Robert' (the ill-fated ship used for part of the expedition), and one of Mrs Livingstone's grave, and a dramatic account in his own words of Kirk's experience at the Rapids when he was sucked under his overturned canoe. There are also 15 lengthy and fascinating letters from Livingstone himself.