William Forsell Kirby (1844-1912)

William Forsell Kirby (1844-1912) was an English entomologist and folklorist. His Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera was a complete catalogue of world species.  He also described a number of new species, based largely on material in the Natural History Museum, London (BMNH).

William Forsell Kirby was born in Leicester on 14th January 1844. The son of Samuel Kirby a banker, and his wife Lydia Forsell, he was educated privately, and became interested in butterflies and moths at an early age. After his father died and the family had moved, he joined the Brighton and Sussex Entomological Society. His first published entomological article was in the Entomologist’s Weekly Intelligencer in 1856. In 1860 he moved and took up a job in London. He was elected as a fellow of the Entomological Society of London in 1861; in later years he was Secretary of the Society. He published a small Manual of European Butterflies in 1862 and became acquainted with various famous entomologists, including J.O. Westwood and H.W. Bates.

Kirby spent most of 1866 in Germany where he met Johanna Maria Kappel. They married in 1866 and had one son, William, in 1867. In 1867 he became a curator in the Museum of the Royal Dublin Society (later the National Museum of Science and Art), and produced a Synonymic Catalogue of Diurnal Lepidoptera (1871) which made him famous in the world of entomology. He lived in Dublin from 1867 until his appointment as an Assistant at the British Museum (Natural History) in 1879 where he remained until he retired in 1909.

At the British Museum he worked on various orders of insects. He published several catalogues on different orders of insects including Lepidoptera, Odonata, Hymenoptera and Orthoptera, but also published popular books and articles on Entomology including an Elementary Text-book of Entomology (1885). Some of his best-known natural history publications include Manual of European Butterflies (1862), Synonymic Catalogue of Diurnal Lepidoptera (1871), Hand-book to the order Lepidoptera (1897), Familiar butterflies and moths (1901), Butterflies and moths of Europe (1902-04), and the three volume Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera in the Collection of the British Museum (1904b, 1906, 1910).

Kirby had wide interests and exceptional ability as a linguist and philosopher, publishing on general Natural History, Botany, Evolution, Folklore, Mysticism and poetry. He translated (for the first time directly from Finnish, as opposed to from another language) the Finnish epic, Kalevala the Land of Heroes into English in 1907. He had a working knowledge of Finnish, Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish (Kirby, 1912).

Kirby died on 20th November 1912 in Chiswick, after a short illness and is buried in Chiswick Cemetery. An obituary written by his son (Kirby, 1912) reveals that he was considered a kind, modest, humorous and thoughtful man whose “never tiring assistance to all who required help or counsel endeared him to a large circle of friends and acquaintances”.

Mantis works

His largest publication on mantids was in volume one of his Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera (1904). Pages 207 4316 deal with the mantids and give a complete list of all known references to mantids.

In 1910 Kirby published the third volume of his Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera and included some corrections to the mantids. The 1910 volume also includes an interesting note in Kirby’s introduction: “It had been intended to add an Appendix bringing the Catalogue up to date; but this was found to be impracticable, except as regards the third volume; for a Catalogue so largely facilitates work on the groups of which it treats, that it speedily grows out of date, and in many groups treated of in Vols. I. and II. the amount of recent changes and additions has been so large that nothing short of re-editing whole families would be satisfactory” (Kirby, 1910: v).

References & Mantis bibliography

Kirby, W. E. (1912) Obituary. William Forsell Kirby. Entomologist’s Record, 24: 314-317.

Kirby, W.F. (1884) On the Orthoptera collected during the recent expedition of H.M.S. 'Challenger'. Annals and magazine of natural History, (5)13: 476 479.

Kirby, W.F. (1885) Elementary Text-book of Entomology. W. Swan Sonnenschein and Co. Paternoster Square. London. 413 pages. http://www.scientiadigital.com/zoologia/KirbyZoo/pag1.shtml

Kirby, W.F. (1890) On the employment of the names of proposed for genera of Orthoptera, previous to 1840. Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, 6: 556 597.

Kirby, W.F. (1894) The Zoology of the Afghan Delimination Commission.  Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 5(2): 53-142.

Kirby, W.F. (1896) A list of the Orthoptera, Hymenoptera, and Hemiptera collected by Miss Kingsley on the river Ogové, with descriptions of some new genera and species. Annales and magazine of natural History, (6)18: 257 269, pl.12.

Kirby, W.F. (1899) On a collection of Mantidae from the Transvaal etc. formed by Mr. W.L. Distant.  Annals and magazine of natural History, 4: 344-353.

Kirby, W.F. (1900) Order 9. Orthoptera. in Andrews, C.W. et al. (1900) A Monograph of Christmas Island (Indian Ocean): Physical Features and Geology by C.W. Andrews, B.A., B.Sc., F.G.S., with descriptions of the Fauna and Flora by numerous contributors. British Museum, London.

Kirby, W.F. (1902) in Distant, W.L.: Insecta Transvaaliensia. A contribution to the knowledge of the Entomology of South Africa. Part 1. Orthoptera.  H L Distant, London.

Kirby, W.F. (1903) Description of a new species of Mantidae. Orthoptera - Deroplatys shelfordi. Zoologist, 7(4): 304.

Kirby, W.F. (1904a) Notes on Mantidae in the collection of the British Museum, south Kensington, with descriptions of new species. Annals and magazine of natural History, 13(7): 81-88.

Kirby, W.F. (1904b) A Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera, volume 1. British Museum, London.

Kirby, W.F. (1910) A Synonymic Catalogue of Orthoptera, volume 3. British Museum, London.

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