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  John Kirby (c.1690–1753), by Thomas Gainsborough, before 1750 John Kirby (c.1690–1753), by Thomas Gainsborough, before 1750
Kirby, John (c.1690–1753), surveyor and topographer, was, according to his grandson William Kirby (1759–1850), the well-known entomologist, descended from a north-country royalist who, suffering for his loyalty, took his family to Halesworth, Suffolk. This ancestry is supported by the fact that William and his father used the arms of the Lancashire family of Kirby, a visitation family with royalist sympathies. However, the only John Kirby in the Halesworth registers was born to a shoemaker, Stephen, in 1682 and died in 1736.

Apparently, Kirby at first kept a school at Orford, but was certainly ‘of Erwarton’ and occupied ‘a small overshot mill at the bottom of the park [of the Hall]’ when he married Alice Brown (1685/6–1766) at St Nicholas's Church, Ipswich, on 10 October 1714. The couple moved to Wickham Market, where Kirby also kept a mill, probably Glevering watermill, which was where their five sons and six daughters were born; all the children were christened there or at Hacheston. The best-known are three of the four eldest: John (1715–1750), under-treasurer at the Middle Temple, , artist and friend of Gainsborough, and William, attorney of Witnesham Hall. Family letters published by his granddaughter Sarah Trimmer show that John Kirby brought up the family to be devout and god-fearing; in his Gainsborough portrait he looks stern.

By 1725 Kirby was practising land surveying to support his growing family, and during the next twenty years he drew up plans of estates in more than twenty east Suffolk parishes. His last plans were dated 1745, by which time he was also selling books. In 1732 he set out with Nathaniel Bacon junior (whose own plans are dated 1736–44) to survey the whole county for a small octavo gazetteer and road book entitled The Suffolk Traveller, which was published in Ipswich in 1735. A careful manuscript draft of part of the book is in the Suffolk Record Office. John Tanner of Lowestoft was the ‘reverend gentleman’ thanked for the forty-page table of parishes, patrons, and impropriations printed at the end of the book. Subscribers were also offered the survey in map form in two editions. R. Collins engraved the more lavish edition of 1736, priced 10s., at one inch to the mile and dedicated to the duke of Grafton, with the arms of 126 noblemen and gentlemen who had paid an extra half a guinea towards engraving. A cheaper version, engraved by James Basire at half the scale and without arms, followed in 1737. In 1763 Joshua and William Kirby advertised an enlarged edition of the Traveller, with frontispiece map (four miles to the inch) and four road maps all prepared for the engraver by Andrew Baldrey, Joshua Kirby's partner in business as house and herald painters. A plan of Ipswich, reduced from Ogilby (1674), and maps of separate hundreds which Baldrey had drawn exist only as originals. Although Thomas Martin and John Tanner (d. 1759) made additions to an interleaved copy of the first edition, all incorporated by the editor, the Revd Richard Canning of Ipswich, the title-page still proclaims John Kirby as the author, albeit posthumously. Joshua and William Kirby also republished the two wall maps, the larger re-engraved by John Ryland with twelve views and the arms and estate owners' names revised, and dated 1766. The half-scale map reappeared still dated 1737, but bearing the imprint of John Shave, an Ipswich publisher and bookseller of the 1760s. Most extant prints from the 1766 plates were made in 1825, when Stephen Piper of Ipswich, claiming to have revised them, merely added his name as publisher. Of later attempts to bring the book up to date (Woodbridge, c.1817 and 1829) the second is more useful; also useful is Augustine Page's supplement published in Ipswich in 1844.

By 1751 Kirby was living in Ipswich; he died of ‘a mortification of the leg which came on very suddenly’ (W. Kirby to W. Layton, 17 Oct 1807, Kirby MSS) at William's Ipswich house on 13 December 1753 and he was buried three days later in St Mary-le-Tower churchyard. His wife, Alice, survived to the age of eighty and after her death was laid beside him, on 30 October 1766.

J. M. Blatchly

Sources  

Nichols, Illustrations, 6.541–4 · Suffolk RO, Kirby MSS · W. Dugdale, The visitation of the county palatine of Lancaster, made in the year 1664–5, ed. F. R. Raines, 3 vols., Chetham Society, 84–5, 88 (1872–3) · parish register, Ipswich, St Nicholas, 1714 [marriage] · parish register (burial), Ipswich, St Mary-le-Tower, 1753 · DNB

Archives  

Suffolk RO, Ipswich, partial MS of his Suffolk traveller, HD376/1


Likenesses  

T. Gainsborough, oils, before 1750, FM Cam. [see illus.]