Rev. Rev Robert Dorrien Kirby killed by cannibals but not eaten?

George Graham had asked me previously about one of my distant relations, Rev Robert Dorrien Kirby. He was the son of my great great great uncle Augustus George Kirby (1847-1926). George assumed that Robert Dorrien had been buried in New Guinea, but wondered what cemetery, e.g. Military. It’s just that the The Times death notice below, seemed to imply that he was wounded due to war actions, so he wondered why is there no reference to him in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission data base (Civilian or Military)?


The Roll of the sons and daughters of the Anglican Church Clergy throughout the world, and of the Naval and Military Chaplains of the same, who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-1918, mentions that Rev. Robert Dorrien Kirby, son of Rev. Augustus George Kirby, Vicar of South Weald, Died at Yule, Illama, New Guinea, April 29, 1916.

Well, I knew from the The Blain Biographical Directory of Anglican Clergy in the Pacific he been adjudged bankrupt in Jun 1911 before heading off to New Zealand, but by 1915 he was no longer on Crockford’s Clerical Directory. Seems like he ended up in New Guinea as a missionary as I have just chanced upon an account of the death of a missionary called Richard Dorrien Kirby, who was killed by the Kikos of the village of Bagama, on the Kikori River, in an An account of a visit to the New Guinea Mission in 1916 by The Right Reverend J. O. Feetham (Bishop of North Queensland) called From Samarai to Ambasi – “IN THE WHITKIRK”. I’m assuming that the Richard Dorrien Kirby being referred to is the same person as the Rev. Robert Dorrien Kirby, and so have included the relevant section from the account including the ‘Cannibal Feast’ below:

The Government a Minister of God for Good.
The Missionary is not the only agent that has been at work, and he is not, and would not wish to be thought, the only hero of the situation. But without him the efforts of the Government officials to establish law and order–they themselves are the first to tell you–would be labour in vain. The first aim of the magistrate and the patrol officer is to secure the safety of human life from acts of violence, and, in relation to this, to work for human well-being by insisting on the rudiments of village sanitation, the clearing of tracks, and the planting of coconuts. The courage and devotion to duty of these Government men is beyond praise. Actually during the period of my visit to the country, one of them, Richard Dorrien Kirby, was killed by the Kikos of the village of Bagama, on the Kikori River, only twenty-four miles from Goaribari, where Chalmers met his death fifteen years ago.

If I touch on this incident first, it is to show how the efforts of the Government can only succeed when the Missionary is there to awake and educate the native conscience and to demonstrate the sacreduess of human life. I cannot make a better opening than by showing what is still liable to happen any day where the native mind and heart have not been enlightened by the Love of God, and have not learned that man is made in His image.

[6] A Danger Zone.
The Kikori, the Kapaina and the Purari Rivers enter the sea within sixty miles of one another at the northern apex of the Gulf of Papua. Their deltas are connected by innumerable waterways which intersect the vast swamps where the sago-palm flourishes. The native population of Kikos, Keiwais and other warrior tribes is a large one. The village called Ukiarewi, on the Purari River, alone has seven thousand people. The population of the district is not less than eighty thousand. To keep these people quiet there are two white men and fifteen native police. The Keiwais and their related tribes are among the fiercest in New Guinea. Fifteen years ago they attempted the annihilation of the Lieutenant-Governor and his party at a point on the Kikori since called “Attack Bend.” Justice is necessarily slow, but fairly sure. If certain natives have offended and are wanted, it may take years to get them–the network of channels and the rivers navigable for four hundred miles or more form a convenient refuge for a people who can so swiftly skim the water in their canoes. On June 1st I met, in Port Moresby, Mr. Cardew, the Assistant Magistrate from the Kikori region. It was he who gave me particulars of the death of Richard Kirby, who was working under him at the time.

[7] As illustrating the difficulty of reaching the offenders, he told me that only last April he had brought into Port Moresby for trial fifty natives from one of the islands at the top of the Gulf, who were implicated in the holding of a cannibal feast three years before. They had received sentences from Judge Herbert, according to the probable degree of their guilt, varying up to two and half years’ imprisonment. The outside observer might think that penalty inadequate, but having regard to native views of human life–pending the enlightenment that cannot come to them except through Christianity–it was probably quite severe enough.

A Cannibal Feast.
The circumstances that led to the death of Richard Kirby were these. The people of Bagama invited the men of a neighbouring village to a feast. It is believed, so far as the affair has yet been investigated, that this Invitation was ironical in the very last degree, and that the deliberate intention of the men of Bagama from the beginning was that their luckless guests should form the material of the feast. However that may be–and it is possible that the action of the hosts may have been prompted by some breach of native etiquette on the part of the visitors–on their arrival they were killed and cooked and eaten.

A Life Laid Down.
Kirby, being somewhere in the neighbourhood, started at once for Bagama with a few native police to look into the matter and demand the surrender of the persons responsible. He knew perfectly well, of course, that he was taking his life in his band, as no doubt he had done many times before. The natives feel a certain compunction about killing a white man for fear of what his spirit may do to them, and again and again the patrol officer or the missionary walks into the lion’s den, asserts his influence, demands and obtains an account of misconduct and takes security for good behaviour. He knows his risk and quietly stakes his life for the welfare of the tribe, and he may win his stake many times. This time the Kikoris were in a thoroughly bad mood and thought they might as well be “hanged for a sheep as for a lamb.” As Kirby and his party approached the village, arrows rained upon them from a belt of trees eighty yards away. Kirby was struck in four places. One wound was serious–an arrow-head penetrated the sternum (breastbone) and broke off. The one white man being thus placed hors de combat, his party retreated, assisting their wounded leader. On the next day they met Cardew, who was hastening to the assistance of his subordinate. He attempted to extract the arrow-head and failed owing to the barbs. With all possible speed Cardew took Kirby to Yule Island, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Mission, hoping to save his life with the help that would be obtained there. But after arrival, on the fourth day from the encounter with the Kikoris, Kirby died. He was due for furlough, and the man [7/8] who was going to relieve him (a member of the C.E.M.S.) went to Port Moresby with me in the Marsina at the end of April. “It seems a rotten way to go out,” observed the Assistant Magistrate, as he concluded the story, “but somebody’s got to look after these johnnies, and anyhow Kirby did his duty.” It may be a long time before the men guilty of this crime are brought to book, but calmly and quietly the Government will go to work, and gravely and sadly punishment will be administered in due course.

I’ve also added some biographical info from The Blain Biographical Directory of Anglican Clergy in the Pacific, so I don’t have to try and find it again:

.. born 02 May 1882 Pebmarsh registered Halstead co Essex
.. son among at least six children of the Revd Augustus George KIRBY
…. (1871) curate Farnham Surrey
…. (1881) curate Newnham co Hampshire
…. (1881-1912) rector Pebmarsh co Essex
…. (1912-1924) vicar South Weald
…. born 22 Jun 1847 Kensington co Middlesex London
…. died 13 Jul 1926 19 Cromwell Crescent Kensington [left £338]
…. son of George Goldsmith KIRBY of Little Marble Hill Twickenham, and of 7 Waterloo Place London
…….. born c1806 Holborn co Middlesex
…….. died 15 Apr 1868 aged 62 57 Queens Gate Kensington co Middlesex [left £40 000]
…….. married 20 Apr 1828 S George Bloomsbury
…. and Harriett Sarah WATTS
…….. born 27 Jan 1804 Stratford co Essex
…….. died 24 Oct 1893 aged 88 42 Onslow Gardens Kensington [left £179]
…….. daughter of Joseph WATTS and Hannah, of Stratford co Essex;
…. married Jun ¼ 1880 Amersham co Buckinghamshire
.. and Edith SMITH-DORRIEN
…. born c1853 Haresfoot Great Berkhamstead Hertfordshire
…. sister to Thomas Algernon DORRIEN born Mar ¼ 1846
…….. (1881) JP for Hertfordshire, JP and Deputy Lieutenant for Cornwall
…. fourth daughter of seven children of Robert Algernon SMITH-DORRIEN
…….. captain 16th Lancers [left £35 000]
…….. born 02 Oct 1814 died 08 Oct 1879 aged 65 registered Berkhampstead Hertfordshire
…….. son of James SMITH of Ashlyns Hall (1845) assumed additional surname and arms of DORRIEN
…. and Mary Ann DREVER (1881) widow owner occupier of land [left £21 748]
…….. born 25 Jan 1825 S George Hanover Square co Middlesex London died 28 Jul 1909 aged 84 Haresfoot
…….. daughter of Thomas DREVER M.D.
…….. and Mary DORRIEN second daughter of Thomas DORRIEN of Haresfoot

Note into modern times SMITH-DORRIEN family long the major landowner of the Scilly isles, off Cornwall (MWB 2007)

1891 boarder aged 8 born Pebmarsh Essex with brother Horace A KIRBY aged 10 born Newnham Hampshire at school Brightwell (schoolmaster Christopher TENDALL) Morden Croydon Surrey
Advent 1903-1905 Lichfield theological college (founded 1857 closed 1976)
18 Jun 1905 deacon Lichfield
23 Sep 1906 priest Lichfield (8;397)

1905-1907 curate Burton-on-Trent diocese Lichfield
1907-1908 curate Rolleston co Stafford

1907-1908 curate Rolleston co Stafford


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