Monthly Archives: March 2014

Joshua Kirby, F.R.S.

Joshua Kirby was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 26 March 1767. His election card is now, as the Royal Society says on its web page, barely legible, but they do manage a transcription of his citation:

Joshua Kirby of Kew in the County of Surry [sic] Esq. Designer in Perspective to their Majesties, & Author of Brook Taylor’s Method of Perspective made easy, &c & of other considerable Improvements in that Science, being very desirous of the honor of Election into the Royal Society; We whose names are underwritten, recommend him on our personal Knowledge, as a Gentleman likely to prove a useful Member

How useful a member he was is unclear, as he seems to have had little to do with the Society, although he did sponsor two Fellows, Andrew Joseph Planta, and John Lodge Cowley. Kirby himself was proposed by:


Andreas Planta

Rev. Andreas Joseph Planta (1717—1773) had an interesting background. His family was prominent in the Grisons region of Switzerland/Italy (depending on your period), tracing their lineage back to the twelfth century, and a family of the same name and locale was also prominent in Imperial Rome. Andreas himself became a pastor in Castasegna, a rare example of an Italian-speaking Protestant parish. After a period as Professor of Mathematics at Erlangen, in 1752 or 1753 he came to London as pastor to the German Reformed Church at Savoy. In 1758 he was also appointed as a part-time assistant librarian at the British Museum and in the 1760s was engaged as a tutor in Italian to Queen Charlotte.  One of the duties of the British Museum staff was to escort visitors around the collection, and in 1765 Planta showed the Museum to the Mozart family, resulting in a gift of manuscripts of several of the young Wolfgang’s works to the collection.

In 1770 Andreas, or Andrew as he went by in England, was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, his citation reading,

Andrew Joseph Planta of the British Museum MA, & Minister of the German Reformed Church at the Savoy, a Gentleman of good learning, and well versed in natural knowledge, being desirous of becoming a member of the Royal Society; we recommend him, of our Personal acquaintance, as likely to be a valuable & useful member.

His proposers, several of whom had connections to the British Museum, were:

  • Rev. Gregory Sharpe (1713—1771);
  • Gowin Knight (1713—1772), First Librarian of the British Museum;
  • Henry Baker (1698—1774);
  • Jerome De Salis (1709—1794) (the De Salis family was equally prominent in Grisons);
  • Joseph Ayloffe (1709—1781);
  • Matthew Duane (1707—1785), trustee of the British Museum;
  • Charles Morton (1716—1799), Librarian of the British Museum;
  • Samuel Harper (c. 1732—1803), under-librarian at the British Museum;
  • Mathew Maty (1718—1776), librarian at the British Museum;
  • Richard Penneck (1728—1803), Keeper of the Reading Room at the British Museum;
  • Rev. Henry Putman (1725—1797);
  • Joshua Kirby (1716—1774), and;
  • John Bevis (1695—1771).

Andreas Planta married Margarete Scartazzini Debolziani when a pastor in Castasegna. Of their children, son Joseph in turn became Librarian at the British Museum (and his son Joseph a prominent diplomat), Elizabeth was governess to the notorious Mary Bowes, and Margaret and Frederica were English tutors to the princesses.

Rev. Henry Putman

The Rev. Henry Putman (1725—1797) is an astonishingly obscure person, especially for someone who was minister of the Dutch Reformed Church at Austin Friars for 48 years and a Fellow of the Royal Society for thirty. He doesn’t rate a mention in the history of Austin Friars by J. Lindeboom, except in the list of ministers in the Appendix. He is presumably covered by this quote, “The persons and the activity of the ministers during the centuries following the turbulent early years, do not really call for comment. Though certainly faithful shepherds and teachers they are not remarkable for their outstanding learning or ecclesiastical achievements” (Lindeboom, 162).

His obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine was somewhat kinder, declaring that, “His learning and piety were eminently conspicuous” and “He enjoyed the friendship of the most respectable of the established Clergy”. “Few men”, it continues, “have passed through this malevolent world better beloved and less censured than he.”

He appears not to have published any works either in or out of the Royal Society and the only note of him is in signing in support of some new members, most notably that of Andreas Joseph Planta, where he signed next to Joshua Kirby.

After his death, his library was sold off in a large sale by John White. However, it was mixed in with other books, “Rare, Splendid, and Valuable books… including the entire libraries of the Rev. Harvey Spragg…also of the Rev. Henry Putman”.

The catalogue does not identify which books came from which collection, but the sale did include a 3-volume collection of Kirby’s Method of Perspective, Perspective of Architecture, and his Architectonic Sector, listed as from 1768, the year after Putman and Kirby were both elected to the Royal Society, so it is quite possible that Kirby and Putman were friends.

Moens (1888) recorded Putman’s memorial inscription in the church he had the care of for so long:

Hier legt begraven het lyk van den Wel-Eerwaarden HENRIK PUTMAN lid der Koninglyke Maatschappye van Wetenschappen te London en oudste Predikant deezer Gemeente, Gebooren te Amsterdam den 8sten April 1725, Overleeden te London den lsten Maart, 1797, na dat hy aldaar ruim 46 Jaaren het Leeraars ambt had waargenomen.

Presumably this memorial also no longer exists, as the church was bombed during the Blitz.

In the night of the 15th to the 16th October, 1940, during one of the heavy air bombardments of London, a landmine attached to a parachute, sucked into the space enclosed by the higher office buildings surrounding the church, fell on Austin Friars. The explosion completely destroyed the church. A few pages from the Bible which was in the pulpit, some fragments of the walls and of the monuments, were all that remained of the edifice, which was reduced to a mountainous heap of rubble and dust. (Lindeboom, 191)

If I find out more, I will let you know.

Lindeboom, J. (1950). Austin Friars: History of the Dutch Reformed Church in London 1550—1950. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Moens, W.J.C. (1884). The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers, 1571 to 1874, and Monumental Inscriptions, of the Dutch Reformed Church, Austin Friars, London: With a Short Account of the Strangers and Their Churches. London: King and Sons.