Randolph Kirkpatrick, a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, was a specialist on marine invertebrates and assistant keeper of lower invertebrates in the Department of Zoology of the British Museum (Natural History) from 1886 to his retirement in 1927. Between 1887 and 1890 he published, among others, eight papers, most in the Annals and Magazine of Natural History, describing Polyzoa from Port Phillip (Victoria, Australia), the Irish coast, the China Sea, the island Fernando de Noronha (off the Brazilian coast), and the Torres Strait (between Australia and Papua New Guinea). Ten years later he produced two further papers, on sponges from Christmas Island (Indian Ocean), and the island Funafuti (Pacific Ocean). In 1901 he compiled A guide to the shell and starfish galleries (Mollusca, Polyzoa, Brachiopoda, Tunicata, Echinodermata and worms) for his department. This was followed by a Guide to the coral gallery (Protozoa, Porifera or sponges, Hydrozoa and Anthazoa) (2nd ed., 1907). In 1917 he produced a booklet for the British Museum on The biology of water works (3rd ed., 1924) that dealt with fresh-water fauna and flora and water purification.
Kirkpatrick's most significant work was his study of a species of coralline sponge (one that secretes a coral-like skeleton), though his correct interpretation of these sponges became widely recognised only during the nineteen-sixties. The reason for this delayed recognition may have been his unconventional views about the history of life on earth expressed in his self-published book The Nummulosphere (3 vols, 1913-1917) in which he argued for the organic origin of igneous rocks and the abyssal red clays. [Nummulites are coin-shaped fossil foraminifera, found abundantly in marine limestones of Tertiary age].
Around 1900 J.D.F. Gilchrist*, government biologist of the Cape Colony, sent Kirkpatrick a collection of sponges from the seas around the Cape and Natal, obtained by dredging at depths of 13 to 300 meters. Kirkpatrick's report, "Description of South African sponges", was incorporated in the annual Report of the Government Biologist for 1901 (pp. 54-67). It was also published in Marine investigations in South Africa (1902, Vol. 1, pp. 219-232), where it was followed by Part II and Part III (1904, Vol. 2, pp. 171-180; 233-264). Several new forms were described, as little work had been done on South African sponges at the time.