From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 23, December 1, 1832.
William Kilburn was born in Capel-street, Dublin, 1st November, 1745. He was the only son of Samuel Kilburn, an architect of some eminence, and very early exhibited a taste for drawing. This, and the wish to have him in the country, as his health appeared delicate, induced his parents to place him apprentice with Mr. Jonathan Sisson, an Englishman, who had established a calico printing factory at Leixlip. Here he quickly learned the different branches of this ingenious art, but attached himself to drawing and engraving. Few lives are more marked than his with unceasing industry and application; in summer he rose at four, and occupied his leisure hours in drawing patterns for paper stainers, which, with his master's leave, he sold; the produce gave him pocket money, and enabled him to purchase a pony, on which he rode to Dublin on Saturdays, and passed every Sunday with his parents. He had acquired an amazing readiness with his pencil, so that if a new pattern caught his eye, he would take out his pocket-book, and have it for his master at his return. At the expiration of his apprenticeship, he found himself alone, with his mother and sister. His father, who had speculated largely in building, became embarrassed in his circumstances, and died. This probably determined him to visit London, the great mart for talent; here he obtained a ready sale for his designs amongst the calico printers. He also drew and engraved flowers from nature for the print shops; this led to his acquaintance with Mr. William Curtis, the botanist, who, deeming himself fortunate in meeting an artist of such uncommon talent, agreed with him to execute the plates for his great work, the Flora Londinensis. When he had entered into this engagement, he returned to Ireland, brought over his mother and sister, took a small house in Bermondsey with a garden and green-house, and there occupied himself from sunrise to sunset in drawing and engraving the plants for that work, which reflects so much credit on English science.
When he had finished, he accepted a proposal from Mr. Newton, to undertake the management of a calico printing factory, at Wallington, for which he was to have a share in the profits without advancing capital. They were so successful that, at the end of seven years, he purchased the concern, and became sole proprietor. He now rose rapidly in wealth, and was soon the most eminent calico printer in England, having brought the art to a pitch of perfection never since equalled. He gave the highest wages to his workmen, some of whom came from the continent, and gave annual premiums for the best designs. His pieces of muslin chintzes sold for a guinea per yard, and he had the honour of presenting one of them, the sea-weed pattern, designed by himself, to her Majesty Queen Charlotte. Finding that his patterns were pirated in Manchester, he applied for a bill, which was brought into Parliament by his countryman and neighbour, the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, "To secure to calico printers the copyright in original designs."
Mr. Kilburn married the eldest daughter of Thos. Brown, Esq., an East India Director, a most amiable woman, who survives him, and by whom he had several children. In the relative duties of son and brother, husband and father, his conduct was most exemplary, as a true believing Christian moral man. Though he had been a delicate child, he enjoyed excellent health, till a few months before his death, when feeling indisposed, he repaired to Brighton, and not getting better he returned to Wallington, and calmly resigned his soul to his Maker, 23d December, 1818, in the 73d year of his age. The poor inhabitants of the neighbourhood, by whom he was much lamented, followed him bareheaded to the grave.
Mr. Kilburn was above six feet in height, thin, but well proportioned, and perfectly straight to the last. The pencil, in his long fingers, appeared scarcely to touch the paper when drawing, so much had he acquired of grace and freedom. The flowers that he engraved about the time he became acquainted with Mr. Curtis, are now sought for by connoisseurs, being so true to nature; and I have before me his engraving of a dead canary on a marble slab, which, even in this advanced stage of the arts, would rival many of the bijoux that adorn our modern annuals. Being most domestic in his habits, and constantly occupied, he was never able to visit Ireland after he had settled at Wallington; but every Irishman that was introduced, found am hospitable reception at his table. He prided in his country, of which he may be justly said to have been an ornament.