John Irving the elder

1766 - 10th Nov 1845

Claimant or beneficiary


London West India merchant, partner with Sir John Rae Reid (q.v.) and John Irving junior (q.v.) in Reid, Irving (q.v.).

  1. Merchant of Tokenhouse Yard, Ashford Kent and Richmond Terrace Whitehall. West India merchant and Army contractor. Son of John Irving of Middelbie; arrived in London with a Bible aged 13 and ended up as a merchant prince. Said to be partner of Sir [sic] John Rae 'presumably his uncle': Irving's mother's maiden name was Rae. Said by Rubinstein to have been unmarried.

  2. Eldest son of John Irving, Laird of Cushathill & Burnfoot in Middlebie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland. Age 13 sent to London to work with his uncle John Rae. Subsequently made a partner, at the same time as Sir Thomas Reid (also from Dumfriesshire and a relative of Rae). [See also notes on John Rae Reid id: 13860]. Irving sent on overseas business matters to France, the USA, Barbados and the West Indies as well as undertaking the Grand Tour of Italy and Prussia, Belgium in 1814. As well as being an MP (see political legacies) he also undertook commercial work abroad including negotiating the loan with the house of Rothschild and Baring by which Austria re-paid its debts to England (1823). 1825, with S. Gurney and Mr Rothschild established the Alliance Fire and Life Marine Assurance Companies, of which he was the first President. According to John Beaufin Irving, an historian of the family, he was never a slave-owner but circumstances meant that his house acquired a great deal of West Indian property. And Irving was a frequent contributor to debates about emancipation. Founder and Chairman of the Colonial Bank and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. Had also founded a bank in Mauritius. With David Barclay MP he had acted as unpaid agent for Mauritius and instrumental in getting compensation for the owners. Member of the Institute d'Afrique. He died unmarried. He was succeeded at Burnfoot by his nephew, John Irving, barrister, who died in London, 4 May 1891. The bulk of his estates in London, Middlesex and Scotland were left to his nephew.

  3. According to Thorne, John Rae was his maternal uncle. Joined Rae's West India trading firm and worked in both the West Indies and the USA. About 1790 formed a firm with his uncle and Thomas Reid, later chairman of the East India Company. MP for Bramber (1806-1832) and Antrim (1837-1845). Supporter of Tory governments (inclined to the Huskisson side). Commercial activities included importing of $10 million of Mexican silver into England (with the French financier, Ouvrard); army contractor, supplying corn to the Peninsula during the war (c. 1811-1813); obtained clothing contract from the Russian army which benefited Yorkshire woollen industry; owned East India Company stock; highly successful merchant who also appears to have been involved with the China trade (?).


  1. William D. Rubinstein, Who were the rich? A biographical dictionary of British wealth-holders Volume Two 1840-1859 MS, reference 1845/40.

  2. John Beaufin Irving, The Irvings, Irwins, Irvines, or Erinveines: or any other spelling of the name: an old Scots border clan (Aberdeen, Rosemount Press, 1907; facs. reprint Dumfries: Dumfries and Galloway Libraries, 1996), pp. 216-19.

  3. R. G. Thorne (ed.), The House of Commons, 1790-1820 (5 vols., London, Secker & Warburg for the History of Parliament Trust, 1986), vol. 4, pp. 285-6.

Further Information


£300,000 'within province'

Wealth at death
Middlebie Parish School

Associated Claims (11)

£454 14s 4d
£2,968 12s 7d
£4,308 19s 0d
£1,317 14s 1d
£2,770 6s 7d
£8,661 2s 5d
£1,221 18s 5d
£1,627 19s 2d
£3,300 14s 2d
£1,178 17s 5d
£1,907 0s 11d

Associated Estates (1)

The dates listed below have different categories as denoted by the letters in the brackets following each date. Here is a key to explain those letter codes:

  • SD - Association Start Date
  • SY - Association Start Year
  • EA - Earliest Known Association
  • ED - Association End Date
  • EY - Association End Year
  • LA - Latest Known Association
1834 [EA] - 1834 [LA] → Mortgage Holder

Legacies Summary

Commercial (4)

West India Dock Co.
Dock Company  
Name partner
Reid, Irving
West India merchant  
notes →
Irving also engaged in a wide spread of commercial activities including, with Ouvrard (French financier) the importing of $10m worth of Mexican silver into England, 1812; as an army contractor...

Political (1)

Conservative / West India interest 
election →
Bramber Sussex
1806 - 1832
election →
Antrim Antrim
1837 - 1841

Relationships (4)

Uncle → Nephew
Notes →
John Irving the elder was in fact the half-brother of John Irving the younger's father...
Business associates
Business partners
Business partners