IRVING, John (?1767-1845), of Savile Row, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1806 - 1832
1837 - 10 Nov. 1845

Family and Education

b. ?1767, 1st s. of John Irving of Cushathill and Burnfoot in Middlebie, Dumfries by his w. née Rae. educ. Middlebie parish sch. unm.

Offices Held

Vol. London and Westminster light horse 1796-1814.

Dir. W.I. Dock Co. 1811; pres. Alliance Life and Fire Assurance Co. 1824-d.


Irving, son of a bonnet laird, arrived in London with a Bible aged 13 and ended up as a merchant prince. His way was paved by his maternal uncle John Rae, partner in a firm trading to the West Indies, which he joined. The firm’s business took him to the West Indies and the United States. About 1790 he and Thomas Reid (a future chairman of the East India Company) became partners with his uncle in the firm styled Rae, Reid and Irving, which subscribed £6,000 to the loyalty loan of 1797. He was associated with it until his death. In 1802 he went to France, being present at Amiens during the peace negotiations and proceeding to Paris and Italy, whence the resumption of hostilities brought him back through Germany and Belgium.

Irving’s public career began in 1806, when he was returned for Bramber by his uncle’s friend the 5th Duke of Rutland. The seat proved a safe one and he held it until the borough was disfranchised. When in the summer of 1809 he accompanied Sir Home Riggs Popham* on the Walcheren expedition, Viscount Lowther, who joined them, described him as ‘a merchant whom the Duke of Portland [sic] brings into Parliament and a friend of Sir Home ... a very gentlemanlike pleasant man and has travelled all over Europe’.1 He was an inconspicuous Member. He rallied to Perceval’s ministry in the session of 1810 and the Whigs listed him ‘doubtful’ from their standpoint. Apart from supporting the expedition, he opposed the release of the radical Gale Jones, 16 Apr., and sinecure reform, 17 May 1810. He sided with ministers on the Regency, 1 Jan. 1811. On 1 Mar. he was named for the select committee on commercial credit: he was already a member of the bullion committee. His only other known vote in that Parliament was against sinecure reform, 4 May 1812.

Irving’s commercial operations had meanwhile become world-wide. He was involved in a transaction with the French financier Ouvrard to import 10 million dollars worth of silver into England from Mexico. It helped to satisfy the domestic demand for bullion, benefited trade and helped to finance the Peninsular forces. Indeed his plan, submitted to the chancellor of the Exchequer on 1 July 1812, was entitled a ‘Plan for raising 10 million dollars for Spain’. Apart from this, Spencer Perceval reported, 17 Aug. 1811, that Irving’s firm had agreed with the Bank ‘to procure gold from South America, on certain terms’, though he added:

In truth I conceive the arrangement with the Bank to be an improvident one, which, without giving much hope of importing an ounce of gold more into England than would have come without it, will have the effect of giving a monopoly of the importation to Messrs Reid and Irving.2

Irving was himself an army contractor, who exported corn to the Peninsula through his Cork agents. Late in 1813 he joined Lord Hertford on a continental jaunt to follow the Prussian operations and proceeded to Paris with the allies, interviewing the empress Josephine at Malmaison. He subsequently obtained a clothing contract for the Russian army which benefited the Yorkshire woollen industry in the post-war depression.3

Irving had been listed a Treasury supporter on re-election in 1812 and William Huskisson*, reporting him to be the source of a report, used by him to harass the chancellor of the Exchequer in the paper currency debates, that the army in Canada was paid in bank-notes, added gleefully, ‘Mr Irving supports the government’.4 A proprietor of East India Company stock, he voted for Christian missions to India in 1813, but against Catholic relief, 11 and 24 May 1813 and again in 1816 and 1817. He was added to the select committee on the corn trade, 7 May 1813. He rallied to ministers on the civil list questions, 13 Apr., 8 and 31 May 1815, on the army estimates, 6 and 8 Mar. 1816, on the property tax, 18 Mar. 1816, and on the revenue questions in June. Next session he was in their majorities in February and in favour of the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. It was his last known vote in that Parliament.

On 26 Feb. 1819, according to Edward John Littleton*, a member of the Bank restriction committee:

Mr Irving, a merchant and Member of the House was examined—and gave an evidence and advice which were it followed would render a resumption of cash payments for ever improbable. Merchants and manufacturers whose business it is to make their fortunes by a few years of speculation always require large discounts—and therefore the larger quantity of the circulating medium the better for them. Mr Tierney happened to know that Mr Irving had been one of 5 or 6 merchants who had gone a few months ago to the chancellor of the Exchequer for the purpose of representing to him the danger of a resumption of cash payments—or as Mr Tierney said, of intimidating him. Mr Irving acknowledged he had gone there—but denied the imputation. Some warm words then took place between them, which however produced nothing.5

On 23 Mar. Irving took a fortnight’s leave, but he attended to vote against Tierney’s censure motion, 18 May. The Bank question finally loosened his tongue in the House and on 25 May he objected to the committee’s proposals for the resumption of cash payments. He voted against them on 14 June. He voted for the foreign enlistment bill, 10 June, and was a supporter of government legislation against radicalism on 23 Dec. Next day he presented a London merchants’ petition deploring the prevalence of commercial distress. The petition suggested no remedy, but he did—freer trade, the expansion of the China trade and a review of the terms of resumption of cash payment by the Bank, the imprudence of which he undertook to prove. He denied an allegation by Pascoe Grenfell* that the petition was inspired by ministers for their own purposes and claimed to have no intercourse with the petitioners.

Irving’s name was subsequently mentioned in the same breath as Baring, Rothschild and Gurney; but he was the most conservative among them in his outlook. He died 10 Nov. 1845, aged 78.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Lawrence Taylor / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1846), i. 93-4; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale [20 July 1809].
  • 2. O. Wolff, Ouvrard, 71; Castlereagh Corresp. viii. 250; Gent. Mag. loc. cit.; Add. 45036, f. 99.
  • 3. Add. 40226, f. 329; 60286, f. 16; Gent. Mag. loc. cit.
  • 4. Add. 37310, f. 115.
  • 5. Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary.
  • 6. Gent. Mag. loc. cit.