IRWIN (IRWINE, IRVINE), John (c.1728-88).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



30 Nov. 1762 - Apr. 1783

Family and Education

b. c.1728, o.s. of Lt.-Gen. Alexander Irwin by his w. Catherine (possibly of fam. of Irvine of Drum).  educ. Ireland; Grand Tour (Holland and France).  m. (1) 16 Dec. 1749, Elizabeth (d. Apr. 1750), da. of Hugh Henry of Dublin, s.p.; (2) Apr. 1753, Anne (d. 1767), da. of Sir Edward Barry of Dublin, s.p.; (3) Caroline, 2 ch.  suc. fa. 1752;  K.B. 15 Dec. 1775.

Offices Held

Ensign 5 Ft. 1736, lt. 1738, capt. 1745, maj. 1751, lt.-col. 1752; col. 1761; col. 74 Ft. 1761-2; maj.-gen. 1762; gov. Gibraltar 1765-7; col. 57 Ft. 1767-80; lt.-gen. 1772; c.-in.-c. [I] 1775-82; col. 3 Horse 1780- d.; gen. 1783.


John Irwin was page of honour to Lionel, 1st Duke of Dorset, lord lieutenant of Ireland 1730-7; and thus began a connexion with the Sackville family which lasted throughout his life. He was returned to Parliament on the Sackville interest at East Grinstead; and became the closest friend of Lord George Sackville, whose political line he followed implicitly, voting with Opposition till 1774 and afterwards with Government. Only one speech by him (on a trivial matter) is recorded.1

Burke called him ‘a good humoured, well behaving man’;2 Charles James Fox thought him a fop, ‘but good-humoured’.3 Wraxall wrote of him:4 ‘His person, manners, and conversation were all made for the drawing-room, where he seemed to be in his native element ... It was impossible to possess finer manners, without any affectation, or more perfect good breeding.’ He is said to have been a favourite with George III, and he was also well known in French society.

He saw service on the coast of France in 1758, and later with Prince Ferdinand in Germany. His regiment was disbanded in 1762, and for three years he was without military employment. On 19 June 1765 Thomas Whately wrote to Grenville:5

General Irwin has been offered to go to Gibraltar: he is much mortified at this turn ... as it is a situation very different from that he hoped for, and he fears may be given him instead of a regiment. It has, however, been put to him in such a way that he finds he must accept it.

He was promoted to a regiment on his return in November 1767, and at the general election of 1768 unsuccessfully contested Kinross. In 1775, probably through the influence of Lord George Germain (as Sackville had become), he was given the command in Ireland. When affairs became difficult in that country, North wrote to the King, 27 June 1779:

Lord North thinks himself obliged to repeat to his Majesty that he finds in every quarter that Sir John Irwin, though well esteemed as a gentleman, is in no great estimation as a general, and the world is very uneasy about his having the command in Ireland in such a perilous moment as the present.

To remove him, thought the King, ‘would be disgracing an amiable man’; but ‘if the advice had been to send a good general below him to his assistance that might have deserved attention. Irwin is practicable and would hear advice.’6 No change was, however, made; and Irwin handled a dangerous situation better than might have been expected.

‘No income, however large’, wrote Wraxall,7 ‘could survive for his expenses, which, being never restrained within any reasonable limits, finally involved him in irretrievable difficulties.’ And Lord Carlisle, lord lieutenant of Ireland, to Gower, 30 June 1781:8‘You have sent our commander-in-chief over ... in a great scrape as to money matters, for the other day some official letters were laid before me addressed to Sir J. Irvine to repay a large sum owing to Government, which I fear he is by no means prepared for.’ The loss of his appointment in March 1782 ruined him financially, and he was obliged to go and live in France. In April 1783, with no hopes of being able to return to England, he retired from Parliament. From a letter of 4 July 1784 to his old friend Sir Charles Hotham, he appears to have been in great poverty;9 the King is said to have sent him £1,000;10 but he was obliged to remove to Parma, where he died in May 1788. George III sent his widow £500 to enable her and her children to return home.11

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Walpole, Last Jnls. i. 25.
  • 2. Burke to Chas. O’Hara, 20 Apr. 1775.
  • 3. Fox to Geo. Selwyn, 19 Nov. 1770, Jesse, Geo. Selwyn, ii. 402.
  • 4. Mems. iii. 91-93.
  • 5. Grenville Pprs. iii. 52.
  • 6. Fortescue, iv. 379, 380.
  • 7. Mems. iii. 91.
  • 8. HMC Carlisle, 510.
  • 9. Hotham mss, Northallerton RO.
  • 10. Wraxall, Mems. iii. 94.
  • 11. Caroline Irwin to Hotham, 23 Aug. 1788, Hotham mss.