JOHN IRVING, AUSTRALIA’S FIRST EMANCIPIST.
by Judy Williams.
John Irving - sometimes his name is shown as Irwin or Irvine, and he also had the aliases of Aderson, Anderson and Law - was born about 1760, and came to the infant colony of New South Wales as a convict on the First Fleet, via the transports Scarborough and Lady Penrhyn. A resident of Lincoln, U.K., at the Assizes of the Castle of Lincoln on March 6, 1784, he was sentenced to "seven years beyond the seas" for larceny - he stole a silver cup out of the house of Frances Clark, of Grantham, widow.
There is some reason to believe that his original sentence was for death, but this was reprieved and changed to transportation - an Order in Council dated 15.7.1785 to this effect is in existence. John was 24 when he was received on board the hulk Ceres, from which he was sent to Portsmouth by waggon on 24.2.1787 for embarkation on the Scarborough on 27.2.1787. He was, in fact, mustered on this transport by Major Ross on March 13, but was escorted to the Lady Penrhyn on March 20, 1787 by John Easty.
On the voyage and at Port Jackson, Irving quickly proved his worth, acting as assistant to the surgeon. On 22.2.1790, he was appointed by Governor Phillip to go to Norfolk Island, where he would be the assistant surgeon to Dennis Considen, and the remainder of his sentence was remitted, making him the first convict to be emancipated.
"I am very glad that Irvin goes with us, for I think him the best surgeon among them", wrote Ralph Clark, noting that he was to be considered as "restored to all those rights and privileges from which he had been suspended". Irvine went to Norfolk Island on the Sirius on March 4, 1790, working there until his return to Port Jackson by Supply on 14.5.1791. He was often referred to in dispatches by Governor Phillip as being "bred to surgery".
The Historical Records of Australia have a copy of the Warrant of Emancipation, sent by Governor Phillip to Lord Grenville per H.M Gorgon on December 16, 1791, and duly acknowledged by the Right Honourable Henry Dundas on July 14, 1792 - how long it took for mail to go to and from England!
Whereas His Majesty by a Commission under the Great Seal of Great Britain, bearing date the Eighth Day of November in the thirty-first year of His Majesty's Reign, hath been graciously pleased to give and grant full Power and Authority under the Governor or (in case of his death or absence) the Lieutenant-Governor for the time being of His Majesty's Territory of the Eastern Coast of New South Wales and the Islands thereunto adjacent, by an Instrument or Instruments in writing under the Seal of the Government of the said Territory, or as he or they respectively think fit and convenient for His Majesty's Service, to remit either absolutely or unconditionally the whole or any part of the time or term for which Felons or other offenders, shall have been or shall hereafter be respectively conveyed or transported to the Eastern Coast of New South Wales or to the Islands thereto adjacent.
By Virtue of the Power and Authority vested as aforesaid, I, Arthur Phillip, His Majesty's Governor of the said Territory of New South Wales and the Islands thereto adjacent, taking into consideration the unremitting Good Conduct and Meritorious Behaviour of John Irving and deeming him the said John Irving a proper subject of the Royal Mercy do hereby absolutely remit the remainder of the Time or Term which is yet unexpired of the original Sentence or order of Transportation passed on the said John Irving in the Year of Our Lord One thousand seven hundred and eighty-five.
Given under my Hand and Seal of the Territory at Sydney in New South Wales this Sixteenth Day of December in the Year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one.
In July 1790, Phillip had noted in a letter to Lord Grenville that John Irving had been sent to Norfolk Island to act under the surgeon. "This man was bred to surgery, and will, I hope, be thought to merit the moiety of an assistant surgeon's appointment from the time of his emancipation, February 28, 1790". In November 1791, again writing to Grenville, Phillip has this to say of Irving: "The first convict to be emancipated has been bred to surgery, and merited from his exemplary conduct what has been done for him; he acts as an assistant to the surgeons, who find him a very useful man. He is inclined to remain in the country. For him some allowances will be necessary, and for which he was recommended when the inconveniences which the superintendants and others laboured under, from there not being any money in the colony, was represented to your Lordship".
King, in charge of Norfolk Island, had nothing but praise for John Irving. On his return to Port Jackson, he was given a grant of land of about 30 acres in Parramatta - Irving Street in that city runs roughly through his grant. Irving acted as a Parramatta-based surgeon until his death, which occurred just before he could receive the news of his appointment as assistant to the surgeon with a salary of fifty pounds per annum, an official position in recognition of his valuable work, following representations by Governor Phillip as quoted above. On Irving's untimely death in 1795, the farm passed to his common law wife, Ann Marsh, who, having married Irish convict Robert Flannagan in 1796, as Mrs Ann Flannagan, sold it to Richard Fitzgerald in 1798. He in turn sold the land to William Wilkinson in 1799, and this latter owner held the land until 1810, when he sold it to one George Palmer.
Just how, when and where John Irving and Ann Marsh met and decided to partner each other is not known. Sydney was a small place, with a small population, and it would not have taken much for this young couple to meet. John was based at Parramatta, Ann was in charge of the boat used to convey passengers and goods from Sydney to Parramatta. Ann had lost her first child, Charlotte Alley, and the child's father had returned to England. What was Ann to do? At that time, every woman needed a protector, and better to choose one than be at the mercy of all and sundry. A realist, she moved in with John.
Ann soon became pregnant with John's child, also John, born in January 1796, just four months after the father's life came to an untimely end in September 1795. John Irving was buried at St. John's, Parramatta, his NSW death registration number being #1795/1175/2A. His son by Ann, young John, who kept his father's surname even when his mother married Robert Flannagan, became a seaman and captain of a whaling boat. He married Ann Partridge, a daughter of Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball and Sarah Partridge, and with their young family of five children moved to New Zealand, where many of their descendants live today.
(With thanks to :"The Founders of Australia", by Mollie Gillen, and "The Crimes of the First Fleet", by John Cobley. See also Ross's Returns - Irwin al. Anderson or Law, page 242; Richard's Returns, Page 267; Nottingham Journal 1783-85, Volume xxxix, no. 5031, Saturday March 12, 1784; the historical officer, NSW Land Titles Officer).