Ireland, John (1761-1842) (DNB00)

IRELAND, JOHN, D.D. (1761–1842), dean of Westminster, born at Ashburton, Devonshire, on 8 Sept. 1761, was son of Thomas Ireland, a butcher of that town, and of Elizabeth his wife. He was educated at the free grammar school of Ashburton, under the Rev. Thomas Smerdon. William Gifford [q. v.] was a fellow-pupil, and their friendship continued unbroken until death. For a short time Ireland was in the shop of a shoemaker in his native town; but on 8 Dec. 1779, when aged 18, he matriculated as bible-clerk at Oriel College, Oxford. He graduated B.A. on 30 June 1783, M.A. as grand compounder on 13 June 1810, and B.D. and D.D. on 24 Oct. 1810. After serving a small curacy near Ashburton for a short time, he travelled on the continent as tutor to the son of Sir James Wright. From 15 July 1793 till 1816 he was vicar of Croydon. While in that position he acted as reader and chaplain to the Earl of Liverpool, who procured his appointment to a prebendal stall in Westminster Abbey (14 Aug. 1802). His connection with the abbey lasted for life. He was made subdean in 1806, when the theological lectureship, which was founded at Westminster by the statutes of Queen Elizabeth, was revived for him, and on the death of Dean Vincent in December 1815 he was promoted to the deanery, being installed on 9 Feb. 1816. From 1816 to 1835 Ireland held the rectory of Islip in Oxfordshire, and he was also dean of the order of the Bath. The regius professorship of divinity at Oxford was offered to him in 1813, but he declined it. With such preferments Ireland acquired considerable wealth, which he used with great generosity. In 1825 he gave 4,000l. for the foundation at Oxford of four scholarships, of the value of 30l. a year each, ‘for the promotion of classical learning and taste.’ (For a full list of the scholars, see Oxford Mag. 21 Jan. 1891.). To Westminster School he gave 500l. for the establishment of prizes for poems in Latin hexameters. (For a list of the winners from 1821 to 1851, see Welch, Alumni Westmonasterienses, ed. Phillimore.). Mindful of the advantages he had derived from his free education in classics, he expended 2,000l. in purchasing a house in East Street, Ashburton, as a residence for the master of its grammar school, left an endowment for its repair, and drew up statutes for remodelling the school. For the support of six old persons of the same town he settled a fund of 30l. per annum.

For four years before his death Ireland was in feeble health, but he lived to a great age, dying at the deanery, Westminster, on 2 Sept. 1842, and being buried on 8 Sept. by the side of Gifford, in the south transept of the abbey, where a monument with a Latin inscription, was placed to his memory. He married Susannah, only daughter of John Short of Bickham, Devonshire, who died without issue at Islip rectory on 9 Nov. 1826, aged 71. Dean Ireland left 5,000l. for the erection of a new church at Westminster, which was invalidated under the Mortmain Acts; 10,000l. to the university of Oxford for a professor of the exegesis of the Holy Scripture; and 2,000l. to Oriel College for exhibitions. As dean of Westminster he held the crown at the coronations of George IV and William IV. He was too infirm to attend the coronation of Queen Victoria, and his place was taken by the sub-dean, Lord John Thynne. His likeness, as he appeared at George IV's coronation, was drawn by G. P. Harding, and engraved by James Stow in Harding's series of the deans in Brayley's ‘Westminster Abbey,’ and in Naylor's ‘Coronation of George IV.’ A marble bust of him by Chantrey is in the Bodleian Library. An early portrait by Hoppner has not been engraved.

Ireland was the author of:

  1. ‘Five Discourses for and against the Reception of Christianity by the Antient Jews and Greeks,’ 1796.
  2. ‘Vindiciæ Regiæ, or a Defence of the Kingly Office, in two Letters to Earl Stanhope’ [anon.], 1797, 2 editions.
  3. ‘Letters of Fabius to Right Hon. William Pitt, on his proposed Abolition of the Test in favour of the Roman Catholics of Ireland’ [anon.], 1801. The letters originally appeared in Cobbett's paper, ‘The Porcupine.’
  4. ‘Nuptiæ Sacræ, or an Enquiry into the Scriptural Doctrine of Marriage and Divorce’ [anon.], 1801. Reprinted by desire 1821, and again in 1830.
  5. ‘The Claims of the Establishment,’ 1807.
  6. ‘Paganism and Christianity compared, in a Course of Lectures to the King's Scholars at Westminster in 1806–7–8,’ 1809; new edit., 1825. The lectures were continued until the summer of 1812, the second subject being ‘The History and Principles of Revelation,’ but they were not printed.
  7. ‘Letter to Henry Brougham,’ 1818, and in the ‘Pamphleteer,’ vol. xiv. relating to certain charities at Croydon, which were referred to by Brougham in his ‘Letter to Sir Samuel Romilly on the Abuse of Charities.’ A printed letter to Sir William Scott on the same subject is also attributed to Ireland in the Catalogue of the British Museum Library.
  8. ‘The Plague of Marseilles in 1720. From documents preserved in the archives of that city, 1834.’ It was read by Sir Henry Halford at the College of Physicians, 26 May 1834.

A lecture on the ‘Plague of Athens compared with the Plague of the Levant and that of Milan in 1630’ was also written by Ireland, and read by Halford on 27 Feb. 1832, but does not appear to have been printed. When dying he ordered that all his manuscripts should be destroyed.

Ireland gave valuable assistance to William Gifford in his edition of the works of Massinger, and Gifford cordially acknowledged his help in his translation of Juvenal. In the ‘Mæviad’ (lines 303, &c.) are some touching allusions by Gifford to their long friendship, and among the odes is an ‘Imitation of Horace,’ addressed to Ireland. At the close of the ‘Memoir of Ben Jonson’ (Works, i. p. ccxlvii) is a feeling reference by Gifford to his friend, and in announcing to Canning his retirement from the editorship of the ‘Quarterly Review’ (September 1824), he mentions that Ireland had stood closely by him during the whole period of its existence. He is said to have contributed many articles to the early numbers of the ‘Quarterly,’ but none of these have been identified. Ireland proved Gifford's will, and obtained his consent to his burial at Westminster Abbey.

Edward Hawkins [q. v.], provost of Oriel, and first professor of the exegesis of the Holy Scripture under Ireland's will, delivered the inaugural lecture (2 Nov. 1847), which was afterwards printed, ‘with brief notices of the founder.’

[Welch's Alumni Westmonast. ed. Phillimore, pp. 36, 538, 540–2; Forshall's Westminster School, pp. 110–11; Chester's Reg. of Westminster Abbey, p. 510; Stapleton's Corresp. of Canning, i. 225–6; Worthy's Ashburton, pp. 38, 47, and App. pp. x, xi, xxv; Gifford's Massinger, i. pp. xxxiv–v; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. vi. 9, 11; Foster's Oxford Reg.; Gent. Mag. 1826 pt. ii. p. 476, 1842 pt. ii. pp. 549–50.]

W. P. C.