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John Ireland (1745–1839)


John Ireland (b.1745) was a Scotsman who arrived in Oxford on 16 January 1768 when he was 23 years old. He was matriculated at the University of Oxford as an Apothecary four years later on 25 February 1772.

On 19 November 1772 Ireland (then described as being of St Mary the Virgin parish) married Mary Sherwood at St Aldate’s Church. They had the following children:

  • John James Ireland, born 10 September 1772, baptised at St Mary the Virgin the same day
  • George Sherwood Ireland, born 7 January 1776, baptised at St Mary the Virgin on 10 January 1776
  • Charles Ireland, probably born in December 1780, recorded in the St Mary’s register as having been buried as an infant in St Aldate’s Church on 31 December 1780
  • Mary Ann Ireland, born 12 June 1787, baptised at St Mary the Virgin the same day.

In 1775 Abraham Robertson (1751–1826) came to Oxford from Duns Berwick-on-Tweed, and sought to finance himself by opening an evening school for mechanics. When this failed, he took employment as a servant with John Ireland. Ireland realized how gifted his servant was, and managed to obtain a servitorship for him at Christ Church. In 1789 Abraham Robertson was to be appointed Savilian Professor of Geometry.

Ireland is listed as an Oxford apothecary in the Universal Business Directory of 1794/5, but is missing from other directories.

“Mr Ireland” appears as a regular visitor of the wine merchant Edward Latimer in the unpublished diaries of Mary Latimer of All Saints parish and Headington House, written between 1817 and 1825. Mary describes how on 15 November 1821 Latimer played whist with Ireland and two other friends in Headington House until past midnight, and that they then had “some Scottish songs to please Mr  Ireland” before the party broke up at half past one in the morning. On 26 November he again spent the night at Headington House after playing whist. Mary Latimer also mentions that Mr Ireland had his own pew in St Ebbe’s Church.

In 1825, when  Ireland moved to Headington, it appears that he officially became a doctor. G. V. Cox wrote, “I believe Dr Ireland obtained a Doctor’s Degree from a Scotch University on his retiring to Headington, where at the age of eighty he set up his brass plate as Dr Ireland.”

Ireland soon moved on to Iffley, as in 1830 “Ireland John, esq.” is listed there in Pigot’s Directory under “Nobility, Gentry and Clergy” . He lived at a house called Rose Hill, after which the present suburb is believed to have been named.

Ireland’s wife Mary died on 5 February 1830, and was buried at St Aldate’s on the 11th: she is described in the burial register as being of Iffley.

There is a reference to Dr Ireland's residence in Headington in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 6 July 1833, suggesting that he was living there again.

Ireland died in 1839 at the age of 94 in Cirencester, where he had presumably gone to live with his son George. His death is reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 22 June 1839, where he is described as “John Ireland, Esq., M.D., Magistrate for Oxford”.

William Tuckwell (born 1829), who was the son of the leading Oxford surgeon William Tuckwell, remembered Ireland in 1830s and wrote of him in his Reminiscences of Oxford:

Ireland represented the matriculated apothecaries of that date, men who made up their own medicines, attended ladies at the most interesting period of their lives, sold Epsom salts, blisters, hair powder, across the counter of the shops which they called their surgeries. Some remained humble to the end; not so Ireland, who somehow obtained a Scotch degree, discarded the surgery, and set up a brass plate as Dr Ireland on his house in Pennyfarthing Street [now Pembroke Street]. He was a grandiloquent, pompous man … a dissolute old scamp withal; some of the stories told him I should not like to quote. I remember his swing along the street with cane held at attention; recall his stalking into my mother’s drawing-room with his new honour fresh upon him, and bespeaking her congratulations on the fact that he would “enter the Kingdom of Heaven as a Doctor of Medicine”. I saw him later in extreme old age; he said that he was ninety-nine years old – he was nothing like so old – but he added, with his hands aloft, “My memory is in ruins.” He deserved credit, however, for discovering the mathematical talent of his servant lad Abram Robertson, who became afterwards Professor of Astronomy. West was his partner….


Ireland’s three surviving children:

John James Ireland (1772–1792)

John James Ireland died at the age of 20 and was buried in St Aldate’s Church on 16 December 1792.

George Sherwood Ireland (1776–1805)

According to Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 28 September 1805, George was a purser on board the Anthenean and died at Oxford at the age of 29. He left a son, John James Ireland, who was a Chorister at Christ Church from 1815 to 1819 and was matriculated as “Chirurg.” on 15 May 1827 at the age of 23, described as the son of George Sherwood Ireland of Portsea. John James is described as a surgeon of Cirencester in the announcement of his marriage in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 3 January 1835. His wife was Miss Anne Shergold, the second daughter of Mr Shergold of Cirencester. Their death of their younger daughter, Ann Shergold Ireland, at Cirencester was reported in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 26 January 1839.

Mary Ann Ireland (Mrs Evans) (1787–1815)

On 9 August 1813 Ireland’s daughter Mary Ann (aged 26) married George Evans of St Ebbe’s at St Aldate’s Church. G. V. Cox has an interesting tale to tell in his Recollections of Oxford about this marriage:

At the Lent Assizes, an Oxford drawing-master, Mr O’Neil, brought an action against the Rev. Mr Evans, or rather his wife, to recover damages, as a compensation for the breach of a “promise of marriage”, made by Mrs Evans when Miss Ireland, daughter of a well-known Oxford apothecary. Verdict for the plaintiff; damages one farthing!

Mary Ann’s husband was George Sherwood Evans, who was the same age as his wife, and a Fellow of Pembroke College and Rector of Hinton Waldrist in Berkshire. (His middle name, Sherwood, was the maiden name of Mary Ann Ireland’s mother, suggesting that he may have been a relation.) The story had a sad ending: Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 3 June 1815 reports:

On Sunday last [29 May] died, at the Parsonage House, at Hinton, Berks, in the 28th year of her age, after the safe delivery of two daughters, Ann, wife of the Rev. George Evans, M.A. of Pembroke college, and daughter of John Ireland, Esq of this city. The death of this Lady has occasioned the deepest sorrow and affliction amongst her relatives and numerous friends, to whom her amiable disposition had strongly endeared her.

The parish registers of Hinton Waldrist record that her twin daughters, Caroline and Mary Evans, were privately baptised at Hinton Waldrist on 25 May 1815. Two years later, on 22 May 1817, George Sherwood Evans married his second wife, Penelope Symonds, at Hinton Waldrist.

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