John Irving (c.1760–1795)

A gifted surgeon, JOHN IRVING arrived with the First Fleet and was the first convict emancipated in the colony. He worked at the first hospitals at Sydney, Norfolk Island, and at Parramatta, but passed away at Parramatta before learning of his promotion to Assistant-Surgeon at Parramatta on 50 pounds per annum. IRVING’s burial place is a matter of debate, with one source providing a transcription of a headstone for him at the Old Sydney Burial Ground, which is no longer extant. Regardless of his actual burial site, it is certain that his burial was recorded in the St. John’s Parish Burial Register at Parramatta on 13 September 1795. His son with partner ANN MASH was born a few months later.


  • Alternate: JOHN IRVINE
  • Alternate: JOHN IRVIN
  • Alias: JOHN LAW
  • Namesake: Irving Street, Parramatta, New South Wales
  • Namesake: John Irving Community Garden, Harris Park, New South Wales


  • Born: c.1760
  • Tried, convicted, and likely sentenced to death for stealing a silver cup: 6 March 1784, Lincoln, England
  • Sentence commuted to seven years transportation: 15 July 1785
  • Sent to Ceres hulk: > 15 July 1785
  • Sent to Portsmouth by wagon: 24 February 1787
  • Embarked on Scarborough: 27 February 1787
  • Mustered on Scarborough: 13 March 1787
  • Escorted to Lady Penrhyn: 20 March 1787
  • Served as surgeon’s mate on Lady Penrhyn to relieve Surgeon JOHN TURNPENNY ALTREE while he was on sick leave: 20 March 1787–27 April 1787
  • Sailed with the First Fleet per Lady Penrhyn: 13 May 1787
  • Arrived at Botany Bay per Lady Penrhyn: 20 January 1788
  • Arrived at Sydney Cove per Lady Penrhyn: 26 January 1788
  • Assistant surgeon at Sydney Hospital on arrival: 26 January 1788
  • Became the first convict emancipated in the colony: 28 February 1790, Sydney Cove, New South Wales
  • Appointed assistant to Surgeon DENNIS CONSIDEN: 28 February 1790
  • Sailed to Norfolk Island per HMS Sirius as assistant to surgeon Dennis Considen: 4 March 1790
  • Returned to Port Jackson per HMS Supply: 14 May 1791
  • Served as assistant to Surgeon THOMAS ARNDELL at Parramatta’s “Tent Hospital”: late 1791, Parramatta General Hospital
  • Received 30-acre land grant at Parramatta: 22 February 1792
  • Died: 3 September 1795, Colony of New South Wales
  • Burial registered in the St. John’s Parish Burial Register: 13 September 1795, St. John’s Church, Parramatta, Colony of New South Wales
  • Son JOHN IRVING (II) born: January 1796

Burial Location

  • Unmarked grave, exact location unknown.


  • Partner of ANN MASH, Second Fleet convict per Lady Juliana (1790)
  • Father of JOHN IRVING (II), son with ANN MASH
  • Colleague: DENNIS CONSIDEN
  • Colleague: THOMAS ARNDELL
  • Colleague: WATKIN TENCH
  • Colleague: RALPH CLARK


  • Surgeon
  • Convict
  • Emancipist
  • Farmer


  • Convict, Ceres, c.1785–24 February 1787
  • Convict, Scarborough, 27 February 1787–20 March 1787
  • Convict, Lady Penrhyn, 20 March 1787–1788
  • Surgeon’s mate on board Lady Penrhyn, 20 March 1787–27 April 1787
  • Assistant Surgeon at Sydney Hospital
  • Assistant Surgeon at Norfolk Island Hospital, 1790–late 1791
  • Assistant Surgeon at “The Tent Hospital” (Parramatta General Hospital): late 1791, Parramatta, New South Wales (present day Parramatta Justice Precinct)

Related Content

John Irving: The Best Surgeon Amongst Them (2019)

By Alexander Cameron-Smith

Abstract: He was the first convict ever emancipated in the Colony of New South Wales and went on to serve as surgeon in the first hospitals established in the three earliest settlements: Sydney, Norfolk Island, and Parramatta. But if being first is sometimes accorded a measure of historical significance, the convict surgeon and farmer John Irving (c.1765–1795) has not enjoyed the same fame as James Ruse or similar figures of early colonial history. It does not help Irving’s cause that the records of his life and work are scanty, nor do his untimely death in 1795, at around the age of 30, or the fact that his final resting place is unclear. Yet Irving’s short life in New South Wales illustrates many important facets of early colonial life generally and colonial medicine specifically—from the hope that convicts could be transformed by the work of colonisation to the ways in which the deprivation, labour, and violence of colonisation left its marks on the body. Read more>>



Primary Sources

Secondary Sources


# First Fleet

# Convict

# Trial Place: Lincoln

# Punishment: Death (commuted)

# Punishment: Seven Years Transportation

# Hulk: Ceres

# Ship: Scarborough (1788)

# Ship: Lady Penrhyn (1788)

# Burial year: 1795

# Burial place: Old Sydney Burial Ground

# Grave: marked (no longer extant)

# Burial Registration: St. John’s, Parramatta