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Clark Irving (1808–1865)

by Louise T. Daley

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Clark Irving (1808-1865), merchant, pastoralist and politician, was born in Bromfield, near Wigton, Cumberland, England, son of Thomas Irving, farmer. He probably gained business experience in London and Carlisle. In 1839 he married Adelaide Thanet, daughter of a London banker. Soon thereafter he set up in Sydney with Richard Lamb as watchmakers and jewellers; they were also merchants, agents and wool-buyers, but the firm was dissolved in 1842. Irving continued his cautious investments and in 1843 bought Casino station on the Richmond River. Manager and later director of the Australasian Sugar Co., he made substantial loans to the company. In 1845 he became official assignee and trustee of insolvent estates. Well known in Sydney, he was secretary of the committee to farewell Caroline Chisholm and steward at a public dinner for W. C. Wentworth. By 1856 Irving had stations in the Darling Downs, Gwydir and Maranoa districts, and grazing leases of 279,040 acres (112,925 ha) in the Clarence district where he installed boiling-down works and was the first to salt beef for export. He established a Shorthorn herd at Tomki (Casino) and in 1863 paid £200 for a pedigree cow.

In 1856-57 Irving represented the Clarence and Darling Downs in the first Legislative Assembly after responsible government but local dislike of leadership from Sydney and doubts about his attitude to the separation of Queensland cost him his seat. In 1859-64 he sat for the Clarence as an anti-separationist. Although he favoured farmer-settlement on agricultural reserves, he opposed free selection before survey. In 1859 his pre-emptive purchases were questioned in parliament and strongly criticized. Convinced that the Clarence River provided the best seaport for Armidale and New England, he obtained a government grant of £20,000 to improve navigation on the river, and secured additional grants for roads, a gold escort, a telegraph line and other benefits. He invested heavily in the Grafton Steam Navigation Co. and in 1860 became managing director when it was renamed the Clarence and Richmond Rivers Steam Navigation Co. In 1859 he had founded the first newspaper at Grafton, the Clarence & Richmond Examiner. A justice of the peace, he was active in most local organizations.

In 1858 Irving was a foundation director of the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Co. and a director of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, the Australasian Steam Navigation Co. and two copper-mining companies. In 1861 he was importing sugar through David Jones & Co., but was accused by R. M. Robey of causing losses to the Australian Joint Stock Bank and forcing him to sell his sugar refining business at a loss. Their personal antipathy led to a pamphlet war and threats of law suits.

In 1862 Irving arranged a meeting of bishops and laymen, and donated £2000 to promote the foundation of an Anglican diocese of Grafton and Armidale. He guaranteed another £2000 from his electorate. Entrusted with the formal application for the new see by Bishop Tyrrell, he visited England to seek another £3000 and to supervise the launching of the paddle-steamer Agnes Irving. In his absence his seat was declared vacant, but he was re-elected. He lost his fortune by speculating in Spanish railways and died aged 57 from pneumonia at Brighton, England, on 13 January 1865. He was survived by his widow, four sons and two daughters, who returned to Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • R. M. Robey, To the Shareholders of the Australian Joint Stock Bank (Syd, 1861)
  • Report of the Proceedings of the Shareholders of the Joint Stock Bank (Syd, 1861)
  • A. P. Elkin, The Diocese of Newcastle (Syd, 1955)
  • L. T. Daley, Men and a River (Melb, 1966)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Apr 1847, 22 Sept 1859
  • Clarence & Richmond Examiner, 15 Nov, 6 Dec 1859, 29 May, 11 Dec 1860, 16 Apr, 5 Aug 1861, 11 Feb, 20 May 1862, 8 Aug 1865, 30 Jan 1866
  • Armidale Express, 25 June 1859
  • J. McFarlane, ‘Our early days’, pt 45, Daily Examiner, 1959
  • W. H. Fox dossier, 4/800 (Society of Australian Genealogists, Sydney)
  • Adelaide Irving letters and Clark Irving file (Richmond River Historical Society)
  • newspaper indexes under Irving (State Library of New South Wales).

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Citation details

Louise T. Daley, 'Irving, Clark (1808–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Bromfield, Cumberland, England


13 January, 1865 (aged ~ 57)
Brighton, Sussex, England

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