top of page

Sir John Pirie

John Pirie was born a 6 Bridgend Duns on 18th. September 1781. His baptismal entry, which is a marginal addition, simply records the event and gives his parents as John Pirie and Helen Renton. The Parish records also record a brother William born on 5th. November 1777 and a sister Jean born on 14th. June 1783.

At some point John Pirie moved to London where he gained employment in the shipbuilder's office of John Nichol of Kelso. He did his career prospects no harm at all by, in 1888, marrying John Nicholl's sister Jean at Kelso on 10th. April 1807. His address on the marriage certificate would appear to indicate already a degree of upward special mobility as he is described as John Pirie Esq., and his address is given as 'number 51 London'. Jean Nicoll was the second daughter of Robert Nicholl and Elizabeth Dickson.

Pirie was obviously an astute businessman and he eventually bought control of the firm trading under the name of John Pirie and Company - by 1832 he owned 20 ships and ran one of the largest shipbrokerages in London. As well as a business man Pirie also involved himself very much in local politics and in 1831 was elected Sheriff of London and Middlesex. He was alderman for Cornhill ward from 1834 to 1851 and became Lord Mayor of London in 1841-42.

In this capacity on his retiral he received a baronacy - the London Gazette of 13th. April 1842 reporting;

The Queen has been pleased to direct letters patent passed under the Great Seal granting the dignity of a Baronet of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland unto the Right Honourable John Pirie of Camberwell in the county of Surrey, Lord Mayor of the city of London and the heirs male of his body lawfully begotten"

As it happened the day of his inauguration also saw  the birth of the Prince of Wales, later to be King Edward V11, and in token of this he was granted three ostrich feathers as an addition to his arms.

Pirie held many other offices being a founder director of the city of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Company in 1841, Chairman  of the London Emigration Committee in 1841, president of St. Thomas's Hospital 1842-51, Director and deputy Chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P.& O.) and Treasurer of the British and Foreign Sailors' Society. He was also a director of the New Zealand Company, the South Australian Land Company and the North American Association in Ireland.

In 1836 a ship bearing his name; a two masted schooner the 'John Pirie' was one of the first pioneer ships to arrive in South Australia. This ship of only 105 tons and just 19 meters long departed from London on 22nd. February 1836 and arrived in Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island, South Australia on 16th. August, a voyage time of 176 days. The ship which has only 21 passengers one of whom described it as "a washing tub with a tiller". For a list of passengers and crew.

Sir John was also owner several early emigrant ships to South Australia; transporting convicts, including the 'Amelia Thompson', the 'Canton' and the 'Augusta Jessie'.

In 1846 the ship was to discover a good anchorage in Spencer's Gulf which has since become and been renamed Port Pirie. There are also named after John Pirie, Pirie Streets in Adelaide J13.

Lady Jean Pirie was a renowned hostess and became a great friend of the famous prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (and fellow Quaker) and through her position as wife of the Lord Mayor was able to introduce Elizabeth Fry to all sorts of important and influential contacts. On one occasion she held a grand banquet in the Mansion House attended by Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. On another she was able to introduce Elizabeth Fry to the King of Prussia whom they late also took on a visit to Newgate Prison




Sir John died Camberwell on 26th. February 1851 without issue, his baronacy accordingly dying with him.

A mayoral portrait was carried out by Henry William Pickersgill which is now in the Guildhall Art Gallery London 

Ship for Pirie.jpg

The ship John Pirie by John Ford FASMA, South Australian Maritime Museum

bottom of page