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Sir John Irwin, KB, reviewing Troops in Dublin

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Sir John Irwin, KB, reviewing Troops in Dublin

by Francis Wheatley
oil on canvas, 1781
93 in. x 69 in. (2362 mm x 1752 mm)
Purchased, 1883
Primary Collection
NPG 682

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Francis Wheatley (1747-1801), Painter. Artist associated with 8 portraits, Sitter associated with 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The only identified figure in this portrait is the soldier on the right. He is Sir John Irwin; a socialite and a Member of Parliament, who held the post of Commander-in-Chief in Ireland from 1775-82. Irwin was also invested as a Knight of the Bath in 1779 and appointed colonel of the 3rd Regiment of Horse in Ireland in 1781. Both of these events appear to be commemorated in this portrait which is thought to depict a review of the troops in Phoenix Park, Dublin. Irwin wears his star of the Order and his servant, in green, holds a saddle cloth decorated with the badge of the order. During the 1760s and 1770s Irwin had been active in repressing the Whiteboys, a southern Irish insurgent movement of labourers and small farmers who were against the enclosure of land and taxes that were being levied. Despite his promotion in the 1780s, Irwin's extravagant lifestyle left him penniless. He had to resign his offices and flee to the continent, in 1783, to avoid his creditors.

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Events of 1781back to top

Current affairs

American painter John Singleton Copley, now resident in London, completes his celebrated painting The Death of the Earl of Chatham, depicting the collapse of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham on 7 April 1778, during a debate in the House of Lords on the American War of Independence.
William Pitt the Younger, later Prime Minister, enters Parliament.

Art and science

Astronomer William Herschel discovers Uranus, the first planet to be found by means of a telescope, and names it Georgium Sidus (George's Star) in honour of George III.
Artist and theatre designer Philip James De Loutherbourg presents his innovative miniature mechanical theatre, the Eidophusikon, at his house in Soho, London.


American War of Independence: British general Charles Cornwallis is forced to surrender at Yorktown. Maryland ratifies the Articles of Confederation - the last state to do so - completing 'the Confederation of the United States'.
Zong Massacre: 133 Africans are thrown overboard the slave ship Zong on the orders of a British slave-trader who then attempts to reclaim their value from insurers. The case becomes a landmark in the fight for abolition.

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