IRVING, PAULUS ÆMILIUS, army officer, councillor, and administrator of the province of Quebec; b. 23 Sept. 1714 in Dumfriesshire (now part of Dumfries and Galloway), Scotland, son of William Irving, laird of Bonshaw; m. Judith, daughter of Captain William Westfield of Dover; d. 22 April 1796 in England.
Except for a few months in 1766, the life of Paulus Æmilius Irving followed a familiar pattern for British officers serving in Canada in the 18th century. A captain in the 15th Foot in 1753 and a major by 1758, Irving sailed with his regiment early in 1759 to join James Wolfe*’s expedition against Quebec. Although he was slightly wounded in an engagement on 8 August, Irving was ready for action by the time of the battle on the Plains of Abraham in September. His role on that occasion was a minor one since his regiment was stationed at the extreme left of the line towards the rear and was very early detached to protect Côte Sainte-Geneviève where no action developed.
In October 1759 Brigadier-General James Murray appointed Irving quartermaster general to succeed Colonel Guy Carleton* who was recovering from wounds. Irving apparently carried out his responsibilities efficiently during the military régime at Quebec both as quartermaster general and as a member of the Military Council. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in January 1762, he was an obvious choice as one of the members of the council Murray was empowered to select when the civilian government was established in August 1764. He was commissioned lieutenant governor for the District of Montreal just two weeks after he took office as councillor, but the British government doubted that such officials were required in each of the three subdivisions of the colony, and Murray’s impassioned defence of Irving’s appointment failed to convince the authorities. The turbulent character of Montreal during the two years which followed has been blamed both on the absence of a lieutenant governor and on the quarrel between Brigadier Ralph Burton*, commanding the military forces of the colony, and Governor Murray, who was greatly disappointed to find himself limited to a civilian role.
Events in Montreal, the attack on the merchant Thomas Walker on 6 Dec. 1764 in particular, produced the chaos that resulted in the recall of both Burton and Murray to Britain. As the senior member of the council, Irving, on 30 June 1766, became president of the council and administrator of the colony, a role he was to fill until the arrival from New York of Lieutenant Governor Carleton in late September. Although most ordinances and proclamations passed that summer represented only the official action of the Quebec council on matters previously decided in Britain, one decision was made on 8 August based on the particular point of view of Irving and the majority of the council present. George Allsopp* and other merchants had persisted in regarding the king’s posts, lands reserved to the crown, as open for trade in spite of a monopoly granted to certain merchants by Murray, and they had erected buildings on the land in dispute. On 8 August these buildings were ordered removed. Faced by protests against this ruling, Carleton summoned some but not all of the councillors to meet him on 9 October. Irving, who was included, seems to have seen nothing irregular in the meeting at the time; his concern appeared after the event, when four of his friends, James Cuthbert, Adam Mabane, François Mounier*, and Walter Murray, sought and received his support in a remonstrance to the lieutenant governor. Irving, by virtue of his senior position, discussed the matter privately with Carleton. Irving’s report of what was said at that meeting differed materially from what Carleton remembered of his own statements. In correspondence with the home government, the lieutenant governor evaded the central legal questions: had the meeting of 9 October been a regular meeting of council or only a committee meeting and had the lieutenant governor the authority to select individual councillors to attend a regular meeting? Within the colony, however, the issue had become the dominance of the king’s representative over both factions in the council, the supporters of British merchants on one hand and, on the other, James Murray’s friends, known as the French party, of whom Irving and Adam Mabane were the most conspicuous and influential. Within six weeks, both men had been dismissed from the council, ostensibly because they had signed a petition asking for bail for several men accused of complicity in the attack on Thomas Walker two years earlier. Carleton chose to interpret the signatures of Irving and Mabane, but not of other councillors who had signed the petition, as an attempt “to disturb the peace and interrupt the free course of justice.” He reasoned that the removal of two would serve as an example to all.
Irving and Mabane protested their dismissal and continued to do so even after Irving had returned to England with his regiment in July 1768. Both eventually regained official confidence; in 1771 Irving was appointed lieutenant governor of Guernsey, serving again with Jeffery Amherst. His last appointment was the honorary one of lieutenant governor of Upnor Castle, Kent. But the military rewards he received from the British government paled in comparison with those conferred upon his son Paulus Æmilius, a baronet and a general by 1812. Irving seems to have been a worthy career officer caught in a political crisis that was not of his making and beyond his powers to resolve or even descry. It is perhaps significant that, at the height of the dispute when Carleton was ascribing the meanest of motives to his opponents, the worst he could say of Irving was that he had signed documents “because his Friends desired him.”
PAC, MG 11, [CO 42], Q, 2, pp.32, 206; 26, pp.40, 193; MG 23, A4; GII, 1, ser.1, 3; RG 1, E1, 1–6. Docs. relating to constitutional history, 1759–91 (Shortt and Doughty; 1918). Knox, Hist. journal (Doughty). Quebec Gazette, 21 July 1768. Burt, Old prov. of Que. Neatby, Quebec. A. L. Burt, “Sir Guy Carleton and his first council,” CHR, IV (1923), 321–32.