IRVING, Martin Howy (1831-1912)

IRVING, Martin Howy (1831-1912)
was born in London on 21 February 1831. He was the son of Edward Irving, founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church, whom Carlyle called the "freest, brotherliest, bravest human soul mine ever came in contact with", and his wife Isabella Martin. He was educated at King's College, London, and Balliol College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1853 and M.A. in 1856, with first class honours in classics and second class honours in mathematics. After a few months as second master at the city of London school, he was appointed professor of classics and English at the university of Melbourne, where he arrived in July 1856. He held this position for nearly 15 years. He took much interest in the development of the young university, but in January 1871 he resigned to become headmaster of Wesley College. He had been offered a salary much larger than he had been receiving as a professor, and this no doubt influenced his decision as he had a growing family. But there was another factor. In the early years of the university students were few, many of them had not been properly prepared for university work, and probably Irving felt he would be doing a real service by helping to raise the standard of secondary school education. At Wesley he was a great success, and by the end of 1874 the number of pupils had risen to 271, a record not exceeded until about 30 years later. He appealed to what was best in the boys' natures, and his relations with his masters were as happy as those with the boys. Samuel Alexander (q.v.) who was a pupil in his period has testified to the excellence and breadth of the education he received at this school.
At the end of five years at Wesley, Irving decided that he would prefer the control of a school untrammelled by any committee or council. He bought the Hawthorn grammar school and made it one of the most successful private schools in Melbourne, with a roll of 200 boys, 50 of whom were boarders. In 1884 he handed over the school to his son, E. H. Irving, and became a member of the public service board of Victoria for a period of 10 years. He had retained his interest in the university after giving up his professorship, was a member of the council for some years, and at the election for chancellor in 1886 was defeated by one vote, (Sir) Anthony Colling Brownless receiving six votes to his five. He was soon afterwards elected vice-chancellor and held the position for two years. In earlier years he had been much interested in the volunteer movement and the militia, in which he attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He retired from the public service board in 1894 with a pension, and in 1900 went to England and devoted himself to the affairs of the Catholic Apostolic Church, of which he had always been an adherent. He visited Victoria for a few weeks in 1906, and returning to England died at Albury near London on 23 January 1912. He was twice married (1) to Caroline Mary Brueres, (2) to Mary Mowat, and was survived by five sons and seven daughters. He was given the honorary degree of LL.D. by the university of Glasgow in 1902.
Irving, who was well over six feet high, and an excellent oarsman and rifle shot, was the founder of amateur rowing in Victoria. He was a man of fine character with a good sense of business, and was a strong influence in the development of both secondary and university education in Victoria. Two of his daughters carried on the tradition for many years as principals of Lauriston Girls' School, Melbourne. One of his sons, Godfrey George Howy Irving (1867-1937), joined the Australian permanent military forces and led the Australian Commonwealth horse in the South African war. He was chief of the Australian general staff in 1913, and in command of the 14th infantry brigade in Egypt in 1916. After his return to Australia he was promoted major-general and was deputy quartermaster-general until his retirement in 1922. He died on 11 December 1937.
The Argus, Melbourne, 25 January 1912; The Times, 24 January 1912; The History of Wesley College, 1865-1919; Sir Ernest Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne; The Argus, 13 December 1937; C. E. W. Bean, Official History of the War of 1914-1918; John Lang, The Victorian Oarsman.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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