Ireland and the West Indies: A Brief History of the Irwin Family

Joanna Cicely Fennell, M.A.G.I.

Pictured is the churchyard of St. George’s Cathedral in Kingstown, capital of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The interior of this elegant Anglican church is home to a number of interesting plaques, including one bearing the following memorial inscription:
To the memory of

Alexander Burrowes Irwin, Esqr.

Descended from an ancient and honorable family in Ireland,

Who having devoted the early part of his life to the profession of arms,

And having obtained a company in His Majesty’s 32nd. Regiment of Infantry,

Afterwards became a proprietor of lands in this island,

Where he resided many years

And died regretted by his family and friends on the 22nd. of July 1806,

In the 63rd. year of his age.,

And was buried near the north western boundary wall of this church yard.


Alexander Burrowes Irwin (1744-1806) was the son of Bury Irwin of Castletown Moor, Co. Meath, and grandson of “merchant adventurer” Alexander Irwin, credited with closing the gates at the Siege of Derry in 1689. Alexander B. Irwin joined the army as a young man, before settling in St. Vincent, where he purchased two plantations known as the Union Estates, located on the island’s Atlantic coast. The parish register of St. George’s Kingstown includes the baptismal entries of Alexander’s three children, as follows:

1. Harriett Frances born July 4th 1784
2. Henry Bury born Dec 12th 1789
3. Charlotte Martha born Jany 12 1791

The children were each baptised on 30 March 1792. Curiously, they were recorded as the “children of Alexander B. Irwin Esqr. By Mrs Lydia Hackshaw Widow.” The language used, in comparison to other contemporaneous entries, implied that the couple were not married at the time. Indeed, it was not until many years later that Alexander and Lydia Hackshaw (née Alexander) were wed, as documented in the marriage register of St. Pancras Old Church in London. The marriage took place in 4 August 1801 and the associated records indicated that both parties had been married previously, although no evidence of an earlier marriage for Alexander has been identified. Lydia had married her first husband Thomas Hackshaw, with whom she had four children, in St. Vincent in 1772. The couple were married for 10 years before Thomas’ death, at the age of 37. Lydia’s father, Harry Alexander, was a prominent figure in Vincentian society of the time, having served as President of Council of St. Vincent.

Alexander Burrowes Irwin clearly disapproved of his eldest daughter Harriett’s marriage to Nevisian-born John Roche Dasent, whom she had married ‘contrary to [his] positive injunction’. Alexander’s will, dated 9 August 1806, illustrated his feelings about the match, as a result of which he withheld the £5,000 he had otherwise intended to bequeath to her. Instead, he granted her an annuity of £100 per annum, if widowed. His second daughter, Charlotte Martha Irwin, was to receive a sum of £8,000 and a share of his real estate. After Harriett’s premature death in 1808, the ambitious John R. Dasent, future Attorney-General of St. Vincent, married his former sister-in-law Charlotte. Dasent ultimately took control of North and South Union Estates, large sugar plantations which, in 1817, relied upon the forced labour of 574 enslaved African and Creole people.