Sir John was born on 18 September 1781 at Duns, Berwickshire, the second son of John Pirie and Helen Renton. His business career began when he entered the London shipbuilderís office of John Nichol, and subsequently married his sister, Jean Nichol.
Sir John eventually bought control of the firm and traded as John Pirie and Company.
Jean Nichol was the second daughter of Robert Nichol and his first wife, Elizabeth Dickson, and was born at Kelso on 23 August 1788. Her mother died when she was an infant and, after her father remarried, she was brought up by her fatherís Quaker wife, Agnes Robertson. Jean married John Pirie at Kelso with the banns proclaimed on 10 April 1807. The sum of £500 was paid as her marriage portion and another £500under her fatherís deed of settlement.
John Pirie became a wealthy ship-owner and by 1832 owned 20 ships; he also ran one of the largest ship brokerages in London. He operated from various premises; first 5 Popeís Head Alley, then 3 Freemans Court, Cornhill and later 71 Cornhill. He was elected Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1831 and was an Alderman for Cornhill Ward, 1834-51. He was Lord Mayor, 1841-2 and as a result was created Baronet in 1842, a title which became extinct on his death. He was granted three ostrich feathers as an addition to his arms in consequence of the birth of a Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) on the day of his inauguration. He was a founder director of the City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Company, 1841, and President of St Thomasí Hospital, 1842-51. He was a director and deputy chairman of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) and Treasurer of the British and Foreign Sailors Society. He died at Champion Hill, Camberwell, on 26 February 1851.
Sir John was a prominent member of the London Emigration Committee (and chairman in 1841), a director of the New Zealand Company, and a director and one of the largest financiers of the South Australian Land Company. He was also a director of the North American Association of Ireland. In 1832 Pirie proposed an organisation promoting female emigration.
One of the first ships that went out to South Australia (1836) was named the John Pirie, and Port Pirie in South Australia was also named in his honour. The Amelia Thompson, the second emigrant ship to arrive in New Plymouth, New Zealand, was owned at that time by Sir John. He also owned the Canton and the Augusta Jessie, which transported convicts to South Australia in 1839.
By Sir Johnís will, his estate, after his wifeís death, was to be divided in three equal parts (other than some small legacies) between his own Pirie nephew, his wifeís nephew, Dr. Robert Nichol, and his wifeís great-nephew, John Pirie Richardson. Lady Pirie was a great friend and supporter of Elizabeth Fry, and accompanied and helped her with her visits to Newgate Prison. Jeanís work is referred to in books about Elizabeth Fry. One incident related is when Jean persuaded Elizabeth Fry to come to a grand banquet at the Mansion House, when Sir John was Lord Mayor, at which Prince Albert and the Duke of Wellington attended, and where Sir Robert Peel proposed a toast to Jean as Lady Mayoress. Another occasion was when Jean invited Elizabeth Fry to the Mansion House to meet the King of Prussia, who later accompanied Jean and Elizabeth Fry to Newgate Prison.
by Dr. Martin Round