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John Dunville Dunville, CBE, DL (1866-1929)

obituary published in June 1929





The death took place in London today of Colonel John D. Dunville, D.L., who passed away at his Portland Place residence after a brief illness. A telegram conveying the sad news was received this afternoon at the offices of his firm in Belfast.

The deceased was the son of the late Mr. Robert Grimshaw Dunville, D.L., of Redburn Holywood, and held the office of chairman of Dunville & Co., Ltd., the old established Belfast firm of distillers. Born in 1866, he was educated at Cambridge University.

Always very keen on sport, Colonel Dunville when a young man was an enthusiastic cross-country rider and skilful polo player. For two seasons (1886-87) he was Master of the Cambridge Staghounds, and he was Master of the Meath Hounds 1911-15.

In 1890 he was appointed political private secretary to the late Duke of Devonshire - a nobleman remembered with affectionate regard all over Ulster as the Marquis of Hartington, founder of the Liberal Unionist party. Mr. Dunville continued to fill this important office until the late Duke's death in 1908.

Subsequently he devoted his attention to aeronautics as a recreation, and became prominent as a daring and successful balloonist. He competed in a number of international competitions, and had many thrilling adventures and experiences.

Later be turned his attention to the aeroplane, and became a skilful and fearless pilot. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service as a flight lieutenant in March 1915, and was promoted to the rank of wing commander in 1917. He commanded No. 1 Balloon Training Wing, Roehampton, having 450 officers and 2,000 men under his command for training. He transferred to the Royal Air Force in 1918, being demobilised in September, 1919, and was awarded tho C.B.E. for his services during the war.

Colonel Dunville was a deputy-lieutenant of the County of Down. He married a daughter of the late Mr. Gustavus Lambart, of Beauparc, County Meath. In addition to his house at Redburn, Holywood, he had a residence, Sion House, near Navan.


Colonel Dunville had many notable balloon records to his credit, and had international fame as an aeronaut. He had twice crossed the English Channel, and in view of the fate of some who attempted the hazardous journey from England to the French coast was heartily congratulated upon the good fortune which attended his efforts. In La Mascotte he won the Northcliffe Challenge Cup in September, 1907, the trophy being awarded to the British aeronaut who made the longest voyage during the year starting from any place in England. Almost two hundred miles was the record, travelling from London to Wales; and in November of the following year the English Channel was crossed - happily without accident - in the Banshee. An interesting fact in connection with this expedition is that he was accompanied by hls wife.

The international race for the Gordon-Bennett Cup, in which 21 balloons took part, started from Berlin, also in 1908, and Colonel Dunville made his essay again in the Banshee. It was at first reported that he had been adjudged the winner, having made a trip lasting close upon 37 hours, the terms of the competition being that the successful contestant's balloon would be that which had travelled the longest distance in a straight line from the point of ascent to where it was reported to have alighted. However, the award eventually went to the Swiss, Helvetia, although the latter had fallen into the sea and was, with its occupants, picked up by a steam trawler. This decision was strongly commented upon by British aeronauts, but in any case Mr. Dunville's reputation in no way suffered.


Deceased piloted the first balloon to cross the English Channel with four passengers. This was in November, 1908. The ascent was made in the Banshee and, describing the event, he said:- "I was competing for the Northcliffe Cup - the long-distance race which I won last year. Accompanied by Mrs. John Dunville, Mr. Pollock, and Mr. Philip Gardner, I left London at 2-15 p.m. on Saturday, and reaching Folkestone in three hours, crossed the Channel, arriving over the French coast, just south of Calais, at 6-15 p.m. When passing Lille the wind began to shift to the west, and at 11-50 p.m. we passed over Brussels. Shortly afterwards the wind came right round to the south. Very heavy rain came on, accompanied by snow, and I found myself. at 1 a.m. on Sunday, travelling due north at a greatly increased speed, so that it was evident that I should be carried to the North Sea in two or three hours. I, therefore, decided to make a descent, which notwithstanding the darkness of the night, was safely accomplished at 1-20 a.m. at a place called Baelen, in the North of Belgium, about sixty miles east of Antwerp. If the wind had not altered I would have made a very long run, but as it was, I only went about 260 miles, and was up 11 hours 5 minutes."

In February, 1910, accompanied by Mr. C.W. Pollock, Colonel Dunville made an ascent from the gasworks in Dublin, in the balloon St. Louis, starting at ten o'clock at night, and landing at 3 a.m. next morning - a five hours' journey of 160 miles - near Macclesfield. At one stage the balloon attained an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. The route was over the west coast of Holyhead, Conway Bay, and, Chester.

In the early part of 1927 the deceased was one of a party of British Anglers who spent several weeks in "big game" fishing on the northern waters of New Zealand.


Colonel Dunville, during the Sinn Fein troubles in Belfast, held the office of Commandant of the Special Constabulary Force. He took an active part in the formation of the Reserve Squadron of the Royal Air Force in Belfast, and in the establishment of the May Street club in connection with that force.

The deceased gentleman is survived by his wife and two sons - Captain Robert Lambart Dunville (a director of the firm, and Master of the County Down Staghounds Hunt), and Mr. Wm. Gustavus Dunville. A third son, Lieut. John Spencer Dunville, lst Royal Dragoons, was killed in the Great War when 21 years of age, and awarded a posthumous V.C.

The late Lieut. John Spencer Dunville was one of that distinguished band of young Ulstermen who, by their marked gallantry, won that supreme tribute to British heroism, the Victoria Cross, during the Great War. It was awarded, as the official record states:- "For most conspicuous bravery near Épehy, France, on 24th and 25th June, 1917. When in charge of a party consisting of scouts and Royal Engineers engaged in the demolition of the enemy's wire, this officer displayed great gallantry and disregard of all personal danger. In order to ensure the absolute success of the work entrusted to him, Second-Lieut. Dunville placed himself between an N.C.O. of the Royal Engineers and the enemy's fire, and thus protected, this N.C.O. was enabled to complete a work of great importance. Second-Lieut. Dunville, although severely wounded, continued to direct his men in the wirecutting and general operations until the raid was successfully completed, thereby setting a magnificent example of courage, determination, and devotion to duty to all ranks under his command. The gallant officer has since succumbed to his wounds."

Deceased served for many years in the old Meath Militia (5th Battalion Leinster Regiment) for which he got his military title.

See also:

Col. John Dunville Dunville, CBE, DL (1866-1929): The Famous Belfast Balloonist

The 1908 Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

Belfast Aeronaut Crosses the Irish Sea

Mainly About Aeronauts

Flights by the Dunvilles and Cups Won

Photographs of John Dunville Dunville, CBE, DL (1866-1929)

Robert Lambart Dumville (1893-1931): Chairman of Dunville & Co. Ltd.

The Dunvilles of Northern Ireland and Dunville's Whisky

William Dunvill (c1740-1793): The Distillery Line of the Dunvilles

Family Tree