Thomas Eyre was the second son of Colonel Samuel Eyre of Eyreville, a descendant of Colonel John Eyre, who had accompanied General Ludlow to Ireland in 1651 and had acquired large estates in Galway, including the Manor of Eyrecourt.
Thomas Eyre was that rare man whose military and engineering training occurred entirely in the Americas before he assumed the significant office of Surveyor General of Ireland in 1752. Eyre sailed from Portsmouth with Colonel James Oglethorpe, arriving in Georgia in 1738. As a Cadet in Oglethorpe's Regiment, he was sent to that colony's interior as an agent to the Cherokee Indians, and in 1740 he was commissioned an Ensign. Eyre learned engineering from Major William Cook, the Regiment's Engineer, and he married Cook's daughter Anne, who had accompanied her father to Georgia. The date of this wedding is not documented, but it probably occurred between 1739 and 1744, by which date both Eyre and Cook had returned to London. In the last two years of this tour of duty, Eyre served also as the Sub-engineer for South Carolina and Georgia.
In 1744 Eyre was commissioned a Lieutenant (promoted to Captain in 1748) in Colonel Edward Trelawney's Regiment. As Governor of Jamaica (1739-1752) Trelawney posted Eyre as Engineer on the Island of Rattan in the Bay of Honduras, which the British fortified in the mid-1740s to protect their commercial interests on the Mosquito Shore (now Belize). Eyre was in charge of Rattan's defences until 1748, when the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the Anglo-Spanish War and returned the island to Spain. For the four years after his departure from Rattan and before his resignation from Trelawney's Regiment, little is known about his activities until he became Surveyor-General of Ireland in 1752 until 1763.
Eyre attained the office of Surveyor General with better credentials than his two immediate predecessors; no Surveyor General had his world-wide experience, gained in Georgia, South Carolina, Jamaica and Rattan. He completed his predecessor's work on the north range of the Upper Yard in Dublin Castle (the Bedford Tower) and designed the garden front of the Castle, with the state apartments and corridor immediately behind it, in the style of Edward Lovett Pearce. In 1757 he prepared designs (unexecuted) for a Public Record Office in Dublin. In the following year he was granted £18,000 to repair Thomas Burgh's early 18th-century Royal Barracks in Dublin (now the National Museum). During his tenure of office the powers of engineer and surveyor general were circumscribed and the office was eventually abolished with Eyre being appointed chief engineer of the Ordnance. Little is known of his
He resigned his commission in 1766 and became member of the Irish Parliament for Thomastown (1761-68) and Fore (1768-1772). He died whilst attending a session of the House from an apoplectic fit brought on by the sudden death of a much loved daughter.
The transatlantic life of Anne Cook Eyre is no less impressive in that she endured the tenuous early years of the colony of Georgia, residing in Savannah and at Fort Frederica, where Oglethorpe's regiment was
garrisoned. It would seem that she had at least three children, two daughters and a son, who all died in their minority.
We are grateful to Kenneth Severens, author of a forthcoming book on Irish-American architects, engineers and builders, and to Edward McParland author of a forthcoming book Public Architecture in Ireland 1680-1760, to be published Yale University Press, 2001, for their assistance with this catalogue entry and to Philip Haythornthwaite for confirming the uniform of the sitter.