John Roche, Medallist

(fl. c. 1733-1760)


From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

A metal-worker who lived at the Golden Heart, Usher Street, Usher's Quay, and afterwards in King Street, Stephen's Green. In 1738 he did a medal of Dean Swift. This medal, which is cast and roughly executed, bears a medallion bust of the Dean supported by Hibernia with her shield and spear, a Gorgon shield lying near her, and by History who crowns the bust with a laurel wreath. Above is a winged figure with a crescent on her forehead, and near her an infant Genius with a palm branch. Below is a scroll inscribed REV. I. SWIFT. D.S.P.D. (the Reverend Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's, Dublin). On reverse is Hibernia seated, leaning upon a harp and holding an olive branch; ships, flocks and herds appear in the distance. On exergue, MDCCXXXVIII, and the artist's initials I. R. FECIT (see "Medallic Illustrations" published by the British Museum, Vol. II, p. 525). The head of Swift is copied from the portrait engraved by P. Simms (q.v.) in Swift's "Works," published in 1734. Roche also issued a medal commemorating the taking of Portobello by Admiral Vernon, signed I. R. Dublin. It is an imitation of one of Pinchbeck's. One of the medals commemorating the Convention of El Pardo in 1739, by which Spain agreed to compensate British merchants and shipowners, signed J. R. is probably his.

Roche in 1741 applied to the Dublin Society for its encouragement and help in the making of "Birmingham ware" which he had introduced into Ireland. Members of the Society were deputed to inspect "the engines and instruments" set up by him in his house in Usher's Quay, and they reported that they "saw his men go through the whole work of making buckles, buttons, etc., from mixing the metal in the furnace and cutting them and, after stamping, filing the edges, drilling, polishing and finishing the same." They also reported that he had "furnished himself with all the utensils and conveniences from Birmingham, and brought with him thence several workmen and apprentices." As a result the Society voted him fifty pounds "for his encouragement." In an advertisement issued by him from the Golden Heart in March, 1747, he describes himself as the "only person in this Kingdom who makes all sorts of gilt, silver and plated coat buttons for gentlemen's wear, metal buttons for livery, gilt and metal sleeve-buttons, iron, steel and metal shoe-buckles and other kinds of hardware" ("Faulkner's Journal," 28th February, 3rd March, 1746-7). In the same year he petitioned the Irish Parliament, praying for encouragement in the manufacture of hardware; and in 1759, in response to a further appeal to the Dublin Society for help in carrying on his manufacture of Birmingham ware, the Society lent him one hundred pounds.

In 1760 there was such a scarcity of copper money in Ireland that, to meet the want of small change, a quantity of base coin was manufactured and put into circulation in Dublin. This gave an opportunity to Roche to issue copper half-pence and farthings which, being of good metal, were generally received in preference to the wretched stuff then in circulation. This coinage consisted of a series of half-pence and farthings which, from the inscription upon them, are known as the "Voce Populi" coinage. On the 29th August, 1760, the Lord Mayor, John Tew, issued a proclamation stating that being informed "that several copper smiths, tinkers and other persons have been and are now engaged in different parts of the city and the suburbs thereof in forming of base metal into an imitation of the copper half-pence current through this Kingdom," a reward would be given for bringing the offenders to justice. One Edward Barry was committed to Newgate, and in November was sentenced to stand twice in the pillory with a paper denoting his crime fixed on his breast and back. Roche's apparatus for striking his coins was seized, but further proceedings against him were stayed by his death, which occurred in his house in King Street on 24th September, 1760.

In the notice of his death in "Faulkner's Journal" (30th September - 4th October, 1760), he is described as "maker of the medals which have the words 'Voce Populi' thereon, now passing as half-pence in this city." In his will, dated the day of his death, he describes himself as "of King Street, Stephen's Green, Dublin, manufacturer of Hardware," and left his wife Susanna his house and all his "work-tools and utensils in his manufactory, and the mill and appurtenances thereunto belonging."*

NOTE: * In Grueber's "Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland," 1885, and in Forrer's "Biographical Dictionary of Medallists," John Roche is erroneously named as "John Vernon Roche."

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