According to a document held by the College of Arms in London, John Cree of Ennis had a daughter Ellen Cree who married James McMahon of Ennis Co. Clare (died 1783). As far as we know their son was known as John Cree throughout his life, (although he was referred to as John MacMahon, otherwise Cree, in a document written twenty years after his death).
He made his fortune as a free merchant in the East Indies. Incidentally, although he is recorded as having died "without issue" he did in fact have two children, a son and a daughter, whose baptisms were recorded in Calcutta with the description "natural child". His only "legitimate" child died at the age of four, so his estate passed to his nephew, also John McMahon, of Thornhill in Dorset, and "by Royal Licence bearing date 1 June 1815 he [the nephew] and his issue were authorised to assume the surname of CREE only and to bear the arms of Cree pursuant to a clause in the last will and testament of his uncle John Cree abovementioned." So the nephew changed his name to Cree. He later acquired Moignes Court, also in Dorset.
Later the estate passed through a daughter to George Stone, who also had to change his name to Cree in order to inherit. Moignes Court is today occupied by his descendants who as a result of the will of the original John Cree, formerly McMahon, still bear the name Cree.
The life of John Cree has now been thoroughly researched, mainly by Trevor Cree and Mike Spathaky. His genealogy can be seen in the Cree On-line Genealogy Database on his person details page. You can also read Mike's Biography of John Cree, while a large number of transcriptions of archives relating to his life are listed in the Archives Section under the name Merchant of Dacca.
John Cree was born c 1735 in County Clare, Ireland. The date is a guess and the place uncertain. John was described as "late of Calcutta in the East Indies but then of St Mary la Bonne... and also of the County of Clare..." in his nephew's grant of arms in 1815. This was said in that document to be a recital of his own grant of 1786 but the phrase "and also of the County of Clare" does not appear in the earlier grant. County Clare is however the only suggestion we have of a place of birth.1 He was the son of James McMahon and Ellen Cree.
John Cree arrived in India before 1765. He sailed on board a ship of the East India Company and is said to have deserted on arrival in India. John married Anna Ritta Scott (married name) between 1765 and 1767. His son James Cree was born on 12 August 1774 and daughter Eleanor Cree was born on 14 December 1775 in Dacca, Bengal, India.6,7
John Cree was a free merchant (that is, not a servant of the East India Company) in 1776 in Dacca, India. John Cree was mentioned in the Ninth Report of Select Committee: "The Spirit of those Agents will be fully comprehended from a State of the Proceedings before Mr Rouse and Counsel, on the Complaint of a Mr Cree (John Cree), an English free Merchant at Dacca, who had been twice treated in the same injurious Manner by the Agents of Mr Hurst, the Commercial Chief at that Place.'
On 6 March 1786 John Cree of New Cavendish Street, London, England, joined the Whig Club. He was still recorded as a member in 1792.16
On 6 April 1786 John Cree, "late of Calcutta in the East Indies and now of the parish of St Mary le Bone [Marylebone] in the County of Middlesex, Esq." was granted arms by the Ulster King of Arms: "Argent three olive branches slipped proper on a chief gules a ship in full sail Proper between two bezants. Crest - a dexter hand holding a civic crown Proper. Motto - The Reward of Integrity." The similarity of these arms to those of various Creagh families cannot be accidental.17,18,19,20
John Cree bought Thornhill House, Stalbridge, Dorset, England, from Isaac Sage in 1787.21,22,23
Thornhill House, Stalbridge, by Mike Searle
Thornhill House was designed and built by Hogarth's son-in-law, the C18 painter Sir James Thornhill in about 1725. The house is set in acres of parkland with landscaped gardens, and is a Grade II* Listed country house.
© Copyright Mike Searle and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
His son William Johansen Cree died on 21 March 1788 in Romford, Essex, England.14
21 June 1790 John Cree was in Spa, Belgium.24
Between 3 October 1790 and 6 November 1790 John Cree commissioned the Senate of Nice to validate a will drawn up by the Irish merchant Francesco Mac Mahon who died in Nice. John was described as "the English gentleman."25
On 16 April 1791 John Cree was involved in a fight at Major Brady's lodgings in Brussels with a Mr Macnamara over a matter concerning the honour of Mrs Cree. "Mr Cree, incensed at his appearance in the same Company with him, instantly gave him a stroke of his cane across the head, the cane flew out of Mr. Cree's hand, but he attacked his adversary so vigorously with his fists, that he shortly became his Master & obliged him to have recourse to pistols which he carried about him, and which he attempted firing at Mr. Cree, but was fortunately prevented by Major Brady and me, by wresting the pistol out of his hand. Mr O'Shee & Major Brady, separated the antagonists while I carried the pistol taken from Mr Macnamara, into a second room. The Major insisted on both remaining quiet, for which they pledged their words & honour, but Mr Mcnamara, finding Mr. Cree, off his guard, flew at him and gave him a blow of his fist on the face, which Mr. Cree returned and pummelled him across the room..."26
In July 1791 John Cree was in Spa, Belgium, as shown by a letter he wrote from there asking for a passport to be issued to a Mr Reading and his family.
No doubt John was in Belgium in readiness for the arrval in Ostend of the ship "Eliza" from Bengal of which he probably had majority ownership.27
John Cree was one of three nominees for the post of Sheriff of Dorset 12 November 1791. He was not appointed.28
In 1792 John Cree took out an insurance policy with the Sun Fire Office, as did his friend James Archdekin.29
John Cree left a will dated 16 July 1794. This will is mentioned in the later will of 20 October 1795 as being revoked by it. However a licence to John Cree's nephew John McMahon in 1815 refers to the 1795 document as a codicil dated 20 October 1795 and seems to imply that the 1794 will was the valid will.30 He and Carolina Matilda Fix were separated on 15 April 1795 in Copenhagen.31,32
John Cree made a will dated 20 October 1795 at Thornhill, Stalbridge, Dorset, England. This explicitly revoked the will dated 16 July 1794, but was not accepted as lawful for the real estate. See the will of John Cree.33,34,35
John Cree died on 19 November 1795. He died "without issue." (We know he had had a legitimate son who had died young and, earlier, two 'natural' children.)36 He was buried on 23 November 1795 in St Marylebone, Middlesex, England.36,37
His will was proved on 26 February 1796. This was the will dated 20 October 1795. We have looked closely at this will, the Chancery Court cases of Byrn v. Godfrey (1798) and Godfrey v. Davis (1801) and the Inquisition held at Dorchester in 1799 into the land and effects of John's widow Carolina Matilda, in case they would shed light on the inheritance of the Cree name and how Thornhill House came into the possession of John Cree's nephew John McMahon.
The probate of the 1795 will granted administration of all and singular the Goods Chattels and Credits of the deceased. Thus only the personal estate and not the real esatate was to be administered according to this will. This is confirmed in the case of Byrn v Godfrey which refers to his will, dated the 20th of October, 1795, but which was not executed as is by law required to pass real estates.
The Inquisition held at Dorchester in 1799 into the land and effects of John's widow Carolina Matilda reported that, the said John Cree... did duly make and publish his last Will and Testament in writing bearing date... 16th July 1794... and was duly executed and attested as by Law required for passing and devising real Estates and that the same hath been established in his Majesty's High Court of Chancery...
Although it took some detective work to discover and interpret the various documents, the result is clear. The later, 1795 will was deemed valid for John's personal estate, the Goods Chattels and Credits of the deceased, but was deemed as not executed as is by law required to pass real estates, that is, it was not a valid will for the adminstration of the land and buildings that John Cree held at his death. The test of validity was stricter for real estate than for personal estate. For the real estate the earlier will of 1794 had to be the one that operated as it had been properly signed by John Cree and two witnesses and the 1795 will had not.
The later case of Godfrey v. Davis (1801) is consistent with the above conclusion, as its conclusions were based on the assumption that the 1795 will was valid as far as John's personal estate was concerned.38,39
In 1798 "John Cree Esqr" is named as a proprietor in the parish or tything of Thornhill. Since he had died in 1795 there must be an error in compiling the original document. The estate was probably in the hands of John Cree's executors and trustees. (His namesake and nephew John McMahon/Cree was only 18 and did not start using the surname Cree until about 1815.)40
In 1815, John Cree was also known as John McMahon. This was of course 20 years after his death. College of Arms documents from 1815 are the only ones we have found that apply the name McMahon to John.41