Dunville, John (1866–1929), balloonist, was born 20 October 1866 in Redburn, near Holywood, Co. Down, the son of Robert Grimshaw Dunville, a noted Belfast distiller, and Janie Dunville (née Chassie). He was heavily involved in sport as an enthusiastic cross-country rider and a skilful polo player. While studying at Trinity College, Cambridge, he was master of the Cambridge staghounds (1886–7), and he was later master of the Meath hounds between 1911 and 1915. On leaving college in 1890, graduating with an MA, he was appointed private secretary to the marquess of Hartington (qv) (from 1891 duke of Devonshire), who was the founder of the Liberal Unionist Party. Dunville held this position until the death of the marquess in 1908. He was also a lieutenant-colonel in the 5th battalion the Leinster regiment (the old Meath militia). While working in politics he also retained control of the family business as chairman of Dunville & Co. Ltd.
Dunville became very much interested and involved in ballooning in the early years of the century, despite the fact that his first flight in 1906 ended with his landing in a tree. He became prominent as a daring aeronaut, setting many records. In September 1907 he won the Northcliffe Cup, awarded to the British aeronaut who made the longest journey of the year, by flying 200 miles from London to Wales. In 1908 he flew to France with his wife and two other passengers, becoming the first balloonist to cross the English Channel carrying three passengers. Later that year he was, controversially, runner-up in the Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett – the winning balloon profited by being towed a considerable distance by a ship – but again won the Northcliffe Cup. He also flew from Dublin to Macclesfield in 1910, reaching astonishing heights of up to 10,000 feet.
Before the first world war Dunville trained as a pilot, and in March 1915 he joined the Royal Naval Air Service as a flight-lieutenant. In 1917 he was promoted to the rank of wing commander with responsibility for no. 1 balloon training wing, Roehampton, commanding 450 officers and 2,000 enlisted men. He transferred to the RAF in 1918 and was awarded the CBE in 1919 when he was demobilised. He helped establish the reserve squadron of the RAF in Belfast. A deputy lieutenant of Co. Down, he was also commandant of the special constabulary force in Belfast during the 1919–21 troubles.
He married Violet Anne Lambart, the fifth daughter of Gustavus William Lambart, DL, of Beau Parc, Co. Meath, with whom he had four children. The family lived at 46 Portland Place, London, attended by twelve servants: a butler, two footmen, a lady's maid, a cook, two nurses, two housemaids, two kitchen maids, and a hall boy. The couple's second son, Lieut. John Spencer Dunville, was killed in France in 1917 and was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. Their eldest son, Robert, was shot by republicans during the 1916 rising; though he survived, he never fully recovered from his injuries and he died aged thirty-eight. Dunville had residences in Down and Meath as well as London. He died 10 June 1929 at his London home in Portland Place.