Lecky, John (1764–1839), merchant, banker, and shipowner, was born in Cork on 27 September 1764, the eldest son among five children of Robert Lecky (1737–1772) and his wife Margaret, a daughter of Thomas Harvey of Springfield, near Youghal, Co. Cork. Following the death of his father, he was adopted at eight years old by his maternal uncle, Francis Harvey, merchant and freeman of Cork, and his wife Abigail. He was apprenticed in Cork with James and Edward Hatton, merchants, but was caught taking money from the till. The local quaker society decided against disowning him on account of his youth. He worked then as a trader in Youghal, being admitted a freeman of the town in 1788.
His uncle died in 1791, and John Lecky moved to Cork soon after to become a partner in the merchant business, Harvey & Lecky, with his uncle's widow Abigail, who died in 1808. During this period, he was also in partnership with another Cork trader. His participation in 1794 in a gathering of quakers in London as a delegate on behalf of the Cork society indicates that was a respected member of his local religious community. In 1796 he married Susanna Jacob, the daughter of Joseph Jacob, a ship broker and shipping agent of Waterford. They had five daughters and a son and settled in Queen’s Street, Cork.
In 1801 he formed a banking partnership with George Newenham (qv) of Summerhill in Cork, himself the son of a merchant, and his son George. Both Lecky and George Newenham sen. shared a love of astronomy that would be passed on to Lecky's son, Robert John Lecky (see below). The Newenhams’s wealth was critical to the credibility of this venture, but they relied on Lecky to run the bank, which was located at Patrick Street and prudently managed, mainly issuing notes in small denominations. The operation was small enough to allow for Lecky’s engagement in other commercial activities. By 1810 he was in a shipping partnership with Jacob Mark on Charlotte Quay, which grew over time into a substantial operation. He was also involved in the establishment of the Commercial Buildings Co. (1809), which provided a meeting place for Cork merchants, and of the Cork harbour commissioners (1813). Having survived the 1820 banking crisis, the Newenham’s bank was wound down in 1821 with all creditors being paid.
In 1819 John Lecky's daughter Hannah married Joseph Robinson Pim (qv) of the wealthy Dublin merchant family and thus secured a vital mercantile connection. For many quakers in the shipping industry, insurance was a natural spin-off, and Lecky became a founding shareholder, as well as Cork agent, for the Patriotic Assurance Co. founded by Pim in 1824. In addition to this he also purchased fifteen shares of £100 stock of the St George Steam Packet Co., which was also founded in 1824 by Pim. The firm was based in Cork, and Lecky played a large role in its day-to-day management, particularly in the beginning when the St George Steam Packet Co. operated from the offices of Lecky & Mark at Charlotte Quay. The inaugural notice announcing the launch of the new company's first two steamers, Lee and Severn, bore his name at the bottom as the agent of the Patriotic Assurance Co. and a partner in Lecky & Mark. Given that Joseph Robinson Pim was based in Dublin, Lecky was deeply involved in the running of the St George Steam Packet Co. until his death in Cork on 11 May 1839.
Apart from careers in the mercantile, banking, and shipping business, he possessed a keen interest in astronomy and started a collection of instruments continued by his son and grandson. In 1824 he signed an anti-slavery petition sent by the Irish quakers to the house of commons in London and assisted Thomas Crofton Croker (qv) on the Youghal section of the proposed second edition of Croker's history of southern Ireland.
His son, Robert John Lecky (1809–97), shipbuilder and engineer, was born 25 March 1809 in Cork and educated at Ballitore School, Co. Kildare. Correspondence between Robert John and his father while at Ballitore show that he inherited his father's passion for astronomy and was also keenly interested in science and engineering. On leaving school he was apprenticed to Lecky & Mark, and immersed himself in all facets of the shipping business. He later purchased shares in the St George Steam Packet Co. and took over his father's position as Cork agent of the Patriotic Assurance Co. He subsequently went into partnership with his brother-in-law James Beale (qv), who strongly promoted steam navigation across the Atlantic. Beale was a shareholder in the St George Steam Packet Co., which chartered the Sirius, the first Irish steamship to sail across the Atlantic. Lecky was further connected to those promoting steam navigation through his brother-in-law, Joseph Robinson Pim, the registered owner of the vessel. In the 1840s Lecky and Beale founded R. J. Lecky & Co., shipbuilders, and he went on to develop his talent for designing and manufacturing steamers made from iron.
The first ship designed and built by Lecky was launched 4 May 1844. A seventy-foot (21.3 m) iron craft for use on the River Blackwater, she was built for Sir Richard Musgrave of Cork. In the same year he became the first Cork shipbuilder to manufacture an iron cutter, launching on 17 September a forty-five-foot (13.7 m) iron yacht, Charm, for Thomas Pim (qv) of Dublin. After the St George Steam Co. was amalgamated into the City of Cork Steam Co. he received commissions for several vessels. Rattler, the first iron screw steamer, was launched 28 March 1846 and pioneered the use of the propeller for propulsion. The first cross-channel iron steamer was also built at his yards for the City of Cork Steamship Co. Launched 26 May 1846, Blarney was 140 ft (42.7 m) long, weighed 257 tons, and cost £6,000 to build. His was also the first yard in Ireland or Great Britain to manufacture a double dredger when he completed the Lee for Cork harbour commissioners. In 1855 he took over a slate quarry on Valentia Island. By 1856 the yard had been incorporated into that of Ebenezer Pike (qv) (1806–83), founder of the City of Cork Steamship Co.
Keenly interested in astronomy, he built an observatory in Cork to aid his studies. He married Mary Newson, and they had four daughter and one son. After Mary’s death, he married Sarah Maria White. He lived at Cork and later in Ladbroke Road, London, where he died 11 November 1897.