Shaw, Sir Eyre Massey (1828–1908), chief of the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade, was born 17 January 1828 at Glenmore Cottage, near Ballymore, Cobh, Co. Cork, third son of Bernard Robert Shaw, merchant, of Shaw's Terrace and later Monkstown Castle, Cork, and his first wife, Rebecca, daughter of Edward Hoare Reeves of Castlekevin and Ballyglissane, Co. Cork. He was a cousin of George Bernard Shaw (qv). Educated in Cork at Dr Coghlan's school, he was a robust and adventurous youth, learning to sail in his father's yacht and in a boat he later owned himself. In July 1843 he entered TCD, aged fifteen, and graduated BA (1848) and subsequently MA (1854). He was originally intended for the church but instead went to sea, working on ships plying the Cork–Quebec timber route. In the early 1850s he spent some time travelling in the USA before joining the North Cork Rifles (January 1855), being commissioned as a lieutenant. He was promoted to captain (September 1857), and left the militia in 1860 on being appointed superintendent of the Belfast borough police in June; he was the last to hold this position and was noted for the impartial way in which he dealt with sectarian disturbances. He was also responsible for the Belfast fire service, which he made great efforts to reorganise.
After the death of the superintendent of the London Fire Brigade, James Birdwood, in the Tooley St. fire of 1861, Shaw was offered the post and resigned from his position in Belfast in August. When a house of commons committee was established in 1865 to address the reorganisation of the service, he was asked to give evidence. Following this committee's findings, the London Metropolitan Fire Brigade was established in January 1866, Shaw becoming its first chief officer. Possessed of great energy, he threw himself into organising the service's administration and personally oversaw the training of firemen. During the day he inspected fire stations, while at night he criss-crossed the city to be present at all fires. He took an active part in firefighting and was injured many times, twice severely. With an average of five fires a day in London, he constantly lobbied government for more funding, and between 1866 and 1890 the service's funding went up from £50,000 to £120,000 a year.
A man of great charm and personality, he became a popular hero and society figure, and was popularly known as ‘the long 'un’ owing to his tall and muscular physique. A friend of the prince of Wales (later Edward VII) and the duke of Sutherland, he often sent them messages summoning them to the scenes of spectacular fires. He was made a CB in 1879.
He achieved some notoriety in 1886 when he was named as a co-respondent in the Campbell divorce case. The case became a sensation, reported in salacious detail in the press, and Shaw was among those accused by Lord Colin Campbell of conducting affairs with his wife; the marquess of Blandford (later duke of Malborough), Gen. Sir William Butler (qv), and Thomas Bird, Lady Campbell's physician, were also accused. The main evidence against Shaw was provided by household servants, but the case against him and the other co-respondents collapsed due to the lack of reliable witnesses.
He retired in 1891 and was made a KCB, receiving the freedom of the city of London in 1892. In retirement he served as managing director of the Palatine Insurance Company and was chairman of the Metropolitan Electric Company. He was DL for Middlesex. In later life he suffered from severe ill health, both legs being amputated because of thrombosis. He died 25 August 1908 of heart failure at Folkestone, Kent. His remains were returned to his London residence, 114 Belgrave Road, and were escorted to Highgate cemetery by a party of firemen. Additional firemen formed a guard of honour in the cemetery, and his funeral was attended by a large crowd.
During his career he wrote several works on firefighting, including Fire surveys: a summary of the principles to be observed in estimating the risks of buildings (1872), Fires in theatres (1876), and Fire protection (1877). In 1871 a caricature by ‘Ape’ was published in Vanity Fair, and in 1882 Gilbert and Sullivan included a reference to him in a song in Iolanthe. A Thames fire tender was later named the Massey Shaw and took part in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, and the London Fire Brigade Museum has a collection of material relating to him.
He married (1855) at Tormoham church, Torquay, Anna Maria, daughter of Mordecai (‘Murto’) Dove of Lisbon; they had four sons and two daughters. Anna Maria Shaw became a figure of much affection among London firemen, being noted for her charitable work and organisation of social events for their wives and children.