John Maxwell (British Army officer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Sir John Maxwell
British headquarters staff Egypt 1915.jpg
Staff officers at Sir John Maxwell's Headquarters: Maxwell is on the right
Born 11 July 1859
Liverpool, England
Died 1929 (aged 69)
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Rank General
Unit Second Boer War
First World War
Commands held British Troops in Egypt
Northern Command
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George
Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
Distinguished Service Order
Order of Osminieh

General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell GCB, KCMG, CVO, DSO, PC (11 July 1859 – 21 February 1929) was a British Army officer and colonial governor. He served in the Mahdist War in the Sudan, the Boer War, and in the First World War, but he is best known for his role in the suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and subsequent execution of rebellion leaders. He retired in 1922.

Early life[edit]

Maxwell was born on 11 July 1859 in Liverpool to a family of Scottish Protestant heritage.[1] He attended school at Cheltenham and went on to study at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[2]

Military career[edit]

Maxwell received a commission into the British Army in 1879 after he graduated from Sandhurst.[3] He served in the Battle of Omdurman leading the 2nd Brigade. He personally led the march on the Khalifa's palace. In 1897 he was appointed Governor of Nubia and in 1898 was appointed Governor of Omdurman.

Boer and Great War[edit]

Maxwell served during the Boer War (1899-1902) where he commanded the 14th Brigade on Lord Roberts' march to Pretoria. He was appointed Military Governor of Pretoria and the Western Transvaal in 1900, and served as such until March 1902, when he relinquished the office to allow for gradual extension of civilian rule.[4] As governor he filled a difficult post "with great tact and ability ... gained the confidence and esteem of the general public",[4] and received the KCB and the CMG for his services. He became General Officer Commanding British Troops in Egypt in 1908 and was then deployed on the Western Front in the First World War until he returned to his role as General Officer Commanding British Troops in Egypt in late 1914 and, in that capacity, successfully held the Suez Canal against Ottoman attack.[3]

Easter Rising[edit]

Maxwell is best known for his role in the suppression and controversial handling of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. After it broke out on 24 April 1916, Martial law was declared for the city and county of Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant Lord Wimborne, to allow court trial of persons breaching the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), passed 8 August 1914 and to deal with such occurrences as the Rising.[5]

Maxwell arrived in Ireland on Friday 28 April as "military governor" with "plenary powers" under Martial law. He set about dealing with the rebellion under his understanding of Martial law. During the week 2–9 May, Maxwell was in sole charge of trials and sentences by "field general court martial", which was trial without defence or jury and in camera. He had 3,400 people arrested, 183 civilians tried, 90 of whom were sentenced to death. Fifteen were shot between 3 and 12 May.[5]

Prime Minister H.H. Asquith and his government became concerned at the speed and secrecy of events before intervening to stop more executions. In particular, there was concern that DORA regulations of general court martial were not applied, with a full court of thirteen members, a professional judge, legal advocate and held in public, which could have prevented some executions. Maxwell admitted in a report to Asquith in June that the impression that the leaders were killed in cold blood without trial had resulted in a ‘revulsion of feeling‘ that had set in, in favour of the rebels, and was the result of the confusion between applying DORA as opposed to Martial law (which Maxwell actually pressed for himself from the beginning).[5] Although Asquith promised to publish the court martial proceedings, they were not published until the 1990s.[5]


Memorial to General Sir John Maxwell and Louise Selina Maxwell in the crypt at York Minster

In 1916 Maxwell was assigned to be General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Northern Command at York.[6] He was promoted in June 1919 to full general and he retired in 1922. He died on 21 February 1929 and his memorial is in the crypt of York Minster.


Maxwell married in 1892 Louise Selina Bonynge, daughter of Charles Bonynge, and had one daughter.


 United Kingdom Decorations

Most Honourable Order of the Bath

  • Knight Commander (KCB) 29 November 1900, in recognition of services in connection with the Campaign in South Africa 1899-1900[7]
  • Knight Grand Cross (GCB) 1916

Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George

  • Companion (CMG) 1902
  • Knight Commander (KCMG) 1915

Royal Victorian Order

  • Commander (CVO) 1903

Distinguished Service Order (DSO) 1886


  1. ^ Harvie, Christopher (2008). A floating commonwealth: politics, culture, and technology on Britain's Atlantic coast, 1860-1930. Oxford University Press. p. 343. ISBN 978-0-19-822783-0. 
  2. ^ World War I: A - D., Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. 2005. p. 763. ISBN 978-1-85109-420-2. 
  3. ^ a b Profile
  4. ^ a b "Latest intelligence - The War - The Transvaal" The Times (London). Thursday, 20 March 1902. (36720), p. 5.
  5. ^ a b c d "Shot in cold blood": Military law and Irish perceptions in the suppression of the 1916 Rebellion, in "1916, The Long Revolution", Adrian Hardiman, pp. 225-249, Mercier Press (2007), ISBN 978-1-85635-545-2
  6. ^ Princeton University
  7. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27306. p. 2695. 19 April 1901.

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
George Bullock
General Officer Commanding the British Troops in Egypt
Succeeded by
Julian Byng
Preceded by
Julian Byng
General Officer Commanding the British Troops in Egypt
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Monro
Preceded by
Sir Lovick Friend
Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
April 1916–November 1916
Succeeded by
Sir Bryan Mahon
Preceded by
Sir Henry Lawson
GOC-in-C Northern Command
Succeeded by
Sir Ivor Maxse