Claude Maxwell MacDonald

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Colonel The Right Honourable
Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald
Sir Claude MacDonald, c. 1900
Personal details
Born 1852
Clapton, London, England
Died 10 September 1915 (aged 63)
London, England
Education Royal Military College, Sandhurst
Occupation Soldier, Diplomat
MacDonald caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1901

Colonel Sir Claude Maxwell MacDonald GCMG GCVO KCB PC (1852 – September 1915) was a British diplomat, best known for his service in China and Japan.[1]

Early life[edit]

MacDonald was born to a high-ranking officer in the British Army,[2] and was educated at Uppingham School and Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the 74th Foot in 1872. He thought of himself as a 'soldier-outsider', as regards the Foreign Office.


MacDonald’s early career was in Africa. He served in the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War, and served as military attaché to Sir Evelyn Baring from 1884-1885. From 1887 to 1889 he was consul-general at Zanzibar, and then served some years as consul-general at Brass in the West African Oil Rivers Protectorate,[3] where in 1895 he was an observer of the rebellion of King Koko of Nembe.[4] He retired from the British Army in 1896.[2]

China and Korea[edit]

In 1896, MacDonald was appointed British minister to Qing Dynasty Empire of China. He was also simultaneously the British Minister to the Empire of Korea in 1896 through 1898.[5]

In China, MacDonald obtained a lease at Weihaiwei, and obtained railway contracts for British syndicates. He was instrumental in securing the Second Peking Convention, by which China leased to Britain the New Territories of Hong Kong.[3] MacDonald secured a 99-year lease only because he thought 'it was good as forever'.[6] This and the contrasting lease-in-perpetuity of Kowloon created some problems in the negotiations for the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The Macartney-Macdonald Line[edit]

In 1899 MacDonald was the author of a Diplomatic Note which proposed a new demarcation of the border between China and British India in the Karakoram and Kashmir, now known as the Macartney-MacDonald Line, which still forms the basis of the border between China and Pakistan.[7]

As a military man, MacDonald led the defence of the foreign legations in 1900 which were under siege during the Boxer Rebellion, and he worked well with the Anglophile Japanese Colonel Shiba Goro.


MacDonald was appointed Consul-General for the Empire of Japan in October 1900.[8] He presided over the Tokyo Legation in years of harmony between Britain and Japan (1900 to 1912), swapping posts with Sir Ernest Satow who replaced him as Minister in Peking. On 30 January 1902, the first Anglo-Japanese Alliance was signed in London between the Foreign Secretary Lord Lansdowne and Hayashi Tadasu, the Japanese Minister. MacDonald was still in Tokyo when the alliance was renewed in 1905 and 1911. He also became Britain's first ambassador to Japan when the status of the legation was raised to an embassy in 1905.[9]

MacDonald was made a Privy Councillor in 1906. He died in London in 1915.

Selected works[edit]

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Claude MacDonald, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 10+ works in 20+ publications in 2 languages and 300+ library holdings.[10]


In popular culture[edit]

The fictitious character Sir Arthur Robinson in the film 55 Days at Peking (played by David Niven) is somewhat based on Claude Maxwell MacDonald.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nish, Ian. (2004). British Envoys in Japan 1859-1972, pp. 94-102.
  2. ^ a b Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War, p. 214.
  3. ^ a b Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ Sir W. Geary, Nigeria under British Rule (1927), pp. 194-196
  5. ^ Korean Mission to the Conference on the Limitation of Armament, Washington, D.C., 1921-1922. (1922). Korea's Appeal, p. 32., p. 32, at Google Books
  6. ^ Preston, Diana. The Boxer Rebellion. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2000, ISBN 0802713610, pg. 370.
  7. ^ Mohan Guruswamy, Mohan, "The Great India-China Game," Rediff. 23 June 2003.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27263. p. 81. 4 January 1901. Retrieved 03-11-2012.
  9. ^ The first British Ambassador to Japan was appointed in 1905. Before 1905, the senior British diplomat had different titles: (a) Consul-General and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, which is a rank just below Ambassador.
  10. ^ WorldCat Identities: MacDonald, Claude Maxwell Sir 1852-1915
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 27337. p. 4915. 24 July 1901.


External links[edit]