James Maxwell (British Marines officer)

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James Maxwell (died 1792) was an officer in the British Marines and member of Australia's First Fleet which established a penal colony in New South Wales in 1788.

A long-serving Marine officer prior to joining the Fleet, Maxwell arrived in the colony and served there for some 6 months but was incapacitated by a combination of dysentery and a disease of the optic nerves. He was invalided back to England in July 1788 and died in Stonehouse, Plymouth in 1792.

Military service[edit]

Maxwell joined the Plymouth Company of the British Marines and was commissioned 2nd lieutenant of the 36th Company on 16th February 1776. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant of 94th (Plymouth) two years later, on 11th April 1778 (per Adm 192/3 p12).[1]

Voyage to Australia[edit]

The NSW Marines were established in late 1786 to preserve "subordination and regularity" in the proposed penal colony in Botany Bay, Australia[2] In March 1787 Marine 1st Lieut Jas Maxwell was disembarked from HMS Rose as a late replacement on the transport Scarborough for NSW Marine Lieut Jas Morrison who had repeatedly absented himself from duty without permission (per Letter from Secretary Stephens to Lieut-Gen Smith of the Admiralty office 26 Mar 1787). According to John Moore's book "The First Fleet Marines: 1786-1792" Maxwell embarked for Australia aboard First Fleet convict transport Lady Penrhyn on 12 May 1787.[1], however this is an error, as colonial documentation places him departing on Scarborough. As the oldest lieutenant and the longest serving at that rank, he was listed first among his peers in the returns of Marine officers aboard the Fleet.[3] During the voyage to Botany Bay Maxwell was transferred first to Prince of Wales then on 19th Oct 1787 to Charlotte. In the Journal of Ralph Clarke, Maxwell was recorded on Prince of Wales, 3rd September "Then ther is old Maxwell who is drinking himself to death as fast as he well can..." It was not long after this that Maxwell was ordered aboard Charlotte in exchange for Lieutenant John Creswell of 64th (Plymouth).

The voyage posed difficulties for Maxwell in enforcing discipline among the Marines. On 24 June 1787 he was aboard the transport ship Prince of Wales when he was greeted with insolence and disobedience by Marine privates Arthur Dougherty and Robert Ryan.[a][b] Maxwell had both men arrested and taken to Fleet flagship HMS Sirius. A court martial was convened on the following day; it acquitted Dougherty but sentenced Ryan to 300 lashes, delivered immediately.[7] Two weeks later, Maxwell arrested Marine Sergeant John Kennedy from Prince of Wales, who was so drunk on duty that he fell through an open hatchway and injured the wife of another Marine.[7] Kennedy was held in legcuffs for three weeks, then court martialled and transferred to the Alexander - a hardship post as that vessel suffered from fever, overcrowding and an overflowing bilge.[8][9]

In July 1788 Maxwell requested his return to England due to problems with eyesight. Along with 2nd Lieut Wm Collins, Maxwell was invalided home to England from Port Jackson on Alexander 14 Jul 1788.(per Letters to Secretary Stephens, 9 Jul 1788 - HR NSW Vol II p144-5, 194)

There is some conjecture over the death of Maxwell. On one hand there is a confused Obituary of a Jas Maxwell who died on 2 March 1792 at the Marine barracks Stonehouse, Plymouth which contains details of both the Jas Maxwell who served as a Lieutenant for 9 years in HM Marine forces and "assisted in the forming of the settlement established at Botany Bay", but also information on a Maxwell who had twice circumnavigated the globe with Captain Cook. There was no Marine Maxwell on Cook's voyages but there was an Able Seaman Maxwell on the 2nd voyage. On the other hand, a Marine Lieut James Maxwell was promoted Captain on 1st March 1797, and subsequently reduced to half pay on 1 July 1803 (per Adm 192/4 p52). It's likely that the latter is a similarly named Marine and the Jas Maxwell who died in Stonehouse is the correct one, as Maxwell's record doesn't appear to indicate suitability for promotion to Captain. The will of Maxwell was proved to a brother Richard, "Gentleman" of Dublin, indicating Jas Maxwell was possibly also born in Dublin.



  1. ^ Arthur Dougherty, Marine private, enlisted in 1787 and travelled to NSW with his wife Judith. Both were inveterate drunkards and were jailed for six days each in Port Jackson as a consequence of insolence and incompetence during the voyage to Australia. Upon release Dougherty was attached to Captain Meredith's company. He completed his enlistment and returned to England on HMS Gorgon in 1791. Judith accompanied him but died on the voyage home.[4][5]
  2. ^ Robert Ryan, Marine private, enlisted in 1787 and assigned to Captain Shea's company in Port Jackson. In February 1788 he took a convict wife, Frances Williams, who was serving a life sentence for theft. They had one daughter. On expiry of his enlistment in 1791, Ryan chose to remain in Australia as a settler on Norfolk Island.[6]


  1. ^ a b Moore 1987, p. 298
  2. ^ Correspondence from Lord Sydney to the Lords Commissioners of Treasury, 18 August 1786. Cited in Britton 1978, p. 14
  3. ^ Return by Major Robert Ross, Commanding officer, NSW Marine Corps, 20 May 1787. Cited in Britton 1978, p.106
  4. ^ Moore 1987, p.174
  5. ^ Chapman 1986, p.80
  6. ^ Chapman 1986, p.160
  7. ^ a b Moore 1987, p. 55
  8. ^ Moore 1987, p.60
  9. ^ Hill 2009, p.104


  • Britton, Alex R., ed. (1978). Historical records of New South Wales. Vol. 1, part 2. Phillip, 1783-1792. Lansdown Slattery & Co. p. 56. OCLC 219911274. 
  • Chapman, Don (1986). 1788: The People of the First Fleet. Doubleday Australia. ISBN 0868242659. 
  • Hill, David (2009). 1788. Random House Australia. ISBN 9781741668001. 
  • Moore, John (1989). The First Fleet Marines. University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0702220655. 
  • Gillen, Mollie (1989). The Founders of Australia. Library of Australian History. ISBN 0908120699.