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British headquarters staff Egypt 1915

General Sir John Grenfell MaxwellGCBKCMGCVODSOPC (11 July 1859 – 21 February 1929) was a British Army officer and colonial governor. He served in the Mahdist War in the Sudan, the Second Boer War, and in the First World War, but he is best known for ordering the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. He retired in 1922.


Early life

Maxwell was born at Aigburth, Liverpool, on 11 July 1859 to a family of Scottish Protestant heritage.[1] He attended school at Cheltenham College, studied at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, from 1878, and was commissioned into the 42nd foot (Royal Highlanders) in 1879.[2][3]

Military career

In 1882 Maxwell was part of Wolseley's expeditionary force to Egypt, he rose to captaincy and served with the famous Black Watch in the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882. For his part in the storming of the rebel fortifications at Tel-El-Kabir, he won his first decoration, medal and Khedive's star. He was first mentioned in despatches as an assistant provost-marshal and as camp commandant during his campaign with the Nile expedition in 1884 and 1885. He played an active role with the Egyptian frontier forces and won a Distinguished Service Order in the engagement at Giniss, he was also present in the battle at Bemazaih in 1888 where he was made brevet lieutenant colonel. 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.[4][5]

Boer War and First World War

Maxwell served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899–1902). He departed Southampton in the SS Mexican in February 1900,[6] and arrived in Cape Town the following month to take up a staff appointment as a special service officer.[7] He commanded the 14th Brigade on Lord Roberts' march to Pretoria, and after the successful occupation of that city was appointed Military Governor of Pretoria and the Western Transvaal in 1900, serving as such until March 1902, when he relinquished the office to allow for gradual extension of civilian rule.[8] As governor he filled a difficult post "with great tact and ability ... gained the confidence and esteem of the general public" according to a contemporary news report.[8] After leaving Pretoria he held a command in the Western district, before returning to the United Kingdom in July 1902,[9] following the end of the war the previous month. In his final despatch from South Africa in June 1902, Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief of the forces during the latter part of the war, described Maxwell as an officer with "an energetic mind, and a sound judgment, which, coupled with his kindly and considerate disposition, have enabled him to render valuable service".[10]He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for his services in South Africa.[11]

After his return, Maxwell was appointed Chief Staff Officer of the Third Army Corps stationed in Ireland,[12] with the temporary rank of Brigadier General on the Staff. As such he was based at army headquarters at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham from September 1902 until 1904.[13] 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 the Ottoman Raid on the Suez Canal.[14]



Maxwell married in 1892 Louise Selina Bonynge, daughter of Charles Bonynge, and had one daughter.[25]


  1. Harvie, Christopher (2008). A floating commonwealth: politics, culture, and technology on Britain's Atlantic coast, 1860–1930. Oxford University Press. p. 243. 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. Watteville, H. de . (2004). "Maxwell, Sir John Grenfell (1859–1929)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 6 September 2015. (Subscription required (help)).
  4. "Sir J. maxwell, soldier hero of britain, dead". New York Herald Tribune (1926–1962). 22 February 1929. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  5. "General Sir John Maxwell". The Irish Times. 14 July 1926. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  6. "The War - Embarcation of Troops". The Times (36075). London. 26 February 1900. p. 10.
  7. "The War - Appointments". The Times (36076). London. 27 February 1900. p. 7.
  8. "Latest intelligence – The War – The Transvaal". The Times (36720). London. 20 March 1902. p. 5.
  9. "The Army in South Africa - Troops returning home". The Times (36821). London. 16 July 1902. p. 11.
  10. "No. 27459"The London Gazette. 29 July 1902. pp. 4835–4836.
  11. "No. 27306"The London Gazette. 19 April 1901. pp. 2695–2696.
  12. "Naval & Military intelligence". The Times (36866). London. 6 September 1902. p. 8.
  13. General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell,
  14. "John Maxwell". First World War. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  15. Hardiman, Adrian (2007). Shot in cold blood": Military law and Irish perceptions in the suppression of the 1916 Rebellion, in "1916, The Long Revolution",. Mercier Press. p. 237. ISBN 978-1-85635-545-2.
  16. Hardiman (2007), p. 225.
  17. Hardiman (2007), pp. 225–226.
  18. Hardiman (2007), pp. 240, 244.
  19. "The secret court martial records of the Easter Rising". The History Press. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  20. Princeton University Archived 6 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  21. "Why is Sir John Maxwell interred at York Minster?". 19 April 2016. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  22. "General Maxwell Dies at Cape Town". The New York Times. 22 February 1929. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  23. "Medals of General who suppressed 1916 rising sold". The Irish Times. 28 May 2011. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  24. "Sir John Maxwell". The Manchester Guardian. 16 March 1929. Retrieved 27 June 2015.
  25. "General, Sir John Grenfell Maxwell PC GCB KCMG CVO DSO 1859-1929". Maxwell Society. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
Military offices
Preceded byGeorge Bullock General Officer Commandingthe British Troops in Egypt1908–1912 Succeeded byJulian Byng
Preceded byJulian Byng General Officer Commanding the British Troops in Egypt1914–1915 Succeeded bySir Charles Monro
Preceded bySir Lovick Friend Commander-in-Chief, IrelandApril 1916 – November 1916 Succeeded bySir Bryan Mahon
Preceded bySir Henry Lawson GOC-in-C Northern Command1916–1919 Succeeded bySir Ivor Maxse

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