Maxwell, William Hamilton (DNB00)

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MAXWELL, WILLIAM HAMILTON (1792-1850), Irish novelist (1792-1850), born at Newry, co. Down, in 1792 (Register of Matriculations, Trinity College, Dublin), was son of James Maxwell, merchant, a descendant of the Maxwells of Caerlaverock, who had come from Nithsdale to Ireland. His mother was a daughter of William Hamilton, of good family. Maxwell was educated at Dr. Henderson's school, and on 7 Dec. 1807, at the age of fifteen, entered Trinity College, Dublin. Though he wasted his time, he is said to have graduated with some distinction. He is probably identical with the William ‘Henry’ Maxwell who proceeded B.A. in 1812. Maxwell appears to have previously entered the army. According to the ‘Army List’, 1813, ‘Hamilton Maxwell’ obtained a captaincy in the 42nd foot on 14 May 1812. He seems to have subsequently transferred himself to the 88th regiment (Illustrated London News, 25 Jan. 1851; cf. Army List, 1815, p. 659). He was present in the Peninsular campaigns and at Waterloo.

On the disbanding of the forces he returned to Newry and spent some years desultorily, reading, hunting, and shooting. Having anticipated his future income by confirming for ready money certain leases granted by his father as tenant for life, and being baulked in hos expectation of an aunt's fortune by an informality in her will, he applied for a commission in the Spanish service in South America, but the friend who was to have obtained it for him inopportunely died. Shortly afterwards he mended his fortunes by marriage, and took holy orders. In 1820 the Archbishop of Armagh gave him the rectory of Ballagh in Connemara, a place destitute of congregation, but abounding in game. In retirement, at a shooting-lodge at Ballycroy, he wrote his first novel, ‘O’Hara’, which was issued anonymously, and met with no success. He seems to have become unsettled once more; but the Marquis of Sligo, with whom he was on friendly terms, gave him a house rent free to retain him at Ballagh. His ‘Wild Sports of the West’, published in 1832, brought him some reputation as a sporting and military novelist, and earned the praises of Professor Wilson in ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ’ (November 1832) as the work of a true sportsman. He next published his best-known work, ‘Stories from Waterloo’, for which Colburn gave him 300l. Besides contributing to ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’ and the ‘Dublin University Magazine’, Maxwell wrote a variety of sketches and novels, chiefly on sporting and military subjects. He also wrote a ‘Life of the Duke of Wellington’, which was afterwards repeatedly reissued by other hands, sometimes in a condensed form. His ‘History of the Rebellion in 1798’ was avowedly meant as a corrective to Madden’s ‘Lives of United Irishmen’. Maxwell is said to have been deprived of his living in 1844 for non-residence (Cotton). He made no provision for the future, and after spending several years in ill-health and distress he retired to Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, where he died on 29 Dec. 1850.

Maxwell, who was clever and sociable, wrote rapidly, and originated the rollicking style of fiction which reached its height in Lever’s ‘Harry Lorrequer’. In appearance he was tall and good-looking. There is a portrait and a eulogy of him in the ‘Dublin University Magazine’, xviii. 220.

Besides editing the ‘Military and Naval Almanack’ for 1840, and contributing to a volume on ‘Sporting’ (London, 1838) by ‘Nimrod’ (i.e. Charles James Appleby), Maxwell published the following:

  1. ‘O’Hare, or 1798’, an historical novel, 1825.
  2. ‘Wild Sports of the West, with Legendary Tales and Local Sketches’, 2 vols. London, 1832.
  3. ‘The Field Book, or Sports and Pastimes of the United Kingdom’, London, 1833.
  4. ‘Stories of Waterloo’, London, 1834,
  5. ‘The Dark Lady of Doona;’ a novel, London, 1834 (in Leitch Ritchie’s ‘Library of Romance’).
  6. ‘My Life’, a novel in 3 vols., London, 1835, afterwards, in 1838, appearing as ‘The Adventures of Captain Blake’, in 1 vol., of which there were various later editions.
  7. ‘The Bivouac, or Stories of the Peninsular War’, 3 vols., London, 1837.
  8. ‘The Victories of the British Armies’, 2 vols., London, 1839.
  9. ‘Life of the Duke of Wellington’, 3 vols., London, 1839–41.
  10. ‘The Expedition of Major ap Owen to the Lakes of Killarney’, contributed to the ‘Picnic Papers’ by various hands, and edited by C[harles] D[ickens], London, 1841.
  11. ‘Rambling Recollections of a Soldier of Fortune’, Dublin, 1842.
  12. ‘The Fortunes of Hector O’Halloran and His Man, Mark Antony O’Toole’, with illustrations by John Leech, London, 1842–3.
  13. ‘Wanderings in the Highlands and Islands, with Sketches taken on the Scottish Border’, being a sequel to ‘Wild Sports on the West’, 2 vols., London, 1844.
  14. ‘Peninsular Sketches’, by actors on the scene, edited by W. H. Maxwell, 2 vols., London, 1845.
  15. `Hints to a Soldier on Service,' 2 vols., London, 1845.
  16. ‘History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, with Memoirs of the Union and Emmet’s Insirrection in 1803’, London, 1845.
  17. ‘Captain O’Sillivan, or Adventures, Civil, Military, and Matrimonial, by a Gentleman on half-pay’, 3 vols., London, 1846.
  18. ‘Hillside and Border Tales (Sketches), with Legends of the Cheviots and Lammermuir’, 2 cols. London, 1847.
  19. ‘Barry O’Linn, or Luck is Everything’, a novel in 3 vols., London, 1848.
  20. ‘The Irish Movements: their Rise, Progress and certain Termination, with a few broad Hints to Patriots and Pikemen’, London, 1848.
  21. ‘Erin-go-bragh, or Irish Life Pictures’, 2 vols., London, 1859 (edited, with a biographical sketch, by Dr. Maginn).
  22. ‘Terence O’Shaughnessy’s First Attempt to get Married’, published in ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’, and afterwards republished in ‘Tales from Bentley’, London, 1859.

There is no reason to believe that ‘The Hamilton Wedding; a Humourous Poem on the Marriage of Lady Susan’, Lanark, 1833, ascribed to Maxwell in the British Museum Catalogue, is really by him.

[Besides authorities mentioned, see Webb's Compendium of Irish Biog.; Gent. Mag. 1851 pt. i. p. 674; Times 16 Jan. 1851; Globe, 15 Jan. 1851.]

T. B. S.