Maxwell, William Edward (DNB01)

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MAXWELL, Sir WILLIAM EDWARD (1846–1897), governor of the Gold Coast, was born in 1846.

His father, Sir Peter Benson Maxwell (1817–1893), chief justice of the Straits Settlements, born at Cheltenham in January 1817, was the fourth son of Peter Benson Maxwell of Birdstown, co. Donegal. He was educated at Paris and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B. A. in 1839. He entered the Inner Temple on 14 Nov. 1838, removed to the Middle Temple on 16 Nov. 1840, and was called to the bar on 19 Nov. 1841. He was recorder of Penang from February 1856 to 1866, and recorder of Singapore from 27 July 1866 to 1871. From 1867 to 1871 he was chief justice of the Straits Settlements, and in 1883 and 1884 he was employed in reorganising the judicial tribunals of Egypt. He was knighted at Buckingham Palace on 30 Jan. 1856, and died in France at Grasse, in the department of Alpes-Maritimes, on 14 Jan. 1893. He married, in July 1842, Frances Dorothea, only daughter of Francis Synge of Glanmore Castle, co. Wicklow. He was the author of two legal works of some importance:

  1. 'An Introduction to the Duties of Police Magistrates in the Settlement of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore, and Malacca,' Penang, 1866, 8vo.
  2. 'On the Interpretation of Statutes,' London, 1875, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1883

(Times, 18 Jan. 1893; Boase, Modern Biogr. 1897; Foster, Men at the Bar, 1885; Foster, Baronetage and Knightage).

His younger son, William Edward, entered Repton in 1860, and was employed from 1865 to 1869 in the supreme court at Penang and Singapore. In 1867 he qualified as an advocate at the local bar, and in September 1869 he was appointed a police magistrate and commissioner of the court of requests at Penang. In February 1870 he was placed in the same offices in Malacca, in August 1871 at Singapore, and in 1872 in Province Wellesley. In May 1874 he was nominated a temporary judge of the supreme court of Penang. In September he was appointed assistant government agent for Province Wellesley, and in November 1875 he accompanied, as deputy commissioner the Larut field force, which punished the murderers of James Wheeler Woodford Birch, the British resident at Perak. For his services he was mentioned in the despatches and received a medal. In February 1878 he became assistant resident in Perak and a member of the state council. In 1881 he was called to the bar by the Society of the Inner Temple, and in the following year he was commissioned to visit the Australian colonies and report on the Torrens land registration system [see Torrens, Sir Robert Richard]. On returning to the Straits Settlements he became commissioner of land titles, and in 1883 was gazetted a member of the executive and legislative councils. In 1884 he was employed by the foreign office on a mission to the west coast of Atchin to obtain the release of the survivors of the British ship Nisero, who had been in captivity for ten months. He was successful in his task, received the thanks of government, and was created C.M.G. From 1884 to 1889 he was acting resident councillor at Penang, and in 1889 British resident at Selangor. In 1892 he was nominated colonial secretary of the Straits Settlements, and from September 1893 till January 1895 he was acting governor. In March 1895 he was nominated governor of the Gold Coast. He found the colony on the brink of a war with the Ashantis, who made frequent slave raids, and refused to pay the balance of the war indemnity due to the British government. On 17 Jan. 1898 an expedition under Sir Francis Scott entered Kumassi without resistance, and made prisoner the Ashanti king, Prempeh. Maxwell, who was nominated K.C.M.G. in 1896, visited England in the summer, and addressed large meetings at Liverpool and Manchester on the future of the Gold Coast and Ashanti, returning to the Gold Coast in October. He died at sea off Grand Canary on 10 Dec. 1897. In 1870 he married Lilias, daughter of James Aberigh-Mackay, chaplain in the Indian service.

[Times, 16 Dec. 1896; Pall Mall Gazette, 8 Jan. 1901; Colonial Office Lists; Burke's Peerage; Baden-Powell's Downfall of Prempeh, 1896.]

E. I. C.