About John Grenfell Maxwell
General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell GCB, KCMG, CVO, DSO, PC (11 July 1859 – 21 February 1929) was a British Army officer and colonial governor. He served in the Mahdist War in the Sudan, the Boer War, and in the First World War, but he is best known for his role in the suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland and subsequent execution of rebellion leaders. He retired in 1922.
Maxwell was born on 11 July 1859 in Liverpool to a family of Scottish Protestant heritage. He attended school at Cheltenham and went on to study at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.
Maxwell received a commission into the British Army in 1879 after he graduated from Sandhurst. 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.
Boer and Great War
He also served during the Boer War where he commanded the 14th Brigade on Lord Roberts' march to Pretoria. He was appointed Military Governor of Pretoria and the Western Transvaal in 1900 and received the KCB and the CMG for his services.
He served on the Western Front in the First World War until he was given command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, with which he successfully held the Suez Canal against Ottoman attack.
He is best known for his role in the suppression and controversial handling of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. After it broke out on 24 April 1916, Martial law was declared for the city and county of Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant Lord Wimborne, to allow court trial of persons breaching the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), passed 8 August 1914 and to deal with such occurrences as the Rising.
Maxwell arrived in Ireland on Friday 28 April as "military governor" with "plenary powers" under Martial law. He set about dealing with the rebellion under his understanding of Martial law. During the week 2–9 May, Maxwell was in sole charge of trials and sentences by "field general court martial", which was trial without defence or jury and in camera. He had 3,400 people arrested, 183 civilians tried, 90 of whom were sentenced to death. Fifteen were shot between 3 and 12 May.
Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and the government were all at once terribly alarmed at the speed and secrecy of events before intervening to stop more executions. In particular great embarrassment ensued due to the failure of applying DORA regulations of general court martial with a full court of thirteen members, a professional judge, legal advocate and held in public, which could have prevented some executions. Maxwell admitted in a report to Asquith in June that the impression that the leaders were killed in cold blood without trial had resulted in a ‘revulsion of feeling‘ that had set in, in favour of the rebels, and was the result of the confusion between applying DORA as opposed to Martial law (which Maxwell actually pressed for himself from the beginning). Although Asquith promised on two occasions to publish the court martial proceedings, they were held suppressed by the British government until the 1990s.
Maxwell was in 1916 assigned to be General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for Northern Command at York. He was promoted in June 1919 to full general and retired in 1922.