These are stories about Maxwells that do not fit into any particular category or slot. They are not whole biographies, but incidents from the lives of Maxwells that are of interest to students of the name.
Australia’s First Maxwells
The first Maxwells to make an Australian land fall, were two officers who sailed from England with the First Fleet on the 13th May 1787, bound for Botany Bay. The First Fleet was a rag-tag group of ships comprising of two Navy vessels and nine transports laden with convicts and supplies. It was sent to establish a British colony at New South Wales. Commanded by Captain Arthur Phillip on the flagship HMS Sirius, the First Fleet served to relieve Britain’s crowded jails and to further her strategic and trading interests in the part of the world first charted by Captain James Cook.
The first of these ‘Australian’ Maxwells we shall deal with was George William Maxwell, 3rd Lieutenant on HMS Sirius. He was widely regarded as a tough officer, older and more experiences than both the 1st and 2nd Lieutenants he was perhaps scornful of their faster promotions. He was not altogether happy with the more relaxed manners of Captain Phillip’s command. The Captain of the Sirius, Captain Hunter, was also an enlighten sailor, who had changed the traditional two watches to a three watch system which did nothing to impress the sea hardened Maxwell. He is reported to have flogged several members of the crew which brought a sharp reprimand from Captain Phillip. However, the journey to Australia was largely uneventful and the Sirius with the other ships of the first fleet sailed from Port Jackson early in January 1788.
It is thought that Maxwell had suffered from sun-stroke during the time of the establishment of the settlement at Sydney cove. By October 1788 the new colony began to run short of supplies and the crops had failed in the poor soil around the settlement. HMS Sirius under the command of Captain Hunter was ordered on a replenishment voyage to Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa. Captain Hunter made the controversial decision to take the longer eastern, rather than the western route to Cape Town, across the Southern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This decision would be vindicated by the Sirius’s arrival in Cape Town in only ninety-one days.
On the voyage across the Southern Pacific, Lieutenant Maxwell began to show increasing signs of mental disturbance. One day, Maxwell ordered all sails to be set despite the strong wind. Unable to contradict the Lieutenant, the crew obeyed. The ship heeled over so much that it tipped Captain Hunter out of his bunk. Rushing to the deck dressed in only his shirt, he demanded to know what Maxwell was doing, presumably in a tone that was somewhat stronger than polite inquiry. On receiving Maxwell’s garbled answer about ‘a set of damned rascals’, the Captain ordered another officer to take the watch. The Sirius returned to Sydney Cove with the much needed supplies after an arduous voyage early in May 1789
By December 1789 the gradual decline of Lieutenant
Maxwell’s intellectual facilities had reached such a point that he was
declared insane by three of naval surgeons who accompanied the fleet. He was
relieved of his duties and housed in a hut in the Hospital garden at Sydney Cove
with someone to attend him. The Sirius crew, no longer under threat from
his madness, followed his behaviour with interest. A seaman, Nagle, reports that
Maxwell, receiving seventy guineas from England,
... Lt. Maxwell got hold of a hoe and buried them singly all over the garden, saying he would have a good crop of guineas the next year. When the doctors discovered what he had done, they endeavored to find them, but the garden being dug, they could not find one third of them ...
In April 1790, with the
colony’s food shortages at crisis point, Maxwell, was found alone in a small
boat at Middle Head, he had spent nearly two days, without food or water, rowing
continuously from one side of the harbour to the other. He was brought back to
the hospital and kept under closer security. He was eventually embarked on the Waaksamheid
with the remainder of his former ship mates from the Sirius
(which had been wrecked on Norfolk Island a year earlier) to return to England
in March 1791, but died at sea within a few weeks of sailing. George William
Maxwell was not married, but is believed to have been betrothed to his cousin,
Jane Maxwell of Dulwich, who was appointed executrix and benefactor of his will.
The other Maxwell who
sailed with the first fleet was, James Maxwell, 1st Lieutenant of
Marines. James Maxwell, an Irish gentleman, was first commissioned in the Royal
Marines in 1776. He started out for Botany Bay in command of the contingent of
Marines on the transport ship Scarborough
but shortly was transferred to the Prince of Wales.
It is recorded that Lt. Maxwell ‘was drinking himself to death as fast as he
could’ on the outward voyage. He was ordered to transfer to the Charlotte
whilst the fleet were at Cape Town in October 1787. Only five months after
landing on Australian shores, James Maxwell requested leave to return to
England, because of problems with his eyesight. He shipped out of Port Jackson
on 14th July 1788 on the Alexander
returning to England early in 1789. He is reported to have died at the Marine
Barracks at Plymouth on 2nd March 1792 leaving his worldly goods to his brother
Richard Maxwell of Dublin.
These fate of these first
Maxwells in Australia reflect the harsh conditions that the original colony was
founded under. Although they went there as members of the privileged class of
officers, their fate, would appear to have been as hard as that of the convicts
they took to those far off shores. Other Maxwells followed both as settlers and
convicts in the years that followed, but none of their descendents can claim to
‘honour’ of being ‘First Fleeters’.
New Zealand's First Maxwell
An able seaman by the name of James Maxwell, may have been the first Maxwell to walk on the shores of New Zealand. Maxwell, a twenty-one year old, shipped as a seaman on board the Resolution on Captain James Cook’s second voyage of discovery in the Pacific Ocean (1772-75) He was said to have had a poor reputation and his experiences have never been recorded.
Confederate Saboteur 9th August, 1864
City Point was a quiet Virginia hamlet until the last 10 months of the Civil War, when it became headquarters for Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Starting in June 1864, City Point, located at the junction of the James and Appomattox Rivers, was transformed into one of the world's busiest seaports. Huge wharves and warehouses were built to service the more than 200 vessels that daily arrived from the North, and a railroad was repaired and extended to carry materiel to the Union army at Petersburg.
Shortly after noon on August 9, 1864, City Point erupted in a tremendous explosion that destroyed over $2 million worth of property, killing or wounding more than 300 people. It barely missed injuring Grant, who at the time was sitting outside his headquarters tent on a high bluff above the depot. "Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell", Grant reported to Washington. A member of his staff related the effects of the explosion: "Such a rain of shot, shell, bullets, pieces of wood, iron bars and bolts, chains and missiles of every kind was never before witnessed." An ordnance officer surveyed the damage to his depot: "From the top of the bluff there lay before me a staggering scene, a mass of overthrown buildings, their timbers tangled into almost impenetrable heaps. In the water were wrecked and sunken barges."
It soon became apparent that an ammunition barge loaded with 20,000 to 30,000 artillery rounds and more than 75,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition- had exploded. It was only after the war, however, that Confederate archives revealed the cause of the explosion. Captain John Maxwell, a Rebel saboteur, had penetrated the Union lines at City Point and had placed a "horological torpedo"- a time bomb made of a candle box packed with 12 pounds of gunpowder, a percussion cap, and a clockwork mechanism- upon the barge. Maxwell was "terribly shocked by the explosion" himself, but made it back to Confederate lines.
report of Captain John Maxwell of the Confederate States Secret Service
regarding the Explosion at City Point, Virginia, 0n 9th August, 1864.
Written at Richmond, 16th December,1864.
I have the honor to report that in obedience to your order, and with the means and equipment furnished me by you, I left this city on the 26th of July last, for the line of the James River, to operate with the Horological Torpedo against the enemy’s vessels navigating that river. I had with me Mr. R. K. Dillard, who was well acquainted with the localities, and whose service I engaged for the expedition. On arriving in Isle of Wright County, on the 2nd of August, we learned of immense supplies of stores being landed at City Point, and for the purpose, by stratagem, of introducing our machine upon the vessels there discharging stores, started for that point. We reached there before daybreak on the 9th of August last, with a small amount of provisions, having traveled mostly by night and crawled upon our knees to pass the East picket line. Requesting my companion to remain behind about half a mile, I approached cautiously the wharf with my machine and powder covered by a small box.
Finding the captain had come ashore from a barge then at the wharf, I seized the occasion to hurry forward with my box. Being halted by one of the wharf sentinels I succeeded in passing him by representing that captain had ordered me to convey the box on board. Hailing a man from the barge I put the machine in motion and gave it in his charge. He carried it aboard. The magazine contained about twelve pounds of powder. Rejoining my companion, we retired to a safe distance to witness the effect of our effort. In about an hour the explosion occurred. Its effect was communicated to another barge beyond the one operated upon and also to a large wharf building containing their stores (enemy’s), which was totally destroyed. The scene was terrific, and the effect deafened my companion to an extent from which he has not recovered. My own person was severely shocked, but I am thankful to Providence that we have both escaped without lasting injury. We obtained and refer you to the enclosed slips from the enemy’s newspapers, which afford their testimony of the terrible effects of this blow. The enemy estimates the loss of life at 58 killed and 126 wounded, but we have reason to believe it greatly exceeded that. The pecuniary damage we heard estimated at $4,000,000 but, of course, we can give you no account of the extent of it exactly.
I may be permitted, captain, here to remark that in the enemy’s statement a party of ladies, it seems, were killed by this explosion. It is saddening to me to realize the fact that the terrible effects of war induce such consequences; but when I remember the ordeal to which our own women have been subjected, and the barbarities of the enemy’s crusade against us and them, my feelings are relieved by the reflection that while this catastrophe was not intended by us, it amounts only, in the Providence of God, to just retaliation.
This being accomplished, we returned to the objects of our original expedition. We learned that the vessel (The Jane Duffield), was in the Warwick River, and with the assistance of Acting Master W. H. Hines, of the C. S. Navy, joined a volunteer party to capture her. She was boarded on the 17th of September last, and taken without resistance. We did not destroy her, because of the effect it might have had on the neighboring citizens and our own further operation. At the instance of the captain she was bonded, he offering as a hostage, in the nature of security to the bond, one of his crew, who is now held as a prisoner of war on this condition in this city.
In the meanwhile we operated on the James as the water and moon cooperated, but without other successes than the fear with which the enemy advanced and the consequence retarding of his movements on the river. We neared success on several occasions. Finding our plan of operations discovered buy the enemy, and our persons made known and pursued by troops landed from their boats at Smithfield, we deemed it best to suspend operations in that quarter and report to you officially our labors. Your orders were to remain in the enemy’s lines as long as we could do so; but I trust this conduct will meet your approval. I have thus, captain, presented you in detail the operation conducted under your orders and the auspices of your company, and await further orders.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,