The Allan and Janet Woodliffe Collection of Medals relating to the Reconquest and Pacification of The Sudan 1896-1956

Date of Auction: 18th May 2011

Sold for £26,000

Estimate: £25,000 - £30,000

The nationally important group of Honours & Awards to General Sir John Maxwell, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., C.V.O., D.S.O., Black Watch, who won a gold D.S.O. at the battle of Ginnis in 1885, commanded an Egyptian Brigade at the battle of Omdurman, and a British Infantry Brigade in the Boer War, was commander of all troops in Egypt 1914-16, and afterwards in Ireland with orders to finally suppress the Easter Rising

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, K.C.M.G. Knight Commander’s set of insignia, comprising neck badge, silver-gilt and enamels, and breast star in silver with gold and enamel appliqué centre, enamel chips to one obverse arm and to horse in reverse centre of badge; The Royal Victorian Order, C.V.O., Commander’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamels, the reverse officially numbered ‘C104, enamel chips to blue central circlet; Distinguished Service Order, V.R., gold and enamels, minor chips to green enamel wreaths; Egypt and Sudan 1882-89, 4 clasps, Tel-El-Kebir, The Nile 1884-85, Gemaizah 1888, Toski 1889 (Lieut: J. G. Maxwell, 1/R. Hrs.) some pitting from Khedive’s Star; Queen’s Sudan 1896-98 (Lt. Col. J. G. Maxwell, E.A.); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 3 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Johannesburg (Maj. Genl. Sir J. G. Maxwell, K.C.B., D.S.O. Staff); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Col. Sir J. G. Maxwell, K.C.B., D.S.O. Staff); 1914 Star, with clasp (Lt. Gen. Sir J. G. Maxwell, K.C.B., C.V.O., C.M.G., D.S.O.); British War and Victory Medals (Gen. Sir J. G. Maxwell); Coronation 1911; Legion of Honour, Officer’s breast badge, gold and enamels; Khedive’s Star 1882; Khedive’s Sudan 1896-1908, 5 clasps, Firket, Hafir, Sudan 1897, The Atbara, Khartoum, unnamed as issued, these last twelve on an old court mounting for display; Order of the Nile, Grand Cross set of insignia by Lattes, comprising sash badge and breast star, silver, silver-gilt and enamels, silk display sash, prongs removed from reverse of star; Order of the Medjidie, 2nd Class set of insignia, comprising neck badge and breast star, silver, gold and enamels; Order of Osmanieh, 3rd Class neck badge, silver-gilt and enamels, badly chipped; Order of the Crown of Italy, Grand Cross set of insignia by Cravanzola, Roma, comprising sash badge in silver-gilt with gold and enamel centres, and breast star in silver, gold and enamels, silk display sash; Legion of Honour, Grand Officer’s breast star, silver; Order of Charles III of Spain, 2nd Class set of insignia, comprising neck badge and breast star, silver-gilt and enamels, the star with chips to two enamel panels; Messina Earthquake 1908, large Merit Medal, white metal, the whole group onetime framed for display and now accompanied by the old ivorine identification and name labels, unless otherwise described, generally good very fine or better (25) £25000-30000


D.S.O. London Gazette 26 November 1886: For the action at Ginnis, the first awards of the D.S.O.

C.V.O. London Gazette 11 August 1903: On the occasion of the visit to Ireland of His Majesty.

K.C.M.G. London Gazette 1916.

Mention in despatches London Gazette 25 August 1885 (Nile Expedition), 11 January and 6 September 1889 (Ginnis and Toski), 3 November 1896 (Dongola), 25 January (Nile), 24 May and 30 September 1898 (Atbara and Khartoum); 16 April 1901 and 29 July 1902 (Boer War).

John Grenfell Maxwell was born in Toxteth Park, Liverpool, on 12 July 1859, the second son of Robert Maxwell (d. 22 November 1874), senior partner in the firm of A. F. and R. Maxwell, corn merchants, of 28 Brunswick Street, Liverpool, and his wife Maria Emma, daughter of John Pascoe Grenfell, an Admiral in the Brazilian Navy. His father Robert Maxwell was the son and heir to Archibald Maxwell of Threave, a descendent of the Maxwells of Drumpark. and cousin of Field Marshal Francis Wallace Grenfell, first Baron Grenfell. The marriage of Mrs Maxwell's sister Sophia to Pascoe Grenfell, Lord Grenfell's eldest brother, greatly strengthened the intimacy that arose between young Maxwell and the field marshal. John spent his boyhood with his father's parents in Scotland and was educated at Cheltenham College from January 1875 to July 1877; he was in the shooting eleven, and long continued to be an exceptional shot.

He entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1878, and was commissioned into the 42nd Foot (Royal Highlanders, the Black Watch) in 1879. In 1882 the 42nd was part of Wolseley's expeditionary force to relieve Gordon, besieged in Khartoum, with Maxwell chosen by Major-General Sir Archibald Alison as his aide-de-camp at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir and remained with Alison until he left for England in 1883. Maxwell stayed on in Egypt with Sir Evelyn Wood, as assistant provost-marshal, and became one of the first British officers to enter the Egyptian service as a Staff Captain in the Egyptian Military Police.

As assistant provost-marshal and as headquarters Camp Commandant, he spent the winter of 1884–5 up the Nile with Wolseley on the Gordon relief expedition. When, in April 1885, Sir Francis Grenfell, his maternal grandfather's brother, succeeded Wood as Sirdar of the Egyptian army, he summoned Maxwell to his staff, first as aide-de-camp and then as assistant military secretary, although the appointment was not made permanent until September 1886. In that capacity Maxwell took part in the Sudan frontier operations, being present at Giniss on 30 December 1885, for which he was awarded the D.S.O., at Gemaizah, outside Suakin on 20 December 1888, which brought him the Osmanieh, and lastly, on 3 August 1889, at the more decisive battle of Toski, after which he was awarded a brevet majority.

Maxwell married in 1892 Louise Selina, daughter of Charles William Bonynge of New York and Dublin, a wealthy Irish American, and had one daughter, named appropriately Philae (b. 1893), who married U.S. Navy Lieutenant Clifford Carver of New York. Mrs Maxwell enjoyed a considerable fortune, and before her husband's retirement lived largely apart from him. She survived Maxwell and died in 1929.

When Sir Herbert Kitchener succeeded Grenfell as Sirdar in 1892, he retained Maxwell on his staff, and there grew a lasting friendship between them. The next few years were spent planning the reconquest of the Sudan, until the crushing defeat of the Italians by the Abyssinians at Adowa on 1 March 1896, facilitated a hastening of the advance. This led to the battle of Firket on 7 June, in which Maxwell commanded the 3rd Egyptian infantry brigade, retaining this position until the recapture of Dongola on 23 September. During 1897 he acted as ‘governor of Nubia’, administering the area in which the railway was being pushed forward. During the 1898 operations he commanded the 1st Sudanese brigade at the battle of Atbara on 8 April, and was transferred to the 2nd brigade for the battle of Omdurman on 2 September. He was mentioned in despatches and received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. After the Dervish collapse he was Governor of Omdurman, and promoted brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, but, disappointed at not being made Sirdar in succession to Kitchener, he resigned from the Egyptian army.

On the outbreak of the Boer war in South Africa in October 1899, Maxwell was still in the Sudan, but in February 1900 he went to the Cape. He commanded the 14th infantry brigade, which he led to Pretoria, distinguishing himself on the Zand River. After the capture of Pretoria on 5 June he was, on Kitchener's recommendation, appointed its military governor, and thus administered a large area of the Transvaal. He was made K.C.B. and appointed temporary Major-General in 1900. In 1902 he received a brevet Colonelcy and was appointed C.M.G. Prior to the end of hostilities in 1902, he commanded a column based on Vryburg, where he remained after the conclusion of peace on 31 May.

In the autumn of 1902 Maxwell was chosen by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, then acting Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, as his chief staff officer at Dublin. There he remained until May 1904, when Connaught became Inspector-General of the Forces, and Maxwell went with him to London. The Duke became Inspector-General of the Forces, and Maxwell remained in his position as chief staff officer, retaining the temporary rank of Brigadier-General. In July 1905 Maxwell accompanied the Duke on a visit to Gotha for the ‘coming of age’ celebrations of the Duke of Coburg. In September 1906 the Duke was invited to observe the German military manoeuvres in Silesia. He went on to meet the Kaiser, and he says “we all received more decorations. I am now fairly smothered.” The tour continued to Baden for an official visit. In September 1907 they went to Vienna to review H.R.H’s Duke of Connaught’s Austrian regiment.

At the end of 1907 the Duke was transferred to Malta as Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and Maxwell, promoted Major-General of the General Staff at the end of 1906, once more accompanied him, and having been made Commander in Chief, Malta served with him until September 1908.

In 1908 Maxwell left Malta to command the British troops in Egypt, possibly as reward for his service with the Duke, though he still wanted to be Sirdar. Maxwell received the large Messina Earthquake Merit medal for assistance rendered to Italy, following the great earthquake on 28 December 1908. His tenure of office in Egypt lasted until November 1912, shortly after his promotion to Lieutenant-General, and was perhaps the most enjoyable period of his life. After leaving this appointment he went on half pay. On the outbreak of the First World War Maxwell was appointed Colonel of the Black Watch, recalled and, being a fluent French speaker, sent to French headquarters as head of the British Military Mission. There he served until the opening of the battle of the Marne, when, finding little scope for his activities, he was glad in September 1914 to resume command of all troops in Egypt. The position was important and exacting. He opposed British annexation, and proclaimed and tactfully applied martial law. He constructed defences along the Suez Canal, and when in February 1915 the Turks attacked the canal they were easily driven back. Events, however, rapidly increased Maxwell's responsibilities. Egypt became the base for the Gallipoli campaign of 1915-16, which Maxwell himself did not favour, though he disliked withdrawal as harmful to British prestige. After the Gallipoli evacuation the troops were withdrawn to Egypt to be refitted before being sent to the Salonika front. The Palestine expedition of 1916 was also based on Egypt. Maxwell's personal position was further complicated by the system of command which grew up around him. Some 400,000 men, including British, Indian, Australian, New Zealand, and Egyptian troops, were quartered in or based on Egypt, while three different groups of higher authorities were concerned in their command and administration. After repelling an attack by the German-armed and financed Senussi tribesmen in the western desert in January 1916, Maxwell was recalled home in March. He had been made K.C.M.G. in 1915.

Shortly after Maxwell's return to England, the Easter rising broke out in Dublin on 23 April 1916, and was followed by a week of bitter fighting. Martial law was proclaimed in Dublin on Easter Monday, and extended to the rest of Ireland the following day, so giving dictatorial power to the commanding officer. Initially this was Brigadier-General W. H. M. Lowe, but on Friday 28 April he was superseded by Maxwell, who had been sent specially as Commander-in-Chief of troops, Ireland, by the Asquith government.

Maxwell was given full authority to restore order, put down the rebellion, and punish its participants. As the week progressed, the fighting in some areas did become intense, characterised by prolonged, fiercely contested street battles. Military casualties were highest at Mount Street Bridge. There, newly arrived troops made successive, tactically inept, frontal attacks on determined and disciplined volunteers occupying several strongly fortified outposts. They lost 234 men, dead or wounded, while just five rebels died. In some instances, lapses in military discipline occurred. Soldiers were alleged to have killed 15 unarmed men in North King Street, near the Four Courts, during intense gun battles there on 28 and 29 April.

Overall the British authorities responded competently to the Rising. Reinforcements were speedily drafted into the capital and by Friday 28 April, the 1,600 rebels (more had joined during the week) were facing 18-20,000 soldiers. From Thursday the G.P.O. building was entirely cut off from other rebel garrisons. Next day it came under a ferocious artillery attack which also devastated much of central Dublin. Having learnt the lessons of Mount Street Bridge, the troops did not attempt a mass infantry attack. Their strategy was effective. It compelled the insurgent leaders, based at the Post Office, first to evacuate the building and later to accept the only terms on offer - unconditional surrender. Their decision was then made known to and accepted, sometimes reluctantly, by all the rebel garrisons still fighting both in the capital and in the provinces.

Maxwell then ordered a general round-up of suspects and the trial by court martial of those involved in the rising. He thought his task distasteful, and had to make difficult decisions, and while those decisions he made were understandable, with hindsight some were wrong. Maxwell never doubted that its leaders should be court-martialled and those most prominent executed. He was also determined that, in order to crush militant nationalism, those who had surrendered with them, and their suspected supporters, should be arrested and their arms seized in a nationwide sweep by soldiers, supported by police. In total, the security forces arrested 3,430 men and 79 women and of these 1,841 were sent to England and interned there. They were substantial figures in relation to the scale of the outbreak, though most (about 2,700) had been released by early August 1916. Meanwhile, those thought to have organised the insurrection had been held back in Ireland for trial – 190 men and one woman, Countess Markievicz. In 90 cases the court’s verdict was ‘Death by being shot’. Maxwell only confirmed this judgement on 15 defendants, and these were executed between 3-12 May 1916. According to Maxwell’s daughter ‘it cost him hours of agony to sign the death-warrants of the Rebel Irish leaders’ (Arthur, p.313), but he believed it his duty.

Maxwell was in fact very sympathetic to the plight and poverty of the Irish. However, the crucial decision on the prisoners' fate should not have been left to the local commander. A clear political decision should have been made by government; the fault was Asquith's, who could have prevented the executions. There can be no doubt that the response of the British government to the Rising contributed measurably to the further alienation of Irish public opinion.

His action in executing a number of them caused him to be the subject of an attack in the House of Commons, led by Mr. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader and gained him the name ‘Bloody Maxwell’. Asquith defended Maxwell against Irish and Liberal politicians' attacks. Maxwell was seen by most as a fair man, and his reputation did not suffer. Later that year he was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.

On returning to England, he was appointed to the Privy Council, and made Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Command at York. Maxwell remained at Northern Command until after the end of the war, when he was sent to Egypt as a member of Lord Milner's mission on the future relations of the U.K. with Egypt. He had been promoted full General in June 1919, but was not re-employed, and went on retired pay in 1922.

From his early days in Egypt he was a keen amateur Egyptologist, and a close personal friend of Lord Carnarvon, and Howard Carter, the discoverer of the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings. He returned to Egypt again in 1923, travelling to Luxor to witness the official opening of the newly discovered tomb which Lord Carnarvon had spent the astronomical sum of £45,000 on locating. Sadly the Earl died shortly afterwards, a victim of the so-called ‘curse of Tutankhamen’, and as Lord Carnarvon’s executor, Maxwell was closely associated with the arrangements made for the preservation of this important discovery. He was President of the Egypt Exploration Society (London) 1925-29, and had over his many years in Egypt assembled a choice collection of Egyptian antiquities which was sold at Sotheby’s on 11/12 June 1928. Some antiquities were bequeathed to the British Museum. Maxwell was also president of the Anglo-Egyptian Officials Association and president of the Kitchener Fund.

His health began to fail in the late 1920’s - he had long been a heavy smoker. In his last years he travelled abroad, and following the sale of his antiquities collection in 1928 he went, on medical advice, to South Africa. While there he caught a chill which turned to pneumonia. He died at Newlands, Cape Province, on 21 February 1929. He was 70 years old.

His body was brought home, and he was given a state funeral at St. Paul’s cathedral on 15 March 1929, where several British Generals acted as pall bearers. He was buried at York Minster.

In addition to those listed above, Maxwell also received the following foreign decorations: Ernestine House Order, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, 2nd Class (1905); Order of the Red Eagle, Prussia, 2nd Class (1906); Order of the Lion of Zahringen, Baden (1906); Order of Franz Joseph, Austria, Grand Cross (1907); Order of the White Eagle, Russia (awarded 1916 but insignia not received due to the revolution).

The group is sold with a large amount of research, including copied award certificates, and several books, including General Sir John Maxwell, by Sir George Arthur, a good biography autographed by Reginald Wingate, 329pp; From Behind a Closed Door - Secret court martial records of the 1916 Easter Rising, by B. Barton, 344pp; The Easter Rising, by Foy and Barton, 274pp; and The Rising - The complete story of Easter week, by Desmond Ryan, 276pp.

Sir John Maxwell’s extensive collection of private papers is held at Princeton University, having been donated by his American wife.