MAXWELL, William I (1779-1838), of Monreith, Whauphill, Wigtown.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



15 Apr. 1805 - 1812
30 July 1822 - 1830

Family and Education

b. 5 Mar. 1779, 1st s. of Sir William Maxwell, 4th Bt., of Monreith by Katherine, da. and h. of David Blair of Adamtown, Ayr. m. 23 Apr. 1803, Catharine, da. of John Fordyce* of Ayton, Berwick, 3s. 6da.suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 17 Feb. 1812.

Offices Held

Maj. army 1802, Wigtown vol. inf. 1803-7, 26 Ft. 1803; lt.-col. 1805, ret. 1811; col. commdt. Wigtown militia 1814; maj. Wigtown yeoman cav. 1817.


Maxwell’s father was a brother of the staunchly Pittite Duchess of Gordon, but was thought to incline to the opposition in 1788.1 He had challenged the 7th Earl of Galloway’s hold on Wigtownshire in 1784 and provoked a compromise. The long-term consequence was a county seat for his son, an army officer resident at Camphart, who came into Parliament in April 1805 in the place of Andrew McDouall, who had promised Dundas that he would share the Parliament with Maxwell in return for support against the Galloway interest in 1802. Maxwell, son-in-law of John Fordyce, Dundas’s friend, was listed ‘Pitt’ in July 1805. Active service hindered his parliamentary attendance, but he was reported hostile to the Grenville ministry in 1806 and his return ‘congenial’ to Pitt’s friends.2

At the election of 1806 the challenge of the Galloway interest in the county was met in his absence by his father, who was under pressure from Lord Stair to secure from Maxwell a promise of support for ministers, but he was listed by William Adam in February 1807 as one of the Members ‘upon whom Lord Melville may absolutely depend’.3 In 1807 he was unopposed, thanks to the abstention of the new Lord Galloway in Wigtownshire,4 on the understanding that Maxwell would support ministers; accordingly, he is not to be confused with his namesake, the Whig Member for Linlithgow Burghs 1807-12.

As lieutenant-colonel of the Cameronians, of which he had raised a battalion, Maxwell commanded at the battle of Corunna, in which he lost his left arm; he was further wounded in the knee at Walcheren. He was at home, therefore, to vote for ministers on the address, 23 Jan., and against the censure of that expedition, 26 Jan., 5 and 30 Mar. 1810. Except that the Whigs listed him ‘against the Opposition’ at that time, there is no further evidence of his political activity. He made way for James Hunter Blair in 1812, after succeeding to the estate, but resumed the same seat on a vacancy ten years later. Renowned for ‘the kindness of his heart and the suavity of his manners’, Maxwell died 22 Aug. 1838.5

He was, recalled Mark Boyd, who was born in 1805,

a man of great capacity, with all the advantages of education and social position; one whom George Canning, when prime minister, told that had he adopted a political career, and stuck to it, he might have occupied the position he himself then held ...No man ever presided with more ability at a county meeting than he did, and in readiness and facility of expressing his sentiments he was equally successful ...

When I was a youth, I recollect Sir William dining at our house ...and my father took the opportunity of expressing the disappointment felt throughout the county that their Member had not come out on three occasions on certain Scotch questions, in which he was so much at home.

Sir William confessed that no one felt it more than himself, as he was quite prepared each time to have addressed the House. ‘Then’, said my father, ‘may I ask you to account for your silence?’. ‘Very easily ... it being a much lighter affair to address the lairds of the county of Wigton, in their town hall, than the commoners of the United Kingdom in St. Stephen’s; for I had actually caught the Speaker’s eye on each occasion, but my tongue all at once seemed to cleave to the roof of my mouth, and as for rising I felt pinned to my seat as if by cobbler’s wax. If, however, you and my friends here suppose it was from any neglect on my part, or that I was not prepared to speak, you shall, if you choose, have one or all of my non-delivered speeches forthwith.’

The offer was at once accepted, and the honourable baronet, now rising, without the embarrassment of the Speaker’s wig before his eyes, delivered a most able and effective speech, to the great amusement and delight of the party.6

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Pol. State of Scotland 1788, p. 344.
  • 2. Fortescue mss, Galloway to Grenville, 23 Oct. 1806; SRO GD51/1/198/28/4.
  • 3. Fortescue mss, Stair to Grenville, 2 Nov. 1806; Grey mss, Adam to Howick, 7 Feb. 1807.
  • 4. SRO GD51/1/198/28/13.
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 441.
  • 6. Social Gleanings, 275.