William  Hamilton Maxwell

Hill Street, Newry, Co.Down
Egyptian Arch Newry, Co. Down
Rear View Carlow Castle
Musselburgh Mercat Cross, Scotland
Newry, Co. Down


Maxwell contributed many accounts of battles among his twenty or more works.  There have been disputed references as to whether or not he actually participated in some of those reported.

There appears to be no information on young William Hamilton Maxwell except that he was born in Newry, Co. Down on June 30th 1792.  He studied at Trinity College, Dublin where he graduated with a B. A. during 1812.  [i]

As his wish to join the military was opposed by his family on leaving college, he travelled to the Peninsula.  This enabled him to report on his adventures in many articles etc; prior to a return home where he occupied his leisure time with poetry, romantic novels, military histories, hunting or shooting. [ii]  Maxwell decided on a church career, he was ordained in Carlow then became a curate of Clonallon during 1813.  Maxwell was posted to Balla, Co. Mayo.

Publishing Career

Between 1829 and 1848 Maxwell wrote historical studies, novels and accounts; including a three – volume biography of the Duke of Wellington (that was described as “no rival among similar publications of the day,”)  [iii]  Arthur Wellesley (1834 -31), The 1798 Irish Rebellion (1845 illustrated by George Cruikshank), O’Hara 1825  J. Andrews 2 Vols, London, Wild Sports of the West 1832, 2 Vols, H. Colbourn, London,  Brian O ‘ Linn or Luck is Everything, 3 Vols, 1847, R. Bentley, London,  Stories of Waterloo 1834,  Erin Go Bragh, or Irish Life Pictures, with a biographical sketch by Dr. Maginn, 2 vols. London: R. Bentley.  He was a frequent contributor to the Dublin University Magazine also Bentley’s Miscellany.  Maxwell gathered material for his ‘Wild Sports of the West’ that was a fictional biography plus an important account of peasant life in North Mayo, Connaught, the ultima thule of civilized Europe.  This quotation is from ‘Wild Sports of the West’ ‘I carried prejudices as unfair as they were unfavourable, found my estimate of their character false, for kindnesses were returned tenfold and the native outbreakings of Kilesion hospitality met me at every step.’ [iv]

He married Mary Dobbin, daughter of Armagh M P Leonard Dobbin.  [v]

His death occurred at aged 55 years on December 29th 1850 in Musselburgh, Scotland. [vi]


The Dublin University Magazine reported of Maxwell that “If a brilliant fancy, a warm imagination, deep knowledge of the world, consummate insight into character, constitute a high order of intellectual gift, then he is no common man.  Uniting with the sparkling wit of his native country the caustic humours and dry sarcasms of the Scotch, with whom he is connected with the  strong ties of kindred, yet his pre – eminent characteristics is that sunshiney temperament which sparkles through every page of his writings.’’ [vii]

In his Notes towards a Bibliography of William Hamilton Maxwell, 1976, Irish Bookstore vol. 3, no.1, Colin Mc Kelvie stated that Maxwell wrote his first book, O’ Hara or 1798 while at the Marquis of Sligo’s hunting lodge in Ballycroy, North Mayo. Mc Kelvie stated also that Maxwell’s history of the Irish Rebellion was surprisingly free of partisanship; it contained accounts of 1798 also 1803 events from eye witnesses plus participants.   John Sutherland called him a rival for Lever also that Maxwell’s Dark Lady of Doona 1834 was a Gothic tale of 17th century Ireland; the vogue for bluff military adventures.”   Patrick Rafroidi [ibid.], Vol. 1, remarked that one of W. H. Maxwell’s stories in Erin Go Bra is devoted to Robert Emmet. (Page 136)  In Stephen Brown’s Ireland in Fiction (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), these titles are  listed O’Hara (1825); The Dark Lady of Doona (1836, and Fr. trans.); Adventures of Capt. Blake; the Adventures of Hector O’Halloran and his Man, Mark Antony O’Toole; The Adventures of Captain Sullivan; Erin go Bragh (1859);Luck is Everything, or the Adventures of Brian O’Lynn. (1860)  McCormack, ‘Irish Gothic and After, 1820-1945,’ in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature (1991), Vol. II, pp.831-854: stated that Maxwell began to write a kind of fiction n which rollicking narrative incorporated incidents of military life and harmless picaresque scenes’  Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985) CITES Life of the Duke of Wellington, 3 vols. (1839-1841); History of the Rebellion in 1798 (1845); Hints to a Soldier on Service (1845); Erin-go-Bragh, or Irish Life Pictures, 2 vols. (1859); other works and novels listed above.  Brian McKenna, Irish Literature, 1800-1875: A Guide to Information Sources (Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1978), lists William Maginn, ‘Literary Portraits No. 6,’ in Bentley’s Miscellany 1 (1840), rep. as ‘Biog. Sketch of William Hamilton Maxwell’ in Maxwell’s Erin go Bragh[quotes Lever’s opinion]; J. S. Crone (Northern Whig 1906); and a pref. to the 1915 ed. Of Sketches &c., ed. Earl of Dunraven, who calls Maxwell ‘an intelligent Anglo-Irishman’ who tackles his subject ‘much as an explorer might visit a newly discovered savage island.’  Notes that Maxwell wrote for Charles Dicken’s Pic-Nic Papers (1841), and Tales from Bentley (1859), as well as Dublin University Magazine[viii]




www.mayolibrary.ie › Library Home › Local Studies



[i] https://en.wikipedia.org

[ii] www.libraryireland.com 

[iii] www.libraryireland.com 

[iv] www.ricorso.net

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org

[vi] https://en.wikipedia.org

[vii] www.libraryireland.com

[viii] www.ricorso.net/

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