MAXWELL, John (1791-1865), of Pollok, Renfrew.

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



1818 - 1830
1832 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 12 May 1791, o.s. of Sir John Maxwell, 7th Bt., of Pollok by Hannah Anne, da. of Capt. Richard Gardiner of Aldeburgh, Suff. educ. by Rev. Dr MacLetchie of Mearns 1798; Market Raison 1802-5; Westminster 1806-9; Christ Church, Oxf. 1809; Edinburgh Univ. 1812; foreign tour 1813. m. 14 Oct. 1839, Lady Matilda Harriet Bruce, da. of Thomas, 7th Earl of Elgin [S], s.p. suc. fa. as 8th Bt. 30 July 1844.

Offices Held

Lt.-col. Renfrew militia 1813-18.


Maxwell entered Parliament 14 years before his father, a staunch Whig and parliamentary reformer who became in 1832 first Member for Paisley, but failed to win Lanarkshire in 1830 or Renfrewshire in 1837. Sir John had since 1810 been one of the Whig triumvirate of families who contrived to name the Members for Renfrewshire in rotation; when his turn came in 1818 he named his son, who was returned unopposed, thanks to the retirement of Boyd Alexander from the field. Lord Archibald Hamilton*, who had sponsored him for Brooks’s Club in 1815 and supported his election, said that Maxwell knew well ‘how to distinguish between a jealous regard for the rights of the people, and the encouragement of anything which can tend to disturb the social order of society’. Alexander threatened to renew the struggle, to win the county for government, but Maxwell was secure for three Parliaments.

Maxwell voted fairly steadily with the Whig opposition in his first Parliament, supporting them on such questions as the resumption of cash payments by the Bank, 2, 8 Feb. 1819; the royal establishments, 22, 25 Feb., 19 Mar.; Admiralty retrenchment, 18 Mar.; reform of the Scottish burghs, 1 Apr., 6 May (being placed on the select committee that day); reform of Parliament, on Burdett’s motion, 1 July, and legal reform, 2 Mar., 20 May. He paired in favour of Tierney’s censure motion of 18 May and voted for Althorp’s motion on the state of the country, 30 Nov. He voted against the navy estimates, 2 June, and subsequently against the foreign enlistment bill. On 13 Dec. he voted for the admission of journalists to public meetings and next day against the seizure of arms bill. He was teller for De Crespigny’s motion to consider Robert Owen’s social experiment, 16 Dec. 1819.

Maxwell spoke several times, first ‘clearly, manfully and succinctly’ in favour of the reform of the burgh of Aberdeen, 1 Apr. 1819. He then denied that any ‘wild reform’ in concession to a ‘lawless mob’ was envisaged. On 20 May he protested against an equalization of the coal duties which would hit the manufacturing classes in Renfrewshire, while London could afford the duty on sea-borne coal. On 26 May as one who had travelled in the Near East, he seconded Sir Charles Monck’s motion of protest against the cession of the Greek island of Parga to the Turks, a speech which was much applauded. On the seditious meetings prevention bill, 2 Dec., he claimed that his constituency was ‘the headquarters of the Scotch radicals’, but on investigation he found that they were of three classes, the hungry, the sincere but misguided and the fanatics, all of whom should have been conciliated rather than coerced; but he said he would vote for the bill on the understanding that it was to be rendered ‘local and temporary’ in committee. On 6 Dec. he added that he thought it his duty ‘not to oppose the measure’ and saw no objection to its extending to the manufacturing districts for five years and to the whole empire for one year. On 7 Dec. he proposed as an amendment that in Scotland ten commissioners of supply, rather than the sheriffs or the lord advocate, who were crown appointees, should be empowered to authorize public meetings. This was rejected by 261 votes to 180. The same day he described himself as ‘decidedly against the radicals, though a sincere reformer, and representing a part of the country abounding with sincere reformers’, and put in a word for freedom of speech at public meetings and of the reporting of it. On 9 Dec. he supported Bennet’s motion for an inquiry into the state of the manufacturing districts, pointing out the demoralizing effects of economic distress on people who felt that Parliament had no sympathy for them; a week later he brought in a successful motion of his own for an inquiry into conditions in the Scottish manufacturing districts, pleading that a government grant would be needed to take the burden of poor relief off the shoulders of the propertied classes, in an area where population growth was excessive and emigration should be encouraged. Maxwell remained a prominent Scottish Whig. He died 6 June 1865.

See RENFREWSHIRE; Sir W. Fraser, Mems. of Maxwells, i. 111-17.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne