Sir William Maxwell (1846–1897), governor of the Gold Coast, was born in 1846.
From 1867 to 1871 he was chief justice of the Straits Settlements, and in 1883 and 1884 he was employed in reorganizing the judicial tribunals of Egypt. He was knighted at Buckingham Palace on 30 Jan. 1856, and died in France at Grasse, in the department of Alpes-Maritimes, on 14 Jan. 1893. He married, in July 1842, Frances Dorothea, only daughter of Francis Synge of Glanmore Castle, co. Wicklow.
As governor of the Gold Coast, Sir W.E. Maxwell, took part in the Ashanti expedition of 1896. Francis Scott, the British commander-in-chief, entered Kumase on 17 January 1896 and Maxwell arrived the following day. What happened next is best described as a coup d'etat. On the 20th Maxwell seized the Asantehene, Asantehemaa, and key figures in the government, and sent them under escort to the Gold Coast Colony. The Asante were shocked. So, too, was Joseph Chamberlain at the Colonial Office in London, who had not authorized any such usurpation of power. As he neatly put it, the Asante 'were called upon to suffer the consequences of defeat without having been defeated'. He had, however, been presented with a fait accompli, and was obliged to recognize the 'new order' in Asante. But what was the nature of that new order to be? There was a commercial lobby in Britain that advocated the annexation of Asante to the Gold Coast Colony. Maxwell argued strongly against this course of action, urging that the 'sharp traders' of the Gold Coast would exploit their opposite numbers in Asante! This was, surely, a blind. Asante was still regarded as a hostile country, and to amalgamate it with the Colony risked restoring a measure of Asante influence in what had once been its empire. Prior to the arrival of the British Expedition, there was great alarm in the Asante capital but after a lengthy debate the councillors decided that the British would not be so perfidious as to attack a country that had just signaled its willingness to accept protectorate status. The decision was taken to welcome its entry into Kumase. It was one of the more momentous miscalculations in Asante history.
William Maxwell was the author of two legal works of some importance:
1. 'An Introduction to the Duties of Police Magistrates in the Settlement of Prince of Wales Island, Singapore, and Malacca,' Penang, 1866, 8vo.
2. 'On the Interpretation of Statutes,' London, 1875, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1883