Small Craft

Late 19th & Early 20th Century British Yachting

The Sailors: Amateur British & Irish Yachtsmen Before World War One

Gordon S. Maxwell, 7 October 1883–1942

The fourth and youngest son of Dr. Frederick Charles and Lucilla Maxwell.

In 1876 Dr. Maxwell, a Methodist preacher, purchased a house known as "The Beeches" in Cambridge and founded the Manor House School. He later sold the building to his oldest son, Stanley, and the school eventually became part of the current Eaton House Schools. In addition to raising at four boys Lucilla Maxwell appears to have been an artist in her own right—at least on an amateur basis. She provided the illustrations for at least one of Gordon's books in the 1920's (The Author's Thames). Gordon and his brother Donald dedicated a number of their books to her through the years.

Gordon Maxwell was a sailor, author and illustrator. Like his brother Donald, Gordon was greatly interested in the history of southeastern England, particularly the environs about London and Kent. Prior to 1914 Maxwell was employed by publisherJ.M. Dent and Sons, Ltd. in their offices at Aldine House, Bedford Street, London. What he did there is not entirely clear but he tells us he was known as the "Idiot Boy" and, up until about 1912 he produced illustrations using a glyph of "IB" as his signature. He wrote and published a brief, comic description of his office environs and co-workers in An Unnatural History of Aldine House in 1912. It would appear that, after the war, he returned to the business (J.M. Dent published The Rhymes of A Motor Launch in 1918).

Gordon Maxwell was married to Gwendolyn. Based upon the dedication in The Rhymes of A Motor Launch it seems they were married either before or during the war: "The 'The Girl I Left Behind' My Wife". However, the 1911 census of England and Wales shows Gordon living with his sister Maud and her husband in Surrey while he was already employed by a publisher (presumably, J.M. Dent & Sons). So it seems he married Gwendolyn sometime after 1911.

With the advent of World War One Maxwell volunteered with the R.N.V.R. where he served as a Lieutenant—initially in command of a small Motor Boat, Minou. He would later command a Motor Launch (M.L. 314). He appears to have been posted to Great Yarmouth and then Dover. Being at Dover he participated in the raids on Zeebrugge and Ostend. He was later stationed at Harwich commanding the flotilla of M.L.'s receiving the surrendered German U-boat fleet. Shortly after the war he documented his experiences in The Rhymes of A Motor Launch and then The Motor Launch Patrol both of which were illustrated by his brother Donald.

In addition to brothers Stanley and Donald was Malcolm and the afore-mentioned sister, Maud. Gordon's middle name was derived from his mother's maiden name, Stanley. By the early 1920's Gordon and Gwendolyn had their one son, Colin. A reference to him in documents of the Clapham Antiquarian Society places Maxwell and his family at 30 Crescent Grove, Clapham in the 1920's.

Here's a (perhaps incomplete) bibliography of Gordon Maxwell's books.