Captain Maxse stood unsuccessfully in the 1868 general election for Southampton and is the basis for the fictional character Nevil Beauchamp in the George Meredith political novel Beauchamp's Career.

He was the second son of the the immensely wealthy James Maxse, a key figure in the Quorn foxhunt in Leicestershire - immortalized by Nimrod and one of "the Quorn Quadriliteral" -, an enthusiastic shot, and a pioneer yachtsman. He was elected a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron in June 1821 and for the following decade was one of the preeminent racing yachtsmen in the Solent, owning two heavy cutters, Miranda (147 tons, built by John Rubie and registered in Southampton in 1821) and Sabrina (84 tons, registered in Cowes in 1823).His on-board parties were part of the fashionable calendar.

He gave up both hunting and yacht racing in the early/mid 1830s, largely, it was said, because of his weight. However he continued in active membership of the Royal Yacht Squadron until shortly before his death in March 1864, his great delight being "to pass month after month at the Royal Squadron Club House at Cowes" (obituary in the Court Journal, quoted in Gentleman's Magazine, May 1864).

Maxse lived for part of the time at Woolbeding House near Midhurst in Sussex. His son Frederick entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in June 1846, direct from Dr Burney's Royal Academy in Gosport, being promoted midshipman in November 1849 (transferring to HMS Victory) and lieutenant in May 1852. Maxse served with great distinction in the Crimean War, on land rather than at sea, being mentioned in dispatches. He was naval aide-de-camp to Lord Raglan during the siege of Sebastopol. By the end of the war Maxse was the youngest captain in the navy. He retired in 1867, to be appointed (as a non-serving officer) rear-admiral in 1875.

The Crimean War had a deep effect on Frederick Maxse. He became - to quote his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - an idiosyncratic political radical, a freethinker, anti-Christianity, vegetarian, teetotal and anti-aristocratic. In this new life he wrote - sometimes anonymously - political articles and pamphlets, and twice stood for Parliament, at Southampton in 1868 and Tower Hamlets in 1874. In Southampton he joined the sitting Liberal MP George Moffat, a wealthy tea merchant, in an attempt to wrest the second seat conceded to the Conservative Russell Gurney in 1865. His somewhat eclectic platform included compulsory elementary education, legal reform, the ballot, admission of dissenters to the universities, reform of the armed forces and reform of the land laws. The result was a complete Conservative victory, with Maxse bottom of the poll. He spent £2000 on the campaign and was joined on his canvass by his close friend George Meredith. Both blamed bribery and corruption for the defeat. The opposition made much of his irrelevance to the constituency. This was true in so far as he had none of those commercial interests, particularly in the shipping trade, on which the town depended and was a political virgin.

Nevertheless, he was now living within the catchment area of the town. In 1862, shortly after his marriage to Celicia Steel, Maxse purchased Ploverfield (formerly Highfield House) in Bursledon. With it came an 11-acre estate. In 1867 he moved to Holly Hill near Sarisbury, a property overlooking the River Hamble to which he had access through two hards [landing jetties], where he lived until its sale in 1879 (the Reading Room in Sarisbury, built in 1870, is a product of his charity). Ploverfield was let on lease. There are indications that during 1867 and 1868 Maxse was cultivating the borough of Southampton as a patron of the Southampton Regatta Club, the West Quay Amateur Regatta Club (respectively sailing and rowing clubs) and the hugely-influential Hampshire Ornithological Association, which met in the town, and a governor of the Royal South Hants Hospital. He was also an active county magistrate.

Captain Maxse had a brief flirtation with the town again in 1872. He came to Southampton as a mediator in the docks strike of that year. Addressing union meetings in the Kingsland Tavern, he declared himself sympathetic to the men in their efforts to ameliorate their condition but advised a return to work until their union had sufficient strength to sustain a more damaging strike. In later life Maxse converted to Liberal Unionism and at his death, on 25 June 1900, was a Conservative. A literary legacy was his purchase in 1893 of the National Review, edited for many years by his son Leopold James (Leo) Maxse.

See also:

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Volume 37


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