Major General Sir (John) Frederick Maurice, (1841–1912)

A member of the Ashanti Ring, Major General Sir (John) Frederick Maurice was a highly talented but controversial military intellectual, theorist, historian, editor, and educator. He was also Field Marshal Viscount Garnet J. Wolseley’s “lifelong friend, apologist and amanuensis” (Preston 1967, p. 244).

Maurice, born on 24 May 1841, was the eldest son of the social reformer Frederick Denison Maurice. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and commissioned in the Royal Artillery in 1862. After postings in England, Scotland, and Ireland, Maurice entered the Staff College in 1870. While in attendance and in the wake of the Franco- Prussian War (1870–1871), he learned the Second Duke of Wellington was sponsoring an essay contest on “The System of Field Manoeuvres Best Adapted for Enabling Our Troops to Meet a Continental Army,” with £100 for first prize. Maurice won the essay contest, defeating another entrant— Wolseley — whom he quoted in his treatise.

Maurice’s essay had no real impact on the British Army, but it helped his career. Wolseley selected Maurice, then serving as an instructor in tactics at Sandhurst, to be his private secretary on the 1873–1874 Ashanti expedition. As a result, Maurice became a trusted member of the Ashanti Ring and later wrote The Ashantee War: A Popular Narrative.

After serving in Canada (1875–1877) Maurice returned to England and a posting in the Intelligence Department. When Wolseley was sent from Cyprus to South Africa in 1879 to command the forces during the latter phases of the Zulu War, he took Maurice with him as intelligence officer. During the subsequent campaign to capture Sekukuni, Maurice demonstrated gallantry on the battlefield and was shot in the chest.

After recovering, Maurice served as a brigade major in Cork. Wolseley again summoned him to the staff of the British expeditionary force sent to Egypt in 1882. Maurice became the official historian of this campaign and The Military History of the Campaign of 1882 in Egypt was published in 1887. This study was criticized for being too favorable to Wolseley. Maurice also served on Wolseley’s staff during the 1884–1885 Gordon Relief Expedition.

In 1885, Wolseley, returning to his position as adjutant-general, appointed Maurice professor of military art and history at the Staff College. He accepted the position reluctantly, but he became a superb teacher. He oriented his rigorous and stimulating military history courses so the student would “improve his judgement as to what ought to be done under the varied conditions of actual war” (Bond 1972, p. 136). Maurice was also Wolseley’s most articulate advocate of a British, rather than an Indian-based, strategy of imperial defense. Maurice was a prolific author and lecturer, although prone to be absentminded and argumentative.

Maurice was succeeded at the Staff College in 1892 by Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) G. F. R. Henderson, and was posted to successive artillery commands at Aldershot, Colchester, and Woolwich. Although Maurice retired in 1902, he succeeded the ailing Henderson as official historian of the Second Boer War. Frequently considered “the second pen of Sir Garnet,” Maurice died in 1912.

References: Beckett (1992); Bond (1972); Fergusson (1984); Luvaas (1964); Maurice (1872); Maurice (1887); Maurice and Arthur (1924); Maxwell (1985); Preston (1967); Spiers (1992)