Thomas Maitland (British Army officer)

Lieutenant General The Right Honourable Sir Thomas Maitland GCB GCH (10 March 1760 – 17 January 1824) was a British soldier and British colonial governor. He also served as a Member of Parliament for Haddington from 1790 to 1796, 1802–06 and 1812–13. He was made a Privy Councillor on 23 November 1803. He was the second surviving son of James Maitland, 7th Earl of Lauderdale, and the younger brother of James Maitland, 8th Earl of Lauderdale. Maitland never married.

Sir Thomas Maitland
Portrait of Sir Thomas Maitland by John Hoppner, circa 1800
2nd Governor of British Ceylon
In office
19 July 1805  19 March 1811
GovernorGeorge III
Preceded byFrederick North
Succeeded byJohn Wilson
8th General Officer Commanding, Ceylon
In office
Preceded byDavid Douglas Wemyss
Succeeded byJohn Wilson
Governor of Malta
In office
23 July 1813  17 January 1824
Preceded byHildebrand Oakes (as Civil Commissioner)
Succeeded byFrancis Rawdon-Hastings
Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands
In office
Preceded byJames Campbell of Inverneill
Succeeded byFrederick Adam
Personal details
Born10 March 1760
Died17 January 1824(1824-01-17) (aged 63)
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Guelphic Order
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Branch/serviceBritish Army
RankLieutenant General
Unit62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment of Foot
CommandsGeneral Officer Commanding, Ceylon
Battles/warsPeninsular War
Napoleonic Wars
Haitian Revolution

Early military career

Maitland was commissioned into the Edinburgh Light Horse, shortly after his birth, but did not take up his commission until he joined the 78th (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Seaforth Highland Regiment) as a captain in 1778. He transferred to the 62nd Foot as a major in 1790. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1794 and colonel and brigadier-general in 1798.

Haitian Revolution

General Maitland meets Toussaint L'Ouverture to discuss the secret treaty

In 1797, Maitland landed in Saint-Domingue, under orders to capture the French colony. Maitland realised that his forces were quickly dying in droves due to yellow fever, and he began to negotiate a retreat with the Haitian leader, Toussaint Louverture. Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, who was the Secretary of State for War for prime minister William Pitt the Younger, had instructed Sir Adam Williamson, the lieutenant-governor of Jamaica, to sign an agreement with representatives of the French colonists that promised to restore the ancien regime, slavery and discrimination against mixed-race colonists, a move that drew criticism from abolitionists William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson.[1][2]

Elkins and McKitrick[3] write:

It was in fact Maitland and not the War Ministry who had determined that Britain's only sensible choice, rather than try to maintain any kind of presence at Jérémie and Môle-Saint-Nicolas, was to deal directly with Louverture and negotiate a total evacuation of the island. Accordingly he and the black general concluded a secret agreement on August 31, 1798. Great Britain would desist from any further attack on St. Domingue and any interference with its internal affairs; Louverture made a similar promise with regard to Jamaica; and Maitland would see that provisions were allowed to reach the ports of St. Domingue without interference from British cruisers.

In May 1799, Maitland returned to Saint-Domingue to negotiate an extension of the agreement with Louverture. On 13 June, in the presence of Edward Stevens, the representative of the United States on the island, Maitland and Louverture signed the Maitland Convention, which stipulated that the ports of Le Cap and Port-Républicain would be opened to Anglo-American shipping.[4]

Governor of Ceylon

The governor's palace, Mount Lavinia, Sri Lanka

Maitland served as Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) during 1805 to 1811. While at Ceylon, Maitland was attracted to a place at "Galkissa" (Mount Lavinia) and decided to construct his palace there. During this time, Maitland fell in love with a half-caste dancing-girl named Lovina, who had been born to Portuguese and Sinhalese parents. During the construction of the palace, Maitland gave instructions for the construction of a secret tunnel to Lovina's house, which was located close to the governor's palace. One end of the tunnel was inside the well of Lovina's house and the other end was in a wine cellar inside the governor's palace. When the governor came to reside there, he would often use the tunnel to meet Lovina.[5][6] The Sinhalese village that surrounded the Governor's mansion developed into a modern city named "Galkissa". Later the city was renamed "Mount Lavinia" in honour of Lovina. In 1920 the tunnel was sealed up. The bicentenary celebration of the Mount Lavinia Hotel was held in 2005. Some of Sir Thomas Maitland's relatives living in the UK attended the ceremony.[7] Two roads in central Colombo in modern-day Sri Lanka, are named for him, Maitland Crescent and Maitland Place.[8]

Peninsular War

In early 1812, The 1st Earl of Wellington began the campaign that resulted in his victory at the Battle of Salamanca on 22 July. To prevent Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet from sending French reinforcements from the east coast of Spain, Wellington requested that Lord William Bentinck launch a diversionary operation using the British garrison of Sicily. At first Bentinck agreed to send 10,000 of his soldiers, but in March he reversed himself. After much persuasion, he allowed the operation to go forward and on 7 June he put 8,000 men aboard naval transports under the command of Maitland. The fickle Bentinck changed his mind again on 9 June, stopping the expedition. At last on 28 June Maitland sailed for Menorca. The fleet first picked up 6,000 Spanish troops at Menorca and landed on 31 July at Palamós, 65 miles (105 km) northeast of Barcelona. He wisely decided that Barcelona was too strong to attack, but he also refused to try to capture weakly held Tarragona.[9] Maitland soon received news that Joseph O'Donnell's Army of Murcia had been routed at the Battle of Castalla on 21 July. Without the support of O'Donnell, Maitland decided he could not accomplish anything. He re-embarked his expeditionary force and sailed to Alicante instead, joining his troops with the garrison to form an army of 15,000 men.[10] With the disaster at Salamanca, the French were forced to evacuate both Madrid in central Spain and Andalusia in the south. Their combined forces joined Suchet in the province of Valencia.[11] In close proximity to 80,000 French soldiers, Maitland declined to move from Alicante.[10] Maitland asked to be relieved in September 1812 due to illness.[12]

Governor of Malta and of the Ionian Islands

Maitland Monument in Corfu

Maitland became Lieutenant-Governor of Portsmouth and General Officer Commanding South-West District in May 1813[13] and was then appointed as Governor of Malta on 23 July, when the island became a crown colony instead of a protectorate. The plague had broken out in Malta in March 1813 and the disease began to spread especially in Valletta and the Grand Harbour area. Maitland arrived on the island on 3 October 1813 and took his oath of office on 5 October.[14] Once in post, he enforced stricter quarantine measures. The plague spread to Gozo by the following January, but the islands were free of the disease by March 1814. Overall, 4486 people were killed which amounted to 4% of the total population. It is thought that the outbreak would have been worse without Maitland's strict actions.

After the eradication of the plague, Maitland made several reforms. He removed British troops from Lampedusa on 25 September 1814, ending the dispute that had started in 1800.[15] On Malta, he was autocratic and he refused to form an advisory council made up of Maltese representatives, and so he was informally known as "King Tom". He formed the Malta Police Force in 1814, while the local Italian-speaking Università was dissolved in 1819. Various reforms were undertaken in taxation and the law courts as well. Maitland remained Governor until his death from apoplexy on 17 January 1824.[16] He was attended on his death-bed by doctors Robert Grieves, Alexander Broadfoot and John Hennen.[17]

While he was Governor of Malta, Maitland also served as Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands during 1815 to 1823, while the islands were a British protectorate. The seat of administration was at Corfu, where he was represented by Sir Frederick Hankey, his private secretary. The neoclassical Maitland Monument was built there in his honour in 1821.[18]


  1. C.L.R. James, Black Jacobins (London: Penguin, 1938), p. 109.
  2. David Geggus, Slavery, War and Revolution: The British Occupation of Saint Domingue, 1793–1798 (New York: Clarendon Press, 1982).
  3. Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, p. 656
  4. Hazareesingh, Sudhir (2021), Black Spartacus: The Epic life of Toussaint Louverture, Penguin, pp. 194 - 196, ISBN 9780141985060
  5. Seneviratne, The story of Mount Lavinia Hotel, pp. 20–22
  6. Aves, Sri Lanka, p. 79
  7. "History of the Mount Lavinia hotel". Hotel's Website. Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2007.
  8. Ranatunga, D.C. (5 May 2011). "What's in a name?". Daily FT. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  9. Glover, Peninsular War, pp. 268-9
  10. Gates, Spanish Ulcer, p. 364
  11. Glover, Peninsular War, pp. 207–210
  12. Glover, Peninsular War, p. 270
  13. "No. 16733". The London Gazette. 25 May 1813. p. 1018.
  14. Grech, Chris (26 October 2013). "Sir Hildebrand Oakes' resignation as Governor of Malta in 1813". Times of Malta. Malta. Retrieved 2 June 2020.
  15. Zerafa, Thomas (17 July 2011). "When the British planned to make Lampedusa part of the Maltese Islands". Times of Malta. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  16. Sciberras, Sandro. "Maltese History – G. The First Years of British Rule 1800 – 1824" (PDF). St Benedict College. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 April 2014. Retrieved 21 September 2014.
  17. "Assistant Surgeon John Hennen MD (Ed 1819)". British Army Medical Services and the Malta Garrison 1799 — 1979. Retrieved 30 May 2021.
  18. "161. Κερκυρα, Σπιαναδα". (in Greek). Archived from the original on 13 November 2017.

See also


  • Aves, Edward (2003) Sri Lanka. Bath, England: Footprint. ISBN 1-903471-78-8.
  • Elkins, Stanley M. and Eric McKitrick (1993) The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506890-4.
  • Gates, David (2002). The Spanish Ulcer: A History of the Peninsular War. London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-9730-6.
  • Glover, Michael (2001). The Peninsular War 1807–1814. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-141-39041-7.
  • James, C.L.R. (2001) The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0140299815.
  • Seneviratne, Maureen (1995) The story of Mount Lavinia Hotel. Colombo, Sri Lanka: McCallum Publishers. OCLC 37579642.

Further reading

  • Dixon, Cyril Willis (1939) The Colonial Administrations of Sir Thomas Maitland Longmans, Green and Company, London, OCLC 2888724; reprinted in 1968 by Cass, London, OCLC 461019
  • Hulugalle, H. A. J. (1963) "Sir Thomas Maitland (1805–1811)" British Governors of Ceylon Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, Colombo, Sri Lanka, pages 18–25, OCLC 4175720
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