Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Alexander, Sir James Edwardlocked

  • E. M. Lloyd
  • , revised by James Lunt

Alexander, Sir James Edward (1803–1885), army officer, born on 16 October 1803, was the eldest son of Edward Alexander of Powis, Clackmannanshire, and Catherine, daughter of John Bryce Glass, provost of Stirling. He was educated at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He obtained a Madras cadetship in 1820, and a cornetcy in the 1st Madras light cavalry on 13 February 1821. He was made adjutant of the bodyguard by Sir Thomas Munro, and served in the First Anglo-Burmese War. On leaving the East India Company's service he joined the 13th light dragoons as cornet on 20 January 1825. He was given a lieutenancy on half pay on 26 November. As aide-de-camp to Colonel Kinneir, British envoy to Persia, he was present with the Persian army during the war of 1826 with Russia, and received the Persian order of the Lion and Sun (second class). On 26 October 1827 he was gazetted to the 16th lancers. He went to the Balkans during the Russo-Turkish War of 1829, and received the Turkish order of the Crescent (second class).

Alexander was promoted captain on half pay on 18 June 1830, and exchanged to the 42nd highlanders (the Black Watch) on 9 March 1832. He went to Portugal during the Miguelite War (1832–4), and afterwards visited South America and explored the Essequibo. Passing next to South Africa, he served in the Cape Frontier War of 1835 as aide-de-camp to Sir Benjamin D'Urban. He led an exploring party into Nama Land and Damaraland, for which he was knighted in 1838. He married in 1837 Eveline Marie, third daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Cornwallis Michell. They had four sons and a daughter.

Alexander went on half pay on 24 April 1838. He exchanged to the 14th foot on 11 September 1840, and went to Canada with the regiment in 1841. From 1847 to 1855 he was aide-de-camp to D'Urban and to Sir William Rowan, who succeeded D'Urban in command of the troops in Canada. He became major in the army on 9 November 1846, lieutenant-colonel on 20 June 1854, and regimental major on 29 December 1854.

His regiment having been ordered to the Crimea, Alexander rejoined it there in May 1855, and remained there until June 1856, receiving the Mejidiye (fifth class). On his return to England he was appointed to a depot battalion, but on 30 March 1858 he returned to the 14th to raise and command its 2nd battalion, which he took to New Zealand in 1860. He commanded the troops at Auckland during the war there until 1862. He had become colonel in the army on 26 October 1858, and was granted a pension for distinguished service in February 1864. He was promoted major-general on 6 March 1868, and made CB on 24 May 1873. On 1 October 1877 he became lieutenant-general and was placed on the retired list, and on 1 July 1881 he was given the honorary rank of general. He inherited the estate of Westerton, near Bridge of Allan, and was a magistrate, a deputy lieutenant for Stirlingshire, and a fellow of the Geographical and other societies. He saved Cleopatra's Needle from destruction, and had much to do with its transfer to England in 1877. At its base he buried, among other artefacts, photographs of the twelve best-looking English women of the day. His extensive travels provided material for his varied publications, which included Travels from India to England (1827) and Cleopatra's Needle (1879). Alexander died at Surrey Lodge, Barfield, Ryde, Isle of Wight, on 2 April 1885 from chronic cystitis and bronchitis.


  • The Times (7 April 1885)
  • H. O'Donnell, Historical records of the 14th regiment (1893)
  • R. Cannon, ed., Historical record of the fourteenth, or the Buckinghamshire regiment of foot (1845)
  • J. E. Alexander, Travels from India to England (1827)
  • J. E. Alexander, Travels to the seat of war in the east, through Russia and the Crimea, in 1829, 2 vols. (1830)
  • J. E. Alexander, Narrative of a voyage of observation among the colonies of north Africa, and of a campaign in Kaffirland in 1835 (1837)
  • J. E. Alexander, An expedition of discovery into the interior of Africa, through the countries of the Great Namaquas, Boschmans and Hill Damaras, 2 vols. (1838)
  • J. E. Alexander, L'Acadie, or, Seven years exploration in British America (1849)
  • J. E. Alexander, Passages in the life of a soldier, 2 vols. (1857)
  • J. E. Alexander, Incidents of the Maori War in New Zealand (1873)
  • J. E. Alexander, Cleopatra's Needle, the obelisk of Alexandria, its acquisition and removal to England described (1879)
  • d. cert.


  • NA Canada, notes on British North American boundary dispute
  • RGS, corresp. and papers
  • U. Edin. L., letters to David Laing


  • R. J. Lane, lithograph, 1827, NPG
  • photograph, repro. in O'Donnell, Historical records of the 14th regiment, 321
  • portrait, repro. in Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, 117 (1880)
F. Boase, , 6 vols. (privately printed, Truro, 1892–1921); repr. (1965)
J. Burke, , 4 vols. (1833–8); new edn as , 3 vols. [1843–9] [many later edns]