Maguire, James Rochfort (1855–1925), politician, was born 4 October 1855 at Kilkeedy, Co. Limerick, the second son of the Rev. John Maguire, rector of Kilkeedy, and his wife, Anne Jane Maguire (née Humphreys). Educated in England at Cheltenham College, and Merton College, Oxford, he obtained firsts in mathematics (1875 and 1877) and jurisprudence (1879), before becoming a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He studied at the Inner Temple, and was called to the bar in 1883. At Oxford he had become close friends with Cecil John Rhodes, and this relationship was to have a profound influence on his subsequent career. In 1883, with C. D. Rudd and F. R. Thompson, he was sent to central southern Africa on a lengthy mission to negotiate with Lobengula, the leader of the Ndebele. Included in the party purely on the basis of his friendship with Rhodes, Maguire was an unfortunate choice as envoy. He lacked diplomatic skills, and more importantly respect for different cultures, and his barely concealed contempt for the African peoples involved in the discussions put any hope of success at risk. Although capable of great charm and wit, he turned them only on those he saw as equals, and his behaviour in Africa – ‘the caricature of the “effete snob”’ (Galbraith, 62) – has attracted much criticism. It has been speculated that he was chosen for his legal expertise, or in the misguided hope that his manners might impress the Africans. He remained in Africa until 1889, leaving only when tensions increased dramatically before the signing of the royal charter for the British South Africa Company.
A supporter of the Irish parliamentary party, and a strong admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), with whom he corresponded regularly on various issues, Maguire had none the less been opposed to the 1886 home rule bill because it prevented Irish representatives from sitting at Westminster. As a result, upon his return to Britain he was encouraged to stand for parliament, and in 1890 he stood and was elected as MP for North Donegal (1890–92). In the subsequent election he was returned for West Clare (1892–5), but he was (surprisingly) defeated in 1895. After standing unsuccessfully for the English constituency of East Leeds as a liberal in 1900, he withdrew from parliamentary politics.
Continuing his involvement in south African affairs, he was implicated in the Jameson raid (1895), which he had ostensibly opposed; a parliamentary committee of inquiry was established in 1897 and the majority report censured him for his role in the conspiracy. Unfazed, he returned to South Africa to travel and report during the second Boer war (1899–1900). With Leander Starr Jameson he published ‘a biography and appreciation’ of Rhodes in 1897; Rhodes's death in 1902 led Maguire to withdraw further from active politics, though he remained a key figure in the British South Africa Company. He became vice-president in 1906, and president in 1923, an office he held until his death; he was also chairman of the Rhodesian railways. He was made CBE in 1918.
Maguire married in 1895 Julia Beatrice Peel, the daughter of Arthur Wellesley Peel, 1st Viscount Peel; they had no children. Maguire was one of the few people whose friendship with Rhodes survived his marriage; this was no doubt because of the political prestige of his father-in-law. He died 18 April 1925 at his home at 3 Cleveland Square, London.