Thursday , 13 December 2018

The Sad End of Hector MacDonald

Major General Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald (1853–1903), KCB, DSO by Ernest H. Longdon.‘Fighting Mac’, Major General Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald, Knight Commander of the Bath, Distinguished Service Order, Aide de Camp, Doctor of Laws, was a name on everyone’s lips in the closing years of Victoria’s reign. Born near the Highland village of Conon Bridge in 1853, he joined the ‘Gay Gordons’ as a teenager, commencing a meteoric rise through army ranks which took him to India, the Boer War in Transvaal, Sudan and Ceylon, picking up regular promotions and medals on the way.

Clandestinely, he married his wife, Christina, during a stint at Edinburgh Castle in 1884, and their son, Hector, was born following a home leave in 1886 – all kept secret from the War Office, who did not approve of married officers.

But rare visits home didn’t allow much of a love life. In the Transvaal, late in 1900, while his Brigade was guarding a concentration camp, he took enough of an interest in a Boer prisoner for army top brass, Roberts and Kitchener, to mention their concerns in official papers – however none of this stopped him being knighted in 1901.

Back in India, in 1902, now Aide-de-Camp to Edward VII, Mac’s behaviour was apparently the cause of ‘grave suspicions’ – no details, of course, exist, as in those days any references to sex had to be read between the lines.

Hector MacdonaldHowever, the shit was about to hit the fan. He was quickly moved to command the troops in Ceylon, and soon formed a close bond with a local family’s boys, causing tongues to wag. But the bombshell in March 1902 was his alleged discovery in a sexual act with schoolboys on a train. He exposed himself, and mutual touching or masturbation probably occurred.

His world collapsed. Charged and sent back home, he visited his wife and son, presumably telling them of the charges. Lord Roberts told Mac he could only stay in the army by clearing his name at a court martial in Ceylon. Breaking his journey there in a Paris hotel, on March 25th he saw his story had now reached the press, went to his room and shot himself in the head.

His widow, Lady MacDonald, quickly arranged a small, private funeral in Edinburgh’s Dean Cemetery, just after six in the morning. She knew the whole story, but the public, who idolised Mac and didn’t believe a word of the unspecified ‘grave charges’, were furious with her for not allowing them to bid him farewell at a fitting ceremony. Thousands visited his grave in the weeks to come.

A ‘Committee of Scots’, possibly funded by Andrew Carnegie, went to Ceylon and satisfied themselves that there was not ‘the SLIGHTEST PARTICLE of truth’ in the charges against Mac, but it has to be said that his suicide and his widow’s efforts to keep his funeral private cast some doubt over this. Needless to say, any military papers which might clarify things have never come to light.

Hector MacDonald’s adoring public subscribed to his monument in Dingwall and he was commemorated in verse by the poet Robert Service and with the touching lament, Hector the Hero, by the ‘Strathspey King’ James Scott Skinner.

 

Alan Findlay, from UnDividingLines 3, out October 25th.

About UnDividingLines

UnDividingLines
UnDividingLines is the free LGBT+ magazine for the Scottish Highlands and Islands and contains articles, features and reviews submitted from across the region. Primarily aimed at helping build a more connected, supportive and energised local LGBT+ community, it also hopes to increase wider awareness of the interests and issues affecting LGBT+ people in the Highlands and Islands. To subscribe, to contribute, or for any further information, email: undividinglines@mail.com

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4 comments

  1. Brian

    While I was aware of Hector MacDonald I had not retained the info that he was associated with Dingwall so was surprised to come across a corner of the local museum dedicated to him when I visited that miserable wee town a few months ago. I could see no reference to the nature of the "scandal" that brought him down though I may be mistaken.

    • Hi Brian, you can find more info about Hector MaDonald's "scandal" in the following references:
      1. Ronald Hyam, "Empire and Sexuality: The British Experience" (Manchester University Press, 1990) pp.33-34
      2. Robert F. Aldrich, "Colonialism and Homosexuality" (Routledge, 2003), p.188
      3. Martin Marais, The Battle of Paardeburg: Lord Roberts Gambit, p.411-412
      4. Denis Judd, Empire: The British Imperial Experience, from 1765 to the Present, 2001, p.171

  2. There is plenty of evidence from the time closest to these events that prove that was not homosexual. This is a a typical case of revisionist history. The British Establishment snobs were well versed in ways to discredit military personnel who they perceived to be a threat, especially when they were trying to distract from their own native British “hero” Lieutenant-Colonel Kitchener who was, in-fact gay, and was documented as being threatened by Hector in many well documented cases.

    Kitchener, and British establishment had it out for Scottish Hector and, through the use of, vicious rumors (dreamed up by Kitchener), the King and The New York Tribune, had him discredited.

    An investigation that was made immediately following his death (before modern revisionists had a chance to reframe everything towards a LGBT friendly view of history) concluded the following:

    ‘In reference to the grave charges made against the late Sir Hector MacDonald, we, the appointed and undersigned Commissioners, individually and collectively declare on oath that, after the most careful, minute, and exhaustive inquiry and investigation of the whole circumstances and facts connected with the sudden and unexpected death of the late Sir Hector MacDonald, unanimously and unmistakably find absolutely no reason or crime whatsoever which would create feelings such as would determine suicide, in preference to conviction of any crime affecting the moral and irreproachable character of so brave, so fearless, so glorious and unparalleled a hero: and we firmly believe the cause which gave rise to the inhuman and cruel suggestions of crime were prompted through vulgar feelings of spite and jealousy in his rising to such a high rank of distinction in the British Army: and, while we have taken the most reliable and trustworthy evidence from every accessible and conceivable source, have without hesitation come to the conclusion that there is not visible the slightest particle of truth in foundation of any crime, and we find the late Sir Hector MacDonald has been cruelly assassinated by vile and slandering tongues. While honorably acquitting the late Sir Hector MacDonald of any charge whatsoever, we cannot but deplore the sad circumstances of the case that have fallen so disastrously on one whom we have found innocent of any crime attributed to him.’

    Hector’s alleged offenses came eight years AFTER Oscar Wilde had been sentenced to 2 years hard labour for practising homosexuality. It was a plot to blacken the man’s character and destroy the stellar career of an individual who spurned their narrow-minded pompous grandiosity of the trappings of Empire.

    You can find a more accurate perspective on Hector’s life and Death here:
    Crichton Smith: An Honourable Death (Macmillan, 1992)

  3. Ruairidh Macleman

    Funny to find out of my family this way!

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