Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/MacDonald, Hector Archibald

MACDONALD, Sir HECTOR ARCHIBALD (1853–1903), major-general, youngest of five sons of William Macdonald, a crofter-mason, by his wife Ann, daughter of John Boyd, was born at Rootfield, Urquhart, on 13 April 1853. After employment in a draper's shop at Dingwall, he enlisted as a private in the 92nd Gordon highlanders in August 1870, when eighteen, and served about nine and a half years in the ranks and as colour-sergeant. He first saw active service in the second Afghan war. On 27 Sept. 1879 he showed skill and energy in driving the enemy from the Hazardarakt pass near Karatiga and thereby enabling Lord Roberts to continue his march to Kushi. He again distinguished himself at the action of Charasiab on 6 October following by dislodging a picquet, which was causing much annoyance by its fire. He was mentioned in despatches on both occasions. He took part in the Maidan expedition, in the operations round Kabul in December 1879, including the defence of the Sherpur cantonments, the attack upon Takt-i-Shah, the engagement of Childukhtan, and the second action at Charasiab. He accompanied Lord Roberts on his march from Kabul to Kandahar in August 1880, and was engaged at the recomiaissance of 31 August and at the battle of 1 September, distinguishing himself at the capture of Ayub Khan's camp at Baba Wali. His dash and prowess in the field, which won him the sobriquet of 'Fighting Mac,' led General Roberts to promote him at Kabul to the rank of second lieutenant in the Gordon highlanders ; his commission was ratified on 7 Jan. 1880, when his claymore was presented to him by his brother officers. He was awarded the Afghan medal with three clasps and the bronze decoration (Despatches, Lond. Gaz. 16 Jan. 1880). On the way home from India Macdonald and two companies of the 92nd Highlanders were landed in Natal to join Sir George Colley [q. v.] in his attempt to relieve the British garrisons in the Transvaal. At the battle of Majuba 'Fighting Mac' displayed heroic courage (Lond. Gaz. 3 May 1881). He was taken prisoner, but General Joubert was so impressed with the bravery of his defence that on his release his sword was returned to him. He became full lieutenant on 1 July 1881.

In 1883 Macdonald's appointment to a post in the Egyptian constabulary under Valentine Baker [q. v. Suppl. I] opened a new phase in his career. Incidentally he shared in the Nile expedition of 1885, serving as garrison adjutant at Assiout from 22 Jan. to 5 June 1885. After the failure of that expedition Macdonald played an important part in reorganising the Egyptian army, and was mainly associated with the training of the 11th Sudanese regiment, which he modelled on the Highlanders. He became captain in 1888, and was transferred to the Egyptian army. The Sudan campaign of 1888-91 gave Macdonald the opportunity of testing the steadiness of the Sudanese troops under his command. Their conduct at Toski {3 Aug. 1889) and the capture of Tokar (19 Feb. 1891) reflected great credit on Macdonald's training and example (Lond. Gaz. 11 Jan. 1889 and 6 Sept. 1889). He received the medal with two clasps, bronze star with clasp, third-class of the Medjidie, and the distinguished service order (25 Feb. 1890), as well as the third-class of the Osmanie. He was promoted major on 7 July 1891 and was attached to the 7th royal fusiliers, while remaining in Egypt. In 1896, when Sir Herbert (afterwards Viscount) Kitchener began the reconquest of the Sudan, Macdonald was appointed to the command of a brigade of Egyptian infantry in the expedition to Dongola. Both at Ferkeh on 7 June and Hafir on 19 September he showed a rare gift for handling troops, and for his services received the brevet of lieut.-colonel on 18 Nov. 1896 and the Egyptian medal with two clasps. He served also in the Nile expedition of 1897-8, and commanded an Egyptian brigade at the action of Abu Hamed (Lond. Gaz. 25 Jan. 1898, two clasps to Egyptian medal), and at the battle of Atbara (8 April 1898). The adroitness he displayed at Omdurman (2 Sept. 1898) in wheeling round his brigade through a complete half circle, half battalion by half battalion, to meet an unexpected flank attack of the Dervishes, turned what might have proved disaster into victory (Lond. Gaz. 24 May and 20 Sept. 1898). 'Fighting Mac' became a popular hero on his return, and the enthusiasm was enhanced by the fact that he had risen from the ranks. He had been nominated CB. on 22 June 1897, and was appointed A.D.C. to Queen Victoria, with brevet of colonel, on 16 Nov. 1898. He was thanked by both Houses of Parliament and received the Egyptian medal with two clasps.

From 24 Oct. 1899 till 3 Jan. 1900 he was a brigadier-general in India, commanding the Sirhind district in the Punjab with headquarters at Umballa ; he attained the rank of major-general on relinquishing the command. On the death of Major-general Wauchope [q. v. Suppl. I] at the battle of Magersfontein (10 Dec. 1899) Macdonald succeeded him in the command of the Highland brigade, and at once proceeded to South Africa. There he maintained his high reputation. He prepared the way for Lord Roberts's march to the relief of Kimberley by seizing Koodoesberg (5-8 Feb. 1900), and by this demonstration the attention of the Boers was distracted from the main advance. He was present at the operations which resulted in the surrender of General Cronje's army at Paardeberg (16-27 Feb. 1900). In the attack on the Boer laager on 18 Feb. he was slightly woimded while leading the Highland brigade. During the reduction of the Free State he was attached to the ninth division under Sir Henry Colvile [q. v. Suppl. II]. On the march from Lindley to Heilbron he took part in several stubbornly contested actions (27-31 May 1900), and was engaged in the operations that led to the surrender of General Prinsloo at Brandwater. During the subsequent guerilla warfare he directed bodies of troops in the south-east of the Orange River Colony, being from the beginning of 1901 stationed at Aliwal North. For his services in South Africa he was created a K.C.B. in 1900, and given the command of the Belgaum district in southern India in 1901. In May 1902 he was transferred to the command of the troops in Ceylon.

There disaster befel him. Early in 1903 an opprobrious accusation against him was reported to the governor of Ceylon (Sir West Ridgeway), who at once granted Macdonald's request for leave to return to London and discuss the matter with the war office authorities. The latter directed a court of inquiry to be held in Ceylon. Macdonald left London on his way thither on 24 March, and shot himself next day at the Hôtel Regina in Paris. He was buried in the Dean cemetery, Edinburgh. In 1884 he married Christina McDonald, daughter of Alexander MacLouchlan Duncan of Leith; she died at Edinburgh on 11 March 1911, leaving one son.

Macdonald holds an exceptional place in the history of the British army as a private who rose wholly by virtue of his soldierly capacity and physical courage to all but the highest military rank. As a dauntless fighter and a resourceful leader of men in battle he acquired well-merited fame. A rough tongue always showed traces of his origin. Among the Highlanders his memory was idolised. A memorial in the form of a tower 100 feet high was completed at Dingwall, overlooking his birthplace, on 23 May 1907.

[The Times, 26 March 1903; T. F. G. Coates, Hector Macdonald, 1900; D. Campbell, Major-General Hector A. Macdonald, 1900; D. L. Cromb, Hector Macdonald, 1903; Hart's and Official Army Lists; S. P. Oliver, The Second Afghan War, 1878-80, 1908; Lord Roberts, Forty-One Years in India, 30th edit. 1898; G. W. Steevens, With Kitchener to Khartum, 1898, pp. 57, 278 seq.; Winston Churchill, The River War, 1899; Maurice, History of the War in South Africa, 4 vols. 1906-10.]

H. M. V.