Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/McNair, John Frederick Adolphus
McNAIR, JOHN FREDERICK ADOLPHUS (1828–1910), Indian and colonial official, born at Bath on 23 Oct. 1828, was eldest son of Major Robert McNair, staff officer, London. After education at King's College, London, and at the School of Mines, he entered the Madras (royal) artillery in 1845, was promoted captain in 1858 and major (retired) in 1870. He was employed with his battery in India until 1850. In 1853 he proceeded to the Straits Settlements and served at Malacca and in Labuan. After qualifying in the Hindustani and Malay languages he was appointed in 1856 staff officer and subsequently adjutant of artillery for the Straits district. After serving during 1857 as A.D.C. and private secretary to the governor, E. A. Blundell, he became executive engineer and superintendent of convicts at Singapore. He received the approval of the governor-general of India, Sir John (afterwards Lord) Lawrence, in council on the completion of the military works at the latter place, and the government of Netherlands India thanked him for services in connection with the introduction into Java of the Straits system of prison discipline.
From 1865 to 1867 McNair was in England as deputy governor and in charge of public works at Woking prison. In 1867, when the administration of the Straits Settlements was transferred from the Indian to the colonial department, he returned to Singapore as colonial engineer and controller of convicts and member of the legislative council of the colony (14 Feb.). He was colonial secretary during 1868, a member of the executive council from 1869, and colonial engineer and surveyor-general from 1873. In Feb. 1881 he was transferred to Penang as acting lieutenant-governor and resident councillor of that province. He retired on a pension on 10 Aug. 1884. McNair meanwhile was officially employed on important missions to Siam in 1868, 1874, 1875, and 1878. In 1875-6 he was officiating chief commissioner in Perak during the disturbances in that state, and took part in the affair of Kotah Lamah on the Perak river, for which he received the medal and clasp. He was special commissioner to Selangor to inquire into piracy, and to Perak in connection with the Pangkor treaty in 1874. McNair was made C.M.G. on 24 May 1878.
After his retirement McNair occupied his time principally in writing. He had already issued in 1878 'Perak and the Malays,' a descriptive account of the Malayan peninsula, and in 1899, in collaboration with W. D. Bayless, he published 'Prisoners their own Warders,' an interesting account of the old Singapore convict prison. He also issued (for private circulation) 'Oral Traditions from the Indus,' and wrote many articles for the 'Asiatic Quarterly' on Eastern topics.
McNair died at Brighton on 17 May 1910, and was buried in the town cemetery. He was twice married: (1) in 1849 to Sarah des Granges, daughter of the Rev. J. Paine, M.A. (she died in 1903); and (2) to Madalena, daughter of E. Vallence of Brighton, and widow of surgeon-major G. Williamson, R.A.M.C. He had two sons and three daughters.
A portrait in oils, three-quarter length, belongs to his second son, Arthur Wyndham, of the Indian civil service.
[The Times, 20 May 1910; Colonial Office List, 1910; Straits Settlements Civil Service List, 1884; Colonial Office Records; information supplied by relatives.]