Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/McNeill, John Carstairs

MCNEILL, Sir JOHN CARSTAIRS (1831–1904), major-general, born at Colonsay House on 29 March 1831, was eldest son in a family of four sons of Capt. Alexander McNeill (1791-1850) of the islands of Colonsay and Oronsay in the Hebrides, by his wife Anne Elizabeth, daughter of John Carstairs of Stratford Green, Essex, and Warboys, Huntingdonshire. Duncan McNeill, Lord Colonsay [q. v.], the Scottish judge, and Sir John McNeill [q. v.], the diplomatist, were his uncles. After education at the university of St. Andrews and at Addiscombe, he entered the army on 9 Dec. 1850 as ensign in the 12th Bengal native infantry. He was promoted lieutenant on 30 Aug. 1855. During the Indian Mutiny, 1857-8, McNeill won distinction as aide-de-camp to Sir Edward Lugard during the siege and capture of Lucknow. He took part in the engagement at Jaunpur, in the relief of Azimghur, and in various operations at Jugdespur, and received the medal with clasp and brevet of major. He became captain on 31 Aug. 1860 and major on 8 Oct. 1861, and in the latter year, being transferred to the 107th foot, he proceeded to New Zealand as aide-de-camp to General Sir Duncan Alexander Cameron [q. v. Suppl. I]. He served there till 1865, engaging in the Maori war of 1864. He was present at the engagements on the Katikara river, the Kalroa, Ranghiri, the Gate Pah, and various other encounters with the Maoris. During the war he won the Victoria Cross for an act of gallantry on 30 March 1864, when he was threatened, while engaged in carrying despatches, by a force of the enemy, and managed to effect the escape of both himself and a private, who was in imminent peril of his life (Lond. Gaz. 21 Aug. and 23 Oct. 1863; 19 Feb. and 14 May 1864, and 12 April 1865). McNeill also received the medal and the brevet of lieut.-colonel.

From 1869 to 1872 McNeill was military secretary to Sir John Young, Lord Lisgar [q. v.], governor-general of Canada, and was on the staff of the Red River expedition in Canada under Sir Garnet (afterwards Viscount) Wolseley in 1870. He became colonel on 25 April 1872, and for his services on this expedition he was nominated C.M.G. on 2 Dec. 1876. As chief of the staff in the Ashanti war of 1873-4 he showed daring, determination, and a first-rate capacity for organisation, and was so severely wounded in the wrist at the destruction of Essaman that he had eventually to be sent home. (Lond. Gaz. 18 Nov. 1873 and 7 and 31 March 1874). He was awarded the medal and was made C.B. on 31 March 1874. By Queen Victoria's command he accompanied Prince Leopold (afterwards duke of Albany) to Canada, and on his return was appointed K.C.M.G. on 17 Aug. 1880. In 1882 he was promoted major-general, and served in the Egyptian campaign on the staff of the duke of Connaught (Lond. Gaz. 2 Nov. 1882). He received the medal, bronze star, and the 2nd class Medjidie, and was nominated K.C.B. on 24 Nov. 1882.

In the Soudan campaign of 1885 he commanded the second infantry brigade. On 20 March he took part in the action at Hashin, where his troops stormed Dihilibat hill. On 22 March a force under McNeill started from Suakin for Tamai to escort a convoy of camels with supplies. A halt was made half-way at Tofrik, and while a zeriba was being formed, the enemy attacked in force. After severe fighting the Arabs were repulsed with loss. Sir Gerald Graham [q. v. Suppl. I], who had started out to McNeill's assistance, soon returned on hearing that reinforcements were not required. Graham deprecated the sharp criticism to which McNeill's conduct was subjected on the ground of lack of caution (Lond. Gaz. 25 Aug. 1885). For his services in the campaign he received two clasps. He retired from the service in 1890. Inheriting the family estates in the Hebrides, McNeill was made J.P. and D.L. for Argyllshire in 1874. He became an equerry to Queen Victoria and A.D.C. to George, duke of Cambridge. In 1898 he was appointed king at arms to the Order of the Bath, and, on the accession of Edward VII, G.C.V.O. on 2 Feb. 1901. Of foreign orders he held the first class of the Red Eagle and of the order of the Crown of Prussia. His love of sport made him a favourite with the royal family.

He died unmarried, on 25 May 1904, at St. James's Palace, London, and was buried at Oronsay Priory, Argyllshire.

[The Times, 27 and 28 May 1904; Burke's Landed Gentry; Hart's and Official Army Lists; Indian Mutiny: Selections from State Papers in Military Department, 1857-8, iii. 558; Lord Wolseley, Story of a Soldier's Life, 1903, ii. 279; R. H. Vetch, Life, Letters, and Diaries of Lieut.-general Sir Gerald Graham, 1901, p. 293; H. E. Colvile, History of the Sudan Campaign, 2 parts, 1889.]

H. M. V.