Black Watch Zulu Wars-Egypt

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Black Watch Zulu Wars-Egypt

Postby registered2u » 06 Jun 2017 14:16

I am researching my Great Grandfather.

His Name was John Hugh Ross Macdonald. I notice that in Military records he was call McDonald. He was in the army twice. 1st time possibly around 1866 but he was bought out. We know he was enrolled for Medicine at Edinburgh university but left and joined the army. Second time 1882.

He served with the Black Watch in Egypt 1882. I am pretty sure his regiment number was 845. 1st Battalion. He fought at Tel-El-Kabir and I believe went to liberate General Gordon in Khartoum. Refer WO100. We have an 1882 Egypt medal 1882 with bars for Tel El Kebir, The Nile 1884-1885 and Kirbekan.

We have family information that he also served in the Zulu wars. Refer attachment.

John was born 22 March 1846 in Fort Augustus Scotland. His father was Donald Macdonald and Mother was Margaret Ross.

I suspect he re-enlisted in early 1882 as he was residing in Islay – Cladville House, Kilchoman 1881, census.

What I am keen to find is his WO97 and see what regiment he was with in the Zulu campaign. Could this be Ashanti war? I am also keen to discover more about the General Wolseley encounter. See attached.

We believe it occurred as our family had a beautiful Jewelled dagger in a presentation box that belonged to John. It was a gift to him from a senior officer. It has been lost now unfortunately.

Please let me know what is possible.


Andrew Macdonald
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Re: Black Watch Zulu Wars-Egypt

Postby Frogsmile » 08 Jun 2017 11:35

The Black Watch did not fight in the 1879 Anglo/Zulu War, but they did play a leading part in the Ashanti War of 1874, and that has probably been confused with 'Zulus',

I'm afraid there is no shortcut to either, going to the National Archives and looking in the WO97 records yourself, or engaging a professional researcher to do so on your behalf. The following information from may be of use:

Scottish soldiers in the British army after 1707

After the Act of the Union was passed in 1707 creating the United Kingdom, the army was controlled from London and many military records are held in The National Archives at Kew.

However, many of the Scottish regiments have their own museums:

The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), Hamilton
The Royal Scots, Edinburgh Castle
The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, Berwick-upon-Tweed
The Black Watch, Perth
The Highlanders, Inverness
The Royal Highland Fusiliers, Glasgow
The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Stirling Castle
The National War Museum is also based at Edinburgh Castle.

The General Register Office for Scotland holds the Army Returns (births, deaths and marriages of Scots at military stations abroad between 1881 and 1959);
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Re: Black Watch Zulu Wars-Egypt

Postby jf42 » 08 Jun 2017 13:51

John- greetings and welcome to VWF. I drafted this thread before Frogsmile posted his.

I am afraid I can't help you with information from WO 97, either. It's worth noting that, if your forbear re-enlisted in 1882, he would have been thirty six, which is fairly old to return to the colours, although perhaps he had NCO experience which would have been valued.

I suspect you will already be aware but, to avoid your being side tracked, I may as well re-iterate that the Black Watch did not serve in the Zulu campaign of 1879, being in Gibraltar at the time.

You mention Wolseley's Ashanti campaign. This took place five years before in 1874, on the west coast of Africa. The 42nd (Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot, The Black Watch, as they were then titled, were Wolseley's most effective unit. They formed the spearhead of the British column and he subsequently described them as "the finest regiment I ever saw in action."

The 42nd were involved in close-quarter fighting along the jungle route to Kumasi, which might have provided your forbear an opportunity to render personal service to General Wolseley as described in the newspaper cutting, but I have never come across record of such an event in Black Watch lore. Wolseley occupying a prominent position in the British marching square was exposed to enemy fire, but the narrowest scrape the general had, that I know of, was a bullet clipping his cork sun helmet.

I don't believe Wolseley was ever in personal danger of a similar kind in Egypt or on the Nile in 1885 but I stand to be corrected.

My copy of 'Officers of the Black Watch 1739-86' is not to hand, but I believe there is a list of Sergeant Majors of the regiment in the Appendices. If your forbear retired with the rank of Sergeant Major in the Black Watch he might be listed there.
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Re: Black Watch Zulu Wars-Egypt

Postby jf42 » 10 Jun 2017 11:45

Andrew, I have made some enquires at the Black Watch forum and I am informed by Ron Marsden ( a member of VWF) that, with reference to John Hugh Ross Macdonald/McDonald:

"There is no record of Sgt Majors published that I know of
He is not listed in the 42nd record of Sgts.
He is not listed in BW sgts roll RHQ records.
From the medal rolls the only man to hold the clasps you mentioned is Pte John Mc'Donald no RH/845."

That last would seem to confirm your conclusions re your forbear's service in Egypt etc.

Several thoughts occur. One is that JM may have returned to the colours as a Reservist. That would depend on the terms of his enlistment in relation to the establishment of an Army reserve under the Cardwell reforms, circa 1870. Frogsmile or A.N. Other might be able to comment on that possiblity better than I.

Secondly, if he did indeed hold the rank of Sergeant Major, it might not even have been in the regular army. It seems that your great grandfather spent his last years in Tasmania. Do I have that right? There is the possibility that his service in local military organisations involved holding of such an appointment.

We also have to accept the possibility that between local custom and journalists' tendency either to get things wrong, or simply to 'print the legend,' that the old soldier's title of 'Sergeant Major' may have been honorary rather than strictly reflecting his record of service.
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Re: Black Watch Zulu Wars-Egypt

Postby registered2u » 25 Jun 2017 14:01

Hi all

Thanks for you research. It is a mystery to me. I do know this about John Hugh Macdonald. The article I posted rings true based on a lot of family knowledge. He was related to General Hugh Ross as his mother was Margaret Ross, who was a niece. He had other grand uncles who served in the Madras army. He attended Edinburgh University as a Medial student in 1861 age 15. We have records attesting to that. He decided to drop out of university and joined the army not long after but was eventually bought out by the family. He farmed in Islay at Cladville farm until 1881 and then went of to Egypt. Following Egypt he arrive in Australia about 1887 and then become a gold miner. He finally settle in Tasmania and during WW1, he was appointed by the recruitment committees as a recruiting Sergeant for his local district. To hold this position, he had to have previous military service. He was also surrounded by peers that were also ex soldiers. He was raised to Sergeant Major before he died. I don't know his previous ranks apart from private in 1882. I do know he didn't want to be a farmer in Islay. His two brothers were lawyers and one a doctor who treated one of Queen Victoria's children. Perhaps he felt he was a failure and didn't come back to Scotland. It is a big mystery. I am happy to engage a professional researcher, but I don't have much to work off. I know he was absolutely with the Black Watch in 1882. Before that I cannot say. I don't believe the newspaper report was an embellishment, however, it would be great to get evidence to support the story. If only I could find the WO97.
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