SIR JAMES DUNCAN MACPHERSON, K.C.B.
James Duncan Macpherson was born on the January 24th,
1811, at Ardelach, Nairn, Scotland and baptized on the
24th of February, 1811. He was the eldest son of Captain
Duncan Macpherson of the 78th Highlanders and his wife,
Anne Brodie, daughter of Duncan Campbell of Fornighty.
His father had been wounded while serving with his
regiment at the battle of Maida in 1806 and would later
rise to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel before retiring
from the Army.
Educated at King’s College, Aberdeen, James received a
classical and mathematical education. James’ father was
not wealthy enough to purchase an Army commission for
him but was able to use his connection to secure a
nomination for a commission for James in the HEIC
His father, having then retired from the 78th
Highlanders, was described in James’ Cadet Papers as a
Private Gentleman residing at Plymouth Square, Plymouth.
Having passed the examination on the 22nd of October,
1828, James was appointed a Gentlemen Cadet in the
Company’s service. James was commissioned an Ensign
in the Bengal Infantry on the 4th of December, 1828,
the day of his departure for India.
Arriving in India on the 5th of May, 1829, James was ordered to do duty with 52nd Native Infantry on the 10th of June.
A vacancy having occurred, James was posted to his regiment, the 22nd Native Infantry, on 18th of November, 1829.
Apparently showing early promise, having only arrived in India just a little over four years earlier, James received a
temporary appointment as Interpreter and Quartermaster for his regiment on the 20th of September, 1833.
In November of 1834, James participated in the Shekhawat Expedition when a Field Force under the command of Brigadier-
General Stevenson, C.B., proceeded in a punitive expedition against the Shekhawats, a predatory tribe inhabiting a tract of
land to the north-east of Jodhpur. The force marched into the heart of Shekhawat country without encountering opposition
and occupied or destroyed the strongholds of the plundering chiefs. The Field Force was broken up at the end of December
and the constituent regiments returned to their respective cantonments. No medals were authorized for the expedition but
James had experienced his first taste of active service.
James was promoted Lieutenant on the 26th of November, 1836. On the 25th of August, 1840, James married Mary
Kennedy at Nasirabad. Mary had been born in India and was the eighth daughter of Colonel (later Lieutenant-General)
James Kennedy, C.B., a Bengal cavalry officer of some repute. Five of Mary’s sisters were to also marry officers in
James was appointed Adjutant of the 22nd Native Infantry in September of 1845, a position he held until early 1845.
In November of that year, James was promoted Captain.
In 1848, upon the outbreak of the Second Sikh War, James was appointed Brigade-Major in the 3rd Brigade of the Army
of the Punjab. He was present at the passage of the Chenaub, the battles of Chillianwala and Goojerat (or Gujerat), and the
pursuit of the Afghans to Peshawar. For his services James was thanked in Lord Gough’s despatch, made a Brevet-Major and
received the Punjab medal with two clasps, named to him as Captain and Brigade Major, 3rd Division and 22nd B.N.I.
In November of 1852, James was placed at the disposal of the Foreign Department for employment with the Board of
Administration for the Affairs of the Punjab. In March of 1853 James was appointed Military Secretary to the Chief
Commissioner and Agent to the Governor General for the Affairs of the Punjab. As Military Secretary, while having no
command authority, James nevertheless occupied an important position, being charged with not only being the principal
military advisor to the chief civilian authority in the District, but also with representing the military’s interests at that
level of government in what was a large and important area of India which had only recently come under British rule.
In 1853, James volunteered his services to Colonel S.B. Boileau who was preparing a force for an expedition he would lead
against the Bori villages of the Jowaki Afridis. The Afridis were a Pathan tribe with traditional tribal lands on the border
of the Northwest Frontier of India. After several serious raids by the Jowaki Afridis, in November of 1853 the expedition
of approximately 1700 troop under the command of Colonel Boileau was ordered to march against them. Colonel Boileau’s
force, accompanied by Captain H. R. Jones, the Deputy Commissioner, entered the Afridis’ territory by way of the
Sarghasha Pass. After overcoming stiff resistance from the fierce tribesmen, the force destroyed several Afridis villages
in the Bori Valley and the tribal leaders finally agreed to terms laid down by the British forbidding future raids and the
harboring of criminals. For his services as a volunteer staff officer in the expedition, James was thanked in Colonel
Boileau’s despatch and in 1869, when the Northwest Frontier clasp to the India General Service Medal was authorized
for the men then still living who had taken part in the expedition, James received the IGS medal with clasp, named to him
as Major J.D. Macpherson, Military Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab.
In November of 1854, James was promoted Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and promoted to substantive Major in December of
1855. In April of 1856 James was granted leave on sick certificate for one year to visit the island of Mauritius, but by
November of that year he had resumed his duties in the Punjab.
On the 10th of May, 1857, the Indian Mutiny erupted when the native regiments stationed at Meerut rose in mutiny
against their officers. Due to indecision by the commanding officer at Meerut, the mutinous troops were allowed to make
their way to unmolested to the great fort at Delhi. The fever of mutiny rapidly spread to other native regiments
throughout Northern India and the Punjab was soon in crisis.
At the time of the outbreak of the Mutiny, James was stationed in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, and was still serving as
Military Secretary to the Chief Commission of the Punjab. The important role James was to play in the suppression of the
Mutiny can best be recounted by contemporaneous accounts from various sources:
Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. 105, Edinburgh, 1869.
It would be impossible to leave Lahore without alluding to the two other officers who occupied at this time the most
confidential positions about the person of the Chief Commissioner, his civil and military secretaries. … The military
secretary of the Chief Commissioner, Major (now Major- General) J. D. Macpherson, had, at the time of which
we are writing, filled that position for about five years. He, too, was a man of great energy and quick decision. He
possessed, in addition, a simple directness of manner, sound views regarding military arrangements, and the power of
impressing those views upon others. Above all, he was an honest man. Whatever might have been the opinions of his
chief, not for worlds would he have altered or concealed his own, had he thought it for the public interests that they
should be made known. (Id. at page 578.)
On leaving Lahore en route to Rawul Pindee, Sir John had left behind him the two principal Commissioners, Messrs
Montgomery and Macleod, and his military secretary, Lieut.-Col. Macpherson. The news of the Meerut outbreak, and
its first results at Delhi, reached Lahore on the 12th May. Almost simultaneously with its arrival, Captain Richard
Lawrence, a brother of the Chief Commissioner, and who commanded two police battalions and some police cavalry at
that station, received a hint from a moonshee (native clerk) of the Thuggee department, serving under his orders, that
the sepoys of the garrison were infected with a mutinous spirit. Captain Lawrence immediately imparted this intelligence
to Colonel Macpherson… (Id. at page 584.)
Life of Lord Lawrence, Reginald B. Smith, London, 1883.
In this conjuncture Montgomery took counsel with his colleagues—the chief civilians and staff-officers at Anarkali, who
assembled in the house of Macpherson, the Military Secretary. They were Mr. Donald Macleod, Mr. Egerton, Colonel
Ommaney, Mr. Roberts, Captain (sic) Macpherson, Richard Lawrence, and Waterloo Hutchinson. There was an
animated discussion. Macpherson had already talked the matter over with Robert Montgomery, and they had agreed
that it would be expedient to deprive the Sipahis (Sepoys) of their ammunition. It was now suggested by the former
that this should be done — that the ammunition should be lodged in store, and that the regiments should be told that,
as they had obviously much anxiety with respect to the greased cartridges, it was the order of the Government that
all ground of alarm should be removed for the present by leaving them without any ammunition at all. On this Richard
Lawrence said, "I would disarm them altogether;" to which Macpherson replied that it was scarcely probable that the
military authorities would consent to such a measure. (Kaye and Malleson, History of the Indian Mutiny, Volume II.)
But the Civil officers had no authority in such a matter, and so Montgomery and Macpherson rode over to Mean Meer
to urge the necessity for action on the Brigadier in command. General Corbett was, at first, naturally taken aback at
the boldness of the proposal, but, to his infinite credit, in the course of the afternoon, he made up his mind to go even
further, and to deprive his troops not merely of their ammunition, but of their arms.
A ball was to be given, that very night, to the officers of the one European regiment in the station, and as profound
secrecy was essential to the success of the intended disarmament, it was not postponed. A dreary amusement enough
the dance must have seemed to those few officers who were in the secret, and who felt that they must pass at the
dawn of day from the ball-room to the parade-ground, which might well prove their grave! The thoughts of one and of
another may well have leapt back to that other ball-room at Brussels, which heard ' the cannon's opening roar' and
ushered in the crowning victory of Waterloo.
A general parade had been ordered in the usual course for the morning of the 18th, and Montgomery and Macleod,
Macpherson and Roberts, Richard Lawrence, Robert Egerton and Hutchinson, rode over to the ground, prepared to
witness the successful execution of the bold step decided on by Corbett, or to be among the first to fall if it should
miscarry. The Sepoy force consisted of three regiments of foot, the 16th, the 20th, and the 49th, and of one light
cavalry regiment, the 8th. The Europeans who were to disarm them consisted of five companies only of a single
regiment, the 81st, with twelve guns. The Sepoy regiments appeared on the ground, quite unconscious that there
was anything unusual in preparation. A simple maneeuvre brought them face to face with the Europeans, and made it
dangerously easy for them to count their foes. While they were thus drawn up, a Staff officer read aloud to them the
orders of the Brigadier. He praised them heartily for their past conduct, but ended by announcing that, as an evil spirit
seemed to be abroad in the Indian army, it had been thought advisable to save them from others—and it might be from
themselves, by taking from them—their arms.
While he was still speaking the five hundred Europeans fell back between the guns which had hitherto been concealed
behind them, and left the Sepoy regiments to look down the twelve black throats of the cannon, which were already
loaded with grape, while the gunners stood by with port-fires lighted. Just as he ceased to speak, the word of
command, ' Eighty-first, load!' rang clearly forth. It was a thrilling moment, a moment in which half a lifetime must
have seemed to pass. There was, it is said, a slight hesitation, but the ringing of the ramrods as the charges were
rammed home, spoke eloquently in favour of obedience, and so some two thousand muskets, and some seven hundred
sabres soon lay piled upon the ground. The Sepoy garrison of the fort which commands Lahore was disarmed at almost
the same moment by three companies of the same 81st Regiment, and the capital of the Punjab was safe from the
mutineers. The whole of the responsibility for these measures rested with Brigadier Corbett, and to him, therefore,
must be assigned the chief share of the credit.(Id.at page 8.)
Well might Sir John Lawrence, writing a few days later to the man who had so spoken and written and acted on his
behalf, say, in a burst of genuine enthusiasm, which was rare in him, except when a piece of extraordinarily good work
called it forth, ' Your Lahore men have done nobly. I should like to embrace them; Donald, Roberts, Mac (Macpherson),
and Dick are, all of them, pucca trumps,'—one of his very highest terms of praise. (Id. at page 11.)
|This photo was taken at Lahore in 1857 and is |
courtesy of the British Library
The men in the photo are identified from left to
Donald Friell MacLeod, Judicial Commissioner
of the Punjab
Herbert Benjamin Edwardes, Commissioner of
John Laird Mair Lawrence, Chief Commissioner
of the Punjab
Robert Montgomery, Judicial Commissioner,
Colonel James Duncan Macpherson, Military
Secretary to the Punjab Government
Men and Events of My Time in India, Richard Temple, London, 1882.
In reviewing the events of 1857 in the Panjab, he (John Lawrence) assigned the utmost credit to Robert Montgomery,
General Corbett and Colonel James Duncan Macpherson for the prompt disarming of the sepoys at Lahore; also to
Herbert Edwardes and General Sydney Cotton for maintaining order at Peshawar. The disarming of the Sepoys at
Lahore on 13th of May, 1857, was one of the most remarkable events in the history of the mutinies. Corbett in the
exercise of the soundest judgment assumed a perilous responsibility, and Macpherson played his part excellently well.
But the chief credit is due to Robert Montgomery, who rendered a priceless service to his country. Had this measure
not been taken with the requisite promptness, the sepoys certainly would have revolted. Whether such a revolt would
have succeeded is a question which the boldest might tremble to answer; the chances of its success were considerable.
Had it occurred, the course of affairs in the Panjab might have been disastrously altered. (Id. at page 146.)
Parliamentary Papers, Parliament of Great Britain, House of Commons.
Here also the Anarkullee Volunteers and the Lahore Light Horse may be appropriately noticed. At the commencement
of the crisis, in May 1857, the European community of Anarkullee (the civil station of Lahore), consisting of clerks
belonging to the various central offices, and other residents, volunteered to form a body of infantry, upwards of a
hundred strong, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel J. D. Macpherson. They remained embodied for about
eight months. In August 1857 the Lahore Light Horse was formed, consisting of drummer boys of mutinied infantry
and cavalry corps, and other Eurasians, about 160 strong (i. e. two troops or one squadron), mounted on Government
horses of the mutinied cavalry, under command of Captain Snow. They were first employed in quelling the Googaira
e´meute, then they were despatched to Hindoostan, and have served with credit at Lucknow, in Rohilcund, and
Allahabad.(Id. Session 3 Feb.- 19 April 1859, Vol. XVIII at 113,pg. 20.)
The Chief Commissioner's military secretary, Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Macpherson, rendered valuable assistance
throughout the crisis. The labours of Colonel Macpherson in the organisation of the new regiments and in the
multifarious duties which devolved on him were incessant. His counsel as an experienced soldier was most useful.
Since the outbreak of the mutiny there have, from first to last, been raised and organised 18 new regiments of
infantry, six of cavalry, besides many thousands of levies, horse and foot. On the 1st May 1858, just one year after
the mutiny, the new force numbered upwards of 34,000, which, with the previous numbers (20,000) make up an
aggregate of 54,000 men. The details of this large force passed through Colonel Macpherson's hands.
(Id. at 58, pg. 55.)
Colonel Macpherson, Military Secretary, being in charge of the Chief Commissioner's office at Lahore, the
general superintendence of arrangements connected, not only with the raising of new levies, hut with the marching
of detachments, providing carriage, ammunition, tents, &c., stationing of guards and pickets for the security of the
town and civil station, and generally all matters affecting the efficiency and distribution of the Punjab local force
and Military Police, devolved mainly upon him. The Chief Commissioner knows too well, and appreciates too highly,
the services rendered by Colonel Macpherson throughout this critical period to require any assurance from me;
but I deem it incumbent on me here to record how prominent and important was his share in all that was transacted
at the metropolis of the Punjab previous to the Chief Commissioner's arrival.
With health much impaired, and an office of which the duties had been enormously increased by the course, of events,
he nevertheless showed himself equal to every emergency, and took an active part wherever his services could be
useful. When volunteer companies were formed, he superintended their organization and drill: the examination of
native letters received by the post was chiefly conducted by him: he especially maintained a complete understanding
at all times with the military authorities; and his energy, resolution, and judgment, inspired general confidence. To
myself personally his presence was of the very greatest value.(Id. at 135,136 at pg.55, quoting R. Montgomery,
Judicial Commissioner of the Punjab.)
Among the excellent body of officers who have served under him in civil capacities during the two years, the Chief
Commissioner especially commends the- following:—
…The Chief Commissioner's military secretary, Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Macpherson, deserves especial praise and
notice for the zealous and hearty service he rendered, and the incessant labour he sustained from the commencement
of the mutinies till he joined the army headquarters as Officiating Quarter-master General. (Id. at 155, pg. 45,
quoting R. Temple, Civil Secretary to the Chief Commissioner of the Punjab, Sir John Lawrence.,)
On the 27th of February, 1858, James was appointed to officiate as Quartermaster General of the Army. In that
capacity he participated in the final reduction of the City of Lucknow in March of 1858. In April of that year he was
made a Brevet Colonel and on the 26th of July, 1858, James was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath, Military
Division. In March of 1859, James was mentioned in Lord Clyde’s despatch of the in which Lord Clyde announced the
cessation of hostilities in Oude and the close of the campaign.
For his services during the Mutiny, James received the Indian Mutiny medal with clasp for Lucknow named to him as
Lieutenant-Colonel J. D. Macpherson, C.B., Officiating Quartermaster General of the Army. James’ medal was one of
only eight Mutiny medals on the roll submitted by the Quartermaster General Department which also included the
authorization for the medal for Frederick Roberts, V.C., later Field Marshall Lord Roberts of Kandahar.
James continued to officiate as Quartermaster General until January of 1859, when he was appointed Military
Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab. In April of 1859 James was promoted Brevet Colonel and in
October of 1859, James was posted as Lieutenant-Colonel to the newly raised 6th European Regiment.
In March of 1860, James was granted an eighteen month furlough for personal affairs. Returning to the 6th European
Regiment following his furlough, in August of 1862 James was promoted to Brigadier General commanding the Agra
Brigade, a position he held for a little under two years as he was appointed Commissary General of the Bengal Army
in March of 1864, a position he was to hold until James was promoted Major General in 1868. In February of 1868
James returned to England on furlough. James was raised to K.C.B. in the Queen’s Birthday List of 1873.
Major General Sir James Duncan Macpherson, K.C.B., died of pneumonia on the 29th of May, 1874, at his residence at 31
Belsize Park Gardens, London. Lady Macpherson lived for another twenty-nine years following her husband’s death, dying
in October of 1903 at the age 82. She left an estate of approximately £2,500.
James’ and Mary’s son James Duncan Macpherson, Jr., like his father, also served in the Bengal Army. He was
commissioned into the Bengal Infantry in 1857, serving in the suppression of the Indian Mutiny with the 1st Bengal
European Fusiliers, receiving the Indian Mutiny medal without clasp. Having transferred to the 3rd Punjab Cavalry, in
October of 1868 he served as Orderly Officer to General Vaughn commanding the 2nd Brigade of the Hazara Field Force
on the Northwest Frontier of India against the Black Mountain tribes for which he received the IGS medal with Northwest
Frontier clasp. Serving as a Major in the 3rd Punjab Cavalry, he served in the 2nd Afghan War, taking part in the famous
march from Kabul to Kandahar and the battle of Kandahar for which he received the 2nd Afghan War medal with clasp
for Kandahar and the Robert’s Star. Retiring as a Colonel in 1895, James Duncan Macpherson, Jr. moved to Inverness
and lived to be 86 years old, dying there in 1927.
Another of James’ and Mary’s sons, Captain George Ewen Macpherson, died in India at age 39 while serving in the Bengal
Army. He had joined the Bengal Infantry in 1860, and in 1863 served with the 4th Gurkhas during the Umbeyla campaign,
receiving the India General Service medal and clasp. At the time of his death, having been admitted to the Bengal Staff
Corps, George had recently been appointed Officiating Deputy Commissioner of Gurgaon and was on his way to take up
his post there when he suddenly died at Karnal, India on the 17th of September of 1879.
Sir James’ youngest brother, Herbert Taylor Macpherson also served in the military with distinction. Born in 1827, in
1845 Herbert received a commission in his father’s old regiment, the 78th Highlanders which was then serving in India.
Like his brother and his nephew, Herbert also served in the suppression of the Indian Mutiny. While serving with his
regiment, Herbert received the Victoria Cross for an act of gallantry during the first relief of the Residency at
Lucknow in September of 1857. In addition to the Indian Mutiny medal and the V.C., Herbert went on to earn the
India General Service medal with three clasps, the 2nd Afghan medal with four clasps, the Robert’s Star, the Egypt
medal with clasp and the Khedive’s Star. Having reached the rank of Major-General, Herbert was appointed to succeed
Lord Roberts as Commander-in-Chief of the Madras Army. In 1886, he was appointed to command an expeditionary
force to pacify the recently annexed territory of Upper Burma when while in Burma he contracted a fever and suddenly
died in October of that year. The Victoria Cross awarded to Major-General Sir Herbert Taylor Macpherson, V.C.,
G.C.B., K.C.S.I. is on display at the Highlander Museum at Fort George, Ardersier, Scotland, his home town.
His nephew, Major Duncan Heldane MacPherson. 2nd Seaforth Highlanders/8th Imperial Yeomanry who was the son
of Herbert Taylor is featured here with kind permission of Terry.