b. 28/03/1831 Colonsay, Scotland. d. 25/05/1904 St James Palace, London.
Sir John Carstairs McNeill (1831-1904) was born on 28th March 1831 in Colonsay, Argyllshire, Scotland. He was the son of Captain Alexander McNeill and the nephew of Lord Colonsay and of Sir John McNeill GCB. He was educated at the College, St Andrews and at Addiscombe. On leaving Addiscombe, he was gazetted to the 12th Bengal Native Infantry, which mutinied in 1857. He then became Aide de Camp to General Sir E. Lugard and was awarded the Indian Mutiny Medal with clasp. After the Mutiny, he was gazetted to the 107th, but quickly changed to the 48th Northamptonshire Regiment and commanded the Tipperary Flying Column.
He was promoted to Captain in 1860, Major in 1861 and Lieutenant Colonel in 1864. He then served in the New Zealand Campaign of 1864-1865, in which he would perform the action which would lead to the award of the VC (London Gazette, 16th July 1864). On the 30th March 1864, Private Vosper and Private Gibson were sent to escort Major McNeill, acting as ADC to Lieutenant-General Sir D Cameron, to Te Awamutu. On returning, McNeill observed a body of the enemy in front of them, and sent Private Gibson back to bring up the infantry from Ohanpu. McNeill and Vosper then proceeded to high ground to observe the enemy. Suddenly, they were ambushed by around 50 natives, who had been hiding in the nearby ferns. Their only chance was to ride for their lives, but as they turned, Vosper’s horse fell and threw him. The natives then rushed at Vosper, but McNeill quickly caught his horse, and helped him to mount. The natives were firing on them at close range, but they managed to gallop away.
McNeill received his VC from the Governor of New Zealand, Sir George Grey in Auckland on 6th December 1864. He then returned to the Tipperary Flying Column where he helped in the Fenian uprising of 1866-1867. He was then appointed as Military Secretary to Lord Lisgar, Governor-General of Canada, a post he held until 1872. He was then promoted to Colonel.
He was then appointed second in command of the Ashanti Campaign of 1873, where he was mentioned in despatches, until he was severely wounded. He was also awarded the Companion of Bath for his service. In 1874, he became Equerry to Queen Victoria and Aide de Camp to HRH The Commander in Chief. He would then serve in the Egyptian Campaign of 1882, and was promoted to Major General.
He was created a GCVO and KCMG and was an extra Equerry to King Edward VII. In retirement he became a JP and DL for Argyllshire. He died in St James Palace, London on 25th April 1904. His body was returned to Scotland and he was buried in Oronsay Priory in the McNeill family chapel, Colonsay. His medals are held in the Ashcroft Collection and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ORONSAY PRIORY, ISLE OF COLONSAY, SCOTLAND. VAULT.
John Carstairs McNeill's medals including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (Aug 2014).