The Allan and Janet Woodliffe Collection of Medals Relating to the Reconquest and Pacification of the Sudan (18 May 2011)

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Date of Auction: 18th May 2011

Sold for £2,500

Estimate: £2,000 - £3,000

The Queen’s Sudan Medal awarded to Sir Hector “Fighting Mac” MacDonald, K.C.B., D.S.O., who rose from the ranks in Afghanistan to command the 1st Egyptian Brigade at the Battle of Omdurman, saving it from disaster by his remarkable leadership, and who later committed suicide after being falsely accused of impropriety’ in Ceylon: one of Scotland’s most famous soldiers, he was also immortalised as the Highland officer depicted on the label of ‘Camp Coffee’ bottles

Queen’s Sudan 1896-98 (Bt: Lt: Col: H. A. MacDonald, Bde: Staff E.A.) officially engraved naming, edge bruising and overall light corrosion, otherwise very fine £2000-3000


This particular Queen’s Sudan Medal was claimed to have been found sans ribbon, when clearing a garden in Scotland. This story is probably untrue, but the medal does have slight blemishes commensurate with having been buried at some time. The medal itself is perfectly correctly named both in style and wording.

The medals of Sir Hector MacDonald now reside in the National War Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, however there is also a mystery here. A photograph taken in the museum many years ago shows MacDonald’s tunic with his medals but without the Queen’s Sudan Medal in the group (as indeed do Boer War period photographs of MacDonald wearing his medals). More recent photographs show the medal group on display complete with the Queen’s Sudan Medal. An enquiry to the museum solicited that the Queen’s Sudan Medal now with the group is identically named but the style of naming is not known.

Hector Archibald MacDonald was born on 13 April 1853, at Rootfield in the Parish of Urquhart, Ross-shire, the youngest of five sons of William MacDonald, a crofter and stonemason. He worked with a draper in Inverness before joining the army, at the age of 17, when he enlisted into the 92nd Gordon Highlanders. By the age of 21 he had risen to the rank of Colour Sergeant. In 1879 MacDonald saw action in the Second Afghan War and took part in the march on Kabul, during which his acts of bravery were noticed by Lord Roberts himself. His gallantry in Afghanistan saw him being promoted from the ranks, and it is said that he was offered the option of either the Victoria Cross or a commission.

The 92nd Gordon Highlanders were sent to South Africa in 1881. Here, he took part in the battle of Majuba Hill where, as a Second Lieutenant, he was in command of 20 men on the hill. During the heavy fighting every one of his troop was killed and he was reduced to hand to hand combat with the enemy. He was taken prisoner but so impressed the Boer Commander General Joubert that he was released.

In 1885, as a Captain, he joined the Egyptian army working closely with the Sudanese troops within that army and played a vital part in the repelling of the Dervishes at Toski in 1889. For this he won the D.S.O. In 1891 his Sudanese battalion acquitted themselves well at the battle of Tokar, for which he was promoted to the rank of Major. He rose steadily through the ranks and by the time Sir Herbert Kitchener was ready to retake the Sudan in 1896, MacDonald was a Lieutenant-Colonel. He went on to serve with honour at the battle of Omdurman in the Anglo-Sudanese campaign. It was this action that made him a national hero, being made a C.B., appointed as an A.D.C. to Queen Victoria and promoted to full Colonel.

In October 1899, he was promoted to Brigadier-General and when Major-General Wauchope was killed at the battle of Magersfontein, he was sent to take command of the Highland Brigade, with the rank of Major-General. Here he took part in the battle of Paardeberg and he was knighted by King Edward VII in 1901 for his service during the Boer War.

He took command of the army in Ceylon in 1902 and made no friends with his criticism of their performance and abilities, and got on very badly with the Governor, an establishment snob. In 1903, questions were raised about his sexuality and allegations made about his behaviour in Ceylon. There were suspicions that the allegations were fabricated by MacDonald's enemies, who saw his friendship with the ‘natives’ as going too far. He was despised by some of the military establishment, who considered themselves of a superior class and looked down on MacDonald's thick Scottish accent and 'uncultured' ways. Before any trial, the allegations were leaked to local newspapers, and then taken up by the International Herald Tribune newspaper. Told by Lord Roberts to return to Ceylon and face his accusers in a court martial, MacDonald took his own life in a Paris hotel on his way back.

A Tribunal held in 1903 came to the conclusion that the accusations were all false. As a further surprise to those who cast doubt on his sexuality, his body was claimed by a wife and daughter who had been kept secret since, at that time, officers attached to Kitchener’s Egyptian Army were not permitted to marry. Lady MacDonald declined the government’s offer of a state funeral; however over 30,000 people turned up at his funeral.

When the inventors of Camp Coffee needed an image to market their new product well over 100 years ago, it seemed little could do the job better than a doughty Scottish warrior sitting down for a brew in a far-flung corner of empire. The chosen image, from 1885, was actually based on Hector MacDonald being served by a Sikh attendant.

Sold with some research, and four interesting biographies of MacDonald, one obviously deliberately controversial.