Clan Donald

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Clan Donald Magazine No 4 (1968) Online

The Banner of the 76th Macdonald's Highlanders by Alan Bell Macdonald of Rammerscales.

Banner of the 76th Macdonald's Highlanders

This banner was exhibited at the gathering of the Clan Donald Society of Edinburgh of 9th November 1962.

I'd never even heard of it in February 1962, when a great friend of mine Kay Kleinfeldt (many years with Sotheby's now with Spink's, primarily an expert on porcelain and glass but pretty knowledgeable in all the antique departments), sent me a catalogue of one of the Friday sales at Sotheby's with this banner marked. The description of it in the catalogue was, as it turned out, completely wrong but I wasn't to know it then and was duly intrigued. Mercifully, I was coming down to London anyway, otherwise I'd have left the bidding to Kay and lost it - thought I lost it anyway myself! However, I came down, tore over to Sotheby's and as soon as I saw it reckoned I must have a good go at that. I also realised that the auctioneer's blurb was most likely wrong as such a fragile silken ceremonial banner was most unlikely to have been risked at Culloden or if it had would scarcely have survived. In the same way the thing was obviously never anywhere near the massacre of Glencoe.

Even so, I had no idea of where it came from, who made it and carried it, and how it got there. I got Kay to enquire from Sotheby's on whether there were any bids in from museums or important people. Nothing; all seemed set for an easy purchase. I've often bid at Sotheby's and know the form well. The most important part of the form being to know exactly when you are going to stop! I was over excited and over confident this time and made an absolute mess of the bidding! After �30 I found myself wandering up in fivers against someone in the back of the room who was remorseless. I had placed myself badly too and couldn t see who it was. I was furious, 65, 70, 75-80, 85-90! It was getting bloody expensive. Finally in baffled rage and desperately disappointed I signed off at �100. It was gone. I stumped out and down Bond Street pretty cross with myself. After a couple of good drinks I thought I'd go back to Sotheby's and just find out who the hell had bought it. Luckily, I know the Sotheby's people reasonably well, or I did then, and they said it was bought on behalf a Mrs. Owen and that's all we're saying. That got me no further so I asked them if they'd forward an open letter to her - OK they said - you send it care of us and we'll send it on.

I left it for a few days and when I got home I wrote to congratulate Mrs Owen explaining that I'd been the underbidder and was really very disappointed - but there it was; can't always win and so hoped she'd enjoy it for years. I couldn't help adding that if ever she felt like disposing of it please to remember me.

A few days later the phone rang - a Mrs. Owen on the line. She had my letter; she was most touched; she would very much like me to have the banner at the price of my last bid if I could assure her that there was a reasonable chance of its remaining in my family. I was absolutely overcome with her generosity and kindness. It was entirely spontaneous on her part and the Newsletter No. 52 is not accurate when it says it was bought by a Mrs. Owen on behalf of Mr. Alan Macdonald. This does her a grave injustice for she acted I think with great unselfishness and sympathy in letting me have it. We corresponded at some length over it all.

The banner is certainly that of the 76th Macdonald Highlanders. It was certainly in North America as that is where the 76th served in the War of Independence. What happened to it after that is anybody's guess. I hesitate to write to the seller, Lady Thornton - it could be embarrassing and strictly it's no business of mine how it got into the sale room! Interesting though it would be to know its history.

My own personal suggestion of its early history is this: I think it was embroidered at some date well prior to the '45 as Lord Macdonald's personal banner to be used on the first occasion when one or other of the Jacobite contestants should make his ceremonial entry into Edinburgh. The banner is so delicate, heavily embroidered on both sides with the Arms of Sleat, crown over a thistle in each corner, that it couldn't possibly have been borne in battle. After the '45 everything went wrong and the banner went into hiding I should think till Lord Macdonald started raising his 76th Regiment. It was at this stage, I am sure, the top left thistle was unpicked and the Jack was put up in that corner instead to show solidarity with the English in their war against the revolting colonists!

My great-great-grandfather's elder brother Allan was in that Regiment and we have an old letter book of his with copies of several letters of his, of date lines Long Island, 1781 and February 24, Brooklyn Heights, 1782, which are interesting. There is the nominal roll of his section in it too with details of all the chaps. Then we have his scissors which are a touching little relic as they have attached to them a ragged label with the information that these scissors had often to be used to cut the hair of the heads of his men when they had got frozen to the ground during winter bivouacs. Cold!

Editorial Note: See pages 520-522 of J. S. Keltie's History of the Scottish Highlands, 1875 for this regiment's record: 1777-1784 raised by Lord Macdonald and commanded by Major Donaldson. Lowland, Highland and Irish companies kept separate. Fort George, then Perth, March, 1779. Mutinied at Burntisland and refused to embark until their pay claims were met. Portsmouth to New York, then February, 1787, to Virginia where they repulsed a French attack led by Marquis de la Fayette. After Cornwallis' surrender the regiment remained as prisoners in different parts of Virginia till its return to Scotland for disbandment at Stirling, 1784. Glengarry was gazetted as commandant in 1777 but was lost at sea when returning to Scotland from America. - R.M.G.

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