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The Life and Opinions of Major-General Sir Charles Metcalfe MacGregor
K.C.B., C.S.I., C.I.E. Quartermaster-General in India, Edited by Lady MacGregor in two volumes


In preparing the following memoir of my late husband for publication, I have desired to reproduce, as nearly as possible in his own words, a personal account of the stirring and momentous events in which he played always an active and latterly a leading part.

The principal portion of the biography relating to his early career up to the time of his promotion to field rank is taken from the unstudied letters written in camp and bivouac by Charles MacGregor to his parents during the period which includes the Indian Mutiny, the Chinese War, the Bhutan Campaigns, and the Abyssinian Expedition.

The death of my husband’s father in 1869 unfortunately brought to an end the interesting correspondence, which forms an almost complete autobiography of the General up to his thirtieth year. For the continuation of the memoir recourse has been had to diaries and demi-official memoranda, from which a more or less connected narrative of Sir Charles’s later services has been compiled.

The full details of my husband’s arduous duties, whether at the desk of the Quartermaster-General’s office or on toilsome journeys performed in the saddle, during his preparation of the 4 Central Asian and Frontier Gazetteer,’ would afford but little interesting matter for the general reader, and therefore this portion of the biography is not dwelt upon at any length. The ponderous tomes of the ‘ Gazetteer’ itself, forming, as it does, a standard work of reference for all time, bear sufficient testimony to the patience and energy of their author.

The story of the famine in Northern Bengal and the strenuous exertions which it demanded on the part of the Director of Transport, the duties of which my husband so successfully carried out, has been gathered from official documents and Sir Bichard Temple’s minutes. The conduct of relief operations on a large scale involves in reality the organisation and working of such numbers, that it is in every respect equivalent to the command of an army in the field, but with this difference, that, in the case of military operations, the combatant forces have been already trained to co-operate, and are fully under the control of proper departmental officers; then, again, active service is exciting, and the achievements, if not the rewards, are brilliant: whereas, on the other hand, in the combat with dire famine, the multitudes are undisciplined and the staff of officers has to be extemporised for the occasion; then, again, the exposure and fatigue are distressing, the task is irksome and laborious, whilst the proper performance of the duty is thankless, and leads neither to acknowledgment, promotion, nor honour. My husband always considered his service in North Bengal during the famine of 1874 as the hardest and most creditable work in which he had been ever engaged.

The journals of Sir Charles MacGregor’s explorations in Khorassan and Baluchistan have already been published during his lifetime, and his journeys, therefore, in those countries need but be briefly alluded to. Nevertheless there is some matter added to the account already published, which will serve to explain several points that have been much misunderstood.

It has been found necessary, of course, to exercise considerable judgment in selecting for publication the portions of my husband’s journal kept during the last campaigns in Afghanistan. From his position, as Chief of the Staff to more than one general, his facilities were unusually favourable not only for observing minutely the direction and progress of the military operations during the war, from the beginning to the end, but also for noting the characters and abilities of officers of all ranks who came within his observation ; and he made the fullest use of his opportunities. Having attained the rank of major-general, and therefore expectant of obtaining an important command, he, not unnaturally, took careful note of the capabilities, special aptitudes, and personal characteristics of all with whom he came in contact, so that he should know on whom he could thoroughly depend in the critical moment when the emergency should arise. It is almost needless to add that any passing remarks which could cause the least annoyance to any one have been altogether omitted, and much personal and confidential matter has, of necessity, been suppressed.

With regard to the concluding chapters, relating to Sir Charles’s directorate of the Quartermaster-Gen-eral’s Department, here again the multiplicity of routine duties and the busy cares of official life offer but little attractive reading or amusement to the public in comparison with the more romantic episodes of a soldier s life in the field; but, nevertheless, to the military student the perusal of the chapter dealing with this important period of staff service, so absolutely momentous in its effect on the stability of British power in India, will prove highly instructive, and to the politician deeply suggestive. It should not be forgotten that this work is intended to be a book for the service as well as for the general public, and many details, therefore, are preserved for their military interest.

Sir Charles MacGregor worked hard to break down the inelastic red-tape system by which the departmental work had been fettered previous to his taking office, and by infusing some of his own energy and determination, created a spirit of activity in his colleagues, and of emulation in his subordinates, all of whom became zealous adherents of their gallant chief. In fact, to use the words of a distinguished general, Sir Charles MacGregor “ cast a halo o’er the post of Quartermaster-General in India, and brought the status of the holder to a pitch never attained by any predecessorI

In the Intelligence Branch especially, my husband induced by his example the officers to take an interest in countries beyond the frontiers of Hindustan—in fact, wherever the Indian army might, by the remotest possibility, have to march through or to occupy, for defensive or aggressive purposes. It is most certainly owing to this encouragement that a school of military explorers has now been established in India, and a quantity of strategical and economical information has been amassed and systematically arranged by the Intelligence Department—a department which, thanks to Sir Charles MacGregor’s fostering care, differs somewhat perhaps from the much-lauded Prussian Office of Intelligence, but which possesses a superior scope, and takes vigilant cognisance of a far vaster area of territory.

In preparing the biography for the press, I have been greatly assisted by several of my husband’s brother officers, who have in the most friendly spirit contributed information, advice, and explanation on various subjects which otherwise I should have had some difficulty in dealing with, and I beg them to accept my cordial thanks, and acknowledgments of their kindly services.

It is not easy for a wife to write impartially of a departed husband, but from the numerous sympathetic communications which have reached me, it is impossible to shut one’s eyes to the fact that the name of Charles Metcalfe MacGregor is deeply impressed on the memory of his comrades in the Imperial armies in India and at home.

Stronachlachar, Loch Katrine,
October 1888.

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