John McNeill (diplomat)
McNeill was born at Oronsay House, Argyll. He was the third of the six sons of John McNeill, laird of Colonsay and Oronsay (1767–1846) and his wife, Hester née McNeill (died 1843), and the younger brother of the judge Duncan McNeill, 1st Baron Colonsay and Oronsay.
On 6 September 1816 he was appointed assistant surgeon on the Honourable East India Company's Bombay establishment; he became a surgeon on 1 May 1824 and retired from the medical service on 4 June 1836.
From 1824 to 1835, he was attached to the East India Company's legation in Persia, at first in medical charge, and latterly as political assistant to the Minister, John Macdonald Kinneir, in which post he displayed great ability.
On 30 June 1835, he was appointed secretary of the special embassy sent to Tehran under Henry Ellis to congratulate Mohammad Shah Qajar on his accession to the Persian throne. McNeill received permission to wear the Persian Order of the Lion and the Sun of the first class, and on his return home in the spring of 1836, he anonymously published a startling anti-Russian pamphlet, Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East.
From 1836 to 1844, McNeill was any envoy to Persia. See Siege of Herat (1838).
In 1845, McNeill was appointed chairman of the Board of Supervision, entrusted with the working of the new Poor Law (Scotland) Act 1845, a post he occupied for thirty-three years. During the Highland Potato Famine — nearly as disastrous as the Irish Potato Famine — he conducted a special inquiry into the condition of the western Scottish Highlands and Western Isles, during which he personally inspected twenty-seven of the most distressed parishes.
At the outbreak the Crimean War in 1854, McNeill published revised editions in French and English of his pamphlet Progress and Present Position of Russia in the East, with supplementary chapters dealing with the progress of events since 1836, and insisting on the importance to Britain and to Christendom of the autonomy of Turkey and Persia.
At the beginning of 1855, when the Crimean disasters had roused public indignation, McNeill and Colonel Alexander Tulloch, an officer of great administrative experience at the War Office, were sent to the Crimea with instructions to report on the whole arrangements and management of the commissariat and the method of keeping accounts, and to the causes of the delays in unloading and distributing clothing and other stores sent to Balaklava.
The McNeill–Tulloch inquiry was the most effective of the various inquisitions into the Crimean débâcle. It sharply criticised Lord Raglan's personal staff in the Crimea and Commissary-General Filder, and it led to many recriminations as officers sought to clear their names when the report was published in 1856. A board of general officers was convened to clear the army, but despite its protestations, the McNeill–Tulloch report led to professional reform of the commissariat by the Royal Warrant of October 1858.
Very unusually, the Commons, irritated by executive obfuscation, passed a resolution in 1857 calling for special honours and McNeill soon became a Privy Councillor and Tulloch was appointed a KCB. The University of Oxford made McNeill a Doctor of Civil Law and the University of Edinburgh chose him as chairman of its amalgamated societies; his inaugural address on competitive examinations was published in 1861.
McNeill married, first, in 1814, Innes, fourth daughter of George Robinson of Clermiston, Midlothian — she died in 1816; second, in 1823, Eliza, third daughter of John Wilson — she died in 1868; third, in 1871, Lady Emma Augusta Campbell, daughter of John Campbell, 7th Duke of Argyll.
McNeill died at Poralto, Cannes, France, on 17 May 1883.
- Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002: Biographical Index II. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. Retrieved September 25, 2010.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "MacNeill, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
|Minister to Persia
No representation due
to the Siege of Herat
|Minister to Persia