‘Erected by the friends of his youth’
A stone tower at the intersection of two country roads in Scotland’s Black Isle led me to the story of Sir Hector Macdonald.
The plaque above the tower’s door says much, and yet so little. Enlisted private, died Major-General. Campaigns and battles – Kandahar, Majuba Hill, Omdurman – parade down the smooth surface. Thanked, awarded, mentioned in despatches.
Nothing about the fatal bullet he fired through his head in a Paris hotel room in March 1903. No allusion to the ‘very grave’ charges of sexual misconduct with boys in Ceylon. Did his friends believe him a hero falsely accused, brought down for being a crofter’s son who got above his station? Did they hear the rumours that he’d faked his suicide and assumed the identity of a German general?
Crucial documents missing, the facts elusive. A closed door bars the way to the tower’s interior.
Inspired by Fiona’s efforts with flash fiction, I decided to have a go at writing some flash history (history written in a very few words) for a competition currently being run by the New Zealand Journal of Public History. The above piece was written for the competition, but unfortunately I didn’t properly read the part about the flash histories needing to focus on an aspect of New Zealand history. So I won’t be able to enter this piece in the competition, but may try my hand at another one.
There is actually a connection between Hector Macdonald and New Zealand, because in 1901 he toured Australia and New Zealand. Macdonald was famous throughout the British Empire, and I’m interested in writing more about his reputation in New Zealand and Australia both before and after his death. I’ve done some research on the topic while I’ve been here, and plan to do a lot more once I get back to New Zealand. So hopefully I may eventually be able to reuse some of my flash history as part of a much longer article!