John Leishman McDougall VC

b. 1839 Scotland. d. 10/03/1869 Edinbugh, Scotland.

John Leishman McDougall (1839-1869) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1839. He enlisted with the 44th Regiment of Foot (later Essex Regiment) and was soon posted to action in China in 1860.

John L McDougall VC

When, in 1860, the Chinese emperor declined to reply to a note demanding an apology for firing on British ships and his government’s failure to act on the provisions of the Treaty of Tientsin, a combined Anglo-French task force was sent to enforce compliance. The aim of the expedition was to force the Chinese from the Taku Forts positioned at the mouth of the Pei-ho river. In overall command of the assault was Major General Sir Robert Napier whose task was to expel the Chinese from the well defended Small North Fort.

At 06:00 on 21 August 1860, Napier gave the signal for the asault to begin. The attackers surged forward crossing a dry ditch and pouring through the abatis that had been smashed by the artillery. Two wet ditches were then crossed with great difficulty and upon reaching the fort’s wall the French erected ladders only to have them thrown down by the defenders. The troops, whose units had inevitably become intermingled, were crowded together at the base of the wall, being pelted with grenades, cannon shot, jars of quicklime and ‘stinkpots’ that gave off clouds of smoke. Desperate measures were needed urgently if the assault was to succeed. Close to the gate was Lieutenant Nathaniel Burslem and an Irishman, Private Thomas Lane, both of the 67th Regiment, who scrambled up to a narrow embrasure which they proceeded to widen, both sustaining serious wounds.

Not far away were Lieutenant Robert Rogers and Private John McDougall of the 44th Regiment who had swum the wet ditches, together with Lieutenant Edmund Lenon and Ensign John Chaplin both of the 67th, the latter carring the Queen’s Colour of the regiment. Lenon pushed his sword deep into the mud wall, supporting the hilt while Rogers used it as a step, fighting his way into the embrasure above. More men pushed their bayonets into the wall, creating a ladder up which Lenon, Chaplin and McDougall and others clambered up to join Rogers. At about the same time Burslem and Lane broke through their embrasure on to the ramparts. Men from both regiments then swarmed through the embrasures fighting their way at the point of the bayonet up the tower’s ramp enabling Chaplin to plant his Colour on the summit. The will of the Chinese, who until this point had fought stubbornly, suddenly collapsed and it was estimated that of the fort’s 500-strong garrison, 400 were either killed or wounded.

McDougall was awarded the Victoria Cross (citation 13th August 1861), and was serving in India, when he was presented with his medal by Brigadier-General Frank Adams in Belgaum on 2nd October 1862. McDougall left the Army shortly afterwards and returned to his native Scotland. Sadly, he fell into ill health, and died at the very young age of just 30 on 10th March 1869 in Edinburgh. He was buried in Old Carlton Cemetery in Edinburgh, where a new headstone was placed in 1989. His medal was stolen from a house in Scotland in 1960, leaving just the ribbon and suspension bar behind. They are both now displayed in the Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford.





Thomas Stewart – McDougall VC Grave in Old Calton Cemetery.

Steven Baker – Image of the McDougall VC medal ribbon / suspension bar at Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford, Essex.

Steve Davies – image of the refurbished grave in August 2023