b. 01/01/1818 Inverness, Scotland. d. 23/06/1878 Shooter's Hill, London.
William McBean (1818-1878) was born on 1st January 1818 in Inverness, Scotland, the son of John and Ann McBean (nee Gordon). His father was a shoemaker. He was baptised in Inverness on 18th January 1818. After a short time as an apprentice shoemaker, he decided to enlist with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, but the early signs of a distinguished career were not promising. He was said to have walked with a rolling gait, and his drill corporal was very disparaging about it, which led a fellow recruit to remark to McBean that he should get the corporal behind the canteen and give him a hiding. McBean’s response was “Toots, toots, man, that would never do. I am going to command this regiment before I leave it, and it would be an ill beginning to be brought before the Colonel for thrashing the drill corporal.” McBean would fulfil that promise.
He was given a commission as Ensign on the 10th August 1854, and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 8th December of the same year. He served in the Crimean campaign from December 1854, including the Siege and Fall of Sebastopol and the assaults of the Redan on 18th June and 8th September 1855. He received the Crimean Medal with clasp, the 5th Class of the Medjidie and the Turkish War Medal. He then went onto serve in the Indian Mutiny Campaign including the Relief of Lucknow by Lord Clyde, the defeat of the Gwalior Contingent at Cawnpore and pursuit to Seraighat, the affair of Kalee Nuddee, siege and capture of Lucknow, affair of Alligunge, battle of Bareilly, and the evacuation of the fort of Mithowli.
On the 11th March 1858, during the breach of the Begum Bagh at Lucknow, McBean was in the thick of the fighting and killed 11 of the enemy in close hand to hand combat. When he was commended for his actions, his response was “It didna take me twenty minutes.” He became a Captain on 16th August 1858 and was awarded the Victoria Cross on 24th December 1858. He received his medal from Major General Robert Garrett at a parade at Umbeyla on 6th February 1859.
McBean then rose through the ranks and as with his promise as a new recruit, he eventually became Major-General. He died on 23rd June 1878 in Shooter’s Hill, London, though his body was returned to Scotland and he was buried in Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh. His medals are held and displayed at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ARGYLL/SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS, STIRLING.
BURIAL PLACE: GRANGE CEMETERY, EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND. SECTION I, LAIR 91-92.
William McBean's medals at the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling Castle.
(Picture - Thomas Stewart).
Illustrated London News
Updated medal display (Andy Wright)