Per Mare Per Terram by Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton

This motto, made famous over the last 200 years by the Royal Marine Corps, is so like our own Clan motto that I am sure many of us. have wondered if, by any chance, there was some real connection other than co-incidental, it being so obviously suited to both of us. In September 1974 a letter from the Curator, Royal Marine Museum, Southsea, was passed to me for my attention by the Clan Donald Lands Trust, which read as follows: 

It has been suggested to us that you may be able to assist us in establishing a connection between the motto of Clan Donald and that of the Royal Marines – Per Mare Per TerramIt may only be coincidence that the two are so close, but we have been puzzled by this for a long time.

The first mention, known to us, of the Marines use of their motto dates from the Battle of Bunker Hill, in 1775. At that time, there were five officers with the name of McDonald commissioned in the Corps; and in 1760, the date of our earliest list, five others are recorded. We wonder, from this, whether there was a clan tradition of service with the Corps.

We would be interested to know whether the McDonald motto may have also been the war-cry of the McDonalds of Sleat. We believe that many members of the branch emigrated to America after 1745 and enlisted with the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment at the outbreak of the American War of Independence. We know of one instance where the Emigrants and Marines certainly served together during this war; and we have reason to believe that some of the Sleat McDonalds joined the Corps.

We would be very interested in any information you could give, which might help us in our research.

I replied at once expressing our interest in the matter and giving a resume of what we knew of the connection with our Clan in the person of Ranald, 3rd son of Flora and Alan of Kingsburgh, who served in the Corps from 1775 to 1782. According to our records Ranald and his brother, Alexander were both lost at sea in the Ville de Parisbeing members of a prize crew put aboard to bring that fine ship to England. She foundered with all hands in September 1782 outward bound from Nova Scotia.

In reply to my letter I received by return the following letter from Major Alastair Donald, Archivist of the Royal Marines Museum. His name, no doubt, made him take a personal interest in the matter.

10 October 1974

Dear Mr Macdonald

On receipt of your letter of 3 October I felt I could no longer remain in the background, because I too have always been fascinated by the similarity between the Clan and Corps mottoes. I was interested to know that you have a son in law in the Corps. Perhaps you will let me know who he is and where he is at present serving.

We also found your information about the fate of members of the clan after the ’45 most interesting.

We are aware of Ranald Macdonald’s service in the Marines (The Corps did not become Royal until 1802) and it is in consequence of correspondence concerning him that we have decided to pursue the question of the motto.

With reference to the loss of the two brothers in the Ville de Paris in 1782. I suggest that Alexander’s presence in the ship was something that the two brothers had managed to arrange and that he was not actually serving with the Marines at the time.

I do not know of any cases of infantry officers being seconded to serve with Marines at this time. It was, however, quite common for ships detachments to be found from infantry regiments, when Marines were not available.

In addition to Ranald, we have traced nine other Macdonalds who were commissioned in the Corps between 1760 and 1800. We have found no MacDonnells.

We have little or no information about the background of any of these officers as the only details that exist are those in our printed list of officers. We are therefore only able to prepare details of their seniority in each rank held and the companies in the Divisions (Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth) to which they were posted. We are not at present interested in obtaining further information on these ourselves, but merely thought the large number who served in the Corps at this time may have had some bearing on our adopting the clan motto. Should you, however, wish to have these limited details, please let us know

Between 1775 and 1827, when the present motto was officially recognised and borne on the colours, five mottoes were used by the Corps. In 1775 Per Mare et Terram was in use; in 1803 Per Mare Terramque Vincimusin 1806 Ubique, per mare per terram. In 1775 Nee Aspera Terrent was also used, in common with many Army regiments.

Your sincerely,

Sgd. Alastair Donald
Corps Archivist

About this time a Mr Whiteley of South Africa got in touch with me in search of his family tradition that he was descended from James of Cnocowe, brother of Alan 7th of Kingsburgh, Flora’s husband. I was interested in his claim because both Alan and James were sons of Alexander 6th of Kingsburgh by his wife, Florence, daughter of John Macdonald of Castleton. Mr Whiteley too had been in touch with the Royal Marines about Flora and Alan. So together we kept the research going and I hope what follows may be of interest to the Clan, particularly to those who claim descent from Flora.

Accordingly I had recourse to the Kingsburgh Family Book and give here the relevant details recorded therein. 

Partial Chart of Kingsburgh Family Showing Flora’s Family

Alexander VI of Kingsburgh (d.1772)  =  Florence, daughter of John Macdonald of Castleton

Alan VII (d. 1792) = Flora of Milton S. Uist (d. 1790)
James of Knockowe
Anne (married with issue)

James pressed into RN (issue)


1.    Charles VIII of Kingsburgh (d. 1795 s.p.) = Isabella, 2nd daughter of James of Aird.

2.    Anne born at Flodigarry Feb. 18th 1755, married Major Alexander MacLeod of Lochbay, Skye. Went to N. Carolina with her parents husband and their children. Returned to Skye in 1779: was known as “Mrs Major MacLeod”. She died in Stein, with issue.

3.    Alexander, Lt. 84th Royal Highland Emigrant Regt. unmarried. d. 1779 at sea.

4.    Ranald, Capt. Royal Marines, lost at sea 1782 unmarried.

5.    James IX of Kingsburgh (d. 1807, Flodigarry) = Emily, daughter of James of Skaebost.

    (a)    James Somerled X of Kingsburgh (d.1843 unmarried).

    (b)    Alan Ranald (d. 1842).

        (i)    Reginald John Somerled XI of Kingsburgh (d.1876).

        (ii)    2 daughters.

6.    John Macdonald of Exeter (b. 1759-d. 1831) from whom alone male representatives of the House of Kingsburgh exist today.

7.    Frances (or Fanny) youngest child of Flora and Alan was born at Kingsburgh 6th May 1766, married Lt. Donald Macdonald, son of Capt. Alexander Macdonald of Cuidreach and his wife Annabella, half sister of Flora, who had emigrated to N. Carolina, but on his return married Frances with issue who emigrated to Australia.

Note. The two babes re-interred with honour on the campus of the Flora Macdonald College of Red springs N. Carolina in 1937 could not have been Flora’s own, but more likely to have been infants born to Ann, Mrs Major MacLeod, during her stay in Carolina. They would therefore be Flora’s grandchildren. Flora was 52 when she left Skye and had only seven children all born in Skye.

All Flora’s children were born at Flodigarry and went with their parents to Carolina in August 1774 except for the youngest, John, who was born in Kingsburgh House after Alan and Flora had moved there on the death of “Old Kingsburgh” in 1772. John was left behind to finish his education at the Royal High School of Edinburgh.

The two who interest us in the search for some connection with the Marines are:

Alexander whose career is summarised thus – born Flodigarry 21st February 1755: emigrated 1774: at age of 20 was gazetted in the Royal Highland Emigrant Regt. as Lieutenant: present at Moore’s Creek 27th February 1776: taken prisoner: liberated 1777: went to Nova Scotia: and was lost at sea on his way home to Skye, probably in 1779. Unmarried. Note the “probably”.

Ranald born 16th August 1756: to Carolina in 1774: wounded at Bunker Hill, 17th June 1775: gazetted Lt. in Marines 26th July. 1775: to Halifax, Nova Scotia: promoted to Capt. Lt. September 1779: as Captain of Marines served under Rodney at the Battle of Eustati (The Saints) on 12th April 1782 in Princessa (70 guns) where he was wounded: later that year was lost at sea: unmarried. NB. at that battle the flagship “Ville de Paris” was surrendered by the French admiral, De Grasse to Rodney.

(Thus summarised in the Kingsburgh Family Book.)

The R.M. Archivist, Major A. Donald confirmed the details of Ranald’s service in the Marines as follows:-


1.    Summary of Service, compiled from Marine Officers Lists:

2Lt1 Apr 177354 CoyPortsmouth
1 Lt26 Jul 177510 CoyChatham
Capt Lt1 Sep 177910 CoyChatham
Capt1 Sep 1779
29 Oct 1780143 CoyPortsmouth

(*These may be considered as ‘Depot’ companies to which ranks returned on completion of active service or service afloat.)

2.    Served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 6th Company of the 2nd Battalion of Marines at the Battle of Bunker Hill (17 June 1775) and was promoted by authority of Battalion Orders dated 19 June.

3.    Our correspondence with Mr Whiteley shows conflicting evidence of his service aboard HMS ALCIDE and HMS SHREWSBURY between 18 October 1779 and 11 July 1782.

4.    According to our references he was aboard HMS ALCIDE at the Battle of the Chesapeake (2 September 1781).

5.    The ALCIDE was present at the Battle of the Saintes (12 April 1782) when the Ville de Paris was captured. The Ville de Paris later foundered off Newfoundland on 9 September 1782.

6.    According to Mr Whiteley, his will, which was proved on 29 October 1783, states that he was a Captain of Marines of the Chatham Division and that he died in September 1782. (Our records show him as being on the books of Portsmouth Division at this time.)

7.    He is still shown in our list of officers published in January 1783 but is not mentioned in the September list of that year. He could nevertheless have died in September 1782 but the information may not have been received by the office responsible for publishing the lists.

24 June 1975                           A.J.D.

We now pursue our enquiries in the Truth about Flora Macdonald by Alan Reginald MacDonald of Belfinlay and Waternish, edited after his death by the Rev. Donald Mackinnon of Portree in 1938.

In most respects the Appendix III of that work bears out the account we have already given of Flora’s family in the Kingsburgh Family Book except in one or two interesting details:

AlexanderFlora’s 3rd son, Lieutenant in the Royal Highland Emigrant Regt – Prisoner with father at Moore’s Creek, 27th Feb. 1776. Released in 1778 he “appears to have joined the Navy – Lost coming home to Britain for the benefit of his health in 1781. Unmarried.”

Ranald, 4th son. Captain in Navy on Princessa at the Battle of Eustati (The Saints) in 1782. Placed in charge of the Ville de Paris which was captured from the French, and lost at sea with all hands, according to some writers: She was not lost but later was commissioned in the Royal Navy. Ranald was lost at sea later in “some other ship of war”.

There is obviously some guess-work in these notes: Alexander did not join the Royal Navy: but could easily have arranged to accompany his brother, Ranald, on board the Ville de Paris, on being invalided home after his discharge, wounded, from his Regiment.

If there was a Ville de Paris commissioned in the Royal Navy at some later date, it must have been named after the one taken at the Battle of the Saints (Eustati) on 12th April, 1782. This was such a notable prize in the history of the Royal Navy, the pride of De Grasse’s fleet and quite the finest ship at that time, that her name might well have been perpetuated in a subsequent ship, as she herself was lost on the 9th September, 1782 with all hands!

One more important source can now be added to the summary of the evidence available to us on this interesting piece of history.

Mr Whiteley (already referred to) got a copy of Ranald’s will dated 31st August, 1780, proved in London 29th October, 1783. In it Ranald names his father and mother (Alan and Flora). It is endorsed “Testator was late a Captain in the Chatham Division of Marines belonging to his Majesty’s ship Shrewsbury and died in Sept. 1782″. (See Public Record Office ref. PRO Bl0 Box 2922 X/J 3620.)

Note that his date of death coincides with the date the R.M. Museum gives for the loss of the Ville de Paris on 9th September 1782 off Newfoundland. That it took a year to prove it in London is not surprising considering war conditions and trans-Atlantic communications at that time.

And there we have to confess we can get no farther except that in the most recent letter we have received from the Curator of the R.M. Museum, she promises to send me details of the Service in the Corps of no less than 10 Macdonalds who were commissioned between the years 1760 to 1800 during which time the motto, after some hesitation, seems to have been settled as Per Mare Per Terram. The archivist, Major A.J. Donald, has been moved to another department of the R.M. Secretariat but is watching the “outcome of our correspondence closely, as he is intrigued by the possible connection between the R.M. Corps and Clan Donald for a long time”.

We hope any reader of this article who can help us in the research will write to me. Such information will be added to what we have deposited in the Library at the Clan Donald Centre at Armadale and made available to searchers who come there in search of their roots.

Donald J. Macdonald of Castleton, November 1980


“Kingsburgh Family Book (1961) Limited Circulation” by Reginald Henry, 15th of Kingsburgh.

“The Truth about Flora Macdonald”, the late Allan Reginald Macdonald of Belfinlay (1938).

The Royal Marines Museum (Archivist) Southsea, Hants.

Since this article was written, further information has come to hand from the Director of the Royal Marines’ Museum, listing ten MacDonalds commissioned in the Corps in the years 1755 to 1800. Full details of their service are given; but there is nothing of their background or family origins except in the case of Flora’s Ranald and Archibald son of Hugh Macdonald of Kilphedar, about whom there is a fine tribute to his intrepid action on 25th August 1800 when his ship HMS Seine fought and caused the French frigate Vengeance to surrender.

Only the main dates of their service can be given here; but it is hoped that readers of this article may be interested or able to supply further information about them.

1.    Captain Donald McDonald comm. 2nd Lt. 1755 on ½pay in 1772.

2.    Lieut. Ronald McDonald comm. 2nd Lt. 1756 on ½ pay in 1763.

3.    Lieut. James McDonald comm. 2nd Lt. 1758 on ½ pay in 1763.

4.    Colonel Alexander McDonald comm. 2nd Lt. 1757, promoted finally Colonel in 1798. Retired 1802.

5.    Capt. John McDonald comm. 2nd Lt. 1773, Capt. Lt. 1780, Captain 1780, Brevet Lt. Col. 1798, died aged 44, 1799.

6.    Capt. Ranald McDonald (Flora’s 3rd son) comm. 2nd Lt. 1773 aged 17, Lt. 1775, Capt. 1779 served in HMS Alcide 1779, HMS Shrewsbury to 1782, died 1782.

7.    2nd Lieut. John McDonald, transferred to Army or retired 1781.

8.   Capt. Wm. McDonald, 2nd Lt. 1795, Capt. 1805, Brevet Major 1819 on ½ pay 1823, served in HMS Royal William 1809, HMS Antelope 1811-1840, died between March and June 1859.

9.    Lieut. Archibald McDonald, son of Hugh McDonald of Kilphedar S. Uist (see note below).

10.    Lieut. Allan McDonald comm. 1796, Lt. 1796, died or resigned 1799.

Some of these joined the Corps at Halifax, Nova Scotia in April 1777.

We are indebted to the Director of the R.M. Museum and to Mr A.R. Whiteley of S. Africa to whom we have referred in this article, whose research into his ancestry led to his contact with us in the first place. It seems certain he is descended from James of Cnocowe, brother of Flora’s husband, Alan of Kingsburgh, hence his interest in this family history.

It is interesting to note that No.9 above, Lieut. Archibald, was the son of Hugh  MacDonald of Kilphedar in S. Uist. The said Hugh gave evidence before the Highland Society of London in 1800 in support of the authenticity of the Ossianic epic poems current in the Highlands at that time. MacMhuirich, hereditary bard of Clan Ranald, the last of that line, gave similar evidence at that time.

Sources referred to by the R.M. Museum are:

An Historical Review of the Royal Marine Corps, by Alex. Gillespie. (M. Swinney, Birmingham, 1803)

Naval Chronicle I, 1799-p. 262.

Steel’s Navy List, Dec. 1809, 1811 and 1812.

Murray’s Navy List, 1814

Britain’s Sea Soldiers, by Col. Cyril Field, R.M.L.I. (Lyceum Press, Liverpool, 1924).