Sergeant Samuel MacDonald.

From The Oban Times, 14th September 1967:

The Lodge, Glencoe.
29th July 1967.


Certain posters advertising activities and entertainment in Oban are illustrated by the figure of a well-built highlander dressed in early nineteenth century military uniform. Perhaps some of your readers would be interested to learn who this is – or was, and I should like to know how the organisers came to use such an unknown subject.

The subject is Big Sam, otherwise Sergeant Samuel MacDonald of the Ninety Third Sutherland Highlanders, a man of massive proportions and gigantic strength who was born in 1762 in Lairg, Sutherland. He served in the 2nd Sutherland Fencibles (1779-1783), and in the Royal Scots from 1783 to 1789 where he was Fugelman, or the one specially chosen to stand in front of the regiment to lead the time and the motion when drilling. From 1791 to 1793 he was employed by the Prince of Wales and while there appeared at the Drury Lane Theatre as Hercules in the play “Cymon and Iphigenia.” He joined the 3rd Sutherland Fencibles in 1793 and was promoted to sergeant. On 16th April 1799, an order went out for the formation of a new Highland Regiment (the 93rd Sutherland) and on 23rd April Samuel MacDonald was attested and a week later promoted sergeant.

He was six feet ten inches tall and 48 inches round the chest. He was powerful and muscular and his legs seemed “even too big for the load they had to bear.” His strength was prodigious.

While in the Fencibles the Countess of Sutherland allowed him two shillings and sixpence a day as she considered “so large a body must require more sustenance than his military pay could afford.” A sergeant’s pay was then one shilling and sixpence a day.

Sam was too big to stand in the ranks so he stood on the right of the line and at the head of the column. On the march he led a red deer. He died in Guernsey where his regiment was stationed in May 1802, and was interred in the Strangers’ Cemetery. St. Peter Port.

His name was a legend in the regiment right up to its dispersal in 1942. Many tales were told, mostly I fear apocryphal. One of the best concerned a time he was on sentry guarding a field cannon. It was a cold night and Sam appeared back in the guard hut where a stove was glowing. He was carrying the cannon and said, “I might as well keep this thing in here where it is warm as to stand out there in the cold.”

Oban’s poster shows “Big Sam” in the uniform of the 3rd Sutherland Fencibles and is from Kay’s Portraits.

I am, etc.,

Eric Moss