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Soldier’s Leap at Killiecrankie

Donald McBane and his leap across the River Garry

On the evening of 27 July 1689, Donald McBane, a Scottish government soldier fleeing the battle of Killiecrankie, is said to have jumped 18 feet across the River Garry, to escape pursuing Jacobite highlanders. 

McBane was born just outside Inverness in 1664. His father was a farmer and public house owner. McBane described himself as a wild child and did not stick in at school, which he later regretted.

His father found work for him with a tobacco spinner and later he enlisted as a soldier, joining Captain Kenneth Mackenzie of Suddie’s Company in 1687. The following year he fought against Coll Macdonald of Keppoch and his clansmen at the battle of Mulroy in Lochaber.

In April 1689, he joint Ludovik Grant’s Regiment, which was one of a number of regiments raised by the Scottish government in support of the revolution of William and Mary in 1688.

Shortly afterwards he was drafted into Brigadier Barthold Balfour’s Regiment which was part of Major-General Hugh Mackay’s Scots-Dutch Brigade that was sent to Scotland to secure the country for William and Mary and oppose the Jacobite supporters of the deposed King James.

On 27 July 1689, he fought with Balfour’s Regiment at the battle of Killiecrankie.

McBane wrote an account of the battle of Killiecrankie and his jump over the River Garry in his book, ‘The Expert Swordsman’s Companion’, published in 1728:

“At last they cast away their musquets, drew their broadswords, and advanced furiously upon us, and were in the middle of us before we could fire three shots a-piece; broke us, and obliged us to retreat. Some fled to the water, and some other way; (we were for most part new men.) I fled to the baggage, and took a horse, in order to ride the water there follows me a Highlandman with sword and targe [shield], in order to take the horse, and kill myself. Youd laugh to see how he and I scampered about. I kept always the horse between him and me; at length he drew his pistol, and I fled; he fired after me. I went above the pass, where I met with another water, very deep. It was 18 foot over, betwixt two rocks. I resolved to jump it; so I laid down my gun and hat and jumped, and lost one of my shoes in the jump. Many of our men were lost in that water, and at the pass. The enemy pursuing hard, I made the best of my way to Dunkel [Dunkeld] where I stayed until what of our men was left came up; then every one went to his respective regiment.”

soldier's leap
Donald McBane leaping across the River Garry to escape pursuing highlanders | Image: Jenny Proudfoot

On McBane’s claim, Historic Environment Scotland in their summary on the battle mentions it as “an improbable jump of around 5 m across the rapids of the River Garry”.

However improbable the jump may seem, anyone being chased by a group of highlanders intending to cut them to pieces would probably have taken the chance and leapt across the fast-flowing River Garry as well.

There are a number of other points closer to the battlefield where McBane could have jumped across, with two locations at Killiecrankie village as strong possibilities.

Last Updated on 30 July 2022 by Neil Ritchie

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of Neil is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. He can be found on Twitter: @NeilRitchie86.

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