Geordie Cranston and Samuel Macdonald

46] Little is known of Geordie Cranston, a dwarf, who appears twice in Kay’s portraits. He was befriended by Samuel McDonald (see below) who is said to have enjoyed Geordie’s singing by which he made his living. His repertoire included ‘A soldier I am for a lady’ – a popular tune of his day. McDonald complained to Kay for portraying him together with Geordie as he did not choose to be classed with a beggar.  Kay refused to alter the engraving but in 1796 he produced another engraving of Macdonald, this time on his own and wearing the dress of a highlander but given a different first name. It was this engraving that was included in the Painting where it appears so fresh that it was probably one of the figures which was inserted by Kay in the original painting at a later date.

47] Samuel Macdonald (c1762-1802) was a highlander from Lairg in Sutherland.  He was remarkable for his stature and great strength, being six foot ten inches in height and four feet around the chest. He joined the army and served in the American War of Independence.  In 1791 the Prince Regent appointed him as a porter in Carlton House, but two years later he resumed his military career as sergeant in the Sutherland Fencibles.  Because of his size he marched at the head of the column.  He is said to have been accompanied by a tame deer. He is described as having a good nature and excellent moral character and was a universal favourite and much respected.  The Countess of Sutherland supplemented his pay by two shillings and sixpence a day thinking that such a large body would require more sustenance than his military pay could afford.  He is also said to have augmented his income by dressing in female attire and appearing as ‘The remarkably tall woman’[i].  He made an occasional appearance as Hercules in a production of Cymon and Iphigenia with the Drury Lane Company.  

[i] Kays Portraits  1 p50-1

These three images present an unexplained problem. While the portrait of the dwarf Geordie Cranstoun remains similar in Kay’s and Le Conte’s engravings, the appearance of MacDonald has made a complete transformation with regard to uniform. They are both similarly massive figures towering over the adjacent bystanders but the text in Kay’s Portraits suggests that they may be different individuals. The Macdonald in the 1789 engraving is referred to as Samuel whereas in the 1803 engraving he is called William. They are both soldiers – it remains an unsolved mystery.