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We're not going to leave this island ... None of us will ever leave ... It's the end, you see - the end of everything...
~ General MacArthur to Vera Claythorne shortly before his death.

General John Gordon MacArthur, often referred to as The General or MacArthur is a minor villain/anti-hero, who appeared in Agatha Christie's novel 'And Then There Were None'. 

He is one of the ten people summoned to Indian/Soldier Island off the Devon coast by U.N.OWEN (later revealed to be Lawrence Wargrave), Alongside the other guests, MacArthur is accused of committing a murder in a way that the law cannot prove or punish him for. It is later confirmed that MacArthur is indeed guilty of this accusation.

Although he did commit an evil deed, the General is shown to be a generally nice and overall tragic person. He is also one of the few people in the story, if not the only one, to genuinely regret what he did.

In the 1945 film, MacArthur was played by the late British actor Sir C. Aubrey Smith. In the 2015  miniseries, he was portrayed by acclaimed New Zealand actor, Sam Neill, who is most famous for his role as Dr Alan Grant in the Jurassic Park franchise.

Background

John Gordon MacArthur was born at some point in the mid to late 1800's. His occupation is unclear, but since he would later attain a high rank in the British Army during the Great War, it was probably tied to the military. At some point before the outbreak of World War I, John married a young woman called Leslie, who was many years younger than he was. Despite this age gap, MacArthur loved his wife very much and apparently doted on her. It is not known whether the MacArthur's had any children.

Dark Deed

John Gordon MacArthur, that on the 14th of January 1917, you sent your wife's lover, Arthur Richmond to his death.
~ U.N.Owens accusation
When World War I broke out, John MacArthur was called into service. He served with distinction on the front line, as a General. This earnt him great renown amongst his fellow officers. However, it was during these dark days that MacArthur discovered a terrible secret. One that led him to commit a vile act. An act that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

In January 1917, John discovered that his wife was having an affair with a family friend named Arthur Richmond. The affair was exposed when John accidentally received a letter intended for Richmond. Leslie had been writing to the pair of them in secret, and had placed this letter in an envelope addressed to John by mistake. The revelation of this infidelity seriously hurt John MacArthur. He was the one that had introduced Leslie to Arthur and had frequently seen them chatting animatedly at social get-togethers. The pair were not only closer in age but shared many interests. Up until now, John had always dismissed these interactions as nothing more than a close friendship. 

Bitter and enraged, John MacArthur refused to give up on his marriage despite his wife's betrayal. Instead, he came up with a plan to remove his treacherous friend from the equation. One that would allow him to keep Leslie all to himself. Since Arthur Richmond was a Lieutenant under his command, the General deliberately volunteered him for an upcoming mission. The exact nature of this mission is never specified, however, it is implied that John knew it was doomed to fail from the start. In either case, MacArthur's plan worked, and the young Lieutenant was subsequently killed in action.

Later life

MacArthur presumably continued to serve his country, right up until the November 1918 armistice. Now an acclaimed war hero, John returned to England, only to discover that his married life had not improved in the slightest. Leslie was not the same vibrant person that John left behind all those years ago. She was seen crying a lot, was anti-social and appeared to be genuinely broken. John did his best to comfort Leslie and cheer her up but to no avail. It is possible that Leslie's despair caused John to start feeling guilty over what he had done. It is never confirmed whether or not Leslie suspected her husband's involvement in the demise of her lover.

Ultimately, MacArthur's actions did nothing to save his marriage. Leslie contracted Spanish Flu shortly after the war and she eventually passed away. Her demise was presumably hastened by her grief and desire to be with Richmond once again. Thus, John MacArthur was left all on his own, and from there his life began a downward spiral.

At first, MacArthur remained a celebrated hero. In time, however, some of his fellow officers (especially Arthur Richmond's friends) started to suspect that the young officer's death was no accident. Whispers began to spread, eventually turning into rumour and suspicion and MacArthur's reputation was ruined. He stopped attending reunions and eventually moved away to a small village. For a time all was well, but in time the rumours reached the village as well.

By the time the story begins, John Gordon MacArthur is an old man living on his own. He is partially deaf and has become a withdrawn, depressed individual. He rarely leaves his house, except for shopping and to attend church. His life consumed by guilt, not because of the rumours but out of genuine remorse and regret for what he did.

And Then There Were None

Invitation of Doom

In his confession letter, at the end of the novel, Wargrave revealed that he heard about the case of General John Gordon MacArthur from two old military gossips in his local club. As with all of his potential victims, Wargrave assessed each of the accusations very carefully. He wanted to confirm whether or not the "accused" was guilty of his/her supposed crime. In the end, Wargrave concluded that John MacArthur had indeed murdered Arthur Richmond and deserved to die for it. Under the guise of U.N.Owen, Wargrave then contacted MacArthur. 

MacArthur received a letter from a Mr U.N.Owen in the mid-1939. The letter was an invitation to attend a small gathering on an island off the Devon coast, providing John with an opportunity to catch up with some old war acquaintances. Whilst he had never heard of nor met Mr Owen beforehand, MacArthur gladly welcomed the change of scenery. He packed his bags and then unknowingly left his village for the last time. MacArthur met most of the other guests at the harbour, where they were escorted to Indian Island by a ferryman named Thomas Naricot.

Revelation & Acceptance

For the rest of the day, all was well. The guests were shown to their rooms and began to make themselves feel at home. That evening, General MacArthur and the others enjoyed an extravagant meal, courtesy of Thomas and Ethel Rogers. The tranquil atmosphere lasted until the group sat down after dinner for drinks and cigars. Out of nowhere, an unknown voice spoke out loudly, in a manner reminiscent of a court trial. The voice proceeded to accuse each and every one of the guests of murdering somebody from their past. Amongst these accusations, was MacArthur's murder of Arthur Richmond.

After overcoming their shock, everybody demanded an explanation. Thomas Roger's explained that Owen's gave him instructions telling him to set up the gramophone as a prank. He insisted, however, that he had no idea what was on the record. With the matter cleared up, the majority of the guest's, with the exception Emily Brent, Philip Lombard and Anthony Marston, started refuting these allegations. Brent said nothing, whilst Marston and Lombard freely admitted that they were guilty. In regards to his own accusation, MacArthur insisted that he sent Richmond out on a reconnaissance mission, where the latter fell in duty to his King and Country. The meticulous Wargrave later admitted in his letter that MacArthur's declaration, along with those of all the other guests was sufficient enough for him to confirm that they were all guilty!

Within twenty-four hours of the group's arrival on the island, two of the ten inhabitants were dead. They both died in a manner that corresponded to the verses of a poem that had been placed in every room of the house, The Tale of the Ten Little Soldier Boys. Anthony Marston had suffocated on a spiked drink, (one choked his little self), and Mrs Rogers failed to wake up due to a drug overdose, (one overslept himself). As the others packed their bags and prepared to wait for Mr Naricot, John MacArthur looked out of his window.

He once again reflected on everything that had happened since he opened that fateful letter. Looking out across the waters at the mainland MacArthur suddenly comprehended how remote and isolated the island was. This, in turn, made him realise that he doesn't want to go back - to the rumours, the speculation and isolation. He would rather just end it all. Prompted by this revelation, MacArthur quickly deduced what was going on here.

This whole thing was a setup! He and the others had been lured into a trap. They were here to receive justice for their crimes. MacArthur reflects on this for an instant and then realises that he is fine with it. After many long years of self imposed-torment, the old General just wants to end it all. John Gordon MacArthur decides right then and there that he is ready to die!

Death 

Eight Little Soldier Boys holidaying in Devon. One said he'd stay there and then there were seven.
~ The third verse of the Little Soldier Boy's poem, symbolising MacArthur's fate.

Whilst waiting for Naricot, Vera Claythorne seeking to get away from Miss Brent after learning her appalling story, wanders the island to explore the scenery. During her venture she finds John MacArthur sitting alone on the beach, staring out across the horizon. The pair have a short conversation, during which the General finally admits his guilt to the young school teacher. When Vera declares they need to get ready for the ferry, MacArthur tells her, quite calmly, that this is the end. No one is going to leave this island alive and that he accepts what is coming. The old general has found peace with his impending doom.

Haunted by his words Vera insists he is wrong and leaves MacArthur's presence. When she relays this to the others, the men think that MacArthur might be crazy but decide not to do anything about it for the moment. Vera did not know it, but her meeting with John Gordon MacArthur was the last time anybody would see the old General alive.

As the group sat down for lunch, Emily Brent was the first to notice that MacArthur had not come up to join them. Dr Armstrong volunteered to go and get him but came running back up the path a few minutes later screaming. He had just discovered MacArthur's lifeless body resting by the sea. The body was brought back to the house, where Armstrong determined that the General was killed by a single heavy blow to the back of the head. As a small measure of comfort, he noted that this would have killed MacArthur instantly with little to no pain.

As the others carried MacArthur's body upstairs and laid it on his bed, Vera and Thomas Rogers returned to the dining room. There they found another one of the china soldier boys in the table's centrepiece smashed. Reciting the poem, Vera realised what the late General had already discovered. The guests were being picked off one by one in accordance with the poem's verses. MacArthur's death also triggered a huge sense of unease amongst the guest. Whilst the deaths of Marston and Ethel Rogers had previously been written off as suicide and natural causes respectively, MacArthur's demise was an indisputable act of murder. This made everybody realise that they were being hunted.

Within a few days, MacArthur's prediction came true. None of the guests, himself included, managed to escape from U.N.Owen's clutches and they were all eventually killed. John's remains were presumably recovered by the Scotland Yard detectives after the events on Soldier Island were concluded. It can be assumed that his body was taken back to the mainland and eventually laid to rest.

How MacArthur died

In his confession letter, Wargrave noted that he killed his victims according to what he perceived to be their level of guilt. This means that he judged MacArthur to be one of his more innocent victims. The sociopathic Marston was killed first as his crime was reckless and because Wargrave also knew that he could not break the rich young man. Mrs Rogers died second since she had committed her actions unwillingly under the influence of her domineering husband.

John MacArthur was possibly chosen as the third victim due to several reasons. Firstly, he was a jilted lover and had been wronged by his victim. Secondly, his crime was a spur of the moment crime of passion, where many factors were left to chance. Thirdly, unlike most of the others, MacArthur felt genuine remorse for what he had done. Lastly, given that MacArthur's actions took place during the war, there was a possibility that Richmond would have died anyway.

When detailing how each of his victims was killed in turn, Wargrave stated that when nobody was looking, he snuck down to the beach with a bronze oxygen cylinder in his hand. MacArthur was still staring at the horizon and didn't even appear to hear the Judge creeping up behind. Wargrave proceeded to hit the old man in the back of the head with the cylinder, killing him instantly. Thus the tragic life of General John Gordon MacArthur was concluded and he found the peace he sought at long last.

2015 Miniseries

I should have just stepped aside like a gentleman and - just let them be happy
~ MacArthur expressing his guilt to Vera Claythorne

In the 2015 BBC adaptation, MacArthur was portrayed by Sam Neill. His character was genuinely consistent with his novel counterpart, showing him as a grief-stricken, tormented old man. Only a few differences exist between the novel version of MacArthur and his television counterpart:

  • The television MacArthur is implied to be slightly younger than he is in the novel. Neill was 68 when the series aired.
  • There is also no indication of MacArthur being deaf in the miniseries.
  • Whilst novel MacArthur's reputation is in ruins, the miniseries MacArthur was shown being photographed in uniform, suggesting that he is better off socially.
  • In the book, MacArthur killed his treacherous friend Arthur Richmond by sending him out on a suicidal mission. In contrast, television MacArthur simply shot the renamed Henry Richmond in the back of the head moments after discovering the affair.
  • MacArthur's grief is more pronounced in the show, see the above quote. In the final moments of his life, John appears to see Henry Richmond walking towards him like a phantom, as if the latter is coming to claim his soul.
  • Lastly, miniseries MacArthur is killed with a bronze telescope, which was left beside his corpse. His body is found by Emily Brent instead of Dr Armstrong.

Trivia

  • General MacArthur is the oldest character featured in And Then There Were None.
  • Fans of the story generally consider John MacArthur not only be the kindest but the most tragic of Wargraves victims. This is because he is repeatedly shown to be a genuinely nice man, and his actions were committed out of sincere love for his wife. Plus, he is the only one of the victims to show unconditional remorse for his actions.
  • MacArthur has a few similarities to Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard from the same story.
    • In the TV series, Lombard and MacArthur possess some form of military background.
    • Like Vera, John committed his crime out of love. However, MacArthur was the jilted victim, unwilling to let go of the person he loved. Also, given the setting in the middle of the trenches, there the distinct possibility that Richmond would have died anyway. In contrast, Claythorne orchestrated the death of her innocent charge due to selfish desires, robbing him of his future.

Navigation

     
Agatha Christie's signature Villains
(Non-Poirot & Non-Marple)

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford
Conspiracy (Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown's decoy & Mr. Whittington) | Elise | Sir Phillip Stark | Mrs. Lancaster | Miss Bligh | N & M

And Then There Were None
Anthony James Marston | Mrs. Ethel Rogers | General John Gordon Macarthur | Mr. Thomas Rogers | Emily Caroline Brent | Justice Lawrence John Wargrave | Dr. Edward George Armstrong | William Henry Blore | Philip Lombard | Vera Elizabeth Claythorne | Isaac Morris

Other Mystery Stories
The Man in the Brown Suit (1924): Sir Eustace Pedler
The Sittaford Mystery (1931): Major Burnaby
Why Didn't They Ask Evans? (1934): Roger Bassington-ffrench | Moira Nicholson
Death Comes as the End (1944): Yahmose | Nofret | Satipy | Sobek | Ipy | Henet
Towards Zero (1944): Nevile Strange
Sparkling Cyanide (1945): Ruth Lessing
Crooked House (1949): Josephine Leonides
Destination Unknown (1954): Thomas Betterton
Ordeal by Innocence (1958): Jacko Argyle | Kirsten Lindholm | Rachel Argyle
The Pale Horse (1961): Zachariah Osborne
Endless Night (1967): Michael Rogers | Greta Andersen

Adaptational, Homage & Non-Canonical
Bellamy Gould | Leo Argyll | Ransom Drysdale

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