Sir Donald Friell McLeod was born on 6 May 1810 in Fort William, Calcutta (now Kolkata) as the son of Lieutenant General Duncan McLeod. He received his education at Edinburgh High School in Dulwich, Putney and Haileybury. In the year 1828, McLeod returned to Bengal as an officer to begin his career. He worked in the Sagar and Nerbudda territories and Benares from the year 1831 to 1849. Donald Friell McLeod later became the Commissioner of Jalandhar in the year 1849 and Judicial Commissioner of the British Punjab in the year 1854.
During the Great Revolt of 1857, also known as the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Sir Donald Friell McLeod CB KCSI was at Lahore and was knighted with the Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Eventually he was appointed as the Lieutenant Governor of British Punjab. McLeod served in office from 10 January 1865 to 1 June 1870. In the year 1866, he was knighted with Knight Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India. Sir Donald Friell McLeod CB KCSI acted as the Chairman of the Sind in Punjab and Delhi Railway. After he retired, McLeod settled in London.
Sir Donald Friell McLeod CB KCSI was a philanthropist and articulated religious opinions. He established the University of Punjab (Lahore Oriental University) in Lahore, British Punjab as the local populace of the region lacked education. As a result of this, he was praised and respected by the British officials and the natives. McLeod also promoted Oriental Studies and gave his opinion on education in vernaculars. The British Government of India introduced vernacular languages along with English due to the efforts of Donald Friell McLeod.
Sir Donald Friell McLeod died on 28 November 1872 from an accident in the London Underground.