Scots have always been able to adapt to a wide range of alien environments while retaining their national identity and characteristics. Few demonstrated this ability more markedly than Harry Maclean. A descendant of the Macleans of Drimnin in Morvern he spent 43 years in Morocco, became commander of the Sultan of Morocco’s army, adopted Moorish costume; but managed to play the bagpipes at every opportunity and retained a very Scottish personality.
In a remarkable career he became both a trusted adviser of successive Sultans and an unofficial agent for the British Government. This position was not without its perils, he was captured and held hostage for several months by a bandit chief with whom he had been sent to negotiate on behalf of the Sultan.
Harry Aubrey de Vere Maclean was born in Chatham, Kent, in 1848. His father, Andrew, was Inspector General of Army Medical Services and a grandson of Allan Maclean, chieftain of the Macleans of Drimnin. Young Harry was found employment in the civil service but this did not prove congenial and he asked his father if he might join the army. Maclean was commissioned into the 69th Foot (The South Lincolnshire Regiment) and served with them in Canada, Bermuda and Gibraltar.
In 1877 the Sultan of Morocco sent 100 soldiers to Gibraltar to be trained as a cadre of instructors for his army and asked the British Ambassador to Morocco, Sir John Drummond-Hay, to find a British officer who would enter the Sultan’s service and train his army. Harry Maclean accepted the appointment and spent the next thirty years in the service of the Sultan, Moulay Hassan, and his successor, Moulay Abdelaziz.
Kaid Maclean in local costume
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