Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Maclean, Harry Aubrey De Vere

Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement
Maclean, Harry Aubrey De Vere by no contributor recorded

MACLEAN, Sir HARRY AUBREY DE VERE (1848–1920), the eldest son of Andrew Maclean, M.D., of Drimnin, Argyllshire, inspector-general in the Army Medical Service, by his wife, Clara, daughter of Henry Holland Harrison, was born at Chatham 15 June 1848. He first served as a clerk in the Privy Council office, but joined the 69th regiment in 1869. At the time of the Fenian border raid into Canada in April 1870 his regiment formed part of the Huntingdon field force under Colonel Bagot which attacked and defeated the Fenians at Trout River, not far from Montreal. From Canada he went with his regiment to Bermuda in 1870, and in 1873 to Gibraltar.

In 1876 Maclean retired from the army. The following year Mulai Hassan, sultan of Morocco, sent 100 men to be trained at Gibraltar in order to act as instructors to the army of 10,000 men which he proposed to raise. He asked for an English officer to accompany them back to Morocco, and Maclean accepted the appointment. He first served as drill instructor at Tangier, but was shortly after promoted to be kaid of 400 asakir (infantry) and instructor of the forces attached to the court. His pay was at the rate of 200 francs a month with the promise of an increase when he had learned sufficient Arabic to drill his men without the aid of an interpreter. About three months after his appointment he had fulfilled this condition. Eventually he learnt to speak Arabic fluently, but he never acquired a good accent, and Mulai Hassan often used to laugh at his queer pronunciation. His pay was now raised to £30 a month, with a horse, and a house wherever the sultan might reside. To instruct the Moorish army was, however, heartbreaking work; the sultan would not allow his soldiers to learn too much, nor to have proper instruction in musketry, for fear they might become dangerous as rebels.

Mulai Hassan and his successor, ‘Abd-el-‘Aziz, were both much attached to Maclean and confided in him, and he accompanied the court wherever it went. But his position at first was not easy. The Moorish ministers were jealous, and in 1881 obtained his dismissal. Next year, however, he was restored and accompanied Mulai Hassan on an expedition to the Sus province. A long time had elapsed since any sultan had ventured on such an expedition, but it was quite successful, and they traversed the Sus almost as far as Cape Juby. Maclean accompanied the sultan on many other journeys, visiting Tafilet—then a city barred to Europeans—as well as all the other chief towns of Morocco. He was partly responsible for the successful concealment of the news of the death of Mulai Hassan in 1894, until the grand vizier could take the necessary steps for assuring the succession of the sultan's favourite son, ‘Abd-el-‘Aziz. He was very popular with his men, to whom he was always considerate, though he could be firm enough on occasion. Being of powerful physique he was able to deal summarily with insubordinate individuals. His chief function was advisory, but in 1892 he was entrusted with the command of a force engaged in suppressing an insurrection of the Anjera tribe. To the British legation at Tangier Maclean was extremely helpful, acting as its unofficial agent at the sultan's court; but he was not the Machiavelli of intrigue that some of the foreign legations represented him to be. His position at court depended on his loyalty to the sultan, but his relations with the British legation did much to smooth the conduct of business. His services were rewarded by a C.M.G. in 1898, and in 1901, when he came with a Moorish mission to the coronation of King Edward VII, he received the K.C.M.G.

In 1904 Maclean narrowly escaped being kidnapped near Tangier by the followers of the rebel sherif, Mulai Ahmed er-Raisuli; his escape was due to the resource of Mr. Carleton, the British consular agent at Alcazar, who happened to be with him at the time. In July 1907, while negotiating with Raisuli on behalf of the Makhzen, he was actually kidnapped and held to ransom. For seven months he was a prisoner, and although he endured the hardships and tedium of his detention with great courage and coolness, there is no doubt that they seriously undermined his health. Raisuli at first was very exorbitant in his terms, going so far as to demand the governorship of Tangier, but gradually he was persuaded to moderate them by the efforts of Sir Herbert White, the British chargé d'affaires, and Maclean was eventually released. In 1908 ‘Abd-el-‘Aziz was deposed; his successor, Mulai Hafid, although eager to retain Maclean's services, would not offer acceptable terms, and in 1909 Maclean resigned. After his retirement he lived partly at Richmond and partly at Tangier. He died at Tangier 4 February 1920.

Maclean was twice married: first, in 1882 to Catharine, daughter of Thomas Coe, of Gibraltar, by whom he had one son and three daughters; secondly, in 1913 to Ella, daughter of Sir Harry Prendergast, V.C. [q.v.], who, with one daughter, survived him.

Maclean in his native uniform was always an imposing figure. He was famous for the open-handed hospitality which he extended to all British visitors at the Moorish court. He devoted much of his spare time to the bagpipes, the piano, the guitar, and the accordion. He was an amateur inventor, but none of his inventions was commercially successful.

[The Times, 6 February 1920; Country Life, June 1920; Hart's Army List, 1871; private information.]