Consigned by a UK collector to John Nicholson’s (25% buyer’s premium) Islamic and Oriental auction in Fernhurst, Surrey, on October 17, the estimate was £300-500. Amid interest from a number of people bidding online and on the phone it sold to a UK collector for £4800.
The inscription to one side read: Presented to Captain E.Z. Thornton, 4th The King’s Own Royal Regt. by H.S.H Mulai Hassan, Sultan of Morocco, for services rendered to the Moorish Arny, 1877-78.
London-born Edward Zohrab Thornton (1844-1908) had a paternal grandmother called Sophie Zohrab (of Armenian origin), hence his unusual second name. He joined the army as an ensign in 1861, aged 17, travelled to India and served in the Bengal Fusiliers. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in July 1862.
He married his first cousin Georgina Danvers in August 1866 in Abbots Langley, Herts. They had two sons and a daughter, all born in the northwest frontier of India. Neither son married and his daughter died young.
Thornton was promoted to captain in December 1875 and served in the 4th (The King’s Own Royal Lancaster) Regiment. In 1876, he was serving with the 1st Battalion in Gibraltar, which could explain his service in Morocco (1877-78) where he helped the sultan form an army: hence the award of this sword.
Thornton was presumably working with the much better known General (Kaïd) Sir Harry Aubrey de Vere Maclean, KCMG (1848-1920). Maclean was a Scottish soldier who in 1876 went to Morocco and began his career as an army instructor for Sultan Mulai Hassan and his successor Moulay Abdelaziz.
Maclean’s time there included fighting against opposing tribes, being kidnapped and held for ransom after a failed first attempt, a visit to the forbidden city of Tafilalt, and eventually commanding the sultan’s army.
In February Edinburgh saleroom Lyon & Turnbull sold a photo album inscribed Souvenir of the Italian Mission June 1906 To Miss Maclean, very sincerely, John Martin Franklin for £550. It showed Maclean on and observing military manoeuvres.
The sword came complete with original blade, knucklebow, guard and scabbard, together with a sword belt. The ivory handle was described as having age-related wear, age cracks and scratches. (The lot was registered as exempt in the UK in accordance with the UK Ivory Act.)