Trevor Clark

Colonial officer and biographer of Abubakar
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A Right Honourable Gentleman: Abubakar from the Black Rock (1991), by Trevor Clark, remains one of the most important books about the recent history of West Africa. It is the biography of the sea-green incorruptible Prime Minister of Nigeria, Harold Wilson's friend Abubakar Tafewa Balewa, murdered in a military coup in 1966.

Long before Abubakar had reached the eminence of becoming prime minister of one of the most populous Commonwealth countries, he had been headmaster of the school in Bauchi; Clark got to know him extremely well since, as a colonial officer, he was based in Bauchi from 1949 to 1959. Clark and Abubakar went back a long way together.

In later years, the rulers of Nigeria came to have a bad conscience about the treatment of Abubakar, a thoroughly good man and honest in every endeavour. When, after three visits back to Nigeria, Clark's scholarly work was published, the reaction of the Nigerian government was to buy 20,000 copies - an author's dream - for distribution in every secondary school in that great country. Clark had revealed much of their modern history to Africans.

Trevor Clark was born in 1923, the son of the deputy medical officer for the City of Glasgow, who sent him to the rigorous Glasgow Academy. When his father was promoted to be Medical Officer of Health for the City of Edinburgh, Trevor was transferred to Edinburgh Academy, from which he won entrance to Magdalen College, Oxford, to study PPE.

However, after a year, he volunteered for Second World War service, being commissioned into the Cameron Highlanders and transferred to the Royal West African Frontier Force, serving briefly in Nigeria and subsequently in the 14th Army in India and Burma. Throughout his life, he retained memories of the horrendous fighting on the Irrawaddy, and of many contemporaries who were never to come back to build an idealistic world in which he passionately believed. It was in Burma that he formed the drive to serve peoples of all races.

Returning to complete his degree in the Oxford of an unusually gifted generation, he went on the advice of his Magdalen tutors to the Middle Temple, where he trained as a barrister. He qualified for the Colonial Service and, posted in 1949 to Northern Nigeria as Secretary to the Cabinet, he applied himself to become a fluent Hausa-speaker.

Having visited Northern Nigeria in 1956, I can easily imagine the problems of dealing with the Sardauna of Sokoto or the Emir of Kano. Clark was promoted to being a Senior District Officer but, as was the custom after a decade, because the Colonial Office did not want their employees to "go native", he was transferred to Hong Kong as Director of Social Welfare and Clerk of Councils.

There he worked closely with two governors, Robert Black and Murray MacLehose. He immersed himself in the Chinese community and became Vice-President of the Hong Kong Scout Association and Honorary Secretary of St John's Cathedral council. He had a gift for getting on with the local people and their leaders, because there was never any arrogance or air of superiority in his 6ft 61/2in frame. People did look up to him, not only physically, but as a natural leader.

In 1972 he was chosen as a very suitable Colonial Officer to nurture the islanders of the Western Pacific into self-government and independence within the Commonwealth. It was a sadness to him that his retirement came before he could finish the job, which was inherited by a governor with far less patience for the Solomon Islanders.

Clark had laid sensible foundations. He had an especially good relationship with the Solomon leader Baddeley Devesi, who visited Britain as a guest of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I used to meet the Pacific islanders when they came to the House of Commons; they had a great affection for this tall, lanky Scot who would appear from time-to-time "in his skirt" (his kilt). Clark, for his part, summed up to me his colonial career by saying that he loved the Nigerians, admired the Hong Kong Chinese for their energy and achievement and felt himself to be a father figure in the Solomon Islands.

On his retirement Trevor Clark and his energetic physiotherapist wife Hilary, whom he had married in Hong Kong in 1965, became considerable figures in the city of Edinburgh. He was elected as a Conservative to the City Council, serving from 1980 to 1988, but won the respect and high regard of colleagues such as the Scottish Nationalist Lord Provost Norman Irons and the Labour Lord Provost Eric Milligan.

Clark became Chairman of the Scottish Museums Council, a member of the Secretary of State's Museums Advisory Board and a trustee of the National Museums of Scotland. His fellow trustee Lord Wilson of Tillyorn emphasises Clark's "devotion to the museum" and his strong ideas on what a museum should do. Clark was also a most valuable member of the Lothian Health Board.

In 2002, Clark published Was It Only Yesterday? - a portrait of people involved in Nigeria in the second half of the 20th century. He described the engineers, educationists and religious people - particularly the Jesuit community at Bauchi - who did so much good.

Although he entitled his autobiography Good Second Class (2004), Trevor Clark was first-class in everything he did.

Tam Dalyell