The Portrait of General Gordon presented for our Extra Supplement this week is from a photograph by Messrs. Adams and Scanlan, of Southampton.
On Wednesday last, six days after the news of the capture or surrender of Khartoum and its occupation by the Mahdi's forces had reached London, the mournful intelligence of General Gordon's death was published, upon the authority of information obtained by Sir Charles Wilson and Lieutenant Stuart Wortley, who arrived on Monday evening at Korti, the head-quarters of Lord Wolseley. It was stated that General Gordon died on the 4th inst., at Khartoum, apparently from a wound inflicted upon him by assassins who stabbed him, on the morning of the 27th ult., as he was coming out of the Government House or Palace, the gates of the city having been opened to the enemy, during the night, by the treacherous officers of the garrison. We fear that the announcement of his death is but too true; it had seemed very possible that he might have been able, with a few personal followers, to escape from the city and to get up the Nile, where he could easily have found a place of safety; and if, on the other hand, he had been taken prisoner by the Mahdi, there is every reason to believe that his life would have been spared, in order that he might be kept for a hostage, or to exact a ransom for his liberation. There does not seem to have been any considerable fighting in Khartoum upon this occasion; and we can only regard the killing of General Gordon as an act of murder, which may have been perpetrated by some of his own revolted native soldiery, or by Mussulman fanatics, or perhaps by the perfidious officers and local chiefs who had gone over to the enemy's side.
Left: Two views of Gordon Monument by Sir W. Hamo Thornycroft, R. A. Right: John Tenniel’s Too Late! from Punch (14 February 1885 — the same day this ILN article appeared). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
The character and exploits of this distinguished man, who had just completed the fifty-second year of his age, are well known to his countrymen, and have been described in our Journal upon former occasions. Charles George Gordon, born at Woolwich on Jan. 28, 1833, fourth son of Lieutenant General H. W. Gordon, R.A., and younger brother of Commissary-General Sir Henry Gordon, K.C.B. (who survives him), entered the Royal Engineers, from Woolwich Academy, in 1852; served in the Crimea, and was employed in the survey of the Russian frontiers in Bessarabia and Armenia; joined the military expedition to China in 1860, and attained the rank of Major. In 1863 he entered the Chinese service, and performed marvellous feats, of skilful soldiership, during fifteen months, in subduing the Tai - ping rebels, capturing the cities of Soo-Chow and Nan-King. He was promoted, on quitting the Chinese service, to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and was made a C. B. When he returned home, in February, 1865, he was appointed Commander of the Royal Engineers at Gravesend, and was employed, during six years, in superintending the construction of forts and batteries on the Thames. In 1871, he was sent to join the International Commission for the improvement of the mouths of the Danube. In 1873, when Sir Samuel Baker retired from the governorship of the Soudan under the late Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha, Colonel Gordon succeeded him, and laboured zealously to correct the abuses of Egyptian rule in those provinces, and to suppress the slave trade, until July, 1879, when he resigned his oftice upon the accession of the present Viceroy, Tewfik I’asha. After his return to England, he accepted the post of private secretary to Lord Ripon, who was going out to India as Viceroy; but Gordon resigned this appointment a few days after reaching Bombay. He then went to China for a short visit, and gave the best counsel to the Chinese Government upon the reform of its military administration. In 1881 he held command of the Royal Engineers in the Mauritius; and in 1882 went to the Cape to serve the Colonial Government in command of its local forces in Basutoland; but a disagreement with the Government caused him to resign office in about two months. Major-General Gordon then went to reside in Palestine, devoting himself to studies of Biblical archaeology: but in January, last year, he accepted an offer made him by the King of the Belgians, President of the International Association for the settlement of the Congo. He came to London, and went to Brussels for the purpose of arranging the conditions of his intended service on the Congo. The destruction of Genners, Hicks's Egyptian army in the Soudan, in had caused much perplexity to our own Government. The Pull Mall Gazette sent an “interviewer” to call upon General Gordon at Southampton, and to elicit his views in favour of the policy of attempting to retain Khartoum and the Eastern Soudan.
General Gordon seems to have felt confident of the effect of his personal influence among the native tribes, and of his ability to dissuade them from joining the Mahdi. Although he vehemently protested against the abandonment of the Soudan, the policy which had been announced by the British Government and accepted by the Khedive, it was hastily resolved to send Gordon out upon a special mission, “to report on the military situation there, to provide in the best manner for the safety of the European population of Khartoum, and of the Egyptian garrisons throughout the country, as well as for the evacuation of the Soudan, with the exception of the seaboard.” Gordon himself described the mission on which he was going in the following terse phrase:–“I go to cut the dog's tail off. I've got my orders, and I'll do it, evate que cotite.” He distinctly understool that he was not to expect, under any circumstances, the support of a military force; and this he fully acknowledged in his official communications to our Government, before proceeding from Cairo.
It was on Feb. 18 of last year that General Gordon arrived at Khartoum, exactly one month after leaving London. Gordon had made no secret of his confident belief that he would be able to pacify the Soudan by means of his own personal influence, and the effects of administrative and fiscal reforms. This remarkable man always had the courage of his opinions. The very day of his arrival he astonished the government by telegraphing for Zebehr Pasha's appointment as his assistant, and the next day he liberated the prisoners, burnt the government records of taxation, and decreed that the practice of holding slaves would not in future be interfered with.
This last particular caused considerable excitement in England. Gordon had not been a fortnight in Khartoum before he was able to estimate the real strength of the rebellion, and his proclamation of himself as the Khedive's Governor-General of the Soudan must, to some extent, have produced the contrary effect to that which he intended. The very name of Khedive was an abomination to the powerful Baggara tribes, which had already rallied round the Prophet's standard; to every Arab on the Southern Nile territories, in the 13ahr Ghazal, the great country of the slave hunters, and through out the whole of Kordofan. They could not understand why the English Pasha should assume the title and dignities of Governor-General of the Soudan, if his object was to evacuate the country. In less than a month after Gordon's arrival at Khartoum, the Mahdi and his “Emirs” succeeded in spreading the insurrection throughout most of the Nile districts between Khartoum and Berber.
On March 16 one of Gordon's officers was defeated at Kalfiyeh, a small town some miles to the north of Khartoum; a few days later, fighting began outside Khartoum, where the Egyptian soldiers, alter firing one volley, turned and fled, and were cut down in hundreds by the enemy's cavalry. This defeat, however, was proved to have been due to the treachery of two pashas, who were promptly tried by court martial and shot. From the day he assumed command, Gordon entertained a very poor opinion of the bulk of the men forming his nominal fighting force. One Arab, he wrote on April 28, was able to put to flight 200 of his wretched Egyptians. Many of the latter he managed to send to Berber, for whose subsequent fall they were in a great measure responsible.
By the end of March, the whole country south of Berber was in a state of revolution, and Gordon had almost daily fights with the enemy, but in the latter half of April, his head-quarters at the Khartoum palace were assaulted by the rebels from the opposite shore. By the beginning of May, the Arabs, crossing the Blue Nile, had established themselves at Buri, a mile from the eastern corner of the intrenchments. At this spot, the besiegers suffered terribly from the mines which General Gordon had laid down. As early as the middle of April, Gordon had begun to have recourse to this method of disposing of his assailants. On May 7, nine mines (according to Mr. Power's diary) were exploded during an attack, and one hundred and twenty of the Mahdi's men were blown to pieces. On June 25 General Gordon and his companions had their first news of the fall of Berber, which isolated them still more from the outer world. Nevertheless, they continued the defence with greater vigour than ever. On July 29 Gordon drove the rebels out of Buri, killed numbers of them, captured quantities of rifles and ammunition, and cleared them out of thirteen zerebas or stockades, which they had constructed on the river banks. Mr. Power's diary finishes at the end of July, up to which date General Gordon had lost 700 men.
The public feeling in England demanded an expedition for the relief of Gordon. On Aug. 5 the House of Commons passed the vote providing money for preparations to enable the Government to be prepared for contingencies; on the 22nd the Gordon Relief Expedition was finally sanctioned. Early in May, however, orders were sent to Cairo to prepare for the dispatch of the Expedition in October, and 12,000 camels were ordered to be purchased. It was expressly stated, in the instructions of our Government to Lord Wolseley, that the object of the expedition was “to bring away General Gordon and Colonel Stewart from Khartoum; when that object has been secured, no further offensive operations of any kind are to be under taken.” Lord Wolseley was not even to advance so far as Rhartoum unless he considered “such a step essential to secure the safe retreat of General Gordon and Colonel Stewart”; but, in that case, he was “not precluded " from doing so. He was to “use his best endeavours to ensure the safe retreat of the Egyptian troops of the Khartoum garrison, and of such of the civil employés of Khartoum, together with their families, as might wish to return to Egypt.”
With these in structions, there was an emphatic renewal by our Government of their assurance that “Egyptian rule in the Soudan should cease,” and that the military operations should be limited to the relief of Gordon personally. Lord Wolseley arrived at Cairo on Sept. 10, and at Wady Halfa on the 4th of the follow ing month; but it was not until Nov. 2 that, with the arrival of the first battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment at Dongola, the actual advance on Khartoum may be said to have commenced. On Nov. 25 the Guards' Camel Corps arrived at Kanduk. Three days later the Naval Brigade, under Lord C. Beresford, was formed. December witnessed the transference of the head-quarters to Ambukol, and thence to Korti; and on the 29th Lord Wolseley determined upon dividing his forces and advancing upon Khartoum by the Desert and by the river.
The New Year opened auspiciously with the receipt of a message from Gordon, stating that Khartoum was all right on Dec. 14. On Jan. 2 Sir Herbert Stewart arrived at Gakdul Wells with the first portion of his force. He hurried back to Korti, and had returned to Gakdul with reinforcements by the 12th. On the 14th he ad vanced from Gakdul Wells to Metammeh. On the 17th the brilliant victory of Abou Klea was won. On the 19th the second battle was fought, and the British troops reached their present advanced position at Gubat, close to Metammeh; in a - couple of days more they were met by Gordon's four steamers; and Sir Charles Wilson, who was then in command, received Gordon's laconic message, of date Dec. 29, that “ Khartoum was all right,” and “could hold out for years.” Gordon's four steamers reached Metan, inch on the 21st; but not until the 24th did Sir Charles Wilson, with two of the steamers and a detachment of the Sussex Regiment, start on their hundred miles trip to Khan toum. The beleaguered city foll into the hands of the Mahdi on the very day belore Sir Charles Wilson's arrival.
This is a sad and tragical story; and we wish it could be shown that adequate measures had been taken to communicate to the Maldi, and to the insurgent tribes of the Soudan, while Khartoum was yet safe, the conciliatory intentions of our Government. Her Majesty's Ministers were of opinion, as they always said, “that the extension of Egyptian rule over these distant countries has been injurious to the interests of the people of Egypt” It was obvious, indeed, “that Egypt has not, and cannot be expected to have, either pecuniary resources or military strength sufficient to justify the extension of her territory beyond the natural boundary of the great Desert to the south.” These grounds justified their conviction that the advice it was their duty to give the Khedive to retire from the Soudan was wise and necessary, and they gave instructions accordingly both to General Gordon and to Lord Wolseley. It was stated that the Egyptian Government would be prepared to pay a reasonable subsidy to any chief, or number of chiefs, who would be sufficiently powerful to maintain order along the valley of the Nile from Wady Halfa to Khartoum, and who would agree to the following conditions:
1. To remain at peace with Egypt, and to repress any raids on Egyptian territory.
2. To encourage trade with Egypt.
3. To prevent and discourage by all possible means any expeditions for the sale and capture of slaves.
Either General Gordon or Lord Wolseley was authorised to conclude any arrangements which fulfil these general conditions, but we are not aware that such efforts have been made; and the forcible repression of the Soudan revolt has been pursued with results hitherto unavailing, at an enormous sacrifice of life, accompanied by the fall of Khartoum and the death of General Gordon. [86.171-72]
Other Casualties of the Sudan Expedition and Related Material
- Tomb of General Gordon by Frederick William Pomeroy in St. Paul's Cathedral
- General Charles George Gordon (homepage)
- The Late Major-General Earle
- Casualties — a Dozen of the Dead and Wounded
- Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Homan Eyre, of the South Staffordshire Regiment
- The Suez Canal
- Egypt and the British Empire
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86 (14 February 1885): 169. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 21 August 2020.
Last modified 26 August 2020