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Five years in the Sudan online

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indeed desirable to cover the whole distance by rail-
way. With such a grand natural waterway as lies
between Gondckoro and Khartoum, the enormous
expenditure wliich the construction of a railway


would necessitate would be unjustifiable, and there
is no prospect of its being undertaken, at least in our
time. It is true that branches, running to different
portions of the interior of the Sudan, may conceiv-
ably lessen the distance to be traversed by water,
but through the sudd, for instance, a railway would
be an impossibility ; it would be necessary to carry
it away to the east, joining the river again near
Taufikier. Africa will have to increase the value
and amount of her exports to an enormous extent
before the expenditure of extra millions on a railway,
which would connect Uganda with the capital of the
Sudan, can be even thought of seriously.

The cutting of the sudd was one of the most arduous
tasks which lay before the English on their arrival in
the country. It was one which needed incessant at-
tention and hard work, and it lay in a district which
is absolutely devoid of attraction. At early dawn the
Englishmen in charge would rise to see that all was
in order for the day's work, and from that time
through the day they were constantly busy superin-
tending. I had not arrived in the country when the
expedition under Major Peake made the first im-
pression on this mighty swamp ; but during the last,
under Lieutenant Drury, r.n., and Mr. Poole, I had
frequent opportunities of seeing the men at work,
and I never saw it but what I thanked Providence
that it had not fallen to my lot to be attached to
the expedition.

The manner in which the work was accomplished
was briefly this. A party of men would clamber out


as best tlicy might on to the reekmg swamp ; then,
selecting a block of sudd, they would cut down
through it with swords till it was practically free from
the body of the surrounding swamp. A hawser was
then passed out to them, and this they would fasten
securely round the all but severed portion, and return
to the boat. The ship's end of the hawser would in
its turn be attached to the winch on board, and the
ship would be driven astern with a jerk, thus bringing
the mass of sudd which had been cut, away from the
field. It would then be pushed aside into the stream,
which carried it away till, water-logged, it sunk
somewhere in the north. This accomplished, the
same thing would take place again and again till
time was called for food. Feeding-time over, the
same routine would be carried out until dark. And
then began the mosquitoes' parade !

During the last expedition, an anchor and other
accessories of a steamer were found by the men,
deeply bedded in the sudd. They had not been left
by any of the steamers which had been engaged in
the sudd since the battle of Omdurman ; it is prob-
able, to judge from the state of the metal when it was
found, that these rehcs were of a time preceding the
rise of the Mahdi, and are therefore interesting
records of some forgotten attempt to clear a water-
way through these desolate regions.

The chief station of the sudd during the cutting
operations was a place called Sanduk (the box),
and after the dreary hours of the first part of my
voyage up, I was looking forward with eagerness to



my arrival there. We reached it one evening just as
the mosquitoes were beginning to wake, but I looked
in vain for any vestige of a station. At length the
reis pointed out a melancholy-looking box, on a
rickety pole, and — this was Sanduk. It had been put
there as a landmark by some sportsman who must
have been leaving the district for ever, otherwise he
could never have displayed such energy and playful-
ness. That it was a snare and a delusion to men I
can affirm fi'om dread experience. It contained, I
believe, one bottle, reputed to be full of whisky ; but
I never took the trouble to explore, one disappoint-
ment was quite sufficient.

Shambe, an island in a swamp in the times of rain,
but in the dry season quite a presentable little station,
stands near the southern limit of the sudd district.
Any place where one could land would be acceptable
after the awful swamp through which one has to
pass in these districts. There is a large lake im-
mediately in front of the village, the resting-place of
a large number of hippopotami. It was, I believe,
due to a shooting expedition here by moonlight, that
I contracted the illness which sent me home to Eng-
land in my first year. The hippopotami go ashore to
feed at night, and the moon being just at its zenith,
two other men and myself decided to try and get a
shot at them. For several hours we wandered about,
with the water often above our waists, and with no
tangible result in the way of sport. When I returned
to the boat I felt thoroughly chilled, but a stiff glass
of whisky made me all right then. However, I was


not altogether fit for the rest of my trip, and about
a fortnight later I developed dysentry. Unfortunately
when it became severe I was out of the reach of an
English medical man, and acting on the principle that
if nature, unassisted by constant habit, craved for a
thing, it could not be injurious, I indulged a newly
born and irrepressible desire for pickles, Worcester
sauce, and other indigestibles. In a moment of
weakness I had parted with my cook to another
man, to help him out of a difficulty, and was conse-
quently at the mercy of a small boy, who did nothing
that he was not obliged to, and then only with as bad
a grace as possible. If I asked for eggs, they appeared
hard boiled an hour later ; if I called for soda, it was
brought to me boiling; if I asked for tea, I could
expect it when I had forgotten the order, cold. The
.consequence was that notwithstanding the kindness
of two EngHshmen who were on board for a great
part of the journey, I arrived in Omdurman at last
in a state of collapse. I spent about a month at a
friend's house, during which time I had the enormous
satisfaction of hearing that my late servant had been
sent to gaol for stealing bottles from the house where
I was a guest.

On the morning after my arrival, I woke to find
a new boy at my side with milk. He did not offer
any explanations, and at the time I scarcely noticed
more than that I was not troubled with the presence
of the little scoundrel who had been my sole attendant
on the journey south. This new boy, Mohammed,
proved to be one of the finest servants I have ever


seen, black or white. He was a member of the Jaalin
tribe, the one tribe which remained faithful to the
British in the time of the Mahdi. He had been picked
up on the beach of Omdurman by a British naval
officer at the time of the expedition, and I never
ceased to be grateful to this man — he is dead now,
poor fellow — for the manner in which he had trained
the boy. He was quite a good cook, even when he
came to me at the age of fifteen ; in later days he
attained fame as a chef ; and he was absolutely
faithful and honest. The very first day that he
came to me I opened a portmanteau to take a paper
out of it, and forgot to lock it when I handed it back
to him. Almost a month later I remembered that I
had nearly thirty pounds — a great part of it in silver
— ^in the bag. I opened it again with some mis-
givings, but found the sum intact, even to milliems.
During the whole of my first illness he was untiring
in his attentions, and on every subsequent occasion
when I was ill he acted with the same solicitude. I
remember two incidents particularly well. One was
when I was in the awful Civil hospital of Khartoum
a year or so before I left the country. Half my nights
were spent in delirium, though I could recall almost
every word which I had spoken in the mornings. Fre-
quently I called this long-suffering servant from his
rest to give impossible orders ; I would tell him to
go out into the town and bring me a cup of tea ; I
would tell him to put my luggage in a railway carriage,
and give him other orders of a similarly impossible
nature. He would listen attentively and depart, to


return in a few moments to tell me that he had done
what I had told him, or that the shop had been shut ;
he was always patient and humoured my slightest
wish. There are few European servants who would
have acted in the same manner under like circum-

Again, at a still later date, when I was suffering
from the presence of a malarial microbe in the joint
of my knee, the same thing happened. During the
first night, when the pain was at its worst, and before
the doctors had started administering morphia, I
called him dozens of times ; he came each time as
cheerfully as the first. The next night he came into
my cabin just before he went to bed and attached a
cord to the head of my bed. '" The other end of this
is tied to my pillow," he said ; '"I am very sleepy
and I am afraid that I may not hear you call, but if I
do not, pull this, and it will wake me."

When I left the country I gave him as large a
backshee.'^h as I was able to, and I only regret that I
could not have doubled it. He stayed with me until
a few months after I left the Sudan, when he
said that it was quite impossible for him to remain
in a country like Egypt, where the women took no
part in any festivities which might be going, and he
returned to his own land.

After a month I was sent to hospital, which was,
by the way, the quarters of the Khahfa's harem in
the old days. There I remained for nearly a month
more, and finally I was removed to Cairo. I was
sent up in the charge of a Syrian doctor, and I re-


member my satisfaction when, one night during the
journey, I was able to persuade my boy to hunt up
a tin of Maconochie's rations, which I devoured cold
in the fear that I should be discovered and baulked
of my meal if I waited to have them cooked. Curi-
ously enough, I don't think that they did me much
harm. Truly I was starving ; milk and soda may be
good for one, but it is hardly satisfying. After a
fortnight in Cairo I was sent home ; I put Mohammed
in charge of a European chef at one of the hotels, and
left the country on the same day that I received my
instructions. I arrived in England after a satisfying
journey, just before Christmas, then I was promptly
put back to my milk diet again !



ON my return to the Sudan, three months later,
the chief thing that I can remember is the
appalling desire for sleep which beset me at any and
every moment of the day, when I was not actually
engaged in physical exercise. If I sat down to
read I would fall asleep before I had read a page,
and on two or three occasions I went to sleep over
my meals. It was terribly trying, but I suppose
it was necessary for my constitution at the time ;
at all events it gradually got better, and I lost it
entirely about six or eight months after my return.

After remaining in the Khartoum district for
some time, I went south to Mongalla, the southern
frontier station of the Sudan, where a gunboat
was always kept at the disposal of the resident
British inspector. The gunboat on which I lived
was one of the most unsteady of her kind, but she
belonged to a useful class, one that could go up any
of the smallest rivers, and she carried three guns,
two maxims and a 12-pounder. The station Mon-
galla, and the adjacent district, were at that time
under the command of Captain Borton, who has
since retired fi-om the army, and is now Postmaster-



General in Egypt. My duties lay in cruising about
to the various stations which he had to inspect,
and also the presence of the boat gave an added
appearance of authority to our frontier station
which lay between the two Congo stations of Kiro
and Lado, It was exceedingly nice work, and not-
withstanding the fact that walking from one side to
the other was almost enough to give my boat a list,
I spent one of the best times that I had in the Sudan
on this duty. There was good shooting to be had
in the district which came under Borton's control, and
there was a certain amount of game within a walk
of our head-quarters at Mongalla.

But of all the things that I remember most clearly
in connection with this district, was the coming of
a storm one beautiful afternoon when I was out
shooting. It was truly wonderful ; everything
was calm and still, when suddenly I became conscious
of a dim sound as of rushing water in the distance.
I could not see anything, however, so I imagined that
it must be the noise of the breeze in the trees some
distance off. A few moments later I reached the
summit of a small hill, and from there, away to the
east, I saw an advancing sheet of shimmering white,
some three or four hundred yards in width. Even
then I could not for a moment imagine what it was,
but at length the truth dawned on me. It was
rain. It came swiftly and regularly towards me,
the sound of its falling growing louder each second.
Seeing at last that it was really only a " slice "of
water, and that without the sphere of its width


there was apparently no rain falling, I tried to
avoid it; but I started just too late. One moment
I was standing in the sunshine of a tropical after-
noon, the next I was absolutely drenched to the
skin ; yet another moment and only the wet under-
foot remained as evidence that the thing had hap-
pened. I walked on perhaps a dozen yards and the
ground was cork dry ; not a drop of moisture had
touched it. I found later, when I returned to the
village, that the storm had caught one half of Mon-
galla ; the guardship, the Melik, had not a dry
corner in her, while my own boat, the Ahii Klea,
had been untouched. I never saw more heavy rain
in the Sudan, and I think that its extreme local
nature was very exceptional. This happened after
I had been some months in the station, and it marked
the beginning of the rains. When they had once
started you were never safe ; it would be cloudless
one minute and pouring with rain the next. I
never stayed in for it if I wanted to go out, as a
matter of fact I rather liked shooting in the rain, it
reminded me of England ; and I had a theory that
if one had a hot bath immediately it would counteract
the evil effects of a chill. I did not suffer from
fever then as much as the men who were careful to
avoid getting wet ; but whether the after-effects of
rheumatism, which have bothered me, were due to
my previous defiance of the elements is more than
I can say. In Khartoum a rainy day upsets every-
thing ; no one works and no one is expected to do
so, but in that district rain falls so seldom that it


is a very different matter from the southern region,
where the rains occupy the major portion of the year.
The natives of the Mongalla district are of the
Behri tribe, lank and lazy, yet like the rest of the
native population of the Sudan they have great
possibilities in them if we could rid them of the
conservatism which has decreed that it is unmanly
to labour. The heroes of the grass-cutting incident,
which I have already related, were members of this
tribe. They live largely upon fish which they lance
in the water, but it is a sport which requires an
infinite amount of skill, and even most practised
spearmen frequently return empty-handed. Cer-
tainly they have not the appearance of being over-
nourished ; they are exceedingly thin, and are
physically the weakest tribe of the Sudan. They also
lack the keenness of either the Dinka or Shillouk
tribes ; they do not appear to take a real interest
in anything, but are quite contented to spin out
their existence at the doors of their miserable mud
or straw huts, as long as they can procure sufficient
food to keep life in their bodies. Their women are
for the most part miserable and ill-nourished in
appearance, and I think that a great deal of the
lassitude of the tribe is due to the fact that, year in
and year out, they pass their nights under the ban
of the dread mosquitoes. Some people are under
the impression that mosquitoes do not trouble the
black ; this is an entire fallacy, they appear to be
every whit as sensitive to the sting as the white
men. I have watched the unfortunate people at


night-time squatting round the small fire they have
built in the vain attempt to ward off the insects.
My boat has lain close in to some of their huts at
night, and unceasingly through the long hours they
have flapped away at the swarms which surround
them ; between sunset and sunrise there was never
peace in the camp — it was war the whole night
through. Undisturbed sleep was an impossibility ;
they were not possessed of sufficient clothing to
cover their bodies as the more civilised Sudanese
further north, and they were therefore at the entire
mercy of the fever-laden insects. Who, therefore,
can wonder that in the morning they are only too
ready to seek the shade of their huts and drowse
away the time, obtaining then the sleep that nature
demands, and which has been denied to them in the
hours during which it should legitimately have been
theirs. I am convinced that you have only to supply
these people with good mosquito curtains in order
to make new men of them ; in any case, the experi-
ment would be worth making.

There are huge herds of elephants in this part of
the Sudan. On one occasion information was
brought to the ship that there were elephants in the
neighbourhood. At that time I had not got the
second elephant which I was allowed under the
regulations ; neither had another man who was on
board at the time, Captain Carey, so we went out
together, a mistaken thing to do, for one man is
almost certain to spoil the other's sport. We had not
gone very far before the well-known rumbling sound


of the animals' stomachs in the near distance told us
that we were in close proximity to them, and in
another minute we caught a glimpse of a huge form
about a hundred yards ahead. There was scarcely
any breeze ; this is always a disadvantage, as without
it is impossible to keep to leeward of the animals.
They are as blind as bats, but they can scent a human
being for miles, and once they have done this your
chances of a shot are practically nil, unless, indeed,
you happen to be scented by an old rogue elephant,
one that has been turned out of the herd by the
younger bulls, or by a cow elephant with her young.
In either of these cases you stand the risk of taking
a flying shot at the beast as you are being charged —
a privilege which is not always acceptable, especially
as an elephant is practically invulnerable from the

We worked round gradually, smoking cigarettes
and choosing our direction by the line of the smoke
till we thought we were in a fairly good position to
advance and shoot. At that moment, however, there
was a rumble just behind us, and we lay in waiting.
A young bull elephant passed us within about thirty
yards, moving slowly along, picking choice morsels
off the trees as he passed. We waited until the coast
was clear, and then moved on again towards the large
tusker we had set our hearts upon. When we got
up to him, he was standing with three others, at
about forty or fifty yards* range. The ground was
very bad, and we decided to try and get round a little
further still ; fifty yards is really too long a range


to shoot these animals at, especially as we only had
•303 calibre rifles. It was well that we did so. We
walked on cautiously, and rounding a clump of trees,
came imexpectedly upon a young bull, moving in
a cross direction to the one which we were pursuing.
We both stood absolutely still in the hope that we
might not be seen. The animals are, as I have
already said, very short-sighted, and the best thing
to do under such circumstances is to stand immovable.
The chances are that you will not be discovered. I
suppose we were too close ; he must have caught
a glimpse of our moving bodies, or a breath of air
warned him of our approach. He stopped dead and
faced us, and a mutual-admiration seance lasted for
perhaps half a minute. Before he took action we
were about twelve or fifteen yards from him ; but
suddenly he raised his trunk into the air, stuck out
his great ears at right angles to his body, and ad-
vanced to investigate more closely. I am not sure
what Carey did, I could not see ; but when I stopped
I found that the animal had probably had as great
a fright as I had myself, because he was disappearing
with much speed in the opposite direction. It had
frightened the rest of the herd too, apparently, for
we did not see any others for some time. As we
were returning to the boat we came upon them
unexpectedly on the ground that we had covered
while stalking in the first place. We got on to an
ant-heap to take our bearings, and from this point
saw a truly wonderful sight.

The surrounding country was literally alive with


elephant, including several cows with young. I was
thankful then that we had not followed our original
intention of firing when we had the fifty-yard chance
at the first bull, for had we done so, the whole herd,
alarmed at the shot, would have stampeded, and as
we were pretty well surrounded, it is more than
probable that one of the cows would have chanced in
our direction. Had this been the case, the end would
not have been pleasant, for the lack of a sufficiently
pronounced breeze made it impossible to know
where to turn without careful observation. After
watching the herd browsing for a considerable time,
we continued to try for another and better shot, but
dusk fell before an opportunity presented itself,
and we were eventually forced to give it up for the
night. But the afternoon's experience was a re-
markable one, and I would not have missed it for
anything ; it is seldom, even in these regions, that
one chances across a herd as large as this, and more
seldom still that one sees the baby elephant being
trained to pick the young green shoots off the trees
with its trunk, as we did on this occasion.

Captain Carey got a fine bull a few weeks later, but
it was some time before I had another opportunity
of shooting one.

The Belgian stations certainly are much more
picturesque in their appearance than our own, but
this is owing to the custom of the Belgian authorities
of making a small clearing, and building all the
residences close together, instead of spreading them
out, as is usual in our stations. Kiro, the most


northern station of the Congo on the Nile, is very
pretty and clean ; Lado, the second station, is
prettier still. Even if there were no flags or Euro-
peans visible, no one could, by any stretch of inaagi-
nation, think that they were British, their whole
appearance is so absolutely foreign. There are some
very nice buildings in these stations, some of them
are roofed with corrugated iron, some are neatly
thatched with straw ; but though the scenic effect
is charming, they are all much too close together
for comfort. Thriving fruit trees abound in the
vicinity of the stations, papaw and banana being
the principal fruits grown.

The natives here are absolutely different to the
tribes on the opposite bank of the Nile ; they are
short and thick set ; the women are, for the most
part, quite as tall, if not taller than the men. Some
of them are beautifully proportioned, but they have
not such refined faces as some of the more savage
tribes of the Sudan. The women shave their hair,
with the exception of a small tuft which is left at the
very top of the head. The effect is not as unpleasing
as one would imagine ; it seems so typical of them,
one is familiar with it the moment one sees it. They
are not a moral race ; indeed, they are decidedly
inclined in the opposite direction ; the standard of
morality is low, lower than that of the British stations
in the Sudan. All women, even the wives and
daughters of non-commissioned officers of the Con-
golese army, appear to hold no tie sacred, or to regard
free love with anything but favour. The men are


entirely indifferent as to what their women-folk do,
and will deliberately connive at wrongdoing, pro-
vided that their consciences receive sufficient pecu-

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Online LibraryEdward FothergillFive years in the Sudan → online text (page 10 of 22)