Frederick Charles Arthur Stephenson.

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It was a period of very mixed experiences, as will
be seen by his letters home at that date, but the time he
spent under Sir Hope Grant's command was so agreeable
to him that it quite outweighed his previous annoyances.

In Captain Henry KnoUys' Incidents of the China
War of i86oj a book chiefly compiled from Sir Hope
Grant's private diaries, the following passage is quoted
from his list of staff officers : —

'* Colonel Stephenson, Scots Fusiher Guards, Deputy
Adjutant- General. I consider myself fortunate in
this appointment, as not only was he in ever}'- respect
a first-rate officer, but he possessed a peculiarly con-
ciliatory manner, which smoothed over many difficulties.


and specially qualified him for the post of Adjutant-

The letters from China are in some respects the
most interesting of all. The descriptions of places
and people are lively and graphic, and the writer's
references to his own position, with its attendant dis-
agreeables, brings out his character very clearly, while
at the same time he tells the story of a campaign that
has been very seldom described ; it was so completely
overshadowed by the Indian Mutiny that public at-
tention was turned from it at the time, and not very
much has been written about it since.

He gives a capital account of the shipwreck of the
Transit on the voyage out, but it is only from a letter
published in the papers at the time, and written by an
officer who was on board the ship, but whose name is
not given, that we learn the following details : —

" Colonel S , Scots Fusilier Guards, is in command,

and there is in my opinion no man better fitted for high
command, as, with a temper most enviable, he has a
calmness, firmness, and self-possession which has proved
of essential service to us all. He was the last of our
party to leave the ship."

After his return from China in 1861 Frederick
Stephenson had only a few months at home, and it
was a sad time. His mother. Lady Stephenson, to
whom he was deeply attached and to whom the greater
number of his letters up to this time had been addressed,
was in failing health, and died in November of that
year at the age of eighty-one. He felt her loss keenly,
and it is not unlikely that to this cause may be attri-
buted the fact that the next set of letters, those from
Canada, are of very slight interest. He must have
felt when writing them that the one to whom he could
say everything, and to whom the slightest detail was
precious, was no longer there to read and answer what
he wrote, and that stayed his hand and made his written
thoughts less free.

There was, it is true, not so much that was interesting



to write about as in the earlier letters ; anyway, the fact
remains that the letters from Canada written in 1862
and the two following years are of no general interest,
though a few extracts are worth quoting and will be
given below.

The Guards had been ordered out to Canada after
the " Trent Aifair," as it was called, when Messrs.
Slidell and Mason, two Confederate envoys who were on
their way to Europe in the British mail packet Trent,
were arrested and made prisoners by Captain Wilkes
of the U.S. Federal warship San Jacinto, This incident
nearly led to war between England and America, but
was settled on January i, 1862, a week or so after the
Guards left England. Happily their services were
never required, and they remained quartered in
Montreal, enjoying what seems to have been a very
agreeable social life.

On the passage out ill-luck for the third time attended
Frederick Stephenson's sea voyages. On the way to
the Crimea the ship hardly avoided running on a rock
off Cape Matapan ; on the way to China the Transit
was shipwrecked on the island of Banca. This time
the s.s. Parana y after a good journey across the Atlantic,
met with fogs, gales, and snowstorms as soon as she
reached the banks of Newfoundland.

" On the ist Jan. (1862) we passed the Bird Rocks
. . . and on the 3rd, Friday, we got as far as Point des
Monts. The weather, which all this time had been so
thick that we could never see the sun, was now so bad
and the wind so strong that the captain determined to
anchor till the weather improved. He made for Trinity
Bay, but we were so out of our reckoning in consequence
of the hazy weather and incessant snow that we unex-
pectedly found ourselves off the Manicouagan Peninsula,
hard and fast upon a shoal, the wind blowing hard all
the time, but luckily offshore, so that by getting some
sails set we at last managed to get the ship off."

Shortly after this they got into an icepack through
which they tried to force their way but had to turn back


and give up all hope of reaching Quebec by way of the
St. Lawrence. They made for Cape Breton Island and
thence went to Halifax, and it was only after thirty
days that they finally reached St. John, New Brunswick.
As usual, he speaks moderately and without exaggeration
of their adventures, but as a matter of fact the Parana
had a very narrow^ escape.

One hundred and thirty miles of the journey from
St. John to Montreal was performed in sleighs and was
very well managed, the men getting into good sleeping
quarters after a hot meal every night, and all seem to
have enjoyed it as a " pleasure trip." Great anxiety
was felt by the officers " in consequence of the number
of crimps along the whole line looking out for oppor-
tunities to induce our men to desert. The road runs
nearly the whole way within six or seven miles of the
American frontier, sometimes three or four, and for one
stage of thirty-six miles it is literally on it. This, of
course, offered immense facilities, and the enormous price
the crimps offered was a great temptation. We got
through, however, without the loss of a man ; two
we lost at St. John before leaving, but on the road

There is one point of interest in the letters from
Canada which must not be left unnoticed. At first
the references to the Americans (always called Yankees)
are prejudiced and contemptuous, almost abusive ;
later on, after a tour made in the States, there is a
remarkable change of tone. The comforts of the rail-
way travelling and the excellence of hotels are dwelt on
first ; then the admirable arrangements of the State
prison in New York, for which the Americans " are
deservedly celebrated," are referred to ; then the
civility he meets with everywhere strikes him very much ;
and so on from one thing to another, till he winds up
with : '' In short, here I am back again \in Montreal],
a wiser man, I hope, than when I set out, with many
prejudices dispelled, and replaced by useful information
on many points,"


Few of the Canadian letters have been preserved, and
only short extracts are given, for, as has been said, the
bulk of them possess no general interest.

Sleighing for mere pleasure he never took to, finding
it difficult to keep warm (he had alwa\^s since the China
experiences been very susceptible to cold), and he
preferred snow-shoeing or walking. There are some
amusing references to the beauty of the ladies' skating,
and to the graceful manner in which they contrived to
fall — " not even an ankle was visible." Reading this
in the light of present-day fashion (19 14), one is forced
to the conclusion that this would not now be a matter
of much moment.

This graceful attitude was accomplished " in spite
of crinoline, which is worn out here with the same
reckless disregard to our feelings which is so unblush-
ingly persisted in at home." A photograph taken at
this date at the Falls of Niagara, when he visited them
with several friends, certainly suggests the idea that the
ladies' crinolines challenged the Falls in their amplitude.

After Lady Stephenson's death in 1 861 , her daughters
left the apartments in Hampton Court Palace, and
Frederick Stephenson made his home when in England
in his brother's house in London, to the great joy of
its inmates. In 1868 he became Major-General and for
some time remained unemployed, and took advantage
of his leisure to travel on the Continent.

In the winter of 1867-68 he took two of his nieces
to Italy for three months, staying at Florence, Venice,
Naples, and Rome for some time, and visiting many
other interesting cities on the road. It is hard to say
whether art or nature pleased him most in these travels.
Everything beautiful appealed to him, and he always
approached his subject with so much reverence and
so keen a desire to learn all that was possible connected
with it, that travelling with him was not only a pleasure
but an education.

A year or two later he visited Spain, travelling with
a friend, and thence brought back a store of know-


ledge and memories that he liked to talk of all the rest
of his life. He also revisited Rome and Naples with
his brother and others of the family.

During 1873-74 he was Acting Inspector-General of
the Auxiliary Forces, and in 1 876 was given the command
of the Home District, '* which,*' to quote the article in the
Broad Arrow already referred to, " he held with pleasure
and profit to those under his orders till July 1879,
when he again reverted to the unemployed list, having
been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General."

The same article says : —

" Sir Frederick Stephenson is one of the most
striking existing illustrations of modesty and merit.
In the Army, where one man's death or failure means
another man's advancement, there is, as is inevitable,
a great deal of jealousy and depreciation. Sir Frederick
Stephenson, owing to his modesty, straightforwardness,
amiability, and good manners, is a remarkable exception
to the general rule, which is that success is tempered by
detraction. He is undoubtedly one of the most popular
— if not the most popular — men in the Army, and has
not, we believe, an enemy in the world except perhaps
the irrepressible Colonel Dawkins. Had he been a
richer man he might have obtained promotion, and
consequently opportunities of distinction earlier ; had
he practised, as have too many eminent persons in the
present day, the art of self-advertisement, his achieve-
ments might have won for him a greater name. Yet
he has much to console him in the conviction that he
is universally respected and beloved, and that the
Brigade of Guards point to him with pride as one of
the most worthy and knightly of the illustrious list of
distinguished officers which that nursery of distinguished
officers has given to the service of their sovereign and
country. He himself, we are sure, — so humble is his
opinion of himself, — is convinced that he has only done
his duty in a simple fashion, and that for so doing he
has been rewarded even above his deserts."

The reference to Colonel Dawkins will not be under-


stood to-day without some explanation. The facts
were briefly as follows : —

Colonel Dawkins, who was also a Guardsman, was,
for certain reasons, not looked on with favour at the
Horse Guards, and after a court of inquiry had taken
place. Colonel Dawkins chose to consider that Frederick
Stephenson, who had taken part in the proceedings,
had acted with prejudice and want of impartiality, and
pestered him with offensive letters, trying in every way
to fasten a quarrel on him. At last, not succeeding in
getting any attention paid to him, he actually attempted
to strike Stephenson as they met on the steps of a club
in Pall Mall.

In former days such an insult could only have been
met in one way, but Frederick Stephenson placed
himself unreservedly in the hands of his friends Lord
Abinger and General Gipps, and no such issue was
permitted or advised. A civil action was instituted,
and Colonel Dawkins made an apology, which, being
accepted, the affair was closed.

In 1877 the London house was given up and his
brother went to live in the country, while he for a time
took lodgings in town ; but his love of a " home " made
this very uncongenial to him, and he finally took a house
in St. George's Square, S.W., where he invited his sisters
to join him, and the three who still survived did so.

It is doubtful if he would have taken this step had
he known what was in store for him. In 1883, a few
months after he had settled upon this house, the com-
mand of the troops in Egypt was offered him, and for
a time he hesitated as to whether he could accept it.
Strong pressure was, however, brought to bear on him,
the Duke of Cambridge, then Commander-in-Chief,
urging him to go, and he finally consented, and left
England in May 1883.

His own letters tell the story of his life in Egypt
very clearly, though there are certain gaps and omissions
which I am able to fill up through the great kindness
of Colonel Romilly, who was A.D.C. to Sir Frederick,


and who has given me notes of his own, and letters from
Sir Frederick, and advice and suggestions of the utmost
value. It is not desirable here to go very deeply into
the question of the route to Khartoum in connection
with the relief of Gordon, a matter on which Sir Frederick
differed from the home authorities, and which finally
resulted in the appointment of Lord Wolseley in com-
mand of the expedition. It cannot, however, be passed
over, and one fact must be emphasised — he never
reported the Nile route impracticable, though he pre-
ferred the Berber route, and was strongly of opinion
that in any case as much use as possible should be made
of local craft and material. That he knew pretty well
what he was talking about ma}?- be inferred from Lord
Kitchener's words, who one day said in conversation
that to his thinking " the man who knew more about
the Soudan, its chiefs and tribes, and who had the
closest and best views as to the way of dealing with them,
was General Stephenson.''

What really annoyed and distressed Sir Frederick
in this business, as will be seen in one letter written to
his brother, was that it should be thought possible that
he would not carry out any plans finally decided on
as faithfully as if they had been his own.

On April 25, 1884, Lord Hartington had written to
him desiring him to report " on the measures which
may be necessary for the relief (or removal) of General
Gordon at Khartoum." Lord Hartington goes at some
length into the question of the alternative measures
that it may be necessary to take, and adds : " I must
congratulate you on the very efficient arrangement
made for the Suakin Expedition and on the complete
military success which it accomplished." In the same
letter he says : '' I fancy that in the opinion of many
here Lord Wolseley has underrated the difficulties of
the Nile route, relying very much as he does on the
experience, under different conditions, of the Red
River Expedition. All former experience seems to
point out the Suakin route."


The Duke of Cambridge also wrote previously to
this on August 5 : '* The instructions sent are in very
general terms. The general management will be left
chiefly to your judgment whenever you are able to
suggest how to carry on this delicate and difficult
operation " ; and on August 14 : " You will receive
the official dispatch from Secretary of State giving
you all the necessary directions. I am glad to think
that the whole conduct of this difficult operation is
intended to be carried out under your directions."

After this it must have been something of a shock
to receive a letter from Lord Hartington dated the
29th of August, only four days later than the one
quoted above, explaining that the command of the
expedition was to be taken out of Sir Frederick's hands.
What Sir Frederick felt most was what he considered
the want of confidence in him expressed in the words :
*' I also felt that it was unfair on you and on your staff
to ask you to take the responsibility of the execution
of a plan the details of which had perhaps not been
sufficiently explained to you, but in w^hich evidently
you felt no confidence."

Sir Frederick's reply was short : —

" I beg to acknowledge your letter of the 29th last
which has reached me by this mail, and I will ask your
permission to reply to it at a later date. My object in
writing to you to-day is to thank you for the kind and
considerate manner in which you have been good enough
to convey to me the decision of H.M.'s Government with
regard to my supersession, a decision which, however
painful it may be to my feelings, has at all events been
softened by the very kind tone of your Lordship's letter."

A week later he writes again : —

*' Since the date of my last letter Lord Wolselej''
has both spoken and written to me upon the subject
of my present position in Egypt. The result of our
communication has been my informing him that he
might depend upon me for giving him all the support
and assistance in my powder, and that if my remaining


on here for the present would be of any service, I would
do so as long as I could be of use during his stay in
Egypt or the Soudan. '*

After this it is no matter of surprise that Sir Freder-
ick wished to give up his command in Egypt, and much
correspondence passed between him and the War Office
and the Duke of Cambridge.

Great was the consternation when it was realised
how near they were to losing so valuable a man from a
post which he filled so entirely to the satisfaction of all,
both in Egypt and at home. As usual, he set his own
feelings aside and consented to remain on ; and the
following year, in July 1885, the Duke writes to him:
" I feel the greatest satisfaction in having so able and
judicious a general in command there [Egypt], who I
flatter myself was mainly selected on my own recommen-
dation." And again, in September of the same year : " I
am deeply indebted to you for your admirable arrange-
ments and for the manner in which you conduct your
command, which is only what I always expected from
you, but highly to your honour and credit.*'

During the early part of the command cholera had
broken out in the district and caused grave appre-
hensions, and the letters refer to the disgraceful conduct
of some of the Europeans in Alexandria at the time ;
but it is only from others that we learn what an im-
portant part Sir Frederick then took. He first of all
made arrangements for scattering the troops in desert
camps, only keeping a small garrison on the heights
above the Citadel, and when diplomatic negotiations
with the Egyptian Government failed to bring about
the desired end of placing the town under military
control. Sir Frederick on his own responsibility took
over the entire management, and having done so,
informed Sir Edward Malet, the British Minister, of the
fact. This arbitrary but most successful action had
to be covered by appointing him and Generals Baker
and Evelyn Wood members of the Council of Ministers
on cholera matters. It was no doubt due to his prompti-


tude that the loss in the British garrison did not exceed
two per cent.

The General's house in Cairo was, it seems, the one
place where the most violent opponents, foreign, native,
or British, could meet together and for the time sink
all differences of opinion. Colonel Romilly illustrates
this b}'' telling how Sir Frederick having in his keep-
ing some Colours of the regiments that had gone up
the Nile on service, used them to decorate his ball-
room on one occasion. " Many French officials, naval
officers, and visitors were invited, and Sir Frederick him-
self rearranged the folds of the Colours, that some
of the proudly blazoned honours should not be too
obviously flaunted before the eyes of sensitive foreign

He received the thanks of both Houses of Parlia-
ment for his services in Egypt, and Lord Hartington
when referring to them in his speech in the House of
Commons was loudly cheered.

He was made a K.C.B., and after the battle of
Giniss was advanced to the dignity of a G.C.B. He
also received the Egyptian medal, the Khedive's bronze
star, and the grand cross of the Medjidieh. Another
very characteristic story is also told by Colonel Romilly.
The Sultan wished to award him the Grand Cordon of
the Osmanieh, and the insignia were actually presented
by the Khedive ; but Sir Frederick declined to accept
them without receiving permission — for which he never
would ask I

He also received a letter from the Duke of Cam-
bridge :—

" New Yearns Day, 1886.

*' My dear Stephenson, — In wishing you all the
compliments of the season on this the first of the year,
I rejoice in being able to congratulate you on the great
success you have had on the Nile, and your triumphant
defeat of the Mahdists, with loss to them of spears,
banners, and arms, besides heavy slaughter, and with
comparatively slight loss to your own troops.


" The modesty with which you give the fullest
justice to Grenfell and Butler does credit to your heart
and to your high sense of honour ; but though this may
be as you state, I thank you for the admirable manner
in which the operation has been carried out, and been
brought to a successful issue. . . . — Yours most sincerely,


While referring to the appreciation shown of his
services, it is not possible on the other hand to omit
the very remarkable fact of no clasp being awarded
for the battle of Giniss. There are letters from the
War Office to Sir Frederick showing that not only in
the opinion of those in authority there, but in that
of the Duke of Cambridge himself, this engagement
was considered too trifling, " a mere matter of out-
posts," to be so honoured. So that when a question
was asked in the House, Campbell Bannerman gave
the strange explanation that no clasp was given owing
to the casualties being so small. "It is essential to
have regard in some degree to the severity of the

Slight, however, as the actual fighting was in regard
to the numbers of troops killed and wounded (only
nine of the former and thirty-six of the latter on the
British side), it was still a most important and decisive
action, the Dervishes being completely routed, and
pursued for fifty miles. This was at a time when
any reverse might have had widespread and disastrous
results, by encouraging the fanatical supporters of the

The admirable organisation of the expedition, with
its perfect success and small loss, should, one would
think, have been more specially noticed, instead of being
denied the usual honour bestowed on such doings,
when each man who helped to the good result can
point to his clasp and say, " I too was there."

Of course, no one ever heard Sir Frederick refer
to the matter, — all he used to say of the battle of Giniss


was that the entire success was due to General Grenfell,
— but he felt the omission for the sake of his men.

Perhaps what gave him more pleasure than any
honour conferred on him, on his return to Cairo after
this expedition, was when — I quote from the Times
of January 20, 1885 —

" As Sir Frederick Stephenson's carriage passed
the Kasr el Nil Barracks, the men of the Black Watch
and of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry volun-
tarily turned out, lined the road on both sides, and
vociferously cheered the General, who has acquired
singular personal popularity with all ranks."

At the time of his leaving Egypt a letter was
written to the Spectator of January 14, 1888, which
I have permission to quote. It shows how deep was
the affection for him of all classes and conditions
during his five years' stay in the country.

From the '^ Spectator ^' of January 14, 1888
; ^^ " General Stephenson in Egypt

" Sir, — Perhaps it may make the New Year a little
happier to some of your readers if I, an Englishman,
relate to Englishmen how faithfully and nobly one of
our countrymen has been doing his duty and upholding
his country's honour here in Egypt.

" General Sir Frederick Stephenson came among us
in May 1883, to command the army of occupation.
A month later we were facing the cholera. Amidst the
absolute panic of the Greek and the Levantine, and
the stolid indifference of the Moslem, it seemed a bad
look out for our English lads. The Khedive and his
Council were at Alexandria, and cut themselves off
from all communication with the plague city. But
our General was here. He did not abuse or despise
anyone, but very soon he had organised a sanitary

Online LibraryFrederick Charles Arthur StephensonAt home and on the battlefield; → online text (page 4 of 32)