Thomas Barclay.

Thirty years, Anglo-French reminiscences (1876-1906) online

. (page 11 of 29)
Online LibraryThomas BarclayThirty years, Anglo-French reminiscences (1876-1906) → online text (page 11 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

pourquoi j'y suis, sans avoir ni les qualites d'un
president ni celles d'un agitateur." And truly in his
humble dwelling, amid a sort of workmen's settlement
in the Rue Oudinot, away from the " hum of men,"
with his windows thrown open to hear the children's
prattle in the surrounding modest garden plots, one



could only wonder that he of all men should
have taken a lead or have even allowed his
name to be placed at the head of a league which
" was out " to make political din, whatever the




On or about September 18, 1898, we found ourselves
in the midst of a serious crisis. After the signing of
the Niger agreement in June there had been a diplo-
matic lull, and it seemed as if at length the beginning
of an entente on African questions had been reached.
Suddenly a new and most unfortunate fact had to be
dealt with, viz., that a French expedition or mission
had reached Fashoda, the chief town of the Sudan
province of Bahr-el-Ghazal, and hoisted the French
flag as a sign of 'prise &e possession. The Sirdar, Sir
Herbert Kitchener, had just defeated the Mahdists
at the battle of Omdurman, a victory over the
only forces barring the recovery of the Egyptian
Sudan which placed Bahr-el-Ghazel, a part of that
Sudan, at his mercy. Everybody trembled at the
idea of what might happen if Captain Marchand
defied the victorious general and a conflict ensued.
Such a conflict between the Anglo-Egyptian forces and
the French expedition seemed, in fact, dangerously
probable. Any French officer who had hoisted the
French flag at any spot on the globe, I was told rather
excitedly, would fight under it till overcome by
superior force, and then it would have to be the
enemy who hauled it down. If this happened, the
prevailing anti-English feeling would be roused to
frenzy at such an insult to the flag, and the two
countries would be at war within a fortnight. English



merchants in Paris who had goods on consignment on
the French railways gave instructions not to discharge
them. New orders were held in suspense. Standing
orders were not executed. For some days business
was almost at a standstill. I was asked hurriedly to
publish in an English paper in Paris called the English
and American Gazette an article on what would be the
position of enemy subjects in France, if war broke out.
The common idea among Englishmen was that they
would be summarily conducted to the frontier and
their belongings seized. My article, showing that no
such dire consequences would result, helped a little
to allay the prevalent alarm.

On learning that the officers at Fashoda had arranged
matters provisionally and without any sacrifice of
life or national dignity on either side, that meanwhile,
though the English flag was hoisted, the French flag
was still flying at Fashoda and that the final adjust-
ment would take place between the two Governments,
the public on both sides of the Channel began to feel

more confidence.

# # # # #

The public did not, however, know, and their
ignorance was bliss, that the real danger came later
on, and that, instead of diminishing, it increased to
the day when the French Government gave way.
During the negotiations the French Mediterranean
fleet was ordered to Cherbourg, and at dead of night,
with lights extinguished, passed Gibraltar unperceived
by the British authorities. The mayors at the Channel
ports were instructed to requisition the churches for
hospital work and report on the beds and ambulance
available to fit them for immediate service. A
hundred millions of francs were spent in a few days

T.Y. 145 L


in providing Cherbourg as a naval base with the
necessary ammunition and stores. Orders to march
were in all the commanding officers' hands, and
everything was in readiness for mobilisation, if the
French Government should be confronted with an
ultimatum. While the French Mediterranean fleet
was steaming to Cherbourg, the British Mediterranean
fleet, unaware of the whereabouts of the French
fleet, steamed to Alexandria and Port Said to keep the
Suez Canal open and negative any idea of a French
landing in Egypt, which would have been our most
vulnerable point, had the course been clear. 1 That
Portsmouth for a few days was in a state of ferment
everybody at the time knew, but ferments at Ports-
mouth were so frequent that people had almost come
to regard them as they do fire-brigade trials. Nobody,
in fact, seemed to realise that war was so dangerously

The ultimatum, or what was tantamount to one,
did come but wise counsels prevailed, and orders
were sent in the beginning of November to Captain
Marchand to haul down the flag and come home.

The French yielded, but they felt sore at heart.
The crisis had come amid the preoccupations of the
Dreyfus affair. That, in spite of the high nervous
tension then prevalent among politicians, the danger

1 These facts reached me from different sources in the course of a few
years and have not been recorded in those official sources of history we call
Blue and Yellow Books. This, however, I may say : Each fact, as I have
stated it, was told me by eye-witnesses or actors in the political drama,
which was being played behind the scenes, while the public were listening to
an angry unofficial discussion in thePress and to most polite "communiques "
from official quarters. In 1902 in a speech at Manchester I stated most of
them as above. My statements were given as sensational news in the news-
papers. No doubt has ever been expressed as to their accuracy, and I
now regard them as historically correct.



of war was averted, is a sign of political wisdom which
does infinite credit to the French sense of proportion.
The irregular course the crisis ran, the mystery of
the attendant circumstances, the inauspicious calm
throughout expectant Europe, the sudden collapse
after a display of concentrated and determined energy,
were all connected with the fact that nothing in inter-
national politics can be isolated. Cross traditions and
parallel traditions, side issues, domestic and party
considerations, tendencies and counter-tendencies of
public opinion, temperament of ministers and Parlia-
ment, dynastic influences, financial questions, military
questions, trade interests, are all and at all moments
determining currents and eddies in the policy of a great
Power. An individual foreign minister's tendencies,
again, are affected by the temperament, prejudices
and experience of his subordinates, and, when he
places his points before his colleagues at a cabinet
council, the more competent he is, the more difficult
it must be to detach a question from the multitude
of its qualifications and resolve it into a plain issue.

Foreign correspondents of newspapers, and I speak
feelingly of their task, do their best to place questions
before the public as plain issues, the which is further
complicated by " tendential " information supplied
to them by Foreign Offices. Foreign ministers make
speeches which give just as much information as will
show with what judicious and dignified discernment
they are presiding over the business of the nation.
Then comes the historian, who in a few pages tries to
tell the story of years, but he cannot pretend to do
more than give an approximate survey of impressions

147 L 2


based on these imperfect sources of information and
the different official records of the national trans-
actions. The story of the crisis of the autumn of
1898 is one of the cases in which history will have
to be re-written more than once.

In connection with the Fashoda affair, the inter-
dependence of events warrants a close comparison of
dates, though the result can at best only be an

On August 2, 1898, Lord Salisbury wrote to Lord
Cromer giving him instructions in connection with the
possibility of the Sirdar in his progress up the Nile
meeting with " French authorities "-..." who may
be encountered." It would be unreasonable to think
that either the British or Egyptian Government was
unaware that March and's arrival in Bahr-el-Ghazal
was overdue in August. The mission had been timed
to arrive at Fashoda in November, 1897. The delay
was due to a premature fall in the waters of the Bahr-
el-Ghazal. Marchand arrived, in fact, on July 10 at
Fashoda, where he had been firmly entrenched with
his 120 men for three months before General Kitchener
arrived on September 18. The French Government
of course knew. I even remember at the time hearing
that we might look out for complications on the Upper
Nile before long. It is not likely that between the
West African possessions of France and Marchand
communications had at any time entirely ceased. Nor
is it likely that the French Government, knowing the
difficulties which were bound to arise out of a claim
by France to prior occupation of Bahr-el-Ghazal, left
the Russian Government in ignorance of the situation.
Russia had joined France in opposing the application



to the Commission of the Egyptian Debt for the grant
of the necessary sum to meet the expenses of the
Dongola expedition, and they had together brought
the subsequent judicial proceedings which negatived
the grant. It would have been contrary to all the
traditions of French loyalty, if France had kept Russia
in the dark as to her project of sending out an expedi-
tion or mission to occupy Bahr-el-Ghazal or as to its
progress and probable date of arrival. Now, on
August 12, a month after Marchand's arrival at
Fashoda, Count Muravieff first communicated to the
diplomatic corps at St. Petersburg the Czar's famous
proposal to hold an International Conference to con-
sider means for the preservation of peace among
nations and " a possible reduction of the excessive
armaments which weigh upon all nations." I well
remember the puzzled observations on the proposal
in Paris. The public was not then aware of the
approaching casus belli between France and Great
Britain. " On nous lache " was the comment of

practically everybody in governing political milieux, 1
# # # # #

I have put the facts alongside each other and leave
the reader to draw his own conclusions ; still I must
add that I do not think the Czar's merit in the least
diminished, because his ministers may have chosen to
bring forward his scheme at a time when it could have
an immediate effect in discouraging a breach of the
peace of Europe.

That Russia did not wish to be dragged into a
conflict with England not of her own choosing is only
natural. This, later on, she made clear. In the
second week of October Count Muravieff turned up

1 Compare Daniel, " L'ann^e politique," 1898, p. 304.


in Paris, and, I have been informed, stated plainly to
M. Delcasse that Russia could not be counted upon
to support an attitude on the part of France which
might endanger peace. Later on, M. Delcasse took his
revenge for this lachage and went, as we shall see, to
St. Petersburg and told Count Muravieff that he could
not count on France to worry England during the
Boer war. I am not sure whether these two occasions
for war were not avoided by the influence of the allies
on each other. In any case it was evident that the
alliance could not be counted upon for aggressive
purposes, unless both parties to it had vital interests
at stake.

Seen out of its place in the perspective of Anglo-
French rivalry in Egypt and the Sudan, the Fashoda
incident looked like an unprovoked and treacherous
attempt to penetrate secretly into Anglo-Egyptian
preserves and snatch what belonged to Egypt just
when she was on the point of recovering it. Though
I am sorry to say there was a good deal of justification
for such an impression, the facts as we now know
them amply warrant at least the qualification of
" extenuating circumstances."

It will be remembered that in connection with the
negotiations over the lease of the Bahr-el-Ghazal
province which had been granted to the Congo State
by the Anglo-Congolese Agreement of May 12, 1894,
France protested, and as a result the status qud,
whatever it was, remained unchanged.

To understand the dilemma with which the parties
were confronted and in which no middle course was
open to either, no compromise possible, the reader
will have to carry his mind back to the early days of



the British occupation. The position on the Upper
Nile was then shortly as follows : In 1881 Arabi
Pasha on the Lower Nile (Egypt proper) and Moham-
med Ahmed, the Mahdi, on the Upper Nile (the
Egyptian Sudan) revolted. With the aid of British
forces the Arabi revolt was quelled at the battle of Tel-
el- Kebir, but the religious upheaval under the Mahdi,
who, on his death at Omdurman in 1885, was succeeded
by the principal khalifa Abdullah-el-Taaishi, spread
rapidly over the whole Upper Nile area. By the
beginning of 1883 the whole of the Sudan south of
Khartoum, except the province of Bahr-el-Ghazal
and the Equatorial provinces, was in revolt. Then
came the annihilation of General Hicks' Egyptian
force in March, 1883. Disaster followed disaster.
General Baker was defeated at El-Teb in December
of the same year. By the end of 1884 the position of
General Gordon at Khartoum had become untenable.
In January, 1885, the place was captured and General
Gordon slain. 1 To use Sir R. Wingate's words, " in
the vast province of Bahr-el-Ghazal not a shred of
Egyptian authority remained ; all had been sub-
merged under the waves of Mahdism, which now
rolled placidly over its broad plains bearing on their
way vast bands of slaves for the greatly enlarged
households of Mohammed Ahmed, his khalifas and
his emirs." 2

In Equatoria, to the south and south-east of Bahr-

1 Lord Cromer, quoting Sir Reginald Wingate, describes the province of
Bahr-el-Ghazal as five times as big as England. It is a district covered with
forests and mountains and seamed with low valleys subject to inundation.
The soil is exceptionally fertile and there are cattle in abundance, while the
population is estimated at between three and four millions. This, adds
Lord Cromer, was probably an over-estimate. The population of the
Bahr-el-Ghazal province prior to the Dervish rule was subsequently estimated
at 1,500,000. See " Egypt," No. i of 1904, p. 79.

2 See Cromer'6 "Egypt" (ed. of 191 1), p. 494.



el-Ghazal, the abandonment was equally complete.
In 1879 General Gordon had appointed Edward
Schnitzler (better known as Emin Pasha), a German
traveller and naturalist, to be governor of the province.
The extent of Emin's province was about one-seventh
of the original extent of the province previous to
the revolt. In February, 1886, Emin received a
letter from Nubar Pasha in which he was informed
that, as the Egyptian Government had decided to
abandon the Sudan and were unable to afford him
any assistance, he was authorised to take any steps he
might consider advisable to leave the country. He
did not avail himself of this authorisation till two
years later, when H. M. Stanley's relief expedition
reached him. Thenceforward till the reconquest of
the Sudan the only European influence which seems
to have reached Equatoria was from the Congo State
on the south. This was the position when Great
Britain entered into the agreement of May 12, 1894,
by which she granted a lease of a part of this
abandoned territory to the Congo State !

M. Hanotaux became Foreign Minister on the 30th
of the same month. A word about this remarkable
man who was destined to play a conspicuous part in
French policy towards England will not be out of
place here. Though his services until 1894 had been
mainly connected with the archives of the ministry,
in which he laid the foundations of his vast historical
knowledge, he had had considerable incidental experi-
ence of foreign affairs. In 1885 and 1886 he had been
for a short time councillor of embassy at Constanti-
nople. On returning to France he entered Parliament



and sat for three years as a member of the Chamber of
Deputies. At the general election of 1889 he was
defeated. In 1892 he was reappointed to the Foreign
Office as chief of the consular and commercial depart-
ment, with the rank of minister plenipotentiary. It
was, therefore, with the reputation of being not only
a highly competent and experienced official, but also
a distinguished historical writer and politician familiar
with the exigencies of parliamentary life, that he
was singled out by the scholarly M. Charles Dupuy
to be the successor of M. Casimir-Perier, who had
cumulated the offices of Premier and Foreign Minister
in the previous short-lived Administration. M.
Dupuy's new cabinet was one of exceptionally clever
men, several of whom were destined to play very
important parts in coming French politics. In it
M. Delcasse held his first office as head of the then
recently created Ministry of the Colonies. Thus,
these two men, M. Hanotaux and M. Delcasse, who
were, later on, to be rival exponents of a new policy,
the one whose name was to be identified with the
Russian alliance, the other who was to put his name
to the treaties resulting from the Anglo-French
entente, sat side bv side for the first time in office and
worked together in the promotion of that fateful
African policy which since 1893 has played such a
conspicuous part in the foreign affairs of France. Of
other ministers in the same cabinet, M. Felix-Faure,
who was to become President of the Republic, was
minister of Marine, M. Barthou, lately Prime Minister,
Minister of Public Works, and M. Poincare, the present
President of the Republic, Minister of Finance.

M. Hanotaux soon amply justified M. Dupuy's



courage in taking an untried man to direct the hand-
ling of the delicate questions which were arising in
Africa. A week after his accession to office, in answer
to an " interpellation " on African affairs, he delivered
a speech against the Anglo-Congolese agreement of
May 12, 1894, which left no doubt as to the French
attitude on the subject.

This lease by Great Britain, as such, he pointed
out, implied a " prise de possession " of territory
which was still a part of Ottoman dominions, of the
integrity of which she and France were guarantors.
France could not acquiesce in such a violation of
international law ; nor could he agree to England
and the Congo State settling any question of the
boundaries of the territory of the Congo State with-
out reference to France, who had a right of pre-
emption over it. His colleague, M. Delcasse, had
at once taken measures to send a mission to the
territory in question, to ensure the maintenance and
defence of French rights. This vigorous attitude
marked the new feeling of self-confidence, already
referred to, which was maturing with the develop-
ment of the Russian entente. M. Hanotaux' speech
produced a great sensation in London, and the
following day, M. Hanotaux relates, Lord Dufferin
expostulated with him about its comminatory
character and intimated that he had an ultimatum
in his pocket, which, however, adds M. Hanotaux,
he did not deliver ! In fact England gave way.
The Foreign Office, evidently, did not consider it
advisable to publish the correspondence and
arguments at the time (1894), and it was not
till 1898, when they were printed as an appendix
to a White Paper about the Fashoda affair, that



the public knew about the gaffe we committed in

/ I cannot help thinking that if the public had been
taken into the confidence of the Foreign Office and
been at once informed of what took place in 1894
a frank discussion might have ensued, which would
have cleared up the situation and prevented much of
the misunderstanding which afterwards resulted from
imperfect knowledge of the circumstances.

I have no hesitation in saying that, subject to
explanatory justifications which seem never to have
been given, the agreement of May 12, 1894, was one
of the wildest pieces of diplomatic jugglery on record.
Under it Great Britain, as a party in her own right,
granted, as she had no locus standi to do, " a lease
to His Majesty King Leopold II., sovereign of the
independent Congo State, of the territories herein-
after defined, to be by him occupied and administered
on the conditions and for the period of time hereafter
laid down " — territories which Great Britain had
neither occupied nor acquired. Even if she had
bartered them in the name of Egypt, whose rights
she merely reserved, there still remained the ques-
tion of the abandonment and the extent to which
Egyptian sovereignty over the Sudan had been lost.
In his 1894 speech M. Hanotaux did not mention this
point, and it was only later that the " terra nullius "
theory was relied upon as a justification for the
hoisting of the French flag at Fashoda. Till 1898,
that is for sixteen years, from the Mahdist outbreak
to the battle of Omdurman, the Sudan had been

under neither British nor Egyptian rule. 1
# # # # #

1 The Egyptian garrisons and civil population had been " withdrawn."
Sir Reginald Wingate estimated that the total garrisons in the Sudan,



M. Marchand's mission was sent out at a time when
the Sudan had already been thirteen years in a state
of abandonment, and it reached Fashoda two months
before the battle of Omdurman had restored it to
Egyptian dominion. This fact and the episodes of
1894, which show British policy at that time to have
been as weak as it was " incorrect," are extenuating
circumstances on the French side in a matter in which
neither party can boast of having played a " beau
role." By dint of trying to circumvent each other
the two Foreign Offices brought their respective
nations to the brink of the most foolish war any two
civilised States ever seriously contemplated.

including General Hicks' army and the force sent under General Baker to
Suakim, amounted to about 55,000 men ; of these about 12,000 were killed.
The rest seem to have melted away, and only some 1 1,000 returned to Egypt.
See Lord Cromer, " Egypt," p. 485.




While the public agitation over the Fashoda
incident was becoming less acute in France, in
England the autumn political speeches kept it
up. A letter to the Temps by an excellent, but
in this matter indiscreet patriot, M. Deloncle
(now one of the warmest champions of the entente),
proposing the establishment of French educational
centres at Khartoum and Fashoda, was pounced
upon as reflecting French feeling and gave rise to
very serious observations by Sir Edmund Monson,
our Ambassador, at the annual banquet of the
British Chamber of Commerce a few days later
(December 6, 1898). He referred specifically to this
proposal as an instance of a " policy of pin-pricks "
which must inevitably perpetuate irritation across
the Channel. The responsible French Press scouted
the idea that M. Deloncle's proposal had any official
countenance and nothing more was heard of it. The
passage in Sir Edmund Monson's speech, however,
went far beyond the scope of M. Deloncle's proposal.
It ran : —

" I would earnestly ask those who directly or indirectly,
either as officials in power, or as unofficial exponents of public
opinion, are responsible for the direction of the national
policy, to discountenance and to abstain from the con-
tinuance of that policy of pin-pricks which, while it can onlv
procure ephemeral gratification to a short-lived ministry,



must inevitably perpetuate across the Channel an irritation
which a high-spirited nation must eventually feel to be in-
tolerable. I would entreat them to resist the temptation to try
to thwart British enterprise by petty manoeuvres ; such as I
grieve to see suggested by the proposal to set up educational
establishments as rivals to our own in the newly-conquered
provinces of the Sudan. Such ill-considered provocation,
to which I confidently trust no official countenance will be
given, might well have the effect of converting that policy of
forbearance from taking the full advantage of our recent
victories and our present position, which has been enunciated
by our highest authority, into the adoption of measures
which, though they evidently find favour with no incon-
siderable party in England, are not, I presume, the object at
which French sentiment is aiming."

This passage was obviously inserted under instruc-
tions from London. It was a discordant note in the

Online LibraryThomas BarclayThirty years, Anglo-French reminiscences (1876-1906) → online text (page 11 of 29)