Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

The life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order online

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it was a great disappointment to him, and he shut himself up for a whole
dav, and would see no one.

If the six years at Gravesend, " the most peaceful and happy of any
portion of my life," as he truly said, had left no other trace than his
official work, of which the details must necessarily be meagre, there
would have been a great blank in his life, and the reader would neces-
sarily possess no clue to the marked change between the Gordon of

Gravesend and Galatz. 133

China and the Gordon of the Soudan. Not that there was any loss of
power or activity, but in the transition period philanthropy had come to
occupy the foremost place in Gordon's brain, where formerly had
reigned supreme professional zeal and a keen appreciation — I will not
say love — of warlike glory. His private life and work at Gravesend
explain and justify what was said of him at that time by one of his
brother officers : " He is the nearest approach to Jesus Christ of any
man who ever lived."

It has been written of him that his house at Gravesend bore more
resemblance to the home of a missionary than the quarters of an English
officer. His efforts to improve and soften the hard lot of the poor in a
place like Gravesend began in a small way, and developed gradually into
an extensive system of beneficence, which was only limited by his small
resources and the leisure left him by official duty. At first he took
into his house two or three boys who attracted his attention in a more
or less accidental manner. He taught them in the evening, fed and
clothed them, and in due course procured for them employment, princi-
pally as sailors or in the colonies. For a naturally bad sailor, he was
very fond of the sea ; and perhaps in his heart of hearts he cherished the
thought that he was performing a national work in directing promising
recruits to the first line of our defence, and the main prop of this
Empire. Soon his few special pupils swelled into a class, not all
boarders, but of outsiders who came in to learn geography and hear the
Colonel explain the Bible ; and not only that, but to be told of stirring
deeds beyond the sea by one who had himself contributed to the making
of history. We can well believe that before this uncritical but apprecia-
tive audience, from whose favour he had nothing to hope, or, as he
would say, to fear, Gordon threw off the restraint and sliyness habitual
to him. It was very typical of the man that, where others thought only
of instructing the poor and the ignorant, his chief wish was to amuse
them and make them laugh.

By this simple means his class increased, and grew too large for his
room. Sooner than break it up or discourage new-comers, he consented
to teach in the ragged schools, where he held evening classes almost every
night. Where he had clothed two or three boys, he now distributed
several hundred suits in the year ; and it is said that his plipils became so
numerous that he had to buy pairs of boots by the gross. All this was
done out of his pay. His personal expenses were reduced to the lowest
point, so that the surplus might suffice to carry on the good work. It
very often left him nearly penniless until his next pay became due — and
this was not very surprising, as he could never turn a deaf ear to any tale
of distress, and often emptied his pockets at the recital of any specially

134 The Life of Gordon.

touching misfortune. When any outside subject of national suffering
appealed to his heart or touched his fancy, he would consequently
have no means available of sending any help, and this was specially
the case during the suffering of the Lancashire operatives after the close
of the American Civil War. On that occasion he defaced the gold
medal given him by the Chinese Empresses, and sent it anonymously
to the fund, which benefited from it to the extent of ;z{^io ; but, as has
been already stated, he made this sacrifice with the greatest pain and

Gordon's love of children, and especially of boys, was quite remark-
able. He could enter into their feelings far better than he could into
those of grown men, and the irritability which he could scarcely suppress
even among his friends was never displayed towards them. He was
always at their service, anxious to amuse them, and to minister to their
rather selfish whims. Some accidental remark led his class to express
a wish to visit the Zoo. Gordon at once seized the idea, and said they
should do so. He made all the arrangements as carefully as if he were
organising a campaign. His duties prevented his going himself, but he
saw them off at the station, under the charge of his assistant, and well
provided with baskets of food for their dinner and refreshment on their
journey. Of course he defrayed the whole expense, and on their return
he gave them a treat of tea and strawberries. He also thought of their
future, being most energetic in procuring them employment, and anxious
in watching their after-career.

For some reason that is not clear he called these boys his " kings."
He probably used it in the sense that they were his lieutenants, and he
borrowed his imagery from the " Wangs," or kings of the Taeping ruler.
I am told, however, that he really used the word in a spiritual sense,
testifying that these boys were as kings in the sight of God. He
followed the course of the first voyage of those who went to sea,
sticking pins in a map to show the whereabouts of their respective
vessels. It is not astonishing that his pupils should have felt for him a
special admiration and affection. He not merely supplied all their
wants, but he endeavoured to make them self-reliant, and to raise them
above the sordid and narrow conditions of the life to which they were
either born or reduced by the improvidence or misfortune of their
parents. Of course Gordon was often deceived, and his confidence and
charity abused ; but these cases were, after all, the smaller proportion of
the great number that passed through his hands. He sometimes met
with gross ingratitude, like that of the boy whom he found starving, in
rags, and ill with disease, and whom he restored to health, and perhaps
to self-respect, and then sent back to his parents in Norfolk. But neither

Gravesend and Galatz. 135

from him nor from them did he ever receive the briefest line of
acknowledgment. Such experiences would have disheartened or de-
terred other philanthropists, but they failed to ruffle Gordon's serenity,
or to discourage him in his work.

Perhaps the following incident is as characteristic as anything that
took place between Gordon and his "kings." A boy whom he had
twice fitted out for the world, but who always came to grief after a few
months' trial, returned for a third time in the evening. Gordon met
him at the gate, a mass of rags, in a deplorable condition, and covered
with vermin. Gordon could riot turn him away, neither could he admit
him into his house, where there were several boys being brought up for
a respectable existence. After a moment's hesitation, he led him in
silence to the stable, where, after giving him some bread and a mug of
milk, he told him to sleep on a heap of clean straw, and that he would
come for him at six in the morning. At that hour Gordon appeared
with a piece of soap, some towels, and a fresh suit of clothes, and,
ordering the boy to strip, gave him a thorough washing with his own
hands from head to foot at the horse-trough. It is to be regretted that
there is no record of the after-fate of this young prodigal, although it
would be pleasant to think that he was the unknown man who called at
Sir Henry Gordon's house in 1885, after the news of Gordon's death,
and wished to contribute ^25 towards a memorial, because he was
one of the youths saved by General Gordon, to whom all his success
and prosperity in life were due.

But it must not be supposed that Gordon's acts of benevolence
were restricted to boys. He was not less solicitous of the welfare of
the sick and the aged. His garden was a rather pretty and shaded
one. He had a certain number of keys made for the entrance, and
distributed them among deserving persons, chiefly elderly. They were
allowed to walk about, in the evening especially, and see the flowers,
vegetables, and fruit which Gordon's gardener carefully cultivated.
Gordon himself declared that he derived no special pleasure from
the sight of flowers, for the simple reason that he preferred to look
at the human face ; and the same reason is the only one I can find
he ever gave for his somewhat remarkable reticence about dogs
and other domestic animals. It was said of him that he always
had handy "a bit o' baccy for the old men, and a screw o' tea for the
old women." He would hurry off at a moment's notice to attend to
a dying person or to read the Bible by a sick-bed. In the hospital
or the workhouse he was as well known as the visiting chaplain, and
often he was requested by the parish clergyman to take his place in
visiting the sick. His special invention for the benefit of his large

136 The Life of Gordon.

number of clients was a system of pensions, which varied from a shilling
to as much as a pound a week. Many of these payments he con-
tinued long after he left Gravesend, and a few were even paid until the
day of his death. It is not surprising, in view of these facts, that
Gordon remained a poor man, and generally had no money at all.
As he wrote very truly of himself to his assistant Mr Lilley, " You and
I will never learn wisdom in money matters."

Many stories have been told of his tenderness of heart, and of his
reluctance to see punishment inflicted, but perhaps the following is the
most typical. A woman called on him one day with a piteous tale.
Gordon went to his bedroom to get half a sovereign for her, and while
he was away she took a fancy to a brown overcoat, which she hastened
to conceal under her skirt. Gordon returned, gave her the money, and
she left with a profusion of thanks. While on her road home the
coat sli])ped down, and attracted the notice of a policeman, who
demanded an explanation. She said, " I took it from the Colonel,"
and was marched back for him to identify his property, and charge her
with the theft. When Gordon heard the story, he was far more dis-
tressed than the culprit, and refused to comply with the constable's
repeated requests to charge her. At last a happy thought came to his
relief. Turning to the woman, he said, with a twinkle in his eye, " You
wanted it, I suppose?" "Yes," replied the astonished woman. Then
turning to the equally astonished policeman he said, " There, there,
take her away, and send her about her business."

Among the various economies he practised in order to indulge his
philanthropy was that of not keeping a horse, and he consequently
took a great deal of walking exercise. During his walks along the
Kentish lanes and foot-paths he distributed tracts, and at every stile
he crossed he would leave one having such an exhortation as " Take
heed that thou stumbleth not." Yet all this was done in an honest,
and, as I believe, a secretly humorous spirit of a serious nature, for
Gordon was as opposed to cant and idle protestations as any man.
There is a strikingly characteristic story preserved somewhere of what
he did when a hypocritical, canting humbug of a local religious
secretary of some Society Fund or other paid a visit to a house while
he was present. Gordon remained silent during the whole of the
interview. But when he was gone, and Gordon was asked what he
thought of him, he replied by waving his hand and drawing it across
his throat, which he explained signified in China that his head ought to
be cut off as a humbugging impostor.

Although buried, as it were, at Gravesend, Gordon could not be
altogether forgotten. The authorities at the Horse Guards could not

Graveseiid and Galatz. 137

comply with his request to be attached to the Abyssinian expedition,
but they were willing enough to do him what in official circles was
thought to be a very good turn when they could. The English
membership of the Danubian Commission became vacant, and it was
remembered that in his early days Gordon had taken part in the
delimitation negotiations which had resulted in the formation of that
body. The post carried with it the good pay of ;^2ooo a year, as
some compensation for the social and sanitary drawbacks and dis-
advantages of life in that region, and it was offered to Gordon, who
accepted it. It cut short his philanthropical labours, but it drew him
back into that current of active work for which he was already pining.
He therefore accepted it, and having presented some of the Snake
flags of the old Taeping Wangs to the local school in which he had
toiled as a simple teacher, he left Gravesend quietly, and without any
manifestation that it had lost its principal resident. Having mentioned
the Snake flags, it is proper to add that the principal of these, includ-
ing some of his own which were shot to ribbons, were left by General
Gordon to his sister, the late Miss Gordon, who in her turn presented
them, with the Yellow Jacket and its appendages, the chief mandarin
dress, etc., to the Royal Engineers at Chatham. The Gravesend life
closed with a notice in the local journal, from which the following
extract may be made ; but once a year the old flags that led the
advance or retreat of the Chinese rebels are brought out from their cases
and flaunted before the Gravesend scholars as the memorial of a brave
and unselfish leader and teacher.

The farewell article in the local paper read as follows : —
" Our readers, without exception, will learn with regret of the
departure of Lieut.-Colonel Gordon, R.E., C.B., from the town in which
he has resided for six years, gaining a name by the most exquisite
charity that will long be remembered. Nor will he be less missed than
remembered in the lowly walks of life, by the bestowal of gifts, by
attendance and administration on the sick and dying, by the kindly
giving of advice, by attendance at the Ragged School, Workhouse, and
Infirmary — in fact, by general and continued beneficence to the poor, he
has been so unwearied in well-doing that his departure will be felt by
many as a personal calamity. There are those who even now are
reaping the rewards of his kindness. His charity was essentially
charity, and had its root in deep philanthropic feeling and goodness of
heart, shunning the light of publicity, but coming even as the rain in the
night-time, that in the morning is noted not, but only the flowers bloom,
and give a greater fragrance. . . . All will wish him well in his new
sphere, and we have less hesitation in penning these lines from the fact

13^ The Life of Gordon.

that laudatory notice will confer but little pleasure upon him who gave
with the heart and cared not for commendation."

Gordon left for Galatz on ist October 1871. He had visited and
described it fourteen or fifteen years before, and he found little or no
change there. The special task intrusted to the Commission of which
he was a member was to keep open by constant and vigilant dredging
the mouth of the Sulina branch of the Danube. He discovered very
soon that the duties were light and monotonous, and in the depressing
atmosphere — social and political as well as climatic — of the Lower
Danube, he pined more than ever for bracing work, and for some task
about which he could feel in earnest. The same conclusion seems to
have forced itself upon his mind at the beginning and at the end of his
stay at Galatz. In one of his first letters he exclaims : " How I like
England when I am out of it ! There is no place in the world like it ! "
In another letter, written on the very day of his departure home, he
wrote : " Tell S. to thank God that he was born an Englishman."
Gordon was always intensely patriotic. His patriotism partook of the
same deep and fervid character as his religion, and these and many
other little messages in his private correspondence furnish striking
evidence to the fact.

The mention of Galatz recalls an incident, showing how long was
his memory, and how much he clung to old friendships. During the
Commune — that is to say, when he was still at Gravesend — the papers
stated that a General Bisson had been killed at the Bridge of Neuilly
on 9th April 187 1. He wrote to Marshal Macmahon to inquire if he
was the same officer as his old colleague on the Danube, and received,
to his regret, an affirmative answer. General Bisson and Gordon had
kept up a correspondence, in which the former always signed himself
Bisson, C.B., being very proud of that honour, which was conferred
on him for the Crimea. He was taken prisoner early in the Franco-
Prussian war, and was shot by the Communists almost immediately on
his return from the Prussian prison. Gordon's stay at Galatz was varied
by an agreeable trip in 1872 to the Crimea, where he was sent to inspect
the cemeteries with Sir John Adye. They travelled in an English
gunboat, which proved a comfortable sea-boat, and Gordon wrote,
"General Adye is a very agreeable companion." The cemeteries were
found much neglected, and in a sad state of disrepair. The Russian
officers were pronounced civil, but nothing more. But Gordon saw
clearly that, having torn up the Black Sea Treaty, they were ready to
recover Bessarabia, and to restore Sebastopol to the rank of a first-class
naval fortress. After the Crimean tour he came to England on leave.
His time was short, but he managed to pay a flying visit to Gravesend

Gravesend and Galatz. 139

He also could not resist the temptation of attending the funeral of the
Emperor Napoleon in January 1873, and he expressed his opinion of
that ill-starred ruler in his usual terse manner — "a kind-hearted,
unprincipled man." His youngest brother, to whom he was much
attached, and who had shared in the Woolwich frolics, died about this
time, and his mother was seized with paralysis, and no longer recognised
him. He felt this change most acutely, for between him and his mother
there had been a peculiar attachment, and when he was at home she
would hardly ever let him out of her sight. He used to call his home
visits doing duty as his mother's aide-de-camp. When he left England
for Galatz she was unconscious, and passed away some months later
while he was abroad.

It was while General Gordon was on the Danube that preparations
were made for the expedition against the Ashantees, and many persons
suggested General Gordon for the command. It would have been an
excellent occasion for intrusting him with an independent command in
his country's service ; but Sir Garnet, now Lord, Wolseley had recently
gained much credit by his conduct of the Red River Kxpedition, and
was appointed to the command of this force. General Gordon was no
doubt disappointed at the result, but not so much as he had been
in the case of Abyssinia, and loyalty to an old Crimean colleague
tempered his own loss with satisfaction at another's success. Still, on
public grounds, it must be pronounced unfortunate that the last occa-
sion which was offered of employing for a national cause the services of
a soldier who added the fervour and modesty of Wolfe to the genius of
Clive should have been allowed to pass by unutilised.

A casual meeting with Nubar Pasha at Constantinople, on his way
back from the Crimea in 1872, was destined to exercise what may be
styled a determining influence on the rest of Gordon's life. At that
meeting Nubar Pasha sounded him as to his willingness to take service
under the Khedive, and Gordon, attracted by the prospect of doing
good work on a larger sphere, expressed his own readiness to take up
the task of establishing authority, and suppressing slavery in the
Soudan, provided that the permission of his own Government were
granted. He heard nothing more of the matter for twelve months, but
at the end of September 1873 he received a communication to the
effect that the Khedive wished to appoint him to succeed Sir Samuel
Baker, and that the British Government were quite willing to grant
him the necessary permission. In a letter of 8th November 1873 to
the Adjutant-General he said : —

" I have written an account of what I know of the Khedive's having
asked me to take Baker's place. It came about from a conversation

140 The Life of Gordon.

I had with Nubar Pasha at our Embassy at Constantinople. This was
twelve months ago. The next thing was a telegram a month ago. I
have not determined what to do, but the Government have no objection."

He was not long, however, in making up his mind, and early
in 1874 he was en route for Alexandria. One characteristic act in
connection with his appointment deserves mention. The Khedive
fixed his salary at ;^io,ooo a year, but Gordon absolutely refused to
accept more than ,-^2000 a year — the same sum as he received for his
post on the Danube. Various reasons have been given for this
decision, but there is no ground for supposing that it was due to such
a very narrow-minded prejudice as "that he would take nothing from
a heathen." If he ever used these words, they must have been intended
as a joke, and are not to be accepted seriously. A sufficient explana-
tion of his decision is, that he had a supreme disdain for money, and
the sum offered seemed far in excess of the post and work he had to
perform. To have received ;^ 10,000 a year would have added im-
mensely to his worries. He would not have known what to do with
it, and the voluntary cutting of his salary relieved him of a weight of
responsibility. Perhaps also he was far-seeing enough to realise that he
would be less the mere creature of the Egyptian ruler with the smaller
than with the larger salary, while he could gratify his own inner pride
that no one should say that any sordid motive had a part in his
working for semi-civilized potentates, whether Chinese or Mussulmen.

I am able to describe Gordon's exact feelings on this point in his
own words. " My object is to show the Khedive and his people that
gold and silver idols are not worshipped by all the world. They are
very powerful gods, but not so powerful as our God. From whom does
all this money come? from poor miserable creatures who are ground
down to produce it. Of course these ideas are outrageous. Pillage the
Egyptians is still the cry."



A BRIEF description of the conquest by Mehemet Ali and his successors
of the Soudan — a name signifying nothing more than "the land of the
blacks " — and of the events which immediately preceded the appointment
of Gordon, is necessary to show the extent of the work intrusted to
him, and the special difficulties with which he had to contend.

It was in 1819 that the great Pasha or Viceroy Mehemet Ali, still in
name the lieutenant of the Sultan, ordered his sons Ismail and the more
famous Ibrahim to extend his authority up the Nile, and conquer the
Soudan. They do not seem to have experienced any difficulty in
carrying out their instructions. Nobody was interested in defending
the arid wastes of that region. The Egyptian yoke promised to be as
light as any other, and a few whiffs of grape-shot dispersed the only
adversaries who showed themselves. Ibrahim, who soon took the lead,
selected Khartoum as the capital of the new province, in preference to
Shendy, which had formerly been regarded as the principal place in the
country. In this he showed excellent judgment, for Khartoum occupies
an admirable position in the fork of the two branches of the Nile ; and
whatever fate may yet befall the region in which the Mahdi and his
successor the Khalifa have set up their ephemeral authority, it is
destined by Nature to be the central point and capital of the vast region
between the Delta and the Equatorial Lakes.

Khartoum lies on the left bank of the Blue Nile — Bahr-el-Azrak —
rather more than three miles south of its confluence with the White
Nile — Bahr-el-Abiad — at the northern point of the Isle of Tuti. The
channel south of that island affords a slightly nearer approach to the
White Nile, coming out immediately opposite the fortified camp of
Omdurman, which the Mahdi made his headquarters and capital after
the famous siege of 1884. There was nothing attractive or imposing
about Khartoum. It contained 3000 mud houses, and one more pre-
tentious building in the Governor's official residence or palace, known
as the Hukumdariaha. It is surrounded by a wall and ditch, except
where the Blue Nile supplies the need ; and its western wall is not more

142 The Life of Gordon.

than half a mile from the banks of the White Nile, so that with proper

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 16 of 40)