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

. (page 17 of 40)
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 17 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

artillery it commands both rivers. The Nilometer at this place used to
give the first and early intimation to the cultivators in Lower Egypt of
the quantity of water being brought down from the rivers of Abyssinia.
There seems no other conclusion possible than that sooner or later this
practical service will compel Egypt, whenever she feels strong enough,
to re-establish her power at Khartoum ; already there is evidence that
the time has arrived.

Having conquered the Soudan easily, the rulers of Egypt experienced
no difficulty in retaining it for sixty years; and if other forces, partly
created by the moral pressure of England and civilized opinion
generally, had not come into action, there is every reason to suppose
that their authority would never have been assailed. Nor did the
Egyptians stand still. By the year 1853 they had conquered Darfur
on the one side, and pushed their outposts on the other 120
miles south of Khartoum. In the rear of the Egyptian garrison came
the European trader, who took into his service bands of Arab mercen-
aries, so that he pushed his way beyond the Egyptian stations into the
region of the Bahr Gazelle, where the writ of the Cairo ruler did not
run. These traders came to deal in ivory, but they soon found that,
profitable as it was, there was a greater profit in, and a far greater supply
of, " black ivory." Thus an iniquitous trade in human beings sprang
up, and the real originators of it were not black men and Mahommedans,
but white men, and in many instances Englishmen. From slave
buying they took to slave hunting, and in this way there is no exaggera-
tion in declaring that villages and districts were depopulated. Such
scandalous proceedings could not be carried on in the dark, and at
last the Europeans involved felt compelled, by the weight of adverse
opinion, or more probably from a sense of their own peril, to withdraw
from the business. This touch of conscience or alarm did not improve
the situation. They sold their stations to their Arab agents, who in turn
purchased immunity from the Egyptian officers. The slave trade, by
the pursuit and capture of any tribe rash enough to come within the
spring of the Arab raiders, flourished as much as ever. The only
change was that after 1S60 Europeans were clear of the stigma that
attached to any direct participation in it.

The condition of the Soudan during this period has been graphically
described by Captain Speke, Dr Schweinfnrth, and Sir Samuel Baker.
They all agree in their facts and their conclusions. The peo])le were
miserably unhappy, because the dread and the reality of compulsory
slavery hung over their daily life. Those who were not already slaves
realised their impending fate. Villages were abandoned, districts passed

The First Nile Mission. 143

out of cultivation, and a large part of the population literally vanished.
Sir Samuel Baker, speaking of the difference between a region he knew
well in 1864 and in 1872, wrote in the latter year : "It is impossible
to describe the change that has taken place since I last visited this
country. It was then a perfect garden, thickly populated, and pro-
ducing all that man could desire. The villages were numerous, groves
of plantains fringed the steep cliffs on the river's bank, and the natives
were neatly dressed in the bark cloth of the country. The scene has
changed ! All is wilderness. The population has fled ! Not a village
is to be seen ! This is the certain result of the settlement of Khartoum
traders. They kidnap the women and children for slaves, and plunder
and destroy wherever they set their foot." How true all this was will
be seen in the course of Gordon's own experiences.

It has been stated that the Arab slave-dealers made terms with the
Egyptian officials, and they were even not without influence and the
means of gaining favourable consideration at Cairo itself. But as they
increased in numbers, wealth, and confidence in themselves and their
organisation, the Khedive began to see in them a possible danger to
his own authority. This feeling was strengthened when the slavers,
under the leadership of the since notorious Zebehr Rahama, the most
ambitious and capable of them all, refused to pay their usual tribute.
Ur Schweinfurth has given a vivid picture of this man in the heyday of
his power. Chained lions formed part of his escort, and it is recorded
that he had 25,000 dollars' worth of silver cast into bullets in order to
foil the magic of any enemy who was said to be proof against lead.
Strong as this truculent leader was in men and money, the Khedive
Ismail did not believe that he would dare to resist his power. He
therefore decided to have recourse to force, and in 1869 he sent a
small military expedition, under the command of Belial Bey, to bring
the Bahr Gazelle into submission. Zebehr had made all his arrange-
ments for defence, and on the Egyptian army making its appearance he
promptly attacked and annihilated it. This success fully established
the power and reputation of Zebehr, who became the real dictator of
the Soudan south of Khartoum. The Khedive, having no available
means of bringing his rebellious dependent to reason, had to acquiesce
in the defeat of his army. Zebehr offered some lame excuse for his
boldness and success, and Ismail had to accept it, and bide the hour of

Zebehr, encouraged by this military triumph, turned his arms against
the Sultans of Darfour, who had incurred his resentment by placing an
embargo on wheat during the course of his brief campaign with Belial.
This offensive action still further alarmed the Khedive Ismail, who was

144 ^^^ ^i^ of Gordon.

fully alive to the danger that might arise to his own position if a power-
ful military confederacy, under a capable chief, were ever organised in
the Soudan. Instead of allying himself with the Darfourians, as would
probably have been the more politic course, Ismail decided to invade
their territory simultaneously with Zebehr. Several battles were fought,
and one after another the Sultans of Darfour, whose dynasty had reigned
for 400 years, were overthrown and slain. Zebehr received in succes-
sion the Turkish titles of Bey and Pasha, but he was not satisfied, for
he said that as he had done all the fighting, he ought to receive the
Governor-Generalship of Darfour. If he failed to win that title from the
Khedive, he succeeded in gratifying a more profitable desire, by leading
off into slavery the larger half of the population of Darfour. He was
still engaged in this pursuit at the time of Gordon's appearance on
the scene, and the force at his disposal was thus described by that officer:
" Smart, dapper-looking fellows, like antelopes, fierce, unsparing, the terror
of Central Africa, having a prestige far beyond that of the Government —
these are the slave-dealers' tools," and afterwards they no doubt became
the main phalanx of the Mahdi's military system.

The financial position of the Egyptian Government in the Soudan
was as bad as the military and political. The Khedive's Governor-
General at Khartoum, Ismail Yakoob Pasha, was nominally responsible
for the administration of Darfour, although Zebehr reaped all the gain.
This arrangement resulted in a drain on the Khedive's exchequer of
;;^5o,ooo a year. The revenue failed to meet the expenditure in the
other departments, and this was mainly due to the fact that the slavers no
longer paid toll or tithe in the only trade that they had allowed to exist
in the Soudan. What share of the human traffic they parted with was
given in the way of bribes, and found no place in the official returns.
All the time that this drain continued the Khedive was in a constant
state of apprehension as to the danger which might arise to him in the
south. He was also in receipt of frequent remonstrances from the
English and other Governments as to the iniquities of the slave-trade, for
which he was primarily in no sense to blame. On the other hand, he
derived no benefit from the Soudan ; and if he thought he could have
obtained a secure frontier at Abou Haniid, or even at Wadi Haifa, he
would have resigned all the rest without a sigh. But it was his strong
conviction that no such frontier was attainable, and Ismail clung to his
nominal and costly authority over the Soudan in the hope that some
improvement might be effected, or that, in the chapter of accidents, the
unexpected might come to his aid.

Alarmed as to his own position, in view of the ambition of Zebehr,
and harassed by the importunities of England, Ismail, acting on the

The First Nile Mission. 145

advice of his able and dexterous Minister, Nubar Pasha, one of the
most skilful diplomatists the East has ever produced, came to the
decision to relieve himself from at least the latter annoyance, by the
appointment of Gordon. This was the main object the Khedive and
his advisers had in view when they invited Gordon to accept the post of
Governor of the Equatorial Provinces in succession to Sir Samuel
Baker, who resigned what he found after many years' experience was a
hopeless and thankless task. The post was in one sense peculiar. It
was quite distinct from that of the Egyptian Governor-General at Khar-
toum, who retained his separate and really superior position in the
administration of the Upper Nile region. Moreover, the finances of the
Equatorial districts were included in the general Soudan Budget, which
always showed an alarming deficit. These arrangements imparted a
special diflficulty into the situation with which Gordon had to deal, and
his manner of coping with it will reveal how shrewd he was in detecting
the root-cause of any trouble, and how prompt were his measures to
eradicate the mischief. From the first he fully realised why he was
appointed, viz. "to catch the attention of the English people"; but he
also appreciated the Khedive's " terrible anxiety to put down the slave-
trade, which threatens his supremacy." With these introductory remarks,
the main thread of Gordon's career may be resumed.

After the brief hesitation referred to in the last chapter, and the
reduction of his salary to what he deemed reasonable dimensions,
Gordon proceeded to Cairo, where he arrived early in the year 1874.
As in everything else he undertook, Gordon was in earnest about the
work he had to attempt, and no doubt he had already formed in his
mind a general plan of action, which would enable him to suppress the
slave-trade. Here it will suffice to say that his project was based on
the holding of the White Nile by a line of fortified posts, and with the
river steamers, which would result in cutting off the slave hunters from
their best source of supply. The expression of his plans in his earnest
manner showed up by contrast the hoUowness of the views and policy
of those who had obtained his services. In his own graphic and em-
phatic way he wrote : " I thought the thing real and found it a sham, and
felt like a Gordon who has been humbugged." He found Cairo "a
regular hot-bed of intrigues," and among not only the Egyptian, but also
the European officials. With a prophetic grasp of the situation he wrote,
"Things cannot last long like this." Had Gordon been long detained
at Cairo, where the etiquette and the advice offered him by every one in
an official position exasperated him beyond endurance, there is no doubt
that he would have thrown up his task in disgust. He was animated
by the desire to make the sham a reality, and to convert the project


146 The Life of Go7'don.

with which he had been intrusted into a beneficial scheme for the
suffering population of the Soudan. There, at least, he would be
removed from the intrigues of the capital, and at liberty to speak his
own thoughts without giving umbrage to one person and receiving
worldly counsel from another.

One of the chief bones of contention during the few weeks he passed
at Cairo was the dispute as to how he should travel to the scene of his
government. He wished to go by ordinary steamer, with one servant.
The Minister insisted that he should travel by a special steamer, and
accompanied by a retinue. Gordon's plan would have saved the
Khedive's Government ;^4oo, but he had to give way to the proprieties.
The affair had an amusing issue. His special train to Suez met with
an accident, and he and the Egyptian officials sent to see him off" were
compelled, after two hours' delay, to change into another train, and con-
tinue their journey in an ordinary passenger carriage, much to the
amusement of Gordon, who wrote : "We began in glory and ended in
shame ! " On arrival at Souakim, Gordon was put into quarantine for a
night, in order, as he said, that the Governor might have time to put on
his official clothes.

Soon his attention was drawn from such frivolities as these
to more serious matters. He left Cairo on 21st February, reached
Souakim on 26th, left Souakim on ist March, Berber on 9th March, and
entered Khartoum 13th March. He brought with him 200 fresh
troops, and was welcomed with considerable display and many hollow
protestations of friendship by the Governor-General, Ismail Yakoob.

A few weeks before his arrival at Khartoum an important event
had taken place, which greatly simplified his ulterior operations. The
"sudd," an accumulation of mould and aquatic plants which had formed
into a solid mass and obstructed all navigation, had suddenly given
way, and restored communication with Gondokoro and the lakes. The
importance of this event may be measured by the fact that whereas the
journey to Gondokoro, with the "sudd "in existence, took twenty months
and even two years to perform, it was reduced by its dispersal to twenty-
one days. General Gordon wrote the following very pretty description
of this grassy barrier and its origin :

" A curious little cabbage-like aquatic plant comes floating down,
having a little root ready to attach itself to anything ; he meets a friend,
and they go together, and soon join roots and so on. When they get to
a lake, the current is too strong, and so, no longer constrained to move
on, they go off to the sides ; others do the same — idle and loitering, like
everything up here. After a time winds drive a whole fleet of them
against the narrow outlet of the lake and stop it up. Then no more

The First Nile Mission. 147

passenger plants can pass through the outlet, while plenty come in at
the upper end of the lake ; these eventually fill up all the passages which
may have been made."

Gordon had the control of seven steamers, and in one of these he
left Khartoum on 22nd March for the Upper Nile. He had already
issued his first decree as Governor of the Equator, in which he de-
clared the sale of ivory to be a Government monopoly, and forbade
the importation of firearms and ammunition. It was while he was on
this journey that he heard some birds — a kind of stork — laughing on the
banks of the river. In his letters to his sister, which were to stand in
the place of a diary, he facetiously remarks that he supposes they were
amused at the idea of anyone being so foolish as to go up the Nile in
" the hope of doing anything." But Gordon was not to be discouraged.
Already he liked his work, amid the heat and mosquitoes day and night
all the year round, and already he was convinced that he could do a
good deal to ameliorate the lot of the unfortunate people. He reached
Gondokoro on i6th April, where not only was he not expected, but he
found them ignorant even of his appointment. He remained there only
a few days, as he perceived he could do nothing without his stores, still
en route from Cairo, and returned to Khartoum, which he reached in
eleven days.

This brief trip satisfied him of several simple facts bearing on the
situation in the Equatorial Province which the Khedive had sent
him with such a flourish of trumpets to govern. He found very easily
that the Egyptian Government possessed no practical authority in that
region. Beyond the two forts at Gondokoro — garrison 300 men — and
Fatiko — garrison 200 men — the Khedive had no possessions, and there
was not even safety for his representatives half a mile from their guns.
As Gordon said : " The Khedive gave me a Firman as Governor-
General of the Equator, and left me to work out the rest." He began
the practical part of his task on the occasion of this return to Khartoum
by insisting that the accounts of the Equatorial Province should be
kept distinct from those of the Soudan, and also that Ragouf Pasha,
sent nominally to assist but really to hinder him, should be withdrawn.

Having asserted his individuality after several rows with Ismail
Yakoob, he became impatient at the delayed arrival of his stores and staff,
and hastened off to Berber to hurry their progress. As he was fond of
saying, " Self is the best officer," and his visit to Berber hastened the
arrival of the supplies which were necessary for his subsequent
operations. His staff consisted of Colonel Long, of the United States
Army, who had accompanied him to Gondokoro and been left there ;
Major Campbell, Egyptian Staff j Mr Kemp, an engineer; M. Linant^

148 The Life of Gordon.

a Frenchman ; Mr Anson, Mr Russell, and the Italian Romulus Gessi.
Two Royal Engineer officers, Lieutenants Chippendall and Charles
Watson, joined him before the end of the year. He worked very hard
himself, and he expected those under him to do the same. The
astonished Egyjitian officials looked on in amazement at one in high
rank, who examined into every detail himself, and who took his turn
of the hard work. One of Gordon's forms of recreation was to get
out and help to pull his dahabeah. Tucking up his trousers, he would
wade through the river fearlessly, having learnt from the natives that
crocodiles never attack a person moving.

At first Ismail Yakoob and his colleagues were filled with curiosity
and amusement at this phenomenal Englishman — so different, not merely
from themselves, but from other Europeans — then apprehension seized
them as to what he would do next in the way of exposing their neglect
of duty, and finally only the capacity for one sentiment was left — relief
whenever he turned his back on Khartoum.

Having collected his staff and supplies, he started up the Nile once
more, to begin the establishment of the line of fortified posts, which
he had resolved on as the best means of maintaining and extending
his own authority, and at the same time of curtailing the raids of the
slave-dealers. The first of these forts or stations he established at
the entrance of the Saubat river, and while there he made a discovery
which showed how the slave-trade flourished with such impunity.
He seized some letters from a slave-dealer to the Egyptian commander
at Fashoda, stating that he was bringing him the slaves he wanted
for himself and many others, besides 2000 cows. By several skilful
manoeuvres Gordon succeeded in rescuing all of them, restoring the
cows to their owners, and compelling the soldiers of the slave-
hunters to return to their homes, generally in or near Khartoum. Nor
was this his only success during the first two months of his govern-
ment, for he detected one of his lieutenants in the act of letting a
slave convoy pass in return for a bribe of ;Clo. On this occasion
he had the satisfaction of delivering t6oo human beings from slavery.
This will show that one of his principal difficulties was caused by his
own subordinates, who were hand-in-glove with the leading slave-
hunters. Another of Gordon's troubles arose from the collapse of
his staff under the terrible heat. Of those enumerated as having gone
up with or to him in May, all were dead or invalided in September ;
and the duties of sick-nurse at last became so excessive that Gordon
had to order, in his own quaint manner, that no one who was sick
should be allowed to come to headquarters. Only in this way was he
able to obtain the time necessary for the accomplishment, single

The First Nile Mission. 149

handed, of his various duties. Such was the strain on him that he
gave positive injunctions that no more Europeans, and especially young
English officers, were to be sent up to him.

As soon as it was realised that the new Governor was in earnest,
that he was bent on crushing the slave-trade, and that he would not
permit corruption or extortion in any form, he became the mark of
general hostility. The intrigues to mislead and discredit him were
incessant. Abou Saoud, who had been formerly banished by Sir
Samuel Baker from the Soudan, and then taken into high favour by
Gordon, turned out a fraud and a failure, while Raouf Bey, the
nominee of the Khartoum Governor-General, was sent back in disgrace.
With regard to Abou Saoud it may be said that Gordon never really
trusted him, that is to say he was not taken in by him, but beUeved he
would be less able to do injury in his service than at a distance. It
was precisely the same principle as led him to solicit the co-operation
of Zebehr in 1884.

Gordon's method of dealing with those who caused him trouble was
short and simple. It consisted in a brief but unchallengeable order to go
back to the base. As the officials would have been murdered by the
people they had so long and so often injured if they attempted to seek
bhelter among them, they had no alternative save to obey ; and thus, one
after another, Gordon brushed the chief obstructionists from his path.
He served the old troublesome soldiers who would not work or change
their ways after the same fashion, by sending them to his Botany Bay
at Khartoum. In the midst of all these troubles he kept well, although
"a mere shadow," and he still retained the conviction that he would
be able to do much good work in this unpromising region.

In dealing with the natives, he endeavoured first to induce them
to cultivate the ground, providing them with seed and dhoora {sorghum),
and then to accustom them to the use of money. He bought their
ivory and paid for it in coin, so that in a little time he found that
the inhabitants, who had held aloof from all previous Egyptian officials,
freely brought him their ivory and produce for sale. At the same
time, he made it a point to pay scrupulously for any service the natives
rendered, and he even endeavoured, as far as he could, to put employ-
ment in their way. The practice of the Egyptian officials had been
to lay hands on any natives that came across their path, and compel
them by force to perform any work they might deem necessary, and
then to dismiss them without reward or thanks. The result was a deep-
rooted execration of the whole Egyptian system, which found voice
in the most popular war-cry of the region : " We want no Turks here !
Let us drive them away!" But Gordon's mode was widely diflerent.

150 The Life of Go7'don.

It was based on justice and reason, and in the long-run constituted
sound policy. He paid for what he took, and when he used the
natives to drag his boats, or to clear tracks through the grassy zone
fringing the Nile, he always carefully handed over to them cows,
dhoora, or money, as an equivalent for their work. On the other
hand, he was not less prompt to punish hostile tribes by imposing
taxes on them, and, when unavoidable, inflicting punishment as well.
But the system averted, as far as possible, the necessity of extreme
measures, and in this the first period of his rule in the Soudan he
had few hostile collisions with the natives of the country. Indeed,
with the exception of the Bari tribe, who entrapped Linant, Gordon's
best lieutenant after Gessi, and slew him with a small detachment,
Gordon's enemies in the field proved few and insignificant. Even
the Baris would not have ventured to attack him but for the acquaint-
ance with, and contempt of, firearms they had obtained during an
earlier success over an Egyptian corps.

There is no doubt that this absence of any organised opposition
was fortunate, for the so-called troops at the disposal of the Governor
of the Equator were as miserably inefficient and contemptible, from
a fighting point of view, as any General Gordon ever conmianded;
and at a later stage of his career he plamtively remarked that it had
fallen to his lot to lead a greater number of cowardly and unwarlike
races than anyone else. But it was not merely that they were such
poor fighters that Gordon declared that three natives would put a
company to flight, but they were so disinclined for any work, and so
encumbered by their women and children, that their ability to make any
military show might be as safely challenged as their combative spirit.
Well might Gordon write : " I never had less confidence in any troops

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 17 of 40)