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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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 18 of 40)
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in my life." But even these shortcomings were not the worst. Tne
Arab soldiers provided by the Egyptian Government, and sent up over
and over again, in spite of Gordon's protests and entreaties, could not
stand the climate. They died like flies. Of one detachment of 250,
half were dead in three months, 100 of the others were invalided, and
only 25 remained fit for duty. From a further body of 150 men sent as
a reinforcement, half were reported on the sick list the day after their
arrival. The main buttress of the Khedive's authority in this region
was therefore hollow and erected on an insecure foundation. The
Egyptian soldiers possessed firearms, and the natives, in their ignor-
ance that they could not shoot straight, were afraid of them ; but the
natural progress of knowledge would inevitably prove fatal to that
unreal supremacy, and eventually entail the collapse of the Cairo
administration in the Soudan and the remoter districts on the Equator.

The Fiist Nile Mission. 151

Realising the inefficiency of the Egyptian force, General Gordon set
himself to the task of providing a better ; and mindful of the contingent
danger of creating a corps that might in the end prove a peril to the
system it was meant to protect, he resolved that, if individually brave
and efficient, it should be exceedingly limited in numbers, and incapable
of casting aside its allegiance to the Khedive. He began in a small
way by engaging the services of any stalwart Soudanese native whom
chance placed in his path, and thus he organised in the fust year of his
rule a corps of about forty men as a sort of bodyguard. An accident
brought him into contact with a party of the Niam Niam, a tribe of
cannibals from the interior of Africa, but possessing a martial spirit and
athletic frames. Gordon looked at them with the eye of a soldier, and
on the spot enrolled fifty of them into the small force he was organising.
He armed them with spears as well as guns, and as these spears were
cutting ones, with a blade two feet long, they were the more formidable
weapon of the two. Gordon describes the Niam Niam warriors as looking
very fierce, and brave, and fearless. They were also thick-set and sturdy,
and, above all, so indifferent to the tropical heat that they might be
relied on not to break down from the climate like the Egyptian soldiers.
Before the end of the year 1876 he had increased the numbers of these
two contingents to 500 men. It was with these black troops that
Gordon humbled the pride of the Baris, elated by their two successes,
and provided for the security of the long Nile route to the lakes.

There was another advantage besides the military in this practical
measure, one of those numerous administrative acts, in every clime and
under innumerable conditions, that established the fame and the sound
sense and judgment of General Gordon. It promoted economy, and
contributed to the sound finance which Gordon always set himself to
establish wherever he was responsible. One of Gordon's first resolu-
tions had been that his part of the Soudan should cease to be a drain,
like the rest, on the Cairo Exchequer. He determined that he at least
would pay his way, and on the threshold of his undertaking he had
insisted, and carried in the teeth of powerful opposition his resolution,
that the accounts of the Equatorial Province should be kept distinct
from those of the Soudan. The employment of black soldiers was very
economical as well as efficient, and contributed to the satisfactory
result which was shown in the balance-sheet of the Equatorial Province
as described by General Gordon for the year 1875. I" that year the
Khedive received ;j^48,ooo from the Province which Gordon ruled at a
total cost of only ;^2o,ooo, while he had also formed a surplus or
reserve fund of ;^6o,ooo more.

Having thus accomplished as much as possible towards the strength-

1^2 The Life of Gordon.

ening of the administration and tranquillisation of the people, some
further particulars may be recorded of his measures and success in
dealing with that slave-trade, the existence of which was the primary
cause of his own appearance in the Soudan. Allusion has already been
made to the considerable number of slaves rescued by a few grand
coups at the expense of his own subordinates, but during the whole
of these three years Gordon was in close contact with slaves, and the
rescue of individuals was of frequent occurrence. Several touching
incidents are recorded in the letters published from Central Africa
as to his kindness towards women and infants, to some of whom he
even gave the shelter of his own tent ; and nothing could be more
effective in the way of illustration than his simple description of the
following passage with the child-wife of one of his own soldiers :

" The night before I left this place a girl of twelve years, in one of
those leather strap girdles, came up to the fire where I was sitting, and
warmed herself. I sent for the interpreter, and asked what she wanted.
She said the soldier who owned her beat her, and she would not stay
with him ; so I put her on board the steamer. The soldier was very
angry, so I said : ' If the girl likes to stay with you, she may ; if she does
not, she is free.' The girl would not go back, so she stays on the

Nor was this the only incident of the kind to show not merely the
tenderness of his heart, but the extraordinary reputation Gordon had
acquired by his high-minded action among these primitive and down-
trodden races. Here are some others that have been selected almost
at random out of his daily acts of gentleness and true charity : —

'' I took a poor old bag of bones into my camp a month ago, and
have been feeding her up, bat yesterday she was quietly taken off,
and now knows all things. She had her tobacco up to the last,
and died quite quietly. ... A wretched sister of yours [ad-
dressed to the late Miss Gordon] is struggling up the road, but she is
such a wisp of bones that the wind threatens to overthrow her ; so she
has halted, preferring the rain to being cast down. I have sent her
some dhoora, which will produce a spark of joy in her black and
withered carcass. I told my man to see her into one of the huts, and
thought he had done so. The night was stormy and rainy, and when 1
awoke I heard often a crying of a child near my hut within the enclosure
When I got up I went out to see what it was, and passing through the
gateway, I saw your and my sister lying dead in a pool of mud — her
black brothers had been passing and passing, and had taken no notice
of her — so I ordered her to be buried, and went on. In the midst of the
high grass was a baby, about a year or so old, left by itself. It had been

TJie First Nile Mission. 153

out all night in the rain, and had been left by its mother. I carried it
in, and seeing the corpse was not moved, I sent again about it, and
went with the men to have it buried. To my surprise and astonishment,
she was alive. After considerable trouble I got the black brothers to
lift her out of the mud, poured some brandy down her throat, and got
her into a hut with a fire, having the mud washed out of her eyes. She
was not more than sixteen years of age. There she now lies. I cannot
help hoping she is floating down with the tide to the haven of rest.
The next day she was still alive, and the babe, not a year old, seized a
gourd of milk, and drank it off like a man, and is apparently in for the
pilgrimage of life. It does not seem the worse for its night out, de-
praved little wretch ! . . . The black sister departed this life at
4 P.M., deeply lamented by me, not so by her black brothers, who
thought her a nuisance. A\'hen I went to see her this morning I heard
the 'lamentations' of something on the other side of the hut. I went
round, and found another of our species, a visitor of ten or twelve
months to this globe, lying in a pool of mud. I said, ' Here is another
foundling ! ' and had it taken up. Its mother came up afterwards, and
I mildly expostulated with her, remarking, however good it might be for
the spawn of frogs, it was not good for our species. The creature drank
milk after this with avidity."

Such incidents explain the hold Gordon obtained over the indigenous
population of the Upper Nile. He made friends right and left, as he
said, and the trust of the poor people, who had never received kindness,
and whose ignorance of the first principles of justice was so complete
that he said it would take three generations of sound and paternal
government to accustom them to it, in General Gordon was complete
and touching. A chapter might be filled with evidence to this effect,
but it is unnecessary, as the facts are fully set forth in the " Letters " from
Central Africa. The result alone need be dwelt on here. For only too
brief a period, and as the outcome of his personal effort, these primitive
races saw and experienced the beneficial results of a sound and well-
balanced administration. The light was all too quickly withdrawn ; but
while it lasted. General Gordon stood out as a kind of redeemer for the
Soudanese. The poor slaves, from whose limbs the chains of their
oppressors had only just been struck, would come round him when
anxious about his health, and gently touch him with their fingers. The
hostile chiefs, hearing, as Bedden did, that he restored his cattle to and
recompensed in other ways a friendly chief who had been attacked in
mistake, would lie in wait for him, and lay their views and grievances
before him. He could walk fearlessly and unarmed through their
midst, and along the river banks for miles, when an Egyptian official

154 ^-^^^ Life of Gordon.

would have required a regiment to guard him, and detached soldiers
would have been enticed into the long grass and murdered. Even the
hostile tribes like the Bari, who, from a mistaken view of their own
military power, would not come to terms, showed their recognition of
his merit by avoiding in their attacks the posts in which he happened to
be. Thus there grew up round Gordon in the Soudan a sublime re-
putation for nobleness and goodness that will linger on as a tradition,
and that, when these remote regions along the Equator fall under civilized
authority, will simplify the task of government, provided it be of the
same pattern as that dispensed by General Gordon.

As the subject has a permanent practical value, the following passage
embodying General Gordon's views is well worth repetition : —

" I feel sure that a series of bad governments have ruined the people.
Three generations of good government would scarcely regenerate them.
Their secretiveness is the result of the fear that if they give, it may
chance that they may want. Their indolence is the result of experience
that if they do well, or if they do badly, the result will be ;/// to them,
therefore why should they exert themselves? Their cowardice is the
result of the fear of responsibility. They are fallen on so heavily if
anything goes wrong. Their deceit is the result of fear and want of
moral courage, as they have no independence m their characters. For
a foreign power to take this country would be most easy. The mass
are far from fanatical. They would rejoice in a good government, let
its religion be what it might. A just administration of law, and security
of person against arbitrary conduct, would do a great deal. It is the
Government that needs civilizing far more than the people. Mehemet
Ali and his descendants have always gone on the principle of enriching
themselves by monopolies of all sorts. None, not even the present
Khedive (Ismail), have brought in civilizing habits or customs with
any desire to benefit the country, or, at any rate, they have subordinated
this desire to that of obtaining an increased revenue."

But while Gordon brought kindness and conciliation into play, the
settlement of the region entrusted to his care called for sterner measures,
and he was not the man, with all his nobility of character and over-
flowing supply of the milk of human kindness, to refrain from those
vigorous and decisive measures that keep turbulent races in subjection,
and advance the cause of civilization, which in so many quarters of the
world must be synonymous with British supremacy. The student of his
voluminous writings will find many passages that express philosophical
doubts as to our right to coerce black races, and to bind peoples who in
their rude and primitive fashion are free to the car of our wide-world
Empire. But I am under no obligation to save them the trouble of

The First Nile Mission. 155

discovery by citing them, more especially because I believe that they
give a false impression of the man. I have affirmed, and shall adduce
copious and, as I think, convincing evidence, at every turn of his varied
experiences, that the true Gordon was not the meek, colourless, milk-
and-water, text-expounding, theological disputant many would have us
accept as a kind of Bunyan's hero, but in action an uncompromising
and resistless leader, who, when he smote, at once struck his hardest.
Gordon has supplied the answer to his own misgivings as to our moral
right to coerce and subject tribes who advanced their natural claims
to be left undisturbed : "We cannot have them on our flank, and it is
indispensable that they shall be subjected."

Having organised his new forces, equipped all his steamers — one of
which was fitted out with machinery that had been left in Baker's
time to rust in the Korosko Desert — General Gordon set himself to the
task of systematically organising the line of posts which he had con-
ceived and begun to construct in the first stages of his administration.
The object of these posts was twofold. By them he would cut the
slave routes in two, and also open a road to the great Lakes of the
Equator. In the first few months of his residence he had transferred
the principal station from Gondokoro to Lardo, twelve miles lower
down the stream, and on the left instead of the right bank of the river.
These places lie a little on each side of the fifth degree of north lati-
tude, and Gordon fixed upon Lardo as his capital, because it was far the
healthier. Above Lardo he established at comparatively short stages
further posts at, in their order, Rageef, Beddem, Kerri, Moogie, and
Lahore, immediately beyond the last of which occur the Fola Falls,
the only obstruction to navigation between Khartoum and the Lakes.
Above those Falls Gordon established a strong post at Duffli, and
dragged some of his steamers overland, and floated them on the short
link of the Nile between that place and Lake Albert, establishing a
final post north of that lake, at Wadelai. When his fleet commanded
that lake, he despatched his lieutenant, Gessi, across it up the Victoria
Nile, connecting the two great lakes, and continued his chain of posts
along it by Magungo, Anfina, Foweira, and Mrooli, to the very borders
of Mtesa's dominion in Uganda. By means of these twelve posts
General Gordon established the security of his communications, and
he also inspired his men with fresh confidence, for, owing to the short
distances between them, they always felt sure of a near place of refuge
in the event of any sudden attack. Thus it came to pass that where-
as formerly Egyptian troops could only move about in bodies of
100 strong, General Gordon was able to send his boats and de-
spatches with only two soldiers in charge of them ; and having entirely

156 The Life of Gordon.

suppressed the slave-trade within his own jurisdiction, he was left free
to accomplish the two ulterior objects of his mission, viz. the installation
of the Khedive's flag on the Lakes, and the establishment of definite
relations with Mtesa, whose truculent vassal, Kaba Rega, of Unyoro,
showed open hostility and resentment at the threatened encroachment
on his preserves.

It was neither a reprehensible nor an unintelligible vanity for the
Egyptian ruler to desire the control of the whole of the great river, whose
source had been traced south of the Equator, and 2000 miles beyond
the limits of the Pharaohs' dominions. Nor was the desire diminished
when, without sharing the gratification of the Prince in whose name he
acted, General Gordon advanced cogent reasons for establishing a
line of communication from Gondokoro, across the territory of Mtesa,
with the port of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. As Gordon pointed
out, that place was nearly 1,100 miles from Khartoum, and only 900
from Mombasa, while the advance to the Lakes increased the distance
from the one place by nearly 500 miles, and reduced that to the other
in the same measure. This short and advantai^eous line of communica-
lion with the Equatorial Province and Upper Nile was beyond both
the power and the sphere of the Khedive ; but in the task of winning
one of the most important of African zones formally recognised as lying
within the British sphere of influence, the route advocated by General
Gordon in 1875 has now become of the most undoubted value and

The aversion to all forms of notoriety except that which was in-
separable from his duty led Gordon to shrink from the publicity and
congratulations sure to follow if he were the first to navigate those
inland seas on the Equator. Having made all the arrangements, and
provided for the complete security of the task, he decided to baffle
the i)lans in his honour of the Royal Geographical Society, by delegat-
ing the duty of first unfurling the Khedive's flag on their waters to his
able and much-trusted lieutenant, Gessi. Although he sometimes
took hasty resolutions, in flat opposition to his declared intentions, he
would probably have adhered to this determination but for reading in
one of Dr Schweinfurth's published lectures that " it may be that Lake
Albert belongs to the Nile basin, but it is not a settled fact, for there
arc seventy miles between Eoweira and Lake Albert never explored,
and one is not authorised in making the Nile leave Lake Albert. The
question is very doubtful." The accidental perusal of this passage
changed General Gordon's views. He felt that this task devolved on
him as the responsible administrator of the whole region, and tiiat his
natural shrinking from trumpery and too often easily-earned geogra-

The First Nile Mission. 157

phical honours, which he has bhintly asserted should only be granted
by the Sovereign, did not justify his evading a piece of work that came
within his day's duty. Therefore he resolved to ascertain the fact by
personal examination, and to set at rest the doubts expressed by the
German traveller.

Expanding Dr Schweinfurth's remarks, he explained that "it was
contended that the Nile did not flow out of Lake Victoria, and thence
through Lake Albert, and so northward, but that one river flowed out
of Lake Victoria and another out of Lake Albert, and that these two
rivers united and formed the Nile. This statement could not be
positively denied, inasmuch as no one had actually gone along the
river from Foweira to Magungo. So I went along it with much suffer-
ing, and settled the question. I also found that from Foweira or
Karuma Falls there was a series of rapids to Murchison Falls, thus
by degrees getting rid of the looo-feet difference of level between
Foweira and Magungo." While mapping this region, Gordon one
day marched eighteen miles through jungle and in pouring rain, and
on each of the four following days he also walked fifteen miles — and
the month was August, only a few miles north of the Equator, or, in
other words, the very hottest period of the year. Having established
the course of the Nile and its navigability to the Murchison Falls close
to the Victoria Nyanza, General Gordon gave what he thought was a
finishing touch to this exploring expedition by effecting an arrangement
with King Mtesa.

But in order to explain the exact significance of this step, and the
consequent disappointment when it was found that the arrangement was
illusory and destitute of practical value, it is necessary to go back a little,
and trace the course of events in the Uganda region.

The Egyptian advance towards the south brought in its train two
questions of external policy. One was with Abyssinia, of which we
shall hear much in the next chapter ; and the other was with the king-
dom of Uganda and the kinglets who regarded Mtesa as their chief. Of
these the principal was Kaba Rega, chief of Unyoro, and the recognised
ruler of the territory lying between the two Lakes. He was a man of
capacity and spirit, and had raised himself to the position he occupied
by ousting kinsmen who had superior claims to the privileges of supreme
authority. In the time of Gordon's predecessor, Sir Samuel Baker,
Kaba Rega had come to the front as a native champion, resolved to
defy the Egyptians and their white leaders to do their worst. In a
spirited attack on Baker's camp at Masindi, he endeavoured to settle
the pretensions of his invaders at a blow, but he found that numbers
were no match for the superior arms of his opponent. But defeat did

15^ The Life of Goi^don.

not diminish his spirit. Baker decreed his deposition as King of
Unyoro, proclaiming in his stead a cousin named Rionga, but the order
had no practical effect. Kaba Rega retired a little from the vicinity of
the Egyptian forces; he retained "the magic stool" of authority over
the lands and peoples of Unyoro, and his cousin Rionga possessed
nothing beyond the empty title contained in an Egyptian official decree.
This was the position when Gordon appeared on the scene, and his first
obligation was to give something like force and reality to the pretensions
of Rionga.

If Kaba Rega had been satisfied to retain the practical marks of
authority, it is probable that Gordon would have been well content to
leave him alone, but irritated by the slight placed upon him by Sir
Samuel Baker, he assumed the offensive on every possible occasion.
He attacked Colonel Long, one of Gordon's lieutenants, on his way
back from Mtesa, just as he had Baker ; he threatened the Egyptian
station at Foweira ; and above all, he welcomed the thwarted slave-
dealers, who were not averse to taking their revenge in any form at
Gordon's expense. In these circumstances an active policy was forced
on General Gordon, who promptly decided that Kaba Rega was " too
treacherous " to be allowed to retain his kingdom, and that measures
must be taken to set up Rionga in his place. It was at this moment,
unfortunately, that General Gordon discovered the worthlessness of his
troops, and when, in 1876, he had organised his new force, and was ready
to carry out the policy he had decided on in 1874, he was thinking
mostly of his departure from the Soudan, and had no time to proceed to
extremities against these southern adversaries, for behind Kaba Rega
stood Mtesa.

When Gordon, in January 1876, entered the territory of Unyoro,
belonging to Kaba Rega, he found it desirable to take up the cause of
Anfina, in preference to that of Rionga, as the more influential chief;
but neither proved in popularity or expertness a match for Kaba Rega.
The possession of " the magic stool," the ancestral throne or copper seat
of the family of Unyoro, believed to be identified with the fortunes of the
little kingdom, alone compensated for the few losses in the open field,
as Kaba Rega was always careful to retreat on the approach of his most
dangerous adversary. Neither of his kinsmen was likely to prove a
formidable foe. Rionga passed his hours in native excesses, in the joy
of receiving the titular rank of Vakil to the Khedive. Anfina alienated
Gordon's friendly feeling by suggesting the Avholesale assassination of
Kaba Rega's ofificers and followers when they came on a mission to his
camp. Kaba Rega carried off the stool to the south, or rather the west,
of Victoria Nyanza, and bided his time, while Mtesa wrote a half-defiant

The Fii'st Nile Mission. 159

and half - entreating letter to Gordon, asking him to spare Unyoro.
Mtesa had his own views of gain, and when Gordon proposed to
establish a fortified post with a garrison of 160 men at Urundogani, the
Uganda ruler begged that it might be stationed at his own capital,
Dubaga, with the view of either winning over the troops to his service
or employing them against his own enemies. Gordon saw through this
proposal and withheld his consent, but his lieutenant, Nuehr Agha,
acted on his own responsibility, and moved with his force to Dubaga.
In a few weeks Gordon learnt that they were all, practically speaking,
prisoners, and that his already heavy enough task had been increased

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 18 of 40)