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 2 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 2 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

brush. The lad admitted it was not a severe blow ; nevertheless
Charlie Gordon was for this slight offence put back six months for his
commission, which turned out well in the end, since it secured for him
a second lieutenancy in the Royal Engineers in place of the Royal
Artillery." This alteration in the branch of the service to which he
was attached was due to his own act. He decided that, as his contem-
poraries would be put ahead of him, he would work for the Engineers
instead of the Artillery.

Even to the end of his life there were two sides to his character.
Private grief, much disappointment, and a long solitary existence, con-
tributed to make him a melancholy philosopher, and a sometimes
austere critic of a selfish world, but beneath this crust were a genial
and generous disposition that did not disdain the lighter side of human
nature, a heart too full of kindness to cherish wrath for long, and an
almost boyish love of fun that could scarcely be repressed. If this was
the individual in his quieter and contemplative moods, an energy that
never tired, and a warlike spirit that only needed the occasion to blaze
forth, revealed the man of action. It may be pronounced a paradox
to say so, but to the end of his life the true Gordon was more of the
soldier than the saint.

Even in the midst of his escapades at the Academy, something of
the spirit of the future hero revealed itself. However grave the offence
or heavy the punishment, he was never backward in taking his share —
or more than his share — of the blame for any scrape into which he and
his friends were brought by their excessive high spirits. On more than
one occasion his ardour and sense of justice resulted in his being made
the scapegoat of worse offenders, and it seems probable that he
generally bore more than his proper share of the blame and punishment
for acts of insubordination. But there were limits to his capacity of
suffering and sense of guilt, and when one of his superiors declared that
he " would never make an officer," he touched a point of honour, and
Gordon's vigorous and expressive reply was to tear the epaulettes from
his shoulder and throw them at his superior's feet. In this incident the
reader will not fail to see a touch and forecast of greatness. He was
ever willing to pay the penalty of youthful indiscretion, but he was
sensitive to the reproach of honour, and his exuberant spirits detracted
in no respect from his sense of the nobility of his profession. His
earnestness saved him from the frivolity into which a light heart and
good health might have led him, and compensated for his disinclination
to devote all his spare time to the severer studies of his college.

8 The Life of Gordon.

On June 23rd, 1852, nearly four years after he entered the Royal
Military Academy, Charles Gordon passed out with the rank of second
lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. Notwithstanding some remissness
in his work, he had passed through all his examinations — " Those
terrible examinations," as he said long years afterwards — "how I
remember them ! Sometimes I dream of them," — and in accordance
with the regulations in force he was sent to Chatham for the purpose of
completing there his technical training as an engineer officer. Chat-
ham, as is well known, is the Headquarters of the Royal Engineer
Corps, to which it stands in the same relation as Woolwich to the
Artillery. There Gordon remained until February 1854, constantly
engaged on field work and in making plans and surveys, at which his
old skill as a draughtsman soon made him exceptionally competent.
This kind of work was also far more congenial to him than the cramming
at the Academy, and he soon gained the reputation of being an
intelligent and hard-working subaltern. In the month named he
attained the grade of full lieutenant, and on taking his step he was at
once ordered to Pembroke Dock, then one of the busiest naval depots
and most important military arsenals in the country. The war clouds
were already lowering over Eastern Europe, and although all hope of
maintaining peace had not been abandoned, arrangements were in
progress for the despatch, if necessary, of a strong naval and military
expedition to the Black Sea.

At Pembroke, Gordon was at once employed on the construction of
the new fortifications and batteries considered necessary for the defence
of so important a position, and in one of his letters home he wrote: " I
have been very busy in doing plans for another fort, to be built at the
entrance of the haven. I pity the officers and men who will have to live
in these forts, as they arc in the most desolate places, seven miles from
any town, and fifteen from any conveyance." Seclusion and solitude had
evidently no charms for him at that period. In another letter about this
time he wrote expressing his relief at being " free from the temptations
of a line regiment," and concluded with the self-depreciatory remark that
he was " such a miserable wretch that he was sure to be led away." In yet
another letter from Pembroke, written not man^' weeks after his arrival,
he reveals something of the deep religious feeling which was no doubt
greatly strengthened by his experiences in the Crimea, and which
became stronger and more pronounced as years went on. In writing to
his favourite sister in the summer of 1854, he gives the following
interesting bit of biographical information : " You know I never was
confirmed. When I was a cadet I thought it was a useless sin, as I did
not nuend to alter (not that it was in my power to be converted wlien I

Birth and Early Life. 9

chose). I, however, took my first sacrament on Easter Day (i6th
April 1854) and have communed ever since."

Charles Gordon was still occupied on the Pembroke fortifications
when war broke out with Russia on the Eastern Question. His
father was at the time stationed at Gibraltar in command of the Royal
Artillery, and was never employed nearer the scene of hostilities during
the war. But his two elder brothers were at the front — the eldest, the
late Sir Henry Gordon, at Balaclava, where he served in the Com-
missariat, and the next brother, the late General Enderby Gordon, with
his battery under Lord Raglan. At the battle of the Alma, fought on
20th September 1854, Enderby Gordon specially distinguished himself,
for he worked one of the two guns of Turner's Battery, which exercised
such a decisive influence on the fortunes of the day. Readers of
Kinglake's " History " will remember that it was the flank fire of these
two guns which compefled the Russian battery of sixteen guns on the
Causeway to retire and thus expose the Russian i'ront to our attack. It
is a little curious to find that while one brother was thus distinguishing
himself in the first battle of the war, another was writing from Pembroke

Dock as follows : " says there were no artillery engaged in the

battle of the Alma, so that Enderby was safe out of that." Enderby
Gordon also distinguished himself at Inkerman, where he acted as
aide-de-camp to General Strangeways. He subsequently earned the
reputation of a good ofiicer during the Indian Mutiny, and when he
died he had, like his father, attained the rank of Lieutenant-General, and
received besides the Companionship of the Bath. One characteristic
incident has been recorded of him. As he commanded a column in
India, he had only to ask for promotion to obtain it ; this he declined
to do, because he would thus have stepped over a friend.

In General Gordon's own letters from the Crimea there are frequent
references to his eldest brother, Henry Gordon, a man of whom it
may be said here that the best was never publicly known, for during
a long and varied career, first in the combative branch of the army as
an officer of the 59th Regiment, and then as a non-combative officer in
the Ordnance Department, he showed much ability, but had few
opportunities of special distinction. In several of General Gordon's
transactions Sir Henry was closely mixed up, especially with the Congo
mission ; and I should like to say, of my own knowledge, that he was
thoroughly in sympathy with all his projects for the suppression of the
slave trade, had mastered the voluminous Blue Books and official
papers, from the time of Ismail to the dark days of Khartoum, in so
thorough a manner that the smallest detail was fixed in his brain, and
had so completely assimilated his brother's views that an hour's consul-

lo The Life of Gordon.

tation with him was almost as fertile a source of inspiration as it would
have been with the General himself. I believe that the original cause
of Sir Henry's influence over his brother was that he disclaimed having
any, and that he most carefully avoided any attempt to force his advice on
his younger brother, as so many of our elders deem to be their right and
prerogative. General Gordon was a bad listener to advice at any time
or from anyone. He acted almost entirely on his own judgment, and
still more on his own impulse. His first thoughts were his best thoughts,
or, perhaps, as Tennyson says, " his third thoughts, which are a maturer
first." Sir Henry knew the ingrained and unalterable character of his
brother, and adapted himself to it, partly through affection and partly
through admiration, for in his eyes Charles Gordon was the truest of
heroes. No man ever possessed a truer or more solicitous friend than
General Gordon found in him. Sir Henry was thoroughly devoted to
him and his interests, and carried out all his wishes and instructions to
the very letter.

Having said this much about the relations between Gordon and his
brother, it would be an inexcusable omission to pass over the still
more striking sympathy and affection that united him with his sisters.
From his first appointment into the service he corresponded on
religious and serious subjects with his elder sister, the late jMiss
Gordon, who only survived her brother a few years, with remarkable
regularity, and as time went on the correspondence became more, rather
than less constant, and in his letters to her were to be found his most
secret thoughts and aspirations. Most of the letters from the Crimea
were addressed to his mother ; but, in an interesting volume published
in 1888, Miss Gordon presented the world with the remainder of her
brother's letters, spread over thirty active and eventful years. One of
General Gordon's most cherished objects, resembling in that, as in
other respects. Lord Lawrence, was to add to the comfort of his
sisters, and when he left England on his last fatal mission to Egypt,
his will, made the night before he left for Brussels, provided that all
he possessed should be held in trust for the benefit of his well-beloved
sister, ALary Augusta, and that it was to pass only on her death lo the
heirs he therein designated. It is not necessary to enter into fuller
particulars on this subject, but it may be proper to say that his affection
for his other sisters was not less warm or less reciprocated. Of his
six sisters, of whom two alone survive, it is only necessary to refer here
(in addition to .Miss Gordon) to the youngest, who married Dr Andrew
Moffitt, who was not merely head medical officer with the Ever
Victorious Army, but Gordon's right-hand man in China. Dr Moftlit
was a man of high courage; on one occasion he saved Gordon's

Birth and Early Life. ii

life when a Taeping attempted to murder him in his tent, and an
EngUsh officer, who served with the Force, has described him in these
two hnes : " He was imbued with the same spirit as his future brother-
in-law; he was a clever Chinese scholar and an Al surgeon."
Dr Moffitt, who received a gold medal and order, besides the Red
Button of a Mandarin, from the Chinese Government for his brilliant
services against the Taepings, died prematurely. To say less about
these family relations would be an omission ; to say more would be
an intrusion, and they may be left with the reflection that as no one
who knew him will dispute the depth and the strength of General
Gordon's sentiments as a friend, his feelings towards the members of
his own family cannot well be impugned.

Some account of the personal appearance of General Gordon will
be deemed necessary, and may be appropriately given at this stage,
although the subject is a dangerous one, because so very few people
form the same impression about any one's appearance. There has
been much discussion as to General Gordon's exact height, and I have
been to much pains to obtain some decisive evidence on the subject.
Unfortunately no such records as to height, etc., are kept about officers,
and my search proved fruitless, more especially as the records at
Woolwich for the period required were destroyed by fire some years
ago. The best evidence I have obtained is that of General Gordon's
tailors, Messrs Batten & Sons, of Southampton, who write : " We
consider, by measurements in our books, that General Gordon was
5 ft. 9 in." As he had contracted a slight stoop, or, more correctly
speaking, carried his head thrown forward, he looked in later life much
less than his real height. The quotations at the end of this chapter
will show some difference of opinion. His figure was very slight,
but his nervous energy could never be repressed, and he was probably
stronger than his appearance suggested. The suggestion of delicate
health in his look and aspect, arising, as he was led to believe, but
erroneously, from a?7gina pectoris, or some mysterious chest pain, may
have induced a belief that he was not robust, but this seems to have
been baseless, because throughout his life, whether in the trenches
of Sebastopol, the marshes of the Yangtse delta, or the arid plains of
the Soudan, he appears to have equally enjoyed excellent health.

The only specific mention of serious illness was during his stay in
the Soudan as Governor-General, when the chest pains became acute.
These were at length traced to an enlarged liver, and perhaps the
complaint was aggravated by excessive smoking. In the desert, tar
removed from medical aid, he obtained much relief from the use of
Warburg's Tincture.

12 The Life of Gordon.

In his ordinary moods there was nothing striking about the face.
The colour of the eye was too hght — yet the glance was as keen as a
rapier, and, as the little Soudan boy Capsune, whom he had educated,
said, " Gordon's eyes looked you through and through" — the features
were not sufificiently marked, the carriage of the man was too diffident and
modest to arrest or detain attention, and the explanation of the universal
badness of the numerous photographs taken of him at all stages of his
career is probably to be found in the deficiency of colouring and contrast.
Everything in his appearance depended on expression, and expression
generally baftles the photographer. Perhaps the least objectionable of
all these portraitures is the steel plate in Dr Birkbeck Hill's volume on
" Gordon in Central Africa," and that not because it is a faithful
likeness, but because it represents a bust that might well be imagined
to belong to a hero. It was only when some great idea or some
subject in which he was interested seized his imagination that one
could perceive that the square jaw denoted unshakable resolution, and
that the pale blue eye could flash with the fire of a born leader of men.
In tranquil moments no one would have been struck by a casual glance
at his face, but these were rare, for in congenial company, and with
persons he trusted, Gordon was never tranquil, pacing up and down the
room, with only brief stops to impress a point on his listener by holding
his arm for a few seconds, and looking at him intently to see if he
followed with understanding and interest the drift of his remarks,
lighting cigarette after cigarette to enable him to curb his own
impetuosity, and demonstrating in every act and phrase the truth of his
own words that " inaction was intolerable to him." Such was the man
as I recall him on the all too few occasions when it was my privilege
and good fortune to receive him during his brief visits to London of
late years, and to hear from him his confidential views on the questions
in which he took so deep an interest. One final remark must be
hazarded about the most remarkable point after all in General Gordon's
personality. I refer to his voice. It was singularly sweet, and for a
man modulated in a very low tone, but there was nothing womanish
about it, as was the case with his able contemporary Sir Bartle Frere,
whose voice was distinctly feminine in its timbre. I know of no other
way to describe it than to say that it seemed to me to express the
thorough and transparent goodness of the speaker, and the exquisite
gentleness of his nature. If angels speak with the human voice,
Gordon's tone must have borne affinity to theirs.

In completing this subject it may be appropriate to quote a few of
the more important and interesting descriptions of his personal appear-
ance, contributed by those who had opportunities of seeing him.

Birth and Early Life. 13

An officer, who served with General Gordon in China, describes
his first interview with him in the following words : —

" C introduced me to a light-built, active, wiry, middle-sized

man of about thirty-two years of age, in the undress uniform of the Royal
Engineers. The countenance bore a pleasant frank appearance, eyes
light blue, with a fearless look in them, hair crisp and inclined to curl,
conversation short and decided. This was Major C. G. Gordon."

General Sir Gerald Graham who, to use his own words, was Gordon's
"school-fellow at Woolwich, his comrade in the Crimea and China, and
for many years past a more or less regular correspondent," has put on
record the following interesting description of the hero, and it should
not be forgotten that, excepting his companion, Colonel Donald Stewart,
and Mr Power, General Graham was the last Englishman to see General
Gordon in this world.

"Not over 5 feet 9 inches in height, but of compact build, his figure
and gait characteristically expressed resolution and strength. His face,
although in itself unpretending, was one that in the common phrase
'grew upon you.' Time had not streaked with grey the crisp, curly
brown hair of his youth and traced lines of care on his ample forehead
and strong clear face, bronzed with exposure to the tropical sun. His
usual aspect was serene and quiet, and although at times a ruffling wave
of uncontrollable impatience or indignation might pass over him, it did
not disturb him long. The depth and largeness of Gordon's nature,
which inspired so much confidence in others, seemed to afford him a
sense of inner repose, so that outer disturbance was to him like the
wind that ruffles the surface of the sea, but does not affect its depths.
The force and beauty of Gordon's whole expression came from within,
and as it were irradiated the man, the steady, truthful gaze of the blue-
grey eyes seeming a direct appeal from the upright spirit within. Gordon's
usual manner charmed by its simple, unaffected courtesy, but although
utterly devoid of self-importance he had plenty of quiet dignity, or even
of imperious authority at command when required. With his friends
he had a fund of innocent gaiety that seemed to spring from his impul-
siveness, while his strong sense of humour often enabled him to relieve
his impatience or indignation by a good-natured sarcasm."

Two further descriptions by men who served under him at Gravesend
in the interval between the Taeping War and the first mission to the
Soudan will suffice to complete the personal impressions that may help
the reader to form some idea of the appearance of General Gordon.
The first is from the pen of Mr W. E. Liiley, who brought out a
special volume on Gordon at Gravesend.

" In Colonel Gordon's appearance there was nothing particularly

14 The Life of Gordon.

striking. He was rather under the average height, of slight proportions,
and with Httle of the miUtary bearing in his carriage, so that one would
hardly have imagined that this kindly, unassuming gentleman was already
one who had attracted the notice of his superiors by his courage and
zeal in the Crimean War, and who had won lasting renown by subduing
in China one of the greatest revolts the world had ever seen. This
last exploit had gained for him the name by which he was from that
time best known, viz. " Chinese Gordon." The greatest characteristic
of his countenance was the clear blue eye, which seemed to have a
magical power over all who came within its influence. It read you
through and through ; it made it impossible for you to tell him anything
but the truth, it inspired your confidence, it kindled with compassion at
any story of distress, and it sparkled with good humour at anything
really funny or witty. From its glance you knew at once that at any
risk he would keep his promise, that you might trust him with anything
and everything, and that he would stand by you if all other friends
deserted you."

The other impression, formed under precisely the same circumstances,
is that of ]\Ir Arthur Stannard, recorded in the Nineteenth Century of
April 1S85.

" The next moment I was looking into Chinese Gordon's eyes. What
eyes they were ! Keen and clear, filled with the beauty of holiness,
bright with an unnatural brightness, their expression one of settled
feverishness, the colour blue-grey as is the sky on a bitter March morn-
ing. In spite of the beautiful goodness of his heart and the great
breadth of his charity, Gordon was far from possessing a placid tempera-
ment or from being patient over small things. Indeed his very energy
and his single-mindedness tended to make him impatient and irritable
whenever any person or thing interfered with his intentions or desires.
. . . For a man of his small stature his activity was marvellous — he
seemed able to walk every one else off their legs over rough ground or
smooth. ... In Gordon strength and weakness were most fantastically
mingled. There was no trace of timidity in his composition. He had
a most powerful will. When his mind was made up on a matter it never
seemed to occur to him that there could be anything more to say about
it. Such was his superb confidence in himself ! "

When Gordon had been only a few months at Pembroke Dock he
received orders to proceed to Corfu, and believing it to be due to his
father's request, he wrote : " I suspect you used your influence to have
me sent there instead of to the Crimea. It is a great shame of you."
But the Fates were to be stronger than any private influence, for four
days after he wrote those lines he received fresh orders directing him to

Birth and Early Life. 15

leave for the Crimea without delay in charge of huts. It seems that
the change in his destination was due to Sir John Burgoyne, to whom
he had expressed the strongest wish to proceed to the scene of war.
On 4th December 1854, he received his orders at Pembroke, on the 6th he
reported himself at the ^^'ar Office, and in the evening of the same day
he was at Portsmouth. It was at first intended that he should go, out in
a collier, but he obtained permission to proceed via Marseilles, which he
pronounced " extremely lucky, as I am such a bad sailor." This
•opinion was somewhat qualified later on when he found that the Govern-
ment did not prepay his passage, and he expressed the opinion pretty
freely, in which most people would concur, that " it is very hard not to
give us anything before starting." He left London on the 14th December,
Marseilles in a French hired transport on the i8th, and reached Con-
stantinople the day after Christmas Day. He was not much struck with
a.nything he saw ; pronounced Athens " very ugly and dirty," and the
country around uncommonly barren ; and was disappointed with the far-
famed view on approaching Constantinople. The professional instinct
displayed itself w^ien he declared that the forts of the Dardanelles did
not appear to be very strong, as, although numerous, they were open at the
rear and overlooked by the heights behind. On 28th December Gordon
left Constantinople in the Goldeii Fleece transport conveying the 39th
Regiment to Balaclava. The important huts had not yet arrived in
the collier from Portsmouth, but they could not be far behind, and
Gordon went on in advance. The huts, it may be added, were built to
contain twenty-four men, or two captains and four subalterns, or two
field-officers or one general, and the number of these entrusted to the
charge of Gordon was 320. These reinforcements were the first sent

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 2 of 40)