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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double satisfaction of destroying the troops and capturing their arms
and ammunition. Such was the disastrous commencement of those
pending questions to which the Khedive Ismail referred in his
letter to General Gordon.

The Khedive decided to retrieve this reverse, and to continue his
original design. With this object a considerable number of troops
were sent to Massowah, and the conduct of the affair was entrusted to
Ratib Pasha and an American soldier of fortune. Colonel Loring Pasha.
By this time — 1876 — Michael had quarrelled with King John, who had
compelled him to give up the weapons he had captured from the
Egyptians, and, anxious for revenge, he threw in his lot with his recent
adversaries. The Egyptian leaders showed they had not profited by the
experience of their predecessors. They advanced in the same bold and
incautious manner, and after they had built two strong forts on the
Gura plateau they were induced, by jealousy of each other or contempt

T70 The Life of Gordon.

for their enemy when he "appeared, to leave the shelter of their forts, and
to fight in the open. The Egyptian Ratib had the good sense to advise,
" Stay in the forts," but Loring exclaimed : " No ! march out of them.
You are afraid ! " and thus a taunt once again sufficed to banish
prudence. The result of this action, which lasted only an hour, was
the loss ot over 10,000 Egyptian troops, of 25 cannon, and 10,000
Remington rifles. The survivors took refuge in the forts, and succeeded
in holding them. Negotiations then followed, and King John showed
an unexpected moderation and desire for peace with Egypt, but only
on the condition of the surrender of his recalcitrnnt vassal Michael.
Michael retaliated by carrying raids into King John's territory, thus
keeping the whole border in a state of disorder, which precluded all idea
of a stable peace.

Such was the position with which General Gordon had to deal.
He had to encourage the weakened and disheartened P^gyptian garrison,
to muzzle Michael without exposing the Khedive to the charge of
deserting his ally, and to conclude a peace with Abyssinia without
surrendering either Bogos or Michael. At this stage we are only called
upon to describe the first brief phase of this delicate question, which at
recurring intervals occupied Gordon's attention during the w^hole of his
stay in the Soudan. His first step was to inform ]\Iichael that the
subsidy of money and provisions would only be paid him on condition
that he abstained from attacking the Abyssinian frontier ; his next
to write a letter to King John, offering him fair terms, and enclos-
ing the draft of a treaty of amity. There was good reason to think
that these overtures would have produced a favourable result if it had
been possible for General Gordon to have seen King John at that
time, but unfortunately a fresh war had just broken out with Menelik,
and King John had to proceed in all haste to Shoa. He did not
reply to Gordon's letter for six months, and by that time Gordon was
too thoroughly engaged in the Soudan to take up the Abyssinian
question until the force of events, as will be seen, again compelled him
to do so.

Having decided that the Abyssinian dispute must wait. General
Gordon proceeded by Kassala on his journey to Khartoum. Travelling
not less than thirty miles a day, in great heat, organising the administra-
tion on his way, and granting personal audience to everyone who
wished to see him, from the lowest miserable and naked peasant to the
highest official or religious personage, like the Shereef Said Hakim, he
reached Khartoum on the 3rd May. He did not delay an hour in the
commencement of his task. His first public announcement was to
abolish the cojirbash, to remit arrears of taxation, and to sanction a

Governor-General of the Soitdan. 171

scheme for pumping the river water into the town. The Kadi or mayor
read this address in the pubhc square ; the people hailed it with
manifestations of pleasure, and Gordon himself, carried away by his
enthusiasm for his work, compresses the long harangue into a brief
text : " With the help of God, I will hold the balance level."

But the measures named were not attended by any great difficulty
in their inception or execution. They were merely the preliminaries to
the serious and risky disbandment of the Bashi-Bazouks, and the steps
necessary to restrict and control, not merely the trade in, but the
possession of, slaves. As General Gordon repeatedly pointed out, his
policy and proceedings were a direct attack on the only property that
existed in the Soudan, and justice to the slave could not be equitably
dispensed by injustice to the slave-owner. The third class of slave
raider stood in a separate category, and in dealing with him Gordon
never felt a trace of compunction. He had terminated the career of
those ruthless scourges of the African races at the Equator, and with
God's help he was determined to end it throughout the Soudan. But the
slave question in Egypt was many-sided, and bristled with difficulties
to anyone who understood it, and wished to mete out a fair and equable
treatment to all concerned.

It was with the special object of maintaining the rights ot the
owners as well as of the slaves that Gordon proposed a set of regulations,
making the immediate registration of slaves compulsory, and thus
paving the way for the promulgation of the Slave Convention already
under negotiation. His propositions were only four in number, and
read as follows : —

1. Enforce the law compelling runaway slaves to return to their

masters, except when cruelly treated.

2. Require masters to register their slaves before ist January


3. If the masters neglect to register them, then Regulation i not to

be enforced in their favour.

4. No registration to be allowed after ist January 1878.

By these simple but practical arrangements General Gordon would
have upheld the rights of the slave-owners, and thus disarmed their
hostility, at the same time that he stopped the imposition of servitude
on any fresh persons. In the course of time, and without imposing
on the Exchequer the burden of the compensation, which he saw
the owners were in equity entitled to, he would thus have put an end
to the slave trade throughout the Soudan.

The Anglo-Egyptian Convention on the subject of the slave trade,
signed on 4th August 1877, was neither so simple nor so practical,

172 The Life of Gordon.

while there was a glaring inconsistency between its provisions and the
Khedivial Decree that accompanied it.

The second article of the Convention reads : " Any person engaged
in traffic of slaves, either directly or indirectly, shall be considered
guilty of stealing with murder (vol avec ineurtre)" and consequently
punishable, as General Gordon assumed, with death.

pjut the first and second clauses of the Khedive's Decree were to a
different effect. They ran as follows : —

"The sale of slaves from family to family will be prohibited. This
prohibition will take effect in seven years in Cairo, and in twelve years
in the Soudan.

"After the lapse of this term of years any infraction of this pro-
hibition will be punished by an imprisonment of from five months to
five years."

The literal interpretation of this decree would have left Gordon
helpless to do anything for the curtailment of the slave trade until the
year 1889, and then only permitted to inflict a quite insufficient punish-
ment on those who broke the law. General Gordon pointed out the
contradiction between the Convention and the Decree, and the
impossibility of carrying out his original instructions if he were
deprived of the power of allotting adequate punishment for offences;
and he reverted to his original proposition of registration, for which the
Slave Convention made no provision, although the negotiators at Cairo
were fully aware of his views and recommendations expressed in an
official despatch three months before that Convention was signed. To
these representations Gordon never received any reply. He was left
to work out the problem for himself, to carry on the suppression of the
slave trade as best he could, and to take the risk of official censure and
repudiation for following one set of instructions in the Convention in
preference to those recorded in the Decree. The outside public
blamed the Khedive, and Gordon himself blamed Nubar Pasha and
the Egyptian Ministry ; but the real fault lay at the doors of the British
Government, which knew of Gordon's representations and the discrep-
ancy between the orders of the Khedive and the Convention they had
signed together, and yet did nothing to enforce the precise fulfilment
of the provisions it had thought it worth while to resort to diplomacy
to obtain. The same hesitation and inability to grasp the real
issues has characterised British policy in Egypt down to the present

If Gordon had not been a man fearless of responsibility, and resolved
that some result should ensue from his labours, he would no doubt have
expended his patience and strength in futile efforts to obtain clearer and

Governor-General of the Soiidmi. 173

more consistent instructions from Cairo, and, harassed by official ter-
giversation and delay, he would have been driven to give up his task in
disgust if not despair. But being what he was — a man of the greatest
determination and the highest spirit — he abandoned any useless effort
to negotiate with either the EngHsh or the Egyptian authorities in the
Delta, and he turned to the work in hand with the resolve to govern
the Soudan in the name of the Khedive, but as a practical Dictator. It
was then that broke from him the characteristic and courageous phrase :
" I will carry things with a high hand to the last."

The first and most pressing task to which Gordon had to address
himself was the supersession of the Turkish and Arab irregulars, who,
under the name of " Bashi-Bazouks," constituted a large part of the
provincial garrison. Not merely were they inefficient from a military
point of view, but their practice, confirmed by long immunity, had been
to prey on the unoffending population. They thus brought the Govern-
ment into disrepute, at the same time that they were an element of
weakness in its position. Gordon saw that if the Khedive had no better
support than their services, his authority in the Soudan was liable at
any moment to be overthrown. It had been the practice of the Cairo
authorities to send up, whenever reinforcements were asked for, Arnaut
and Arab loafers in that city, and these men were expected to pay them-
selves without troubling the Government. This they did to their ov\n
satisfaction, until Gordon resolved to put an end to their misdeeds at
all cost, for he found that not merely did they pillage the people, but
that they were active abettors of the slave trade. Yet as he possessed
no military force, while there were not fewer than 6000 Bashi-Bazouks
scattered throughout the provinces, he had to proceed with caution.
His method of breaking up this body is a striking illustration of his
thorough grasp of detail, and of the prudence, as well as daring, with
which he applied what he conceived to be the most sensible means of
removing a grave difficulty. This considerable force was scattered in
numerous small garrisons throughout the province. From a military
point of view this arrangement was bad, but it enabled each separate
garrison to do a little surreptitious slave-hunting on its own account.
General Gordon called in these garrisons, confined the Bashi-Bazouks to
three or four places, peremptorily stopped the arrival of recruits, and
gradually replaced them with trustworthy black Soudanese soldiers.
Before he laid down the reins of power, at the end of 1S79, he had
completely broken up this body, and as effectually relieved the Soudanese
from their military tyrants as he had freed them from the whip.

Having put all these matters in trim, Gordon left Khartoum in the
middle of the summer of 1877 for the western province of Darfour,

1 74 The Life of Goi^don.

where a number of matters claimed his pressing attention. In that
province there were several large Egyptian garrisons confined in two
or three towns, and unable — through fear, as it proved, but on account
of formidable enemies, as was alleged — to move outside them. The
reports of trouble and hostility were no doubt exaggerated, but still
there was a simmering of disturbance below the surface that portended
peril in the future ; and read by the light of after events, it seems little
short of miraculous that General Gordon was able to keep it under by
his own personal energy and the magic of his name. When on the
point of starting to relieve these garrisons, he found himself compelled
to disband a regiment of 500 Eashi-Bazouks, who constituted the only
force at his immediate disposal. He had then to organise a nonde-
script body, after the same fashion as he had adopted at the Equator,
and with 500 followers of this kind — of whom he said only 150 were
any good — he started on his march for the districts which lie several
hundred miles west of the White Nile, and approach most nearly of the
Khedive's possessions to Lake Tchad.

The enemies with whom General Gordon had to deal were two.
There was first Haroun, who claimed, as the principal survivor after
Zebehr's invasion of Darfour, already described, to be the true Sultan
of that State ; and secondly, Suleiman, the son of Zebehr, and the
nominal leader of the slave-dealers. While the former was in open
revolt, the latter's covert hostility was the more to be dreaded, although
Suleiman might naturally hesitate to throw off the mask lest his revolt
might be the signal for his father's execution at Cairo — Zebehr having
been detained there after his too confiding visit a few years before.
It was therefore both prudent and necessary to ignore Suleiman until
Haroun had been brought into subjection, or in some other way com-
pelled to desist from acts of hostility.

General Gordon's plan was simple in the extreme. Leaving the
Nile with 500 men, he determined to collect en route the efficient part
of the scattered garrisons, sending those who were not efficient to the
river for transport to Khartoum, and with this force to relieve the
garrison at Fascher, the most distant of the large towns or stations in
Darfour. It will be understood that these garrisons numbered several
thousand men each, while Gordon's relieving body was only a few
hundreds ; but their morale had sunk so low that they dared not take
the field against an enemy whom their own terror, and not the reality,
painted as formidable. Even before he began his advance, Gordon
had taken a fair measure of the revolt, which he expressed himself con-
fident of suppressing without firing a shot. At Dara, the place which
in the Mahdist war was well defended by Slatin Pasha, he released iSco

Governor- General of the Soudan. 175

troops ; but he was kept in inactivity for some weeks owing to the
necessity of organising his force and of ascertaining how far Suleiman,
with his robber confederacy of 10,000 fighting men at Shaka — only 150
miles south-east of Dara — might be counted on to remain quiet. During
this period of suspense he was compelled to take the field against a
formidable tribe called by the name of the Leopard, which threatened
his rear. It is unnecessary to enter upon the details of this expedition,
which was completely successful, notwithstanding the cowardice of his
troops, and which ended with the abject submission of the offending

Having assembled a force of a kind of 3,500 men, he resolved to
make a forced march to Fascher, and then with the same promptitude
to descend on Shaka, and settle the pending dispute with Suleiman.
These plans he kept locked in his own bosom, for his camp was full of
spies, and his own surroundings were not to be trusted.

Leaving the main portion of his troops at Dara, he advanced on
Fascher at the head of less than 1000 men, taking the lead himself with
the small bodyguard he had organised of 150 picked Soudanese. With
these he entered Fascher, where there were 3000 troops, and the Pasha,
Hassan Helmi, had 10,000 more at Kolkol, three days' journey away.
Gordon found the garrison quite demoralised, and afraid to move
outside the walls. He at once ordered Hassan Pasha to come to him,
with the intention of punishing him by dismissal for his negligence and
cowardice in commanding a force that, properly led, might have coerced
the whole province, when the alarming news reached the Governor-
General that Suleiman and his band had quitted Shaka, and were
plundering in the neighbourhood of Dara itself. The gravity of this
danger admitted of no delay. Not a moment could be spared to either
punish an incapable lieutenant or to crush the foe Haroun, whose pro-
ceedings were the alleged main cause of trouble in Darfour. Gordon
returned with his bodyguard as fast as possible, and, leaving even it
behind, traversed the last eighty-five miles alone on his camel in a day
and a half. Here may be introduced what he wrote himself on the
subject of these rapid and often solitary camel journeys : —

" I have a splendid camel — none like it ; it flies along, and quite
astonishes even the Arabs. I came flying into this station in Marshal's
uniform, and before the men had had time to unpile their arms, I had
arrived, with only one man with me. I could not help it ; the escort
did not come in for an hour and a half afterwards. The Arab chief
who came with me said it was the telegraph. The Gordons and the
camels are of the same race — let them take an idea into their heads,
and nothing will take it out. ... It is fearful to see the Governor-

176 The Life of Gordon.

General arrayed in gold clothes, flying along like a madman, with only
a guide, as if he were pursued. ... If I were fastidious, I should
be as many weeks as I now am days on the road ; I gain a great deal of
prestige by these unheard-of marches. It makes the people fear me
much more than if I were slow."

The situation was in every way as serious as was represented. The
Dara garrison as a fighting force was valueless, and with the exception
of his small bodyguard, still on the road from Fascher, Gordon had not
a man on whom he could count. Suleiman and his whole force were
encamped not three miles from the town. Gordon quite realised the
position ; he saw that his own life, and, what he valued more, the whole
work on which he had been so long engaged, were at stake, and that a
moment's hesitation would mean ruin. He rose to the crisis. At
daybreak, attired in his official costume, with the Medjidieh gleaming
on his breast, he mounted his horse and rode off to Suleiman's camp.
Suleiman meditated treachery, and a trifle would have decided him to
take the step of seizing Gordon, and holding him as hostage for his
father. Had Gordon delayed even a few hours, there is no doubt that
the slave-hunters would have executed their original design ; but his
extraordinary promptitude and self-confidence disconcerted them, and
probably saved his own life. Gordon rode down the brigand lines ;
Suleiman, described as "a nice-looking lad of twenty-two," received him
with marks of respect, and the Governor-General, without giving them a
moment to think, at once summoned him and his chief lieutenants to
an audience in the tent placed at his disposal. Here Gordon went
straight to the point, accusing them of meditated rebellion, and telling
them that he meant to break up their confederacy. After listening to
this indictment, they all made him submission very abjectly ; but
Gordon saw that Suleiman had not forgiven him, and when the truth
came afterwards to be known, it was found that he did not carry out
his project only because his principal lieutenants had deserted h,m.
When the negotiations were over, Suleiman retired with 15C0 men to
Shaka, where we shall hear of him again, and Gordon took into liis pay
the other half of the brigand force. In this remarkable manner did he
stave off the greatest peril which had yet threatened him in the

The following corroborative account of this incident was furnished
long afterwards by Slatin Pasha : —

" In the midst of all this discussion and difference of opinion,
Gordon, travelling by Keriut and Shieria, had halted at a spot about
four hours' march from Dara ; and having instructed his escort to follow
him as usual, he and his two secretaries started in advance on camels.

Governor-General of the Sotcdan. 177

Hearing of his approach, Suleiman had given orders to his troops to
deploy in three lines between the camp and the fort, and while this
operation was being carried out, Gordon, coming from the rear of the
troops, passed rapidly through the lines, riding at a smart trot, and,
saluting the troops right and left, reached the fort. The suddenness of
Gordon's arrival left the leaders no time to make their plans. They
therefore ordered the general salute ; but even before the thunder of the
guns was heard, Gordon had already sent orders to Suleiman and his
chiefs to appear instantly before him. . . . Thus had Gordon, by
his amazing rapidity and quick grasp of the situation, arrived in two
days at the settlement of a question which literally bristled with dangers
and difficulties. Had Suleiman offered resistance at a time when Darfour
was in a disturbed state, Gordon's position and the maintenance of
Egyptian authority in these districts would have been precarious in the

What Gordon's own opinion of this affair was is revealed in the
following extremely characteristic letter written to one of those anti-
slavery enthusiasts, who seemed to think that the whole difficulty could
be settled by a proclamation or two, and a rigid enforcement of a strict
law sentencing every one connected with the slave trade without dis-
crimination to death : —

" There are some 6000 more slave-dealers in the interior who will
obey me now they have heard that Zebehr's son and the other chiefs have
given in. You can imagine what a difficulty there is in dealing with all
these armed men. I have separated them here and there, and in course
of time will rid myself of the mass. Would you shoot them all ? Have
they no rights ? Are they not to be considered? Had the planters no
rights? Did not our Government once allow slave-trading ? Do you
know that cargoes of slaves came into Bristol Harbour in the time of
our fathers? I would have given ^500 to have had you and the Anti-
Slavery Society in Dara during the three days of doubt whether the
slave-dealers would fight or not A bad fort, a coward garrison, and
not one who did not tremble — on the other side a strong, determined
set of men accustomed to war, good shots, with two field-pieces. I
would have liked to hear what you would all have said then. I do not
say this in brag, for God knows what my anxiety was."

The drama, of which the first act took place in Suleiman's camp outside
Dara, was not then ended. Gordon knew that to leave a thing half done
was only to invite the danger to reappear. Suleiman had retired with his
1500 men to Shaka, the followers of Zebehr from all sides throughout the
province w'ould flock to his standard, and in a little time he would be
more formidable and hostile than before. Four days after Suleiman left


1/8 The Life of Gordon.

Dara, Gordon set out for the same place, at the head of four companies,
and after a six days' march through terrible heat he reached Shaka.
The slave-hunters had had no time to recover their spirits, they were all
completely cowed and very submissive ; and Suleiman craved favour at
the hands of the man against whose life he had only a {qw days before
been plotting. Unfortunately Gordon could not remain at Shaka, to
attend in person to the dispersion of Suleiman's band, and after his
departure that young leader regained his confidence, and resorted to his
hostile and ambitious designs ; but the success of General Gordon's
plans in the summer of 1877 was complete, and sufficed to greatly
diminish the gravity of the peril when, twelve months later, Suleiman
broke out afresh, and fell by the hands of Gessi.

While General Gordon was facing these personal dangers, and coping
with difficulties in a manner that has never been surpassed, and that
will stand as an example to all time of how the energy, courage, and
attention to detail of an individual will compensate for bad troops and
deficient resources, he was experiencing the bitter truth that no one can

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 20 of 40)