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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escape calumny. The arm-chair reformers of London were not at all
pleased with his methods, and they were quite shocked when they heard
that General Gordon, whom they affected to regard as the nominee of
the Anti-Slavery Society, and not as the responsible lieutenant of a
foreign potentate, was in the habit, not merely of restoring fugitive slaves
to their lawful owners, but even of purchasing slaves with his own and
the Government money, in order to convert them into soldiers. From
their narrow point of view, it seemed to them that these steps were a
direct encouragement of the slave-trade, and they denounced Gordon's
action with an extraordinary, but none the less bitter, ignorance of the
fact that he was employing the only practical means of carrying out the
mission which, in addition to his administrative duties, had been practi-
cally imposed on him as the representative of civilization. These good
but misinformed persons must have believed that the Egyptian garrison
in the Soudan was efficient, that communications were easy, and the
climate not unpleasant, and that Gordon, supported by zealous lieuten-
ants, had only to hold up his hand or pass a resolution, in the fashion of
Exeter Hall, for the chains, real and metaphysical, to fall from the limbs
of the negro population of Inner Africa. That was their dream. The
reality was a worthless and craven army, a climate that killed most
Europeans, and which the vigour and abstemiousness of Gordon scarcely
enabled him to endure, communications only maintained and repre-
sented by the wearying flight of the camel across the desert, treachery
and hostility to his plans, if not his person, among his colleagues — all
these difficulties and dangers overcome and rendered nugatory by the

Gover7ior- General of the Soudan. 179

earnestness and energy of one man alone. Well might his indignation
find vent in such a grand outburst as this : —

" I do not believe in you all. You say this and that, and you do
not do it ; you give your money, and you have done your duty ; you
praise one another, etc. I do not wonder at it. God has given you ties
and anchors to this earth ; you have wives and families. I, thank God,
have none of them, and am free. Now understand me. If it suit me,
I will buy slaves. I will let captured slaves go down to Egypt and not
molest them, and I will do what I like, and what God, in His mercy,
may direct me to do about domestic slaves ; but I will break the neck of
slave raids, even if it cost me my life. I will buy slaves for my army ;
for this purpose I will make soldiers against their will, to enable me to
prevent raids. I will do this in the light of day, and defy your resolu-
tions and your actions. Would my heart be broken if I was ousted
from this command ? Should I regret the eternal camel-riding, the heat,
the misery I am forced to witness, the discomforts of everything around
my domestic life ? Look at my travels in seven months. Thousands
of miles on camels, and no hope of rest for another year. You are only
called on at intervals to rely on your God ; with me I am obliged con-
tinually to do so. Find me the man and I will take him as my help
who utterly despises money, name, glory, honour; one who never wishes
to see his home again ; one who looks to God as the Source of good
and Controller of evil ; one who has a healthy body and energetic spirit,
and one who looks on death as a release from misery ; and if you cannot
find him, then leave me alone. To carry myself is enough for me ; I
want no other baggage."

Gordon's troubles were not only with English visionaries. The
Egyptian officials had always regarded the delegation of supreme
powers to him with dislike, and this sentiment became unqualified
apprehension when they saw how resolute he was in exercising them.
Ismail Pasha was disposed to place unlimited trust in his energetic
Governor-General, but he could not but be somewhat influenced by
those around him while Gordon was far away. When, therefore,
Gordon took into his own hands the power of life and death, and
sentenced men to be hanged and shot, he roused that opposition to the
highest point of activity, and received repeated remonstrances by tele-
graph from Cairo. To these he replied firmly, but quietly, that on no
other condition could the administration be carried on, and that his
authority as Viceroy would be undermined if he could not dispense
prompt justice. Notwithstanding all his representations, he never
obtained the ratification of his right to pass death sentences ; but with
that strong will that he showed in every crisis, he announced his deter-

I So The Life of Gordon.

mination to act on his own responsibility. On at least two occasions he
expresses a feeling of gratification at having caused murderers to be hung.
This is a suitable moment to lay stress on the true views Gordon
held on the subject of bloodshed. While averse to all warfare by dis-
position, and without the smallest trace of what might be called the
military spirit, General Gordon had none of that timid and unreasoning
shrinking from taking life, which is often cruel and always cowardly.
He punished the guilty without the least false compunction, even with a
death sentence, and if necessity left no choice, he would have executed
that sentence himself, provided he was quite convinced of its justice.
As a rule, he went unarmed in the Soudan, as in China; but there were
exceptions, and on at least one occasion he took an active and decisive
part in a conflict. He was being attacked by one of the tribes, and his
men were firing wildly and without result. Then Gordon snatched a
rifle from one of his men, and firing at the hostile leader, killed him.
There are at least, two other incidents that will show him m a light
that many of his admirers would keep suppressed, but that bring out his
human nature. A clumsy servant fired off his heavy duck-gun close to
his head, and Gordon very naturally gave him a smart box on the
ears which the fellow would remember for a week. Excited by the
misery of a slave-gang, he asked the boy in charge of them to whom
they belonged, and as he hesitated, he struck him across the face with
his whip. Gordon's comment on this act is that it was " cruel and
cowardly, but he was enraged, and could not help it." One feels on
reading this that one would have done so oneself, and that, after all,
Gordon was a man, and not a spiritual abstraction.

Thus ended the first eventful year of General Gordon's tenure of
the post of Governor-General of the Soudan. Some idea of the magni-
tude of the task he had performed may be gathered from the fact that
during this period he rode nearly 4000 miles on his camel through the
desert. He put before himself the solution of eight burning questions,
and by the end of 1877 he had settled five of them more or less per-
manently. He had also effected many reforms in the military and civil
branches of the administration, and had formed the nucleus of a force in
which he could put some confidence. By the people he was respected
and feared, and far more liked than he imagined. " Send us another
Governor like Gordon " was the burden of the Soudanese cry to Slatin
when the shadow of the INIahdi's power had already fallen over the land.
He had respected their religion and prejudices. When their Mahomme-
dan co-religionists had ground them down to the dust, even desecrating
their mosques by turning them into powder magazines. General Gordoii
showed them justice and merciful consideration, restored and endowed

Governor-General of the Soudan. i8i

their mosques, and exhorted them in every way to be faithful to the
observance of their religion. He was always most exact in payment
for services rendered. This became known ; and when some of the
Egyptian officials — a Pasha among others — seized camels for his service
without paying for them, the owners threw themselves on the ground,
kissing Gordon's camel's feet, told their tale, and obtained prompt
redress. What more striking testimony to his thoughtfulness for others
could be given than in the following anecdote? One of his native
lieutenants, a confirmed drunkard, but of which Gordon was ignorant,
became ill, and the Governor-General went to see and sit by him in his
tent. All the man asked for was brandy, and General Gordon, some-
what shocked at the repeated request, expostulated with him that he, a
believer in the Koran, should drink the strong waters so expressly for-
bidden by that holy book. But the man readily replied, " This is as
medicine, and the Prophet does not forbid us to save life." Gordon
said nothing, but left the tent, and some hours later he sent the man
two bottles of brandy from his own small store. Even the Soudanese,
who were afraid of him in his terrible mood, knew the many soft corners
he kept in his heart, and easily learnt the way to them. For misfortune
and suffering of every kind his sympathy was quickly won. and with his
sympathy went his support, to the utmost limit of his power.

After the campaign in Darfour, Gordon returned to Khartoum,
where he was preparing for fresh exertions, as well as for a settlement
of the Abyssinian difficulty, when a sudden and unexpected summons
reached him to come down to Cairo and help the Khedive to arrange
his financial affairs. The Khedive's telegram stated that the Egyptian
creditors were trying to interfere with his sovereign prerogative, and
that His Highness knew no one but Gordon who could assist him out
of this position. The precise date on which this telegram reached
Gordon was 25th January 1878, when he was passing Shendy — the
place on the Nile opposite Metammeh, where the British Expedition
encamped in January 1885 — but as he had to return to Khartoum to
arrange for the conduct of the administration during his absence, he
did not arrive at Dongola on his way to the capital until the 20th of
the following month. He reached Cairo on 7th March, was at once
carried off to dine with the Khedive, who had waited more than an
hour over the appointed time for him because his train was late, and,
when it was over, was conveyed to one of the finest palaces, which had
been specially prepared in his honour. The meaning of this extra-
ordinary reception was that the Khedive Ismail thought he had found
a deliverer from his own troubles in the man who had done such
wonders in the Soudan. That ruler had reached a stage in his affairs

1 82 The Life of Gordon.

when extrication was impossible, if the creditors of Egypt were to
receive their dues. He was very astute, and he probably saw that the
only chance of saving himself was for some high authority to declare
that the interests of himself and his people must be pronounced
paramount to those of the foreign investors. There was only one man
in the world likely to come to that conclusion, with a spotless reputation
and a voice to which public opinion might be expected to pay heed.
That man was Gordon. Therefore he was sent for in post haste, and
found the post of President of "An Inquiry into the State of the
Finances of the Country " thrust upon him before he had shaken off the
dust of his long journey to Cairo.

The motives which induced the Khedive to send for General
Gordon cannot be mistaken ; nor is there any obscurity as to those
which led General Gordon to accept a task in which he was bound to
run counter to the views of every other European authority, and still
more to the fixed policy of his and other Governments. In the first
place, Gordon being the servant of the Khedive, it would have been
impossible for him to have said no to a request which was entitled to
be regarded as a command. In the second place, Gordon did not
know all the currents of intrigue working between Cairo and the
capitals of Europe, and he convinced himself that a sound workable
plan for the benefit of Egypt and her people would command such
general approval that "the financial cormorants," as he termed the
bondholders, or rather their leaders, would have to retire beaten from
the field. He had no doubt that he could draw up such a plan, based
on a suspension and permanent reduction of interest, and the result
will convince any disinterested person of the fact, but Gordon was
destined to find that all persons cannot be guided by such disinterested-
ness as his, of which the way he treated his Egyptian salary furnished
such a striking instance. When sent to the Equator, he was offered
;^i 0,000 a year, and accepted ^^2000; as Governor-General, he was
nominated at ;^i 2,000 a year, and cut it down to a half; and when,
during this very Cairo visit, a new and unnecessary official was
appointed under the Soudan Administration, he insisted that his own
salary should be further reduced to ;^3ooo, to compensate for this
further charge. Such an example as this did not arouse enthusiasm
or inspire emulation in the Delta. General Gordon never dealt with
a question in which abstract justice was deemed more out of place, or
had less chance of carrying the day.

As the matter was very important, and interested persons might
easily have misrepresented his part in it, General Gordon drew up a
memorandum explaining every incident in the course of the affair.

Governor-General of the Sottdan. 183

This document was published by his brother, Sir Henry Gordon, in
1S86, and the following description merely summarises its contents.

As far back as the year 1875 the Khedive Ismail began to dis-
cover that the financial position of his Government was bad, and that
it would be impossible to keep up the payment of the interest on the
debt at the high rate of seven per cent., which Egypt had bound itself
to pay. He therefore applied to the British Government for advice
and assistance. In response to his representations, a Financial Com-
mission, composed of three members — Mr Cave, Colonel Stokes, and
Mr Rivers Wilson — was sent to Egypt for the purpose of inquiring
into the financial position of that country. They had no difficulty in
coming to the conclusion that it was unsound, and that the uneasiness
of Ismail Pasha had not been expressed a day too soon. They
recommended that an arrangement should be come to with the bond-
holders by which all the loans were to be placed on the same footing,
and the rate of interest reduced to some figure that might be agreed
upon. It then became necessary to negotiate with the bondholders,
who appointed Mr Goschen for the English section, and M. Joubert
for the French, to look after their rights. The result of their efforts
in 1876 was that they united the loans into one, bearing a uniform
rate of six per cent, instead of seven, and that four Commissioners
were appointed to look after the debt in the interests of the bond-
holders, while two other European officials were nominated — one to
control the receipts, the other the expenditure. In less than two
years Ismail Pasha discovered that this arrangement had not remedied
the evil, and that the Government was again on the verge of bank-
ruptcy. It was at this juncture that the Khedive applied to General
Gordon, in the hope that his ability and reputation would provide an
easy escape from his dilemma.

General Gordon agreed to accept the post of President of this
Commission of Inquiry, and he also fell in with the Khedive's own
wish and suggestion that the Commissioners of the Debt should not
be members of the Commission. This point must be carefully borne
in mind, as the whole negotiation failed because of the Khedive's
weakness in waiving the very point he rightly deemed vital for success.
Having laid down the only principle to which he attached importance,
the Khedive went on to say that M. de Lesseps would act in con-
junction with General Gordon, and that these two, with some vague
assistance from financial experts, were to form the Commission. It
soon became evident that M. de Lesseps had no serious views on
the subject, and that he was only too much disposed to yield to
external influences.

1 84 1^^i<^ L^f^ of Gordon.

On the very threshold of his task, which he took tip with his usual
thoroughness and honest desire to get at the truth, General Gordon
received a warning that the greatest difficulties were not those inherent
to the subject, but those arising from the selfish designs of interested
persons. As soon as it became known that General Gordon had
accepted this task, and that he had agreed to the Khedive's suggestion
that the Debt Commissioners were not to sit on the Commission, there
was a loud outburst of disapproval and dismay in diplomatic and
financial circles. This part of the story must be given in his own
words : —

"Mr Vivian, the English Consul-General, said to me, 'I wonder you
could accept the Presidency of the Commission of Inquiry without the
Commissioners of the Debt.' I said, ' I was free to accept or refuse.'

" I then called on the German Consul-General, and when there
the French and Austrian Consuls-General, and also Vivian, came in,
and attacked me for having accepted the post of President. I said
' I was free.' And then they said, ' I was risking his Highness his
throne; that he ran a very serious risk personally, if he formed the
Commission of Inquiry without the creditors' representatives, viz. the
Commissioners of the Debt.' I said, 'Why do you not tell him so?'
They said, 'You ought to do so.' I said, 'Well, will you commission
me to do so, from you, with any remarks I like to make as to the
futility of your words ? ' They all said, * Yes, we authorise you to do
so — in our names.'"

General Gordon went that evening to the Abdin Palace, where he
was engaged to dine with the Khedive ; and having asked permission to
make an important communication, saw Ismail before dinner, when
words to this effect were exchanged : —

Gordon said : " I have seen the four Consuls-General to-day, and
they told me to tell your Highness from them that you run a serious
personal risk if you have a Commission of Inquiry without the Com-
missioners of Debt being upon it."

The Khedive replied as follows : "I do not care a bit. I am only
afraid of England, and I feel sure she will not move. You will see
Lesseps to-morrow, and arrange the enquctc with him."

Encouraged by the Khedive's firmness, and fully convinced that no
good result would follow if the Debt Commissioners, who only con-
sidered the bondholders' interests, were on this inquiry, Gordon met
Lesseps the ne.Kt morning in the full expectation that business would
now be begun. The further ramifications of the intrigue, for it soon
became one, for the discomfiture and discrediting of Gordon, must be
told in his own words :

Governor-General of the Soudan. 185

" The next day Lesseps came to my Palace with Stanton (Stokes's
old Danube Secretary, now Resident-Commissioner for the British
Government Suez Canal Shares at Paris, an old friend of mine).
Lesseps began, ' We must have the Commissioners of the Debt on
the enqucfeJ

"I said, 'It is a sine qua iion that they are not to be upon it.'
Lesseps replied, ' They must be upon it.'

"Then in came Cherif Pasha (the Premier), and said, 'Are you
agreed ? ' I left Lesseps to speak, and he said, ' Yes,' at which I stared
and said, 'I fear not.' Then Lesseps and Cherif discussed it, and
Lesseps gave in, and agreed to serve on the Commission without the
Commissioners of the Debt, but with the proviso that he would ask
permission to do so from Paris. Cherif Pasha was pleased.

" But I instinctively felt old Lesseps was ratting, so I asked Cherif
to stop a moment, and said to Stanton, ' Now, see that Lesseps does not
make a mess of it. Let him say at once. Will he act without the Com-
missioners of Debt or not ? Do this for my sake ; take him into that
corner and speak to him.' Stanton did so, while I took Cherif into the
other corner, much against his will, for he thought I was a bore, raising
obstacles. I told him that Lesseps had declared before he came that
he would not act unless with the Commissioners of the Debt. Cherif
was huffed with me, and turned to Lesseps, whom Stanton had already
dosed in his corner of the room, and he and Lesseps had a close
conversation again for some time ; and then Cherif came to me and
said, ' Lesseps has accepted without the Commissioners of the Debt.'

" I disgusted Cherif as I went downstairs with him by saying, ' He
will never stick to it.'"

If Gordon was not a diplomatist, he was at least very clear-sighted.
He saw clearly through M. de Lesseps, who had no views on the
subject, and who was quite content to play the part his Government
assigned him. A few minutes after the interview described he obtained
further evidence of the hostility the projected inquiry without the Com-
missioners had aroused. He met Major Evelyn Baring, then beginning
the Egyptian career which he still pursues as Lord Cromer, who was
desirous of knowing what decision had been arrived at. On hearing
that the Commissioners were to be excluded. Major Baring remarked,
** It was unfair to the creditors," which seems to have drawn from
Gordon some angry retort. There is no doubt that at this moment
Gordon lost all control over himself, and employed personalities that
left a sore feeling behind them. That they did so in this case was, as
I am compelled to show later on, amply demonstrated in December
1883 and January 1884. The direct and immediate significance of the

1 86 The Life of Goi'don.

occurrence lay in its furnishing fresh evidence of the unanimity of
hostihty with which all the European officials in the Delta regarded the
Khedive's proposal, and his attempt to make use of General Gordon's
exceptional character and reputation. It is a reflection on no particular
individual to assert that they were all resolved that General Gordon's
appeal to the abstract sense of justice of the world should never be

The first practical proposal made was to telegraph for Mr Samuel
Laing, a trained financier, who had acted in India at the head of the
finances of that country; but General Gordon refused to do this,
because he knew that he would be held responsible for the terms he
came on ; and instead he drew up several propositions, one of them
being that the services of Mr Laing should be secured on conditions to
be fixed by the Khedive. During this discussion, it should be noted,
Lesseps paid no attention to business, talking of trivial and extraneous
matters. Then Gordon, with the view of clinching the matter, said :

" There are two questions to decide :

"i7>j7. How to alleviate the present sufferings of the unpaid civil
employes and of the army, as well as the pressing claims of the
floating debt.

" Second, And afterwards to inquire into the real state of the revenue
by a Commission."

This was the exact opposite of the bondholders' view, for the settle-
ment of the grievances of the public and military service and of the
floating debt would i/ieii have left nothing for the payment of the
coupons on the permanent external debt of a hundred millions. In
fact. General Gordon boldly suggested that the funds immediately
wanted must be provided by the non-payment of the next coupon due.

It is impossible to resist the conclusion that if General Gordon had
had his way, the Arabi revolt would have been averted ; the Khedive
Ismail, the ablest member of his house, would not have been deposed ;
and an English occupation of Egypt, hampered by financial and diplomatic
shackles that neutralise the value of its temporary possession, need never
have been undertaken. But dis aliter visum. It is equally impossible
to resist the conclusion that the forces arrayed against Gordon on this
occasion were such as he could not expect to conquer.

The concluding scenes of the aflair need only be briefly described.
M. de Lesseps had never swerved from his original purpose to refer the
matter to Paris, but even Gordon was not prepared for the duplicity he
showed in the matter, and in which he was no doubt encouraged by the
prevalent feeling among the foreigners at Cairo. The first point in all
tortuous diplomacy, Eastern or Western, is to gain time; and when

Governor-General of the Soudan. 187

General Gordon, intent on business, called on Lesseps the next day —
that is to say, two days after his arrival from Khartoum — the French
engineer met him with the smiling observation that he was off for a day
in the country, and that he had just sent a telegram to Paris. He
handed Gordon a copy, which was to this effect : " His Highness the
Khedive has begged me to join with M. Gordon and the Commissioners

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 21 of 40)