Copyright
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 22 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 22 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


of the Debt in making an inquiry into the iinances of Egypt ; I ask
permission." Gordon's astonished ejaculation " This will never do " was
met with the light-hearted Frenchman's remark, "I must go, and it must
go."

Then General Gordon hastened with the news and the draft of the
telegram to the Khedive. The copy was sent in to Ismail Pasha in his
private apartments. On mastering its contents, he rushed out, threw
himself on a sofa, and exclaimed, " I am quite upset by this telegram of
Lesseps; some one must go after him and tell him not to send it."
Then turning to Gordon, he said, " I put the whole affair into your
hands." Gordon, anxious to help the Khedive, and also hoping to find
an ally out of Egypt, telegraphed at great length to Mr Goschen, in
accordance with the Khedive's suggestion. Unfortunately, Mr Goschen
replied with equal brevity and authority, " I will not look at you ; the
matter is in the hands of Her Majesty's Government." When we
remember that Gordon was the properly-appointed representative of an
independent Prince, or at least of a Prince independent of England, we
cannot wonder at his terming this a "rude answer." Mr Goschen may
have had some after-qualms himself, for he telegraphed some days later
in a milder tone, but Gordon would not take an affront from any man,
and left it unanswered.

At this crisis Gordon, nothing daunted, made a proposal which, if
the Khedive had had the courage to carry it out, might have left the
victory with them. He proposed to the Khedive to issue a decree
suspending the payment of the coupon, paying all pressing claims, and
stating that he did all this on the advice of Gordon. Failing that,
Gordon offered to telegraph himself to Lord Derby, the Foreign Secre-
tary, and accept the full responsibility for the measure. Ismail was not
equal to the occasion. He shut himself up in his harem for two days,
and, as Gordon said, " the game was lost."

General Gordon was now to experience the illimitable extent of
human ingratitude. Even those who disagreed with the views he
expressed on this subject cannot deny his loyalty to the Khedive, or
the magnitude of the efforts he made on his behalf. To carry out the
wishes of the Prince in whose service he was for the time being, he was
prepared to accept every responsibility, and to show an unswerving



1 88 The Life of Gordon.

devotion in a way that excited the opposition and hostihtyeven of those
whom he might otherwise have termed his friends and well-wishers.
By an extreme expedient, which would either have ruined himself or
thwarted the plans of powerful statesmen, and financiers not less power-
ful, he would have sealed his devotion to Ismail Pasha ; but the moral or
physical weakness of the Oriental prevented the attempt being made.
The delay mentioned allowed of fresh pressure being brought to bear
on the Khedive ; and while Gordon emphatically declared, partly from
a sense of consistency, and partly because he hoped to stiffen the
Khedive's resolution that he would not act with the Debt Commissioners
on the Inquiry, Ismail Pasha was coerced or induced into surrendering
all he had been fighting for. He gave his assent to the Commissioners
being on the Inquiry, and he turned his back on the man who had
come from the heart of Africa to his assistance. When Gordon learnt
these facts, he resolved to return to the Soudan, and he was allowed to
do so without the least mark of honour or word of thanks from the
Khedive. His financial episode cost him ;/^8oo out of his own pocket,
and even if we consider that the financial situation in the Delta, with
all its cross-currents of shady intrigue and selfish designs, was one that
he was not quite qualified to deal with, we cannot dispute that his pro-
positions were full of all his habitual nobility of purpose, and that they
were practical, if they could ever have been put into effect.

This incident serves to bring out some of the limitations of Gordon's
ability. His own convictions, strengthened by the solitary life he had
led for years in the Soudan, did not make him well adapted for any
form of diplomacy. His methods were too simple, and his remedies
too exclusively based on a radical treatment, to suit every complaint in
a complicated state of society ; nor is it possible for the majority of men
to be influenced by his extraordinary self-abnegation and disregard for
money. During this very mission he boasted that he was able to get
to bed at eight o'clock, because he never dined out, and that he did not
care at everyone laughing at him, and saying he was in the sulks. This
mode of living was due, not to any peculiarity about General Gordon —
although I trace to this period the opinion that he was mad — but mainly
to his honest wish not to be biassed by any European's judgment,
and to be able to give the Khedive absolutely independent advice, as if
he himself were an Egyptian, speaking and acting for Egypt. Enough
has been said to explain why he failed to accomplish a really impossible
task. Nor is it necessary to assume that because they differed from
him and strenuously opposed his project, the other Englishmen in
autliority in the Delta were influenced by any unworthy motives or
pursued a policy that was either reprehensible or unsound.



Governor-General of the Soitdan. 189

From this uncongenial task General Gordon returned to the work
which he thoroughly understood, and with regard to which he had to
apprehend no serious outside interference, for the attraction of the
flesh-pots of Egypt did not extend into the Soudan. Still, he felt that
his "outspokenness," as he termed it, had not strengthened his position.
He travelled on this occasion by the Red Sea route to Aden, thence to
Zeila, with the view of inspecting Harrar, which formed part of his
extensive Government. During this tour Gordon saw much that dis-
quieted him — a large strip of country held by fanatical Mahommedans,
the slave trade in unchecked progress where he had not thought it to
exist — and he wrote these memorable words : " Our English Govern-
ment lives on a hand-to-mouth policy. They are very ignorant of these
lands, yet some day or other they or some other Government will have
to know them, for things at Cairo cannot stay as they are. His High-
ness will be curbed in, and will no longer be absolute sovereign ; then
will come the question of these countries."

At Harrar, Gordon dismissed the Governor Raouf, whom he describes
as a regular tyrant, but who, none the less for his misdeeds, was pro-
claimed Governor-General of the Soudan when Gordon left it less than
two years after this visit to Harrar. \Vhen this affair was settled,
General Gordon proceeded via Massowah and Souakim to Khartoum,
where he arrived about the middle of June. On his way he had
felt bound to remove eight high military officers from their commands
for various offences, from which may be gathered some idea of the
colleagues on whom he had to depend. He reached Khartoum not
a moment too soon, for the first news that greeted him was that
Suleiman had broken out in open revolt, and was practically master
of the Province of Bahr Gazelle, which lies between Darfour and
the Equatorial Province.

But before describing the steps he took to suppress this formid-
able revolt, which resembled the rising under the Mahdi in every
point except its non-religious character, some notice may be given
of the financial difficulties with which he had to cope, and which
were much increased by the Khedive's practice of giving appoint-
ments in a promiscuous manner that were to be chargeable on the
scanty and inadequate revenues of the Soudan.

In the year 1877 the expenditure of the Soudan exceeded the revenue
by over a quarter of a million sterling; in 1S7S Gordon had reduced
this deficit to ;^7o,ooo. In the return given by the Khedive of his
resources when foreign intervention first took place, it was stated that
the Soudan furnished a tribute of ;j^i43,ooo. This was untrue; it
had always been a drain on the Cairo exchequer until in 1S79 General



TQO The Life of Gordon.

Gordon had the satisfaction, by reducing expenditure in every possible
direction and abolishing sinecures, of securing an exact balance. The
most formidable adversary Gordon had to meet in the course of this
financial struggle was the Khedive himself, and it was only by sustained
effort that he succeeded in averting the imposition of various expenses
on his shoulders which would have rendered success impossible.
First it was two steamers, which would have cost ;^2o,ooo ; then it
was the so-called Soudan railway, with a liability of not less than three
quarters of a million with which the Khedive wished to saddle the
Soudan, but Gordon would have neither, and his firmness carried the
day. When the Cairo authorities, in want of money, claimed that the
Soudan owed ;^3o,ooo, he went into the items, and showed that, instead,
Cairo owed it ;^9ooo. He never got it, but by this he proved that,
while he was the servant of the Khedive, he would not be subservient
to him in matters that affected the successful discharge of his task as
that Prince's deputy in the Soudan.

We must now return to the revolt of Suleiman, the most serious
military peril Gordon had to deal with in Africa, which was in its
main features similar to the later uprising under the Mahdi. At the
first collision with that young leader of the slave-dealers, Gordon had
triumphed by his quickness and daring ; but he had seen that Suleiman
was not thoroughly cowed, and he had warned him that if he revolted
again the result would inevitably be his ruin. Suleiman had not taken
the warning to heart, and was now in open revolt. His most power-
ful supporters were the Arab colonies, long settled in interior Africa,
who, proud of their descent, were always willing to take part against
the Turco-Egyptian Government. These men rallied to a certain
extent to Suleiman, just as some years later they attached themselves to
the Mahdi. As General Gordon wrote in 1878: "They were ready,
and are still ready, to seize the first chance of shaking off the yoke
of Egypt." It was during Gordon's absence at Cairo that Suleiman's
plans matured, and he began the campaign by seizing the province of
Bahr Gazelle. Immediately on receiving this intelligence. General
Gordon fitted out an expedition ; and as he could not take the
command himself, he intrusted it to his best lieutenant, Romolo
Gessi, an Italian of proved merit.

Natural difficulties retarded the advance of the expedition. Heavy
floods kept Gessi confined in his camp during three months, and the
lukewarm supporters of the Government regarded this inaction as
proof of inferiority. They consequently rallied to Suleiman, who soon
found himself at the head of a force of 6000 men, while Gessi had
only 300 regulars, two cannon, and 700 almost useless irregulars.



Governor-General of the Soudan. 191

It was as difficult for him to let the Governor-General know that he
needed reinforcements as it was for General Gordon to send them.
Some of his subordinates, in command of outlying detachments, refused
to obey his summons, preferring to carry on a little slave- hunting on
their own account. His troops were on the verge of mutiny : he had
to shoot one ringleader with his own hand.

At last the floods fell, and he began his forward movement, fighting
his way against detached bodies of slave-hunters, but after each success
receiving the welcome of the unfortunate natives, of whom Suleiman had
consigned not fewer than 10,000 in the six previous months to slavery.
At last Gessi was himself compelled to halt at a place called Dem Idris,
fifty miles north of the fort which Suleiman had constructed for his
final stand, and named after himself. These places are about 200
miles south of both Dara and Shaka, while between them runs the con-
siderable stream called Bahr Arab. Gessi was now in close proximity
to the main force under Suleiman, but he had to halt for five months
before he felt in any way equal to the task of attacking it. During
that period he had to stand on the defensive, and sustain several
attacks from Suleiman, who had made all his plans for invading
Darfour, and adding that province to the Bahr Gazelle.

The first of these engagements was that fought on 28th December
1878, when Suleiman, at the head of 10,000 men, attacked Gessi's
camp at Dem Idris. Fortunately, he had neglected no precaution,
and his regulars, supported by a strong force of friendly natives, nobly
seconded his efforts. Suleiman's force was repulsed in four assaults, and
had to retire with a loss of 1000 men. Cut Gessi's difficulties were
far from removed by this victory. Suleiman's losses were easily repaired,
while those of Gessi could not be replaced. His men were also
suffering from fever, and the strain on himself, through the absence
of any subordinates to assist him, was terrible. It was a relief to
him when Suleiman delivered his second attack, fifteen days after the
first. On this occasion Suleiman appealed to the religious fanaticism
of his followers, and made them swear on the Koran to conquer or
die] and the black troops, as the less trustworthy, were placed in the
van of battle and driven to the assault by the Arabs. Gessi made
an excellent disposition of his troops, repulsing the two main attacks
with heavy loss ; and when the attack was resumed the next day, his
success was equally complete. Unfortunately, Gessi was unable to
follow up this advantage, because his powder was almost exhausted,
and his men were reduced to pick up bullets from the field of combat.
Tidings of his position reached Suleiman, who made a final attack
on the 28th of January 1879, but owing to the fortunate arrival of a



192 The Life of Gordon.

small supply of powder, Gessi was able to fight and win another
battle.

It was not until the nth March, however, that Gessi received a
sufficient supply of ammunition to enable him to assume the offensive.
Suleiman's camp or fort was a strongly barricaded enclosure, surrounded
by a double row of trunks of trees. The centre of the enclosure was
occupied by an inner fort, which was Suleiman's own residence. On
Gessi attacking it, his first shell set fire to one of the huts, and as the
wood was dry, the whole encampment was soon in a blaze. Driven to
desperation, the brigands sallied forth, only to be driven back by the
steady fire of Gessi's troops, who by this time were full of confidence in
their leader. Then the former broke into flight, escaping wherever
they could. Suleiman was among those who escaped, although eleven
of his chiefs were slain, and the unfortunate exhaustion of Gessi's
powder again provided him with the respite to rally his followers and
make another bid for power.

This further period of enforced inaction terminated at the end of
April, when the arrival of a full supply of powder and cartridges
enabled Gessi to take the field for the last time. On the ist May the
Egyptian commander started to attack the slave robber in his last
stronghold, Dem Suleiman. Three days later he fought the first of
these final battles outside that fort, and succeeded in cutting off the
retreat of the vanquished Arabs into that place of shelter. He then
broke into the fort itself, where there were only a few men, and he
almost succeeded in capturing Suleiman, who fled through one gate as
Gessi entered by another. Thanks to the fleetness of his horse, Sulei-
man succeeded in making good his escape. Before his hurried flight
Suleiman murdered four prisoners sooner than allow of their recapture,
and throughout the long pursuit that now began all slaves or black
troops who could not keep up were killed. These were not the only
crimes perpetrated by these brigands. Superstition, or the mere
pleasure of cruelty, had induced them when their fortunes were getting
low to consecrate a new banner by bathing it in the blood of a
murdered child. For these iniquities the hour of expiation had now
arrived.

After the capture of Dem Suleiman, Gessi began a pursuit which,
considering the difficulties of the route owing to heavy rain, topographical
ignorance, and the deficiency of supplies, may be characterised as
remarkable. Gessi took with him only 600 men, armed with Remington
rifles ; but they could carry no more than three or four days' provisions,
which were exhausted before he came up with even the rearmost of the
fugitive Arabs. There the troops turned sulky, and it was only by



Governor-General of the Soudan. 193

promising them as spoil everything taken that he restored them to
something hke good temper. Six days after the start Gessi over-
whelmed one band under Abou Sammat, one of the most active of the
slave-hunters, and learnt that Suleiman himself was only twenty-four
hours ahead. But the difficulties were such that Gessi was almost
reduced to despair of the capture of that leader, and as long
as he remained at large the rebellion could not be considered
suppressed.

Fortune played the game into his hand at the very moment that the
result seemed hopeless. In the middle of the night several men came
to his camp from Sultan Idris, one of the Arab chiefs, thinking it was
that of Rabi, the chief of Suleiman's lieutenants. Gessi sent one of
them back to invite him to approach, and at once laid his own plans.
He resolved to destroy Rabi's force, which lay encamped close by,
before the other band could come up ; and by a sudden assault at day-
break he succeeded in his object. The whole band was exterminated,
with the exception of Rabi himself, who escaped on a fast horse.
Then Gessi laid his ambuscade for Sultan Idris, who marched into the
trap prepared for him. This band also was nearly annihilated, but
Sultan Idris escaped, leaving, however, an immense spoil, which put
the Egyptian soldiers in good humour. For the disposal of this booty,
and for other reasons, Gessi resolved to return to Dem Suleiman.

At this point it was alone possible to criticise the action of the
energetic Gessi during the whole course of the campaign, and General
Gordon no doubt thought that if he had paid no attention to the spoil
captured from Rabi and Sultan Idris, but pressed the pursuit against
Suleiman, he might then and there have concluded the campaign. On
the other hand, it is only fair to state that Gessi had to consider the
sentiment of his own troops, Avhile he was also ill from the mental strain
and physical exertion of conducting the campaign virtually by himself.
The spoil, moreover, did not benefit him in the least. It went into the
coffers of the Government, or the pockets of the soldiers, not into his.
So little reward did he receive that Gordon intended at first to give
him ;^iooo out of his own pocket, and eventually found himself able
to increase it to a sum of ^2000 out of the Soudan exchequer.

But Suleiman was still at large, and the slave-dealers were fully
determined to preserve their profitable monopoly, if by any means they
could baffle the Government. The Egyptian officials were also inclined
to assist their efforts, and while Gessi was recovering his strength, he
had the mortification of seeing the fruits of his earlier success lost by
the inaction or more culpable proceedings of his lieutenants. It was
not until July 1879 that Gessi felt able to take the field in person, and

N



i94 '^^^^ Life of Gordon.

then with less than 300 men, while Suleiman's band alone numbered
900. But there was no time to wait for reinforcements if Suleiman,
who had advanced to within a short distance of Gessi's camp, was to be
captured. Owing to the promptitude of his measures, Gessi came up with
Suleiman in three days' time at the village of Gara, which he reached
at daybreak on i6th of July. His measures were prompt and decisive.
Concealing his troops in a wood, so that the smallness of their numbers
might not be detected, he sent in a summons to Suleiman to surrender
within ten minutes. Surprised, and ignorant of the strength of the
Egyptian force, he and his followers agreed to lay down their arms ; but
when Suleiman saw the mere handful of men to whom he had yielded,
he burst out crying. The situation suggested to him the hope of escape.
Gessi learnt that when night came Suleiman and his men had arranged
to break their way through. He therefore resolved to anticipate them.
He held in his hands the ringleaders of the rebellion. If they escaped,
all his work was lost; a summary act of justice would conclude the
affair, and secure the Government against fresh attacks for a long time.
To use his own words, Gessi " saw that the time had come to have done
with these people once for all."

He divided the captives into three bands. The first, composed of
the black soldiers, little better than slaves, he released on the condition
that they left at once and promised to settle down to a peaceful life.
This they agreed to joyfully. Having got rid of these, the larger
number of Suleiman's band, he seized the smaller body of slave-dealers
— 157 in number — and having chained them, sent them under a guard
as prisoners to his own camp. Then he seized Suleiman and ten of his
chief supporters, and shot them on the spot. Thus perished Suleiman,
the son of Zebehr, in whose name and for whose safety he had gone
into revolt, in the very way that Gordon had predicted two years
before in the midst of his brigand power at Shaka ; and thus, with
a remarkable combination of skill and courage, did Gessi bring his
arduous campaign of twelve months' duration to a victorious
conclusion.

Although the credit of these successful operations was entirely due
to Gessi, it must not be supposed that General Gordon took no part in
controlling them ; but, for the sake of clearness, it seemed advisable to
narrate the history of the campaign against Suleiman without a break.
Early in 1879, when Gessi, after obtaining some successes, had been
reduced to inaction from the want of ammunition, Gordon's anxiety
became so great on his account that he determined to assume the com-
mand in person. His main object was to afford relief to Gessi by
taking the field in Darfour, and putting down the rebels in that province








»7_^



Governoi^-General of the Soudan. 195

who were on the point of throwing in their lot with Suleiman. Gordon
determined therefore to march on Shaka, the old headquarters of Zebehr
and his son. On his march he rescued several slave caravans, but he
saw that the suppression of the slave trade was not popular, and the
contradictory character of the law and his instructions placed him in
much embarrassment. Still, he saw clearly that Darfour was the true
heart of the slave trade, as the supply from Inner Africa had to pass
through it to Egypt, and he thought that a solution might be found for the
difficulty by requiring every one of the inhabitants to have a permission
of residence, and every traveller a passport for himself and his followers.
But neither time nor the conditions of his post allowed of his carrying
out this suggestion. It remains, however, a simple practical measure
to be borne in mind when the solution of the slave difficulty is taken
finally in hand by a Government in earnest on the subject, and powerful
enough to see its orders enforced.

General Gordon reached Shaka on 7th April, and at once issued a
notice to the slave-dealers to quit that advantageous station. He also
sent forward reinforcements of men and stores to Gessi, but in a few
days they returned, with a message from Gessi that he had received
enough powder from his own base on the Nile to renew the attack on
Suleiman. Within one week of Gordon's arrival not a slave-dealer
remained in Shaka, and when envoys arrived from Suleiman, bearing
protestations that he had never been hostile to the Egyptian Govern-
ment, he promptly arrested them and sent them for trial by court-
martial. Their guilt as conspirers against the Khedive was easily
proved, and they were shot. Their fate was fully deserved, but Gordon
would have spared their -lives if Suleiman had not himself slain so
many hostages and helpless captives.

Gordon's final operations for the suppression of the slave trade in
Darfour, carried on while Gessi was engaged in his last struggle with
Suleiman, resulted in the release of several thousand slaves, and the
dispersal and disarmament of nearly 500 slave-dealers. In one week
he rescued as many as 500 slaves, and he began to feel, as he said, that
he had at last reached the heart of the evil.

But while these final successes were being achieved, he was recalled
by telegraph to Cairo, where events had reached a crisis, and the days



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 22 of 40)