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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of Ismail as Khedive were numbered. It may have been the instinct
of despair that led that Prince to appeal again to Gordon, but the
Darfour rebellion was too grave to allow of his departure before it had
been suppressed ; and on the ist July he received a telegram from the
Minister Cherif, calling on him to proclaim throughout the Soudan
Tewfik Pasha as Khedive. The change did not affect him in the least,

196 The Life of Gordon,

he wrote, for not merely had liis personal feeHngs towards Ismail
changed after he threw him over at Cairo, but he had found out the
futility of writing to him on any subject connected with the Soudan,
and with this knowledge had come a feeling of personal indifference.

On his return to Khartoum, he received tidings of the execution of
Suleiman, and also of the death of the Darfourian Sultan, Haroun, so
that he felt justified in assuming that complete tranquillity had settled
down on the scene of war. The subsequent capture and execution of
Abdulgassin proved this view to be well founded, for, with the exception
of Rabi, who escaped to Borgu, he was the last of Zebehr's chief lieu-
tenants. The shot that killed that brigand, the very man who shed the
child's blood to consecrate the standard, was the last fired under
Gordon's orders in the Soudan. If the slave trade was then not
absolutely dead, it was doomed so long as the Egyptian authorities
pursued an active repressive policy such as their great English repre-
sentative had enforced. The military confederacy of Zebehr, which had
at one time alarmed the Khedive in his palace at Cairo, had been
broken up. The authority of the Khartoum Governor-General had
been made supreme. As Gordon said, on travelling down from Khar-
toum in August 1879, " Not a man could lift his hand without my leave
throughout the whole extent of the Soudan."

General Gordon reached Cairo on 23rd August, with the full
intention of retiring from the Egyptian service; but before he could do
so there remained the still unsolved Abyssinian difficulty, which had
formed part of his original mission. He therefore yielded to the
request of the Khedive to proceed on a special mission to the Court of
King John, then ruling that inaccessible and mysterious kingdom, and
one week after his arrival at Cairo he was steaming down the Red Sea
to Massowah. His instructions were contained in a letter from Tewfik
Pasha to himself. After proclaiming his pacific intentions, the Khedive
exhorted him " to maintain the rights of Egypt, to preserve intact the
frontiers of the State, without being compelled to make any restitution to
Abyssinia, and to prevent henceforth every encroachment or other act
of aggression in the interests of both countries."

In order to explain the exact position of affairs in Abyssinia at this
period, a brief summary must be given of events between Gordon's first
overtures to King John in March 1877, and his taking up the matter
finally in August 1879. As explained at the beginning of this chapter,
those overtures came to nothing, because King John was called away to
engage in hostilities with Menelik, King of Shoa, and now himself
Negus, or Emperor of Abyssinia. In the autumn of the earlier year
King John wrote Gordon a very civil letter, calling him a Christian and

Governor-General of the Sondan. 197

a brother, but containing nothing definite, and ending with the assertion
that "all the world knows the Abyssinian frontier." Soon after this
Walad el Michael recommenced his raids on the border, and when he
obtained some success, which he owed to the assistance of one of
Gordon's own subordinates, given while Gordon was making himself
responsible for his good conduct, he was congratulated by the Egyptian
War Minister, and urged to prosecute the conquest of Abyssinia. In-
stead of attempting the impossible, he very wisely came to terms with
King John, who, influenced perhaps by Gordon's advice, or more
probably by his own necessities through the war with INIenelik, accepted
Michael's promises to respect the frontier. Michael went to the King's
camp to make his submission in due form, and in the spring of 1879
it became known that he and the Abyssinian General (Ras Alula)
were planning an invasion of fCgyptian territory. Fortunately King
John was more peacefully disposed, and still seemed anxious to come
to an arrangement with General Gordon.

In January 1879 the King wrote Gordon a letter, saying that he
hoped to see him soon, and he also sent an envoy to discuss matters.
The Abyssinian stated very clearly that his master would not treat with
the Khedive, on account of the way he had subjected his envoys at
Cairo to insult and injury ; but that he would negotiate with Gordon,
whom he persisted in styling the " Sultan of the Soudan." King John
wanted a port, the restoration of Bogos, and an Abouna or Coptic
Archbishop from Alexandria, to crown him in full accordance with
Abyssinian ritual. Gordon replied a port was impossible, but that he
should have a Consul and facilities for traffic at Massowah ; that the
territory claimed was of no value, and that he certainly should have an
Abouna. He also undertook to do his best to induce the British
Government to restore to King John the crown of King Theodore,
which had been carried off after the fall of Magdala. The envoy then
returned to Abyssinia, and nothing further took place until Gordon's
departure for Massowah in August, when the rumoured plans of Michael
and Ras Alula were causing some alarm.

On reaching Massowah on 6th September, Gordon found that the
Abyssinians were in virtual possession of Bogos, and that if the Egyptian
claims were to be asserted, it would be necessary to retake it. The
situation had, however, been slightly improved by the downfall of
Michael, whose treachery and covert hostility towards General Gordon
would probably have led to an act of violence. But he and Ras Alula
had had some quarrel, and the Abyssinian General had seized the
occasion to send INIichael and his officers as prisoners to the camp of
King John. The chief obstacle to a satisfactory arrangement being

198 The Life of Gordon.

thus removed, General Gordon hastened to have an interview with Ras
Alula, and with this intention crossed the Abyssinian frontier, and pro-
ceeded to his camp at Gura. After an interview and the presentation of
the Khedive's letter and his credentials, Gordon found that he was
practically a prisoner, and that nothing could be accomplished save by
direct negotiation with King John. He therefore offered to go to his
capital at Debra Tabor, near Gondar, if Ras Alula would promise to
refrain from attacking Egypt during his absence. This promise was
promptly given, and in a few days it was expanded into an armistice for
four months.

After six weeks' journey accomplished on mules, and by the worst
roads in the country, as Ras Alula had expressly ordered, so that the
inaccessibility of the country might be made more evident, General
Gordon reached Debra Tabor on 27th October. He was at once re-
ceived by King John, but this first reception was of only a brief and
formal character. Two days later the chief audience was given at
daybreak. King John reciting his wrongs, and Gordon referring him to
the Khedive's letters, which had not been read. After looking at them,
the King burst out with a list of demands, culminating in the sum of
^2,000,000 or the port of Massowah. When he had finished, Gordon
asked him to put these demands on paper, to sign them with his seal, and
to give the Khedive six months to consider them and make a reply.
This King John promised to do on his return from some baths, whither
he was proceeding for the sake of his health.

After a week's absence the King returned, and the negotiations were
resumed. But the King would not draw up his demands, which he
realised were excessive, and when he found that Gordon remained firm
in his intention to uphold the rights of the Khedive, the Abyssinian
became offended and rude, and told Gordon to go. Gordon did not
require to be told this twice, and an hour afterwards had begun his
march, intending to proceed by Galabat to Khartoum. A messenger
was sent after him. with a letter from the King to the Khedive, which on
translating read as follows : " I have received the letters you sent me by
that man (a term of contempt). I will not make a secret peace with
you. If you want peace, ask the Sultans of Europe." With a potentate
so vague and so exacting it was impossible to attain any satisfactory result,
and therefore Gordon was not sorry to depart. After nearly a fortnight's
traveUing, he and his small party had reached the very borders of the
vSoudan, their Abyssinian escort having returned, when a band of
Abyssinians, owning allegiance to Ras Arya, swooped down on them,
and carried them off to the village of that chief, who was the King's

Govej'jior- General of the Soudan. 199

The motive of this step is not clear, for Ras Arya declared that he
was at feud with the King, and that he would willingly help the
Egyptians to conquer the country. He however went on to explain
that the seizure of Gordon's party was due to the King's order that it
should not be allowed to return to Egypt by any other route than that
through Massowah.

Unfortunately, the step seemed so full of menace that as a precaution
Gordon felt compelled to destroy the private journal he had kept during
his visit, as well as some valuable maps and plans. After leaving the
district of this prince, Gordon and his small party had to make their
way as best they could to get out of the country, only making their way
at all by a lavish payment of money — this journey alone costing ^£1^00
— and by submitting to be bullied and insulted by every one with the least
shadow of authority. At last Massowah was reached in safety, and
every one was glad, because reports had become rife as to King John's
changed attitude towards Gordon, and the danger to which he was
exposed. But the Khedive was too much occupied to attend to
these matters, or to comply with Gordon's request to send a regiment
and a man-of-war to Massowah, as soon as the Abyssinian despot made
him to all intents and purposes a prisoner. The neglect to make that
demonstration not only increased the very considerable personal danger
in which Gordon was placed during the whole of his mission, but it
also exposed Massowah to the risk of capture if the Abyssinians had
resolved to attack it.

The impressions General Gordon formed of the country were
extremely unfavourable. The King was cruel and avaricious beyond all
belief, and in his opinion fast going mad. The country was far less ad-
vanced than he had thought. The people were greedy, unattractive, and
quarrelsome. But he detected their military qualities, and some of the
merits of their organisation. "They are," he wrote, "a race of warriors,
hardy, and, though utterly undisciplined, religious fanatics. I have seen
many peoples, but I never met with a more fierce, savage set than these.
The King said he could beat united Europe, except Russia."

The closing incidents of Gordon's tenure of the post of Governor-
General of the Soudan have now to be given, and they were not
characterised by that spirit of justice, to say nothing of generosity,
which his splendid services and complete loyalty to the Khedive's
Government demanded. During his mission into Abyssinia his natural
demands for support were completely ignored, and he was left to what-
ever fate might befall him. When he succeeded in extricating himself
from that perilous position, he found that the Khedive was so annoyed
at his inability to exact from his truculent neighbour a treaty without

2 CO The Life of Gordon.

any accompanying concessions, that he paid no attention to him, and
seized the opportunity to hasten the close of his appointment by wil-
fully perverting the sense of several confidential suggestions made to his
Government. The plain explanation of these miserable intrigues was
that the official class at Cairo, seeing that Gordon had alienated the
sympathy and support of the British Foreign Office and its representa-
tives by his staunch and outspoken defence of Ismail in 187S, realised
that the moment had come to terminate his, to them, always hateful
Dictatorship in the Soudan. While the Cairo papers were allowed to
couple the term " mad " with his name, the Ministers went so far as to
denounce his propositions as inconsistent. One of these Ministers had
been Gordon's enemy for years ; another had been banished by him
from Khartoum for cruelty ; they were one and all sympathetic to the
very order of things which Gordon had destroyed, and which, as long
as he retained power, would never be revived. What wonder that they
should snatch the favourable opportunity of precipitating the downfall
of the man they had so long feared ! But it was neither creditable nor
politic for the representatives of England to stand by while these
schemes were executed to the detraction of the man who had then
given six years' disinterested and laborious effort to the regeneration of
the Soudan and the suppression of the slave trade.

When Gordon discovered that his secret representations, sent in
cipher for the information of the Government, were given to the Press
w'ith a perverted meaning and hostile criticism, he hastened to Cairo.
He requested an immediate interview with Tewfik, who excused himself
for what had been done by his INIinisters on the ground of his youth ;
but General Gordon read the whole situation at a glance, and at once
sent in his resignation, which was accepted. It is not probable that,
under any circumstances, he would have been induced to return
to the Soudan, where his work seemed done, but he certainly was
willing to make another attempt to settle the Abyssinian difficulty.
Without the Khedive's support, and looked at askance by his own
countrymen in the Delta, called mad on this side and denounced as
inconsistent on the other, no good result could have ensued, and
therefore he turned his back on the scene of his long labours without
a sigh, and this time even without regret.

The state of his health was such that rest, change of scene, and the
discontinuance of all mental effort were imperatively necessary, in the
opinion of his doctor, if a complete collapse of mental and physical power
was to be avoided. He was quite a wreck, and was showing all the
effects of protracted labour, the climate, and improper food. Humanly
speaking, his departure from Egypt was only made in time to save his

Governor-General of the Soudan. 201

life, and therefore there was some compensation in the fact that it was
hastened by official jealousy and animosity.

But it seems very extraordinary that, considering the magnitude of
the task he had performed single-handed in the Soudan, and the way
he had done it with a complete disregard of all selfish interest, he
should have been allowed to lay down his appointment without any
manifestation of honour or respect from those he had served so long
and so well. Nor wr.s this indifference confined to Egyptians. It was
reflected among the English and other European officials, who pro-
nounced Gordon unpractical and peculiar, while in their hearts they
only feared his candour and bluntness. But even public opinion at
home, as *"eflected in the Press, seemed singularly blind to the fresh
claim he had established on the admiration of the world. His China
camprjgns had earned him ungrudging praise, and a fame which, but for
his own diffidence, would have carried him to the highest positions in
the British army. But his achievements in the Soudan, not less
remarkable in themselves, and obtained with far less help from others
than his triumph over the Taepings, roused no enthusiasm, and received
but scanty notice. The explanation of this difference is not far to seek,
and reveals the baser side of human nature. In Egypt he had hurt
many susceptibilities, and criticised the existing order of things. His
propositions were drastic, and based on the exclusion of a costly
European regime and the substitution of a native administration. Even
his mode of suppressing the slave trade had been as original as it was
fearless. Exeter Hall could not resound with cheers for a man who
declared that he had bought slaves himself, and recognised the rights of
others in what are called human chattels, even although that man had
done more than any individual or any government to kill the slave
trade at its root. It was not until his remarkable mission to Khartoum,
only four years after iie left Egypt, that public opinion woke up to a
sense of all he had done before, and realised, in its full extent, the
magnitude and the splendour of his work as Governor-General of the



General Gordon arrived in London at the end of January 1880 —
having Hngered on his home journey in order to visit Rome — resolved
as far as he possibly could to take that period of rest which he had
thoroughly earned, and which he so much needed. But during these
last few years of his life he was to discover that the world would not
leave him undisturbed in the tranquillity he desired and sought. Every-
one wished to see him usefully and prominently employed for his
country's good, and offers, suitable and not suitable to his character
and genius, were either made to him direct, or put forward in the
public Press as suggestions for the utilization of his experience and
energy in the treatment of various burning questions. His numerous
friends also wished to do him honour, and he found himself threatened
with being drawn into the vortex of London Society, for which he had
little inclination, and, at that time, not even the strength and health.

After this incident he left London on 29th February for Switzer-
land, where he took up his residence at Lausanne, visiting eft route
at Brussels, Mr, afterwards Lord, Vivian, then Minister at the Belgian
Court, who had been Consul-General in Egypt during the financial
crisis episode. It is pleasant to find that that passage had, in this
case, left no ill-feeling behind it on either side, and that Gordon
promised to think over the advice Mrs Vivian gave him to get married
while he was staying at the Legation. His reply must not be taken as
of any serious import, and was meant to turn the subject. About the
same time he wrote in a private letter, " Wives ! wives ! what a trial you
are to your husbands ! From my experience married men have more
or less a cowed look." '

It was on this occasion that Gordon was first brought into contact
with the King of the Belgians, and had his attention drawn to the
prospect of suppressing the slave trade from the side of the Congo,
somewhat analogous to his own project of crushing it from Zanzibar.
The following unpublished letter gives an amusing account of the
circumstances under which he first met King Leopold : —

Minor Missions — India and China. 203

"Hotel de Belle- Vue, Bruxelles,
" Tuesday, ind March 1880.

"I arrived here yesterday at 6 p.m., and found my baggage had not
come on when I got to the hotel (having given orders about my boxes
which were to arrive to-day at 9 a.m.). I found I was detected, and a
huge card of His Majesty awaited me, inviting to dinner at 6.30 p.m.
It was then 6.20 p.m. I wrote my excuses, teUing the truth. Then I
waited. It is now 9.30 a.m., and no baggage. King has just sent to
say he will receive me at 11 a.m. I am obliged to say I cannot come if
my baggage does not arrive.

" I picked up a small book here, the ' Souvenirs of Congress of
Vienna,' in 1S14 and 181 5. It is a sad account of the festivities of
that time. It shows how great people fought for invitations to the
various -parties, and how like a bomb fell the news of Napoleon's descent
from Elba, and relates the end of some of the great men. The English
great man, Castlereagh, cut his throat near Chislehurst; Alexander
died mad, etc., etc. They are all in their 6 feet by 2 feet 6 inches.
• . . Horrors, it is now 10.20 a.m., and no baggage! King sent to
say he will see me at 11 a.m.; remember, too, I have to dress, shave,
etc., etc. 10.30 A. M — No baggage !!! It is getting painful. His Majesty
will be furious. 10.48 a.m. — No baggage ! Indirectly Mackinnon (late
Sir William) is the sinner, for he evidently told the King I w^as coming.
Napoleon said, 'The smallest trifles produce the greatest results.' 12.30
P.M. — Got enclosed note from palace, and went to see the King — a very
tall man with black beard. He was very civil, and I stayed with him
for one and a half hours. He is quite at sea with his expedition (Congo),
and I have to try and get him out of it. I have to go there to-morrow
at 11.30 A.M. My baggage has come."

During his stay at Lausanne his health improved, and he lost the
numbed feeling in his arms which had strengthened the impression
that he suffered from angina pectoris. This apprehension, although
retained until a very short period before his final departure from
England in 1S84, was ultimately discovered to be baseless. With
restored health returned the old feeling of restlessness. After five
weeks he found it impossible to remain any longer in Lausanne.
Again he exclaims in his letters: "Inaction is terrible to me!" and
on 9th April he left that place for London.

Yet, notwithstanding his desire to return to work, or rather his
feeling that he could not live in a state of inactivity, he refused the
first definite suggestion that was made to him of employment. While he
was still at Lausanne, the Governor of Cape Colony sent the following

204 T^^i^ Life of Gordo7i.

telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies : — " My Ministers
wish that the post of Commandant of the Colonial Forces should
be olTered to Chinese Gordon." The reply to this telegram read as
follows : — " The command of the Colonial Forces would probably
be accepted by Chinese Gordon in the event of your Ministers
desiring that the offer of it should be made to him." The Cape
authorities requested that this offer might be made, and the War
Office accordingly telegraphed to him as follows : " Cape Govern-
ment offer command of Colonial Forces; supposed salary, ;^i5oo;
your services required early." Everyone seems to have taken it as
a matter of course that he would accept ; but Gordon's reply was in
the negative: "Thanks for telegram just received; I do not feel
inclined to accept an appointment." His reasons for not accepting
what seemed a desirable post are not known. They were probably
due to considerations of health, although the doubt may have pre-
sented itself to his mind whether he was qualified by character to
work in harmony with the Governor and Cabinet of any colony.
He knew very well that all his good work had been done in an
independent and unfettered capacity, and at the Cape he must have
felt that, as nominal head of the forces, he would have been fettered
by red tape and local jealousies, and rendered incapable of doing
any good in an anomalous position. But after events make it desir-
able to state and recollect the precise circumstances of this first
offer to him from the Cape Government.

While at Lausanne, General Gordon's attention was much given
to the study of the Eastern Question, and I am not at all sure that
the real reason of his declining the Cape offer was not the hope and
expectation that he might be employed in connection with a subject
which he thoroughly understood and had very much at heart. He
drew up a memorandum on the Treaties of San Stefano and Berlin,
which, for clearness of statement, perfect grasp of a vital international
question, and prophetic vision, has never been surpassed among State
papers. Although written in March iS8o, and in my possession a
very short time afterwards, I was not permitted to publish it until
September 1885, when it appeared in the Times of the 24th of that
month. Its remarkable character was at once appreciated by public
men, and Sir \Villiam Harcourt, speaking in the House four days
later, testified to the extraordinary foresight with which "poor Gordon"
diagnosed the case of Europe's sick man. I quote here this memo-
randum in its integrity : —

" The Powers of Europe assembled at Constantinople, and recommended
certain reforms to Turkey. Turkey refused to accede to these terms, the

Minor Missions — India and China. 205

Powers withdrew, and deliberated. Not being able to come to a decision,
Russia undertook, on her own responsibility, to enforce them. England

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 23 of 40)