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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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 30 of 40)
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intercommunications were much more numerous, but that is their pith,
(iordon came down to Cape Town and sailed for England on 14th
October, after having been five and a half months in South Africa. He
had been treated by the Cape authorities without any regard for justice,
and little for courtesy. The leading paper even admitted this much
when it observed that " at least General Gordon was entitled to the
treatment of a gentleman." But the plain truth was that Gordon was

The Mauritius, the Cape, and the Congo. 2 53

summoned to South Africa and employed by the Government, not as
was ostentatiously proclaimed, and as he himself believed, for the
attainment of a just solution of the Basuto difficulty, and for the
execution of much-needed military reforms, but in order that his mili-
tary experience and genius might be invoked for the purpose of over-
throwing Masupha and of annexing Basutoland, which two years of war
and five millions of money had failed to conquer. Hence their dis-
appointment and resentment when Gordon proclaimed that justice was
on the side of Masupha; that under no circumstances would he wage
war with him ; and that the whole origin of the trouble lay in the bad
policy, the incompetent magistrates, and the insubordinate military
officers of the Cape Government. The indictment was a terrible one ;
it was also true in every line and every particular.

Having thus vindicated his own character, as well as the highest
principles of Government, Gordon left the Cape a poorer and a wiser
man than he was on his arrival. I have explained the personal loss he
incurred through the inadequacy of his pay and the cutting-off of his
army allowance. It has been stated that when he had taken his passage
for England he was without any money in his pocket, and that he
quaintly said to a friend : " Do you think it is right for a Major-General
of the British Army to set out on a journey like this without sixpence
in his pocket ?" There is nothing improbable in such an occurrence,
and it was matched only sixteen months later, when he was on the
point of starting for Khartoum in the same impecunious condition.

Gordon arrived in England on Sth November, and after some
correspondence with the King of the Belgians, which will be referred to
later in connection with the Congo mission, he again left England on
26th December. On this occasion he was going to carry out a long-
cherished desire to visit and reside in the Holy Land, so that he might
study on the spot the scenes with which his perfect knowledge of the Bible
— his inseparable companion — had made him in an extraordinary degree
familiar. In the best sense of the word, he was going to take a holiday.
There was to be absolute quiet and rest, and at the same time a con-
genial occupation. He sailed for Jaffa as a guest on one of Sir William
Mackinnon's steamers, but he at once proceeded to Jerusalem, where
he lived alone, refusing to see any one, with his books as companions,
and " mystifying people as to what he was doing." During his stay at
Jerusalem he entered with much zest and at great length into the
questions of the various sites in the old Jewish capital. I do not
propose to follow the course of his labours in that pursuit, as several
works contain between them, I should say, every line he wrote on the
subject, and the general reader cannot be expected to take any interest

2 54 The Life of Gordon.

in abstruse and much-debated theological and topographical questions.
But even in the midst of these pursuits he did not lose his quickness of
military perception. After a brief inspection he at once declared that
the Russian Convent commanded the whole city, and was in itself a
strong fortress, capable of holding a formidable garrison, which Russia
could despatch in the guise of priests without any one being the wiser.
From Jerusalem, when the heat became great, he returned to Jaffa,
and his interest aroused in worldly matters by the progress of events in
Egypt, and the development of the Soudan danger, which he had all
along seen coming, was evoked by a project that was brought under
his notice for the construction across Palestine of a canal to the head of
the Gulf of Akabah. In a letter to myself he thus dilates upon the
scheme : —

" Here is the subject which I am interested in if it could be done. The
reasons are : —

" I. We are in Egypt supporting an unpopular sovereign, whose tenure ends
with departure of our troops. We offer no hope to the people of any solace
by this support, and by the supporting of the Turco-Circassian Pashas, who
I know by experience are hopeless. We neither govern nor take respon-
sibility ; yet we support these vampires.

" 2. We are getting mixed up with the question of whether the interest of
;^9o,ooo,ooo will be paid or not.

" 5. We are mixed up with the Soudan, where we provoked the rebellion,
and of the responsibility of which government we cannot rid ourselves.

"4. We are in constant and increasing hot water with the French, and
we gain no benefit from it, for the Canal will remain theirs.

" On the other hand, if we get a Firman from Sultan for the Palestine

Canal —

" r. We lose the sacred sites of Jordan River, Capernaum, Bethsaida, and
Tiberias, Jericho, not Engedi.

" 2. We swamp a notoriously unhealthy valley, where there are no

"3. We cut off the pest of the country of Palestine, the Bedouins.

"4. We are free of all four objections /;/ re occupation of Egypt.

" 5. We gain the fertile lands of Moab and Amnion.

"6. Cyprus is 150 miles from the Mediterranean dcboiichc.

" 7. We get a waterway for large ships to within fifty miles of Damascus.

" 8. We can never be bothered by any internal commotion, except for the
twenty-five miles from Haifa to Tiberias, for the waterway of the Canal
would be ten miles wide, except in Arabah Valley, where there are on both
sides wastes and deserts.

"9. We get rid of unhealthiness of a narrow cut w^ith no current, which
is the case with Suez Canal now, where the mud is pestilential from ships'
refuse and no current.

" 10. It would isolate Palestine, render it quiet from Bedouins ; it would
pave the way to its being like Belgium, under no Great Power, for religious
views would be against Palestine ever being owned by a Great Power.

"11. Up the ladder of Tyre to Gaza would be 10,000 square miles;
population 130,000, quite a small country.

The Mauritius, the Cape, and the Congo. 255

"Do not quote me if you write this. Oddly enough, Ezekiel xlvii. lo
seems to say the Dead Sea shall have fish like the great Sea {i.e. Medi-
terranean). Zechariah xiv. speaks of two rivers, one going to Dead Sea, the
other to Mediterranean.

" The cost would be-

Canal from Haifa to Jordan, .
Compensation to Jordan peoples,
Canal through Akabah, .
Ports at Haifa,
Ports at Akabah,




1 ,000,000


;;/^ 10, 500,000

say, twelve to fifteen millions, and what a comfort to be free of Egypt and
Soudan for ever !

"Revenue, Palestine ^120,000, of which ^80,000 goes to Sultan. Do
not quote me, for I have written part of this to Mr W. (the late Sir William)
Mackinnon of B.I.S.N.C., besides which H.M. Government may object. You
may say you had a letter from a correspondent."

He wrote in a similar strain to other correspondents, but I have
never succeeded in discovering whether, from an engineering point of
view, the scheme was at all feasible. It seems to me that its sugges-
tion is somewhat destructive of Gordon's own declarations as to the
superior merits of the Cape route, nor does Sir Henry Gordon much
strengthen the case when, perceiving the inconsistency, he goes out
of his way to declare that Gordon only meant the Palestine canal
to be a commercial route. Any attempt to limit its usefulness could
not destroy the character claimed for it by its promoters, as an equally
short and more secure route than that by Suez. Yet it needs no gift
of second sight to predict that when any project of rivalry to the
masterpiece of Lesseps is carried out, it will be by rail to the Persian
Gulf, whether the starting-point be the Bosphorus or the Levant.

In the midst of his interesting researches near Mount Carmel, a
summons from the outer world reached Gordon in the form of a
letter from Sir William Mackinnon, telling him that the King of the
Belgians now called on him to fulfil a promise he had made some
years before.

When Gordon first returned from the Cape the King of the Belgians
wrote, reminding him of his old promise, dating from 1880, to enter
into his service on the Congo, and stating that the difficulty of having
an internationally recognised Congo flag, which Gordon had made a
sine qua non of his appointment, could be most speedily solved by
Gordon joining him as counsellor at once. This Gordon could not
agree to, and he went to Palestine, there to await the King's summons,

256 The Life of Gordon.

which came by Sir William Mackinnon's note in October 1883. It
then became necessary for Gordon to obtain the otiicial permission
of his Government to take up this post, of the exact nature of which
the Foreign Office had been already informed, both by General Gordon
and King Leopold.

Gordon at once telegraphed to the War Office for the leave rendered
necessary by his being on the active list, and that Department replied,
asking for particulars. When these were furnished through the Foreign
Office the decision was announced that " the Secretary of State declines
to sanction your employment on the Congo." The telegraph clerk,
more discerning or considerate than Her Majesty's Government, altered
"declines" into "decides," and Gordon, in happy ignorance of the
truth, proceeded with all possible despatch via Acre and Genoa to
Brussels, which he reached on New Year's Day, 1884. That very night
he wrote me a short note saying, " I gc (Z>. F.) next month to the Congo,
but keep it secret." Such things cannot be kept secret, and four days
later a leading article in The Times informed his countrymen of
Gordon's new mission.

On reaching Brussels the mistake in the telegram was discovered,
and Gordon here learnt that his Congo mission was vetoed. Then
came the difficulty to know what was to be done. Without leave he
could not go anywhere without resigning his commission ; he was not
qualified for a pension, and there were engagements he had voluntarily
contracted that he would not see broken, and persons who would
suffer by his death, whose interests he was in every way bound to
safeguard. Therefore, if he was to carry out his engagement with the
King of the Belgians, it was obviously necessary that he should resign
the British Army, and that the King should compensate him for his
loss. The King said at once : " Retire from the army and I will
compensate you," but in a matter of such importance to others Gordon
felt nothing should be left to chance, and that a definite contract
should be made. For this he had neither the patience nor the
business knowledge, and he delegated the task of arranging the matter
to his brother, Sir Henry Gordon, who negotiated with the late Sir
William Mackinnon as representing the King. They agreed that the
value of Gordon's pension if commuted would be ^^7288, and the
King of the Belgians was to provide that sum, which was to be paid
mto a trust fund. In this and every other matter the King behaved
towards Gordon in the most generous and cordial manner, furnishing
a marked contrast with the grudging and parsimonious spirit of the
British Government towards Gordon in China, at the Cape, and now
again when destined for the Congo.

The Mauritius, the Cape, and the Congo. 257

All the arrangements connected with this subject were made in three
days, and while Gordon gave instructions for his will to be prepared for
the disposal of the trust fund after his death, he wrote the same day
(6th January) to Mr H. M. Stanley, then acting for the King on the
Congo, announcing his own appointment, offering to " serve willingly
with or under him," and fixing his own departure from Lisbon for 5th
of February. Dis aliter vision. For the moment he worked up some
enthusiasm in his task. " We will kill the slave-traders in their haunts " ;
and again, " No such efficacious means of cutting at root of slave trade
ever was presented as that which God has, I trust, opened out to us
through the kind disinterestedness of His Majesty," are passages in
the same letter, yet all the time there is no doubt his heart and his
thoughts were elsewhere. They were in the Soudan, not on the

The night of this letter he crossed from Brussels, and went straight
to his sister's house, long the residence, and, practically speaking, the
home of his family, 5 Rockstone Place, Southampton. On the 7th of
the month — that is, the same day as he arrived — he wrote the formal
letter requesting leave to resign his commission in the Queen's army,
and also stating, with his usual candour, that King Leopold IL had
guaranteed him against any pecuniary loss. To that letter it may at
once be stated that no reply was ever sent. Even the least sympathetic
official could not feel altogether callous to a voluntary proposition to
remove the name of " Chinese " Gordon from the British army list,
and the sudden awakening of the public to the extraordinary claims of
General Gordon on national gratitude, and his special fitness to deal
with the Soudan difficulty warned the authorities that a too rigid
application of office rules would not in his case be allow^ed. By no
individual effort, as has been too lightly granted by some writers, but
by the voice of the British people was it decided that not only should
Gordon have leave to go to the Congo, without resigning his commission,
but also that he should be held entitled to draw his pay as a British
general while thus employed. But this was not the whole truth, although
I have no doubt that the arrangement would have been carried out in
any case. In their dilemma the Government saw a chance of extrica-
tion in the person of Gordon, the one man recognised by the public
and the press as capable of coping with a difficulty which seemed too
much for them. The whole truth, therefore, was that the Congo
mission was to wait until after Gordon had been sent to, and returned
from, the Soudan. He was then to be placed by the British Govern-
ment entirely at the disposal of the King of the Belgians. As this new
arrangement turned on the assent of the King, it was vital to keep it


258 *rhe Life of Gordon.

secret during the remainder of the 15th and the whole of the i6th
of that eventful January.

When Gordon arrived at Waterloo Station, at a little before two o'clock
on 15th January, and was met there by myself, I do not think that he
knew definitely what was coming, but he was a man of extraordinary
shrewdness, and although essentially unworldly, could see as clearly and
as far through a transaction as the keenest man of business. What he
did know was that the army authorities were going to treat him well,
but his one topic of conversation the whole way to Pall Mall was not the
Congo but the Soudan. To the direct question whether he was not
really going, as I suspected, to the Nile instead of the Congo, he
declared he had no information that would warrant such an idea, but
still, if the King of the Belgians would grant the permission, he would
certainly not be disinclined to go there first. I have no doubt that
those who acted in the name of the INIinistry in a few minutes dis-
covered the true state of his mind, and that Gordon then and there
agreed, on the express request of the Government of Mr Gladstone, to
go and see the King, and beg him to suspend the execution of his
promise until he had gone to the Soudan to arrest the Mahdi's career,
or to relieve the Egyptian garrisons, if the phrase be preferred. It
should also be stated that Gordon's arrangement with the King of the
Belgians was always coupled with this proviso, " provided the Govern-
ment of my own country does not require my services." The
generosity of that sovereign in the matter of the compensation for his
Commission did not render that condition void, and however irritating
the King may have found the circumstances, Gordon broke neither the
spirit nor the letter of his engagement with his Majesty by obeying the
orders of his own Government.

Late the same evening I was present at his brother's house to receive
an account for publication of his plans on the Congo, but surrounded by
so large a number of his relatives summoned to see their hero, many of
them for the last time, it was neither convenient nor possible to carry
out this task, which was accordingly postponed till the following morn-
ing, when I was to see him at the Charing Cross Hotel, and accompany
him by the early boat train to Dover. On that night his last will was
signed and witnessed by his uncle, Mr George Enderby, and myself.
The next morning I was at the hotel before seven, but instead of
travelling by this early train, he postponed his departure till ten o'clock,
and the greater part of those three hours were given to an explanation,
map in hand, of his plans on the Congo. The article, based on his
information, appeared in The Times of 17th January 1SS4, but several
times during our conversation he exclaimed, " There may be a respite,"
but he refused to be more definite. Thus he set out for Brussels,

The Mauritius, the Cape, and the Congo. 259

whether he was accompanied by his friend Captain (now Colonel) F.
Brocklehurst, who was undoubtedly acting as the representative of the
authorities. I believe I may say with confidence that if he did not
actually see the King of the Belgians on the evening of the same day,
some communication passed indirectly, which showed the object of
his errand, for although his own letter communicating the event is
dated 17th, from Brussels, it is a fact within my own knowledge that
late in the evening of the i6th a telegram was received — "Gordon
goes to the Soudan."

The first intimation of something having happened that his brother
Sir Henry Gordon received, was in a hurried letter, dated 17th January,
which arrived by the early post on Friday, iSth, asking him to " get his
uniform ready and some patent leather boots," but adding, " I saw King
Leopold to-day ; he is furious." Even then Sir Henry, although he
guessed his destination, did not know that his departure would be so
sudden, for Gordon crossed the same night, and was kept at Knights-
bridge Barracks in a sort of honourable custody by Captain Brocklehurst,
so that the new scheme might not be prematurely revealed. Sir Henry,
a busy man, went about his own work, having seen to his brother's
commission, and it was not until his return at five o'clock that he learnt
all, and that Gordon was close at hand. He at once hurried off to see
him, and on meeting, Gordon, in a high state of exhilaration, exclaimed,
"I am off to the Soudan." Sir Henry asked "When?" and back
came the reply, "To-night ! " He had got his respite.

To him at that moment it meant congenial work and the chance
of carrying out the thoughts that had been surging through his mind
ever since Egyptian affairs became troubled and the Mahdi's power rose
on the horizon of the Soudan. The reality was to prove far different.
He was to learn in his own person the weakness and falseness of his
Government, and to find himself betrayed by the very persons who
had only sought his assistance in the belief that by a miracle — and
nothing less would have sufficed — he might relieve them from respon-
sibilities to which they were not equal. Far better would it have been,
not only for Gordon's sake, but even for the reputation of England,
if he had carried out his original project on the Congo, where, on a
less conspicuous scene than the Nile, he might still have fought and
won the battle of humanity.

I am placed in a position to state that on the morning of the 17th,
at ID A.M., he wrote to his sister from Brussels, as follows — "Do not
mention it, but there is just a chance I may have to go to Soudan
for two months, and then go to Congo," and again in a second letter at
two o'clock, "Just got a telegram from Wolseley saying, 'Come back

2 6o The Life of Gordon.

to London by evening train,' so when you get this I shall be in town,
l> lit keep it a dead secret, for I hope to leave it again the same evening.
I will not take Governor-Generalship again, I will only report on situa-
tion." After this came a post-card — i8th January, 6 a.m. " Left B., am
now in London ; I hope to go back again to-night." That very night
he left for Egypt.

That he was not detained the whole day in the Barracks is shown
in the following letter, now published for the first time, which gives the
only account of his interview with the members of the Government that
sent him out : —

" 19. I, 1884.

" My Dear Augusta, — I arrived in town very tired, at 6 A.M. yester-
day, went with Brocklehurst to Barracks, washed, and went to Wolseley.
He said Ministers would see me at 3 p.m. I went back to Barracks
and reposed. At 12.30 p.m. Wolseley came for me. I went with him and
saw Granville, Hartington, Dilke, and Northbrook. They said, ' Had 1
seen Wolseley, and did I understand their ideas ? ' I said ' Yes,' and
repeated what Wolseley had said to me as to their ideas, which was
' t/iey would evacuate Soudan.^ They were pleased, and said ' That was
their idea; would I go?' I said 'Yes.' They said 'When?' I said
'To-night,' and it was over. I started at 8 p.m. H.R.H. The Duke of
Cambridge and Lord Wolseley came to see me off. I saw Henry and B6b
(R. F. Gordon) ; no one else except Stokes — all very kind. I have taken
Stewart with me, a nice fellow. We are now in train near Mont Cenis. I
am not moved a bit, and hope to do the people good. Lord Granville said
Ministers were very much obliged to me. I said I was much honoured by
going. I telegraphed King of the Belgians at once, and told him ' Wait a
few months.' Kindest love to all. — Your affectionate brother,

" C. G. Gordon."

As further evidence of the haste of his departure, I should like to
mention that he had hardly any clothes with him, and that Mrs Watson,
wife of his friend Colonel Watson, procured him all he required-^in
fact, fitted him out — during the two days he stayed at Cairo. These
kindly efforts on his behalf were thrown away, for all his baggage —
clothes, uniforms, orders, etc. — was captured with the money at Berber
and never reached him. His only insignia of office at Khartoum was
the Fez, and the writer who described him as putting on his uniform
when the Mahdists broke into the town was gifted with more imagination
than love of truth.



When Gordon left Egypt, at the end of the year 1879, he was able to
truthfully declare in the words of his favourite book : " No man could
lift his hand or his foot in the land of the Soudan without me." Yet he
was fully alive to the dangers of the future, although then they were no
more than a little cloud on the horizon, for he wrote in 1878 : "Our
English Government 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. The Khedive will be curbed in, and will no longer be
absolute Sovereign. Then will come the question of these countries.
.... There is no doubt that if the Governments of France and Eng-
land do not pay more attention to the Soudan — if they do not establish
at Khartoum a branch of the mixed tribunals, and see that justice is
done — the disruption of the Soudan from Cairo is only a question of
time. This disruption, moreover, will not end the troubles, for the
Soudanese through their allies in Lower Egypt — the black soldiers I
mean — will carry on their efforts in Cairo itself. Now these black
soldiers are the only troops in the Egyptian service that are worth any-
thing." The gift of prophecy could scarcely have been demonstrated
in a more remarkable degree, yet the Egyptian Government and every-
body else went on acting as if there was no danger in the Soudan, and
treated it like a thoroughly conquered province inhabited by a satis-
fied, or at least a thoroughly subjected population. From this dream
there was to be a rude and startling awakening.

It is impossible to say whether there was any connection direct or
indirect between the revolt of Arabi Pasha and the military leaders at

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 30 of 40)