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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the Government and the military authorities who suggested his going,
and availed themselves of his readiness to go, to Khartoum, I do not
think there is the shadow of a justification for the allegation that they
forced him to proceed on that romantic errand, although of course it
is equally clear that he insisted as the condition of his going at all that
he should be ordered by his Government to proceed on this mission.
Beyond this vital principle, which he held to all his life in never
volunteering, he was far too eager to go himself to require any real
stirring-up or compulsion. It was even a secret and unexpressed
grievance that he should not be called upon to hasten to the spot,
which had always been in his thoughts since the time he had left
it. He could think of nothing else; in the midst of other work he
would turn aside to discuss the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan
as paramount to every other consideration ; and when a great mission,
like that to the Congo, which he could have made a turning-point in

The Last Nile Mission. 271

African history, was placed in his hands, he could only ask for "a
respite," and, with the charm of the Sphinx strong upon him, rushed
on his fate in a chivalrous determination to essay the impossible.
But was it right or justifiable that wise politicians and experienced
generals should take advantage of such enthusiasm and self-sacrifice,
and let one man go unaided to achieve what thousands had failed
to do?

It is necessary to establish clearly in the first place, and beyond
dispute, the frame of mind which induced Gordon to take up his
last Nile mission in precisely the confiding manner that he did.
Gordon left Egypt at the end of 1879. Although events there in
1880 were of interest and importance, Gordon was too much occupied
in India and China to say anything, but in October 1881 he drew
up an important memorandum on affairs in Egypt since the deposition
of Ismail. Gordon gave it to me specially for publication, and it duly
appeared in 2^he Times, but its historical interest is that it shows how
Gordon's thoughts were still running on the affairs of the country in
which he had served so long. The following is the full text : —

"On the i6th of August 1879, the Firman installing Tewfik as Khedive
was published in Cairo. From the 26th of June 1S79, when Ismail was
deposed, to this date, Cherif Pasha remained Prime Minister ; he had been
appointed on the dismissal of the Rivers-Wilson and de Blignieres
Ministry in May. Between June and August Cherif had been working
with the view of securing to the country a representative form of govern-
ment, and had only a short time before August 16 laid his proposition
before Tewfik. Cherifs idea was that, the representation being in the
hands of the people, there would be more chance of Egypt maintaming her
independence than if the Government was a personal one. It will be
remembered that, though many states have repudiated their debts, no other
ruler of those states was considered responsible except in the case of Ismail
of Egypt. Europe considered Ismail responsible personally. She did not
consider the rulers of Turkey, Greece, Spain, etc., responsible, so that Cherif
was quite justified in his proposition. Cherif has been unjustly considered
opposed to any reform. This is not so. Certainly he had shown his inde-
pendence in refusing to acknowledge Rivers-Wilson as his superior, pre-
ferring to give up his position to doing so, but he knew well that reform was
necessary, and had always advised it. Cherif is perhaps the only Egyptian
Minister whose character for strict integrity is unimpeachable.

" A thoroughly independent man, caring but little for office or its emolu-
ments, of a good family, with antecedents which would bear any investigation,
he was not inclined to be questioned by men whose social position was inferior
to his own, and \\\\os&parii pti's was against him. In the Council Chamber
he was in a minority because he spoke his mind ; but this was not so with
other Ministers, whose antecedents were dubious. Had his advice been
taken, Ismail would have now been Khedive of Egypt. Any one who
knows Cherif will agree to this account of him, and will rate him as infinitely
superior to his other colleagues. He is essentially not an intriguer.

"To return, immediately after the promulgation of the Firman on August

2/2 The Life of Gordon,

1 6, Tewfik dismisses suddenly Clierif, and the European Press considers
he has done a bold thing, and, misjudging Cherif, praise him for having
broken with the advisers who caused the ruin of Ismail. My opinion is that
Tewfik feared Cherif's proposition as being likely to curtail his power as
absolute ruler, and that he judged that he would by this dismissal gain
kudos in Europe, and protect his absolute power.

"After a time Riaz is appointed in Cherif s place, and then Tewfik begins
his career. He concedes this and that to European desires, but in so doing
claims for his youth and inexperience exemption from any reform which
would take from his absolute power. Knowing that it was the bondholders
who upset his father he conciliates them ; they in their turn leave him to act
as he wished with regard to the internal government of the country. Riaz
was so placed as to be between two influences — one, the bondholders seeking
their advantages ; the other, Tewfik, seeking to retain all power. Riaz of
course wavers. Knowing better than Teu-fik the feeling of Europe, he
inclines more to the bondholders than to Tewfik, to whom, however, he is
bound to give some sops, such as the Universal Military Service Bill, which
the bondholders let pass without a word, and which is the root of the
present troubles. After a time Tewfik finds that Riaz will give no more sops,
for the simple reason he dares not. Then Tewfik finds him de tfop, and by
working up the military element endeavours to counterbalance him. The
European Powers manage to keep the peace for a time, but eventually the
military become too strong for even Tewfik, who had conjured them up, and
taking things into their own hands upset Riaz, which Tewfik is glad of,
and demand a Constitution, which Tewfik is not glad of. Cherif then returns,
and it is to be hoped will get for the people what he demanded before his

" It is against all reason to expect any straightforward dealings in any
Sultan, Khedive, or Ameer ; the only hope is in the people they govern, and
the raising of the people should be our object.

"There is no real loyalty towards the descendants of the Sandjak of
Salonica in Egypt ; the people are Arabs, they are Greeks. The people
care for themselves. It is reiterated over and over again that Egypt is
prosperous and contented. I do not think it has altered at all, except in
improving its finances for the benefit of the bondholders. The army may
be paid regularly, but the lot of the fellaheen and inhabitants of the Soudan
is the same oppressed lot as before. The prisons are as full of unfortunates
as ever they were, the local tribunals are as corrupt, and Tewfik will always
oppose their being affiliated to the mixed tribunals of Alexandria, and thus
afford protection to the judges of the local tribunals, should they adjudicate
justly. Tewfik is essentially one of the Ameer class. I believe he would
be willing to act uprightly, if by so doing he could maintain his absolute
power. He has played a difficult game, making stock of his fear of his
father and of Halim, the legitimate heir according to the Moslem, to induce
the European Governments to be gentle with him, at the same time resist-
ing all measures which would benefit his people should these measures
touch his absolute power. He is liberal only in measures which do not
interfere with his prerogative.

" It was inevitable that the present sort of trouble should arise. The
Controllers had got the finances in good order, and were bound to look to the
welfare of the people, which could only be done by the curtailment of Tewfik's
power. The present arrangement of Controllers and Consul-Generals is
defective. The Consul-Generals are charged with the duty of seeing that
the country is quiet and the people well treated. They are responsible to
their Foreign Offices. The Controllers are charged with the finances and the

The Last Nile Mission. 273

welfare of the country, but to whom are they responsible ? Not to Tewfik ;
though he pays them, he cannot remove them ; yet they must get on well
with him. Not to the Foreign Office, for it is repeatedly said that they are
Egyptian officials, yet they have to keep on good terms with these Foreign
Offices. Not to the bondholders, though they are bound, considering their
power, to be on good terms with them. Not to the inhabitants of Egypt,
though these latter are taught to believe that every unpopular act is done by
the Controllers' advice.

" The only remedy is by the formation of a Council of Notables, having
direct access to Tewfik, and independent of his or of the Ministers' goodwill,
and the subjection of the Controllers to the Consul-Generals responsible to
the Foreign Office — in fact. Residents at the Court. This would be no
innovation, for the supervision exists now, except under the Controllers and
Consul-Generals. It is simply proposed to amalgamate Controllers with
Consul-Generals, and to give these latter the position of Residents. By this
means the continual change of French Consul-Generals would be avoided,
and the consequent ill-feeling between France and England would disappear.
Should the Residents fall out, the matter would be easily settled by the
Governments. As it is at present, a quadruple combat goes on ; sometimes
it is one Consul-General against the other Consul-General, aided by the two
Controllers, or a Consul-General and one Controller against the other Consul-
General and the other Controller, in all of which combats Tewfik gains and
the people lose.

" One thing should certainly be done — the giving of concessions ought
not to be in the power of Controllers, nor if Consul-Generals are amalgamated
with Controllers as Residents should these Residents have this power. It
ought to be exercised by the Council of Notables, who would look to the
welfare of the people."

The progress of events in Lower Egypt during 1881 and 1882 was
watched with great care, whether he was vegetating in the Mauritius or
absorbed in the anxieties and labours of his South African mission.
Commenting on the downfall of Arabi, he explained how the despatch
of troops to the Soudan, composed of regiments tainted with a spirit of
insubordination, would inevitably aggravate the situation there. Later
on, in 1S83, when he heard of Hicks being sent to take the command
and repair the defeat of Yusuf, he wrote : — " Unless Hicks is given
supreme command he is lost ; it can never work putting him in a sub-
ordinate position. Hicks must be made Governor-General, otherwise
he will never end things satisfactorily." At the same time, he came to
the conclusion that there was only one man who could save Egypt, and
that was Nubar Pasha. He wrote : — " If they do not make Nubar
Pasha Prime Minister or Regent in Egypt they will have trouble, as he
is the only man who can rule that country." This testimony to Nubar's
capacity is the more remarkable and creditable, as in earlier days Gordon
had not appreciated the merit of a statesman who has done more for
Egypt than any other of his generation. But at a very early stage
of the Soudan troubles Gordon convinced himself that the radical
cause of these difficulties and misfortunes was not the shortcomings and


2 74 TJi'^ Life of Gordon.

errors of any particular subordinate, but the complete want of a definite
policy on the part, not of the Khedive and his advisers, but of the British
Government itself. He wrote on this point to a friend (2nd September
1S83), almost the day that Hicks was to march from Khartoum : —

" Her Majesty's Government, right or wrong, will not take a decided step
in re Egypt and the Soudan ; they drift, but at the same time cannot avoid the
onus of being the real power in Egypt, with the corresponding advantage of
being so. It is undoubtedly the fact that they maintain Tewfik and the
Pashas in power against the will of the people ; this alone is insufterable
from disgusting the people, to whom also Her Majesty's Government have
given no inducement to make themselves popular. Their present action is
a dangerous one, for without any advantage over the Canal or to England,
they keep a running sore open with France, and are acting in a way which
will justify Russia to act in a similar way in Armenia, and Austria in Salonica.
Further than that, Her Majesty's Government must eventually gain the odium
which will fall upon them when the interest of the debt fails to be paid, which
will soon be the case. Also, Her Majesty's Government cannot possibly
avoid the responsibility for the state of aftairs in the Soudan, where a wretched
war drags on in a ruined country at a cost of half a million per annum at
least. I say therefore to avoid all this, if Her Majesty's Governinenf will not
act firmly and strongly and take the coimtry (which, if I were they, I would
not do), let them attempt to get the Palestine Canal made, and quit Egypt
to work out its own salvation. In doing so lots of anarchy will take place.
This anarchy is inseparable from a peaceful solution ; it is the travail in
birth. Her Majesty's Government do not prevent anarchy now ; therefore
better leave the country, and thus avoid a responsibility which gives no
advantage, and is mean and dangerous."

In a letter to myself, dated 3rd January 1884, from Brussels, he
enters into some detail on matters that had been forgotten or were
insufficiently appreciated, to which the reported appointment of Zebehr
to proceed to the Soudan and stem the Madhi's advance lent special
interest : —

" I send you a small note which you can make use of, but I beg you will
not let my name appear under any circumstances. When in London I had
printed a pamphlet in Arabic, with all the papers (official) concerning Zebehr
Pasha and his action in pushing his son to rebel. It is in Arabic. My
brother has it. It is not long, and would repay translating and publishing.
It has all the history and the authentic letters found in the divan of Zebehr's
son when Gessi took his stockade. It is in a cover, blue and gold. It was
my address to people of Soudan — Apologia. Isaiah xi.x. 19, 20, 21 has a
wonderful prophecy about Egypt and the saviour who will come from the

The note enclosed was published in The Times of 5th January, and
read as follows : —

" A correspondent writes that it may seem inexplicable why the Mahdi's
troops attacked Gczirch, which, as its name signifies, is an isle near J5crber,
but there is an old tradition that the future ruler of the Soudan will be from
that isle. Zebehr Rahama knew this, but he fell on leaving his boat at this

The Last Nile Mission. 275

isle, and so, though the Soudan people looked on him as a likely saviour,
this omen shook their confidence in him. He was then on his way to Cairo
after swearing- his people to rebel (if he was retained there), under a tree at
Shaka. Zebehr will most probably be taken prisoner by the Mahdi, and
will then take the command of the Mahdi's forces. The peoples of the
Soudan are very superstitious, and the fall of the flag by a gust of wind,
on the proclamation of Tewfik at Khartoum, was looked on as an omen of
the end of Mehemet Ali's dynasty. There is an old tree opposite Cook's
office at Jerusalem in Toppet, belonging to an old family, and protected by
Sultan's Firman, which the Arabs consider will fall when the Sultan's rule
ends. It lost a large limb during the Turco-Russian war, and is now in a
decayed state. There can be no doubt but that the movement will spread
into Palestine, Syria, and Hedjaz. At Damascus already proclamations have
been posted up, denouncing Turks and Circassians, and this was before
Hicks was defeated. It is the beginning of the end of Turkey. Austria
backed by Germany will go to Salonica, quieting Russia by letting her go
into Armenia — England and France neutralising one another.

" If not too late, the return of the ex-Khedive Ismail to Egypt, and the
union of England and France to support and control the Arab movement,
appears the only chance. Ismail would soon come to terms with the Soudan,
the rebellion of which countries was entirely due to the oppression of the
Turks and Circassians."

These expressions of opinion about Egypt and the Soudan may
be said to have culminated in the remarkable pronouncement Gordon
made to Mr W. T. Stead, the brilliant editor of the Pall Mall Gazette,
on 8th January 18S4, which appeared in his paper on the following day.
The substance of that statement is as follows : —

" So you would abandon the Soudan ? But the Eastern Soudan is
indispensable to Egypt. It will cost you far more to retain your hold upon
Egypt proper if you abandon your hold of the Eastern Soudan to the Mahdi
or to the Turk than what it would to retain your hold upon Eastern Soudan
by the aid of such material as exists in the provinces. Darfour and Kordofan
must be abandoned. That I admit ; but the provinces lying to the east of
the White Nile should be retained, and north of Sennaar. The danger to be
feared is not that the Mahdi will march northward through Wady Haifa ; on
the contrary, it is very improbable that he will ever go so far north. The
danger is altogether of a different nature. It arises from the influence which
the spectacle of a conquering Mahommcdan Power established close to your
frontiers will exercise upon the population which you govern. In all the
cities in Egypt it will be felt that what the Mahdi has done they may do ;
and, as he has driven out the intruder and the infidel, they may do the same.
Nor is it only England that has to face this danger. The success of the
Mahdi has already excited dangerous fermentation in Arabia and Syria.
Placards have been posted in Damascus calling upon the population to rise
and drive out the Turks. If the whole of the Eastern Soudan is surrendered
to the Mahdi, the Arab tribes on both sides of the Red Sea will take fire. In
self-defence the Turks are bound to do something to cope with so formidable
a danger, for it is quite possible that if nothing is done the whole ot the
Eastern Question may be reopened by the triumph of the Madhi. I see it
is proposed to fortify Wady Haifa, and prepare there to resist the Mahdi's
attack. You might as well fortify against a fever. Contagion of that kind
cannot be kept out by fortifications and garrisons. But that it is real,

276 The Life of Gordon

and that it does exist, will be denied by no one cognisant with Egypt and
the East. In self-defence the policy of evacuation cannot possibly be

"There is another aspect of the question. You have 6000 men in Khar-
toum. What are you going to do with them? You have garrisons in
Darfour, in Bahr el Gazelle, and Gondokoro. Are they to be sacrificed?
Their only offence is their loyalty to their Sovereign. For their fidelity you
are going to abandon them to their fate. You say they are to retire upon
Wady Haifa. But Gondokoro is 1500 miles from Khartoum, and Khartoum
is only 350 from Wady Haifa. How will you move your 6000 men from
Khartoum — to say nothing of other places — and all the Europeans in that
city through the desert to Wady Haifa ? Where are you going to get the
carnels to take them away ? Will the Mahdi supply them ? If they are to
escape with their lives, the garrison will not be allowed to leave with a coat
on their backs. They will be plundered to the skin, and even then their
lives may not be spared. Whatever you may decide about evacuation, you
cannot evacuate, because your army cannot be moved. You must either
surrender absolutely to the Mahdi or defend Khartoum at all hazards. The
latter is the only course which ought to be entertained. There is no serious
difficulty about it. The Mahdi's forces will fall to pieces of themselves ; but
if in a moment of panic orders are issued for the abandonment of the whole
of the Eastern Soudan, a blow will be struck against the security of Egypt
and the peace of the East, which may have fatal consequences.

" The great evil is not at Khartoum, but at Cairo. It is the weakness of
Cairo which produces disaster in the Soudan. It is because Hicks was not
adequately supported at the first, but was thrust forward upon an impossible
enterprise by the men who had refused him supplies when a decisive blow
might have been struck, that the Western Soudan has been sacrificed. The
Eastern Soudan may, however, be saved if there is a firm hand placed at the
helm in Egypt. Everything depends on that.

" What then, you ask, should be done ? I reply. Place Nubar in power !
Nubar is the one supremely able man among Egyptian Ministers. He is proof
against foreign intrigue, and he thoroughly understands the situation. Place
him in power; support him through thick and thin ; give him a free hand ; and
let it be distinctly understood that no intrigues, either on the part of Tewfik
or any of Nubar's rivals, will be allowed for a moment to interfere with the
execution of his plans. You are sure to find that the energetic support of
Nubar will, sooner or later, bring you into collision with the Khedive ; but
if that Sovereign really desires, as he says, the welfare of his country, it will
be necessary for you to protect Nubars Administration from any direct or
indirect interference on his part. Nubar can be depended upon : that I can
guarantee. He will not take office without knowing that he is to have his
own way ; but if he takes office, it is the best security that you can have for
the restoration of order to the country. Especially is this the case with the
Soudan. Nubar should be left untrammelled by any stipulations concerning
the evacuation of Khartoum. There is no hurry. The garrisons can hold
their own at present. Let them continue to hold on until disunion and
tribal jealousies have worked their natural results in the camp of the Mahdi.
Nubar should be free to deal with the Soudan in his own way. How he will
deal with the Soudan, of course, I cannot piofess to say ; but I should
imagine that he would appoint a Governor-General at Khartoum, with full
powers, and furnish him with two millions sterling— a large sum, no doubt,
but a sum which had much better be spent now than wasted in a vain
attempt to avert the consequences of an ill-timed surrender. Sir Samuel
liakcr, who possesses the essential energy and single tongue requisite for the

The Last Nile Mission. 277

office, might be appointed Governor-General of the Soudan, and he might
take his brother as Commander-in-Chief.

"It should be proclaimed in the hearing of all the Soudanese, and
engraved on tablets of brass, that a permanent Constitution was granted
to the Soudanese, by which no Turk or Circassian would ever be allowed
to enter the province to plunder its inhabitants in order to fill his own
pockets, and that no immediate emancipation of slaves would be attempted.
Immediate emancipation was denounced in 1833 as confiscation in England,
and it is no less confiscation in the Soudan to-day. Whatever is done in
that direction should be done gradually, and by a process of registration.
Mixed tribunals might be estaljlished, if Nubar thought fit, in which Euro-
pean judges would co-operate with the natives in the administration of
justice. Police inspectors also might be appointed, and adequate measures
taken to root out the abuses which prevail in the prisons.

"With regard to Darfour, I should think that Nubar would probably
send back the family and the heir of the Sultan of Darfour. If subsidized
by the Government, and sent back with Sir Samuel Baker, he would not
have much difficulty in regaining possession of the kingdom of Darfour,
which was formerly one of the best governed of African countries. As
regards Abyssinia, the old warning should not be lost sight of — " Put not
your trust in princes"; and place no reliance upon the King of Abyssinia,
at least outside his own country. Zeylah and Bogos might be ceded to him
with advantage, and the free right of entry by the port of Massowah might
be added ; but it would be a mistake to give him possession of Massowah
which he would ruin. A Commission might also be sent down with advan-
tage to examine the state of things in Harrar, opposite Aden, and see what
iniquities are going on there, as also at Berbera and Zeylah. By these

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 32 of 40)