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 33 of 40)
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means, and by the adoption of a steady, consistent policy at headquarters,
it would be possible — not to say easy— to re-establish the authority of the
Khedive between the Red Sea and Sennaar.

" As to the cost of the Soudan, it is a mistake to suppose that it will
necessarily be a charge on the Egyptian Exchequer. It will cost two
millions to relieve the garrisons and to quell the revolt ; but that expenditure
must be incurred any way ; and in all probability, if the garrisons are
handed over to be massacred and the country evacuated, the ultimate
expenditure would exceed that sum. At first, until the country is pacified,
the Soudan will need a subsidy of /,2oo,ooo a year from Egypt. That,
however, would be temporary. During the last years of my administration
the Soudan involved no charge upon the Egyptian Exchequer. The bad
provinces were balanced against the good, and an equilibrium was estab-
lished. The Soudan will never be a source of revenue to Egypt, but it
need not be a source of expense. That deficits have arisen, and that the
present disaster has occurred, is entirely attributable to a single cause, and
that is, the grossest misgovernment.

"The cause of the rising in the Soudan is the cause of all popular
risings against Turkish rule, wherever they have occurred. No one who
has been in a Turkish province, and has witnessed the results of the Eashi-
Bazouk system, which excited so much indignation some time ago in
Bulgaria, will need to be told why the people of the Soudan have risen
in revolt against the Khedive. The Turks, the Circassians, and the Bashi-
Bazouks have plundered and oppressed the people in the Soudan, as they
plundered and oppressed them in the Balkan peninsula. Oppression begat
discontent ; discontent necessitated an increase of the armed force at the
disposal of the authorities; this increase of the army force involved an
increase of expenditure, which again was attempted to be met by increasing

278 The Life of Gordon.

taxation, and that still further increased the discontent. And so things
went on in a dismal circle, until they culminated, after repeated deficits,
in a disastrous rebellion. That the people were justified in rebelling,
nobody who knows the treatment to which they were subjected will attempt
to deny. Their cries were absolutely unheeded at Cairo. In despair, they
had recourse to the only method by which they could make their wrongs
known ; and, on the same principle that Absalom fired the corn of Joab,
so they rallied round the Mahdi, who exhorted them to revolt against the
Turkish yoke. I am convinced that it is an entire mistake to regard the
Mahdi as in any sense a religious leader : he personifies popular discontent.
All the Soudanese are potential Mahdis, just as all the Egyptians are potential
Arabis. The movement is not religious, but an outbreak of despair. Three
times over I warned the late Khedive that it would be impossible to govern
the Soudan on the old system, after my appointment to the Governor-
Generalship. During the three years that I wielded full powers in the
Soudan, I taught the natives that they had a right to exist. I waged war
against the Turks and Circassians, who had harried the population. I had
taught them something of the meaning of liberty and justice, and accustomed
them to a higher ideal of government than that with which they had pre-
viously been acc[uainted. As soon as I had gone, the Turks and Circassians
returned in full force ; the old Bashi-Bazouk system was re-established ;
my old employes were persecuted ; and a population which had begun to
appreciate something like decent government was flung back to suffer the
worst excesses of Turkish rule. The inevitable result followed ; and thus
it may be said that the (^'g'g of the present rebellion was laid in the three
years during which I was allowed to govern the Soudan on other than
Turkish principles.

"The Soudanese are a very nice people. They deserve the sincere
compassion and sympathy of all civilised men. I got on very well with
them, and I am sincerely sorry at the prospect of seeing them handed over
to be ground down once more by their Turkish and Circassian oppressors.
Yet, unless an attempt is made to hold on to the present garrisons, it is
inevitable that the Turks, for the sake of self-preservation, must attempt to
crush them. They deserve a better fate. It ought not to be impossible
to come to terms with them, to grant them a free amnesty for the past, to
offer them security for decent government in the future. If this were done,
and the government entrusted to a man whose word was truth, all might
yet be re-established. So far from believing it impossible to make an
arrangement with the Mahdi, I strongly suspect that he is a mere puppet,
put forward by Elias, Zebehr's father-in-law, and the largest slave-owner
in Obeid, and that he had assumed a religious title to give colour to his
defence of the popular rights.

"There is one subject on which I cannot imagine any one can differ
about. That is the impolicy of announcing our intention to evacuate
Khartoum. Even if we were bound to do so we should have said nothing
about it. The moment it is known that we have given up the game, every
man will go over to the Mahdi. All men worship the rising sun. The
difficulties of evacuation will be enormously increased, if, indeed, the with-
drawal of our garrison is not rendered impossible.

"The late Khedive, who is one of the ablest and worst-used men in
Europe, would not have made such a mistake, and under him the condition
of Egypt proper was much better than it is to-day. Now, with regard to
Egypt, the same principle should be observed that must be acted upon in
the Soudan. Let your foundations be broad and firm, and based upon the
contentment and welfare of the people. Hitherto, both in the Soudan and

The Last Nile Mission. 279

in Egypt, instead of constructing- the social edifice like a pyramid, upon
its base, we have been rearing an obelisk which a single push may over-
turn. Our safety in Egypt is to do something for the people. That is to
say, you must reduce their rent, rescue them from the usurers, and retrench
expenditure. Nine-tenths of the European employes might probably be
weeded out with advantage. The remaining tenth — thoroughly efficient —
should be retained ; but, whatever you do, do not break up Sir Evelyn
Wood's army, which is destined to do good work. Stiffen it as much as you
please, but with Englishmen, not with Circassians. Circassians are as
much foreigners in Egypt as Englishmen are, and certainly not more
popular. As for the European population, let them have charters for the
formation of municipal councils, for raising volunteer corps, and for organis-
ing in their own defence. Anything more shameful than the flight from
Egypt in 1882 I never read. Let them take an example from Shanghai,
where the European settlement provides for its own defence and its own
government, I should like to see a competent special Commissioner of the
highest standing — such a man, for instance, as the Right Honourable
W. E. Forster, who is free at once from traditions of the elders and of the
Foreign Office and of the bondholders, sent out to put Nubar in the saddle,
sift out unnecessary employes^ and warn evil-doers in the highest places that
they will not be allowed to play any tricks. If that were done, it would give
confidence everywhere, and I see no reason why the last British soldier
should not be withdrawn from Egypt in six months' time."

A perusal of these passages will suffice to show the reader what
thoughts were uppermost in Gordon's mind at the very moment when
he was negotiating about his new task for the King of the Belgians on
the Congo, and those thoughts, inspired by the enthusiasm derived from
his noble spirit, and the perfect self-sacrifice with which he would have
thrown himself into what he conceived to be a good and necessary
work, made him the ready victim of a Government which absolutely did
not know what course to pursue, and which was delighted to find that
the very man, whom the public designated as the right man for the
situation, was ready — nay, eager — to take all the burden on his shoulders
whenever his own Government called on him to do so, and to proceed
straight to the scene of danger without so much as asking for precise
instructions, or insisting on guarantees for his own proper treatment.
There is no doubt that from his own individual point of view, and as
affecting any selfish or personal consideration he had at heart, this mode
of action was very unwise and reprehensible, and a worldly censure would
be the more severe on Gordon, because he acted with his eyes open, and
knew that the gravity of the trouble really arose from the drifting policy
and want of purpose of the very Ministers for whom he was about to
dare a danger that Gordon himself, in a cooler moment, would very
likely have deemed it unnecessary to face.

Into the motives that filled him with a belief that he might inspire
a Government, which had no policy, with one created by his own
courage, confidence, and success, it would be impossible to enter, but it

2So The Life of Gordo7i.

can be confidently asserted that, although they were drawn after him sed
fiede clando to expend millions of treasure and thousands of lives, they
were never inspired by his exhortations and example to form a definite
policy as to the main point in the situation, viz., the defence of the
Egyptian possessions. In the flush of the moment, carried along by
an irresistible inclination to do the things which he saw could be done,
he overlooked all the other points of the case, and especially that he
was dealing with politicians tied by their party principles, and thinking
mor*^ of the passage through the House of some domestic measure of
fifth-rate importance than of the maintenance of an Imperial interest
and the arrest of an outbreak of Mahommedan fanaticism which, if not
checked, might call for a crusade. Gordon overlooked all these con-
siderations. He never thought but that he was dealing with other
Englishmen equally mindful with himself of their country's fame.

If Gordon, long before he took up the task, had been engrossed in
the development of the Soudan difficulty and the Mahdi's power, those
who had studied the question and knew his special qualifications for the
task, had, at a very early stage of the trouble, called upon the Govern-
ment to avail themselves of his services, and there is no doubt that if
that advice had been promptly taken instead of slowly, reluctantly, and
only when matters were desperate, there is no doubt, I repeat, remem-
bering what he did later on, that Gordon would have been able, without
a single English regiment, to have strangled the Mahdi's power in its
infancy, and to have won back the Soudan for the Khedive.

But it may be said, where was it ever prominently suggested that
General Gordon should be despatched to the Soudan at a time before
the Mahdi had become supreme in that region, as he undoubtedly did
bv the overthrow of Hicks and his force ?

I reply by the following quotations from prominent articles written
by myself in The Times of January and February 1883. Until the
capture of El Obeid at that period the movement of the Mahdi was a
local affair of the importance of which no one, at a distance, could
attempt to judge, but that signal success made it the immediate concern
of those responsible in Egypt. On 9th January 1883, in an article in
The Times on " The Soudan," occurs this passage : —

" It is a misfortune, in the interests of Egypt, of civilisation, and of
the mass of the Soudanese, that we cannot send General Gordon back to
the region of the Upper Nile to complete there the good work he began
eight years ago. With full powers, and with the assurance that the good
fruits of his labours shall not be lost by the subsequent acts of corrupt
Pashas, there need be little doubt of his attaining rapid success, while
the memory of his achievements, when working for a half-hearted

The Last Nile Mission. 281

Government, and with incapable colleagues, yet lives in the hearts of
the black people of the Soudan, and fills one of the most creditable
pages in the history of recent administration of alien races by English-

Again, on 17th February, in another article on the same subject: —

" The authority of the Mahdi could scarcely be preserved save by
constant activity and a policy of aggression, which would constitute a
standing danger to the tranquillity of Lower Egypt. On the other
hand, the preservation of the Khedive's sovereign rights through our
instrumentality will carry with it the responsibility of providing the
unhappy peoples of Darfour, Dongola, Kordofan, and the adjacent pro-
vinces with an equitable administration and immunity from heavy taxa-
tion. The obligation cannot be avoided under these, or perhaps under
any circumstances, but the acceptance of it is not a matter to be enter-
tained with an easy mind. The one thing that would reconcile us to
the idea would be the assurance that General Gordon would be sent
back with plenary powers to the old scene of his labours, and that he
would accept the charge."

As Gordon was not resorted to when the fall of El Obeid in the
early part of the year 1883 showed that the situation demanded some
decisive step, it is not surprising that he was left in inglorious inaction in
Palestine, while, as I and others knew well, his uppermost thought was
to be grappling with the Mahdi during the long lull of preparing
Hicks's expedition, and of its marching to its fate. The catastrophe
to that force on 4th November was known in London on 22 nd

I urged in every possible way the prompt employment of General
Gordon, who could have reached Egypt in a very short time from his
place of exile at Jaffa. But on this occasion I was snubbed, being told
by one of the ablest editors I have known, now dead, that " Gordon
was generally considered to be mad." However, at this moment the
Government seem to have come to the conclusion that General Gordon
had some qualifications to undertake the task in the Soudan, for at the
end of November 1883, Sir Charles Dilke, then a member of the
Cabinet as President of the Local Government Board, but whose
special knowledge and experience of foreign affairs often led to his
assisting Lord Granville at the Foreign Office, offered the Egyptian
Government Gordon's services. They were declined, and when, on
I St December 1883, Lord Granville proposed the same measure in a
more formal manner, and asked in an interrogatory form whether
General Charles Gordon would be of any use, and if so in what

282 The Lije of Gordon.

capacity, Sir Evelyn Baring, now Lord Cromer, threw cold water on
the project, and stated on 2nd December that "the Egyptian Govern-
ment were very much averse to employing him." Subsequent events
make it desirable to call special attention to the fact that when, how-
ever tardily, the British Government did propose the employment of
General Gordon, the suggestion was rejected, not on public grounds, but
on private. Major Baring did not need to be informed as to the work
Gordon had done in the Soudan, and as to the incomparable manner
in which it had been performed. No one knew better than he that,
with the single exception of Sir Samuel Baker, who was far too prudent
to take up a thankless task, and to remove the mountain of blunders
others had committed, there was no man living who had the smallest
pretension to say that he could cope with the Soudan difficulty, save
Charles Gordon. Yet, when his name is suggested, he treats the
matter as one that cannot be entertained. There is not a word as to
the obvious propriety of suggesting Gordon's name, but the objection
of a puppet-prince like Tewfik is reported as fatal to the course.
Yet six weeks, with the mighty lever of an aroused public opinion,
sufficed to make him withdraw the opposition he advanced to the
appointment, not on public grounds, which was simply impossible, but,
I fear, from private feelings, for he had not forgotten the scene in Cairo
in 1878, when he attempted to control the action of Gordon on the
financial question. There would be no necessity to refer to this matter,
but for its consequences. Had Sir Evelyn Baring done his duty, and given
the only honest answer on 2nd December 1883, that if any one man
could save the situation, that man was Charles Gordon, Gordon could
have reached Khartoum early in January instead of late in February,
and that difference of six weeks might well have sufficed to completely
alter the course of subsequent events, and certainly to save Gordon's
life, seeing that, after all, the Nile Expedition was only a few days too
late. The delay was also attended with fatal results to the civil popula-
tion of Khartoum. Had Gordon reached there early in January he
could have saved them all, for as it was he sent down 2600 refugees,
i.e. merchants, old men, women, and children, making all arrangements
for their comfort in the very brief period of open communication after
his arrival, when the greater part of February had been spent.

The conviction that Gordon's appointment and departure were
retarded by personal aniinus and an old difference is certainly
strengthened by all that follows. Sir Evelyn Baring and the Egyptian
Government would not have Charles Gordon, but they were quite
content to entrust the part of Saviour of the Soudan to Zebehr, the
king of the slave-hunters. On 13th December Lord Granville curtly

The Last Nile Mission. 283

informed our representative at Cairo that the employment of Zebelir
was inexpedient, and Gordon in his own forcible way summed the
matter up thus : " Zebehr will manage to get taken prisoner, and will
then head the revolt."

But while Sir Evelyn Baring would not have Gordon and the
British Cabinet withheld its approval from Zebehr, it was felt that the
situation required that something should be done as soon as possible,
for the Mahdi was master of the Soudan, and at any moment tidings
might come of his advance on Khartoum, where there was only a
small and disheartened garrison, and a considerable defenceless popula-
tion. The responsible Egyptian Ministers made several suggestions for
dealing with the situation, but they one and all deprecated ceding
territory to the Mahdi, as it would further alienate the tribes still loyal
or wavering and create graver trouble in the future. What they chiefly
contended for was the opening of the Berber-Souakim route with
10,000 troops, who should be Turks, as Engliish troops were not
available. It is important to note that this suggestion did not shock
the Liberal Government, and on 13th December 1883 Lord Granville
replied that the Government had no objection to offer to the employ-
ment of Turkish troops at Souakim for service in the Soudan. In the
following month the Foreign Secretary went one step further, and
"concurred in the surrender of the Soudan to the Sultan." In fact
the British Government were only anxious about one thing, and that
was to get rid of the Soudan, and to be saved any further worry in the
matter. No doubt, if the Sultan had had the money to pay for the
despatch of the expedition, this last suggestion would have been
adopted, but as he had not, the only way to get rid of the respon-
sibility was to thrust it on Gordon, who was soon discovered to be ready
to accept it without delay or conditions.

On 22nd December 1883 Sir Evelyn Baring wrote : "It would be
necessary to send an English officer of high authority to Khartoum
with full powers to withdraw the garrisons, and to make the best
arrangements possible for the future government of the country."
News from Khartoum showed that everything there was in a state
verging en panic, that the people thought they were abandoned by the
Government, and that the enemy had only to advance for the place
to fall without a blow. Lastly Colonel de Coetlogon, the governor after
Hicks's death, recommended on 9th January the immediate withdrawal
of the garrison from Khartoum, which he thought could be accomplished
if carried out with the greatest promptitude, but which involved the
desertion of the other garrisons. Abd-el-Kader, ex-Governor-General
of the Soudan and Minister of War, offered to proceed to Khartoum,

284 The Life of Gordon.

but when he discovered that the abandonment of the Soudan was to be
proclaimed, he absolutely refused on any consideration to carry out
what he termed a hopeless errand.

All these circumstances gave special point to Sir Evelyn Baring's
recommendation on 22nd December that "an English officer of high
authority should be sent to Khartoum," and the urgency of a deci-
sion was again impressed on the Government in his telegram of ist
January, because Egypt is on the point of losing the Soudan^ and
moreover possesses no force with which to defend the valley of the
Nile downwards. But in the many messages that were sent on this
subject during the last fortnight of the year 1883, the name of the one
" English officer of high authority " specially suited for the task finds
no mention. As this omission cannot be attributed to ignorance, some
different motive must he discovered. At last, on loth January, Lord
(>ranville renews his suggestion to send General Gordon, and asks
whether he would not be of some assistance under the altered circum-
stances. The "altered circumstances" must have been inserted for
the purpose of letting down Sir Evelyn Baring as lightly as possible,
for the only alteration in the circumstances was that six weeks had been
wasted in coming to any decision at all. On nth January Sir Evelyn
Baring replied that he and Nubar Pasha did not think Gordon's
services could be utilised, and yet three weeks before he had recom-
mended that " an English officer of high authority " should be sent,
and he had even complained because prompter measures were not
taken to give effect to his recommendation. The only possible con-
clusion is that, in Sir Evelyn Baring's opinion. General Gordon was
not "an English officer of high authority." As if to make his views
more emphatic. Sir Evelyn Baring on 15th January again telegraphed
for an English officer with the intentional and conspicuous omission
of Gordon's name, which had been three times urged upon him by
his own Government. But determined as Sir Evelyn Baring was that
by no act or word of his should General Gordon be appointed to the
Soudan, there were more powerful influences at w^ork than even his
strong will.

The publication of General Gordon's views in the Pall Mall
Gazette of 9th January 1S84 had roused public opinion to the im-
portance and urgency of the matter. It had also revealed that there
was at least one man who was not in terror of the Mahdi's power, and
who thought that the situation might still be saved. There is no
doubt that that publication w-as the direct and immediate cause of
Lord Granville's telegram of loth January; but Sir Evelyn Baring,
unmoved by what people thought or said at home, coldly replied on

The Last N^ile Mission. 285

nth January that Gordon is not the man he wants. If there had been
no other considerations in the matter, I have no doubt that Sir Evelyn
Baring would have beaten public opinion, and carried matters in the
high, dictatorial spirit he had shown since the first mention of Gordon's
name. But he had not made allowance for an embarrassed and
purposeless Government, asking only to be relieved of the whole
trouble, and willing to adopt any suggestion — even to resign its place
to " the unspeakable Turk " — so long as it was no longer worried in
the matter.

At that moment Gordon appears on the scene, ready and anxious
to undertake single-handed a task for which others prescribe armies
and millions of money. Public opinion greets him as the man for the
occasion, and certainly he is the man to suit '' that '"' Government. The
only obstruction is Sir Evelyn Baring. Against any other array of
forces his views would have prevailed, but even for him these are too

On 15th January Gordon saw Lord Wolseley, as described in the last
chapter, and then and there it is discovered and arranged that he will
go to the Soudan, but only at the Government's request, provided the
King of the Belgians will consent to his postponing the fulfilment of his
promise, as Gordon knows he cannot help but do, for it was given on
the express stipulation that the claim of his own country should always
come first. King Leopold, who has behaved throughout with generosity,

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 33 of 40)