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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and the most kind consideration towards Gordon, is naturally displeased
and upset, but he feels that he cannot restrain Gordon or insist on the
letter of his bond. The Congo Mission is therefore broken off or
suspended, as described in the last chapter. In the evening of the 15th
Lord Granville despatched a telegram to Sir Evelyn Baring, no longer
asking his opinion or advice, but stating that the Government have
determined to send General Gordon to the Soudan, and that he will
start without delay. To that telegram the British representative could
make no demur short of resigning his post, but at last the grudging
admission was wrung from him that " Gordon would be the best
man." This conclusion, to which anyone conversant with the facts, as
Sir Evelyn Baring was, would have come at once, was therefore only
arrived at seven weeks after Sir Charles Dilke first brought forward
Gordon's name as the right person to deal with the Soudan difficulty.
That loss of time was irreparable, and in the end proved fatal to
Gordon himself.

In describing the last mission, betrayal, and death of Gordon, the
heavy responsibility of assigning the just blame to those individuals who
were in a special degree the cause of that hero's fate cannot be shirked

2 86 The Life of Gordon.

by any writer pretending to record history. Lord Cromer has filled a
difficult post in Kgypt for many years with advantage to his country, but
in the matter of General Gordon's last Nile mission he allowed his per-
sonal feelings to obscure his judgment. He knew that Gordon was a
difficult, let it be granted an impossible, colleague ; that he would do
thino-s in his own way in defiance of diplomatic timidity and official
rigidity ; and that, instead of there being in the Egyptian firmament the
one planet Earing, there would be only the single sun of Gordon. All
these considerations were human, but they none the less show that he
allowed his private feelings, his resentment at Gordon's treatment of
him in 1878, to bias his judgment in a matter of public moment. It
was his opposition alone that retarded Gordon's departure by seven
weeks, and indeed the delay was longer, as Gordon was then at Jaffa,
and that delay, I repeat it solemnly, cost Gordon his life. Whoever
else was to blame afterwards, the first against whom a verdict of Guilty
must be entered, without any hope of reprieve at the bar of history, was
Sir Evelyn Baring, now Lord Cromer.

Mr Gladstone and his Government are certainly clear of any reflec-
tion in this stage of the matter. They did their best to put forward
General Gordon immediately on the news coming of the Hicks disaster,
and although they might have shown greater determination in com-
pelling the adoption of their plan, which they were eventually obliged to
do, this was a very venial fault, and not in any serious way blameworthy.
Nor did they ever seek to repudiate their responsibility for sending
Gordon to the Soudan, although a somewhat craven statement by Lord
Granville, in a speech at Shrewsbury in September 1S85, to the effect
that " Gordon went to Khartoum at his own request," might seem to
infer that they did. This remark may have been a slip, or an incorrect
mode of saying that Gordon willingly accepted the task given him by
the Government, but Mr Gladstone placed the matter in its true light
when he wrote that " General Gordon went to the Soudan at the request
of H.M.'s Government."

Gordon, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Donald Stewart, an
officer who had visited the Soudan in 1883, and written an able report
on it, left London by the Indian mail of i8th January 18S4. The
decision to send Colonel Stewart with him was arrived at only at the
very last moment, and on the platform at Charing Cross Station the
acquaintance of the two men bound together in such a desperate
partnership practically began. It is worth recalling that in that hurried
and stirring scene, when the War Office, with the Duke of Cambridge,
had assembled to see him off, Gordon found time to say to one of
Stewart's nearest relations, " Be sure that he will not go into any danger

The Last Nile Mission. 287

which I do not share, and I am sure that when I am in danger he will
not be far behind."

Gordon's journey to Egypt was uneventful, but after the exciting
events that preceded his departure he found the leisure of his sea-trip
from Brindisi beneficial and advantageous, for the purpose of consider-
ing his position and taking stock of the situation he had to face. By
habit and temperament Gordon was a bad emissary to carry out cut-and-
dried instructions, more especially when they related to a subject upon
which he felt very strongly and held pronounced views. The instruc-
tions which the Government gave him were as follows, and I quote the
full text. They were probably not drawn up and in Gordon's hands
more than two hours before he left Charing Cross, and personally I do
not suppose that he had looked through them, much less studied them.
His view of the matter never varied. He went to the Soudan to rescue
the garrisons, and to carry out the evacuation of the province after pro-
viding for its administration. The letter given in the previous chapter
shows how vague and incomplete was the agreement between himself
and Ministers. It was nothing more than the expression of an idea
that the Soudan should be evacuated, but how and under what conditions
was left altogether to the chapter of accidents. At the start the Govern-
ment's view of the matter and his presented no glaring difference. They
sent General Gordon to rescue and withdraw the garrisons if he could do
so, and they were also not averse to his establishing any administration
that he chose. But the main point on which they laid stress was that
they were to be no longer troubled in the affair. Gordon's marvellous
qualities were to extricate them from the difficult position in which the
shortcomings of the Egyptian Government had placed them, and beyond
that they had no definite thought or care as to how the remedy was to
be discovered and applied. The following instructions should be read
by the light of these reflections, which show that, while they nominally
started from the same point, Gordon and the Government were never
really in touch, and had widely different goals in view : —

"Foreign Oyyic^, January \%th, 1S84.

" Her Majesty's Government are desirous that you should proceed at
once to Egypt, to report to them on the military situation in the Soudan, and
on the measures which it may be advisable to take for the security of the
Egyptian garrisons still holding positions in that country, and for the safety
of the European population in Khartoum.

" You are also desired to consider and report upon the best mode of
effecting the evacuation of the interior of the Soudan, and upon the manner
in which the safety and the good administration by the Egyptian Govern-
ment of the ports on the sea-coast can best be secured.

" In connection with this subject, you should pay especial consideration
to the question of the steps that may usefully be taken to counteract the

288 The Life of Gordon.

stimulus which it is feared may possibly be given to the Slave Trade by the
present insurrectionary movement and by the withdrawal of the Egyptian
authority from the interior.

"You will be under the instructions of Her Majesty's Agent and Consul-
General at Cairo, through whom your Reports to Her Majesty's Government
should be sent, under flying seal.

" You will consider yourself authorized and mstructed to perform such
other duties as the Egyptian Government may desire to entrust to you, and
as may be communicated to you by Sir E. Baring. You will be accom-
panied by Colonel Stewart, who will assist you in the duties thus confided to


" On your arrival in Egypt you will at once communicate with Sir E.
Baring, who will arrange to 'meet you, and will settle with you whether you
should proceed direct to Suakin, or should go yourself or despatch Colonel
Stewart to Khartoum via the Nile."

General Gordon had not got very far on his journey before he began
to see that there were points on which it would be better for him to
know the Government's mind and to state his own. Neither at this
time nor throughout the whole term of his stay at Khartoum did Gordon
attempt to override the main decision of the Government policy, viz. to
evacuate the Soudan, although he left plenty of documentary evidence
to show that this was not his policy or opinion. Moreover, his own
policy had been well set forth in the Pall Mall Gazette, and might be
summed up in the necessity to keep the Eastern Soudan, and the
impossibility of fortifying Lower Egypt against the advance of the
Mahdi. But he had none the less consented to give his services to a
Government which had decided on evacuation, and he remained loyal
to that purpose, although in a little time it was made clear that there
was a wide and impassable gulf between the views of the British Govern-
ment and its too brilliant agent.

The first doubt that flashed through his mind, strangely enough, was
about Zebehr. He knew, of course, that it had been proposed to
employ him, and that Mr Gladstone had not altogether unnaturally
decided against it. But Gordon knew the man's ability, his in-
fluence, and the close connection he still maintained with the Soudan,
where his father-in-law Elias was the Mahdi's chief supporter, and the
paymaster of his forces. I believe that Gordon was in his heart of the
opinion that the Mahdi v^^as only a lay figure, and that the real author
of the whole movement in the Soudan was Zebehr, but that the Mahdi,
carried away by his exceptional success, had somewhat altered the scope
of the project, and given it an exclusively religious or fanatical character.
It is somewhat difficult to follow all the workings of Gordon's mind on
this point, nor is it necessary to do so, but the fact that should not be
overlooked is Gordon's conviction in the great power for good or evil
of Zebehr. Thinking this matter over in the train, he telegraphed from

The Last Nile Mission. 289

Brindisi to Lord Granville on 20th January, begging that Zebehr might
be removed from Cairo to Cyprus. There is no doubt as to the wisdom
of this suggestion, and had it been adopted the lives of Colonel Stewart
and his companions would probably have been spared, for, as will be
seen, there is good ground to think that they were murdered by men of
his tribe. In Cyprus Zebehr would have been incapable of mischief,
but no regard was paid to Gordon's wish, and thus commenced wdiat
proved to be a long course of indifference.

During the voyage from Brindisi to Port-Said Gordon drew up a
memorandum on his instructions, correcting some of the errors that had
crept into them, and explaining what, more or less, would be the best
course to follow. One part of his instructions had to go by the board —
that enjoining him to restore to the ancient families of the Soudan their
long-lost possessions, for there were no such families in existence. One
paragraph in that memorandum was almost pathetic, when he begged
the Government to take the most favourable view of his shortcomings
if he found himself compelled by necessity to deviate from his instruc-
tions. Colonel Stewart supported that view in a very sensible letter,
when he advised the Government, " as the wisest course, to rely on the
discretion of General Gordon and his knowledge of the country."

General Gordon's original plan was to proceed straight to Souakim,
and to travel thence by Berber to Khartoum, leaving the Foreign Office
to arrange at Cairo what his status should be, but this mode of proceed-
ing would have been both irregular and inconvenient, and it was rightly
felt that he ought to hold some definite position assigned by the Khedive,
as the ruler of Egypt. On arriving at Port-Said he was met by Sir Evelyn
Wood, w^ho was the bearer of a private letter from his old Academy and
Crimean chum. Sir Gerald Graham, begging him to " throw over all per-
sonal feelings " and come to Cairo. The appeal could not have come
from a quarter that would carry more weight with Gordon, who had a
feeling of affection as well as respect for General Graham ; and, more-
over, the course suggested was so unmistakably the right one, that he
could not, and did not, feel any hesitation in taking it, although he was
well aware of Sir Evelyn Baring's opposition, which showed that the sore
of six years before still rankled. Gordon accordingly accompanied Sir
Evelyn Wood to Cairo, where he arrived on the evening of 24th
January. On the following day he was received by Tewfik, who con-
ferred on him for the second time the high office of Governor-General
of the Soudan. It is unnecessary to lay stress on any minor point in
the recital of the human drama which began with the interview with
Lord Wolseley on 15th January, and thence went on without a pause
to the tragedy of 26th January in the following year; but it does seem


'2gb The Life of Gordon.

strange, if the British Government were resolved to stand firm to its
evacuation policy, that it should have allowed its emissary to accept the
title of Governor-General of a province which it had decided should
cease to exist.

This was not the only nor even the most important consequence of
his turning aside to go to Cairo. When there, those who were interested
for various reasons in the proposal to send Zebehr to the Soudan, made
a last effort to carry their project by arranging an interview between
that person and Gordon, in the hope that all matters in dispute between
them might be discussed, and, if possible, settled. Gordon, whose
enmity to his worst foe was never deep, and whose temperament would
have made him delight in a discussion with the arch-fiend, said at once
that he had no objection to meeting Zebehr, and would discuss any
matter with him or any one else. The penalty of this magnanimity was
that he was led to depart from the uncompromising but safe attitude of
opposition and hostility he had up to this observed towards Zebehr, and
to record opinions that were inconsistent with those he had expressed
on the same subject only a few weeks and even days before. But even
in what follows I believe it is safe to discern his extraordinary perspicuity ;
for when he saw that the Government would not send Zebehr to Cyprus,
he promptly concluded that it would be far safer to take or have him with
him in the Soudan, where he could personally watch and control his
movements, than to allow him to remain at Cairo, guiding hostile plots
with his money and influence in the very region whither Gordon was

This view is supported by the following Memorandum, drawn up by
General Gordon on 25th January 1884, the day before the interview,
and entitled by him " Zebehr Pasha v. General Gordon " : —

"Zebehr Pasha's first connection with me began in 1877, when I was
named Governor-General of Soudan. Zebehr was then at Cairo, being in
litigation with Ismail Pasha Eyoub, my predecessor in Soudan. Zebehr
had left his son Suleiman in charge of his forces in the Bahr Gazelle.
Darfour was in complete rebellion, and I called on Suleiman to aid the
Egyptian army in May 1877. He never moved. In June 1877 I went to
Darfour, and was engaged with the rebels when Suleiman moved up his
men, some 6000, to Dara. It was in August 1877. He and his men
assumed an hostile attitude to the Government of Dara. I came down to
Dara and went out to Suleiman's camp, and asked them to come and see me
at Dara. Suleiman and his chiefs did so, and I told them I felt sure that
Ihey meditated rebellion, liut if they rebelled they would perish. I offered
them certain conditions, appointing certain chiefs to be governors of certain
districts, but refusing to let Suleiman be Governor of IJahr Gazelle. After
some days' parleying, some of Suleiman's chiefs came over to my side, and
these chiefs warned me that, if I did not take care, Suleiman would attack
me. I therefore ordered Suleiman to go to Shaka, and ordered those chiefs

The Last Nile Mission. 291

who were inclined to accept my terms in another direction, so as to
separate them. On this Suleiman accepted my terms, and he and others
were made Beys. He left for Shaka with some 4000 men. He looted the
country from Dara to Shaka, and did not show any respect to my orders.
The rebellion in Darfour being settled, I went down to Shaka with 200 men.
Suleiman was there with 4000. Then he came to me and begged me to let
him have the sole command in Bahr Gazelle. I refused, and I put him,
Suleiman, under another chief, and sent up to Bahr Gazelle 200 regular
troops. Things remained quiet in Bahr Gazelle till I was ordered to Cairo
in April 1878, about the finances. I then saw Zebehr Pasha, who wished to
go up to Soudan, and I refused. I left for Aden in May, and in June 1878
Suleiman broke out in revolt, and killed the 200 regular troops at Bahr
Gazelle. I sent Gessi against him in August 1878, and Gessi crushed him
in the course of 1879. Gessi captured a lot of letters in the divan of
Suleiman, one of which was from Zebehr Pasha inciting him to revolt. The
original of this letter was given by me to H.H. the Khedive, and I also had
printed a brochure containing it and a sort of expose to the people of
Soudan why the revolt had been put down— viz. that it was not a question
of slave-hunting, but one of revolt against the Khedive's authority. Copies
of this must exist. On the production of this letter of Zebehr to Suleiman,
I ordered the confiscation of Zebehr's property in Soudan, and a court
martial to sit on Zebehr's case. This court martial was held under Hassan
Pasha Halmi ; the court condemned Zebehr to death ; its proceedings were
printed in the brochure I alluded to. Gessi afterwards caught Suleiman
and shot him. With details of that event I am not acquainted, and I never
saw the papers, for I went to Abyssinia. Gessi's orders were to try him,
and if guilty to shoot him. This is all I have to say about Zebehr and

" Zebehr, without doubt, was the greatest slave-hunter who ever existed.
Zebehr is the most able man in the Soudan ; he is a capital general, and has
been wounded several times. Zebehr has a capacity of government far
beyond any statesman in the Soudan. All the followers of the Mahdi would,
I believe, leave the Mahdi on Zebehr's approach, for they are ex-chiefs of
Zebehr. Personally, I have a great admiration for Zebehr, for he is a man,
and is infinitely superior to those poor fellows who have been governors of
Soudan ; but 1 question in my mind, ' Will Zebehr ever forgive me the death
of his son?' and that question has regulated my action respecting him, for
I have been told he bears me the greatest malice, and one cannot wonder at
it if one is a father.

" I would even now risk taking Zebehr, and would willingly bear the
responsibility of doing so, convinced, as I am, that Zebehr's approach ends
the Mahdi, which is a question which has its pulse in Syria, the Hedjaz, and

" It cannot be the wish of H.M.'s Government, or of the Egyptian
Government, to have an intestine war in the Soudan on its evacuation, yet
such is sure to ensue, and the only way which could prevent it is the restora-
tion of Zebehr, who would be accepted on all sides, and who would end the
Mahdi in a couple of months. My duty is to obey orders of H.M.'s
Government, i.e. to evacuate the Soudan as quickly as possible, vis-h-vis the
safety of the Egyptian employes.

" To do this I count on Zebehr ; but if the addenda is made that I leave
a satisfactory settlement of affairs, then Zebehr becomes a sine qua non.

" Therefore the question resolves itself into this. Does H.M.'s Government
or Egyptian Government desire a settled state of affairs in Soudan after the
evacuation ? Do these Governments want to be free of this religious fanatic?

292 The Life of Gordon.

If they do, then Zebehr should be sent; and if the two Governments are
indifferent, then do not send him, and I have confidence one w 11 {D.V.) get
out the Eg3'ptian employes in three or four months, and will leave a cockpit
behind us. It is not my duty to dictate w^hat should be done. I will only
say, first, I was justified in my action against Zebehr ; second, that if Zebehr
has no malice personally against me, I should take him at once as a humanly
certain settler of the Mahdi and of those in revolt. I have written this
Minute, and Zebehr's story may be heard. I only wish that after he has
been interrogated, I may be questioned on such subjects as his statements
are at variance with mine. I would wish this inquiry to be official, and in
such a way that, whatever may be the decision come to, it may be come to
in my absence.

" With respect to the slave-trade, I think nothing of it, for there will
always be slave-trade as long as Turkey and Egypt buy the slaves, and it
may be Zebehr will or might in his interest stop it in some manner. I will
therefore sum up my opinion, viz. that I would willingly take the responsi-
bility of taking Zebehr up with me if, after an interview with Sir E. Baring
and Nubar Pasha, they tell ' the mystic feeling' I could trust him, and which
'mystic feeling' I felt I had for him to-night when I met him at Cherif
Pasha's house. Zebehr would have nothing to gain in hunting me, and I
would have no fear. In this affair my desire, I own, would be to take Zebehr.
I cannot exactly say why I feel towards him thus, and I feel sure that his
going would settle the Soudan affair to the benefit of H.M.'s Government,
and I would bear the responsibility of recommending it.

*' C. G. Gordon, Major-General."

An interview between Gordon and Zebehr was therefore arranged for
26th January, the day after this memorandum was written. On 25th it
should also be remembered that the Khedive had again made Gordon
Governor-General of the Soudan. Besides the two principals, there
were present at this interview Sir Evelyn Baring, Sir Gerald Graham,
Colonel Watson, and Nubar Pasha. Zebehr protested his innocence of
the charges made against him ; and when Gordon reminded him of his
letter, signed with his hand and bearing his seal, found in the divan of
his son Suleiman, he called upon Gordon to produce this letter, which,
of course, he could not do, because it was sent with the other incriminat-
ing documents to the Khedive in 1879. The passage in that letter
establishing the guilt of Zebehr may, however, be cited, it being first
explained that Idris Ebter was Gordon's governor of the Bahr Gazelle
province, and that Suleiman did carry out his father's instructions to
attack him.

" Now since this same Idris Ebter has not appreciated our kindness
towards him, nor shown regard for his duty towards God, therefore do
you accomplish his ejection by compulsory force, threats, and menaces,
without personal hurt, but with absolute expulsion and deprivation from
the Bahr-el-Gazelle, leaving no remnant of him in that region, no son,
and no relation. For he is a mischief-maker, and God loveth not them
who make mischief."

The Last Nile Mission. 293

It is highly probable, from the air of confidence with which Zebehr
called for the production of the letter, that, either during the Arabi
rising or in some other way, he had recovered possession of the original ;
but Gordon had had all the documents copied in 1879, and bound in
the little volume mentioned in the preceding Memorandum, as well as
in several of his letters, and the evidence as to Zebehr's complicity and
guilt seems quite conclusive.

In his Memorandum Gordon makes two conditions : first, "if Zebehr
bears no malice personally against me, I will take him to the Soudan at
once," and this condition is given further force later on in reference to
"the mystic feeling." The second condition was that Zebehr was only
to be sent if the Government desired a settled state of affairs after the
evacuation. From the beginning of the interview it was clear to those
present that no good would come of it, as Zebehr could scarcely control
his feelings, and showed what they deemed a personal resentment
towards Gordon that at any moment might have found expression in
acts. After a brief discussion it was decided to adjourn the meeting,
on the pretence of having search made for the incriminating document,
but really to avert a worse scene. General Graham, in the after-
discussion on Gordon's renewed desire to take Zebehr with him,
declared that it would be dangerous to acquiesce ; and Colonel Watson
plainly stated that it would mean the death of one or both of them.

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 34 of 40)