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 35 of 40)
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Gordon, indifferent to all considerations of personal danger, did not
take the same view of Zebehr's attitude towards him personally, and
would still have taken him with him, if only on the ground that he
would be less dangerous in the Soudan than at Cairo ; but the
authorities would not acquiesce in a proposition that they considered
would inevitably entail the murder of Gordon at an early stage
of the journey. They cannot, from any point of view, be greatly
blamed in this matter ; and when Gordon complains later on, as he
frequently did complain, about the matter, the decision must be with his
friends at Cairo, for they strictly conformed with the first condition
specified in his own Memorandum. At the same time, he was perfectly
correct in his views as to Zebehr's power and capacity for mischief,
and it was certainly very unfortunate and wrong that his earlier sugges-
tion of removing him to Cyprus or some other place of safety was
not adopted.

The following new correspondence will at least suggest a doubt
whether Gordon was not more correct in his view of Zebehr's attitude
towards himself than his friends. What they deemed strong resentment
and a bitter personal feeling towards Gordon on the part of Zebehr, he
considered merely the passing excitement from discussing a matter of

294 '^^^ Life of Gordon.

great moment and interest. He would still have taken Zebehr with
him, and for many weeks after his arrival at Khartoum he expected
that, in reply to his frequently reiterated messages, " Send me Zebehr,"
the ex-Dictator of the Soudan would be sent up from Cairo. In one of
the last letters to his sister, dated Khartoum, 5th March 18S4, he wrote :
" I hope jnuch from Zebehr's coming up, for he is so well known to all
up here." I come now to the correspondence referred to.

Some time after communications were Iroken off with Khartoum,
Miss Gordon wrote to Zebehr, begging him to use his influence with the
Mahdi to get letters for his family to and from General Gordon. To
that Zebehr replied as follows : —

"To Her Excellency Miss Gordon, — I am very grateful to you for
having had the honour of receiving your letter of the 13th, and am very sorry
to say that I am not able to write to the Mahdi, because he is new, and has
appeared lately in the Soudan. I do not know him. He is not of my tribe
nor of my relations, nor of the tribes with which I was on friendly terms ;
and for these reasons I do not see the way in which I could carry out your
wish. I am ready to serve you in all that is possible all my life through, but
please accept my excuse in this matter.

" Please accept my best respects. Zebehr Rahamah, Pasha.

"Cairo, 22ftd /aftuary 1885."

Some time after the fall of Khartoum, Miss Gordon made a further
communication to Zebehr, but, owing to his having been exiled to
Gibraltar, it was not until October 1887 that she received the following
reply, which is certainly curious ; and I believe that this letter and
personal conversations with Zebehr induced one of the officers present
at the interview on 26th January 1S84 to change his original opinion,
and to conclude that it would have been safe for General Gordon to
have taken Zebehr with him : —

" Cairo [received by Miss Gordon
about \2th October 1887].

" Honourable Lady,— I most respectfully beg to acknowledge the
receipt of your letter, enclosed to that addressed to me by His Excellency
Watson Pasha.

" This letter has caused me a great satisfaction, as it speaks of the
friendly relations that existed between me and the late Gordon Pasha, your
brother, whom you have replaced in my heart, and this has been ascertained
to me by your inquiring about me and your congratulating me for my return
to Cairo " [that is, after his banishment to Gibraltar].

" I consider that your poor brother is still alive in you, and for the whole
run of my life I put m>self at your disposal, and beg that you will count
upon me as a true and faithful friend to you.

" You will also kindly pay my respects to the whole family of Gordon
Pasha, and may you not deprive me of your good news at any time.

The Last Nile Mission. 295

" My children and all my family join themselves to me, and pay you their
best respects.

" Further, I beg- to inform you that the messenger who had been pre-
viously sent through me, carrying Government correspondence to your
brother, Gordon Pasha, has reached him, and remitted the letter he had in
his own hands, and without the interference of any other person. The
details of his history are mentioned in the enclosed report, which I hope
you will kindly read. — Believe me, honourable Lady, to remain yours most
faithfully, Zebehr Rahamah."

Report Enclosed.

"When I came to Cairo and resided in it as I was before, I kept myself
aside of all political questions connected with the Soudan or others, accord-
ing to the orders given me by the Government to that effect. But as a
great rumour was spread over by the high Government officials who arrived
from the Soudan, and were with H.E. General Gordon Pasha at Khartoum
before and after it fell, that all my properties in that country had been
looted, and my relations ill-treated, I have been bound, by a hearty feeling
of compassion, to ask the above said officials what they knew about it, and
whether the messenger sent by me with the despatches addressed by the
Government to General Gordon Pasha had reached Khartoum and remitted
what he had.

"These officials informed me verbally that on the 25th Ramadan 1301
(March 1884), at the time they were sitting at Khartoum with General
Gordon, my messenger, named Fadhalla Kabileblos, arrived there, and
remitted to the General in his proper hands, and without the interference of
anyone, all the despatches he had on him. After that the General expressed
his greatest content for the receipt of the correspondence, and immediately
gave orders to the artillery to fire twenty-five guns, in sign of rejoicing, and
in order to show to the enemy his satisfaction for the news of the arrival of
British troops. General Gordon then treated my messenger cordially, and
requested the Government to pay him a sum of ;/^5oo on his return to Cairo,
as a gratuity for all the dangers he had run in accomphshing his faithful
mission. Besides that, the General gave him, when he embarked with
Colonel Stewart, ^13 to meet his expenses on the journey. A few days after
the arrival of my messenger at Khartoum, H.E. General Gordon thought it
proper to appoint Colonel Stewart for coming to Cairo on board a man-of-
war with a secret mission, and several letters, written by the General in
English and Araliic, were put in two envelopes, one addressed to the British
and the other to the Eg^yptian Government, and were handed over to my
messenger, with the order to return to Cairo with Colonel Stewart on board
a special steamer.

" But when Khartoum fell, and the rebels got into it, making all the
inhabitants prisoners, the Government officials above referred to were
informed that my messenger had been arrested, and all the correspondence
that he had on him, addressed by General Gordon to the Government,
was seized ; for when the steamer on board of which they were arrived at
Abou Kamar she went on rocks, and having been broken, the rebels made
a massacre of all those who were on board ; and as, on seeing the letters
carried by my messenger, they found amongst them a private letter addressed
to me by H.E. Gordon Pasha, expressing his thanks for my faithfulness to
him, the rebels declared mc an infidel, and decided to seize all my goods

296 The Life of Gordon.

and properties, comprising them in their Beit-el-Mal (that is, Treasury) as
it happened in fact.

"Moreover, the members of my family who were in the Soudan were
treated most despotically, and their existence was rendered most difficult.

" Such a state of things being incompatible with the suspicion thrown
upon me as regards my faithfulness to the Government, I have requested the
high Government officials referred to above to give me an official certificate
to that eft'ect, which they all gave ; and the enclosed copies will make known
to those who take the trouble to read them that I have been honest and
faithful in all what has been entrusted to me. This is the summary of the
information I have obtained from persons I have reason to believe."

Some further evidence of Zebehr's feelings is given in the following
letter from him to Sir Henry Gordon, dated in October 18S4 : —

"Your favour of 3rd September has been duly received, for which I
thank you. I herewith enclose my photograph, and hope that you will
kindly send me yours.

" The letter that you wished me to send H.E. General Gordon was sent
on the 1 8th August last, registered. I hope that you will excuse me in
delaying to reply, for when your letter arrived I was absent, and when I
returned I was very sorry that they had not forwarded the letter to me ;
otherwise I should have replied at once.

'' I had closed this letter with the photograph when I received fresh
news, to the effect that the messengers we sent to H.E. Gordon Pasha were
on their way back. I therefore kept back the letter and photograph till they
arrived, and I should see what tidings they brought. . . . You have told me
that Lord Northbrook knows what has passed between us. I endeavoured
and devised to see His Excellency, but I did not succeed, as he was very
busy. I presented a petition to him that he should help to recover the
property of which I was robbed unjustly, and which H.E. your brother
ordered to be restored, and at the same time to right me for the oppression
I had suflered. I have had no answer up to this present moment.

" Hoping that H.E. Gordon Pasha will return in safety, accept my best
regards, dear Sir, and present my compliments to your sister.

*' Zebkhr.
"28/// Oct. 1884.'

To sum up on this important matter. There never was any doubt
that the authorities in the Delta took on themselves a grave responsi-
bility when they remained deaf to all Gordon's requests for the co-
operation of Zebehr. They would justify themselves by saying that
they had a tender regard for Gordon's own safety. At least this was
the only point on which they showed it, and they would not like to be
deprived of the small credit attached to it ; but the evidence I have
now adduced renders even this plea of doubtful force. As to the value
of Zebehr's co-operation, if Gordon could have obtained it there cannot
be two opinions. Gordon did not exaggerate in the least degree when
he said that on the approach of Zebehr the star of the Mahdi would at

The Last Nile Mission. 297

once begin to wane, or, in other words, that he looked to Zebehr's
abihty and influence as the sure way to make his own mission a success.
On the very night of his interview with Zebehr, and within forty-
eight hours of his arrival in Cairo, General Gordon and his English
companion, with four Egyptian officers, left by train for Assiout, en route
to Khartoum.



Before entering on the events of this crowning passage in the career
of this hero, I think the reader might well consider on its threshold the
exact nature of the adventure undertaken by Gordon as if it were a
sort of everyday experience and duty. At the commencement of the
year 1884 the military triumph of the Mahdi was as complete as it
could be throughout the Soudan. Khartoum was still held by a force
of between 4000 and 6000 men. Although not known, all the other
garrisons in the Nile Valley, except Kassala and Sennaar, both near the
Abyssinian frontier, had capitulated, and the force at Khartoum would
certainly have offered no resistance if the Mahdi had advanced im-
mediately after the defeat of Hicks. Even if he had reached Khartoum
before the arrival of Gordon, it is scarcely doubtful that the place would
have fallen without fighting. Colonel de Coetlogon was in command,
but the troops had no faith in him, and he had no confidence in them.
That officer, on 9th January, " telegraphed to the Khedive, strongly
urging an immediate withdrawal from Khartoum. He said that one-
third of the garrison are unreliable, and that even if it were twice as
strong as it is, it would not hold Khartoum against the whole country."
In several subsequent telegrams Colonel de Coetlogon importuned the
Cairo authorities to send him authority to leave with the garrison, and
on the very day that the Government finally decided to despatch
Gordon he telegraphed that there was only just enough time left to
escape to Berber. While the commandant held and expressed these
views, it is not surprising that the garrison and inhabitants were dis-
heartened and decidedly unfit to make any resolute opposition to a
confident and daring foe. There is excellent independent testimony as
to the state of public feeling in the town.

Mr Frank Power had been residing in Khartoum as correspondent
of The Times from August 1883, and in December, after the Hicks
catastrophe, he was appointed Acting British Consul. In a letter
written on 12th January he said: "They have done nothing for us yet
from Cairo. They are leaving it all to fate, and the rebels around us

Khartottm. 299

are growing stronger!" Such was the general situation at Khartoum
when General Gordon was ordered, almost single-handed, to save it ;
and not merely to rescue its garrison, pronounced by its commander
to be partly unreliable and wholly inadequate, but other garrisons
scattered throughout the regions held by the Mahdi and his victorious
legions. A courageous man could not have been charged with cowardice
if he had shrunk back from such a forlorn hope, and declined to take
on his shoulders the responsibility that properly devolved on the com-
mander on the spot. A prudent man would at least have insisted that
his instructions should be clear, and that the part his Government and
country were to play was to be as strictly defined and as obligatory on
them as his own. But while Gordon's courage was of such a quality
that I beheve no calculation of odds or difficulties ever entered into his
view, his prudence never possessed the requisite amount of suspicion
to make him provide against the contingencies of absolute betrayal
by those who sent him, or of that change in party convenience and
tactics which induced those who first thought his mission most advan-
tageous as solving a difficulty, or at least putting off a trouble, to veer
round to the conclusion that his remaining at Khartoum, his honourable
but rigid resolve not to return without the people he went to save, was
a distinct breach of contract, and a serious offence.

The state of feeling at Khartoum was one verging on panic. The
richest townsmen had removed their property and families to Berber.
Colonel de Coeilogon had the river boats with steam up ready to com-
mence the evacuation, and while everyone thought that the place was
doomed, the telegraph instrument was eagerly watched for the signal to
begm the flight. The tension could not have lasted much longer —
without the signal the flight would have begun — when on 24th January
the brief message arrived : " General Gordon is coming to Khartoum."
The effect of that message was electrical. The panic ceased, confi-
dence was restored, the apathy of the Cairo authorities became a matter
of no importance, for England had sent her greatest name as a
pledge of her intended action, and the unreliable and insufficient
garrison pulled itself together for one of the most honourable and
brilliant defences in the annals of military sieges. Yet it was full
time. Two months had been wasted, and, as Mr Power said, "the
fellows in Lucknow did not look more anxiously for Colin Campbell
than we are looking for Gordon." Gordon, ever mindful of the
importance of time, and fully impressed with the sense of how much
had been lost by delay, did not let the grass grow under his feet, and
after his two days' delay at Cairo sent a message that he hoped to reach
Khartoum in eighteen days. Mr Power's comment on that message

300 The Life of Gordon.

is as follows : " Twenty-four days is the shortest time from Cairo to
Khartoum on record ; Gordon says he will be here in eighteen days ;
but he travels like a whirlwind." As a matter of fact, Gordon took
twenty days' travelling, besides the two days he passed at Berber.
He thus reached Khartoum on i8th February, and four days later
Colonel de Coetlogon started for Cairo.

The entry of Gordon into Khartoum was marked by a scene of
indescribable enthusiasm and public confidence. The whole popula-
tion, men, women, and children, turned out to welcome him as a
conqueror and a deliverer, although he really came in his own person
merely to cope with a desperate situation. The women threw them-
selves on the ground and struggled to kiss his feet ; in the confusion
Gordon was several times pushed down ; and this remarkable demon-
stration of popular confidence and affection was continued the whole
way from the landing-place to the Hukumdaria or Palace. This greeting
was the more remarkable because it was clear that Gordon had brought
no troops — only one white officer — and it soon became known that he
had brought no money. Even the Mahdi himself made his contribu-
tion to the general tribute, by sending General Gordon on his arrival
a formal salaam or message of respect. Thus hailed on all hands
as the one pre-eminently good man who had been associated with
the Soudan, Gordon addressed himself to the hard task he had
undertaken, which had been rendered almost hopeless of achievement
by the lapse of time, past errors, and the blindness of those who
should have supported him.

Difiicult as it had been all along, it was rendered still more difficult
by the decisive defeat of Baker Pasha and an Egyptian force of 4000
men at Tokar, near Souakim. This victory was won by Osman Digma,
who had been sent by the Mahdi to rouse up the Eastern Soudan at
the time of the threatened Hicks expedition. The result showed that
the Mahdi had discovered a new lieutenant of great military capacity
and energy, and that the Eastern Soudan was for the time as hopelessly
lost to Egypt as Kordofan and Darfour.

The first task to which Gordon addressed himself was to place
Khnrtoum and the detached work at Omdurman on the left bank of
the White Nile in a proper state of defence, and he especially supervised
the establishment of telegraphic communication between the Palace
and the many outworks, so that at a moment's notice he might receive
word of what was happening. His own favourite position became the
flat roof of this building, whence with his glass he could see round
for many miles. He also laid in considerable stores of provisions by
means of his steamers, in which he placed the greatest faith. In all

Khartoiun. 301

these matters he was ably and energetically assisted by Colonel Stewart ;
and beyond doubt the other Europeans took some slight share in the
incessant work of putting Khartoum in a proper state of defence; but
even with this relief, the strain, increased by constant alarms of the
jNIahdi's hostile approach, was intense, and Mr Power speaks of Gordon
as nearly worn out with work before he had been there a month.

When Gordon went to the Soudan his principal object was to
effect the evacuation of the country, and to establish there some ad-
ministration which would be answerable for good order and good neigh-
bourship. If the Mahdi had been a purely secular potentate, and not
a fanatical religious propagandist, it would have been a natural and
feasible arrangement to have come to terms with him as the conqueror
of the country. But the basis of the Mahdi's power forbade his being
on terms with anyone. If he had admitted the equal rights of Egypt
and the Khedive at any point, there would have been an end to
his heavenly mission, and the forces he had created out of the simple
but deep-rooted religious feelings of the Mahommedan clans of the
Soudan would soon have vanished. It is quite possible that
General Gordon had in his first views on the Mahdist movement
somewhat undervalued the forces created by that fanaticism, and that
the hopes and opinons he first expressed were unduly optimistic. If
so, it must be allowed that he lost not a moment in correcting them,
and within a week of his arrival at Khartoum he officially telegraphed
to Cairo, that "if Egypt is to be quiet the Mahdi must be smashed

When the British Government received that message, as they
did in a few days, with, moreover, the expression of supporting views
by Sir Evelyn Baring, they ought to have reconsidered the whole
question of the Gordon mission, and to have defined their own policy.
The representative they had sent on an exceptional errand to relieve
and bring back a certain number of distressed troops, and to arrange
if he could for the formation of a new government through the nota-
bilities and ancient families, reports at an early stage of his mission
that in his opinion there is no solution of the difficulty, save by resorting
to offensive measures against the Mahdi as the disturber of the peace,
not merely for that moment, but as long as he had to discharge the
divine task implied by his title. As it was of course obvious that
Gordon single-handed could not take the field, the conclusion necessarily
followed that he would require troops, and the whole character of his
task would thus have been changed. In face of that absolute volte-
face, from a policy of evacuation and retreat to one of retention and
advance, for that is what it signified, the Government would have been


02 TAe Life of Gordon.

justified in recalling Gordon, but as they did not do so, they cannot
plead ignorance of his changed opinion, or deny that, at the very
moment he became acquainted with the real state of things at Khar-
toum, he hastened to convey to them his decided conviction that the
only way out of the difficulty was to " smash up the Mahdi."

All his early messages show that there had been a change, or at
least a marked modification, in his opinions. At Khartoum he saw
more clearly than in Cairo or in London the extreme gravity of the
situation, and the consequences to the tranquillity of Lower Egypt that
would follow from the abandonment of Khartoum to the Mahdi. He
therefore telegraphed on the day of his arrival these words : "To with-
draw without being able to place a successor in my seat would be the
signal for general anarchy throughout the country, which, though all
Egyptian element were withdrawn, would be a misfortune, and inhuman."
In the same message he repeated his demand for the services of
Zebehr, through whom, as has been shown, he thought he might be
able to cope with the Mahdi. Yet their very refusal to comply with
that reiterated request should have made the authorities more willing
and eager to meet the other applications and suggestion of a man who
had thrust himself into a most perilous situation at their bidding, and
for the sake of the reputation of his country. It must be recorded with
feelings of shame that it had no such effect, and that apathy and
indifference to the fate of its gallant agent were during the first few
months the only characteristics of the Government policy.

At the same period all Gordon's telegrams and despatches showed
that he wanted reinforcements to some small extent, and at least military
demonstrations along his line of communication with Egypt to prove
that he possessed the support of his Government, and that he had only
to call upon it to send troops, and they were there to come. He,
naturally enough, treated as ridiculous the suggestion that he had
bound himself to do the whole work without any supjiort ; and fully
convinced that he had only to summon troops for them to be sent him
in the moderate strength he alone cared for, he issued a proclamation
in Khartoum, stating that "British troops are now on their way, and in
a few days will reach Khartoum." He therefore begged for the
despatch of a small force to Wady Haifa, and he went on to declare
that it would be "comparatively easy to destroy the Mahdi" if 200
British troops were sent to Wady Haifa, and if the Souakim-Berber route
were opened up by Indian-Moslem troops. Failing the adoption of these
measures, he asked leave to raise a sum, by appealing to philanthropists,
sufficient to pay a small Turkish force and carry on a contest for
supremacy with the INIahdi on his own behoof. All these suggestions

Khartoum. 303

were more or less supported by Sir Evelyn Baring, who at last suggested

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 35 of 40)