George Bethune English.

A Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar Under the Command of His Excellence Ismael Pasha, undertaken by Order of His Highness Mehemmed Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt, By An American In The S online

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Online LibraryGeorge Bethune EnglishA Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar Under the Command of His Excellence Ismael Pasha, undertaken by Order of His Highness Mehemmed Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt, By An American In The S → online text (page 1 of 9)
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Produced by Charles Klingman














London: Printed by C. Roworth, Bell Yard Temple Bar











By George Bethune English, General of Artillery in the U.S. Service


MEHEMMED ALI PASHA, the victorious pacificator of Egypt and Arabia, is
already renowned in the civilized world. Egypt, once the home of discord
and the headquarters of anarchy, under his administration has long
enjoyed peace and prosperity; is permeable in all directions, and
in perfect safety to the merchant and the traveler, and is yearly
progressing in wealth and improvement.[1]

The Viceroy has been particularly attentive to revive and extend those
commercial relations of Egypt with the surrounding countries, which once
rendered it the richest and most flourishing territory in the ancient

A well chosen library of the best European books on the art military,
geography, astronomy, medicine, history, belles-lettres and the fine
arts has been purchased from Europe by the Viceroy and placed in
the palace of Ismael Pasha, where is also a school, at the Viceroy's
expense, for the instruction of the Mussulman youth in the Italian
language and the sciences of the Franks. To which establishments has
been lately added a printing press, for printing books in the Turkish,
Arabic and Persian languages, and a weekly newspaper in Arabic and
Italian. The library and the press are under the superintendence of
Osman Noureddin Effendi, a young Turk of great good sense, and who
is well versed in the literature of Europe, where he has resided for
several years, by order of the Viceroy, for his education: he is at
present engaged in translating into Turkish some works on tactics, for
the use of his countrymen.

For several years past the inland commerce of this favored land had
suffered great interruptions from the confusion and discord to which the
countries on the Upper Nile have been a prey. The chiefs of Shageia had
formed themselves into a singular aristocracy of brigands, and pillaged
all the provinces and caravans within their reach, without mercy and
without restraint; while the civil wars, which have distracted the
once powerful kingdom of Sennaar for these last eighteen years, had
occasioned an almost entire cessation of a commerce, from which Egypt
had derived great advantages.

His Highness the Viceroy, in consequence, determined, as the most
effectual means of putting an end to these disorders, to subject those
countries to his dominion.

Four thousand troops were accordingly put under the command of Ismael
Pasha, the youngest son of the Viceroy, with orders to conquer all the
provinces on the Nile, from the Second Cataract to Sennaar inclusive.

Through the influence of the recommendation of Henry Salt, Esq., His
Britannic Majesty's Consul General in Egypt, I was ordered by the
Viceroy to accompany this expedition, with the rank of Topgi Bashi,
i.e. a chief of artillery, and with directions to propose such plans of
operation to the Pasha Ismael as I should deem expedient, but which the
Pasha might adopt or reject as he should think proper.

This expedition has been perfectly successful; and the conquest of
the extensive and fertile countries, which, in the reign of Candace,
repulsed the formidable legions of Rome, has been effected at an expense
not greater than the blood of about two hundred soldiers.

The principal cause of a success so extraordinary, at such a price,
has been the humanity and good faith of the Pasha Ismael towards those
provinces that submitted without fighting. Perfect security of person
and property was assured to the peaceable, and severe examples were made
of those few of the soldiery, who, in a very few instances, presumed to
violate it. The good consequences of this deportment toward the people
of these countries have been evident. All have seen that those who have
preferred peace before war have had peace without war, and that those
who preferred war before peace have not had peace but at the price of

The destruction or disarmament of the brigands, who have heretofore
pillaged those countries with impunity - the establishment of order
and tranquility - the security now assured to the peasants and the
caravans - and the annexment of so many fine provinces and kingdoms to
the sway of the Viceroy of Egypt,[2] are not the only consequences of this
expedition that will give him glory.

This expedition has laid open to the researches of the geographer and
the antiquarian a river and a country highly interesting, and hitherto
imperfectly known to the civilized world. The Nile, on whose banks we
have marched for so many hundred miles, is the most famous river in
the world, for the uncertainty of its source and the obscurity of its
course. At present this obscurity ceases to exist, and before the return
of the Pasha Ismael this uncertainty will probably be no more. The
countries we have traversed are renowned in history and poetry as
the land of ancient and famous nations, which have established and
overthrown mighty empires, and have originated the religions, the
learning, the arts, and the civilization of nations long since extinct;
and who have been preceded by their instructors in the common road which
every thing human must travel.

This famous land of Cush and Saba, at present overawed by the camps
of the Osmanii, has presented to our observation many memorials of the
power and splendor of its ancient masters. The remains of cities once
populous - ruined temples once magnificent - colossal statues of
idols once adored, but now prostrated by the strong arms of time and
truth - and more than a hundred pyramids, which entomb the bodies of
kings and conquerors once mighty, but whose memory has perished, have
suspended for awhile the march of our troops - have attracted the
notice of the Franks, who voyage with the army with the favor and the
protection of the Pasha,[3] and which doubtless ere long, by engaging the
attention and researches of men of learning, will unite the names of
Mehemmed Ali and Ismael his son with the history and monuments of this
once famous and long secluded land, in a manner that will make the
memory of both renowned and inseparable.

That the further progress of the Pasha Ismael southward of his present
position will be successful, there is every reason to believe; and I
derive great pleasure from the reflection, that his success will still
further augment the glory of the man whom the Sultan delights to honor,
and who has done so much for the honor of the Mussulmans.

The Reader will find that I have sometimes, in the course of this
Journal, included the events of several days in the form of narrative,
particularly in my account of the Second Cataract. Wherever I have so
done, it has been occasioned by paroxysms of a severe ophthalmia, which
afflicted me for fifteen months, and rendered me at times incapable of


&c. &c. &c.

I arrived at the camp at Wady Haifa on the Second Cataract, on the 16th
of the moon Zilhadge, in the year of the Hegira 3255,[4] where I found
about four thousand troops,[5] consisting of Turkish cavalry, infantry and
artillery, and a considerable proportion of Bedouin cavalry and Mogrebin
foot soldiers, besides about one hundred and twenty large boats loaded
with provisions and ammunition, and destined to follow the march of the
army to the upper countries of the Nile.

17th of Zilhadge. Presented myself to his Excellency the Pasha Ismael,
by whom I was received in a very nattering manner, and presented with a
suit of his own habiliments.

On my asking his Excellency if he had any orders for me, he replied,
that he was at present solely occupied in expediting the loading and
forwarding the boats carrying the provisions of the army, but that when
that was finished he would send for me to receive his commands.

I employed this interval in noticing the assemblage that composed the
army. The chiefs and soldiers I found well disposed to do their duty,
through attachment to their young commander and through fear of Mehemmed
Ali. They were alert to execute what orders they received, and very busy
in smoking their pipes when they had nothing else to do.

On the 19th I was sent for by the Pasha, with whom I remained in private
audience for an hour.

On the 21st of the moon Zilhadge was attacked by that distressing malady
the ophthalmia. In two days the progress of the disorder was such
that my eyes were closed up and incapable of supporting the light, and
occasioned me such acute anguish that I could get no sleep but by
the effect of laudanum. This misfortune at this crisis was peculiarly
vexatious and mortifying for me, as it put it out of my power to
accompany the Pasha, who departed with the army for Dongola on the 26th,
taking his route on the west bank of the river, and leaving the Divan
Effendi and a small party of soldiers to expedite the loading and
forwarding the boats that had not as yet got ready to proceed up the

On the 3d of Mofiarram, A. H. 1236, I embarked on board the boat of the
Frank surgeons attached to the army, and left the lower or north end
of the Second Cataract as it is commonly styled in the maps, in company
with fifteen boats to follow and rejoin the army.

I would here observe that what is called the Second Cataract is properly
a succession of partial falls and swift rapids for more than a hundred
miles before we arrived at Succoot. I counted nine; some of them,
particularly the second,[6] fifth,[7] seventh,[8] and ninth,[9] very
dangerous to pass, though at this time the Nile had fallen but a few
feet. Before we arrived at the fifth, two boats were wrecked against the
rocks which crowd the rapids, and one filled and sunk; and before we had
passed the ninth several similar accidents had taken place. To pass the
fifth and ninth rapids, it was necessary to employ about a hundred men
to drag the boats one after another against the current. At the fifth
pass, several of the boats were damaged, and two soldiers and two
boatmen drowned. At this pass, the river is interrupted by a ledge of
rocks reaching nearly across, and over which the Nile falls. Between
this ledge of rocks and the western shore of the river is a practicable
passage, wide enough to admit a boat to be hauled up the current, which
here runs furiously. Overlooking this passage are two hills, one on the
east and one on the west side of the river: on these hills are the ruins
of ancient fortifications. They are also surmounted by two small temples
in the Egyptian style: that on the west side is almost perfect. It is
sculptured exteriorly and interiorly with figures and hieroglyphics, and
the ceiling is painted azure.[10]

The appearance of the country on each side of the falls is similar to
that of the country south of Assuan - a sandy desert studded with rocky
hills and mountains, The only appearance of vegetation observable was
in some of the islands and on the immediate banks of the river, where
we met at every mile or two with small spots of fertile ground, some
of them cultivated and inhabited. The rocky hills consist frequently
of beautiful black granite, of the color and brilliancy of the best
sea-coal. Here and there, at different points on the Cataract, I
observed some forts built by the natives of the country. They are
constructed of unhewn stones cemented with mud, and flanked by towers
and angular projections something resembling bastions, and are pierced
with loopholes for musquetry. Their interior presents the following
appearance: - against the interior side of the walls all round are built
low chambers, communicating by small doors with the area and frequently
with each other. I could observe nothing in these chambers except the
bottom part of the small handmills used by the Orientals to grind meal,
which could not be hastily removed as they were fixed in the ground;
every thing else the inhabitants had carried off on the approach of the
army. The great area in the centre of these forts appeared to have been
occupied by the camels and flocks of the inhabitants; some of these
forts are to be seen surmounting the high rocky islands with which the
Second Cataract abounds, and make a picturesque appearance.

On the 2d of the moon Safa, we passed what our Rais erroneously told us
was the last rapid between us and Succoot. We have been thirty days in
getting thus far,[11] the causes of our having been so long in getting up
the Falls were several. The crews of the boats which had passed unhurt
a dangerous passage were frequently detained to unload and repair
those which had been wrecked or damaged. - We have been detained at the
entrances of these rapids frequently for several days, for want of a
sufficient wind, it being absolutely necessary that the wind should be
very strong to enable the boats to force themselves through currents
running between the rocks with dreadful rapidity; and more than once the
boatmen have hesitated to attempt a dangerous pass till obliged by the
presence and menaces of the Divan Effendi who accompanied the boats.

On the 3d of Safa, about an hour after we had passed what our Rais told
us was the last rapid of consequence we should have to encounter, we saw
the wreck of a boat lying against a rock in the middle of the river, her
masts alone appearing out of the water. The river here is interrupted
by several high insulated rocks. We had been assured that we should
now find the river open and without difficulty, till we should come
to Succoot; the appearance of this boat seemed to contradict this
representation, and in about an hour after we had abundant reason to be
satisfied that it was false. I was congratulating myself that we had got
into smooth water, and indulging myself with a tranquil pipe of tobacco,
when suddenly the wind slackened just as we were passing between two
ledges of rocks where the river was running at the rate of about six
knots an hour. The current overpowered the effort of the sails, and
carried the boat directly among the reefs, near the west bank of
the river. After remaining for about ten minutes in a very perilous
position, the skill of our Rais happily got the boat to shore without

3d of Safa. We remained all night at the place where we landed; in
the morning got under sail to pass the strong current we had attempted
yesterday without success. After buffeting about for an hour we were
forced to return to the bank of the river, and await a stronger wind. In
about an hour after the wind freshened and we got under way with better
fortune, and after passing the current before mentioned found ourselves
in smooth water. After sailing for an hour we stopped for ten minutes
at a place where we saw sheep, in order to purchase some, having for
the last twenty days been obliged to live on bread, rice, and lentils.
Succeeded in purchasing two lambs. The banks of the river hereabouts
present some fertile spots, a few of them cultivated. About noon the
wind fell and the Rais put to shore; we immediately set our domestics
about preparing the purchased meat, and shortly after we sat down to
this regale, which appeared to me the most delicious meal I had eaten
for many years.[12] Remained here for the remainder of the day.

4th of Safa. Continued in the same place, there not being sufficient
wind to ascend the river. About two hours after noon arrived an Arab
from above; he was on his way to the Divan Effendi, who was a few miles
below us, to inform him that a boat, of which he had been one of the
crew, had been dashed to pieces against the rocks in attempting to pass
a rapid. I demanded of him "how many rapids there were yet ahead;" he
replied "that there were several; how many he did not exactly know."
This intelligence made me apprehensive that we might be another month in
getting through these obstacles, and determined me to renew my efforts
to obtain camels and proceed to the Pasha by land. I had made several
attempts to hire some for this purpose, during the last fifteen days,
without success. The man above mentioned informed me that I could
probably obtain some at a village about six hours off. I determined to
send my servants on the morrow to inquire.

5th of Safa. Passed the night at the same place; early in, the morning
a favorable breeze sprung up and the Rais got the boat under sail. Was
obliged, in consequence, to proceed in the boat as long as the wind
held. Observed as we proceeded a number of fertile spots, some of them
cultivated, and a few small villages. I was informed that these will
become more frequent as we proceed. During this day, with a favorable
wind, made only about twelve miles against the current.

6th of Safa. Got under way about two hours after sunrise, with a strong
breeze from the northward. About half an hour after quitting the land,
passed a dangerous rapid, occasioned by a. reef of rocks reaching nearly
across the river. In passing this rapid the wind slackened for half a
minute, and the current carried the boat astern to within six or seven
feet of the rocks; at this critical instant the wind happily freshened,
and forced the boat up the current, to the great relief of all on board.
An hour after, passed a picturesque spot, where the river is divided by
a high rocky island, supporting on its summit some ruined fortifications
made by the natives; on the right bank of the river, just opposite, is
a fertile spot of ground and a village, surrounded by date trees and

Our Rais put to land about noon, the wind falling, and rocks and rapids
of formidable appearance being right ahead.[13] We have made about eight
miles to-day. Saw about two miles above us a number of boats lying to
the shore, apparently obstructed by the rapid just mentioned. About the
middle of the afternoon, in walking along the shore, saw a crocodile;
it was small, about three feet in length. When I came upon him, he was
sunning himself on the shore; on seeing me, he ran with great rapidity
and plunged into the river.

7th of Safa. Got under way about two hours after sunrise, to pass the
rocks and rapids already mentioned. The passage was dangerous, and the
boat thrice in imminent peril. We struck once on rocks under water,
where the current was running probably at the rate of six knots an hour.

The current, after about ten minutes, swept the boat off without having
received a hole in her bottom, otherwise we must probably have perished.
Shortly after we were jammed between a great shallow whirlpool and a
large boat on our starboard beam. This boat was dashed by the current
against ours, and menaced to shove her into the whirlpool. The long
lateen yards of the two boats got entangled, and I was prepared to leap
into the other boat, in anticipation of the destruction of ours, when
the wind freshened, and the large boat was enabled to get clear of ours.
Not long after, the same boat fell aboard of us the second time, in
a place where, if our boat had drifted twice her length to leeward or
astern, she must have run upon rocks. All these accidents befell us,
having under our eyes, at no great distance from us, the wreck of a boat
lost in this passage three or four days ago.[14] After being for about two
hours in danger, the boat arrived at the west bank of the river, where
we found many more waiting a sufficient wind to be enabled to clear the
remainder of the rapid, which runs very strong here.

Stayed for a wind at this place two days. On the 10th of Safa, the boat
happily passed the remainder of the rapid, when the wind calmed, and
the Rais put to shore, there being yet a strong current to surmount.
Opposite to the place where we were, at about half a mile from the
shore, a boat had stuck fast upon some rocks this morning, all attempts
to get her off had proved unsuccessful, and she remained in that
position, with all her company on board, till next morning.

11th of Safa. Quitted the shore about an hour after sunrise, with a fine
northerly wind. Passed the boat just mentioned, whose people looked
very forlorn. Some small boats were then on the way to unload this boat,
should it be found impossible to disengage her. Proceeded on our way,
and passed a number of small but pretty islands, lying near the west
bank of the river. They are cultivated and inhabited by a considerable
population. The country on the borders of the river begins to assume a
better appearance - the territory of Succoot, which we were now entering,
containing many villages. Beyond the green banks of the river, all
is yellow desert, spotted with brown rocky mountains, which, however,
appeared to decrease in number and height as we advanced up the river,
till the country subsided into a plain, with a few isolated mountains of
singular forms and picturesque appearance here and there in view.
About two hours after mid-day we arrived at a place where the river
is embarrassed by small rocks and shoals, except a narrow pass on the
western side. We found the current here too strong to be surmounted by
the aid of what wind we had, and therefore put to shore on a very
fine island on our left. We passed the remainder of the day here
with satisfaction. This island is about a mile and a half in length,
naturally beautiful, and well cultivated by about fifty or sixty
inhabitants, who seemed to be well contented with their situation.[15]
We saw here three men of about twenty-five years of age, who had been
circumcised but five days past, a thing I had never before known to have
occurred to the children of Mussulmans.

12th of Safa. At an early hour, quitted the shore with a strong
northerly wind, to pass the current which had stopped us yesterday. This
day's sail was the most agreeable of any we had enjoyed since we left
Egypt, the river, since we had passed the rapids of Dall, (where the
second cataract of the Nile properly commences,) having become as
broad as in Egypt, and now flowing tranquilly through a country equally
fertile, and much more picturesque than the finest parts of Said.
The eastern bank of the river, particularly, presented a continual
succession of villages, and fine soil crowded with trees, and all
cultivated. Passed, during the day, some fine and large islands, also
occupied by numerous villages. We stopped at night at one of these
islands, by whose beautiful borders we had been sailing with great
pleasure for more than four hours, with a stiff breeze. We were in
formed by the inhabitants, that this island was a day's walk in breadth.
They said, that, as we advanced, we should find others as large and
larger. Their island, they told us, was called Syee. They appeared to be
well satisfied with their condition, having an abundance of every thing
absolutely needful for a comfortable subsistence, and decent clothing of
their own manufacture. What surprised me not a little, was to find the
people as white as the Arabs of Lower Egypt, whereas the inhabitants of
Nubia are quite black, though their features are not those of the Negro.

I have observed, that the country through which we passed to-day, was
as fertile and much more picturesque than the Said. The reason for the
latter part of this assertion is, that in the Said the view is limited
by the ridges of barren and calcined mountains that bound it on both
sides, whereas here the view ranges over plains bounded only by the
horizon, and interspersed here and there with isolated mountains of most
singular forms. Some of them might be mistaken for pyramids, they are
so regular and well defined; some resembled lofty cones, and others
resembled lofty square or pentagonal redoubts. One of the latter
description lies upon the eastern bank of the river, and could easily
be made an impregnable fortress, which could command all water
communication between Egypt and Dongola. The scenes of verdure and
cultivation through which we had passed today, removed all suspicions
from my mind as to what had been reported to me of the great difference
between Nubia and the country beyond it.

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Online LibraryGeorge Bethune EnglishA Narrative of the Expedition to Dongola and Sennaar Under the Command of His Excellence Ismael Pasha, undertaken by Order of His Highness Mehemmed Ali Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt, By An American In The S → online text (page 1 of 9)