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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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All the villages we have passed to-day, have in their centre a fort or
castle, fortified with towers at the corners, and, judging from those
we visited, resembling in their interior those on the cataract already
described. The village, consisting of low huts, built of mud, is built
round the walls of the fort, which is intended to serve as a place of
retreat and defense for the inhabitants and their flocks, in case of
alarm or attack. They are governed in the manner of the families of the
patriarchs, the Sheck of the village being both judge and captain.
Saw at this island a small skiff, the first boat belonging to the
inhabitants of the country that I have seen since quitting Wady Halfa.

12th of Safa, Parted from the land about an hour after sunrise and
proceeded on our voyage, which was, if possible, still more agreeable
than that of yesterday. On the east bank of the river, the eye rests
on a continued succession of villages, occupying land of the finest
quality, and lying under a continued forest of palm trees, larger and
taller, in my opinion, than those growing in Egypt. On the right we
saw, as we passed, a chain of beautiful islands, some of them large
and presenting the same spectacle as the east bank. It is certainly a
beautiful country. The river from Assuan has only about half the breadth
that it has in Egypt. In this country it is as broad, and in many
places, on account of the large islands it here contains, very much
broader than it is in Egypt. We stopped at night at one of these fine
islands, whose breadth being but about two miles, enabled us to have a
view of the west bank of the river, which presented the same succession
of villages and cultivation as on the oriental side. I have already
observed, that the date trees of this country were larger and taller
than those in Egypt. We found a similar difference in the animals of
this country; I purchased a sucking lamb, which was certainly as big as
an Egyptian sheep of a year's growth. The cattle of this country differ
from those of Egypt, in bearing, as to form, a resemblance to the
buffalo. They have a rising on the shoulder, and a similar form of the
hips. They are also larger than the cows of Egypt.

14th of Safa. The wind did not spring up this morning till a late hour,
and after continuing for about an hour and a half, fell calm. We put to
shore on the western bank of the river, where we passed the remainder
of the day and the night. The country continued fine and crowded with
villages. At this place, some of the boat's company attempted to shoot
a hippopotamus, who had shown himself several times during the day. They
succeeded only in slightly wounding him, after which he disappeared. The
people of the country say that there are twelve that frequent this place
in the river, which contains here some low islands, well adapted to
afford them food and concealment.

16th of Safa. Parted from the land about two hours after sunrise, with
a strong breeze. After continuing an hour and a half the wind subsided
into a calm, which obliged us to make for the shore. We landed on a
large island resembling those already mentioned, where we passed the
remainder of the day and the night. The country we had passed resembled
that below, beautiful, and as fertile as land can be.

16th of Safa. Left the land about an hour after sunrise, and in half an
hour passed the southern boundary of the beautiful territory of Succoot,
and entered the province of Machass. The country we were now passing is
naturally fertile, but has not such a continued succession of villages
as Succoot. About three hours after sunrise came in view of the ruins
of an ancient temple on the west bank. With some difficulty engaged the
Rais to put to shore for a few minutes, to give me an opportunity of
visiting it. This temple is manifestly of Egyptian architecture; it is
about two hundred feet long from east to west; ten of the columns only
are standing; they are composed of separate blocks of a brown stone
resembling that employed in the construction of the temples in the isle
of Philoe. The walls of this temple are in ruins, except a part of the
front which is in a very dilapidated state. The front faces the
East; the pillars and the ruins of the walls are sculptured with
hieroglyphics. It stands on the west bank of the river about two miles
beyond the territory of Succoot. About an hour after leaving this place,
the wind falling, our Rais was obliged to put to shore. We soon arrived
at the western bank of the river, the Nile being in this place not a
mile broad. The remainder of the day being calm, we staid here till next
morning. Several of the Pasha's Cavalry passed along the west bank of
the river yesterday and to-day, bearing repeated orders from Dongola to
the commanders of the boats to hasten their progress.

17th of Safa. At an early hour started with a favorable wind, but in
about two hours were obliged to put to shore. The river hereabouts makes
several turns almost at right angles with each other. This circumstance
brought the wind directly ahead in one of the bends and obliged us to
remain there till next morning. The country we saw to-day is not equal
to the territory of Succoot; the date trees, the villages, and the
cultivation are not so continued; and the view from the river is bounded
at a little distance from its banks by low rocky hills. Saw to-day
a singular mode of navigating the river; a man, who apparently was
traveling down the river with his whole family, had placed his youngest
wife and her two young children on a small raft made of bundles of
corn-stalks lashed together, he himself swam by its side to guide it,
while he kept his old wife a swimming and pushing it by the stern, and
in this way they proceeded down the river.

I have seen in this country small rafts made to carry one person, which
are very well contrived. Three or four large empty gourds are fastened
firmly to a small oblong frame made out of the branches of the date
tree, the whole not weighing two pounds. A man may go safely down or
across the river on this, either by fastening it to his breast and
swimming supported by it, or by riding on it astride; and when on shore
he can carry it with ease either in his hand or on his shoulder.

18th of Safa, In the morning found that the wind had changed a little
in our favor, got under way, but after sailing for about two hours the
winding of the river again brought it ahead. Put to shore and staid
there till the middle of the afternoon, when the wind again hauled a
little in our favor, and with some difficulty we got to windward of the
shore and proceeded up the river. The river here is about half a mile
broad, and makes several turns which somewhat retarded our progress.
We observed some rocks and shoals, and on arriving at a place where the
river is divided by a large rocky island, observed a boat aground, which
had taken the right hand passage which was the broadest, and two others
turning back to take the passage on the other side of this island. We
followed their example, and found the passage safe enough. A little
beyond the upper end of this island the river makes an acute angle to
the right hand. We proceeded onwards till sunset, when we put to shore
in company with two other boats. The country we have passed through
to-day resembled that we saw yesterday, inferior to the fine territory
of Succoot.

19th of Safa, Left the land an hour and a half after sunrise, with a
fine breeze from the north. Sailed for about an hour through a country
where the rocky hills come down here and there close to the river
banks and narrowed the usual breadth of the Nile considerably. Observed
however in this tract of country a few fine and cultivated islands.
Shortly after the river widened, the rocky hills retired at a distance,
and the eye rested with pleasure on a beautiful country cultivated by
the inhabitants of a continued succession of villages and castles which
occupied both banks of the river. The country resembled the province of
Succoot, except that the date trees were not so numerous nor so tall and
large. Passed the ruins of a considerable fortified town situated on a
high hill on the west bank. A little beyond this place saw the ruins of
a temple; four of the columns are yet standing; could not go ashore to
examine it, as the wind was fair and strong, and the Rais under positive
orders to proceed with all expedition. Observed that several of the
castles we had passed yesterday and to-day appeared newer and better
constructed for defense than those we had seen along the Cataract.
I suspect that they were erected under the direction of the exiled
Mamalukes, as this tract forms a part of the territory subject to them
before the arrival of the Pasha Ismael. Continued to advance, through
a country very beautiful, the river here embosoming several large and
delightful islands, capable of being made, by the hands of enlightened
industry, every thing that the art of man operating upon a fine soil
under a soft climate could effect. We sailed pleasantly by these
charming shores and islands till an hour and a half before sunset,
when we came in view of a rapid ahead, and the wreck of a boat lost in
passing it. The Rais put to shore, and after taking on board a native
of the country to show him the passage through the rocks and shallows,
attempted to pass immediately; the effort was unsuccessful. After
remaining in the foaming passage for three quarters of an hour, we
found that the wind was not strong enough to force the boat through the
current, and as the sun was about setting and the wind falling, the Rais
was obliged to let the boat drift back to the shore from whence we had
departed.

18th of Safa. At about two hours after sunrise, the Rais thought the
wind sufficiently favorable and strong to carry the boat through the
rapid. We quitted the shore, and again faced the current. The Rais this
time was not mistaken; our boat forced her way slowly but victoriously
through the torrent, and in about three quarters of an hour carried us
safely into smooth water, where we could draw every advantage from a
fine wind, which swept us rapidly up the river between shores fertile
and cultivated by the inhabitants of a continued succession of villages
shaded by palm trees. About an hour after we had passed the rapid, we
stopped to receive on board three of our company who had left the boat
yesterday in search of fresh provisions on the western bank of the
river. They reported that they had seen a large pond of fresh water
inland, and had found the country for seven miles from the river crowded
with villages, and as fertile as possible. They represented that this
country was watered by two ranges of water-wheels; one range on the
bank of the river, which threw the water of the Nile into small canals
leading to reservoirs inland, from whence the other range took it up and
distributed it to this fine territory. About noon we passed, on the
east bank, two very high, large and isolated rocks of irregular and
picturesque forms. On the side of the southernmost were the remains of
a considerable fortified town. The country hereabouts is very beautiful.
About three o'clock we passed another rapid, which was not however very
difficult. Found the river beyond this place much narrowed and impeded
by rocks. Passed two more rapids, the first of little consequence, but
the latter somewhat dangerous. In this last rapid saw two boys sitting
on a raft made of cornstalks lashed together, and driving down the
current. They appeared to be much at their ease, and not at all alarmed
at the rapid, though the current frequently whirled their fragile raft
round and round as it rushed past us. Soon after passing this rapid the
sun set, and we put to shore to pass the night.

19th of Safa. About two hours after sunrise we left the shore with a
fair and fresh breeze. The river here is broad, and the country on both
banks fertile and peopled. After about an hour's sail we came up with
some beautiful islands, one of them very large and among the finest we
had seen. The islands above the Second Cataract are probably the most
beautiful spots watered by the Nile, which rarely over flows them. They
are the most populous and best cultivated parts of this country. Half
an hour after we came up with the large island, the wind became squally,
and the boat could not make safe progress. Our rais therefore put
to shore, as did those of five other boats in company with ours. We
remained here for the rest of the day.

20th of Safa. In the morning, left the laud with the wind almost ahead.
After sailing about three miles, the rais found it necessary to put to
shore, as the wind was strong and too much ahead. Stayed by the land
till nearly noon, when the wind appearing to me and others on board,
more favorable, we, after some hard words with the rais, persuaded him
to get under way, the wind being about the same as in the morning, and
very strong. In about an hour we arrived at a bend in the river, which
enabled us to bring the wind aft.

We proceeded with great rapidity, threading the rocks and shoals with
which the river here abounds, till we came in view of a rapid ahead.
We had been informed, two days ago, that there was a dangerous rapid
between us and Dongola, and we congratulated ourselves that the wind was
fair and strong to push us through it; we passed it happily, though
not without peril. We felicitated ourselves on having cleared the only
obstacle, as we supposed, between us and the place of our destination,
when we came in view of another, of a more formidable appearance than
any we had yet seen. The passage lay where the river rolled furiously
over rocks under water, and between shores there was no approaching, on
account of the shoals and rocks above and under water which lined them.
The strong wind forced our boat alongside of another that was struggling
and reeling in the passage, to the imminent danger of both. To clear
this boat, our rais ventured to pass ours over a place where the
foam and fury of the water indicated latent rocks. We hardly dared to
breathe, but we did not strike here, but half a minute after we were
fast upon a sand bank. We stayed in this condition for about a quarter
of an hour, having in view close by us the wreck of a boat lost here.
With considerable difficulty our boat was disengaged, when we put her
before the wind and again faced this truly infernal pass. By the force
of the current, the boat neared a large and furious whirlpool, formed by
an eddy on the side of the passage. The steersman endeavored, in vain,
to counteract this drift of the boat by the aid of the rudder. The side
of the boat approached to within a yard of the white foam which covered
this dreadful spot. Our rais tore his turban from his head, and lifted
his clasped hands to Heaven, exclaiming, "We are lost!" The rest of the
boatmen were screaming to God and the prophet for aid, when, I know not
how, but by the good Providence that watched over us, the boat cleared
this peril, and others that beset us in passing yet two more rapids
almost as dangerous. On passing the last, we found the river divided
lengthways, by a ridge of rocks and low islands covered with verdure.
On the right or west side of this ridge, where we were, the view ahead
presented our side of the river crowded with rocks, which we could not
pass. The singular ridge already mentioned, presented, however, some
gaps, which afforded passages into that part of the river that was on
the other side of this ridge. We passed through what appeared to us
the safest of these gaps, and soon after found ourselves in smooth but
shallow water: the river hereabouts being not less than five or six
miles broad, and spotted with rocks and little green islands and ridges.
Soon after, a boat ahead grounded, and stuck fast for some time: about
five minutes after, our boat received a violent shock from a rock under
water. The rais put the boat under her foresail only, in order that in
case she struck, it might be with as little force as possible. Shortly
after, it being about an hour before sunset, the rais put to shore to
inquire of the people of the country as to the condition of the river
ahead.

The country we saw this day, on both sides of the river, is a level
plain; only one hill was visible. The shores, and many of the islands
we passed to-day, were such as we should have contemplated with greater
pleasure, if we could have employed our eyes and thoughts upon any thing
beside the perils by which we were environed. They are fertile, verdant,
and in many places truly picturesque.

We put to shore this day, as said before, about an hour before sunset.
When we disembarked, we found ourselves upon a large and beautiful
island, almost covered with trees of various kinds. The view from this
island ranges over an immense green plain, bounded only by the horizon,
and presents a great river winding in several branches through islands
and shores composed of as fine a soil as any in the world, and covered
with trees, among which the date tree bore a small proportion. Dongola,
we were told, was but a few hours distant from this place.

21st of Safa. At sunrise, quitted the land and proceeded up the river,
which we found very wide and shallow. Its middle was occupied by an
almost continual range of islands, in my opinion without superior in any
river whatever.[16] The country bounding the river is a beautiful plain,
as far as the eye can reach, as fertile as land can be, and covered with
a great variety of trees, plants, and fields of corn. We sailed on with
a fair wind till within half an hour of sunset, without coming in sight
of Dongola. This, after the information we had received yesterday,
somewhat disappointed us, but we consoled ourselves by observing the
islands and shores we were passing, comparable to which, in point of
luxuriant fertility, Egypt itself cannot show. The whole country is
absolutely overwhelmed with the products of the very rich soil of which
it consists.

22d of Safa. Quitted the land at an early hour and proceeded up the
river, in hourly expectation of coming in view of Dongola, which we had
been given to understand was a considerable town. After sailing with a
good wind till the middle of the afternoon, without seeing any thing but
a very fertile country, resembling that we passed yesterday, the people
on shore, on our landing and demanding whereabouts Dongola was, informed
us that we were in Dongola, meaning the country so called. On our asking
where was the city or town of Dongola, they pointed to a large village
in the distance on the west bank of the river, and told us that village
was called "New Dongola," and that Old Dongola was farther up the river.
They informed us that the Pasha had left a guard of twenty-four soldiers
here, and had proceeded with the army three days' march farther up
the river, where we should find him. We determined to proceed to his
encampment. We saw to-day, for the first time, a small sail boat,
constructed by the people of the country; it was very clumsy, resembling
a log canoe. The river, in some places which we passed to-day, appeared
to be about three miles from bank to bank, but shallow; the islands and
shores presenting the same spectacle of luxuriant vegetation that we saw
yesterday.

We bought a lamb of three weeks old, this evening, whose mother was as
tall as a calf of two months old. This species of sheep is hairy, and
has no wool. The kidneys of this lamb were large enough to cover the
palm of my hand, though the animal was undoubtedly undiseased.

23d of Safa. Got under way shortly after sunrise, and proceeded up the
river with a fine wind, which lasted during the day, and carried us
probably thirty miles on our way. The country through which we passed
to-day is not so good as that we saw yesterday; the desert comes down to
the banks of the river in several places. We saw many villages, but for
the last two days have observed none of those castles so frequent in
the lower country. About an hour and a half after we quitted the land,
passed a fortified town on the west bank of the river, which appeared to
be mostly in ruins. On our landing, at night, we endeavored to purchase
some provisions, but the people of the country could only spare us some
milk and vegetables, for which they would not take money, but demanded
flour. On our consenting to this proposition, they brought us an
abundance of the articles above mentioned. They informed us that there
was a town called Dongola, containing about three hundred houses, at
the distance of two days' sail from this place, and that the Pasha was
encamped three days' march in advance of Dongola.

24th of Safa. Left the shore this morning shortly after sunrise, and
proceeded on our voyage. The country we passed through this day was, on
the west bank of the river, fine, but on the east bank the desert was
visible at a little distance from the river almost all the day. Passed
two considerable fortified towns, situated on the left bank of the
river; they were almost in ruins. An hour before sunset we put to shore
on the west bank, where we found a fertile and cultivated country. The
people who occupied it, said that they had settled here a year ago; the
island they had occupied before having been overflowed by the river, and
their plantations destroyed.

25th of Safa. This day made but little progress, there having been a
calm for more than half the day; what country we saw resembled that
passed yesterday.

26th of Safa. Remained fast by the shore for the whole of this day, the
wind being ahead. The country on the west bank of the river, where we
stopped, is fine, but deserted by the inhabitants. Some of the boat's
company, who went up the country in search of provisions, reported that
they had seen the ruins of a temple, containing fragments of columns
of black granite. I determined, in case the wind on the morrow should
continue unfavorable, to visit this place. They also had met a party of
fifteen armed men, who informed them that they belonged to this country,
but had been compelled to quit it, and fly, by the brigands of Shageia,
who had infested and ravaged the country, but had returned on hearing
that the Pasha Ismael had defeated and expelled these robbers, and had
invited every fugitive peasant to return home, giving them assurance of
future safety and protection. We were alarmed this evening by the report
of several musket shot, which appeared to come from the other side of
the river, where, we had been told, still lurked some of the brigands.
Prepared our arms to be ready in case of attack, but passed the night
unmolested.

27th of Safa. Early in the morning, quitted the shore with a fair wind,
and proceeded on our voyage; Dongola being, we were told, but half a
day's distance from us. The appearance of the country still the same.

28th of Safa. Made but little way today, the wind being light. About the
middle of the afternoon, put to shore on the east bank of the river,
as there appeared to be no villages in sight on the other shore, and we
were in want of provisions. The country we saw to-day is very good, and
covered with trees, but sparely inhabited.

The country where we landed was, however, tolerably well cultivated by
the inhabitants of several villages hereabouts. The soil, where it was
not cultivated, was completely covered with trees, generally of no great
height, and with bushes and long rank grass. The habitations of many
of the inhabitants could with difficulty be found; they are frequently
nothing but a rough arbor formed in the thickets. We had continual
reason to be surprised, that a country naturally so rich should be so
thinly populated and so carelessly cultivated. The people, however,
appeared to be content with raising enough for their subsistence, and
to desire nothing beyond this. Our money they did not value; they would
give us nothing for money, but the flour of Egypt readily obtained what
they could spare.

29th of Safa. At sunrise left the land with a fair and strong wind, and
proceeded up the river with rapidity. In about two hours passed what
appeared to be the ruins of a large fortified city, situated on a
commanding eminence on the east bank of the river. Shortly after, put
to shore on the west bank of the river, the wind having increased to
a gale, and the east side towards the city, just mentioned, being
inaccessible on account of the shoals that lined it. The violence of the
wind forced the boat aground upon a shallow, at the entrance of a canal


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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 2 of 9)