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 6 of 9)
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them large, an expedition, I believe, unparalleled in the annals of
Turkish warfare.[47]

During our stay on the other side of the Bahar el Abiud, it was reported
in the camp that some of the Mogrebin soldiers, gone out to shoot
gazelles, had killed in the desert which lies off from the river, an
animal, resembling a bull, except that its feet were like those of a
camel. I did not see this animal, but the story was affirmed to me by

The army, on its crossing the Bahar el Abiud, encamped on the point of
land just below which the Bahar el Abiud and the Nile join each other.
The water of the Bahar el Abiud is troubled and whitish, and has a
peculiar sweetish taste. The soldiers said that "the water of the Bahar
el Abiud would not quench thirst." This notion probably arose from the
circumstance that they were never tired of drinking it, it is so light
and sweet. The water of the Nile is at present perfectly pure and
transparent, but by no means so agreeable to the palate as that of the
Bahar el Abiud, as I experimented myself, drinking first of the Bahar
el Abiud, and then walking about two hundred yards across the point,
and drinking of the Nile, the water of which appeared to me hard and
tasteless in comparison.

Nothing of the kind could be easier than to ascend the Bahar el Abiud
from the place where we are. A canja, well manned and armed, and
accompanied by another boat containing provisions for four or six
months, and both furnished with grapnels to enable them at night to
anchor in the river, might, in my opinion, ascend and return securely:
as the tribes on its borders have great dread of fire-arms, and will
hardly dare to meddle with those who carry them.

We stayed on the Sennaar side of the Bahar el Abiud till the 1st of
Ramadan, when the army commenced its march for Sennaar, the capital,
proceeding by the bank of the Nile.[48]

The army reached Sennaar in thirteen days. The signal for striking the
tents and loading the camels was generally fired about two hours after
midnight. One hour was allowed for loading the baggage, when a second
cannon was fired, and the march of the army commenced, and was continued
each day till about two or three hours before noon, when the camp
reposed till about two hours after midnight of the same day. The army
suffered severely during this march; nothing was given to the troops for
subsistence but durra, unground, which the soldiers were frequently in
great distress to obtain the means of making into meal, in order to bake
a little miserable bread, which was all they had to eat.[49] For myself,
I was reduced to great extremity. The camel, carrying my provisions
and culinary utensils, and several other articles, was lost by the
carelessness of a domestic. I was consequently left without any thing to
eat, or the means of preparing what I might obtain. I threw myself under
the hospitable shade of the tent of Mr. Caillaud, (then only occupied
by Mr. Constant, his companion,) the gentleman I have mentioned in the
Preface with so much well merited esteem, where I stayed till my arrival
at Sennaar.

The country we traversed is that part of the kingdom of Sennaar which
lies between the Nile and the Bahar el Abiud. It is an immense and
fertile plain, occupied by numerous villages, some of them very large;
that of "Wahat Medinet," for instance, containing, probably, four or
five thousand inhabitants. What country we saw was, at this season,
perfectly naked of grass, consisting generally of immense fields which,
in the season past, had been planted with durra. Acacia trees, and
bushes in the country far back from the river, (which is sandy,) were
abundant, but no herbage was visible; I did not see throughout our route
a single waterwheel;[50] and I believe that the country is only cultivated
when the inundation has retired.

The houses of the villages are built in the following manner. A circle
of stakes is planted in the ground, a conical frame of poles attached
to these stakes below, and meeting and fastened at the top of the cone,
forms the roof. This roof, and the sides of the house, are then covered
with thatched straw, which suffices to exclude the rains.

Some of the houses, however, belonging to the chiefs are of a stronger
fabric, being composed of thick walls made of bricks dried in the sun,
and having terraced roofs. In the thatched cottages I have mentioned,
the air and light come in by the doorway and four small holes pierced in
the walls of the house. This scanty ventilation renders these cottages
very hot and close: the difference between the temperature of an
inhabited house and that of the air outside being, in my judgment,
almost as great as that of the undressing room of a bath at Cairo, and
that of the passage just outside of the bath itself. This circumstance
alone is almost sufficient to account for the great mortality in
Sennaar, during the rainy season, when whole families are shut up in
these close cottages; and every one who goes abroad must necessarily go
with his pores in a condition expressly adapted to make him catch a cold
or a fever.

Six days before the army reached Sennaar, the Pasha was met by an
ambassador from the Sultan; he had an audience of his Excellence,
and returned the next day to Sennaar. He was a handsome young man,
accompanied by a numerous suite mounted on dromedaries. The army pursued
its route, steadily marching in order of battle, the infantry in the
centre, the cavalry on the wings; the artillery in advance of the centre
and the baggage in the rear, with Shouus' cavalry and the dromedary
corps of Abbadies scouring our front and flanks to a great distance. Two
days after it was reported in the camp that the Sultan of Sennaar was on
his way to meet us with a strong force, preceded by numerous elephants
and great herds of cattle, collected in order to receive and exhaust
the fire of our troops. The Pasha proceeded however steadily on with the
army in order of battle, and equally prepared for peace or war. Two
days before the arrival of the army in Sennaar, as I was riding near the
Topgi Bashi, who was in front of the army with the artillery, I saw
a great number of armed men approaching, mounted on horses and
dromedaries. Presently the Malek of Shendi (who had accompanied the
Pasha)[51], rode up to the Pasha and informed him that the strangers
approaching were the principal officers of the Sultan of Sennaar, and
their suite, who had come to demand terms of peace.

I saw these personages when they arrived. They were two, one a tall thin
elderly man of a mulatto complexion, dressed in green and yellow silks
of costly fabric, with a cap of a singular form, something resembling a
crown, made of the same materials, upon his head. The other was the
same young man who had come a few days past to the Pasha. He was
dressed to-day in silks like the other, except that his head was bare of
ornament. They were accompanied by a fine lad about sixteen, who was,
it is said, the son of the predecessor of the present Sultan. All three
were mounted on tall and beautiful horses, and accompanied by about two
hundred soldiers of the Sultan, mounted on dromedaries, and armed with
broadswords, lances and shields.

When the Pasha was informed of their approach by the Malek of Shendi, he
ordered a halt. The tent of the Pasha was pitched, and the ambassadors
were introduced. They were treated with great attention and liberality
by the Pasha, who, during the day and the course of the evening
following, gave them opportunities enough to be convinced of the immense
superiority of our arms to theirs. During the evening, some star rockets
and bombs were thrown for their amusement and edification. No language
can do justice to their astonishment at the spectacle, which undoubtedly
produced the effect intended by the Pasha - humility and a sense of
inferiority. The next morning at an early hour the army pursued its
march, accompanied by the ambassadors from Sennaar.

About the hour of noon, the outscouts announced to the Pasha that the
Sultan of Sennaar himself was approaching to salute his Excellence. On
his approach, the army received him with the honors due to his rank. He
was conducted to the tent of the Pasha, by the ambassadors he had sent,
where he remained in audience with his Excellence a long time. When the
audience was finished, he and the personages he had before sent to the
Pasha were splendidly habited in the Turkish fashion, and presented with
horses, furnished with saddles and bridles embroidered with gold.[52]

It was on the morning following that the army reached the capital. We
marched in order of battle. The Pasha, accompanied by the Sultan of
Sennaar and his chief servants, in front. On approaching the city, the
army saluted this long wished for town, where they imagined that their
toils and privations would cease, at least for a time, with repeated and
continued volleys of cannon and musquetry, accompanied with shouts of
exultation. But these shouts subsided on a nearer approach, on finding
this once powerful city of Sennaar to be almost nothing but heaps of
ruins, containing in some of its quarters some few hundreds of habitable
but almost deserted houses. After the camp was pitched, and I had
refreshed myself with a little food, I took a walk about the town. At
almost every step I trod upon fragments of burnt bricks, among which are
frequently to be found fragments of porcelain, and sometimes marble. The
most conspicuous buildings in Sennaar are a mosque, and a large
brick palace adjoining it. The mosque, which is of brick, is in good
preservation; its windows are covered with well wrought bronze gratings,
and the doors are handsomely and curiously carved. The interior was
desecrated by uncouth figures of animals, portrayed upon the walls
with charcoal. This profanation had been perpetrated by the Pagan
mountaineers who inhabit the mountains thirteen days march south of
Sennaar, and who, at some period, not very long past, had taken
the town, and had left upon the walls of the mosque these tokens of

The palace is large, but in ruins, except the centre building, which is
six stories high, having five rows of windows.[53] By mounting upon its
roof you have the best possible view of the city, the river, and the
environs, that the place can afford. I judged that Sennaar was about
three miles in circumference. The greater part of this space is now
covered with the ruins of houses, built of bricks either burnt or dried
in the sun. I do not believe that there are more than four hundred
houses standing in Sennaar and of these one-third or more are round
cottages, like those of the villages. Of those built of bricks, the
largest is the house of the Sultan. It is a large enclosure, containing
ranges of low but well built habitations of sun-dried bricks, with
terraced roofs, and the interior stuccoed with fine clay. What struck me
the most, was the workmanship of the doors of the old houses of Sennaar,
which are composed of planed and jointed planks, adorned frequently with
carved work, and strengthened and studded with very broad headed nails;
the whole inimitable by the present population of Sennaar. These houses
are very rarely of more than one story in height, the roofs terraced
with fine and well beaten clay spread over mats laid upon rafters, which
form the roof.

The city of Sennaar is of an oblong form, its longest side opposite the
river. It stands not at any distance from the river, but directly upon
its west bank, which consists hereabouts of hard clay.

The river is now rising,[54] but exhibits itself at present to the view
as narrow and winding, as far as the eye can reach, between sand flats,
which will shortly be covered by its augmenting waters. The bed of the
Nile opposite Sennaar may be reckoned at about half a mile broad.

The environs of Sennaar are wide plains, containing large and populous
villages. A long ragged mountain, the only one visible, stands about
fifteen miles to the west of the town. Below the town is a small but
pretty island, whose inhabitants thrive by raising vegetables for the
market of Sennaar; and the opposite bank of the river, presents several
verdant patches of ground devoted to the same object.[55] Beyond these
spots, the country on the other bank appeared to be mostly covered with
trees and bushes, among which I saw four elephants feeding.

I could not find any remains of any very ancient building in Sennaar
during my stay, and I believe that none exists there. Such is the
present appearance of a town which has evidently been once rich,
comfortable and nourishing, but which, for eighteen years past, as I
have been informed, has been the lacerated prey of War and Confusion.

On the day after our arrival the conditions of the accord between the
Pasha and the Sultan of Sennaar were arranged and sealed; by which the
latter recognized himself as subject and feudatory of the Grand Seignor,
and surrendered his dominions to the supremacy and sway of the Vizier of
the Padischah, Mehemmed Ali Pasha. The next day the Tchocadar Aga of his
Highness the Viceroy of Egypt, who had arrived in our camp two months
past, embarked in the canja of the Pasha Ismael to carry the documents
of this important transaction to Cairo.

For several days after our arrival at Sennaar, our camp was incommoded
by furious squalls of wind, accompanied with thunder, lightning, and
torrents of rain. The Pasha therefore determined to caserne the troops
in the houses of the town, and to stay there during the rainy season. In
ten days after our arrival, the army was distributed throughout the town
and in the villages on the opposite bank of the river. The Pasha himself
took up his quarters in a large house of the Sultan of Sennaar, which
had been prepared for his accommodation.

A few days after our arrival, a slave informed the Pasha that the Sultan
of Sennaar, before our arrival, had thrown into the river some cannon.
The Pasha ordered search to be made; four iron guns were discovered by
divers, and were dragged on shore. They appeared to me to be ordinary
ship guns; no mark or inscription was found on them to enable me to
judge where they were fabricated. I believe them however to have been
originally obtained of the Portuguese by the Abyssinians, from whom the
people said the Sultan of Sennaar had taken them in some ancient war
between the two kingdoms.

On the 19th of Ramadan, a party of Bedouins were ordered by the Pasha to
go in pursuit of some hundred black slaves of the Sultan of Sennaar, who
some time before our arrival had run away, taking with them some of his
best horses. On the 23d they returned, bringing with them between five
and six hundred negroes of both sexes. But on Malek Shouus going to the
Pasha and representing to him that these people were not the fugitives
in question, the Pasha ordered them to be immediately released and to
return to their respective villages.

About the same time the Pasha detached Cogia Achmet with thirteen
hundred cavalry and three pieces of artillery to the upper country
of Sennaar between the Bahar el Abiud and the Nile to secure its
submission.[56] And on the 26th of the moon the Divan Effendi was sent
with three hundred men across the Nile, to secure that part of the
kingdom of Sennaar which lies on the east side of the Nile.[57]

Seven days after our arrival in Sennaar I put in execution a resolution
the state of my health obliged me to determine on, and demanded of the
Pasha permission to return to Cairo. I represented to him, that all
the critical operations of the campaign were now happily concluded, and
crowned with the fullest success; and that, therefore, he could have no
particular need of me any longer. I stated to him that repeated sickness
during the campaign had rendered my health very infirm, and that a
residence of four months at Sennaar, during the rainy season, would
probably destroy me; and as my presence for that time at least could
be no ways necessary, I requested him to grant the permission demanded,
telling him that if, after the rainy season was finished, he should
think proper to recall me to camp that I would obey the summons. The
Pasha hesitated, and for several days declined granting my request;
but on its being represented to him that the reasons I had stated were
really just and sufficient causes for my return, his Excellence finally
told me, that on the return of Cogia Achmet he should dispatch a courier
to Cairo, and that I should accompany him.

On the third day of the Feast of Bairam I saw the Sultan of Sennaar
parade the town in great ceremony. He was mounted on a superb horse, and
clothed in green and yellow silks, but his head was bare of every thing
but its natural wool. Over his head an officer carried a large umbrella
of green and yellow silks in alternate stripes. He was accompanied by
the officers of his palace, and his guard, beautifully mounted, and
followed by the native population of Sennaar, both men and women, who
uttered shrill cries, which were now and then interrupted by the sound
of a most lugubrious trumpet which preceded the Sultan, and which was
blown by a musician who, judging from the tones he produced, seemed to
be afflicted with a bad cough.

On the 7th of the moon Shawal, the Divan Effendi returned to Sennaar,
having crushed all attempts to oppose the establishment of the Pasha's
authority in the eastern part of the kingdom of Sennaar, and bringing
with him three of the chiefs of the refractory, and three hundred and
fifty prisoners, as slaves. The events of this expedition were related
to me as follows: "We marched without resistance for eight days, in
the direction of the rising sun, through a country fine, fertile, and
crowded with villages, till we came to some larger villages near a
mountain called 'Catta,' where we found four or five hundred men posted
in front of them to resist our march They were armed with lances,
and presented themselves to the combat with great resolution. But on
experiencing the effects of our fire-arms, they took to flight toward
the mountain; two hundred of them were hemmed in, and cut to pieces,
and three of their chiefs were taken prisoners, as well as all the
inhabitants we could find in their villages; after which we returned."

On my demanding if water was plentiful at a distance from the river,
my informant replied, that "there were wells in abundance in all the
numerous villages, with which the country abounds; and also numerous
rivulets and streams, which at this season descend from the mountains.
The troops, he said, had forded two small rivers (probably the Ratt and
the Dandar); he added, that the country abounded in beautiful birds
and insects, one of the latter he brought with him; it was a small
scarabeus, covered with a fine close crimson down, exactly resembling
scarlet velvet. The people of the country he described as very harmless,
and exceedingly anxious to know what had brought us to Sennaar to
trouble them."

Two of these Chiefs taken prisoners the Pasha ordered to be impaled in
the market-place of Sennaar. They suffered this horrid death with great
firmness. One of them said nothing but "there is no God but God,
and Mohammed is his Apostle," which he frequently repeated before
impalement; while the other, named Abdallah, insulted, defied, and
cursed his executioners, calling them "robbers and murderers," till too
weak to speak, when he expressed his feelings by spitting at them.[58] The
third Chief was detained prisoner, in order to be sent to Cairo.

During my stay in Sennaar, I endeavored to get information of the
people of the country, and of the few caravan merchants found in the
market-place of Sennaar, relative to the Bahar el Abiud and the Nile.
The information I received was as follows: "The source of the Adit (so
the people of Sennaar call the river that runs by their city) is in
the Gibel el Gumara, (i.e. that great range of mountains called the
Mountains of the Moon,) about sixty days march of a camel from Sennaar.
in a direction nearly south. It receives, at various distances above
Sennaar, several smaller rivers which come from Abyssinia and from the
mountains south of Sennaar. The general course of the Bahar el Abiud
(they said) was nearly parallel with that of the Adit, but its source
was much farther off, among the Gibel el Gumara, than that of the Adit.
The Bahar el Abiud, they said, appears very large at the place where the
Pasha's army crossed it, because it is augmented from the junction of
three other rivers, one from the south-west, and two others from the
east, running from the mountains south of Sennaar."[59] On my asking them,
"whether the Bahar el Abiud was open and free of shellals or rapids?"
they said, "that at a place called Sulluk, about fifteen days march
above its junction with the Adit, (i.e. above the place where we crossed
the Bahar el Abiud,) there was a shellal, which they believed that boats
could not pass.[60] On my asking whether, by following the banks of the
Bahar el Abiud and the river that empties into it from the west, it was
not possible to reach a city called Tombut or Tombuctoo?" They said,
that "they knew nothing of the city I mentioned, having never been
farther west than Kordofan and Darfour."

This was all I could learn: but I am disposed to believe, that the main
stream of the Bahar el Abiud cannot have its source in the same latitude
with that of the Adit, because it commenced its rise, at least, this
year, about twenty days sooner than did the Adit, and the different
color of its waters proves that it flows through a tract differing in
quality of soil from that through which passes the Adit. The interesting
question, "whether the Niger communicates with the Bahar el Abiud?"
will, however, very probably be determined before the close of another
year, as the Pasha will probably send an expedition up that river.

Secondly, I am further disposed to believe that the main stream of the
Adit, or Nile of Bruce, does not take its rise in Abyssinia, but in the
mountains assigned as the place of its origin by the people of Sennaar.
For on viewing the mass of water that runs by Sennaar even now, when
the river has not attained two-thirds of the usual magnitude it acquires
during the rainy season, I can by no means believe that the main source
of such a river is only about three hundred miles distant from Sennaar.

The tract of country included between the Adit and the Bahar el Abiud is
called El Gezira, i.e. the island: because, in the season of the rains,
many rivers running from the mountains in the south into the Bahar el
Abiud and the Adit, occasion this tract to be included by rivers.

I am disposed to believe, that the representations made of the climate
of this country are much exaggerated; as, except during the rainy
season, and immediately after it, the country is a high and dry plain,[61]
by no means excessively hot, because the level of the countries on the
Nile being constantly ascending from Egypt, occasions Sennaar to be
many hundred feet higher than the level of Egypt, which is proved by the
rapid descent of the waters of the Nile toward the latter country. The
east and south winds also are, in Sennaar, cool breezes; because they
come either from the mountains of Abyssinia, or the huge and high ranges
which compose the Gibel el Gumara. I was in Sennaar at Midsummer, and
at no time found the heat very uncomfortable, provided I was in the open
air, and under a shade. In the cottages and houses, indeed, on account
of their want of ventilation, the heat was excessive.

I made during my stay in Sennaar frequent inquiries about the fly
mentioned by Bruce; the people of Sennaar said they knew nothing of
it;[62] but, in reply to my inquiries, referred to a worm, which they
say comes out of the earth during the rainy season, and whose bite is

The reptile species in Sennaar are numerous. The houses are full of
lizards, which, if you lie on the floor, you may feel crawling or
running over you all night. I saw at Sennaar a serpent of a species, I
believe, never before mentioned. It was a snake of about two feet
long, and not thicker than my thumb, striped on the back, with a copper
colored belly, and a flat head. This serpent had four legs, which did
not appear to be of any use to him, as they were short and hanging from
the sides of his belly. All his motions, which were quick and rapid,
were made in the usual manner of serpents, i.e. upon its belly.[63]

I do not feel authorized to give an opinion as to the national character

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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 6 of 9)