Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

. (page 28 of 38)
Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 28 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

turbed all plans, and succeeded for a time in delaying the long-
talked-of regeneration of Egypt.

The region of the new trouble was the Soudan. Out in
the Soudan a religious rebellion was simmering. On the maps
of Africa the name Soudan is given to a vast tract of undefined
desert, stretching across the centre of the upper portion of
the continent. It Avas formerly called Nigritia, the country of
the blacks, and included, roughly speaking, all the region from
Sahara on the north to the Nyanza Lakes on the south, from
the Red Sea on the east to the Atlantic on the west. But the
Egyptian Soudan is confined in more narrow limits ; it stretches
from Egypt on the north to the Nyanza Lakes on the south,
from the Bed Sea on the east to the western boundary of
Dai'four on the west. The casual traveller in Egypt who has
drifted up the Nile in his dahabieh, or steamed up it in Mr.
Cook's steamers, as far only as Assouan, has just touched upon
the fringe of the Soudan region. He has approached what was
once, and what apparently will be again, one of the greatest
slave marts in the world; he has looked with unconcerned
eyes over the desert stretches which have lately occupied the at-
tention of all the civilised world. Up to a year ago the Soudan
was a vague, unmeaning term in the ears of most men ; it has
now assumed a very terrible identity. In 1819 the conquering
spirit of Mehemet Ali turned itself upon the Soudan, then in a
chaotic condition of anarchy and ti'ibal warfare. He sent his
son Ismail Pasha with a large army to seize the countiy.
Ismail got to Khartoum, and became for a season lord of the
Soudan. "We have spoken already of his tragic end. He
offended !N'emmii% the ' Tiger ' King of Shendy, by too im-
periously demanding tribute. The story is powerfully told in
that book which would stand first on Eastern travel if 'Eothen'
had never been written, ' The Crescent and the Cross ' of


Warburton. Nernmii" invited Ismail Pasha, his officers and
friends to a feast, surrounded the tent in which his guests were
revelling with wood and straw, set fire to it, and burned them
all to death. Ismail was avenged, and the rule of Egypt was
set up over Kordofan. A generation came and went, during
which such civilisation as Egypt represented made slow progress
in its new territory. Then Said Pasha thought of abandoning
the country in despair, but was dissuaded by the tribal sheikhs.
The history of the Soudan for the next ten years is a monotonous
record of vinsuccessful attempts at reform, of successive governors-
general, of wars with Abyssinia, and internal insurrections. In
1865 a serious mutiny of negro troops at Tokha called forth all
the energies of the Egyptian Government to suppress it. It
was suppressed, and the Soudan was gairisoned with Egyptian
troops. In 1870 Sir Samuel Baker conquered for Egypt the
equatorial provinces, and ruled as governor of the tribes in
Upper Egypt. In 1874 Sir Samuel Baker was succeeded by
Colonel Gordon — 'Chinese' Gordon — and a new departure in
the history of the Soudan began.

Chinese Gordon is one of the most remarkable men of our
age. If one imagines a combination of a fifteenth century
condottiere with a fourth century Father of the Church, one
gets perhaps the nearest approach to a description of Chinese
Gordon. He is Sir John Hawkwood, but he is also Jerome; he
is in the noblest sense of the word an adventurer, but his ' pure
soul ' has always served ' beneath the colours ' of ' his captain,
Christ,' like Shakespeare's Norfolk. Charles Goi^don was born
on January 28, 1833, of a good old Scottish family. The
Gordons were a race of soldiers ; two of the same kin fought on
opposite sides at Preston Pans. Charles Gordon's gi-andfather
fought in the North American Avar, and served under Wolfe on
the Plains of Abraham. ' For a century and a half,' says Mr.
Hake in his ' Story of the Life of Chinese Gordon,' ' the family
has been a family of soldiers, and that without threatening
extinction, for there is a new generation in the service.' Charles
Gordon fought in the Ci'imean war. In 1860 he was ordered
to China, and was present during the assault of Pekin and the


destruction of the Summer Palace. The Tai-Ping rebelKon broke
out. The Chinese authorities asked for a British officer to
command the imperial forces ; Gordon was nominated. Under
his command the forces which were called the ' ever- victorious '
army deserved their title. He carried all before him, annihi-
lated the rebellion, and left China as poor as when he had entered
it, richer alone by the titles which the Emperor insisted upon
giving him, and by that name of ' Chinese Gordon,' by which
he is best known to his fellow-coxTntrymen. For six happy
years he stayed in England working at Gravesend on the con-
struction of the Thames defences. ' To the world,' says Mr.
Hake, ' his life at Gravesend was a life of self-suppression and
self-denial ; to himself it was one of happiness and pure peace.
He lived wholly for others. His house was school and hospital
and almshouse in turn, and was more like the abode of a mis-
sionary than of a colonel of engineers. The troubles of all
interested him alike ; the poor, the sick, the unfortunate were
ever welcome, and never did suppliant knock vainly at his
door.' In 1874, as we have said, he succeeded Sir Samuel
Baker in the government of the Soudan, after a couple of
years of work as English commissioner on the Danube.

General Gordon is a man of strong and peculiar religious
views; with a fervid Christianity is blended a curiously Oriental
fatalism, and a fixed belief in the pre-existence of the soul.
' I think,' he once wrote, ' that this life is only one of a series
of Hves which our incarnated part has lived. I have little doubt
of our having pre-existed ; and that also in the time of our pre-
existence we were actively employed.' Everything is pre-
ordained, but Heaven is still willing to give some sign to those
who seek for guidance. It seems that sometimes General
Gordon finds this sign in the toss of a coin, and accepts the
decision thus arrived at with absolute fidelity. "Whenever, by
the cast of a coin or otherwise, his mind is made up as to the
course he is to follow, he will follow that course though it led
him to his death. General Gordon's Christianity is tenderly
tolerant of other faiths. He is said to have replied to John of
Abyssinia's question, ' You are an Englishman and a Christian ?'


with the answer, ' I am an Egyptian and a Mussulman.* If
General Gordon ever made this answer, it is obVious that he
only meant what he wrote once in another place : ' I find the
Mussulman quite as good a Christian as many a Christian, and
do not believe that he is in any peril.' One of his favourite
books is the ' Imitation of Christ.' He finds consolation and
comfort in the lofty teachin^^s, the abnegation and self-con-
tempt of the founder of the brotherhood of common life. How
little really Oriental is in his nature may be found in his words
upon the future life : * It must be a life of activity, for happi-
ness is dependent upon activity.' There is no sympathy in this
mind with Buddhist Nirvana or Maliommedan Paradise.

Sir. Samuel Baker had worked hard to suppress the slave
trade : this task was now the duty of General Gordon. Euro-
peans first, and Arabs after them, had made the teeming re-
gions of the Nile one huge slave mart. Chief of all the Arab
slave-drivers was Zebehi', who came to be called 'the scourge of
Central Africa.' When the Khedive Ismail tried to put him
down he defeated the Khedive's army. For a while the
Khedive accepted defeat, and even took Zebehr as his ally in
his invasion of Darfour. Once again the Khedive grew
alarmed at Zebehr's strength, and resolved to put down him
and his slavers. For this purpose he had sent out Baker ; for
this purpose he now sent out Gordon. For three years Gordon
worked in the Soudan, opening up the country from Cairo to
the Lakes, and crushing out the slave trade with an iron hand
wherever he could. He came back to England in 1876, only to
go out again with greater powers to the Soudan in 1877.
For more than two years Gordon toiled, fighting with the
prince of the power of the air almost alone. He w^orked with the
strength of ten ; he was here, there, and everywhere, sweeping
across the desert on his fleet camel, breaking alone and unpro-
tected into robber camps, and extorting submission from hostile
chiefs, upon whose cut-throat mercy he was entirely dependent.
He seemed to bear what old beliefs would have called a
charmed life. While disease and battle and privation thinned
his following, he alone went on his way, apparently unconquer-


able. Zebehr's son rose in desperate revolt, was defeated,
captured, and shot by Gordon's orders. Zebehr himself waa
tried in Cairo, and sentenced to death, bnt the sentence was
never carried out. On the contrary, he received a pension of one
hundred pounds a month, and was suffered to live in honour-
able semi-captivity in Cairo. When the European Powers de-
posed Ismail Pasha, Gordon left the Soudan. He summed
up his own woi'k in a few words : ' I am neither a Napoleon
nor a Colbert ; I do not profess either to have been a great
ruler or a great financier ; but I can say this, I have cut off" the
slave dealers in their strongholds, and I made the people love
me.' What governor could desire a finer record ?

On his return Gordon accepted an appointment as secretary
to Lord Eipon, the new Viceroy of India. While people were
wonderiug, grumbling, or rejoicing, according to their mood,
news came that General Gordon had resigned his appointment
immediately upon his arrival in India. Naturally people
wondered still more, but Gordon had made a mistake in
accepting the post, and he acted wisely in throwing it up
the moment he discovered that he had made a mistake. He
went straight to China, then almost on the eve of a war with
Ptussia, and gave her some counsels for her future guidance in
war in a letter which has become historical. Ten months were
passed in Mauritius as commanding Eoyal Engineer; five months
were wasted in 1882 in South Africa, striving to settle questions,
while all his plans were hampered by the petty policies of inferior
men. Then at last came a term of rest. He went to the East,
to Jerusalem, to study the story of the Bible on its own ground,
happy and peaceful in his own way for a while.

After Gordon left the Soudan, the comparative order and
rule he had introduced soon fell to pieces. He left behind him
able officers to cope with the slave dealers, Gessi Pasha, the con-
queror of Zebehr's son, Emin Bey, Lupton Bey, an Englishman,
and others. But Gessi Bey died in the French hospital in Suez
in 1881, of fever caught on the Bahr Gazelle Piver, and the
slave dealers began to hold their heads high again. The new
Egyptian Government reversed Gordon's policy, disallowed his


subsidies to the religious teachers in the Soudan, frowned upon
his old officials ; Turks, Circassians, and Bashi-Bazouks were
let slip upon the unhappy Soudanese. The condition of the
country was so disgraceful, that the outraged inhabitants were
perfectly justified in rising against the iniquitous rule of Cairo.
All they wanted was a laader, and suddenly that leader ap-
peai"ed amongst them. LieutcEant-Colonel Stewart in his report
has drawn a grim picture of the way in which the Soudan
was harried. The administration of what was called justice was
fantastically corrupt. Tax-gathering was entrusted to Bashi-
Bazouks, compared to Avhom Cossacks are courteous, and
Trenck's Pandours men of light and leading. These taxes
were so heavy, that famine and ruin followed upon their

Early in 1881 it was known that a man who proclaimed
himself as the Mahdi foretold by Mahommed had made his
appearance in the Soudan, and was declaring a religious war
against the Egyptian Government, and against all who opposed
him. Such a proclamation was not in itself very surprising.
The Mussulman world is always ready for the coming of
Al-Mahdi, announced by Mahommed, who will avenge the blood
of slain Mahommedans, and restore the reign of righteousness.
There have been claimants to the position of Al-Mahdi before.
There probably will be again. It is said that the Sheikh
Mahommed-as-Sanusy is waiting in Tripoli till he has attained
his thirty-ninth year to declare himself Al-Mahdi, thirty-nine
being the age of Mahommed when he began his mission.
The IMiLSSulman belief in the coming of Al-lMahdi is based, not
upon the Koran, but upon sayings attributed to the Prophet
and to his immediate descendants, according to which Al-Mahdi
must be a descendant of Mahommed, and must accomplish
various vague and obscure predictions. According to some
eminent authorities, the true Mahdi was born in the year of the
Hegira 255, Anno Domini 8G9, and Avas shut up in a cave by
his mother, Avho still watches over him until the appointed
time, when he shall reappear again to overthrow Antichrist,
and to join the Christians and Moslems in one true faith.



The new claimant to the authority of Al-Mahdi was a
native of Dongola, the son of a carpenter, by name Mahommed
Achmet. He had received religious education at Khartoum and
Berber, and after 1870 set up as a faki on his own account.
He lived in a cave for a long time in the island of Abba, on the
White Nile, and soon became fiimous for his piety. By well-
arranged marriages he contrived to ingratiate himself with all
the principal tribes, and to amass considerable wealth. In
May 1881 he announced himself to his brother fakis as Al-
Mahdi. The title was at once recognised by a large number of
chiefs, and his position was considered sufficiently important to
arouse considerable alarm at Cairo in the minds of the Egyptian
Government. The Ulemas of Cairo and Khartoum pronounced
against him, and an army was despatched to put him down.
Not unnaturally the Soudanese recognised the Mahdi as their
champion against the oppression of Egypt, and rallied round
his standard in great numbers to oppose the unwilling Egyptian
levies, raised by proscription. In his first engagements with
the Egyptian troops the Mahdi was defeated in the south of
Sennaar, and retreated up the Blue Nile; but he soon rallied,
raised fresh forces, crossed the White Nile, and invaded the
Bahr Gazelle, In July 1882 he defeated and massacred six
thousand Egyptian soldiers under Yussuf Pasha. For some
months more the Mahdi held his course with varying foi-tunes,
now winning victories and massacring his opponents, now being
defeated by the Egyptian General Abd-el-Kader. In January
the town of El Obeid in Kordofan capitulated to the Mahdi,
who took up his residence there, and after one or two defeats
from Abd-el-Kader it seemed as if his influence was entirely
limited to Kordofan beyond the White Nile. Here it seemed
the wisest policy to allow him to remain.

Early in April 1883 Lord DuiFerin, at that time England's
representative in Cairo, gave serious advice to Ibrahim Bey, the
chief of the Bureau appointed by the Egyptian Government for
superintending the affairs of the Soudan. He counselled him
to recommend the Egyptian Government to confine itself to
establishing its authority over Sennaar, and not to attempt to


extend the dominion in the Sondan beyond the White Nile.
This modest policy would, Lord Dufferin urged, gi"eatly diminish
the drain on the Egyptian treasuiy, while the substitution of a
beneficent and humane administration for the cruel misgovern-
ment that had prevailed in Dongola, Khartoum, and Sennaar,
Avould, no doubt, lead in time to the easy recovery of so much
of the abandoned territories as it might be desirable later to
reannex. The Egyptian official listened politely, with that bland
appearance of acquiescence with which Oriental statesmen are
so skilful in masking their determination to do exactly the
opposite of what they are being advised to do. Lord Dufierin
left Egypt in the firm conviction that his policy was being acted
upon, and that the Egyptian Government would content itself
for the time with the re-establishment of its authority over

The Egyptian Government, however, had no thought of so
contenting itself. They had in their service an English officer,
Geiiei'al Hicks, who had been successful so far in the Soudan
operations. They now decided to send him to invade Kordofan.
England's representative in Egypt at this juncture was Sir
Edward Malet, who carried the principle of English non-inter-
ference in the affiiirs of Egypt to its utmost possible limit. It is
truly pitiable to read the despatches and telegrams addressed by
Hicks Pasha to Sir Edward Malet, whom he very naturally re-
garded as a power in Egypt, imploring again and again for more
authority, more soldiers, or for permission to withdraw from the
business altogether. All these communications Sir Edward Malet
solemnly handed over, one after another, to Cherif Pasha, with
the same unvarying assurances to the Egyptian minister that
General Hicks's action or appeals were in no sense whatever
endorsed by the British Government. General Hicks might
write as often as he liked to the English representative in Cairo :
that functionary would do nothing more than hand the letters
over to the head of the Egyptian Ministry, ' without any com-
ment or expression of opinion ' upon their contents. It must be
admitted, however, that Sir Edward Malet was only the mouth-
piece of Lord Granville in this policy of abject irresponsibility


and ludicrous non-interferonce. The Foreign Seci'etary warned
our representative again and again tliat lie was to ' offer no
advice' to the Egyptian Government on the question of the
Soudan. In other words, though England had interfered in
Egypt by force of arms to keep the Khedive on his throne, though
Cairo was occupied by English soldiers, though it was clearly
in England's power and in her right to counsel the Egyptian
Ministry as to the course they should pursue in the most diffi-
cult of all Egyptian questions, the Ministry still affected to
keep up the absurd pretence of exercising no influence upon the
councils of Egypt.

nicks" Pasha had to obey his orders. "With a wretched
army, insufficient in numbers, deficient in stamina, half con-
quered beforehand by dread of the Soudan and superstitious fear
of Al-Mahdi, he crossed the White Nile, and marched upon
El Obeid. With his army there was, as correspondent for the
Dcdhj News, Mr. Edmund O'Donovan, one of the most remark-
able travellers then living. Mr. O'Donovan was one of those
men who, like Mr. Archibald Forbes, or Mr. MacGahau, arc
specially made for the trade of war correspondent ; men whose
love of the adventurous is combined with a marvellous capacity
for carrying their adventure thi^ough successfully, of going
whithersoever they want to go, seeing whatever they want to
see, and coming back in triumph. But Mr. O'Donovan had
what Mr. Forbes had not — a gift of acquiring foreign tongues, and
especially Oriental tongues, akin to that of Burton of Mecca, of
E. H. Palmer, and of Floyer of Beloochistan. He was the son of a
distinguished Irish scholar and author. In his early youth he had
taken part in the Fenian organisation. He became a journalist,
then a special correspondent. He first became famous for his
expedition to Merv, and for the brilliant letters which he wrote
to the Daily JVeivs from that strange Central Asian city. The
people of Merv made a hero of him : when he at last left them,
he went away as their accredited representative to all the king-
doms of the world, and they only suffered him to go on the
solemn assurance that he would return, and soon. O'Donovan
made his way to Europe; created a sensation in Constantinople


by delivering his first lectui'e on Merv there, and by being
imprisoned for speaking treason against the Sultan in a Pera
cafe, and so came to London, whei-e he was for a time the
lion of the season. He staj^ed in London until he brought
out his book on Merv. But he soon wearied of civic life, and
longed to be wandering. When the Soudan trouble grew pro-
minent, he offered to go and accompany Hicks Pasha's army
for the Daily News. His letters home were read with the
greatest interest. The sufferings, the difficulties, the privations,
the dangers of the route of the ill-fated army were brought
vividly before London, before England, before the world.
Gradually the letters grew gloomier, more desponding in tone.
One of his very last letters, dated from the camp of El Duem on
September 23, was written to a private friend, and was not
published vmtil after the catastrophe. It is a curiously pathetic
letter ; the shadow of coming death is upon it. He writes of a
friend whose death he had just learned, ' I shall sadly miss him
when I return to London, if ever I do. I am writing this
under circumstances which bring me as near to death as it is
possible to be without being under absolute sentence of execu-
tion, or in the throes of some deadly malady, and yet I speak of

poor as if I were going to live for ever. It would be odd

if the next intelligence from this part of the world told that T,
too, had gone the way of all flesh. However, to die even out
here, with a lancehead as big as a shovel through me, will meet
my views better than the slow, gradual sinking into the grave
which is the lot of so many. . . . You know I am by this time,
after an experience of many years, pi-etty well accustomed to
dangers of most kinds, even some extra. Yet I assure you I
feel it terrible to face deadly peril far away from civilised ideas,
and where no mercy is to be met with, in company with cravens
that you expect to see run at every moment, and who will leave
you behind to face the worst. I send you a flower plucked from
a shrub growing at my tent door.'

The present writer met Mr. O'Donovan for the first time in
Constantinople at the time when he first arrived as ' ambassador
from Merv,' from the Central Asian desert. To know him at


all was to love him, for O'Donovan's was a singularly lovable
nature, and tliere could be few whose affections could resist his
bright, boyish manner, his kindly, sympathetic spirit, and the
strong fascination of his brilliant varied talk, and his animated
descriptions of his wandering life. He had faults, indeed, which
stood sometimes in his way, which he might have conquered as
he grew older; but of him we may say in the noble, pathetic words
of Johnson upon Goldsmith, ' He was wild, but he is no more.'
The collecting of personal relics is, perhaps, one of the weakest
of human weaknesses, and yet we may well be permitted to
envy the possessor of the faded flower which the hands of a
brave man gathered for his friend in the desert, in the valley of
the shadow of death.

Hicks Pasha's army never got within sight of the minarets of
El Obeid. On November 5, 1883, a battle took place at Kashgate,
and Hicks Pasha's army was literally annihilated. The General
himself fell fighting bravely. Mr. O'Donovan was killed near
him. No European seems to have escaped except a Prussian
sergeant, who had deserted to the enemy some days before the
fight. All the EgyjDtians were massacred. The news was
brought to Khartoum by a Coptic official, disguised as a der-
vish, more than a fortnight after the event, and was telegraphed
on, to cause dismay in Cairo and London. The inevitable had
come to pass, and the Soudan a^ipeared to be irreparably lost.

The position of the Egyptian garrisons in the Soudan was
now perilous in the extreme. At Khartoum, where the "White
and Blue Niles branch asunder. Colonel de Coetlogen, an
English officer, was left with 4,000 Egyptians to hold a town
which would require, in ordinary conditions, a far larger force
to man its ramparts. Now the conditions were not ordinary,
for the large black population of the town were expected at any
moment to turn upon their nominal defenders, and destroy them.
At Sinkat, in the Eastern Soudan, Tewfik Pasha and a small force
were shut up. Tokha was besieged, ana on the very day after the
defeat at Kashgate a force of Egyptians, commanded by Captain
Moncrieff, was surrounded by the rebels while attempting to
relieve it, and cut to pieces. At Berber and Dongola, at Kassala

X 2


and Amandel, at Fashoda and Sennaar, there were garrisons,

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 28 of 38)