Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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not as yet beleaguered, not as yet in immediate danger, but
which might at almost any moment be put into immediate
danger. What was to be done 1 The Egyptian Government
appeared to be paralysed : so for a moment did the English
Government. Sir Evelyn Baring was now England's representa-
tive in Cairo. While the fate of Hicks Pasha's armv was still
uncertain he wrote home for instructions. Lord Granville
telegraphed that the Government could not lend either English
or Indian troops to assist the Egyptian Government, and
advised Sir Evelyn Baring, * if consulted,' to recommend the
abandonment of the Soudan within certain limits. ' If con-
sulted ! ' The absurd pi'etence was still being kept up that the
presence of England in Egypt meant nothing, that her influence
in the councils of Egypt was merely nominal ; that counsel was
never to be volunteered, only given if by any chance an in-
dependent Egyptian Government might ask for it. Even
when the news of the defeat of Hicks Pasha was certain, even
when Coetlogen was telegraphing in desperation from Khartoum
that he could not hold the jilace against a hostile population
and a victorious rebel with a small army, mostly old and blind,
nothing was done. Lord Granville could only iterate that
* her ]\Iajesty's Government could do nothing in the matter
which would throw upon them the responsibility of operations
in the Soudan.' The Government which had not hesitated to
interfere to put down one set of rebels against the Khedive,
were now displaying a ludicrous delicacy about interfering to
put down another set of rebels. Yet the danger to the safety
of Egypt was at least as gi'eat from a victorious Mahdi as from
a victorious Arabi. Days drifted by. The Egj^tian Govern-
ment did nothing; the English Government did nothing.
Coetlogen could not evacuate Khartoum because the route to
Berber was not open, and his appeals to have that route opened
by a movement from Berber and Suakim were not answered.
Had he attempted to do so with the forces at his disposal, he
would have merely ensured a massacre on the road. Suakim
on the Bed Sea was only safe bscause it was protected by the


presence of British gunboats in the harbour. After a while the
Egyptian Government seemed to make up its mind to attempt
to hold Khartoum, to open the road to Berber, and to call
in the aid of Turkish troops. The English Government saw no
objection, as they — this was December 13 — had ' no intention
of employing British or Indian troops in the Soudan.' But they
recommended the abandonment of all territory south of Assouan,
or at least of Wady Haifa, and they announced that they would
be prepared to assist in maintaining order in Egyjjt propei", in
defending it, as well as the jDorts of the Red Sea. At last, in
the beginning of 1884, the Government took a decided tone
with the Egyptian Ministry. ' It is indispensable,' wrote Lord
Granville, ' that her Majesty's Government should, as long as
the provisional occupation of the country by English troops con-
tinues, be assured that the advice which, after full consideration
of the Egyptian Government, they may feel it their duty to
tender to the Khedive should be followed. It should be made
clear to the Egyptian ministers and governors of provinces, that
the responsibility which, for the time, rests on England, obliges
her Majesty's Government to insist on the adoption of the policy
which they recommend ; and that it will be necessary that those
ministers and governors who do not follow this course should
cease to hold their offices.' Here was English interference with
a vengeance. In a moment the graceful theories about the inde-
pendence of Egypt were cast to the winds, and a policy of the
directest dictation adopted. The English Government an-
nounced that the Soudan must be abandoned, and that some
English officer of high authority should be sent to Khartoum
with full powers to make arrangement for the future govern-
ment of the country, and to withdraw all the garrisons. Cherif
Pasha's Ministry resigned rather than follow out this policy,
and a new and more supple Mijiistry was immediately formed
under Nubar Pasha. Then came the question who was to be
sent out to Khartoum.

This point was decided not so much by the Government
as by the Pall Mall Gazette. That enterprising journal had
decided that General Gordon was the man for Khartoum. He


was passing througTi London on liis way from Jerusalem to
Beloium to take charge of an anti-slavery expedition of the
head-waters of the Congo. A representative of the Pall Mall
Gazette interviewed him, and elicited his views on the situation.
Then, day after day, the Pall Mall insisted that General
Gordon should be sent to settle the affairs of the Soudan. The
idea was taken up by every one, even by the Government, and
in the end the Government decided to send him out. He was
actually on his way to Belgium to arrange about the Congo
expedition, when he was recalled and ordered to the Soudan.
With the promptness which has always characterised him he
set off at once. The mission he was sent on was in direct
opposition to his own ideas. He was not in favour of the
abandonment of the Soudan or the evacuation of Khartoum.
He was sent out to facilitate the evacuation of Khartoum and
the abandonment of the Soudan. In his own expressive
phrase, he was sent to cut the dog's tail off.' There are few
events in contemporary history more thrilling than this expe-
dition of General Gordon's. He hastened to Egypt in company
with Colonel Stewart, an English officer with great knowledge
of the East whom he had chosen as his companion. He appeared
for a moment in Cairo, where he had an angry interview with
his old enemy Zebehr, who refused to be reconciled. Then he
disappeared into the desert. For a time he was absolutely lost
to sight. He would only go with an army or go alone ; and as
there was no army to give him, he went practically alone upon
his terribly dangerous mission. The eyes of the world may be
said to have been fixed upon the desert tract which General
Gordon was crossing on his swift dromedary. At last it was
known that he had arrived in safety at Khartoum, and that
so far all was well. Gordon was received by the population
of Khax'toum with the greatest enthusiasm. They hailed him
as Sultan, Father, and Saviour of Koi'dofan. He at once pro-
ceeded to simplify the situation in his prompt, imperious man-
ner. All the Government books recording the debts of the
overtaxed people, all the whips and other instruments of oppres-
sion, were solemnly burned befor-e the palace. The prison was


visited, the different cases examined into, and most of the
prisoners released. Colonel de Coetlogen was thanked for his
services, and told that there was no further need of his presence.
' Kest assured you leave this place as safe as Kensington Park,'
wrote Gordon to him.

Gordon immediately issued a series of proclamations, each
perhaps more surprising than the others. He began by pro-
claiming the Mahdi as Sultan of Kordofan, an act of concilia-
tion which did not have the immediate effect of bringing the
warlike prophet to terms. Another proclamation directly and
emphatically sanctioned slavery in the Soudan. Gordon was
exceedingly anxious to appoint Zebehr as ruler of Khartoum
and the country around, but the Home Government would not
consent to the appointment. It was bad enough to be com-
pelled to recognise slavery in the Soudan after all the heroic,
helpless efforts that had been made to put it down, but to
consent to the appointment of the very head and front of the
slave-drivers as ruler of the country was more than they could
stomach. People began to ask themselves if General Gordon
had taken leave of his senses in sanctioning slavery, and seeking
a ruler for Khartoum in the ' scourge of Central Africa.' He
had not taken leave of his senses : he was sent out to perform
a certain task, and he at once recognised the only conditions
on which that task could be performed. It was useless to
prohibit slavery if we did not intend to enforce the prohibition.
If we would not govern the Soudan, we ought to entrust it to
some one who could ; and of all men Zebehr seemed to Gordon
the most capable for the purpose, Gordon did not like Zebehr ;
he had described him often enough as one of the curses of the
country; but neither did Gordon like evacuating the Soudan.
If the one dislike had to be swallowed, there was no use in
making a wry face over the other. Zebehr was said to be
delighted at the proposal. He had a blood feud with Gordon —
over this they had quarrelled during the Cairo interview. But
with the prospect of becoming ruler of Khartoum he forgot all
about the blood feud. Gordon was his brother ; he himself
was a much-injured and shamefully maligned maii. In terms


that would be grotesquely comic if the situation had not been
so serious, Zebehr declared that he hated slavery, that he never
had anything Avhatever to do with the slave trade. It seemed
that Gordon and the world in general had been much mistaken
about Zebehr all this while ; that he was in reality a sort of
Central African Wilberforce, the very man whom Mr. Chesson
and the Aboriginal Society ought to hold in special regard.
However, the Government were not convinced, and they declined
to sanction the appointment of Zebehr. The refusal was curious.
If they Avere willing to lend themselves to any juggling with
the slave trade, if their one aim on earth was to get out of the
Soudan at any cost, and with any sacrifice of principle, it is
difficult to see why they were so resolute in opposition to
Zebehr. Gordon's chances of succe-s in his task depended,
too, very largely upon his having a fi'ee hand ; and if he ad-
vised the appointment of Zebehr, he imdoubtedly did so after
due consideration of the difficulty of the situation. However,
the Govei-nment would have none of Zebehr, and Gordon's
difficulties began to thicken. The insurgent tribes did not
display that eagerness to rally round him which was at first
expected. We hear of another proclamation of Gordon's, this
time somewhat angry in tone, threatening the recusants with
prompt punishment if they do not make j^eace ; and there
is talk of sending for British forces. Shortly after this pro-
clamation telegraphic communication with Khartoum is cut off,
and for a time General Gordon and his doings are involved in
complete darkness. At intervals the veil lifts. Messengers
succeed in making their way out with the news that General
Gordon has been engaged in conflict with the rebels, has
been victorious ; but that more rebels remain unconquered —
that, in fact, Khartoum is surrounded. Then the veil drops
again. Colonel de Coetlogen arrived in Cairo on March 24,
having made his way from Khartoum, after Gordon's ' Ken-
sington Park ' assurance, without any difficulty. We con-
sidered that the place could be easily taken by the enemy, but
doubted whether there was any immediate danger. General
Gordon's plan was to get the garrison away, hand over his own


to the best native avithority available, and withdraw. The
southern garrisons were supposed to be making for the coast.
Colonel de Coetlogen's news was not very reassuring, but it
was all that was to be had. Nothing was to be done but to
remember Gordon's own words before leaving London, ' ISTo
panic,' and wait upon events. According to Colonel de Coet-
logen it would be impossible to send a relieving army to
Khartoum even if Gordon wished it, and Gordon did nob
wish it.

In the meantime the condition of the beleaguered garrisons
at Tokha and Sinkat was growing desperate. Messages came
from Tewfik telling piteous tales of the distress to which his
gallant little garrison was reduced by privation. The Egyptian
Government sent Baker Pasha, with what they were pleased to
call an army, to Suakim, in order to attempt the relief of the
garrisons. His force was composed chiefly of fellaheen, raised
by conscription, many of them brought into Cairo in chains —
these were called volunteers — all unwilling to go into the
dreaded Soudan. With such men as these — as feeble as, nay,
far more feeble than the levies of Tel-el-Kebir — Baker Pasha
was expected to set free the imprisoned gari Lsons, and defeat the
Mahdi's fierce lieutenant in the eastern Soudan, Osman Digna.
On February 4 General Baker advanced from Trinkitat to relieve
Tokha. His force numbered in all 3,000 men, most of them
Egyptians, though some were black troops. A handful of English
oflicers accompanied him. Colonel Burnaby — Burnaby of Khiva
— was with him, utilising his leave by hurrying to the spot where
there was promise of excitement, of danger. The war corre-
spondents of the chief London papers of course rode with the
relieving force. In the present day the position of the Avar
correspondent is scarcely less perilous than that of the soldier
in the van. The enemy came soon in sight ; there was some
• skh'mishing with the advanced cavalry ; then a wild attack A^as
made by the Arabs upon the Egyptians. An attempt had been
made by the officers to make the square formation, but the
ill-drilled, untrained, timorous Egyptians were unable to keep
their ranks. In sheer panic they broke and fled. From that


moment the foi'tune of the fight was settled. The Arabs carried
everything before them, and swept furiously after the flying
Egyptians, stabbing and spearing the fugitives without mercy.
The miserable fellaheen could not even fight for their lives ; when
they were overtaken by their fleet pursuers they would fall on
their knees and receive the cou2y de grdce meekly, with clasped
hands. Baker Pasha, Colonel Burnaby, and his staff made a
desperate effort to save the day, trying to rally their men, and
even shooting some of the nearest fugitives. It was all in vain.
Before the savage fury of the Arabs, the manhood, such as it
was, of the Egyptians literally withered away, and the prophet
himself could not have rallied them then had he appeared
amongst them. They fled and fell all along the way back to
Triukitat. Some European oflicers who stood by the guns were
cut down after fighting desperately. When it was certain that
there was no hope General Baker, Colonel Burnaby, and their
companions rode right thi'ough the surrounding Arabs un-
harmed, and made their way to Trinkitat, where they exerted
themselves heroically to pacify the panicstriclien runaways, and
to get the troops on board — a task in which they i^eceived no
assistance from the unfortunate Egyptian oflicers. Luckily for
the remnant who escaped the rout, the Arabs did not push their
victory to Trinkitat, deterred no doubt by the fear of the Biitish
gun-boats, or probably not one man would have escaped from
that day's business. Many gallant deeds were done, many
thrilling tales ax'e told of acts of individual bravery, in that
wild flight. One officer. Major Harvey, put his wounded servant
upon his own horse and biought him out of danger, holding the
horse by the bridle and running alongside of it.

The defeat at Teb practically settled the question of English
interference in the Soudan. General Baker was, indeed, only
an English officer in the Egyptian service, but it was impossible
to expect that the insurgent Arabs would understand this im-
portant distinction. All that they would consider was that now
for the third time the armies of the Mahdi or his lieutenant
had met a hostile army arrayed under the leadership of
English officers, and defeated them hopelessly. In every bazaar


in the East, from Constantinople to Smyrna, in every Nilotic
mud town between Assouan and Cairo, in every Mussulman
community in Hindostan, in every Central Asian Khanate, the
news would fly that the arms of England were falling into the
dust before the green banner of Islam. England had fought
Arabi before on the ground that she must preserve her road to
India ; if she wished to preserve her 2^'>'esfige in those Mahom-
medan countries which she ruled, she must fight and conquer
Osman Digna now. At home in England the greatest excite-
ment prevailed. The news of Baker Pasha's defeat had arrived
on the very day that Parliament met. The following day came
the news that Tewfik Pasha, the gallant defender of Sinkat,
had been cut to pieces with his valiant garrison, in an attempt
to force their way through the besiegers' lines. The story was
doubted at first, but it was soon verified. Logically the fate of
the Soudan garrisons entailed no responsibility on England.
She had not put them there; their blood would not be upon her
head. But England had chosen to interfere in the aflfairs of
Egypt ; nay, more, she had insisted that the Soudan should be
abandoned ; it was her duty to see that the unhappy gai'risons
were not left to perish in obedience to that dictation. She had
compelled the Egyptian ruler, sorely against his will, to give up
the Soudan; it was her mission to ensure the accomplishment
of the task without the sacrifice of lives perilled in obedience to
another policy and another principle. It was clear that the
feeling of the vast bulk of public opinion in England was in
favour of doing something to settle the Soudan question, to
rescue the imperilled garrisons, and to retrieve the shaken
prestige of England. The time for inaction had gone by; it
never had had any logical excuse from the day when Admiral
Beauchamp Seymour opened fire upon the Alexandria forts.
In defiance of all the principles and all the traditions of Liberal-
ism, a Liberal Government had intervened between a foreign
ruler and a foreign rebel. They had lent the arms and the
influence of England to crush the National movement in Egypt,
and for the moment they had crushed it. It was a blunder, and
like most blunders it entailed other blunders to follow it. It


"was impossible for the Government to sit any longer with folded
hands and watch Egypt falling to pieces before their eyes. The
memory of Telel-Kebir forbade them to regard El Teb as an
Egyptian matter to be settled by Egyptian measures and an
Egyptian Ministry.

On Sunday, February 10, it was proclaimed at Suakim that
Admiral Hewett, with the consent of England and at the re-
quest of the Khedive, had assumed the supreme control, and
that England had undertaken to defend Suakim. On Mondav,
the 18th, the 'Jumna' steamed through the reefs of Suakim
harboiu', the largest ship that had ever entered its waters, with
the 10th Hussars (Baker Pasha's old regiment) on board, and
the Irish Fusiliers. On Friday, the 24:th, General Graham
himself arrived, just in time to hear the news that Tokha, after
long holding out, had surrendered to the enemy, and that the
garrison and rebels had fraternised. Osman Digna's star seemed
to be in the ascendant. An Austrian merchant of Suakim, Mr.
Levi, who got into Osman's camp under the pretence of becoming
a Mussulman, and who only escaped with difficulty with his life
from his perilous adventure, described the Mahdi's lieutenant
as a common-looking man, dressed in a dirty shirt and straw
hat, who spent most of his time in exciting his followers by
reading to them rehgious books about the Mahdi, with comments
of his own. Undoubtedly Osman possessed the power of in-
s})iring his followers with an implicit belief in him and his cause.
He scornfully rejected all overtures of truce, and announced
that he was determined to sweep Suakim into the Eed Sea,
with every soul it contained, whether Egyptian or English.
This was the man whom it was General Graham's duty to put
down, now that it was too late to do anything for Sinkat or

On the last day of February General Graham's force, some
four thousand stiong, began its march from Trinkitat. Five
hundi'ed yards to the windward side of the spot where the
decomposing corpses of Baker Pasha's Egyptians lay in hideous
confusion by hundreds, the Arabs attacked the British, opening
fire upon them with the Krupp guns they had captured at


El Teb. A splinter from one of the shells •woxinded Baker
Pasha badly in the face, but he insisted on going on as soon as
his wound was bound up, About three miles from Fort Baker
the enemy had set up some kind of earthwork, on which guns
were mounted, over which their flags were flying. On these
earthworks the British advanced steadily, the Gordon High-
landers leading the way to the shrill tune of their bagpipes, and
marching as coolly as if on parade. There was a short artillery
duel, and then the British chai'ged the earthworks and carried
all before them. Colonel Burnaby was one of the first over the
parapet, firing at the Arabs with a double-barrelled gun, and
receiving some ugly woiinds. The Arabs fought heroically,
flinging themselves again and again u])on the British line, falling
in hundreds before the rain of bullets and the bayonet charge.
Even Avhen defeat was inevitable they would not acknowledge
it, b\it retired sullenly, fighting to the last, often making
wild charges upon certain death with undaunted heroism.
The next day General Graham continued his march and took
possession of Tokha.

Though the ostensible purpose of the expedition had been
accomplished by the relief — too late, indeed — of Tokha,
military operations were not suspended. Osman Digna's fol-
lowers were called upon to abandon him and disperse. Osman
Digna had retired to his encampment at Tamanieb, and as his
followers still held by him, and he himself was still defianb,
it was determined to advance against him. On the early morn-
ing of Thursday, March 13, General Graham's army marched
out against Osman Digna's encampment, in the military forma-
tion of two squares. The gi-ound was thick with bush, and
afibrded every opportunity for the concealment of the enemy,
who undoubtedly succeeded in drawing the first squai-e into
what was very like an ambuscade. The wild Arab attack was
for the moment ii-resistible, the order of the advancing square
was broken, a sea of Arabs broke in iipon it, stabbing and
spearing. The British fired and retreated, fighting desperately,
and leaving their guns in the enemy's hands. For a moment
it seemed as if the day was lost, as if the massacre of the


first battle of Teb would be repeated, with British instead of
Egyptian soldiers for victims. Only for a moment, however.
The second square had preserved its formation perfectly, and
came to the rescue of the first, which was already rallying from
its first fatal shock. A few minutes more of desperate fighting,
and the day so nearly lost was won, the Arabs were in full
retreat, the captured guns retaken. General Graham pushed
on to Osman Digna's encampment and destroyed it.

After this second victory Admiral Hewett issued a pro-
clamation offering a reward of five thousand dollars for the
capture of Osman Digna, dead or ahve. This extraordinary
manifesto, based upon principles of war that had been aban-
doned for centuries, aroused the utmost surprise in England.
At first the Government refused to believe in its authenticity ;
the moment it was confirmed orders were telegraphed for its
immediate withdrawal. Osman Digna was as much the
undoubted commander of the insurgent Arabs as Admiral
Hewett was commander at Suakim. He had shown himself,
up to this time, a brave, resolute, and dauntless soldier, fighting
for a cause which had commanded a very large amount of
sympathy in England and all over the civilised world. Even
his alleged execution of two messengers sent to him by Admiral
Hewett did not justify the Admiral in offering what was practi-
cally a reward for his assassination. Admiral Hewett no doubt
believed himself to be acting within his right ; it is one of the
unfortunate necessities of savage warfare that it seems to deaden
the moral sense and warp the conduct of the bravest men, till
they begin to act against their opponents upon the principles of
savage, not of civilised, morality. The issue of the proclamation
was most unfortunate, and even its immediate withdrawal
could not efface its recollection or prevent it from doing harm
to the British cause.

One further advance finally dispersed Osman Digna's re-
maining adherents, and then, to the surprise of every one and
to the dismay of most. General Graham was ordered to retire,
to embark his troops with all speed, and, in fact, to get out of
the country as quickly as possible. General Gordon had asked

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 29 of 38)