Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

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for two squadrons of cavalry to be sent to Berber to open a way
of escape for two thousand women and children sent down from
Khartoum. This request was not granted ; Sir Evelyn Baring
angered Gordon by talking of negotiations with Arabs to open the
road. To the outer world, not learned in the secrets of Ministerial
policy, it looked grimly like leaving General Gordon to his fate.
Just then, too. General Gordon's position was peculiarly critical.
The veil that hid the doings at Khartoum had again lifted, and
the world had to learn another lesson of defeat. General Gordon
had sallied out from Khartoum on March 16 to attack the fol-
lowers of the Mahdi who had assembled on the opposite bank
of the river, opposite to the windows of the palace. After a
short conflict Gordon's troops, Egyptians of the kind who fled
from Baker at the first battle of Teb, broke and ran in helpless
panic, almost without firing a shot. The successful Arabs seem
to have been some sixty in number; Gordon's army more than
a thousand. Gordon's force lost some two hundred men in
their mad flight ; about four of the victorious Arabs are said to
have been killed. It is only fair to say that the panic was partly
due to the treachery of two black pashas under Gordon's com-
mand, Hassan and Said, whom Colonel de Coetlogen had for-
merly suspected of treachery. They gave the signal for fliglit
by galloping back from the enemy, they broke up the square of
their own men, and they with their own hands killed some of
their own artillerymen. When the troops routed got back to
Khartoum General Gordon had the two pashas arrested, tried
by court-martial, and shot. To add to Gordon's difiiculties, the
Mahdi wholly refused to be mollified by Gordon's oflfer of the
Sultanship of Kordofan. Three dervishes ai^-ived in Khartoum,
bearing back the robes of honour sent by Gordon. With their
hands upon their swords they delivered their message, and
called upon Gordon in the Mahdi's name to become a Mussul-
man, and to put on the i-obe of a dervish. With Gordon in
this position, defeat outside Khartoum, and treason within the
walls, the Government ordered the withdrawal of the British
troops from Suakim. To the looker-on at the political game
the order appears an act of inexplicable folly. Was it worth


while to send out an army to tbe Red Sea littoral, merely to
slaughter a few thousand Ai-abs and then come back again?
Did the Government think that a couple of inevitable defeats of
Osman Digna settled tlie Soudan diiEculty ? Not to have gone
to the Soudan at all would have been intellisrible enou2fh : but
to complicate the matter still further by going, by having a
hattue of Arabs, and then huniedly coming away again, seemed
a policy only worthy of the Duke of York in the nursery rhyme,
and not of a serious and responsible Ministry.

Just at the moment when the Ministry were most perplexed
by the difficulties in Egj'pt, most harassed by the pertinacity of
the attacks of the Opposition, a new element of trouble was iu-
troduced into their situation. Late in February it was made
known that Merv had become a part of the ever-increasing
Russian dominion in Central Asia. The news was absolutely
unexpected. Russia had given a sort of vague understanding
that she would not go to Merv, which had quieted even the
most suspicious of Central Asian alarmists. But Russia had
in no sense pawned her future conduct in the case of Merv
coming to her — and Merv had come to her. Of their own
accord, so the account ran, with no prompting, no instigation,
the people of Merv had voluntarily desired to be enrolled in
the long list of foreign races who recognise the Czar as their
father. Russia had accepted the trust thus offered her, and
Merv was henceforward part and parcel of the Russian Empire.
The neAvs aroused the fiercest indignation against Russia the
deceiver, and the deceived English Ministry, in the minds of all
those who saw in Russia's action in Central Asia part of a plot
with our Indian Empire for its object.

What is generally called the Central Asian question means,
when translated, the relative positions of Russia and England in
those districts of Central A^ia that lie between Russia and the
English Empire in India. It may be very happily expressed in
a quotation from Mr. Mackenzie "Wallace : ' It is pretty cer-
tain that the Russian and British frontiers in Central Asia will
gome day meet. Where they will meet depends upon ourselves.
If we do not wish our rival to overstep a certain line, we must


ourselves advance to that line.' As to the point where the two
frontiers are to meet, there are two distinct schools of poli-
ticians. The one school maintains that it is not for us to
concern ourselves with the advance of Russia. If she chooses
to aggi-andise her empire among the petty khanates of Central
Asia, that is her affair, not ours ; nor need we stir ourselves to
meet an imaginary danger on our Indian frontier until Russia
makes some distinctly overt act of aggression. The other school
upholds a directly contrary doctrine. It sees in Russia's steady
advance a distinct threat against the integrity of our Indian
Empire, a steady, measured accomplishment of the will of Peter
the Great, w^hich, whether authentic or not, represents ex-
cellently the purposes of the Russian people, and the ambitions
of Russian statesmen. It is not, therefore, for England to
wait, this school urges, until Russia, having accomplished her
aims and undermined our strength, abandons her stealthy
encroachment and avowedly menaces our power in India.
Some of the arguments on this side are thus put by Mr.
Marvin : —

' The Central Asian question as it at present stands resolves
itself into this : In a very short space of time the empires of
England and Russia in Central Asia will touch each other;
query, where shall the frontier line be drawn ? . . . Should
Russia succeed in establishing a regular waterway between the
Black Sea and the Caspian, and thence, by means of the Oxus,
across the desert to Bokhara and Afghanistan, it is obvious that
the river Oxus will acquire immense commercial importance :
because it will tap the trade of Central Asia. , . . We said for
years that Russia should never annex Khiva ; she has got it.
We said she should never domineer over Kashgar ; her troops
to-day not only occupy passes a few marches from the city, but,
by the treaty signed by Tchoon Kow in 1879, Russia has the
right to establish agents throughout Eastern Turkestan, from
which we ourselves are excluded. We said that Persia should
always be preserved from encroachment ; the Shah to-day
wears a Cossack's uniform, and the Atrek region is becoming a
second Turkestan. We said that Russia should never re-possess



Bessarabia and the mouth of the Danube, "We said that
Batoum, the best port on the Caucasian coast, should never
become a Russian prize. We said that Kars, the key of Asia
Minor, should never fall into the hands of the Muscovite. Yet
these three great possessions were secretly signed away to Russia
by Lord Sahsbury.'

Undovibtedly, too, a great many English statesmen had
always been saying, a great many English politicians always
been urging, that Russia shoiild never get Merv, and now un-
doubtedly she had got it too. Any one who takes up the sketch
map of the advances of Russia in Centi*al Asia in ' Captain
Burnaby's ride to Khiva ' has practically the Central Asian
question before him. He will see what the Russian frontier
was in 1836, and how steadily it has been advancing lustre by
lustre, and decade by decade, absorbing into its huge empiie
the wealthy states and independent provinces of Central Asia.
Early in the present century Russia had extended her realm
far out into Western Siberia, till the Avhole of that vast
country came into the Russian power. On the other side she
reached down from Orenbui-g to Orsk, and the north of the Sea
of Aral to Fort Perovsky. The cession of some of the best
pasture lands of the Kirghiz of the Little Horde to Cossacks
roused retaliation on the part of the Central Asian nomads,
and these acts of retaliation were made the excuse for fresh
advances on the part of conquering Russia. Khokhand and
Khiva took the alarm, and prepared to meet the advancing
Muscovite with arms. They made frequent raids upon the
newly acquii'ed Russian territory, and the Russians in return oc-
cupied their sti'onghold of Ak-Mechet, which was thenceforward
called Fort Perovsky from the successful general. At Kasala,
and' on the sites of two other Khokhand forts, were built the
Russian forts, Nos. 1, 2, and 3.

The Crimean war which broke out interrupted for a season
the advance of Russia. But only for a season. With the pro-
clamation of peace Russia's ambition again asserted itself, and
the preparations for the conquests of Khokhand and Bokhara
were resumed. In 1864, General Tchernaieff took possession


of Chemkent, and a little later conquered with some difficulty
the large town of Tashkent, quite in defiance of Prince Gort-
chakoff's famous despatch, which pointed out to the Central
Asian states that ' Russia is not their enemy, that she entertains
towards them no ideas of conquest, and that peaceful and com-
mercial relations will be more profitable than reprisals and
permanent warfare.' It was explained that Russia was serving
the interests of civilisation and humanity, and had the right to
count on an equitable and loyal appreciation of the steps which
it took, and the principles by which it was guided. In pur-
suance of this policy, the next step of General Tchernaieff was to
capture Fort Niazbek, and further to storm, and finally capture,
Tashkent on July 14, 1865.

The ambitious General then turned his thoughts to the
conduct of the Ameer of Bokhara, who had the audacity to
act upon Russian principles, and occupy the town of Hodjent.
General Tchernaiuif ordei-ed all the Bokharans in the district
he governed to be arrested. The Ameer retaliated by arrest-
ing all the Russian merchants who happened to be in his city ;
but he did not so far gratify Tchernaieff's purposes as to
declare war. On the contrary, he sent a mission to St. Peters-
burg to remonstrate against the action of the Russian Gover-
nor. The mission was met at Fort No. 1 by General
Kryzhanovsky, who refused to allow the mission to go to St.
Petersburg, and detained the embassy. Then General Tcher-
naieflT sent a Russian mission to Bokhara The Ameer thought
it would be only appropriate to retaliate by arresting the Rus-
sian agent. What Russia might do to Bokhara, Russia was
not prepared to allow Bokhara to do to her, and Tchernaieff
promptly marched against the Ameer, A battle ensued, in
which the Russian General had distinctly the worst of it. He
was recalled,, and his place taken by General Romonovsky,
through whose fairer fortunes the army of the Ameer was cut
to pieces, and the Ameer himself had to fly for safety to Samar-
cand. The Ameer proposed peace, but Russia demanded an
immense indemnity. Bokhara refused to pay, and Genei'al
KaufFmann, who had replaced Romonovsky in 1867, invaded


the country, and after a fierce struggle Bokhara passed under
Russian rule. Kauffmann, who died on May 12, 1882, without
accomplishing his ambition of seeing all Central Asia, including
Afghanistan, under Russian rule, was the most enterprising of
all the Central Asian invaders, with the exception of Skobeleff,
who only survived him by not quite two months. The next
step was to annex Khokhand. Khokhand was perfectly
friendly to Russia; but, nevertheless, to the far-seeing Russian
mind it wanted Russianising. Some sixty natives of the place
were induced to petition for annexation to Russia, and their
request was promptly acceded to. In 1873 Russia had made
her preparations for an expedition to Kashgar, then held by
Yakoob Beg, but the despatch of an English embassy to his
State interfered with the Russian plans, and the expedition was
countermanded. Since then the Chinese have re-conquered
Kashgar. Yakoob Beg has died, and Eastern Turkestan has
practically become again a Chinese province. Then came Kauff-
mann's expedition, which brought Khiva under Russian au-
thority. Merv was the next step in the logical completeness
of Russian advance, and that step has now been taken.

What Russia thinks of the Central Asian question has been
told us — and very frankly told us — by Madame Olga de Novi-
koff, in a communication to the Pall Mall Gazette — everyone
communicates with the Pall Mall Gazette. ' Our position is
clear,' says Madame de Novikoff. ' Korth of the Oxus, outside
the boundaries of Afghanistan, Russia has a free hand. She will
advance or retreat, establish gaiTisons, or agents, or residents,
annex or protect, or do whatever she pleases, according to the
dictates of her own interests and the interests of her Asiatic
subjects. We shall do our duty without asking anybody's
leave, and we shall as soon think of making explanations
about the occupation of Merv as England did about the
occupation of Candahar.' * Russia, I hope,' INIadame de Novi-
koff goes on to say, ' has definitely broken with the foolish
habit of giving assurances whenever the EngUsh get into a
fidget about our advances. A rising tide can as soon be con-
trolled by Canute as the Russian advance, even by imperial

THi; SOUDAlsr. 323

declarations. Autocrats are not almightj, and circumstances
are stronger than emperors. The most imperative orders have
been issued in vain. The same law that forced England from
Calcutta to the Khyber has driven us from Orenburg to Merv.

Es ist eine alte Geschicbte,
Doch bleibt sie immer neu,

as Heine says on some other occasion, not referring exactly to
the Oxus.' Here we have an exposition of Russian i^olicy in
Central Asia, freely and frankly put forward by one who has
every right to speak with authority. The argument is clear
enough : ' We Russians have done once for all with explanations
and assurances. We are going to do as we like with the
Central Asian states, with the exception of Afghanistan.
There we recognise England's right to exert her influence. But
elsewhere, whether at Bokhara or Samarcand, or Khiva, or
Merv, from the fairest city of the proudest khan to the humblest
aoul of the Akkal Tekkes, we intend to act as we choose,
responsible to ourselves, and to ourselves alone.' Taken as it
was, it was an honest and open declaration, and as such it was
well worth having. Henceforward, any reproaches addressed to
Russia would not be merely vain — they would be ridiculous.



The session opened on Tuesday, February 5, 1884. The
Queen's speech spoke of harmonious relations with foreign
Powers, of the settlement of the Madagascar difficulty, of the
Congo question, of commercial treaties or revision of treaties
with Turkey, Spain, Japan, and Corea. The condition of Egypt
was described without comment ; a favourable issue to the Trans-
vaal question was hoped for. Ireland was said to continue to
exhibit features of substantial improvement. The address in
reply to the speech from the Throne was moved and seconded


by Lord Tweeddale and Lord Vernon in the Lords, and Mr.
Eliot and Mr. Samuel Smith in the Commons. These speeches
of ceremony, chiefly I'emarkable for the hopeful view they ex-
pressed of the Egyptian question, were still going on in the
Lords, and had not begun in the Commons, Avhen the news
arrived that Baker Pasha's miserable little armv for the relief
of Tokha had been fallen upon by the hostile chief Osman
Digua and cat to pieces.

The reception of this news produced very different effects in
the two Houses. In the Upper House Lord Salisbury was in-
spired by the ' sinister news' to -make a fierce and comprehen-
siv'e attack upon the complacent optimism of the Queen's
speech. The attack was too comprehensive. Pindar said of the
fair poetess Erinna, that she sowed with the sack, and not
with the hand ; that she showered the mythological allusions,
of which Pindar himself was so profligate, with needless
prodigality. Lord Salisbury sowed his charges against the
]\Iinistry with the sack rather than the hand. There was, as
Lord Granville said afterwards, a want of chiaroscuro in Lord
Salisbury's picture of the depravity of the Government. On
the Egyptian question, undoubtedly, Lord Salisbury had a fine
theme for attack. The Egyptian policy of the Government was
almost defenceless, but the attack came with exceptionally
bad grace from the lips of Lord Salisbury. Many of the
Government's misfortunes were due to the lamentable weak-
ness which had prevented them from breaking away at once
from the foreign policy of their predecessors. For that policy
Lord Salisbury and his party were responsible, and what they
attacked the Ministry for doing was the miserable but legiti-
mate conclusion of their own principles and their own practice.

But Lord Salisbury ignored all such responsibility. His
method was like that of the theatrical manager in the story
who divided the history of the world into two parts, the period
of sandals and the period of buff" boots. Everything went well
in Egypt in the epoch of sandals — in the time, that is, of Lord
Beaconsfield's administration. Everything went ill with Egyjit
in the age of buff boots — that is. in the time of Mr. Gladstone's


administration. Lord Granville had no great difBculty in an-
swering svich a speech with cool, good-humoured, slightly con-
temptuous argument. Biit it would have taken an abler man
than Lord Granville to make the Egyptian policy of the Govern-
ment appear a presentable and creditable policy just then.

The news of the Soudan disaster produced what may be
called a political catastrophe in the Lower House. The speeches
moving the address in the Commons were characterised by the
same complacent optimism with legard to Egypt, which un-
doubtedly did seem ludicrous, if not horrible, in the face of the
news that had just come in. But speeches in support of an
address are more or less set performances, rehearsed beforehand,
and quite too unwieldy to be adapted to unexpected emergencies.
The Government, in the person of the mover and seconder of
the address, congratulated itself upon a speedy solution of
Egyptian troubles, while every man in the House who was
listening to the debate knew that one of the most important
events of the whole disastrous campaign had just taken place,
and that the blow which had been dealt at English prestige in
Egypt by the defeat of Baker Pasha had no less surely struck
a heavy blow at the very existence of the Government. When
the seconder of the address had sat down, Mr. Bourke rose to
move an amendment, condemning the Egyptian policy of the
Ministry. In a speech quite as telling as Lord Salisbury's, Mr.
Bourke made his long seiies of charges against the Government,
from the occupation of Egypt to the moment when Baker
Pasha's hopeless, helpless army was cut to pieces. The attack
was bitter, forcible, and, from the Tory point of view, complete.
Mr. Bourke sat down amid the cheers of his party, to await the
apparently inevitable Ministerial reply. To the surprise of
almost every one, no one rose from the Treasury bench. The
House had not been very full when Mr. Bourke began his
speech, for the number of private bills introduced, and the
length of the speeches on the address, had driven him into that
fatal epoch of the House for an important speech — the dinner-
hour. The men who thought of dining whUe Edmund Bui-ke
was speaking have always successors in the House of Commons.


Not all the vigour of Mi\ Bourke's attack, not all the tragic
importance lent to it by the tidings from the Soudan, could keep
a full House at the dinner-hour. When Mr. Bourkesat down,
the benches on both sides of the House were very thinly peopled.
Mr. Gladstone had quitted the Treasury bench, Sir Charles
Dilke and Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice remained, and Sir Charles
Dilke had been taking notes of the speech, so that it was
confidently expected that he would rise in reply. But Sir
Charles Dilke made no sign. There was an awkward pause ;
the Speaker had actually risen to put the question, when Baron
de Worms flung himself heroically into the debate with a lively
attack upon the Government for their reticence, the ' conscious
silence of guilt.' But Baron de Worms could not hold out long.
By the time he had concluded, Sir Charles Dilke too had taken
up his notes and gone away ; ]\Ir. Gladstone had come in and
interjected a reply to some of Baron de Worms' remarks, and
had gone away again. The sole occupant of the Treasury bench
was Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, and Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice
showed no intention of saying anything. By this time Sir Stafibrd
Northcote had perceived the importance of allo%ving the Govern-
ment, if they liked, to take a division without answering the
charges of the Opposition. Word was rapidly passed round the
Conservative ranks to let the division be taken immediately.
The order was immediately obeyed, though with great reluctance
by some of the younger and wilder adherents of the party.
These chose to believe that Sir Stafford Northcote was making
a lamentable display of Aveakness in the face of the enemy ;
they did not see till afterwards that Sir Stafford Northcote had
shown himself an abler general and better leader by that single
stroke than by any other act of his since the fall of Lord

It was in vain next day that the Prime Minister tried — on a
motion of Lord Randolph Churchill's for the adjournment of the
House — to explain the occurrence away. It was in vain that
he assured the House that the Ministerial silence was absolutely
unintentional and regrettable ; that it was owing entirely to a
mistaken impression that the Conservative party intended to


keep the debate going for some time, and that it would be better
for the Government reply to come after all the charges had
been made. The mischief was done ; the Government had
placed itself in a painfully false position. It really seemed as
if the news of the calamity at Teb had stricken them into silence.
No explanations could get over the fact that charges of the most
serious kind had been brought against the Government, and
that not merely prudence but conventional courtesy had been
set aside by the extraordinary reticence of the Treasury bench.
The Conservatives were so much encouraged that they now
announced their intention not to content themselves with
an attempt to revive the question upon the i-eport to the
addiess, but to bring forward a solemn vote of censure uj^on the
Government in both Houses. The terms of the vote were
curious ; both Houses were invited to declare their opinion that
' the recent lamentable events in the Soudan are due in a great
measure to the vacillating and inconsistent policy pursued by
her Majesty's Government.' It is, to put it mildly, not often
that a vote of censure is moved on so comparatively light a
charge as vacillation and inconsistency. The serious opponents
of the Government undoubtedly thought that the conduct of
the Ministry had been something more than merely vacillating
and inconsistent. A man, Lord Granville had said in the de-
bate on the address, might perhaps be accused of inconsistency if
he opened his umbrella Avhen it was raining, closed it when the
rain stopped, and reopened it when the shower began again. The
course of a vessel compelled to tack might be called vacillating.
It is presumable that the Opposition worded their vote of cen-
sure in so guarded a manner in the hope of entangling Liberal
malcontents who could hardly be expected to endorse by vote,
or by abstention from voting, any more pronounced expression
of Tory hostility. For the same reason, presumably, they limited
the subject of their censure to affairs in the Soudan. They
knew that many Liberals who were heartily with the conduct
of the Government in Egypt up to a certain point were exceed-
ingly dissatisfied with the way in which the Soudan question
had been bungled. The vote of censure may be taken, thei-efore,


as cunningly addressed to the sweet voices of all the discontented
and all the distressed on the Ministerial side of the House. Of
course it came to nothing. It was carried in the Lords and re-

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 30 of 38)