Justin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthy.

England under Gladstone, 1880-1885 online

. (page 6 of 38)
Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 6 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

all amends he went too far, and apologised for much that needed
no apology. Whether right or wrong, the fact that the apology
had to be made was unlucky for the new Ministry. It was a
small thing perhaps, but omens are usually small things, and
there was certainly something of evil omen to a new Ministry
in having to begin its career with such an apology for such a

The Austrian episode being thus disposed of, there were other
European questions to occupy the attention and tax the ingenuity
of the new Ministry. The treaty of Berlin had bound the
Ottoman Empire to certain concessions, which she did not now
appear at all anxious to carry out. An extension of frontier
had been promised to Greece, a cession of territoi-y to Monte-
negro ; and the Hellenes and the Montenegrins were loudly com-
plaining that their claims were being neglected. In the case of
Greece the Porte was taking no steps whatever ; and towards
Monteneerro the Porte had acted in a manner that was worse
than inaction. Turkey had withdrawn all her troops from the
territories that had been assigned to Montenegro, and had
allowed the Albanians to forestall the Montenegrins and occupy


the territories themselves. This the Montenegrins naturally
regarded as a breach of contract. Turkey was pledged to hand
over the assigned territories to Montenegro, not merely to with-
draw her troops and let any one who pleased run in and take
possession. As the matter stood, Montenegro would either have
to fight for her land with the Albanians, or go without all she
gained by so much hard fighting at the Congress of Berlin. The
English Government at once took action. Mr. Goschen was
sent to Constantinople as a special ambassador, during what was
diplomatically described as the absence of Sir Henry Layard on
leave. Mr. Goschen was empowered to put the opinion of
England very clearly before the Porte, and to express in the
strongest terms the necessity for Turkey to carry out the pledges
entered into by her at the Congress of Berlin. Lord Granville
further issued a circular note addi-essed to the great signatory
Powers of the Berlin treaty, calling upon them to join in concert
in impressing upon Turkey the necessity of setthng the Monte-
negrin and Greek questions. A conference was called at Berlin
to consider the protocol to the Berlin treaty which laid down
the claims of Greece. With regard to Montenegro the Porte
pursued for a considerable time its favourite policy of delay. It
neither refused nor promised to do anything ; it simply listened
and did nothing. A collective note was addressed to the Poi-te,
and was met as usual with excuses, half-promises, and entii'e in-
action. At last the Powers, losing patience, announced
definitely that the town and district of Dulcigno should be
peacefully surrendered to Montenegro by a certain date. If at
that time the Porte had not complied with the wishes of the
Powers, it was announced that the concerting Powers would take
some means of enforcing their demands. The Porte, whether
from lazy fatalism or a profound disbelief in the joint action
of the great Powers, regarded this ultimatum with in-
difference, and did nothing. Then the great Powers joined to-
gether in a naval demonstration against Turkey. Seldom, per-
haps, has any combined action on the part of European Powers
been made the subject of such general European merriment.
The conditions under which the naval demonstration took place


were indeed sufficiently grotesque. The fleet which assembled at
Ragusa under the command of Sir Beauchamp Seymour was
sent there to demonstrate, but it could do nothing more than
demonstrate. The European Powers could not agree upon any
definite line of action, and the fleet was therefore definitely bound
to make no overt act against anybody. If the Montenegrins
attempted to occupy Dulcigno, and were assailed by the hostile
Albanians, the admiral of the fleet was expressly forbidden to
ofier any assistance to the little state. The fleet had been sent
there to demonsti-ate, but for any value the demonstration had
under such conditions, the ships of the fleet might as well have
been sheltered in their European harbours as lying at anchor
opposite Ragusa, or drifting idly in the waters of the Adriatic.
Naturally the Porte Avas not greatly alarmed by such a
hollow demonstration. A child may be frightened at first by a
pantomime mask ; but when it discovers that the misshapen
features are no ogre, but mere painted cardboard, concealing
some pacific countenance, its terror soon disappears. The
demonstration was as unreal as a Christmas monstei", and it did
not terrify Turkey, but it made her very angry. She announced
that she would take no steps whatever in the surrender of
Dulcigno until the naval demonstration was pvit a stop to.
Of course Turkey was well aware of the dissensions of the
European Powers, and the want of a common European policy,
which rendered the European concert really of little worth.
Then the British Government proposed to change the scene of
the naval demonstration from Ragusa to Sinvrna. Here at
once the European concert fell asunder. Russia and Italy were
willing enough to join in a demonstration against the Homeric
city at the foot of the slopes of Tmolus, but Austria and
Germany were most reluctant to take the responsibility, and
France refused point-blank to have anything to do with the pro-
posed expedition. But though the war-ships of the six Powers
never rode at anchor in the soft waters of Smyrna Bay, beneath
the worn and ragged walls of the ancient citadel of the Byzantine
emperors, the threat to do so had its eflect. It seemed at one
time by no means certain that England would not herself, of


her own responsibility, send her fleet into Smyi'na Harbour, as
the Venetians did in the end of the seventeenth century.
Turkey prepared to come to terms ; the dissensions in the
European concert gave her heart of grace enough to bluster and
delay a little longer while the combined vessels idly patrolled
the sea. The terrors of an Albanian rising were dwelt upon by
Ottoman statesmen without producing any efiect upon England,
and at last the Porte put the business into the hands of Der-
vish Pasha, and bade him carry out the decrees of Europe as
quickly as might be. Dervish Pasha was a stout soldier and a
brave man ; he mocked himself of the Albanian threatenings,
forced his way into Dulcigno, and handed the hill town over
to the delighted Montenegrins. For the time the quarrel was
over ; the fleet that had been the cause of so much inextinguish-
able laughter at first, and of the cession in the end, dispersed,
and the foreign flags no longer floated together in menacins;
combination on the pleasant Adriatic.

There was of course still the Greek question left to settle,
but that had to stand over for the time. European diplomacy
had by strange chance been able to agree upon the claims of
Montenegro, and to act in agreement ; but on the claims of
Greece it was hopeless just then to expect any such agreement.
The great Powers had acted together wonderfully well for a little
while ; to expect them to act together for long was to form ex-
pectations based upon no precedents. In vain did the King ot
the Hellenes go on the stump through Europe from one great
capital to another, urging that what the Berlin treaty had
promised the Berlin signatories should give. Turkey would not
come to terms, and the great Powers would not unite to compel
her. France had apparently adopted a thorough -going policy
of abstention ; she was in general sympathy with the cause and
the claims of the Greeks, but just now she would take no active
part in supporting them. Austria and Germany were equally
averse to action, and without these three Powers there was no-
thing to be done. For a time it seemed as if the Greeks would
take the matter into their own hands, and try once more a fall
with their old foe in the brave squares of war. All over Greece

Afghanistan: 59

the war fever Avas burning ; crowds would come together on the
great square of the Constitution in Athens, and stand opposite
the ugly white palace of Bavarian Otho and clamour for war
against the Turks. The Ministry of Tricoujois, which appeared
vacillating, was overthrown ; the speeches of the King assumed a
warlike tone, and his popularity rose accordingly. In ^olus and
Hermes streets, in the smiling islands of the ^gean, in the classic
cities of Peloponnesus, the desire to fight the Turk was growing
stronger day by day. Men hummed the old Klephtic war-songs
and looked to their rifles. The army was swollen with daily re-
cruits. At the Cafe Solon men talked and thought of war. It
may be admitted that behind all this warlike display there was
in the minds of the leaders at least a very keen sense of the
difficulty of the situation, and a well-developed diplomatic pur-
pose. It was not likely that the Greeks could ever wrest from
the Turks what they wanted by force of arms, but it was still
less likely that the Powers of Europe could look on at Greece
fighting at desperate odds against the Otfcomite and not put
forth a hand to help her. On this the leaders calculated not
unwisely. Turkey saw the danger of the scheme well enough.
She knew that if Greece went to war the Sublime Porte would
never be allowed by Europe to send her ironclads under the
command of Hobart Pasha to the Pirseus to play again the
part of the Persians, So Turkey called upon Europe to inter-
fere first instead of last, to use its influence with Greece to pre-
vent the Hellenes from going to war. Europe accordingly did
iise its influence. Pressure was brought to bear upon the
Greek Ministry. War was deferred until diplomacy had once
more tried its hand at a settlement of the claims.

There were difiiculties in India, too. When the new Go-
vernment came into power, the Viceroy of India, Lord Lytton,
at once resigned. Lord Lytton's had been a singular viceregal
career. Anthony in Egypt or Verres in Sicily appeared to be
the model he had chosen to govern his actions by; and if he was
scarcely less unpopular than Verres, it must also be admitted
that he was scarcely less picturesque than Anthony. Lord
Lytton was a poet before he became a politician, and he was


eager it may be for the satrapy of India, because there and
there alone perhaps it would be possible for him to realise at
least something of the gorgeous Oriental splendour with which
he surrounds and delights in surrounding his own Alexius. In
India, the haunted land of luxury, might be realised those
'domes of purple, populous with star on star of silver;' those
floors ' carpeted with deep, thick-tufted crimsons, soft as summer
sleep under the footsteps of delicious dreams ; ' and those ' dim
gardens green and deep,' where minsti'els should sing of Caesar's
splendour and Caesar's state, ' that doth Olympian glories emu-
late,' In the ' gold-crowned Orient ' of India all that was im-
possible now for the cold ' iron Occident ' was possible ; the
power of a proconsul, pageants that might put to shame all
that the mind of Mantcgna dreamed for a triumphant Ctesar ;
durbars which might rival in splendour of colour and jewelled
bravery the glories of the courts of Byzantium. If we qii ietly put
on one side for the moment all questions of political morality or
expediency, we may admit that the opportunity was a fascinating
one for a poet, and that from a merely artistic point of view
Lord Lytton was not unworthy of it. Had Catullus been made
Praetor of Bithynia instead of Caius Memmius, we can imagine
that he would have conducted himself in some such fashion,
would have been pleased with the display of splendour about
him, have enjoyed the idea of making a war on his own account,
and so aggrandising the empire and immortalising his name,
would have rejoiced to strike gold medals in honour of some
fair and shapely queen of the arena. But if poets were not
likely to make good governors of provinces even in the Augustan
age, they were still less likely to do so in the age of Victoria. It
Avas a fascinating part to play, and one which other writers of
verse and dreamers of old dreams may sympathise with, or even
envy. But it was too costly, too unreal, and too much out of
date to please the cold politician and the burdened taxpayer. It
was, indeed, only possible while Lord Beaconsiield was at the
head of affairs. The man who created the brilliant Sidonia
might very well pardon the son of his old friend for reproduc-
ing Sidonia in the land of the Great Mogul. But when Lord


Beaconsfield fell from power it was clear that the rule of Lord
Lytton in India was over too, Mr. Gladstone and his friends
would not appreciate a representative who played at Haroun
al Raschid in the gardens of the East, and strove to recall some
gleams of his golden prime in Calcutta or Bombay or the cool
ranges of Simla, So Lord Lytton at once resigned his ofl&ce,
and Lord Eipon was sent out to India as Viceroy in his stead.

Lord Ripon had all the qualities that go to make a success-
ful administrator. He was able, he was eloquent, he had learnt
in his own person the necessity for religious as well as political
tolerance. Some years befoi^e he had gone over to the Catholic
faith, and his change of religion aroused the greatest indigna-
tion among English politicians. Had he committed some act of
shame he could hardly have been more fiercely assailed by the
newspapers, and the pubHc opinion of the drawing-rooms and
clubs. It was confidently announced as an axiom which
needed no discussion, that of course after this Lord Ripon could
never hope to play any further part in English politics, could
never dream of holding any office in any English Ministry. It
was assumed as a matter of course that a statesman and a peer
who so changed his religion must of necessity be at once rele-
gated to the obscurity, and something more than the obscurity,
of private life. Political society was agreed that Lord Ripon's
career was closed, but in the years that elapsed since Loixl
Ripon's conversion political opinion appeared to have altered ;
the indignation and alarm had cooled down, and people saw
Lord Ripon go out to India as Viceroy without any apprehen-
sion that the end of the world was coming, and Judgment
Day at hand. Out in India, Lord Ripon needed all the ability
he possessed to deal with the situation of afiairs. Our inherit-
ance in Afghanistan was perplexing enough.

The Treaty of Gandamak was signed on May 5, 1879. It
bound the English Government to pay the Ameer Yakoob
Khan 60,000^. a year, and to support him against any foreign
enemy with money, arms, and men. In return, Yakoob Khan
consented to grant the demand which had always been the
point of quarrel with Afghanistan, namely, to allow a British


envoy to reside in Cabul. Fuitlier, the Ameer ceded what
came to be known, in the words of Lord Beaconsfield, as the
'scientific frontier.' Then came the Cabul massacre of Louis
Cavagnari and his staff. British troops a second time fought
their way to the ill-omened city. The sullen and feeble Yakoob
Khan surrendered himself, abdicated, and was sent a prisoner
to Lidia. "We held Cabul ; the question remained what we
were to do with it. ]\Iohammed Jan, a scheming sirdar, one of
Yakoob's generals, and a man of great influence with the wild
"Wardak section of the southern Ghilzais, rose up against the
British. Many of the fierce tribes rallied to his standard;
many a white-clad Ghazi, frenzied to fanaticism by Moollah tales
of English insult to religion and to women, devoted himself on
the Koran to aid Mohammed Jan to exterminate the hated
Kafirs, the thrice accursed British, The English troops had
withdrawn at the approach of winter into the Sherpur canton-
ments. Mohammed Jan, with an army of more than ten tliou-
sandmen, swept down upon Cabul, occupied the city, set up Musa
Khan, the youthful son of Yakoob Khan, as nominal Ameer,
and proceeded to besiege Sherpur. Mohammed Jan seems
for a time to have really believed that he was in the position of
Akhbar Khan in 1841, and had an Elphinstone to deal with
who must come to terms. He demanded the immediate release
of Yakoob Khan, the surrender of two British ofiicers as host-
ages until this Wcis done, and the immediate retirement of the
British force into India. But the men cooped up in the
Sherpur cantonments defied Mohammed Jan's beleaguerment.
Reinforcements arrived, and in the end of December Mohammed
Jan reth-ed from Cabul, which was once more left open to the
British. Another candidate for the Afghan crown tlien came
forward under Bussian auspices — Abdurrahman Khan. Abdur-
rahman Khan was the son of Mohammed Afzul Khan, Dost
Mohammed's eldest son. He was born in 1830. Dost Mohammed
bequeathed the succession to his favourite son, Shere AH.
Afzul Khan and his son Abdurrahman, with another son of
Dost Mohammed, Azim Khan, conspired unsuccessfully against
Shere Ali. After fighting and scheming for five years Abdur-


rahman Khan was completely defeated by his nephew Yakoob
Khan, and hurriedly retreated into Tashkend in 1869. Since
then he had lived with the Russians at Samarcand, striving vainly
to induce General Kauffman to aid him to regain his rule, and
saving his money for the time, which he believed must come at
last, for his return to Cabul. There was yet a third foeman in
the field, in the person of Ayoob Khan, the hero of Afghan poets.
Ayoob Khan, one of the ablest of Shore All's sons, was born in
1851. He took his brother's part in the quarrel between Yakoob
Khan and Shere Ali. When Yakoob fell into his flither's
hands Ayoob fled to Persia, where he remained the honoured
guest of the Shah until the fall of Shere Ali inspired him with
new hope of empire. He returned to Herat, where he was
welcomed as the son of Shere Ali. Here he soon raised an
army and bided his time. That time now seemed to him to
have come, and he was now leading a large, if somewhat irre-
gular, force from Herat against our garrison at Candahar,
where Lord Lytton had recognised Shere Ali Khan — namesake
of the son of Dost Mohammed — as independent Wall. The
position of England in Afghanistan was not unlike that of the
king in the ' Arabian Nights,' who is informed by successive
scouts that armies are advancing from every point of the com-
pass towards his capital. In the Arabian story, however, the
advancing armies are soon found to be of peaceful purpose ;
while, in the case of England, the various claimants of the
Afghan crown had, or appeared to have, the one common pur-
pose of hostility to Great Britain. It was absolutely necessary
to diminish the number of the opponents. Of the various com-
petitors, Abduri-ahman seemed to have the best chance of suc-
cess ; and we entered into negotiations with him through Mr.
Lepel Griflin, who came to Cabul to consider the situation.

In the meantime the English arms suffered a revei'se near
Candahar as terrible as any in the chronicle of our connection
with Afghanistan. Candahar, the Iskandahar of Alexander
the Great, was under the command of General Primrose — a
brave and popular officer, some sixty years of age, with con-
siderable expeiience in dealmg with Asiatic peoples. It was


not the sort of place which a small force would willingly undei*'
take to hold against a large force. It stands on a cultivated
j)Iain at the foot of the Tarnak Valley, in the midst of fruit
orchards, of coi'n-fields and cocoa groves watered by numerous
canals. On three sides of the plain rise high hills ; to the east
stretches the rocky, almost waterless desert. The town is sur-
rounded for some four miles in circumference by wretched walls
of sun-baked mud and chopped straw, not thirty feet in
height, flanked here and there with towei-s, and defended by a
ditch ten feet deep and twenty-four feet wide. The citadel, in
the centre of the northern face, was in fairly good condition.
In 1842, wretched though the place was. General Nott had
succeeded in holding it against the Afghans, and General
Primrose was now expected to repeat the heroic feat under
similar conditions of terrible disproportion between attackers
and attacked. Yet, in spite of the terrible weakness of the
force in Candahar, it was decided by the authorities in India
that some portion of this small force should be despatched from
Candahar to meet the advance of Ayoob Khan and give him
battle. There are few things in military history more sur-
prising than the blunder which sent General Burrows, at the
head of a foi"ce of little more than two thousand men, to en-
counter the whole strength of Ayoob 's army.

Ayoob Khan's forces had been under-estimated. Large
numbers of the troops of the Wall of Candahar, estimated at
four thousand men, deserted to the army of Herat ; how far
with the guilty cognizance of Shere Ali will probably never
be known. Thus General Burrows, instead of acting with
his little force as a support to the Wall's army, found
himself left to encounter Ayoob alone on the undulating
ground between Kushk-i-Nakhud and Maiwand. An enfjace-
ment took place on July 27. General Burrows led a force
of less than 2,500 men of all arms. Of his 1,500 bayonets,
only 500 were British, men of the 'Old Berkshire' 66th.
The rest were Sej^oys of the 1st Bombay Grenadiers and
the 30th Bombay Native Infantry, known as * Jacob's
E-Lfles.' Some 600 sabres were chiefly made up of the well-


horsed Bombay Cavalry and tlie Scinde liorse, wliose long light
bamboo lance has proved one of the most terrible and deadly of
military weapons. There Avere besides some Royal Horse
Artillery, and a company of native sappers. To add to the ex-
tremity of the odds against General Burrows' force the Indian
companies are said to have been under-officered, an error to
which some measure of the disastrous result was attributed.-
Among the disadvantages of the little force it must be mentioned
that General Barrows, thousrh a brave man and most canable
official, had never, we believe, been in action before.

The enemy, on the contrary, was exceptionally strong.
Swollen in its march from Herat by tribal levies and the
desei'ters from the Wali's ranks, it probably numbered at least
12,000 men. With the British there were only twelve guns,
six of which were smooth bores ; while the enemy had about
three times the number, and used them Avith terrible efiect.
After some six hours' engagement it was clear that the British
had lost the day. The English troops fought splendidly, but
the Sepoys of Jacob's rifles were inexperienced soldiei's, some of
whom it is said had never fired ball cartridges before. A panic
seized the Sepoys, they broke and surged in confused flight upon
the 66th. From that moment the chance of success was gone. The
Sepoy rifles could not be rallied, the Sepoy sabres were in their
turn overmastered by fear. The Grenadiers of the 66th fought
bravely in the now bewildering medley, and were cut down by
hundreds. A remnant made a desperate rally behind some
mud walls for a while, and for a little time managed to check
the Ghazis, who surged after their standard-bearers in wave
after wave of yelling triumph upon the few, the unhappy few,
the band of brothers who were trying to retrieve the fortunes
of the day. At last, as the ammunition began to run out, as
the numbers thinned, and the panic of the native troops spread,
General Burrows gave orders for the retreat to Candahar. The
retreat began slowly and in good ordei-, but as the victorious
Afghans pi-essed up the retreat became a rout. There were
fifty miles between the fugitives and Candahar. The pursuit
of the enemy appears to have only lasted some few miles, after



which they returned to loot General Burrows's camp, but all
the villagers and hill men along the Girishk Eoad turned out
upon the track of the flying men with teriible effect. The
British and Sepoys fell under the harassing Afghan fire, or
were despatched by the Afghan knives. Many dropped to the
earth from fatigue and thirst, whom no Afghan steel or bullet
reached. All the horrors of the march through the Jugdulluk
Pass in 1842 were repeated. Along the road, slippery with
blood, a bewildered mass of men and officers, mules and camels,
fled and fell before the merciless pursuers. By some mistake,
the wrong road for retreat — the ' lower ' or main road, abso-

Online LibraryJustin H. (Justin Huntly) McCarthyEngland under Gladstone, 1880-1885 → online text (page 6 of 38)