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Earl Kitchener of Khartoum : the story of his life online

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Lord Kitchener.
Frontispiece. Photo: News Pictures.


The Story of his Life.


Author of " Field-Marshal Earl Roberts, V.C. : the Life
Story of a Great Soldier." " Sir Redvers H. Buller, V.C.
the Story of his Life and Campaigns."
s etc., etc.

••ooot.-:.^ :»ooo..

London :: :: :: Joseph Johnson,
HoLBORN Hall, Clerkenwell Road, E.C.




I. — Early Life



II.— In Palestine


III.— Beginnings in Egypt


IV.—GoRDON AT Khartoum


v.— Sirdar of the Egyptian Army


VI. — The Beginning of the " Reconquest '


VII. — Reconquest of the Soudan Com-


VIII.— The Victor of Omdurman


IX.— In South Africa


X. — In India


XL— Back to Egypt


XII. — The Great War


Lord Kitchener ..




Earl Kitchener of Khartoum.



It was not, perhaps, until after the triumphant
vindication of his policy as " Sirdar " in Egypt,
that the name of Herbert Kitchener became
widely known, though for more than twenty
years before the final breaking of the Mahdi's
power and the completion of the re-conquest of
the Soudan, it was familiar to many people as
that of a strong, self-reliant young officer of
the Engineers who was certain " to be heard oi."
It was known to those who had studied the
progress of affairs in Egypt during the tragic
eighties, and it was famiHar to those who were
interested in the wonderful work achieved in
the Holy Land during the seventies by the
officers engaged by the Committee of the Pales-
tine Exploration Fund. During the past sixteen
or eighteen years it has become familiar in our
mouths as a household word. And' during that
time, too, there may be said to have grown up
something of a " Kitchener legend " ; some-
thing of an impression of a somewhat sombre,



silent man, almost uncannily capable in carrying
out any work to which he sets his hand ; sure
and remorseless as a machine.

The pen-portrait of Lord Kitchener, drawn by
one of the most literary of war-correspondents
who ever went campaigning, shows us the hero
of Omdurman as he appeared to an acute
observer at the time that he was organising
that great coup which established his reputation.
The portrait has been often cited, for it has
become an inevitable part of any presentation
of this master of military preparation. Writing
in 1898 the late G. W. Steevens said :

" Major-General Sir Horatio Herbert Kitchener
is forty-eight years old by the book ; but that
is irrelevant. He stands several inches over six
feet, straight as a lance, and looks out im-
periously above most men's heads ; his motions
are deliberate and strong; slender but firmly
knit, he seems built for tireless, steel-wire en-
durance rather than for power or agility : that
also is irrelevant. Steady, passionless eyes,
shaded by decisive brows, brick-red rather full
cheeks, a long moustache, beneath which you
divine an immxovable mouth ; his face is harsh,
and neither appeals for affection nor stirs dislike.
All this is irrelevant too : neither age, nor


figure, nor face, nor any accident of person,
has any bearing on the essential Sirdar. You
could imagine the character just the same if
all the externals were different. He has no age
but the prime of hfe, no body but one to carry
his mind, no face but one to keep his brain
behind. The brain and the will are the essence
and the whole of the man — a brain and a will so
perfect in their workings that, in the face of
extremest difficulty, they never seem to know
what struggle is. You cannot imagine the
Sirdar otherwise than as seeing the right thing
to do and doing it. His precision is so in-
humanly unnerving, he is more Uke a machine
than a man. You feel that he ought to be
patented and shown with pride at the Paris
International Exhibition : British Empire Ex-
hibit No. I, hors concours the Sudan Machine."*

That was the man as he appeared to a very
keen observer at the time when he had first
greatly vindicated his great ability. Since those
words were written Lord Kitchener has again
and again proved them justified ; has so far
impressed all by the strength of his character
and the force of his genius that the whole story

* " With Kitchener to Khartoum." By G. \V. Steeveus.
j(Blackwood 189S).


of his life takes on new interest for many people.
It is a story not only of opportunities taken,
but one of opportunities made, for if it be true
that '' there is a tide in the affairs of men which
taken at the flood leads on to fortune/' it is
also true that the man of character does not sit
down and wait for the particular " tide '' which
is to help him. It is often rather lack of force
than lack of opportunity that keeps men back
from high achievements their fellows,
but in the case of Lord Kitchener his own force
of character and happy opportunity are so
often seen working together that we cannot help
feeling that it is this combination which has
been responsible for what was at one time
termed " Kitchener's luck."

At the age of twenty-four Lieutenant
Kitchener had his first " chance," a chance eagerly
taken, and as his subsequent career was to testify,
most profitably employed. Now, at the age of
sixty-four he occupies a position unique in the
modern history of our country — he is a Field-
Marshal of the Arm.y, he is War Mnister and a
mem.ber of the Cabinet. It is largely the story of
the forty intervening years that is set forth in
this book, forty years of active life in various
parts of the world, of work that has won the


widest admiration and has but rarely met with
any adverse criticism from those most capable
of appreciating its value.

The great soldier of whom this can be said
was himself the son of a soldier, as was Lord
Roberts, and he was born — as were so many of
our most famous military leaders — in Ireland,
though, except in so far as he is such by birth-
place, he cannot claim to be an Irishman for
his father came of an East AngHan family and
his mother also belonged to East AngUa, though
she was of Jersey ancestry. At the close of the
seventeenth century a Kitchener is said to
have migrated from Hampshire and settled at
Lakenheath in Suffolk, and a descendant of
his, Henry Horatio Kitchener, who was born
in 1805, entered the Army in 1830, and
retired on half-pay, with the rank of Lieut.-
Colonel at the age of 44, in 1849. ^^
married Frances, daughter of the Rev. Dr.
ChevaUier, of Aspall Hall, Aspall, Suffolk, and
shortly after his retirement bought an extensive
estate in Kerry and settled down to the life of
an energetic country gentleman. There were
five children born of this marriage — four sons
and a daughter — the second son being the
subject of this biography.


Horatio Herbert Kitchener was born on
June 24, 1850, at Gunsborough, about three
and a-half miles from Listovvel, in North Kerry,
but the family immediately after his birth
appear to have removed to Crotter, near Bally-
longford, on an inlet of the Shannon estuary, for
it was near there, at Aghavallen church, that he
was baptised on September 22, Horatio, it may
be noted, is said to have been repeatedly used as
a name in the Kitchener family in memory of
Nelson, and in connection with that it is interest-
ing to learn that the family traces connection
with that of Admiral Edward Berry — another
East AngHan — who was one of Nelson's most
capable lieutenants. When Nelson presented
Captain Berry at Court, King George the Third,
having remarked on the Admiral's loss of his
right arm. Nelson at once said that he " still
had his right hand " — indicating the younger

The house known as Crotter or Crotta, at
Ballylongford, was the home of the future Field-
Marshal and his brothers until they were in
their early teens, and it was presumably at home
or in a small school in the neighbourhood, that
they received their earliest education, and from
their military father doubtless imbibed that


desire for soldiering which is to be recognised
in the fact that three out of the four sons of the
retired colonel in due course entered the array.
Colonel Kitchener is sajd to have been something
of a martinet, but he is said also to have proved
himself a capable organiser of the work on his
estates, to have gone in thoroughly for the
breeding of stock and the making the best use
of the land which he had acquired. From him,
by heredity and example, his famous son may
well have got those quaHties which seem to
stand out markedly in the story of his career,
and by means of which he has come to be re-
garded as an almost ruthless commander, and
a careful planner, whose powers of patient
organisation to an assured end have the value
of genius.

As a boy Herbert Kitchener is reported to
have been of a retiring, even taciturn nature —
the child is father to the man — with a taste for
books and a distinct ability for figures, but no
particular liking for open air games and sports.
Despite his leaning to the studious side rather
more than is generally associated with the aver-
age of boyhood, an early story which has been
recorded suggests that his bookishness did not
lead to early distinction at school work. It is


said that having to prepare for a certain examina-
tion he did so in such a half-hearted fashion
that his father declared that if he failed to pass
he would be sent to walk in procession with the
pupils of the local dames' school, and if he failed
a second time that he should be apprenticed to
a hatter ! The examination came on, and, the
boy failing, his father duly insisted on his
walking with the smaller children of the dame
school. That the second part of the threat did
not have to be acted upon the career of Herbert
Kitchener has sufficiently proved.

When Herbert Kitchener was thirteen years
of age he was sent with his brothers to a school
at Grand Clos, Villeneuve, on the shores of Lake
Geneva, in French Switzerland, kept by an
English clergyman, the Rev. J. Bennett, for
Colonel Kitchener appears to have been im-
pressed by the value of the acquisition of foreign
languages, and to have thought that such was
more important than the following of the
regulation round of public school work at home.

It was while the boy was there that his mother
died in 1864, but he seems to have remained at
Grand Clos until, three years later, it was time
for him to go to an army " crammer's '' in London
to prepare for the Royal MiHtary Academy at


Woolwich. He was appointed to that Academy
on the last day of January, 1868, and duly
entered as a cadet a few days later. Such scanty
recollections of him at this period as have been
recorded tell us that he was " rather a dandy.'*
and that the study in which he especially dis-
tinguished himself was mathematics.

By 1870 Colonel Kitchener had married again,
had sold his Kerry estates and settled at the
picturesque mediaeval town of Dinan in Brittany,
which has long been a place attractive to British
residents settling in France. In a brief notice
written at the time of his death it was stated
that he resided in Ireland until 1864, " when he
became the owner of properties in New Zealand."
Cadet Kitchener was at Dinan with his family
when the Franco-Prussian war was being waged,
and — it is said without seeking permission either
of the authorities at Woolwich or of his father —
the young man of twenty thought there was a
capital opportunity of seeing active service, and
went off and enHsted in the 6th Battalion of the
Reserves of the Mobile Guard of the Cotes du
Nord, under the command of General Chanzy,
" the strong right arm of French resistance to
the invader.'' If the zealous student of mili-
tarism did not see any fighting he seems to


have learned some valuable lessons during this
escapade ; he learned, incidentally, that the
bravest troops cannot achieve victory if they
are not organised for victory, and in the dis-
organisation of General Chanzy's army, the
awful mismanagement and lack of discipline,
he had object lessons which, judging by his later
career, made an indelible impression.

Though he did not take part in actual fighting,
the Woolwich cadet who had taken " French
leave " in joining the French army nearly paid
for his enterprise with his life, for not only was
he the victim of a balloon adventure, but he
was also laid low by a severe attack of pleurisy
consequent upon exposure and privations — an
attack which brought to a close his first ex-
perience of active service.

And not only did he suffer thus, for the
escapade threatened to jeopardise his career, as
the authorities at Woolwich were by no means
inclined to treat it complacently. Indeed, it is
said, that his father had to enlist powerful
influence to get the episode overlooked, and allow
the young man to complete his studies at
" the shop."

The late Major Arthur Griffiths has said that
the eve of the last examination at the Military


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Horatio and Walter Kitchener.
Opp. p. 16. Photo: DaUy Mirror.


Academy is inevitably an anxious moment to
the cadet, for it is on the place which he takes
in the examination list that his future career
depends : '' The first cadets on the hst have
first choice, and they generally take the Engineers
although they sometimes elect for the Artillery,
and when they do, their future is fixed to work
guns, great or small, garrison or field, so long
as they serve the Queen actively.

*' Not so the Engineers. A great variety of
chances may interpose, such as personal tastes
and aptitudes, or the luck of being somewhere
at a particular time. The mere red tape routine
of the roster may allot the young Engineer officer
to one of many kinds of work, both inside and
outside the profession of arms. Some take to
miUtary engineering pure and simple, the con-
struction of forts and strong places, while others
are put to control the innumerable scientific
appliances adopted into modern warfare — tele-
graphy, photography, railways, balloons

A few only, and they may be counted on one's
fingers, have found their account in troop-
leading, in the manipulation and command of
men, whether as staff or general officers ; and
the nation most cordially recognises the obli-
gation thus conferred, for they have often


achieved great things. Lord Napier of Magdala
was an Engineer officer, and so was Charles
Gordon, and so to-day is Lord Kitchener of

It was probably for but a short period that
young Kitchener served in the reserves of General
Chanzy's army, for he had got through the
fateful examination, and was duly commissioned
as second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers
on January 4, 1871. For the next three years
he was mainly engaged in the pursuit of the
particular branch he had chosen, that of field
telegraphy, at Chatham and Aldershot, while
doubtless ready to avail himself of any oppor-
tunity which should offer for service that
promised adventurous experience. That oppor-
tunity was to come, and of a kind which was to
have a momentous effect upon his after career.

* Pearson's Magazine, April, 1900.



The 'prentice work of a man who achieves wide
fame is always of interest to those who consider
the full career of such a man, and in the case of
Lord Kitchener the 'prentice work was in an
unusual degree work of notable and lasting
value, though its importance has been over-
shadowed by his later achievements. It was
in 1874 ^h^^ Kitchener's opportunity came, and
in a form which could scarcely fail to appeal to
any young officer eager for work that should
take him off the beaten track.

In 1864 there had been established the Pales-
tine Exploration Fund — a body, the object of
which, was to survey the Holy Land with a
thoroughness that should make possible the
drawing up of a full and reliable map, should
identify the sites in which all Christendom is
interested, and should make records of all ancient
monuments, and reveal by excavation some of
the secrets of the country. The actual survey
work was started in 1872 by Captain Stewart



and Lieutenant Conder, both of them of the
Royal Engineers. The former had to give up
the work on account of health, and his colleague
was left in command of the surveying party,
being joined as assistant by Mr. C. F. Tyrwhitt-

In the summer of 1874, Tyrwhitt-Drake's
health broke down, and he died at Jerusalem.
The post thus left vacant was offered to Lieu-
tenant Kitchener who set out for Palestine in
the autumn, and joined the survey party on
December 19, as the leader duly chronicled.

Violent gales, and illness in some members of
the party — one of the non-commissioned officers
of which had to be invalided home — interrupted
the work of the survey, and the winter was
spent in Jerusalem.

" I think it is General Gordon w^ho has some-
where said that for a^man to understand the
world he should for a time leave the life of busy
cities and think out his thoughts alone in the
wilderness. Often have I thought that could
the critic leave his comfortable study and dwell
for a time in this desert of Judah, under the
starry sky at night and the hot glare of the sun
by day, in a land which men once thoughtjto
have been burned by fire, cursed and sown Vv^ith


salt, and in the great stillness of a world almost
without life, he would be better able to under-
stand what Hebrew poets, prophets, and his-
torians have written."*

If it was Uttle likely to be a reahsation of this
which would weigh with the young officer who
seized the opportunity of spending some years
of active work in Palestine, such may well have
come to be his feeHngs after intimate experience
of the fascinating land. It was work, and
adventurous work that offered, and work which
afforded opportunities to be taken by a discerning
man. To Lieutenant Kitchener it gave the
opportunity, eagerly seized, of getting to know
the Arab and to learn his language — knowledge
that was to be of incalculable value in the
future ; but then he was one of those who, as
he is said to have put it, " could not understand
how any young fellow in the army could settle
down into the humdrum life of a home station
while opportunities were going for adventure
and distinction abroad.'*

There was little of the " hum-drum *' in the
life of the English officers engaged in the survey :
not only had they interesting work to do amid
surroundings which could not fail to stimulate

* " Palestine." By Major C. R. Conder.


the imagination, but there were not wanting
those elements of risk which gave more than a
spice of adventure to the undertaking. Not
always were the people of the country friendly,
for though on the whole the surveying party were
treated tolerantly, there were occasional incidents
which called for careful treatment, and at one
point such aggressive opposition as led to the
actual suspension of the work. To appreciate
fully that which was achieved, and to realise
the beauty and fascination of the land in which
it was done, Conder's book on '* Palestine "
should be read. Here we must confine ourselves
to a summary account of Lieutenant Kitchener's
association with the work.

It has been said that the winter of 1874-5
had to be spent in Jerusalem owing to sickness
in Conder's party, and Kitchener was one of
the victims, being laid low by a serious attack
of Jericho fever. Indeed, when Conder, as he
put it, " once more took the field '' with a light
and compact expedition on February 25, 1875,
Kitchener was still scarcely convalescent, and
he and the Arab headman were left in comfort-
able quarters while the main party continued
the work in the Dead Sea desert. A few weeks
later and the young lieutenant joined in the


survey, which, during March and April, was
carried to Ascalon, Gaza, and the Phihstine plain.

At Ascalon, Kitchener and Conder were
swimming in the Mediterranean, when the latter
got into difficulties, and was being carried away
by a strong current ; fortunately Kitchener, who
was nearer the shore, observed his friend's pre-
dicament, and struck out to his assistance, caught
hold of him, and with considerable difficulty
succeeded in getting him back to safety. It
was not the only time as we shall sec in which
he saved Conder's Ufe during this first year of
their association in work. After a rest at Jeru-
salem during the trying east winds of May, the
party proceeded north to survey the country
from the Sea of GaUlee to the Mediterranean.
They set out on June 8, and Uttle more than a
month later when they arrived, on July 10, near
Safed, about a dozen miles to the north-west
of the Sea of Galilee, their camp was suddenly
attacked by a marauding band of fanatical
Moorish settlers under Ali Agha Alan.

Of this episode there are several accounts,
but the most trustworthy, it may well be believed,
is that which Major Conder himself gave in the
book already mentioned : " Our relations with
natives of all creeds and races had always


been excellent, and so remained afterwards.
A little rigour was occasionally necessary
when my men were pelted with stones, or
when the muleteers in camp fought with
knives, but our actions were always legal, and
a Turkish policeman attached to the party
was employed to take offenders before the
local magistrates. There were no complaints
against any of the party, and indeed, as we spent
money, employed labour, and bought provisions
at a good price, the Survey was always popular
in Palestine. But at Safed a Christian was then
rarely seen, and fanaticism always lives longest
in the mountains. It is possible that some
imprudent speech of the dragoman may have
enraged the Emir who attacked us. Certainly
a pistol belonging to our party was stolen, and
was the immediate cause of the quarrel ; but I
never expected it to become serious until the
furious Algerine attacked me with a knife. Few
readers will blame me for knocking him down
and breaking his tooth ; but the result was an
attack by his followers with stones and swords
and aged guns. Several shots were fired at us,
but no one was hit. They, however, broke my
head badly with a club, and I was defended by
Lieutenant Kitchener, while I lay for a few


moments stunned. I fear that I broke the head
of the clubman afterwards even worse, but the
party was never out of hand. We were armed
with shot guns and pistols but we never fired a
shot, and defended our tents without bloodshed
until the police arrived. The enraged Algerines
threatened to kill us during the night, but we
kept watch with our guns loaded with ball
cartridge, hastily made up, and only in the
morning did we march off the field in good order.
The worst hurt was that of my groom, who was
an old soldier. His head was laid open with a
sword-cut, and had to be sewn up ; but he accom-
panied us for several years after, and except a
cook and a scribe little accustomed to such
scenes, none of the natives in our party showed
any signs of fear in face of the howhng mob.*'*

In a letter home Conder said : " I must in-
evitably have been murdered but for the cool
and prompt assistance of Lieutenant Kitchener,
who managed to get to me and engaged one of
the clubmen, thereby covering my retreat. A
blow descending on the top of his head he parried
with a cane, which was broken by the force of
the blow. A second wounded his arm. His
escape is unaccountable." It will be noticed

* " Palestine." By Major C. R. Conder,


that Conder's recognition of Kitchener's aid
was more emphatic in the letter written shortly
after the occurrence than in his narrative pre-

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Online LibraryWalter JerroldEarl Kitchener of Khartoum : the story of his life → online text (page 1 of 13)