History of New Zealand. Vol. III.
THE GREAT REFUSAL. — “Colui Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto!”
THE GREAT REFUSAL.
“Colui Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto!”
THE great refusal, branded by Dante as worthy of eternal condemnation, has been imputed to various criminals.
For the English, in modern time, there exists one great refusal, the viltate—or “indelible disgrace”—of which must formally remain with Mr. Gladstone, though he had accomplices who must, in varying degrees, bear with him the shame.
They who called General Gordon to extricate them from embarrassments in Egypt, who pledged themselves to support him both in England and in Egypt; they are the men who, by their “great refusal” to keep faith with him, have earned their place among the infamous in history.
But it seems now that, on the presumption that the public memory is as treacherous as themselves, they or their parasites deem it safe to deny that, in refusing to let Zebehr Pasha go, on Gordon's demand, to Khartoum, Mr. Gladstone and his henchman, Lord Granville, broke faith with Gordon, and disgraced their country.
A brief statement of the facts has, therefore, become necessary. The victim of the ministry had, in 1884, set them an example which made their conduct to him signally shameful. In 1881 he had suggested to a friend1 a journey page 398 together in Palestine. In 1883, when his friend had an opportunity to join him there, Gordon wrote: “A week ago I was invited by the King of the Belgians to take up Stanley's work on Congo in the spring. This has been for years on the tapis, and I was bound to go if the King asked me, which he now has. I have telegraphed home to ask whether Her Majesty's government will let me go.” Re-ceiving a telegram to the effect that he was permitted to go, Gordon hastened to Brussels, arriving there on the 1st Jan., 1884. On that day he wrote to his friend: “I shall see the King this evening. In answer to my telegram asking for leave to go, I got an answer thus—‘Sec. of State sanctions your going Congo’ Well, about three weeks after, it appears, from a letter from my brother, that the telegram sent was thus;—‘Sec. of S. refuses to sanction your going Congo, which makes all the difference! It now depends on what the King will do. I promised him to go, and go I must unless he will let me off.”
On the same evening he wrote again: “I saw the King to-night, and sequence is I have to resign my commission and go to Congo next month.”
It may be remembered that for a time the public were led to believe that Mr. Gladstone's government would exact the penalty alluded to by Gordon, although, as Gordon had made his final promise to the King, on faith of a telegram purporting to emanate from the Secretary of State, it would have been ungenerous, if not unjust, to drive from the army on such grounds a man of whom an English General has been heard to say that not since the days of Hannibal has any commander done such great things under such disadvantages as to means. After an interval of suspense it was announced that the government would not proscribe Gordon for keeping faith.
The incident is instructive with regard to the subsequent “great refusal,” for it shows that, rather than break faith, Gordon would sacrifice all worldly prospects, even though a deceitful telegram had led to his promise. Also, it shows that, though so scrupulous in keeping personal faith, he devotedly recognized the paramount claims of his country; and when appealed to by Gladstone and his colleagues, in the name of duty, he promptly flew to their aid. They, page 399 meanwhile, to obtain his help, made unlimited promises; and having bound him to the stake in the name of duty, obstinately refused to perform that which they had promised, and callously looked on while he lingered, starving, until treachery, foreign and domestic, put an end to his earthly sufferings, and sealed the “indelible disgrace” of his betrayers. The hurried manner in which Gordon was called from Brussels to London when the ministry was in distress can have been forgotten by none. Summoned suddenly, he obeyed as suddenly, and was on his way to Khartoum on the 18th Jan., 1884, before the fact of his having been summoned was known in many parts of Great Britain.
It is recorded in a volume written by the Rev. Reginald Barnes and a coadjutor2 that Gordon received a summons at Brussels on the 17th Jan.; crossed the Channel forthwith, saw Lord Wolseley on the morning of the 18th in London, and “later in the day he saw Lord Granville, Lord Hartington, Lord Northbrook, and Sir Charles Dilke,” after which he started, on the same day, for Khartoum.
Mr. Gladstone, who was out of town, was communicated with by telegram. Perhaps a cautious man careful for himself might have dictated terms which even so suave a shuffler as Lord Granville might have found it hard to evade.
But Gordon was thinking only of life which might be saved, and of the honour of his country. In such services, both in counsel and in the field, his sagacity was expended, and not for himself.
But though he was not self-seeking, the crisis in which his services were sought was so imminent that there are ample public records to convict his betrayers.
The destruction of the army under Hicks, the beleaguering of the Egyptian garrisons, and the probability, if not the certainty, that men, women, and children would be ruthlessly massacred under the immediate superintendence of an English government had pressed upon the public conscience.
To pacify that conscience the ministry took pains to declare that they gave Gordon a free hand, and guaranteed page 400 to him unconditional support in such measures as he might deem necessary. His mission was expressly mentioned in Her Majesty's Speech to Parliament on the 5th Feb., 1884: “I have also despatched General Gordon to report on the best means of giving effect to the resolution of the Khedive to withdraw from the interior of the Soudan, and have permitted him to act in the execution of the measure.”
Even if the responsibility of the ministry for these words were not undoubted, the addresses in both Houses in reply to the Speech would have bound both them and the majorities in the Houses. Each address gave thanks for the information that Her Majesty had despatched General Gordon, and “had permitted him to act in the execution of the measure” of withdrawing from the Soudan.
On the 6th Feb., Mr. Gladstone told the Commons that Gordon had “full power to take all measures, civil and military, which he may think necessary.”
The Lord Chancellor told the Lords (12th Feb.): “One reason why we have availed ourselves of the services of that heroic man, General Gordon, is because he, with his vast knowledge of the country and great influence over the tribes and chiefs, was better able than any other man to say by what means a policy of conciliation and pacification might succeed in extricating the different scattered garrisons from the dangerous positions in which they were, and withdrawing them,” &c. In their distress, the Gladstone ministry had given Gordon a blank charter, and “permitted him to act.”
The “great refusal” which must doom them and their accomplices to the worst malebolge of history is their obstinate refusal to permit Gordon to act, though they were thus solemnly pledged.
The general condition of Egypt and those Soudanese provinces which may be treated as portions of Egypt, or Egyptian territory, must be borne in mind. In 1879 Gordon wrote—“The Soudan is a part of Egypt.” From 1874 to 1879 Gordon himself had tamed and ruled vast regions in the South.
How he toiled against rapine and slavery, administered justice, overcame in the field, and established a moral page 401 supremacy which was a power in the minds of men equal to that which the terror of his military skill inspired, may be gathered from Dr. Birkbeck Hill's book.3
Whether he could have conferred permanent peace on the country, if financial blunders and European intrigues had not brought about the deposition of Ismail in 1879, it is needless to discuss here.
While he controlled the Soudan, the English government were able to make (1877) a convention with Egypt for the suppression of the slave trade; and to arrange that, in 1889, slavery should cease in the Egyptian provinces in which Gordon had laboured.
Before Gordon appeared there, the most powerful Arab chief had been one Zebehr Pasha, who traced his descent “through forty generations from Abbas, uncle of the prophet,”4 and whose ancestors went from Mecca to Cairo in the ninth century.
Zebehr himself, after trading and fighting in the Soudan, routed a powerful chief, captured a city—Mandugba—and secured the allegiance of neighbouring petty sultans, or rulers. Professedly an encourager of commerce, Zebehr, like all other rulers in those regions, was a slave-owner, and his birth, reputation, ability, and success made him pre-eminent. He pretended5 that he only “gave protection to slave caravans exactly as he gave it to others,” and argued that he could not be expected to undermine his general policy by opposing “the passage of slave caravans.”
There is, perhaps, no reason to believe that he was worse in principle than other rulers in the land, but his talent made him more powerful for evil or for good.
In 1871 he fought with one Bellal, who had been sent by the Khedive to the Bahr Gazelle, with a view to conquer Darfour, but who quarrelled with Zebehr. Bellal attacked Zebehr and was slain.
Dafir Pasha, then Egyptian Governor of Khartoum, sent a commission to inquire as to the death of Bellal, and the page 402 result was that Zebehr's excuses were accepted.6 The Sultan of Darfour, in his contention with Bellal, had taken measures which Zebehr resented. The Khedive, alarmed at the growing power of Zebehr, and apprehensive of his conquering Darfour for himself, determined to act with Zebehr, whom he made a Bey. Ismail Pasha Yacoob, from Khartoum, co-operated with Zebehr; the Sultan of Darfour was killed in battle, and Zebehr was made a Pasha. He desired to be made Governor-General in the South; was invited to Cairo to discuss matters, and was there detained by the Egyptian government.
The German traveller, Dr. Schweinfurth, saw and described the horrors of the slave trade, the position of the slave hunters, and the petty sultans who ruled where slave caravans passed to and fro.
Zebehr was, he said, “surrounded with a court that was little less than princely in its details” all visitors were conducted into carpeted divans “by richly-dressed slaves.”
All the petty sultans were slavers. Zebehr's army was composed of slaves; and we learn from General Gordon's diary, in 1879,7 “seven-eighths of the population of the Soudan” were then slaves.
Dr. Schweinfurth summed up the matter thus: “An ineradicable propensity to slave-dealing has always shown itself in every government official, be he Turk or Egyptian.”8
As regarded complicity with slavery, there was no difference between one Arab and another throughout the Soudan.
The resolution to abandon the territory to the caprices or cruelty of the Arabs was not conceived by the Khedive and his advisers. Before they appealed for Gordon's help the Gladstone ministry had compelled the Khedive to agree to abandon the Soudan. They had thus renounced the convention under which a former government had striven to arrange that slavery should cease in the Soudan in 1889.
Lord Granville's “instructions” to Gordon in London on the 18th Jan. (woe worth the while when such a man could give instructions to such another !) were vague: “You will page 403 consider yourself authorized and instructed to perform such other duties (besides considering and reporting) as the Egyptian government may desire to intrust to you, and as may be communicated to you by Sir E. Baring” (Blue Book, Egypt, No. 2, 1884).
The vagueness of Granville was fortunately corrected by the incisiveness of Gordon, who, while journeying on board ship on the 22nd Jan., recorded some facts as to the stipulations made with him by the ministry in London on the 18th:—
“I understand that Her Majesty's government have come to the irrevocable decision not to incur the very onerous duty of securing to the peoples of the Soudan a just future government. That, as a consequence, Her Majesty's government have determined to restore to these people their independence, and will no longer suffer the Egyptian government to interfere in their affairs.
“For this purpose Her Majesty's government have decided to send me to the Soudan to arrange for the evacuation of these countries, and the safe removal of the Egyptian employés and troops.
“Keeping paragraph No. 1 in view, viz., that the evacuation of the Soudan is irrevocably decided on, it will depend on circumstances in what way this is to be accomplished.
“My idea is that the restoration of the country should be made to the different petty sultans who existed at the time of Mehemet Ali's conquest, and whose families still exist. The most difficult question is how and to whom to hand over the arsenals of Khartoum, Dongola, and Kassala, which towns have, so to say, no old standing families, Khartoum and Kassala having sprung up since Mehemet Ali's conquest.”9
Colonel Stewart, who had accompanied Gordon from London, and who had previously been employed in the Soudan, independently supported Gordon's views. He wrote (22nd Jan.): “I have carefully read over General Gordon's observations, and cordially agree with what he states. As it is impossible for Her Majesty's government to foresee all the eventualities that may arise during the evacuation, it seems to me the more judicious course to rely on the discretion of General Gordon and his knowledge of the country. I, of course, understand that General Gordon is going to the Soudan with full powers to make all arrangements as to its evacuation, and that he is in no way to be interfered with by the Cairo ministers.”
Another Blue Book (No. 6) contains a despatch from Sir Evelyn Baring (25th Jan.) to Gordon, which irrefragably proves that the “abandonment” policy was directly page 404 dictated by Mr. Gladstone's government. “You will bear in mind that the main end to be pursued is the evacuation of the Soudan. This policy was adopted after very full discussion by the Egyptian government, on the advice of Her Majesty's government.
Sir Evelyn proceeded to say, with regard to Gordon's memorandum as to restoring the country, &c.: “In this view the Egyptian government entirely concur. But the Egyptian government have the fullest confidence in your judgment, your knowledge of the country, and your comprehension of the general line of policy to be pursued. You are, therefore, given full discretionary power to retain the troops for such reasonable period as you may think necessary. In undertaking the difficult task which now lies before you, you may feel assured that no effort will be wanting on the part of the Cairo authorities, whether English or Egyptian; to afford you all the co-operation and support in their power.”
Nor was Lord Granville less effusive. Long after his receipt of Gordon's memorandum he desired Sir Evelyn Baring (Blue Book No. 12, 1884, p. 57) to convey to Gordon (then, 12th Feb., at Berber) “the thanks of Her Majesty's government for his messages, which fill them with increased confidence in him.”
“All co-operation and support in their power” was, therefore, pledged to Gordon by Egyptian authorities, with approval of Mr. Gladstone's government. In the language of the Speech from the Throne, he was “permitted to act.” No limitation, as to the local authorities he was to set up in the Soudan, was implied in his sanctioned memorandum or imposed upon him by the Egyptian or English ministries. It was undoubted that, whatsoever appointment he might make, his hand was to be strengthened from Egypt and from England.
In Egypt the promises made were loyally respected. On the 26th Jan. the Khedive publicly proclaimed (Blue Book No. 12, p. 28) that Gordon was to be obeyed in all things; made him Governor-General of the Soudan (“by reason of your perfect knowledge of that country”); and charged “all the Mudirs, Governors, Cadis, Ulema, Notables, Merchants, Bedouin Sheiks, and all natives and page 405 Bedouins of the Soudan” to obey Gordon, and follow his advice in all things.
On the 29th Jan., Nubar Pasha wrote to Gordon: “We will do all that you wish.” (Ib., p. 79.)
On the 6th Feb., Gladstone had informed Parliament that Gordon had been appointed “Governor-General of the Soudan for the purposes described in the Queen's Speech, With full power to take all measures, civil and military, which he may think necessary.” (“Hansard,” vol. 284, p. 98.) On the 12th Feb. he added: “It is no exaggeration, in speaking of General Gordon, to say that he is a hero. It is no exaggeration to say that in his dealings with Oriental people he is also a genius. We received General Gordon's plan it was evidently a well-reasoned and considered plan. He went for the double purpose of evacuating the country, by the extrication of the Egyptian garrisons, and of reconstituting it by giving back to those chiefs their ancestral powers, which had been withdrawn or suspended during the period of the Egyptian government. I have told the House already that General Gordon had in view the withdrawal from the country of no less than twenty-nine thousand persons paying the military service to Egypt. The House will see how vast was the trust placed in the hands of this remarkable person. We cannot exaggerate the importance we attach to it. We were resolved to do nothing which should interfere with this great pacific scheme; the only scheme which promised a satisfactory solution of the Soudanese difficulty, by at once extricating the garrisons, and reconstituting the country upon its old basis and its local privileges. It was our duty, whatever we might feel as to a particular portion of the garrisons, to beware of interference with Gordon's plans generally, and before we adopted any scheme that should bear that aspect, to ask whether in his judgment there would or would not be such an interference.” In another part of the same speech, referring to the Soudan and its inhabitants, Gladstone quoted Gordon as “a man whom I look upon as by far the highest authority on the subject.” Two days later (14th Feb.) Mr. Gladstone said: “I have already stated, in the most distinct manner, that substantially Her Majesty's government are in the strictest page 406 way responsible for the action of General Gordon,” and unreservedly reaffirmed that Gordon was entitled to the unquestioning support of the government: “The direct action and direct functions in which General Gordon was immediately connected with this government are, I think, pretty much absorbed in the greater duties of the large mission which he has undertaken under the immediate authority of the Egyptian government, with the full moral and political responsibility of the British government.” On the 14th Feb. also, another Cabinet minister (one of those who pledged themselves in person to Gordon in London on the 18th Jan.), Sir Charles Dilke, told the House, in reply to Mr. Stanhope's questions as to Gordon's instructions: “I reply that General Gordon drafted his own instructions. Believing him to be the highest authority, that he knew more of the conditions, and that he was better able to form a judgment on the subject than anybody else, we asked him to draft his own instructions. We showed that he had the highest confidence which could be placed in any man. General Gordon has had all the support for which he asked. He will have, I make no doubt, any support which he can need in the prosecution of his mission. I say that we have implicitly followed the advice we have received from General Gordon.10
Sir M. Hicks-Beach having commented upon the dangerous duties thrust upon Gordon, Sir John Lubbock, with fatal prophecy, said: “It is impossible not still to feel much anxiety for General Gordon himself, but I believe that danger is greater from treachery behind than from any open foe in front.”
Lord Granville telegraphed forthwith (11th Feb.) that “Her Majesty's government are of opinion that General Gordon should not at present go beyond Khartoum.”
But how did this supervision and constraint agree with Mr. Gladstone's and with Sir C. Dilke's protestations in Parliament?page 407
In the House of Lords, Lord Cairns, though unprescient of the “treachery behind” which Lord Granville was soon to practise, said: “General Gordon is one of our national treasures, and I do not think Her Majesty's government had any right rashly to expose our national treasures.” Lord Cranbrook also told the ministry: “You are responsible for the life of Gordon as well as for those agonizing garrisons; and upon you will the country call to redress the wrongs that you have done. It will inevitably hold you responsible for that which is so precious.”
Lord Granville, on the 19th Feb., protested (with how much sincerity his despatch of the 22nd Feb. was soon to reveal) “there is no shirking of responsibility in declaring our undiminished confidence in that distinguished officer (Gordon), and that we take the responsibility for anything he does.”
Most of the ministerial protestations of trust in Gordon were made while he was speeding to Khartoum, and keen anxiety existed in England as to the Egyptian garrisons, one of which, at Sinkat, was reported on the 12th Feb. to have been massacred.
“There is no doubt,” Mr. Gladstone coolly said on that day, “that the garrison of Sinkat has been cut off, or, as another telegram expresses it, ‘cut to pieces.”
Such was “the present horror of the time,” that patriotic persons hoped that even Gladstone's obsequious following might refuse to walk further with him on a path bedewed with blood; and no one could then foresee that, to stave off their own annihilation, the ministry would not only sacrifice their own honour, but would in cold blood look on and allow Gordon to perish—starved, but, as his armorial motto promised, “faithful always” to his country and his God.
But we must follow him on his road to Khartoum. After writing (on the 22nd Jan., while travelling) his memorandum about restoring Arab rulers in the Soudan (the plan which Mr. Gladstone told the House was evidently “well-reasoned and considered”), Gordon saw Zebehr at Cairo on the 26th January. Zebehr, in addition to his complaint against being detained by the Khedive at Cairo for so many years, deemed himself ill-treated by Gordon, page 408 because Gessi, Gordon's lieutenant, had caused the execution of Zebehr's son Suleiman, who, after armed revolt, was captured, tried by court-martial, and executed in 1879, the execution being approved subsequently by Gordon. At the court-martial a letter (purporting to be) from Zebehr to Suleiman was produced, which was construed as implicating Zebehr in the revolt, and Gordon believed the imputation.
Scanning the situation, and perhaps even then forced to the conclusion that no capable native government could be established at Khartoum except by the appointment of Zebehr, Gordon saw Zebehr in Cairo. Zebehr denied that he had incited Suleiman to revolt, and asked for the production of the incriminating letter, which, if still existent, was amongst Egyptian archives; but as it could not be produced, the question whether Zebehr had incited his son was not solved, though Zebehr declared that if it could be proved that he incited the revolt he was ready to suffer death; and Gordon admitted that if there had been no such incitement, amends should be made to Zebehr.
The calm outlook of Gordon upon facts and difficulties is shown in Sir E. Baring's report (after the interview) to Lord Granville.
“General Gordon entertains a high opinion of Zebehr Pasha's energy and ability. He possesses great influence in the Soudan, and General Gordon is of opinion that circumstances might arise which would render it desirable that he should be sent back to the Soudan.” (Egypt, No. 12, 1884, p. 38.)
On his rapid journey from Cairo to Khartoum, Gordon saw many Arabs at Abou Hamed, Berber, and elsewhere, and it cannot be doubted that, as was his wont, he revolved in his mind the contingencies which might follow upon any course adopted.
He arrived at Khartoum on the 18th Feb., and it was telegraphed, though not by himself, that he met with a wonderful demonstration of welcome on the part of the population. But he was tenax propositi, and no applause shook his prudence. On the day of his arrival, he telegraphed that Zebehr must be sent to him. “He alone has the ability to rule the Soudan, and would be universally accepted by the Soudan.” (Egypt, No. 12, 1884, p. 72.)page 409
He gave many reasons, but they were very foreign to Lord Granville's frame of mind.
They related to the removal of thousands of fellow-creatures from imminent massacre, to the arrest of disorder, and to the safeguarding of England's honour, which would be imperilled by her insisting on a shameful abandonment of scattered populations to anarchy, which “would be a misfortune and inhuman.” In the eyes of the Foreign Secretary this was wildly sentimental. Gordon might think his mission was to save thousands of lives, but Lord Granville knew it only as a manoeuvre to prop up a discredited ministry. What grief it would be to Lord Granville if Gordon should perish Lord Granville himself exhibited when the time arrived, and Mr. Gladstone's feeling was shown by his gay appearance at a theatre while surrounding London was horror-struck at the widespread notices of Gordon's death.
Sir Evelyn Baring forwarded Gordon's telegram, and added (p. 72): “I believe Zebehr Pasha to be the only possible man. He undoubtedly possesses energy and ability, and has great local influence. As regards the slave trade, I discussed the matter with General Gordon when he was in Cairo, and he fully agreed with me in thinking that Zebehr's presence or absence would not affect the question one way or the other.”
Lord Granville, seeking meanwhile perhaps for public opinion, did not answer at once, and when after consideration (p. 95) he replied (22nd Feb.), he based his objection entirely on the position in England, and not on that in the Soudan; and he gave no hint of any apprehension on account of Gordon.
“Her Majesty's government are of opinion that the gravest objections exist to the appointment by their authority of a successor to General Gordon. The necessity does not indeed appear to have yet arisen for going beyond the suggestions11 contained in General Gordon's page 410 memorandum of the 22nd Jan., by making a special provision for the government of the country. In any case the public opinion of this country would not tolerate the appointment of Zebehr Pasha.”
Let the reader weigh well the shamefulness of this refusal. Not only to Gordon, but to their Queen and country, the ministry were breaking faith.
On the 5th Feb. they had publicly and solemnly declared that Gordon had been appointed with power to act.
On the 22nd Feb.—behind the scenes—Lord Granville intercepted Gordon's acts, and for some time concealed the fact.
It was of no avail that Sir E. Baring and Col. Stewart supported Gordon. “I believe (said Sir E. Baring, Egypt, No. 12, 1884, p. 115) that General Gordon is quite right when he says that Zebehr Pasha is the only possible man. I can suggest none other, and Nubar Pasha is strongly in favour ofhim.”
Four days afterwards Sir Evelyn repeated his advice. (1-b., p. 135.) “I have carefully reconsidered the whole question, and am still of opinion that Zebehr Pasha should be allowed to succeed General Gordon. I do not think that anything would be gained by postponing a decision on this point; on the contrary, I should say that delay would be injurious.”
Sir Evelyn's advocacy of keeping faith with Gordon brought upon him a despatch (5th March) which for “bald, unjointed” irrelevance could hardly be surpassed. (Ib., p. 140.) “Her Majesty's government would be glad to learn how you reconcile your proposal to acquiesce in such an appointment with the prevention or discouragement of slave-hunting and slave-trade, with the policy of complete evacuation, and with the security of Egypt. They would also wish to be informed as to the progress which has been made in the extrication of the garrisons, and the length of time likely to elapse before the whole or the greater part may be withdrawn.” The noble lord was in no hurry about saving lives, for he telegraphed: “As Her Majesty's government require details as to each garrison, your report should be a full one, and may be sent by mail. (!) In your telegram now under reply no allusion page 411 is made to the proposal that the local chiefs should be consulted as to the future government of the country, and Her Majesty's government desire to know whether that idea has been abandoned.” (This from a man whose colleague had boasted that General Gordon had been permitted to draft his own instructions, and who was present when the permission was given!) Surely the “insolence of office and the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes” were never more glaringly exemplified. Sir E. Baring had informed the ignoble Earl some weeks before that Gordon fully agreed with him that Zebehr's appointment would not at all affect the question of slavery. The question of saving the garrisons altogether depended upon the faith kept with Gordon, or the speed with which extrication might be prevented by slaughter, as at12 Sinkat and Tokar, and the Earl had repeatedly been told that “the future government of the country” was, humanly speaking, dependent upon keeping faith with Gordon by “permitting him to act.”
The “patient merit” of Gordon under Granville's “insolence,” is seen in a telegram of the 8th March (ib., p. 145): “The sending of Zebehr means the extrication of the Cairo employés from Khartoum, and the garrisons from Sennaar and Kassala. I can see no possible way to do so except through him, who, being a native of the country, can rally the well-affected around him, as they know he will make his home here… I have already said that the treaty of 1877 was an impossible one, therefore, on that head, Zebehr's appointment would make no difference whatever… As to progress made in extrication of garrisons, all I have done is to send down from Khartoum all the sick men, women, and children of those killed in Khordofan… It is quite impossible to get the roads open to Kassala and Sennaar, or to send down the white troops unless Zebehr comes up… It is impossible page 412 to find any other man but Zebehr for governing Khartoum. No one has his power… If you do not send Zebehir you have no chance of getting the garrisons away; this is a heavy argument in favour of sending him… Zebehr is fifty times the Mahdi's match. He is also of good family, well known and fitted to be Sultan…”
Sir E. Baring gallantly (9th March) contended (ib., p. 146) that the employment of Zebehr was “in harmony with the policy of evacuation,” and that “as regards slavery it will not affect the question in one way or the other.”
It appears, from Sir Henry Gordon's memorandum prefixed to General Gordon's last journals, that “a Cabinet minister of high position was from, the first in favour of sending Zebehr up, and so indeed was Lord Wolseley.” Of course if that minister had been Gladstone, he was bound, if a man of honour or even of duty, to keep faith with Gordon, and had the power, enjoyed by none of his colleagues, to insist on doing so.
But sinister whispers were heard to the effect that some of the customary supporters of the ministry were hostile to the saving of the garrisons by means of Zebehr. Perish the garrisons! Perish Gordon ! rather than admit that Gordon, Colonel Stewart, and Sir E. Baring knew more about Egyptian affairs than a coterie in London knew.13
For Lord Granville's honour they cared as little as he cared. They were of course within their own rights in opposing, the appointment of Zebehr, or of anyone else; but the ministry being unconditionally pledged to “permit Gordon to act,” had no choice but to support him, or to be forsworn. When Gordon telegraphed (3rd March) “how page 413 could I look the world in the face if I abandoned (the Khartoumese) and fled. As a gentleman could you advise this course?” Sir E. Baring was able to assure the chained hero that Lord Granville had no more desire to extricate him than to save his dependants. (Ib., p. 156). “On the contrary, as you will have seen from Lord Granville's telegram, the government is anxious that you should remain.” But nothing could induce the Earl and his associates to take the step which, they were advised, might save the garrisons.
(Ib., p. 158.) They would not send Zebehr, but would “agree to any other Mahomedan assistance.” To a drowning man they would not give a life-buoy, but would cheerfully load him with any encumbrance.
As danger encircled Khartoum closer and closer, and Gordon notified (9th March) that even “retreat to Berber might not be in his power in a few days,” and Baring reported that the telegraph line was interrupted, Earl Granville, indifferent to the dangers of others, declared (p. 162) that “Her Majesty's government were unable to accept (Gordon's) proposals,” and that if Gordon thought that by staying at Khartoum he could accomplish his task, “he is at liberty to remain there. In the event of his being unable to carry out this suggestion he should evacuate Khartoum and save that garrison by conducting it himself to Berber without delay.”
(This the Earl had the insolence to write, though on the 1st March Gordon had telegraphed, on the refusal of Zebehr (p. 152), “I will do my best to carry out my instructions, but I feel conviction I shall be caught in Khartoum.”)
A conviction that he might be accused of acting foolishly as well as meanly, seems to have found its way to the noble Lord's mind, for he added: “Her Majesty's Government trust that General Gordon will not resign his commission.”14page 414
Never, surely, since Hotspur was “pestered with a popinjay” at Holmedon, can military matters have been descanted upon as by this modern Boyet.
The fellow pecks up wit as pigeon's peas:
He is wit's pedlar, and retails his wares
At wakes, at wassails, meetings, markets, fairs.
Unhappily, the life of Gordon was in his power; and (at p. 176, ib.) Sir E. Baring reported that he had told Gordon that “the idea of sending Zebehr must be regarded as finally abandoned,” and that Gordon “must act as well as he can up to your Lordship's instructions.”
But it may be said that although Gordon knew the importance of Zebehr, “a native of the country,” Lord Granville may have been ignorant of the facts.
The Blue Book, No. 13, 1884, removes all doubt upon this point. His Lordship there (March, 1884) sketches Zebehr's career. He was “a kind of king of the slave-hunters who devastated the country bordering the White Nile. His Court (the capital C appears to be the noble Turveydrop's), his wealth, his troops of slaves, and his fortified stations were graphically described by Dr. Schweinfurth. In 1869 the Khedive made an ineffectual attempt to curb his power, and he was subsequently employed to conquer the kingdom of Darfour.”
The noble Lord's reference to slavery comes within Mr. Burchell's censure as “fudge.” All the petty sultans of the Soudan were equally connected with slavery, and when the Gladstone ministry compelled the Khedive to resign control of the Soudan, they were, by their own act, reestablishing the control of the slavers.
Blue Books are preserved, and speeches are made in Parliament by ministers, in vain, if it is not clear beyond doubt that the ministry of 1884 were bound by all that was honest to “permit Gordon to act” in the appointment of Zebehr. Gordon's memorandum of the 22nd Jan., though page 415 it did not categorically name Zebehr, comprehended him as an eligible ruler of Khartoum where there were “no old standing families;” and if persons seeking for excuse for breaking faith required further authority it was to be found in the declarations of the ministry when they openly declared to Parliament that Gordon drafted his own instructions, and that the ministry were bound not to interfere with his plans.15
Gordon's demeanour when his betrayers were bringing about not only his destruction, but that which his spirit strove more against—the dishonour of his country and a general massacre of the helpless—was sublime, but painful to contemplate:—
1st March.—“I will do my best to carry out my instructions, but I feel conviction I shall be caught in Khartoum.”
4th March.—“My weakness is that of being foreign, and Christian, and peaceful; and it is only by sending Zebehr that prejudice can be removed.”
10th March.—“Through the weakness of the government many have joined the rebels. All news confirms what I have already told you, viz., that we shall before long be blockaded. The utility of Zebehr is greatly diminished, owing to our weakness, which has forced the loyal to join the enemy.” (On the 16th March there was much fighting, and Gordon's people were beaten.)
23rd March.—Gordon reports treachery in his camp, and execution of two Pashas, after trial.
29th March.—“Had you sent Zebehr, how different would have been the state of affairs.”page 416
17th April.—Baring reports that Zebehr has received a telegram from Gordon, appointing him Sub-Governor, but that Zebehr “will be watched, and his departure will be prevented.”
18th April.—Baring repeats that Gordon says that “scarcely a day passes without his inflicting losses on rebels,” that with 3000 Turkish troops the Mahdi might easily be put down, and that Gordon “evidently thinks he is to be abandoned.” (Blue Book, No. 13, 1884.)
On the 21st April Lord Granville recognizes that “the danger at Berber appears to be imminent,” and asks Baring if “any step by negotiation or otherwise can be taken at once to relieve it.”
On the 23rd April Granville decides (Blue Book, No. 13, p. 15) that English troops shall not go to Berber, and no Egyptian troops shall “go alone:” that Gordon must “keep us informed … not only as to immediate, but as to any prospective danger at Khartoum;” that he will receive no Turkish or other troops for military expeditions, and “that if with this knowledge he continues at Khartoum he should state to us the cause and intention with which he so continues.”16
This heartless telegram was amplified in a despatch of the 1st of May (Blue Book, No. 20, 1884), the concluding paragraph of which was: “With respect to his request for Turkish troops with a view to offensive operations (this to a closely besieged man!), General Gordon cannot too clearly understand that these operations cannot receive the sanction of Her Majesty's government, and that they are beyond the scope of his mission.” When his Lordship declared that he believed that in Khartoum “the market was well supplied,” it is not easy to determine whether he thought himself civilly sneering or insolently jocose.
Before quoting his words, it is right to mention that efforts were made in April to arouse the ministry to their duty to England and to their own pledges.
On the 21st April, Gladstone, suo more, denied that Gordon was in danger: there were peculiar events near Khartoum—“the general effect being … that Gordon is hemmed in—that is to say, that there are bodies of hostile troops in the neighbourhood, forming more or less of a chain around it. I draw a distinction between that and a town being surrounded… It may be the opinion of hon, gentlemen opposite that General Gordon is in imminent danger. In our view, that is an entirely erroneous opinion.” This was in the Commons.
In the other House, Lord Carnarvon was told by Lord Granville on the 22nd April, in a speech which bristled with equivocation: “I have no fear as to the personal safety of General Gordon in Khartoum now.” Of course not; the noble Lord had no fear as to the safety of anyone but himself; and Gordon had no fear for himself; but if any other man than Gordon had been in Khartoum it was probable that the streets of Khartoum would have been reeking with the blood of the garrison before Lord Granville declared that he was without fear for Gordon.17
On the 16th April, Baring received the following telegram from Gordon, and it was in the hands of the ministry when they equivocated with Parliament on the 21st and 22nd April: “As far as I can understand, the situation is this: you state your intention of not sending any relief up here page 418 or to Berber, and you refuse me Zebehr. I consider myself free to act according to circumstances. I shall hold on here as long as I can, and if I can repress the rebellion I shall do so. If I cannot I shall retire to the Equator, and leave you the indelible disgrace of abandoning the garrisons of Sennaar, Kassala, Berber, and Dongola, with the certainty that you will eventually be forced to smash up the Mahdi under great difficulties if you would retain peace in Egypt.” (Blue Book, No. 15, 1884.)
He offered to send Colonel Stewart and Mr. Power to Berber if possible; but Stewart telegraphed: “I shall follow the fortunes of General Gordon,” and Power did the same, adding: “We are quite blocked on the north, east, and west.” What Mr. Power would have thought of Mr. Gladstone's asseveration in Parliament that Khartoum was not surrounded, must remain unknown, but may be surmised.
The south was the region in which the Mahdi's friends abounded, and all other directions were “quite blocked!” “Imprisonment” had begun in the middle of March. “Scarcely a day” passed without assaults and skirmishes; and Gordon, reporting the fact on the 8th April, said: “The losses of the rebels are quite unnecessary if we are eventually to succumb.”
He telegraphed to Sir Samuel Baker to appeal to moneyed men to advance the means of engaging 3000 Turkish troops with whom to put an end to the Mahdi, which at that time was not difficult; and he told Sir E. Baring: “It would be the climax of meanness—after I had borrowed money from the people here, had called on them to sell their grain at a low price, &c.—to go and abandon them without using every effort to relieve them, whether those efforts are diplomatically correct or not; and I feel sure, whatever you may feel diplomatically, I have your support—and that of every man professing himself a gentleman—in private.” (Blue Book, No. 15.)
One thing is very clear. Gordon had neither the support of Mr. Gladstone nor of Lord Granville.
Those so-called statesmen, however, intently watched the political barometer in England. If public opinion should demand that they must keep faith with Gordon, they would page 419 do so; not as bound in honour, nor for his sake, but for their own. If public opinion should not care more for Gordon and honour than the ministry cared, then Gordon must die.
When they denied in Parliament in April that Gordon was in danger, they knew they were not telling the truth; but they trusted in the chapter of accidents, and hoped that public opinion would not be hypercritical. With Gordon's and Mr. Power's telegrams in his hand, Mr. Gladstone told the House (21st April): “The position of General Gordon is, so far as we know, a ‘position of security.’ “Still, this immeasurable deception did not leave the ministry quite easy in their minds.
A colleague of Mr. Gladstone was introduced on the 21st April, by a mutual friend, to a friend18 of Gordon; and although Gladstone and Granville were then protesting so loudly that Gordon was in no danger, it appeared that there was a desire to know if Gordon would avail himself of means to escape if they were offered to him.
The answer was: “Those who think that Gordon would come away to save his own life, while there is anyone in Khartoum, white or black, rich or poor, old or young, to whom he feels that he owes a duty, know nothing of Charles Gordon.” The Cabinet minister replied: “What a wonderful man he must be when his friends have such confidence in him!”
To do public opinion justice, it must be admitted that there was a general feeling that Gordon was being foully treated; but it is common for ministries to evade justice until time has crystallized into form concurring elements for their condemnation.
The periods, sometimes long, during which no tidings of Gordon reached England will be remembered with grief.
As Gordon had foretold, Berber was in imminent danger, and it fell at the close of the month of May, with the usual slaughter of captives which accompanied the Egyptian exploits of Lord Granville. He, meantime, after his confident misstatements to the House of Lords, became fretful in his despatches as to how he was to give orders to Gordon. Before Berber fell he was condescending enough page 420 (30th April) to suggest that, “in the event of telegraphic communication with Berber being restored, the Governor of that place might be able to send a message through by the agency of the Bishareen or Shaggieh tribes.” (Blue Book, No. 25, 1884.)
Mr. Gladstone came to his perplexed colleague's aid. Mr. Chaplin had asked “if the government still adhere to the opinion which they expressed on 21st April, that the position of General Gordon is one of complete security.”
“I adhere to the opinion,” said Mr. Gladstone (1st May), “I have given in this House more than once, that there is no military danger at the present moment besetting Khartoum;” but such catachestical audacity could deceive no one. Since his message on the “indelible disgrace of abandoning the garrisons,” Gordon, and the thousands of dependents to whom he was daily doling out the food he had so strenuously collected, had not been heard of.
Even at Dongola, far down the Nile, between the third and fourth Cataracts, Mr. Egerton reported (12th May) that there was “panic.” (Blue Book, No. 25, 1884, p. 20.)
But for the marvellous influence of Gordon over the minds of men, and his inexhaustible ingenuity in devising means of defence, Khartoum would probably have fallen as soon as Berber,19 and no one in Europe knew whether it had fallen.
In May, Sir M. Hicks-Beach moved, “That this House regrets to find that the course pursued by Her Majesty's government has not tended to promote the success of General Gordon's mission, and that even such steps as may be necessary to secure his personal safety are still delayed,” and the ministerial majority fell to 28, and was believed to have vanished out of doors.
Justice must be done to Mr. Gladstone by stating that he did not adopt the sham plea that the “great refusal” was made with any consideration for Gordon's safety.
Lord Granville's despatch of the 22nd Feb. had assigned the fear of public opinion as the reason.
Mr. Gladstone, on the 12th May, took the same ground.page 421
“General Gordon told us, and gave us his reasons for thinking so, that Zebehr, if inclined to the slave trade, would not be able to pursue it, and would have the strongest possible reason for not attempting to pursue it, in case we allowed him to stay at Khartoum. For my part I thought the arguments and the weight due to General Gordon so great that in my own mind it would have been a great question whether we ought not to have given way to his wish. Yes! but for one consideration. And what was that consideration? Why, that we should not have announced that intention forty-eight hours when a vote would have been passed in this House, not merely to condemn the government, but …”
Sir John Gorst said he heard with shame the new theory of ministerial responsibility which Lord Granville's despatch had promulgated. “The Prime Minister said in so many words that he thought General Gordon was right, and that he should have yielded to his importunity if he had not believed that had he done so a motion might have been made which would have placed the government in a minority… Her Majesty's government were not to be animated by the sense of what was right, and by their duty to the Queen and country, but were to pursue that particular line of conduct which would secure for them a majority…”
While the debate was going on, there rang from the Liberal benches a voice which reflected the real, and not the sham, Liberal feeling of the country.
“The ministry desire” (said Mr. Joseph Cowen) “to dissociate General Gordon from the garrisons. This is impossible. They sneakingly suggest that he should sacrifice his comrades in captivity and decamp. But they mistake their man. It was the helpless to help, and the hopeless to save, that sent him on his forlorn and chivalrous mission, and he spurns such cowardly counsels…
He has been accused of inconsistency. The charge cannot in equity be sustained. He has never faltered in his purpose, though he has varied his plan to the exigencies. All his plans have been rejected. He has been systematically contravened, thwarted, restrained, and trammelled. Not a single request he has made has been complied with; not a page 422 solitary proposal has been acted upon. And the Cabinet, after having committed every error the circumstances allowed, are shabby enough to attribute their own failure to their baulked but sedulous and heroic agent.”
Sir Charles Dilke, who once boasted that the ministry had given carte blanche to Gordon, tried to propitiate public feeling by averring in the House, 13th May, “For the protection of General Gordon we intend to do that which practically can be done.”20 He admitted that they had reason to believe that Khartoum had provisions for not more than five months from the 7th April.
With inexpressible meanness, Sir C. Dilke insinuated that on the 27th Feb. Gordon's plans were culpably changed. No one knew better than the shuffling baronet knew, that on arriving at Khartoum (18th Feb.) Gordon demanded Zebehr, and that on the 22nd Granville perpetrated the great refusal. Yet Dilke upbraided Gordon for altered conduct, because Gordon, when thus betrayed, took measures to protect Khartoum against the surrounding Arabs.
Lord Granville, beginning to entertain fears for his own position, authorized (17th May) Mr. Egerton to pay money to Zebehr (!) for sending a message to General Gordon, and £400 more if he could obtain Gordon's reply. For a Gordon to employ Zebehr to save more than 25,000 lives was not to be endured; but it was tolerable for a Granville to use him in a ministerial crisis.21 Too truly had Mr. Cowen augured as to the nobility of Gordon and the meanness of the ministry.page 423
On the 17th May, Lord Granville sent a despatch (Egypt, No. 22, 1884) “enjoining” Gordon “to consider and report upon, or, if feasible, to adopt measures for his own removal and for that of the Egyptians,” &c., “having especial regard for his own safety and that of the other British subjects.” The beleaguered General, whom many despatches never reached, was to be “at liberty to assign sums” in payment for successful escapes. But in June, the noble Earl, who thus instructed generals, learned that Berber (to which he had once glibly ordered Gordon to march with the Egyptians) had been sacked.
It was feared that public opinion might be sensitive as to the treatment of Gordon. It was stated that Mr. Gladstone's inconstant mind was exercised for many weeks in debating whether an expedition should be sent by the Nile Valley, or from Suakim viâ Berber.
Vainly had Lord Wolseley provided details in the first week in April for men who would not decide until 26th Aug. whether they would adopt the Nile route. Nevertheless, Gladstone himself, when Gordon was dead, made merry with the question, and was not ashamed. “No doubt” (he said in the House in Feb., 1885) “much time was spent in the examinatiom of the question. Are hon. gentlemen ready to say that too much time was spent upon it? I think I may say for some months the balance of evidence seemed to be in favour of the Suakim route, difficult as it was… In the meantime, we had no reason to believe that Khartoum was in immediate danger.”
This he had the effrontery to tell the House, while Blue Books gave evidence to the contrary, and his own colleague, speaking in May, 1884, had stated that the provisions in Khartoum would be exhausted early in September.
Doubtless Gordon had eked out his supplies by occasional capture of cows and of dhoora, but he had 40,000 mouths to feed,22 and was undergoing daily bombardment. It might be difficult to decide whether to adopt the Nile route or not; but it was palpable that if it were to be adopted at all, it must be adopted without delay, for the constant river, whose floods had been page 424 registered by Egyptian rulers from the Pharaohs downwards, was no respecter of persons, and the delay of some months was sure to be fatal. Even the Nile was blamed by some ministerial parasites for being low; but we read in Gordon's Journal: “It was not a low Nile—it was average Nile, only you were too late.”
Gloom could not but possess the minds of those who knew the characters of Gordon and of those who were dooming him to starvation and to death. Readers of his journal will remember the scorn with which he resented the insinuation that an expedition should be sent for his personal relief. Alone—Stewart and the others having descended the river—he writes:
24th Sept.—“I altogether decline the imputation that the expedition has come to relieve me. It has come to save our national honour in extricating the garrisons, &c., from a position our action in Egypt has placed these garrisons in. I was relief expedition No. 1; they were relief expedition No. 2. As for myself, I could make good my retreat at any moment if I wished. Now realize what would happen if this first expedition was to bolt, and the steamers fell into the hands of the Mahdi; this second relief expedition (for the honour of England engaged in extricating garrisons) would be somewhat hampered.”
3rd Oct.—“I hope I am not going down to history as being the cause of this expedition, for I decline the imputation. The expedition comes up to deliver the garrisons.”
9th Nov.—“The people up here would reason thus if I attempted to leave… ‘We suffered and are suffering great privations in order to hold the town… Now we can, after our obstinate defence, expect no mercy from the Mahdi, who will avenge on us all the blood which has been spilt around Khartoum. You have taken our money and promised to repay us; all this goes for nought if you quit us; it is your bounden duty to stay by us and to share our fate; if the British government deserts us, that is no reason for you to do so, after our having stood by you.’ I declare positively and once for all, that I will not leave the Soudan until everyone who wants to go down is given the chance to do so, unless a government is established which relieves me of the charge. Therefore, if any emissary or letter comes up here ordering me to go down, I will not obey it, but will stay here, and fall withthe town and run all risks.” His Journal of 17th Sept. said, “D.V. I will not give up the place except with my life.”
So lived and so thought Gordon, doing his duty, just as Gordon's friend told Mr. Gladstone's colleague in April that he would do it. He had already sent Stewart, Power, Herbin, and others away, and wrote, 5th Nov.: “I say in defence of my letting Stewart go, that both he, Power, and Herbin felt our situation here was desperate after the defeat at El Foun—that I had over and over again said it page 425 was impossible for me to go; physically impossible, because even my servants would have betrayed me (even if I had felt inclined to leave), and I would die here (even going so far as to have two mines brought to the palace, with which to blow it up, if the place fell).”
A part of the delay of some months, which Gladstone justified, appears to have been occupied in tempting Gordon to share the shame of the ministry. Mr. Egerton, on the 22nd July, suggests “that £10,000, and even double,” might be offered for “bringing out Gordon” (Blue Book, 1884, No. 32, p. 28). and Granville (ib., p, 31) graciously replies, 25th July, that Her Majesty's government “would not grudge the amount,” and would not restrict it, “relying as they do upon Major Kitchener's discretion not to expend more than is necessary … for the release of General Gordon.”
Within a week of this intimation, Gordon was writing (in a despatch which he sent safely by Massowah to Suakim)—“It is a sine quâ non that you send me Zebehr, otherwise my stay here is indefinite.”23
This despatch reached Cairo in Sept., when Wolseley, after chafing at delay, had arrived in Egypt; but it is significant as showing how “wide as the poles asunder” page 426 were the views of the ministry and of Gordon on points of duty and of honour.
Of course no attention was paid to Gordon. The “great refusal” of the only chance to save the garrisons had been made on account of its effect on a division in the House, and if the Khartoum garrison was to be massacred like the others, it must be massacred rather than faith be kept with Gordon.
Earl Granville filled up some of the time by impertinent messages to Gordon. On the 24th July (Blue Book, No. 32, p. 29) he directed Mr. Egerton to repeat his messages to Gordon of 23rd April and 17th May (asking why he remained at Khartoum, &c.), to tell him that those communications proved the interest taken by Her Majesty's government in him, and that they desired to hear from him, “so that if danger has arisen or is likely to arise in the manner they have described, they may be in a position to take measures accordingly.”
Those who ascribe the greatest blame to Gladstone must admit that this despatch raises Granville's claims to a high pitch.
About this time M. Herbin, French Consul at Khartoum, wrote: “Aucune crainte si ce n'est le manque de vivres (dans deux mois nos vivres seront epuisés) … mais nous sommes san nouvelles sûres, et nos moments sont comptés.” The gallant Frenchman, like Colonel Stewart and Power, could hardly be persuaded to leave Gordon and essay the descent of the Nile.
When Wolseley furnished in April details of measures for relieving Khartoum, he included an alternative scheme to the long route by the Nile. The route from Suakim to Berber was 245 miles, and from Berber to Khartoum the distance was 210 miles. The Nile Valley routes varied from 1320 miles to 1750 miles, according to the extent to which land marches were availed of. General Stephenson, who commanded in Egypt, advocated the route by Suakim, and we learn from official documents that, on 14th June, the government “determined to prepare” for constructing a railway from Suakim to Berber. The character of their determination is shown by the fact that, on the 7th Aug., they obtained a vote of credit for £300,000 to enable them page 427 to take measures “for the relief of General Gordon should they become necessary.” (Blue Book, No. 35, p. 14.)
Mr. Gladstone's “some months” of hesitation were not completed, however, until the 26th Aug., when a telegram from the War Office (ib., p. 60), dated midnight, stated that, “after anxious consideration,” they had made up their minds, and that, after two months of the Nile inundation had been lost, the some months of the government backwardness were at an end, and that Lord Wolseley was “to take temporarily the chief command in Egypt.” Too late was in the minds of all, but not in the actions of Wolseley and his comrades.
Their campaign, so creditable to them, and so damning to the ministry, proved clearly enough that if Wolseley had been commissioned in the end of April instead of in the last days of August, he might have accomplished his task. There is a pathetic sadness in his statement (25th Oct.)—“the labour of working up this river is immense.” It was only on that day that the first whale boat was hauled through the great gate of the second Cataract at Wady Halfa, though in “nuggers” troops had arrived at Dongola in September.
On the 2nd Nov. the sad tidings of the loss of the “Abbas” steamer, near Merawi, with Colonel Stewart and his companions (18th Sept.), reached Wolseley's people near Korti.
Military authorities have described the campaign; and here it is fitting to deal only with a few facts concerning the victim whose fate, Lord Granville had graciously informed him, was interesting to Her Majesty government.
As far as human mismanagement could prevail, that government had made it impossible for Gordon and Wolseley to meet in the Soudan. But Gordon succeeded in sending a characteristic letter, dated 4th Nov., to Wolseley (Blue Book, Egypt, No. 1, 1885, p. 97):
“… We can hold out forty days with ease; after that it will be difficult. Terrible about loss of steamer. I sent Colonel Stewart, Power, and Herbin down, telling them to give you all information… We have occasional fights with Arabs. Since 10th March we have had up to date, exclusive of Kitchener's 14th Oct., only two despatches; one, Dongola, with no date; one from Suakim, 5th May; one of same import, 27th April. I have sent out a crowd of messengers in all directions page 428 during eight months… I should take the road from Ambukol to Metammeh, where my steamers wait for you… The Arabs camped outside Khartoum on the 12th March. We attacked them on the 16th March, got defeated, and lost heavily, also a gun.24 … We have built two new steamers… Your expedition is for relief of garrison which I failed to accomplish. I decline to agree that it is for me personally… We defended the lines with wire entanglements and live shells as mines, which did great execution. We put lucifer matches to ignite them.”25
Gordon's last Journals tell us (15th Nov., when heavy firing was being sustained): “I feel quite indifferent, for if not relieved for a month, our food supply fails, and even at the above rate of expenditure of ammunition we have fifty days’ cartridges. I like to go down with our colours flying.”
On the 5th Dec. there were only “737 ardebs of dhoora, 121,300 okes of biscuit in store.” On the 10th he wrote: “Truly I am worn to a shadow with the food question; it is one continual demand. Five men deserted to-day. The Arabs shape the stones they fire like to the shells of their guns; they will soon spoil the rifling of their guns if they continue this.” The close of the Journal, 14th Dec., is: “Now, mark this; if the expeditionary force, and I ask for no more than two hundred men, does not come in ten days, the town may fall, and I have done my best for the honour of our country. Good-bye. C. G. Gordon.”
In addition to the last entry in his Journal, letters of the same date were sent with it to Metammeh. To his sister he said: “I am quite happy, thank God, and, like Lawrence, I have tried to do my duty.” To a military friend (Watson) he wrote: “All is up. I expect a catastrophe in ten days’ time. It would not have been so if our people had kept me better informed as to their intentions. My adieux to all.” Facts are useless to those who do not see that it is almost a certainty that “it would not have been so” if the ministers who vaunted that they had empowered Gordon to page 429 “draft his own instructions” had kept faith, and allowed him to have Zebehr.
Starving, like the other ghost-like haunters of Khartoum; “worn to a shadow” (as his Journal tells us) many weeks before the fall of the town—there being left, on the 14th Dec. (for many thousands of persons), only 546 ardebs of dhoora, and 83,525 okes of biscuits, the deserted General, nerved by a courage and endurance which seemed more than mortal, and were, indeed, prompted from on high, sent words of comfort to his sister, and unimpassioned words to an old comrade.
But, among all the inhabitants, heroism could not be looked for; and it was almost certain that the hope of favour from the Mahdi for successful treachery, and of release from the fangs of hunger, would tempt some to betray the General, and those who were too deeply involved in the defence of the city to have any hope of mercy at its fall. Therefore “the catastrophe” was expected. Meanwhile, with his steamers, the General secured scraps of food on the river banks, and an occasional capture of a cow revived hope, though it could not remove famine.
When his last Journal (to 14th Dec.) was taken to Metammeh, he sent by an Arab messenger a brief message (to be carried on to the Commander of the Relief Expedition) which, if seized by the enemy, might mislead him, but which the trusty bearer was to explain to Wolseley, in words sadly in unison with the last records in the Journal of the same date (14th Dec.) The written message was—“Khartoum all right. 14th Dec., 1894.” The verbal was longer; but Arabs have trustworthy memories. “… Fighting goes on day and night. Enemy cannot take us except by starving us out. Do not scatter your troops…” Specially “secret and confidential” were other words which doubtless were urgently pressed upon the Arab's memory by those Khartoumese notables who had hazarded their lives by aiding Gordon to defend the city. “Our troops in Khartoum are suffering from lack of provisions. Food we still have is little; some grain and biscuit. We want you to come quickly… In Khartoum there are no butter, nor dates, and little page 430 meat. All food is very dear.”26 (Blue-Book, 1885. No. 1, p. 132.)
A written letter to Wolseley, dated 14th Dec., accompanied the Journal and remained with it at Metammeh, so that Wolseley never saw the letter until the result of the “great refusal” was completed. He sent it to England on the 10th Feb. Its terms were:—“… The state of affairs is such that one cannot foresee further than five to seven days, after which the town may at any time fall. I have done all in my power to hold out, but I own I consider the position extremely critical, almost desperate; and I say this without any feeling of bitterness with respect to Her Majesty's government, but merely as a matter of fact. Should the town fall, it will be questionable whether it will be worth the while of Her Majesty's government to continue its expedition, for it is certain that the fall of Khartoum will ensure that of Kassala and Sennaar.”27
One more communication from Gordon reached Wolseley's hands, but it was only a fac simile (Ib., p. 141) of the previous note—“Khartoum all right. 14th Dec., 1884.” It was taken to Wolseley by a man who had been sent by Wolseley from Korti on the 18th Dec., and who returned to him on the 11th Jan. He said he had been one day in Khartoum, that he was taken prisoner on his return, and that “Gordon's letters were taken from him.” He bore marks of having been bound and beaten. He brought no verbal message from Gordon. He told Wolseley that the steamers seized cattle and grain, and took them up the river to Khartoum; and Mr. Gladstone had the ineffable meanness to tell the House, in Feb., 1885, that “the despatch of 28th Dec. overrides the account of 14th Dec.,” (though the only despatch was a repetition of that of 14th Dec.), and represents a state of things in which there was not the smallest reference to a scarcity of provisions.”
Such prevarication could deceive no one. No one could page 431 imagine that many thousands28 of people could be supplied by an occasional capture of a cow and a few bushels of dhoora on the banks of a river held by hostile troops.
Khasm-el-Mûs described how (before Sir C. Wilson's arrival in Jan.) one steamer, the “Mansourah,” with captured dhoora, was struck by a cannon-ball, and sunk with her booty. When Khasm-el-Mûs got to Metammeh finally (he wrote), “we had not a day's rations for ourselves or the soldiers.”
And yet Gladstone dared to tell the House that a despatch (which had no existence) represented “a state of things at Khartoum in which there was not the smallest reference to a scarcity of provisions”—and, so great is the credulity or so little the honour of some people, that he secured a majority of 14 in the House when Sir Stafford Northcote righteously moved a vote of censure in February, 1885.
We know that all previous despatches showed that by the 14th Dec. supplies would be exhausted. We know from Gordon's Journal that for all practical purposes they were so exhausted.
Let us see what the real state of affairs proved to be so far as the subsequent inquiries by Major Kitchener, of the Staff Intelligence Department, enable us to judge. He had spoken with all refugees from Khartoum whom he had been able to meet, and had special duties in communicating with the tribes from 26th Jan. to 18th Aug., 1885, the date of his report. Communication between Omdurman and Khartoum was cut off on 3rd Nov., 1884, Omdurman then having only one and a-half month's provisions; so that the Omdurman garrison “must have been in great difficulties for food and necessaries after 20th Dec.”
Gordon's position was “weakened” by sending the steamers (with Stewart and) to meet the expeditionary force.page 432
He had already (22nd Nov.) “found it necessary to issue 9600 Ibs. biscuit to the poor,” and then wrote, “I am determined, if the town has to fall, the Mahdi shall find precious little to eat in it.”
It may be considered (writes Kitchener) “that even on reduced rations the supply in store must have been almost, if not quite, exhausted about 1st Jan., 1885.”
On the 6th Jan., when he proclaimed freedom for all to leave, Gordon wrote to the Mahdi “requesting him to protect and feed these poor Moslem people as he had done for the last nine months.”
About the 18th Jan. there was desperate fighting, and about 200 of the Khartoum garrison were killed. Gordon publicly thanked the troops for their conduct.
“The state of the garrison was then desperate from want of food; all the donkeys, dogs, cats, rats, &c., had been eaten. A small ration of gum was issued daily to the troops, and a sort of bread was made from pounded palm-tree fibres. Gordon held several councils of the leading inhabitants, and on one occasion had the town most rigorously searched for provisions; the result, however, was very poor, only yielding four ardebs of grain through the whole town. This was issued to the troops. Gordon continually visited the posts, and personally encouraged the soldiers to stand firm. It was said during this period that he never slept.”
On the night of the 25th Jan. “many of the famished troops left their posts on the fortifications in search of food in the town. Some of the troops were also too weak from want of nourishment to go to their posts.” At 3.30 the south front was attacked. “In my opinion, Khartoum fell from sudden assault when the garrison were too exhausted by privations to make proper resistance.”
When Gladstone averred in the House, “It was plain that the despatch of 28th Dec. overrides the account of 14th Dec., and represents a state of things in which there was not the smallest reference to a scarcity of provisions,” his object was, if not to tell an untruth, to induce the House to believe a lie.
There was no despatch of 28th Dec. at all. Wolseley's despatch says that the only written document borne by the page 433 messenger was dated the 14th Dec.; “a fac-simile,” indeed, of the former brief words similarly dated.
And Wolseley's messenger carried no verbal message. Therefore, the 14th Dec. despatch was overridden by no other despatch, and the words reported as used by Gladstone in the House were untrue.
It is perhaps proper to record here what Major Kitchener's careful inquiries elicited as to the fall of Khartoum. He prefaces it by saying that “the last accurate information received about Khartoum is contained in General Gordon's Diary, and dated the 14th Dec., 1884.”
Major Kitchener obtained no proof that the gates were treacherously opened, but shows that Farag Pasha, to whom treachery was generally imputed, was well received by the Mahdi, although three days after the fall of the city, when he failed to discover treasure, Farag “was killed on the public market-place at Omdurman.”
“Hassan Bey Balmasawi” (he says), “who commanded at the Mesalamia gate, certainly did not make a proper defence,” and Hassan “afterwards took a commission under the Mahdi” and went to Khordofan. Major Kitchener considered there was “very full and complete evidence that General Gordon was killed at or near the palace… All the evidence tends to prove that his death happened near the palace, where his body was subsequently seen by several witnesses.” One who claimed to have been a witness said, “General Gordon was walking in front, leading the party. The rebels fired a volley, and Gordon was killed at once. Nine of the cavasses, Ibrahim Bey Rushdi, and Mahomed Bey Mustafa, were killed. The rest ran away.” Major Kitchener adds, “the massacre in the town lasted some six hours, and about 4000 persons at least were killed… The Bashi-Bazouks and white regulars, numbering 3327, and the Shaikiyeh irregulars, were mostly all killed in cold blood after they had surrendered and had been disarmed… The women were distributed as slaves amongst the rebel chiefs” (those chiefs whom the Gladstone ministry exalted in preference to Zebehr). The town was given over to pillage for three days.
The rigid official narrative of Major Kitchener concludes page 434 with two brief sentences wrung from his heart by the working out of the “great refusal.” “The memorable siege of Khartoum lasted 317 days, and it is not too much to say that such a noble resistance was due to the indomitable resolution and resource of one Englishman. Never was a garrison so nearly rescued, and never was a commander so sincerely lamented.”
The gallant major wrote nobly, on a noble theme. But there were one or two of those who had lured Gordon to his doom who seem not to have shared the major's feelings. When the tidings of the fall of Khartoum, and the consequent moral certainty of the death of Gordon, arrived in London at the War Office, on Thursday, the 5th Feb., 1885, it was announced in the newspapers on the 6th that “the news was sent to Mr. Gladstone, Lord Hartington, and Lord Granville.”
On the 7th Feb. the Times reported that a “Cabinet Council was held yesterday,” and added:—“We are asked to state that Mr. Gladstone came to London on Thursday by the first train, after the news of the fall of Khartoum reached him.”
On the 9th the Times printed a formal announcement of a Cabinet meeting for that day.
All men knew that Gordon was not a man to be captured alive; indeed, his telegram to Sir E. Baring of 8th April, 1884, had said (Blue Book, 1884, No. 15): “I do not see the fun of being caught here, to walk about the streets for years as a dervish with sandalled feet; not that (D.V.) I will ever be taken alive;” and Gordon was a man of his word. But those who are promise-breakers themselves do not comprehend the virtue of truthfulness.
The particular mode in which the immolation of Gordon was accomplished cannot be said to be known even now; but that he was immolated at the fall of Khartoum by the joint labours of the Gladstone Government and the Arab slave-owners was as certain in London on the 10th Feb., 1885, as it is now. Such being the facts, the horror with which loyal Englishmen read that on the night of the 10th Feb. Mr. Gladstone was observed as a “guilty creature sitting at a play” may be imagined.page 435
Some time afterwards, Sir F. Milner, speaking at York, alluded to the fact. Some one brought Sir F. Milner's speech to the notice of Mr. Gladstone, who desired his secretary to write, “that there was not even a rumour of General Gordon's death at the time alluded to.” Sir F. Milner set forth these facts in a letter which appeared in the Morning Post, 2nd Nov., 1885, and showed that the death of Gordon was placarded throughout London on the 10th Feb., whereupon Mr. Gladstone reiterated on 3rd Nov. “that he was absolutely ignorant of the rumour to which Sir F. Milner referred.”
He must have doubted whether he was believed, for we find him writing (Times, 27th Nov., 1885): “It is absolutely untrue that either any news or any rumour, supported by any colour of evidence that General Gordon was dead, had reached Mr. Gladstone on the evening to which reference has so improperly been made by some political opponents.”
If this be so, it was useless to summon Mr. Gladstone to a council on the fall of Khartoum; and if it be improper to call attention to gross behaviour in a public man, it must be indecent in a bystander to call the attention of the police to any crime which he sees committed in the street.
The situation in Egypt was, nevertheless, not calculated to raise the reputation of the ministry, and to pacify a public which they felt must be sorely offended, Mr. Gladstone declared in Parliament (19th Feb.) that “the Government decided that it was their duty to instruct Lord Wolseley to frame his military measures upon the expectation and upon the policy of proceeding to overthrow the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum.
Brave words! but who could trust them in the mouth of the “broker that still breaks the pate of faith?” Had he not used tbe same words about the Transvaal, and did his conduct in South Africa augur that he would care for England's honour in the north? “Time, the cclok-setter,” was soon to show him as ready to run from the Mahdi as from the Boers; but not before he had squandered England's blood and treasure.
But here it is proper to show the statements which he page 436 and his accomplices put forward in defence of their “great refusal” when challenged by Sir Stafford Northcote.
Gladstone, on 23-rd Feb. reiterated his strange assertion that Gordon “was able to remove himself by going to the South… Then came the recommendation to send Zebehr, but it was well-known that if, when that recommendation was made, we had complied with it, an address from this House to the Crown would have paralyzed our action…”
We see in newspapers that Mr. Gladstone enchants worshippers by entering tabernacles and reading lessons. If in any such assemblage he should read about the qualities of him who shall dwell in the Supreme Tabernacle—“He that sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance”—he would need surpassing vanity to escape qualms of conscience for those who broke their pledges to Gordon.
The friends of Gordon, on the other hand, from the same sentence may derive enduring comfort.
Some points of Gladstone's speech—the choice of the route by the Nile and the “hypothesis of starvation”—have already been touched upon. His obstinate assertion (“Hansard,” vol. ccxciv., p. 1092), “There is no reason at present to believe that a great effusion of blood attended the occupation of Khartoum,” must have jarred upon all humane minds; but though the massacres which Mr. Gladstone minimized as merely an “occupation of Khartoum” involved Gordon's death, he did not venture in Feb., 1885, to disparage the character of one whom he had called “a hero of heroes.” At a later date, however, he threw out hints that Gordon had overweening confidence in himself, and over-rated his influence.
On the 30th April, 1885, Gladstone was asked in the House to produce the evidence on which he had said: “We have no reason29 to suppose that any very considerable body page 437 ever attached themselves to General Gordon, and we have no reason to suppose that the general population of Khartoum—though I have no doubt that some of his immediate adherents may—have suffered in consequence of what has taken place.” One reads in “Hansard” these strange words from Gladstone, which certainly cannot be called an answer: “I entirely differ from the hon, gentleman as to the preamble of his question; and as to his request, I cannot comply with it.”
As to the mean suggestion that Gordon over-rated his own importance, Gordon gave, by anticipation, the fullest refutation to such a slander when, on the day of his arrival at Khartoum, amid the acclamation of thousands, he telegraphed that Zebehr must be sent thither to enable the work of evacuation to be done.
The other ministers who defended in the House of Commons their abandonment of Gordon may be briefly dismissed.
Sir Charles Dilke, who had boasted in 1884 that he had concurred in authorizing Gordon to “draft his own instructions,” made a speech which was one long shuffle. He had no plea to make for the refusal of Zebehr, but he pointed out “that only one hon, gentleman (Sir F. Milner) attacked us for not sending Zebehr.” His morality seemed to be such as might make promise-breaking a virtue if no one objected to it.
Sir W. Harcourt declared (26th Feb.) that he “would not have been a party to sending out Zebehr,” and he had the unspeakable meanness (which even Gladstone had not exhibited) of pretending that considerations for Gordon's safety made the refusal necessary. Privileged to say anything, however inhuman, he declared, “If Gordon had been able to hold out a week or ten days longer it is quite certain that Sir H. Stewart's force would have been in Khartoum. I say we were not too late, and I am entitled to say so.”page 438
Sir Robert Peel replied that Harcourt had been “good enough to admit that the government had experienced failures and made some mistakes. Made some mistakes! Why, good God; their hands were deep in blood. They were ankle-deep in it.”
The patriotic enthusiasm which despatched the New South Wales contingent to the Soudan, and wafted offers from other colonies, was acknowledged with effusion by Mr. Gladstone in Parliament on the 20th Feb. If he had known how largely indignation at his own treachery had actuated many colonists, and that he himself was more than once burned in effigy in Australia at the time, by lovers of their country and admirers of Gordon, it would have required all his powers of dissimulation to appear sincere.
A feeble member of the Cabinet, unwarned by the abstinence of his more astute colleagues from disparagement of Gordon, ventured to sneer at the victim of Khartoum.
Lord Kimberley told his brother peers (27th Feb.), “General Gordon was not infallible… He was of opinion that his influence in the Soudan was such that he might be able to accomplish the pacification of the country by his name and by his influence with the tribes… General Gordon, it is impossible not to say, was mistaken30 in his calculations… I never was more clear in my life upon any subject than that it was the absolute duty of Her Majesty's government to refuse to send Zebehr.” One would think that his mind must always have been muddy, if it was never clearer than when he broke his word.
Never was the fable of the living donkey and the dead lion illustrated more completely than by the living lord.
If Gordon was “mistaken in any calculation,” it was in supposing that an English ministry would not wantonly be forsworn; and his prompt demand for Zebehr on his arrival at Khartoum, proves that the Kimberley complaint page 439 of Gordon's self-conceit as to his own “name and influence” was as false as unworthy.
What Gladstone was not unblushing enough to do in the Commons House, Lord Granville did without shame in the Lords. With his despatch of the 22nd Feb., 1884, assigning the fear of public opinion as the reason for the “great refusal,” on the table to refute him, he had the insolence to aver (19th Feb., 1885): “We considered that Zebehr's appointment would be constituted a danger to Gordon… My Lords, we agreed to any other form of assistance which he might prefer.”
His speech, of course, included praise of Gordon, but his words were to the friends of Gordon offensive, as would be the intrusive presence at a funeral of those by whose machinations the funeral had been caused.
“The noble Earl spoke with justice (said Lord Salisbury) of the sympathy and deep regret with which we all of us have heard of the fall—I might say the sacrifice—of our Christian hero. But these are not the only feelings which have been excited in the breasts of the people of his country. There has not only been sympathy and regret, but bitter and burning indignation. General Gordon has been sacrificed to the squabbles of a Cabinet, and the necessities of Parliamentary tactics.”
When, at a later date (18th May, 1885), Lord Napier of Magdala expressed unwillingness to “re-open the wound caused by the delays and refusals to relieve General Gordon,” and added that “the military character of the country had sustained a great blow—he would almost say an irretrievable blow,” Lord Granville was not ashamed to reply that he did “not understand what the gallant Field Marshal can have meant.”
Perhaps his answer was true, and he was not able to comprehend anything noble. His intelligence, however, appears to have staggered strangely. How otherwise can be explained his maundering contention that the Ministry would “have been accomplices in the murder of General Gordon if they had acceded to his demand for Zebehr,” and that it would have been “a positive act of treachery” to Gordon to keep their promises to him?page 440
This modern Boyet, however, who had gambled with the life of Gordon, could “chide the dice in honourable terms,” for he added, “when we have destroyed the Mahdi, and are masters of the situation, as I hope and believe we shall be… I imagine that we shall desire, all of us equally, to form the best government that can be formed on the spot.” Yet he had, by his share in the “great refusal,” rejected the advice of Gordon, of Colonel Stewart, of the Khedive, and of Nubar Pasha, as to the best government that could be so formed.
The fate of the garrisons weighed lightly on the noble Earl. Lord Ellenborough asked on the 3rd March how it was proposed to relieve Kassala, and Granville replied pleasantly: “It is outside the scope of our military operations.”
Those operations soon culminated in withdrawal, and in what Lord Napier of Magdala could not help calling, in spite of the skill and gallantry of the soldiery, an almost irretrievable blow to the military character of the country.
And so the long tragedy caused by the “great refusal” came to an end in action, but never can be blotted out of the national memory while virtue is held in reverence and hypocrisy is despised among Englishmen. Lord Granville, and others, thought it becoming to simulate in Parliament some sorrow for the death of Gordon; but when the indignation of the country had expended itself without hurling the ministry from office, and, other events having intervened, it seemed safe to smile upon the past, he said, in public, at Shrewsbury (in November): “I can never look back without regret that General Gordon was sent on that mission; but at the same time I cannot, with truth, admit that I feel remorse on the subject.” It was wasteful excess in the noble culprit thus to gibbet himself as insensible to shame. His despatches had proved what manner of man he was; and in 1890 he has been hung—where now-a-days we hang such offenders—on the walls of the Royal Academy; and on the complacent effigy there were, indeed, no traces of remorse for the fate of Gordon.
Yet, what severer censure could be passed on a man than that he was active in the betrayal of Gordon, and was page 441 without remorse when the victim of the “great refusal” was immolated on the altar of duty, to which the sacrificial priests had sent him, in order that they might prolong, for a brief term, their miserable tenure of office?
The fire which burned in their bosoms was not lit at the source which warmed the breast of Gordon. Duty, the handmaid of right, animated the victim. Self-seeking, the slave of meanness, prompted the officiating ministers.
Time, the redresser of wrong, will guard with reverence the victim as a type of that which is noblest in humanity; and will as surely doom his betrayers to the perpetual scorn of mankind.
1 [1894.] The author.
4 “Contemporary Review,” 1887, p. 336. For convenience, the spelling of Zebehr's name as it occurs in the Blue Books of 1884 is adopted.
5 Ibid., p. 582.
10 For a specimen of the manner in which Lord Granville and Sir C. Dilke respected their faith, personally plighted to Gordon, see the Blue Book No. 16 of 1884. Sir E. Baring informed Granville that among other possibilities, Gordon had mentioned to him at Cairo a visit to the Mahdi, and the taking possession by the King of the Belgians of certain remote districts.
11 It was one of the suggestions in that memorandum that local rulers should be appointed, and Mr. Gladstone had commended it as “a well-reasoned and considered plan.” Lord Granville could have hardly been so foolish as not to perceive that if it was right to sanction (as the ministry had sanctioned) Gordon's proposals, it was all-essential to act upon them promptly.
12 On the 22nd Feb. Earl Granville was so exceptionally curious about the garrisons as to ask by telegraph about “the fate of the women and children in Sinkat.” (Blue Book, Egypt, No. 12, p. 96.) The answer, on the same day, “The women of Sinkat were very probably killed… the fate of the children is more uncertain… “did not avail to prevent the issue of the cold-blooded despatch in the text.
13 These well-meaning enthusiasts have since furnished a melancholy tribute to Gordon's foresight. He frequently warned them and the government that unless order should be promptly established in the Soudan, bloodshed, anarchy, famine, and death would ensue. Through Lord Granville's perfidy Gordon was prevented from establishing any settled government, but neither the ignoble Earl nor his accomplices could avert the misery which Gordon predicted; and which, too late, some charitable persons, if not the Earl, have striven to alleviate. Who can be so bold as to deny that if Gordon had pacified the Soudan by the appointment of Zebehr, and had gone to the Congo to aid the King of the Belgians, he might have done more to quench the horrors of slavery than his detractors may now live to see accomplished ? And who can deny that during the last five years Gordon's foresight has been proved correct?
14 Lord Granville's despatch rejecting all Gordon's “proposals” and inanely suggesting that Gordon was “at liberty to remain” at Khartoum, but if “unable to carry out this suggestion he should evacuate Khartoum and save that garrison by conducting it himself to Berber without delay,” but he must not resign, was dated 13th March. Sir E. Baring sent it forward, but Khartoum was invested before the despatch reached the neighbourhood. The date may be learned from Gordon's Journal, which records the commencement “of our imprisonment;” and Major Kitchener, in his report on the fall of Khartoum, says “the siege” began on the 15th March. If it were not registered in “Hansard,” could it be credited that on the 3rd April Gladstone told the Honse:—“General Gordon is under no constraint and under no orders to remain in the Soudan … nor is General Gordon in any way hampered in the prosecution of his work?”
15 In Gordon's Journal (17th Sept.), p. 31, we read: “Had Zebehr Pasha been sent up when I asked for him, Berber would in all probability never have fallen, and one might have made a Soudan government in opposition to the Mahdi. We choose to refuse his coming up because of his antecedents in re slave trade; granted that we had reason, yet as we take no precaution as to the future of these lands with respect to the slave trade, the above opposition seems absurd. I shall not send up A because he will do this; but I will leave the country to B, who will do exactly the same.”
16 Sir E. Baring duly forwarded the request in one of the few messages which reached Gordon, who, on 31st July, wrote and succeeded in sending messages by way of Massowah, where they arrived on the 25th Sept. He devoted a postscript to the noble Lord's request. “‘You ask me to state cause and intention in staying at Khartoum, knowing government intends to abandon Soudan,’ and in answer I say I stay at Khartoum because Arabs have shut us up and will not let us out.”
17 Lord Carnarvon was indignant at the answers he received, but contempt was mingled with his indignation when he spoke to a friend in the House about the refusal of the government to recoup the King of the Belgians the expense of Gordon's journey from Palestine to Brussels. Gordon, always generous, had no money about him when he started from Jaffa. He drew on Belgium. When the Gladstone government summoned Gordon to London, and sent him to Egypt, Gordon left his brother, Sir Henry, to arrange for repayment to the King of the Belgians. Sir Henry applied to the government in the hope that they would enable him to recoup the King, as they had withdrawn Gordon from his service. They declined, and pleaded that they could not make themselves responsible for an indefinite sum. Sir Henry guaranteed that it should not exceed £50. Still they declined, and Sir Henry recouped the King out of General Gordon's army pay, which Sir Henry drew for him.
18 1894. The author.
19 Berber fell about the 1st June. (Blue Book, 1884, No. 25, p. 117.) Major Kitchener reported: “Everyone massacred. The Governor and all his family, and all the soldiers, and many merchants killed.”
20 The ministry had received from the Adjutant-General, on the 8th April, details of measures for relieving Khartoum by the Nile route and by Suakim, and though the Nile rises at Cairo in the beginning of July, it was not until the 26th August that they resolved to send Wolseley to Egypt, and he reached it two months after the Nile had risen! Mr. Egerton had telegraphed on the 6th August: “The Nile will soon be high, and the time is short within which any river expedition is possible.” (Blue Book, No. 35, p. 6.)
21 Zebehr sent letters by a messenger who was reverently received by the Mahdi's Emir commanding at Berber. The messenger travelled safely to Shendy, but was there stopped by the besiegers of Khartoum, and he returned to Cairo in October. (Blue Book, 1885, Egypt, No. 1, p. 64.) The respect paid to Zebehr at Berber after it was in the Mahdi's hands is strong evidence that Gordon might have saved the garrisons if Zebehr had been allowed to go to him.
22 Gordon's last Journal, p. 272.
23 All the pretences put forward at later dates about the apprehensions of the ministry lest Gordon's life should be endangered, may be dismissed as false. They were afterthoughts. Lord Granville's despatch, 22nd Feb., already cited, based the refusal on his estimate of the “public opinion of this country.” By the terms of that refusal, the Gladstone ministry must stand or fall. Zebehr's character, whatever it may be, is not tainted with telling untruth to deceive the House of Commons or the House of Lords, and he told the lady who saw him at Gibraltar (“Contemporary Review,” 1887, pp. 679–80)—“All was wiped out between us. Though he was against me, I knew Gordon to be a great and good man. He wanted to have me sent up. I wanted to go. If I had gone, Gordon would have come home safe. Then who killed Gordon? Not the Soudanese. It was the English who refused to let him have the friend he asked for. The English killed him, and why? Because they were like children, frightened and believing in evil.” It is melancholy to think that abroad the “great refusal” and its consequences may be ascribed not to the perpetrators, but to the English. That Zebehr's willingness to go to Khartoum was not an afterthought in conversation with the writer in the “Review” is proved by Sir E. Baring's despatch of 19th April, 1884, advising Lord Granville—“I have not seen Zebehr Pasha myself, but I am told that he would be willing to go to Khartoum.” … Blue Book, Egypt, No. 16, 1884, p. 34.
24 It was on the 1st May, after much fighting at Khartoum had been reported, that Gladstone declared that he “adhered to his opinion that there is no military danger at the present moment besetting Khartoum.”
25 [The author asked a general of artillery in what manner Gordon carried out this process of blowing up his assailants, and was told that no one in Europe could answer the question, and that Gordon must have devised his own method.]
27 The Blue Book (No. 9, 1885) which contains this despatch (p. 23) is worth reading for the sake of the despatches of Lord Wolseley and Sir C. Wilson, and their testimony to the loyalty of Khasm-el-Mûs; a report from whom to Lord Wolseley is included in the Blue Book.
28 The exact population at Khartoum in Dec., 1884, cannot be ascertained. Originally, in February, there had been 40,000; but Gordon sent 2000 persons to Berber before Khartoum was invested, and lost no opportunity of letting others leave. On the 6th Jan., 1885, he proclaimed that all might go who would. Major Kitchener's final report says that “great numbers availed themselves of this permission.” Major Kitchener estimated that in September the population had been reduced to 34,000.
29 But the telegrams of Feb., 1884, furnished ample reason, and in conformity with them we read in the work of the Rev. Mr. Barnes (“C. G. Gordon.” Macmillan. 1884), p. 79: “The people appeared in their thousands at Khartoum to kiss his feet, styling him the Sultan of the Soudan.” Fortunately, it is difficult for deceivers to weave their sophistries so as to escape detection when the truth is sought for; and expert as Mr. Gladstone is in the art of distortion, his subtleties do but confirm the old saying that it is better to tell the truth than by any temporizing subterfuge to gain brief credit for a lie.
30 If Gordon presumed confidently that the Gladstone ministry would keep faith with him, no doubt he was mistaken. But such was his sense of duty to his country that if anyone had warned him that the ministry would not keep faith and would betray him, it is possible that he would have replied, “If the ministry be false, what is that to me? They apply to me in the name of my country, and I must do my best for its honour.” This, at any rate, is what he did when they betrayed him.