Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

General Gordon—A Great Christian Hero

Charles George Gordon, the last of a famous race of soldiers, was born at Woolwich, in Kent, in 1833. As a boy, he was very brave and fearless, loving the right, and scorning to do anything that he knew was mean or wrong.

He entered the army at the age of sixteen, and a few years later he was sent out to the Crimea. As you know, our brave fellows suffered a great deal during the cold Russian winter; and Gordon's work was to see that wooden huts were built for them.

Many had died before this could be done; but Gordon and the men under him worked so hard that soon the huts were put up, and the soldiers made quite comfortable. During the same year, he had much fighting in the trenches, sometimes staying there for twenty hours without rest or food.

When the war was over, Gordon returned home; but, after a few years, he took part in a war with China. He must have shown himself a very fine soldier, for, after the war, the Chinese asked him to train their army, and lead it against some rebels.

He led his men into many a fierce fight, carrying nothing in his hand but a cane. This seemed to be a magic wand, with which he led his troops to victory. Soon, the rebels were beaten on every side, and we can understand how grateful the Chinese were to Gordon.

They offered him a large sum of money, but Gordon would not take it, as he knew the Chinese were poor. So the emperor gave him instead a gold medal, and a yellow jacket. This last was the greatest honour bestowed in that strange land; for only twenty of the best men in the emperor's body-guard were allowed to wear it.

"Chinese Gordon," as he was now called, was not proud because of his great deeds. He returned to England a poor man, wishing only to serve God, by doing all the good that lay in his power.

For six years after his return he lived at Gravesend. His work as a soldier kept him busy all day; but, in the evening, he gave up his time to train a number of ragged boys. He fed and clothed them, and taught them to be honest and manly.

Then he got them into good places, and many of them went to sea. A peep into Gordon's study would have shown you a large map of the world, hanging on the wall. In this, he stuck a number of pins, each one showing where his boys happened to be: for, in the midst of all his work, Gordon found time to write to his "kings," as he loved to speak of them.



Not only ragged boys, but, also, anyone who was poor and in trouble found a friend in colonel Gordon. A gentleman once asked to see his gold medal, but Gordon made some excuse for not showing it. In after years it was found that he had sold his medal, and given the money to the poor!

A few years later, Gordon was made governor of a part of Africa. It was his work to get the country into good order, and to try to stop the slave trade, which was still carried on there.

Gordon's heart was full of pity for the poor slaves who bad to carry heavy loads of ivory for the traders. Mounted on a swift camel, he rode to all parts under his rule, to put a stop to the cruel work.

This life was very hard and trying for general Gordon, as we may now call him. Several of his friends died of fever, and he, himself, was worn to a shadow; but he still kept bravely on. You will be sorry to hear, however, that, after five or six years of earnest toil for these poor people, he had to give up his post before his great task was done.

Then, for a few years, he travelled in many lands, gaining new life and strength in this way. He spent a very happy time in the Holy Land, visiting the sacred places where our Lord lived and died.

But, once again, the path of duty for general Gordon led him to Africa. He was sent out by our government to save a great number of poor people. These were shut up in Khartum, a town on the river Nile.

He managed to send away two or three thousand women and children; but, before long, the fierce Arabs, under their leader, the Mandi, closed round the town.

When it became known in this country that general Gordon's life was in danger, there was much talk about the best way of sending help to him. But nothing was done for months.

Then an army was sent up the Nile to save Khartum. When it came in sight of the town, our soldiers saw that the British flag was no longer flying. Two days before, the Mandi had taken the place, and Gordon had been killed on the steps of his palace.

Palace in Khartoum


It was a dark day for Britain when the sad news came, and bitter was the thought that this precious life might have been saved. But Gordon has left behind him, like the great Havelock, the memory of a noble, Christian soldier.