Reign of Queen Victoria - M. B. Synge

Gloomy Days in Egypt

In yet another part of Africa trouble was brewing. Since the days when Britain had suddenly bought up the Khedive's shares in the Suez Canal, Egypt had been threatened with ruin, and it had become necessary for the Powers to intervene.

In 1879 Britain and France jointly assumed the task of controlling Egypt. But this "Dual Control", as it was called, had a troubled history. Two years later a National Party came to the fore, a body of natives jealous of European interference. These rose under their leader, Arabi Pasha, an Egyptian soldier, surrounded the Khedive's palace, and compelled him to dismiss his ministers. The revolt gathered weight. Europeans fled from Cairo, and for the moment Arabi, in his triumph, fortified Alexandria, and planned an attack on the Suez Canal.

But Britain could not stand by and see her route to India in danger. France refused to interfere, so it was left to this country to suppress the rebellion and restore the Khedive's authority.

Early on the morning of July 11, 1882, the bombardment of the Alexandrian forts was opened by British ironclads and gunboats. The forts were wrecked, the garrison driven out, the British landed and took possession of the ruins. Arabi himself had escaped to raise an army inland.

Sir Garnet Wolseley


So Sir Garnet (afterwards Lord) Wolseley was sent from England, and at Tel-el-Kebir, between Ismailia and Cairo, he struck a blow at the National Party. Landing at Ismailia with some of our finest British regiments, he marched rapidly across the desert, guided by the brightness of the Egyptian stars, took Arabi completely by surprise, and in half an hour "with one brilliant dash scattered to the winds the hopes and fears" of the Egyptian leader; then he rode on to Cairo, where the Khedive was at once reinstated.

A great responsibility now rested on Britain. She was bound to remain to support the Khedive's authority, and guard her own interests in the Suez Canal. The "Dual Control" was at an end, and a Single Control was now established by Britain alone.

While Arabi was leading a revolt against Europeans in Egypt, away to the south in the far Sudan, only recently left by Gordon, another revolt was brewing, under a leader known to history as the Mandi, or "inspired one".

The son of a carpenter at Dongola, the Mandi adopted a religious career, and called on all Mohammedans in the land to follow him in a revolt against their Egyptian rulers. Groaning under oppression and misrule, the Sudanese rose and followed the Mandi in ever-increasing numbers. In July, 1882, they destroyed the Egyptian troops of the far south, and the following year the town of El-Obeyd, 200 miles from Khartum, surrendered, and the Mandi thus obtained a firm footing in the Sudan. He now advanced farther and farther north, till it was felt something must be done, and at once.

At last both Egyptian and British Governments were roused to action. Britain strongly advised the Khedive to give up the Sudan, and to retire to the frontier at Assuan. But there were isolated garrisons in the desert cities which could not be left to their fate. Gordon offered his services. They were accepted and he was soon on his way to Khartum in order to arrange for the peaceful withdrawal of the garrisons.

And here we must tell again the oft-told story, one of the most tragic in modern history, of the fall of Khartum and the death of Gordon.



On January 26, 1881, Gordon and his companion, Colonel Stewart, left Cairo.

"I come without soldiers, but with God on my side, to redress the evils of this land," he said. "I will not fight with any weapons save justice."

It was not till he had been some days in Khartum that he began to realize the strength of the Mandi; if he rescued only the garrisons, he must leave many old friends to their fate. This—being the man he was—he could not do; so he changed his mind, and, to complicate an already difficult situation, instead of withdrawing, he decided to remain, appealing to Britain for forces to "smash the Mandi". This change of plan put the British and Egyptian Governments into a very awkward position.

Charles Gordon


The Mandi's troops soon closed round Khartum, and Gordon was cut off from all communication with the outside world. As time went on, he began to despair of help. His last pathetic journals describe his days as the long, sad weeks passed by. Busy all day in defending the town and ministering to the wants of the people, every night he mounted to the palace roof, and there kept lonely watch over the ramparts, praying for the help that never came.

Meanwhile a relief expedition had started under Lord Wolseley, the hero of Tel-el-Kebir. But the difficulties he had to encounter were very great, and it was not till January 1885, that the relieving forces drew near to Khartum. Then the Mandists made their last attack.

It was Sunday, the 25th. The night was dark for Egypt. Gordon kept watch on the palace roof. Just as the red sun was rising over the dark horizon, the Mandi's men crept into Khartum, made their way to the palace, and slew the one Englishman there. Gordon was in his white uniform. "His sword was girt about him, but he did not draw it. He carried a revolver in his right hand, but he disdained to use it."

"Go," he used to say to those around him in those last days—"go, tell all the people that Gordon fears nothing, for God has created him without fear."

And so he died.

Two days later—it was Gordon's birthday—a few Englishmen in advance of the relief expedition fought their way up to Khartum, only to find the Mandi's black flag waving over the palace, to learn that a general massacre of the garrison had taken place, and the man they had come to save had failed gloriously, and fallen at his post "faithful unto death".

The whole country was abandoned by the British, till in 1898 it was reconquered.