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CHAPTER XXVIII

THE FALL OF KHARTOUM

OCTOBER 5, 1884-JANUARY 26, 1885

Murder of Colonel Stewart-Difficulties of the Expedition-News from

General Gordon-Occupation of Jakdul—The battle of Abu Klea

- Death of Sir Herbert Stewart—The column reaches the Nile -Two steamers leave for Khartoum-They arrive too late Events at Khartoum-General Gordon's character-Capitulation of Omdurman-General Gordon's death-Effect on public opinion.

It is not within the scope of this work to write a detailed history of the military operations which took place in the Soudan. Those operations have been recorded by others who are more competent than myself to deal with military matters. I propose, therefore, as in the case of the Egyptian campaign of 1882, merely to give a brief summary of the chief events connected with the Nile Campaign of 1884-85.

Scarcely had the campaign commenced, when news arrived that Colonel Stewart had been killed. On September 10, he left Khartoum in a steamer accompanied by Mr. Power, M. Herbin, the French Consul, and about forty others. Colonel Stewart had been instructed by General Gordon to inform the various authorities concerned of the true nature of the situation at Khartoum. Berber and Abu Hamed were passed in safety, and it was thought that the main difficulties of the voyage had been overcome, when, on the 18th, the steamer struck

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on a rock near the village of Hebbah, some sixty miles below Abu Hamed. The boat was hopelessly disabled. Colonel Stewart and his companions landed, and were subsequently induced to lay aside their arms and enter a house in the village, where they were treacherously murdered by Suleiman Wad Gamr, the Sheikh of the Monasir tribe. It is singular that Colonel Stewart, who must have known the treacherous character of the Bedouins, should have fallen into the trap which was laid for him. The explanation has probably been afforded by General Gordon, who said that Colonel Stewart "was not a bit suspicious.”

I have frequently in the course of this narrative alluded to Colonel Stewart's high character, judgment, and ability. I can only repeat that by his premature death the Queen and the British nation lost a most capable public servant. A more gallant fellow never lived.

The Nile expedition, Colonel Colville says,' “was a campaign less against man than against time. Had British soldiers and Egyptian camels been able to subsist on sand and occasional water, or had the desert produced beef and biscuit, the army might, in spite of its late start, have reached Khartoum in November." The difficulties of supply and transport were, in fact, very great.

1 Journal, p. 281. The whole of this passage is worth quoting, as it shows what a singularly accurate forecast General Gordon made of the manner in which Colonel Stewart had been murdered, before he had learnt any of the details. “I feel somehow," General Gordon wrote on November 5, “convinced they were captured by treachery--the Arabs pretending to be friendly - and surprising them at night. I will own that, without reason (apparently, for the chorus was that the trip was safe), I have never been comfortable since they left. Stewart was a man who did not chew the cud, he never thought of danger in perspective; he was not a bit suspicious (while 1 am made up of it).

can see in imagination the whole scene, the Sheikh inviting them to land, saying, Thank God, the Mahdi is a liar,'— bringing in wood -men going on shore and spersed. The Abbas with her steam down, then a rush of wild Arabs, and all is over 1"

History of the Soudan Campaign, p. 61.

But British energy and perseverance overcame them. By the end of December, Lord Wolseley was ready to move from Korti across the desert to Metemmeh. News had been received that supplies were running short at Khartoum, and it was clear that, if General Gordon was to be saved, not a day would have to be lost in establishing communications with him. It was resolved to divide the British force into two portions. One division, under Sir Herbert Stewart, was to take the desert route. The other, under General Earle, was to follow the course of the Nile with a view ultimately to the capture of Berber, which General Gordon had warned Lord Wolseley “not to leave in his rear.”

On December 30, the day on which Sir Herbert Stewart left Korti, a messenger arrived with a piece of

paper the size of a postage stamp, on which was written, “Khartoum all right. 14.12.84. C. G. Gordon." This was in General Gordon's handwriting, and his seal was affixed to the back of the document. The letter was, however, accompanied by a verbal message from General Gordon which showed the straits to which he was reduced. “Our troops,” he said, “at Khartoum are suffering from lack of provisions. The food we still have is little, some grain and biscuit. We want you to come quickly. ... In Khartoum there is no butter, no dates, little meat. All food is very dear.”

The force which left Korti at 3 P.M. on December 30, under the command of Sir Herbert Stewart, consisted of about 1100 British officers and men, and 2200 camels. It reached the wells of Jakdul, ninety-eight miles distant, early on the morning of January 2. A garrison of 422 men was left there with instructions to rig up pumps and otherwise improve the water-supply. On the evening of the 2nd, Sir Herbert Stewart left with the remainder of the force, and reached Korti at noon on the 5th.

On the 8th, he again started from Korti with the main body of the desert column, consisting of about 1600 effective British troops, some 300 camp-followers, and about 2400 camels and horses. His orders were to advance and occupy Metemmeh, to leave a strong detachment there, and then to return to Jakdul. Sir Charles Wilson accompanied the column, and, after the occupation of Metemmeh, was to proceed to Khartoum at once with a small detachment of infantry on board the steamers which, it was known, were in the neighbourhood. The column reached Jakdul early on the morning of the 12th. After halting for a day, the march was resumed. On the night of the 16th, the force bivouacked about three and a half miles from the wells of Abu Klea, which were occupied in considerable force by the Dervishes.

On the following morning (the 17th), the force advanced in square to attack the enemy. A desperate engagement ensued. The Dervishes charged the square with the utmost gallantry, and succeeded in penetrating a gap which had been temporarily caused in its rear face. The camels, Colonel Colville says, “which up to this time had been a source of weakness to the square, now became a source of strength. The spearmen by weight of numbers forced back the rear face of the square on to the camels; these formed a living traverse that broke the rush, and gave time for the right face and front face to take advantage of finding themselves on higher ground, and to fire over the heads of those engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle on to the mass of the enemy behind. A desperate conflict ensued in the centre of the square, but the slaughter caused by the musketry from the rising ground caused the rearward Arabs to waver and then to fall back. Within the square, the din of battle was such that no words of

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