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General Gordon’s death was blamed on that grand old man, William Gladstone

Posted in Africa, Disasters, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Religion, War on Friday, 27 September 2013

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This edited article about General Gordon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 412 published on 6 December 1969.

Death of Gordon, picture, image, illustration

The death of General Gordon of Khartoum by Graham Coton

2nd December, 1884

The Arabs fired four shells at the Palace at daybreak with no effect. Nine a.m. They have fired four more; one burst close to my room – a little high. I have put two guns near the Palace to reply to them. . . . Noon. – We have silenced our friends opposite, having concentrated a heavy fire on them. I nearly lost my eyes this morning firing on Arabs, the base of the brass cartridge blew out and sent the fire into my face; this is a fault of the Remington; the metal case of this cartridge must not be used too often. . . .

= = =

5th December

. . . really things are looking very black.

= = =

6th December

. . . Tomorrow it will be 270 days (9 months) that we have endured one continuous misery and anxiety.

* * * * *

General Charles Gordon (1833-85) was one of the great heroes of the Victorians, who particularly admired him for his bravery and firm religious beliefs. His career was so extraordinary and his character so fascinating that people are still arguing about his life and tragic death.

He joined the Royal Engineers and became world famous in the 1860s when he led a force of Chinese guerrillas, known as the Ever Victorious Army, which crushed a rebellion in China, winning battle after battle against fantastic odds. Gordon was armed with a light cane, which became known as Gordon’s Wand of Victory, and he himself became known as “Chinese” Gordon.

He next amazed the world by incredible feats of government and engineering in the Sudan; then, after serving in South Africa, Ireland, Mauritius and India, he was sent back to the Sudan in 1884 by the British Government. A religious leader known as the Mahdi had declared a Holy War. Gordon’s rather vague orders were to evacuate the garrisons in rebel territory and report on the situation. He reached Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, in February. A month later the city was under siege.

Gordon had a few thousand Egyptians to ward off many more thousands of fanatical Arab tribesmen, known as Dervishes. Without his inspiring leadership they could never have held out for ten grim months. The British Government delayed sending a relief expedition, not believing that Gordon was in any real danger. Finally, an army started up the Nile in September. It proceeded too slowly and, meanwhile, Gordon’s situation was growing desperate.

Gordon kept an enthralling diary of the siege until 14th December, noting down everything from military matters to finding a scorpion in his sponge. He could not believe that a relief force would fail to reach him, but it did. On 15th January, his most important outpost, Fort Omdurman, surrendered. His garrison’s diet was rats and dogs. And the Nile, which had been a last link with the outside world, was receding – there was now a stretch of shallow water and a gap in the defences.

On 26th January, the Mahdi’s men crossed the gap. A horde of Dervishes broke into the Palace courtyard. Gordon appeared at the top of the steps. A spear flashed in the dawn light and Gordon fell dead. The relief force arrived 60 hours too late. Much of the public’s anger over the disaster fell on Gladstone, the Prime Minister. Having been known as the G.O.M. (Grand Old Man), he was re-christened the M.O.G. (Murderer of Gordon)!

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