1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gordon, Charles George
GORDON, CHARLES GEORGE (1833–1885), British soldier and administrator, fourth son of General H. W. Gordon, Royal Artillery, was born at Woolwich on the 28th of January 1833. He received his early education at Taunton school, and was given a cadetship in the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, in 1848. He was commissioned as second lieutenant in the corps of Royal Engineers on the 23rd of June 1852. After passing through a course of instruction at the Royal Engineers’ establishment, Chatham, he was promoted lieutenant in 1854, and was sent to Pembroke dock to assist in the construction of the fortifications then being erected for the defence of Milford Haven. The Crimean War broke out shortly afterwards, and Gordon was ordered on active service, and landed at Balaklava on the 1st of January 1855. The siege of Sevastopol was in progress, and he had his full share of the arduous work in the trenches. He was attached to one of the British columns which assaulted the Redan on the 18th of June, and was also present at the capture of that work on the 8th of September. He took part in the expedition to Kinburn, and then returned to Sevastopol to superintend a portion of the demolition of the Russian dockyard. After peace with Russia had been concluded, Gordon was attached to an international commission appointed to delimit the new boundary, as fixed by treaty, between Russia and Turkey in Bessarabia; and on the conclusion of this work he was ordered to Asia Minor on similar duty, with reference to the eastern boundary between the two countries. While so employed Gordon took the opportunity to make himself well acquainted with the geography and people of Armenia, and the knowledge of dealing with eastern nations then gained was of great use to him in after life.
He returned to England towards the end of 1858, and was then selected for the appointment of adjutant and field-works instructor at the Royal Engineers’ establishment, and took up his new duties at Chatham after promotion to the rank of captain in April 1859. But his stay in England In China.was brief, for in 1860 war was declared against China, and Gordon was ordered out there, arriving at Tientsin in September. He was too late for the attack on the Taku forts, but was present at the occupation of Peking and destruction of the Summer Palace. He remained with the British force of occupation in northern China until April 1862, when the British troops, under the command of General Staveley, proceeded to Shanghai, in order to protect the European settlement at that place from the Taiping rebels. The Taiping revolt, which had some remarkable points of similarity with the Mahdist rebellion in the Sudan, had commenced in 1850 in the province of Kwangsi. The leader, Hung Sin Tsuan, a semi-political, semi-religious enthusiast, assumed the title of Tien Wang, or Heavenly King, and by playing on the feelings of the lower class of people gradually collected a considerable force. The Chinese authorities endeavoured to arrest him, but the imperialist troops were defeated. The area of revolt extended northwards through the provinces of Hunan and Hupeh, and down the valley of the Yangtsze-kiang as far as the great city of Nanking, which was captured by the rebels in 1853. Here the Tien Wang established his court, and while spending his own time in heavenly contemplation and earthly pleasures, sent the assistant Wangs on warlike expeditions through the adjacent provinces. For some years a constant struggle was maintained between the Chinese imperialist troops and the Taipings, with varying success on both sides. The latter gradually advanced eastwards, and approaching the important city of Shanghai, alarmed the European inhabitants, who subscribed to raise a mixed force of Europeans and Manila men for the defence of the town. This force, which was placed under the command of an American, Frederick Townsend Ward (1831–1862), took up a position in the country west of Shanghai to check the advance of the rebels. Fighting continued round Shanghai for about two years, but Ward’s force was not altogether successful, and when General Staveley arrived from Tientsin affairs were in a somewhat critical condition. He decided to clear the district of rebels within a radius of 30 m. from Shanghai, and Gordon was attached to his staff as engineer officer. A French force, under the command of Admiral Prôtet, co-operated with Staveley and Ward, with his little army, also assisted. Kahding, Singpo and other towns were occupied, and the country was fairly cleared of rebels by the end of 1862. Ward was, unfortunately, killed in the assault of Tseki, and his successor, Burgevine, having had a quarrel with the Chinese authorities, Li Hung Chang, the governor of the Kiang-su province, requested General Staveley to appoint a British officer to command the contingent. Staveley selected Gordon, who had been made a brevet-major in December 1862 for his previous services, and the nomination was approved by the British government. The choice was judicious as further events proved. In March 1863 Gordon proceeded to Sungkiang to take command of the force, which had received the name of “The Ever-Victorious Army,” an encouraging though somewhat exaggerated title, considering its previous history. Without waiting to reorganize his troops he marched at once to the relief of Chansu, a town 40 m. north-west of Shanghai, which was invested by the rebels. The relief was successfully accomplished, and the operation established Gordon in the confidence of his troops. He then reorganized his force, a matter of no small difficulty, and advanced against Quinsan, which was captured, though with considerable loss. Gordon then marched through the country, seizing town after town from the rebels until at length the great city of Suchow was invested by his army and a body of Chinese imperialist troops. The city was taken on the 29th of November, and after its capture Gordon had a serious dispute with Li Hung Chang, as the latter had beheaded certain of the rebel leaders whose lives the former had promised to spare if they surrendered. This action, though not opposed to Chinese ethics, was so opposed to Gordon’s ideas of honour that he withdrew his force from Suchow and remained inactive at Quinsan until February 1864. He then came to the conclusion that the subjugation of the rebels was more important than his dispute with Li, and visited the latter in order to arrange for further operations. By mutual consent no allusion was made to the death of the Wangs. This was a good example of one of Gordon’s marked characteristics, that, though a man of strong personal feelings, he was always prepared to subdue them for the public benefit. He declined, however, to take any decoration or reward from the emperor for his services at the capture of Suchow. After the meeting with Li Hung Chang the “Ever-Victorious Army” again advanced and took a number of towns from the rebels, ending with Chanchufu, the principal military position of the Taipings. This fell in May, when Gordon returned to Quinsan and disbanded his force. In June the Tien Wang, seeing his cause was hopeless, committed suicide, and the capture of Nanking by the imperialist troops shortly afterwards brought the Taiping revolt to a conclusion. The suppression of this serious movement was undoubtedly due in great part to the skill and energy of Gordon, who had shown remarkable qualities as a leader of men. The emperor promoted him to the rank of Titu, the highest grade in the Chinese army, and also gave him the Yellow Jacket, the most important decoration in China. He wished to give him a large sum of money, but this Gordon refused. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel for his Chinese services, and made a Companion of the Bath. Henceforth he was often familiarly spoken of as “Chinese” Gordon.
Gordon was appointed on his return to England Commanding Royal Engineer at Gravesend, where he was employed in superintending the erection of forts for the defence of the Thames. He devoted himself with energy to his official duties, and his leisure hours to practical philanthropy. All the acts of kindness which he did for the poor during the six years he was stationed at Gravesend will never be fully known. In October 1871 he was appointed British representative on the international commission which had been constituted after the Crimean War to maintain the navigation of the mouth of the river Danube, with headquarters at Galatz. During 1872 Gordon was sent to inspect the British military cemeteries in the Crimea, and when passing through Constantinople on his return to Galatz he made the acquaintance of Nubar Pasha, prime minister of Egypt, who sounded him as to whether he would take service under the khedive. Nothing further was settled at the time, but the following year he received a definite offer from the khedive, which he accepted with the consent of the British government, and proceeded to Egypt early in 1874. He was then a colonel in the army, though still only a captain in the corps of Royal Engineers.
To understand the object of the appointment which Gordon accepted in Egypt, it is necessary to give a few facts with reference to the Sudan. In 1820–22 Nubia, Sennar and Kordofan had been conquered by Egypt, and the authority of the Egyptians was subsequently extended southward, eastward to the Red Sea and westward over Darfur (conquered by Zobeir Pasha in 1874). One result of the Egyptian occupation of the country was that the slave trade was largely developed, especially in the White Nile and Bahr-el-Ghazal districts. Captains Speke and Grant, who had travelled through Uganda and came down the White Nile in 1863, and Sir Samuel Baker, who went up the same river as far as Albert Nyanza, brought back harrowing tales of the misery caused by the slave-hunters. Public opinion was considerably moved, and in 1869 the khedive Ismail decided to send an expedition up the White Nile, with the double object of limiting the evils of the slave trade and opening up the district to commerce. The command of the expedition was given to Sir Samuel Baker, who reached Khartum in February 1870, but, owing to the obstruction of the river by the sudd or grass barrier, did not reach Gondokoro, the centre of his province, for fourteen months. He met with great difficulties, and when his four years’ service came to an end little had been effected beyond establishing a few posts along the Nile and placing some steamers on the river. It was to succeed Baker as governor of the equatorial regions that the khedive asked for Gordon’s services, having come to the conclusion that the latter was the most likely person to bring the affair to a satisfactory conclusion. After a short stay in Cairo, Gordon proceeded to Khartum by way of Suakin and Berber, a route which he ever afterwards regarded as the best mode of access to the Sudan. From Khartum he proceeded up the White Nile to Gondokoro, where he arrived in twenty-four days, the sudd, which had proved such an obstacle to Baker, having been removed since the departure of the latter by the Egyptian governor-general. Gordon remained in the equatorial provinces until October 1876, and then returned to Cairo. The two years and a half thus spent in Central Africa was a time of incessant toil. A line of stations was established from the Sobat confluence on the White Nile to the frontier of Uganda—to which country he proposed to open a route from Mombasa—and considerable progress was made in the suppression of the slave trade. The river and Lake Albert were mapped by Gordon and his staff, and he devoted himself with wonted energy to improving the condition of the people. Greater results might have been obtained but for the fact that Khartum and the whole of the Sudan north of the Sobat were in the hands of an Egyptian governor, independent of Gordon, and not too well disposed towards his proposals for diminishing the slave trade. On arriving in Cairo Gordon informed the khedive of his reasons for not wishing to return to the Sudan, but did not definitely resign the appointment of governor of the equatorial provinces. But on reaching London he telegraphed to the British consul-general in Cairo, asking him to let the khedive know that he would not go back to Egypt. Ismail Pasha, feeling, no doubt, that Gordon’s resignation would injure his prestige, wrote to him saying that he had promised to return, and that he expected him to keep his word. Upon this Gordon, to whom the keeping of a promise was a sacred duty, decided to return to Cairo, but gave an assurance to some friends that he would not go back to the Sudan unless he was appointed governor-general of the entire country. After some discussion the khedive agreed, and made him governor-general of the Sudan, inclusive of Darfur and the equatorial provinces.
One of the most important questions which Gordon had to take up on his appointment was the state of the political relations between Egypt and Abyssinia, which had been in an unsatisfactory condition for some years. The dispute centred round the district of Bogos, lying not far Governor-General inland from Massawa, which both the khedive and King John of Abyssinia claimed as belonging to their respective dominions. War broke out in 1875, when an Egyptian expedition was despatched to Abyssinia, and was completely defeated by King John near Gundet. A second and larger expedition, under Prince Hassan, the son of the khedive, was sent the following year from Massawa. The force was routed by the Abyssinians at Gura, but Prince Hassan and his staff got back to Massawa. Matters then remained quiet until March 1877, when Gordon proceeded to Massawa to endeavour to make peace with King John. He went up to Bogos, and had an interview with Walad Michael, an Abyssinian chief and the hereditary ruler of Bogos, who had joined the Egyptians with a view to raiding on his own account. Gordon, with his usual powers of diplomacy, persuaded Michael to remain quiet, and wrote to the king proposing terms of peace. But he received no reply at that time, as John, feeling pretty secure on the Egyptian frontier after his two successful actions against the khedive’s troops, had gone southwards to fight with Menelek, king of Shoa. Gordon, seeing that the Abyssinian difficulty could wait for a few months, proceeded to Khartum. Here he took up the slavery question, and proposed to issue regulations making the registration of slaves compulsory, but his proposals were not approved by the Cairo government. In the meantime an insurrection had broken out in Darfur, and Gordon proceeded to that province to relieve the Egyptian garrisons, which were considerably stronger than the force he had available, the insurgents also being far more numerous than his little army. On coming up with the main body of rebels he saw that diplomacy gave a better chance of success than fighting, and, accompanied only by an interpreter, rode into the enemy’s camp to discuss the situation. This bold move, which probably no one but Gordon would have attempted, proved quite successful, as part of the insurgents joined him, and the remainder retreated to the south. The relief of the Egyptian garrisons was successfully accomplished, and Gordon visited the provinces of Berber and Dongola, whence he had again to return to the Abyssinian frontier to treat with King John. But no satisfactory settlement was arrived at, and Gordon came back to Khartum in January 1878. There he had scarcely a week’s rest when the khedive summoned him to Cairo to assist in settling the financial affairs of Egypt. He reached Cairo in March, and was at once appointed by Ismail as president of a commission of inquiry into the finances, on the understanding that the European commissioners of the debt, who were the representatives of the bondholders, and whom Ismail regarded as interested parties, should not be members of the commission. Gordon accepted the post on these terms, but the consuls-general of the different powers refused to agree to the constitution of the commission, and it fell to the ground, as the khedive was not strong enough to carry his point. The attempt of the latter to utilize Gordon as a counterpoise to the European financiers having failed, Ismail fell into the hands of his creditors, and was deposed by the sultan in the following year in favour of his son Tewfik. After the conclusion of the financial episode, Gordon proceeded to the province of Harrar, south of Abyssinia, and, finding the administration in a bad condition, dismissed Raouf Pasha, the governor. He then returned to Khartum, and in 1879 went again into Darfur to pursue the slave traders, while his subordinate, Gessi Pasha, fought them with great success in the Bahr-el-Ghazal district and killed Suleiman, their leader and a son of Zobeir. This put an end to the revolt, and Gordon went back to Khartum. Shortly afterwards he went down to Cairo, and when there was requested by the new khedive to pay a visit to King John and make a definite treaty of peace with Abyssinia. Gordon had an interesting interview with the king, but was not able to do much, as the king wanted great concessions from Egypt, and the khedive’s instructions were that nothing material was to be conceded. The matter ended by Gordon being made a prisoner and sent back to Massawa. Thence he returned to Cairo and resigned his Sudan appointment. He was considerably exhausted by the three years’ incessant work, during which he had ridden no fewer than 8500 m. on camels and mules, and was constantly engaged in the task of trying to reform a vicious system of administration.
In March 1880 Gordon visited the king of the Belgians at Brussels, and King Leopold suggested that he should at some future date take charge of the Congo Free State. In April the government of the Cape Colony telegraphed 1880–1884. to him offering the position of commandant of the Cape local forces, but he declined the appointment. In May the marquess of Ripon, who had been given the post of governor-general of India, asked Gordon to go with him as private secretary. This he agreed to do, but a few days later, feeling that he was not suitable for the position, asked Lord Ripon to release him. The latter refused to do so, and Gordon accompanied him to India, but definitely resigned his post on Lord Ripon’s staff shortly afterwards. Hardly had he resigned when he received a telegram from Sir Robert Hart, inspector-general of customs in China, inviting him to go to Peking. He started at once and arrived at Tientsin in July, where he met Li Hung Chang, and learnt that affairs were in a critical condition, and that there was risk of war with Russia. Gordon proceeded to Peking and used all his influence in favour of peace. His arguments, which were given with much plainness of speech, appear to have convinced the Chinese government, and war was avoided. Gordon returned to England, and in April 1881 exchanged with a brother officer, who had been ordered to Mauritius as Commanding Royal Engineer, but who for family reasons was unable to accept the appointment. He remained in Mauritius until the March following, when, on promotion to the rank of major-general, he had to vacate the position of Commanding Royal Engineer. Just at the same time the Cape ministry telegraphed to him to ask if he would go to the Cape to consult with the government as regards settling affairs in Basutoland. The telegram stated that the position of matters was grave, and that it was of the utmost importance that the colony should secure the services of someone of proved ability, firmness and energy. Gordon sailed at once for the Cape, and saw the governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, Mr Thos. Scanlen, the premier, and Mr. J. X. Merriman, a member of the ministry, who, for political reasons, asked him not to go to Basutoland, but to take the appointment of commandant of the colonial forces at King William’s Town. After a few months, which were spent in reorganizing the colonial forces, Gordon was requested to go up to Basutoland to try to arrange a settlement with the chief Masupha, one of the most powerful of the Basuto leaders. Greatly to his surprise, at the very time he was with Masupha, Mr. J. W. Sauer, a member of the Cape government, was taking steps to induce Lerethodi, another chief, to advance against Masupha. This not only placed Gordon in a position of danger, but was regarded by him as an act of treachery. He advised Masupha not to deal with the Cape government until the hostile force was withdrawn, and resigned his appointment. He considered that the Basuto difficulty was due to the bad system of administration by the Cape government. That Gordon’s views were correct is proved by the fact that a few years later Basutoland was separated from Cape Colony and placed directly under the imperial government. After his return to England from the Cape, being unemployed, Gordon decided to go to Palestine, a country he had long desired to visit. Here he remained for a year, and devoted his time to the study of Biblical history and of the antiquities of Jerusalem. The king of the Belgians then asked him to take charge of the Congo Free State, and he accepted the mission and returned to London to make the necessary preparations. But a few days after his arrival he was requested by the British government to proceed immediately to the Sudan. To understand the reasons for this, it is necessary briefly to recapitulate the course of events in that country since Gordon had left it in 1879.
After his resignation of the post of governor-general, Raouf Pasha, an official of the ordinary type, who, as already mentioned, had been dismissed by Gordon for misgovernment in 1878, was appointed to succeed him. As Raouf was instructed to increase the receipts and diminish the expenditure, the system of government naturally reverted to the old methods, which Gordon had endeavoured to improve. The fact that justice and firmness were succeeded by injustice and weakness tended naturally to the outbreak of revolt, and unfortunately there was a leader ready to head a rebellion—one Mahommed Ahmed, already known for some years as a holy man, who was insulted by an Egyptian official, and retiring with some followers to the island of Abba on the White Nile, proclaimed himself as the mahdi, a successor of the prophet. Raouf endeavoured to take him prisoner but without success, and the revolt spread rapidly. Raouf was recalled, and succeeded by Abdel Kader Pasha, a much stronger governor, who had some success, but whose forces were quite insufficient to cope with the rebels. The Egyptian government was too busily engaged in suppressing Arabi’s revolt to be able to send any help to Abdel Kader, and in September 1882, when the British troops entered Cairo, the position in the Sudan was very perilous. Had the British government listened to the representations then made to them, that, having conquered Egypt, it was imperative at once to suppress the revolt in the Sudan, the rebellion could have been crushed, but unfortunately Great Britain would do nothing herself, while the steps she allowed Egypt to take ended in the disaster to Hicks Pasha’s expedition. Then, in December 1883, the British government saw that something must be done, and ordered Egypt to abandon the Sudan. But abandonment was a policy most difficult to carry out, as it involved the withdrawal of thousands of Egyptian soldiers, civilian employés and their families. Abdel Kader Pasha was asked to undertake the work, and he agreed on the understanding that he would be supported, and that the policy of abandonment was not to be announced. But the latter condition was refused, and he declined the task. The British government then asked General Gordon to proceed to Khartum to report on the best method of carrying out the evacuation. The mission was highly popular in England. Sir Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer) was, however, at first opposed to Gordon’s appointment. His objections were overcome, and Gordon received his instructions in London on the 18th of January 1884, and started at once for Cairo, accompanied by Lieut.-Colonel J. D. H. Stewart.
At Cairo he received further instructions from Sir Evelyn Baring, and was appointed by the khedive as governor-general, with executive powers. Travelling by Korosko and Berber, he arrived at Khartum on the 18th of February, and was well received by the inhabitants, who believed At Khartum. that he had come to save the country from the rebels. Gordon at once commenced the task of sending the women and children and the sick and wounded to Egypt, and about two thousand five hundred had been removed before the mahdi’s forces closed upon Khartum. At the same time he was impressed with the necessity of making some arrangement for the future government of the country, and asked for the help of Zobeir (q.v.), who had great influence in the Sudan, and had been detained in Cairo for some years. This request was made on the very day Gordon reached Khartum, and was in accordance with a similar proposal he had made when at Cairo. But, after delays which involved the loss of much precious time, the British government refused (13th of March) to sanction the appointment, because Zobeir had been a notorious slave-hunter. With this refusal vanished all hope of a peaceful retreat of the Egyptian garrisons. Wavering tribes went over to the mahdi. The advance of the rebels against Khartum was combined with a revolt in the eastern Sudan, and the Egyptian troops in the vicinity of Suakin met with constant defeat. At length a British force was sent to Suakin under the command of General Sir Gerald Graham, and routed the rebels in several hard-fought actions. Gordon telegraphed to Sir Evelyn Baring urging that the road from Suakin to Berber should be opened by a small force. But this request, though strongly supported by Baring and the British military authorities in Cairo, was refused by the government in London. In April General Graham and his forces were withdrawn from Suakin, and Gordon and the Sudan were seemingly abandoned to their fate. The garrison of Berber, seeing that there was no chance of relief, surrendered a month later and Khartum was completely isolated. Had it not been for the presence of Gordon the city would also soon have fallen, but with an energy and skill that were almost miraculous, he so organized the defence that Khartum held out until January 1885. When it is remembered that Gordon was of a different nationality and religion to the garrison and population, that he had only one British officer to assist him, and that the town was badly fortified and insufficiently provided with food, it is just to say that the defence of Khartum is one of the most remarkable episodes in military history. The siege commenced on the 18th of March, but it was not until August that the British government under the pressure of public opinion decided to take steps to relieve Gordon. General Stephenson, who was in command of the British troops in Egypt, wished to send a brigade at once to Dongola, but he was overruled, and it was not until the beginning of November that the British relief force was ready to start from Wadi Haifa under the command of Lord Wolseley. The force reached Korti towards the end of December, and from that place a column was despatched across the Bayuda desert to Metemma on the Nile. After some severe fighting in which the leader of the column, Sir Herbert Stewart, was mortally wounded, the force reached the river on the 20th of January, and the following day four steamers, which had been sent down by Gordon to meet the British advance, and which had been waiting for them for four months, reported to Sir Charles Wilson, who had taken command after Sir Herbert Stewart was wounded.Death. On the 24th Wilson started with two of the steamers for Khartum, but on arriving there on the 28th he found that the place had been captured by the rebels and Gordon killed two days before. A belief has been entertained that Wilson might have started earlier and saved the town, but this is quite groundless. In the first place, Wilson could not have started sooner than he did; and in the second, even if he had been able to do so, it would have made no difference, as the rebels could have taken Khartum any time they pleased after the 5th of January, when the provisions were exhausted. Another popular notion, that the capture of the place was due to treachery on the part of the garrison, is equally without foundation. The attack was made at a point in the fortifications where the rampart and ditch had been destroyed by the rising of the Nile, and when the mahdi’s troops entered the soldiers were too weak to make any effectual resistance. Gordon himself expected the town to fall before the end of December, and it is really difficult to understand how he succeeded in holding out until the 26th of January. Writing on the 14th of December he said, “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 my country.” He had indeed done his best, and far more than could have been regarded as possible. To understand what he went through during the latter months of the siege, it is only necessary to read his own journal, a portion of which, dating from 10th September to 14th December 1884, was fortunately preserved and published.
Gordon was not an author, but he wrote many short memoranda on subjects that interested him, and a considerable number of these have been utilized, especially in the work by his brother, Sir Henry Gordon, entitled Events in the Life of Charles George Gordon, from its Beginning to its End. He was a voluminous letter-writer, and much of his correspondence has been published. His character was remarkable, and the influence he had over those with whom he came in contact was very striking. His power to command men of non-European races was probably unique. He had no fear of death, and cared but little for the opinion of others, adhering tenaciously to the course he believed to be right in the face of all opposition. Though not holding to outward forms of religion, he was a truly religious man in the highest sense of the word, and was a constant student of the Bible. To serve God and to do his duty were the great objects of his life, and he died as he had lived, carrying out the work that lay before him to the best of his ability. The last words of his last letter to his sister, written when he knew that death was very near, sum up his character: “I am quite happy, thank God, and, like Lawrence, I have tried to do my duty.
Authorities.—The Journals of Major-General Gordon at Khartoum (1885); Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt (2 vols., 1908); F. R. Wingate, Mahdiism and the Egyptian Sudan (1891); the British Parliamentary Paper on Egypt (1884–1885); C. G. Gordon, Reflections in Palestine (1884); edited by D. C. Boulger, General Gordon’s Letters from the Crimea, the Danube, and Armenia (1884); edited by G. B. Hill, Colonel Gordon in Central Africa (1881); Letters of General C. G. Gordon to his Sister (1888); H. W. Gordon, Events in the Life of C. G. Gordon (1886); Commander L. Brine, The Taeping Rebellion in China (1862); A. Wilson, Gordon’s Campaigns and the Taeping Rebellion (1868); D. C. Boulger, Life of Gordon (1896); A. Egmont Hake, The Story of Chinese Gordon (1st vol. 1884, 2nd vol. 1885); Colonel Sir W. F. Butler, Charles George Gordon (1889); Archibald Forbes, Chinese Gordon (1884); edited by A. Egmont Hake, Events in the Taeping Rebellion (1891); S. Mossman, General Gordon’s Diary in China (1885); Lieutenant T. Lister, R.E., With Gordon in the Crimea (1891); Lieutenant-General Sir G. Graham, Last Words with Gordon (1887); “War Correspondent,” Why Gordon Perished (1896). (C. M. W.)
- With this estimate of Gordon’s character may be contrasted those of Lord Cromer (the most severe of Gordon’s critics), and of Lord Morley of Blackburn; in their strictures as in their praise they help to explain both the causes of the extraordinary influence wielded by Gordon over all sorts and conditions of men and also his difficulties. Lord Cromer’s criticism, it should be remembered, does not deal with Gordon’s career as a whole but solely with his last mission to the Sudan; Lord Morley’s is a more general judgment.
Lord Cromer (Modern Egypt, vol. i., ch. xxvii., p. 565-571) says: “We may admire, and for my own part I do very much admire General Gordon’s personal courage, his disinterestedness and his chivalrous feeling in favour of the beleaguered garrisons, but admiration of these qualities is no sufficient plea against a condemnation of his conduct on the ground that it was quixotic. In his last letter to his sister, dated December 14, 1884, he wrote: ‘I am quite happy, thank God, and, like Lawrence, I have tried to do my duty’ . . . I am not now dealing with General Gordon’s character, which was in many respects noble, or with his military defence of Khartoum, which was heroic, but with the political conduct of his mission, and from this point of view I have no hesitation in saying that General Gordon cannot be considered to have tried to do his duty unless a very strained and mistaken view be taken of what his duty was. . . . As a matter of public morality I cannot think that General Gordon’s process of reasoning is defensible. . . . I do not think that it can be held that General Gordon made any serious effort to carry out the main ends of British and Egyptian policy in the Sudan. He thought more of his personal opinions than of the interests of the state. . . . In fact, except personal courage, great fertility in military resource, a lively though sometimes ill-directed repugnance to injustice, oppression and meanness of every description, and a considerable power of acquiring influence over those, necessarily limited in numbers, with whom he was brought into personal contact, General Gordon does not appear to have possessed any of the qualities which would have fitted him to undertake the difficult task he had in hand.”
Lord Morley (Life of Gladstone, vol. iii., 1st ed., 1903, ch. 9, p. 151) says: “Gordon, as Mr Gladstone said, was a hero of heroes. He was a soldier of infinite personal courage and daring, of striking military energy, initiative and resource; a high, pure and single character, dwelling much in the region of the unseen. But as all who knew him admit, and as his own records testify, notwithstanding an undercurrent of shrewd common sense, he was the creature, almost the sport, of impulse; his impressions and purposes changed with the speed of lightning; anger often mastered him; he went very often by intuitions and inspirations rather than by cool inference from carefully surveyed fact; with many variations of mood he mixed, as we often see in people less famous, an invincible faith in his own rapid prepossessions while they lasted. Everybody now discerns that to despatch a soldier of this temperament on a piece of business [the mission to the Sudan in 1884] that was not only difficult and dangerous, as Sir E. Baring said, but profoundly obscure, and needing vigilant sanity and self-control, was little better than to call in a wizard with his magic. Mr Gladstone always professed perplexity in understanding why the violent end of the gallant Cavagnari in Afghanistan stirred the world so little in comparison with the fate of Gordon. The answer is that Gordon seized the imagination of England, and seized it on its higher side. His religion was eccentric, but it was religion; the Bible was the rock on which he founded himself, both old dispensation and new; he was known to hate forms, ceremonies and all the ‘solemn plausibilities’; his speech was sharp, pithy, rapid and ironic; above all, he knew the ways of war and would not bear the sword for nought.”