Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/326

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Gladstone
Gladstone
314

with a population between 50,000 and 165,000. A boundary commission was at once appointed, of which Sir John Lambert, secretary to the local government board, was chairman. On 4 Dec. this bill was read a second time in the House of Commons, and on the 6th the royal assent was given to the franchise bill.

The weakest point in Gladstone's second administration, and the one which led to their ultimate defeat, was their policy in Egypt, if indeed they can be said to have had an Egyptian policy at all. An expedition under Lord Wolseley had been sent, in the autumn of 1884, to rescue Gordon and relieve Khartoum. But on 5 Feb. 1885 the news reached London that Khartoum had fallen on 26 Jan. Lord Wolseley's expedition was just too late. The cabinet was immediately summoned, and seven thousand men ordered to Suakim. Parliament met on 19 Feb., and Gladstone announced that the power of the mahdi was to be overthrown at Khartoum. He went on, in language which made a painful impression even on his supporters, to argue that Gordon had not availed himself of the means of securing his personal safety which were open to him. He afterwards explained that he meant no reproach to Gordon, but was merely defending the government. On 24 Feb. Sir Stafford Northcote moved a vote of censure on the government for their failure to rescue Gordon, and Mr. John Morley proposed an amendment against the policy of overthrowing the mahdi. Gladstone was thus attacked simultaneously on both sides. In reply he pointed out that Gordon had never asked for British troops, and that he went to Khartoum on an entirely peaceful mission. As for the reconquest of the Soudan, he compared it to chaining the sands of the desert when the winds were howling over them. Acknowledging that the situation in Egypt was critical, he expressed a hope that they should not present to the world the spectacle of a disparaged government and a doubtful House of Commons. On 26 Feb. Sir Stafford Northcote's motion was rejected by the narrow majority of fourteen. The lords carried a vote of censure by 189 to 68. Gladstone said very little against Mr. Morley's amendment, which, indeed, the government, though it was defeated by a large majority, practically adopted. On 11 May Lord Hartington announced the abandonment of the Soudan to the mahdi.

Meanwhile the relations between England and Russia had become so unsatisfactory that on 26 March the reserves were called out, and within a month the two countries were on the brink of war. The difficulty arose about an Anglo-Russian commission which had been appointed to settle the boundary between Russia and Afghanistan. Sir Peter Lumsden, the British commissioner, waited for his Russian colleague, but the Russian colleague did not come. On 8 April Gladstone informed the House of Commons that it was true the Russians, under General Komaroff, had attacked an Afghan force and occupied Penjdeh, which was undoubtedly Afghan territory. This he described as an act of unprovoked aggression, and he admitted that the state of affairs was grave, though not hopeless. On 21 April he gave notice that he would ask for a vote of credit to the amount of eleven millions, of which four and a half would be for the Soudan. The remainder was intended for the navy in case of a European war. The prime minister moved this vote on 27 April in a speech which took the house by storm, and swept away all opposition. He dwelt on the country's obligations to the ameer, and upon the forbearance which had been shown in dealing with Russia. He closed an eloquent and powerful appeal to the patriotism of the house by declaring that, subject only to justice and to honour, he and his colleagues would continually labour for the purposes of peace. When he sat down the vote was at once agreed to amid general cheering. On 4 May Gladstone was able to state that Great Britain and Russia had accepted the arbitration of a friendly sovereign, who was afterwards announced to be the king of Denmark. But this arrangement was not carried out, and the matter was finally settled, after Gladstone left office, by direct negotiation.

Once more, and only once, Egypt came before this parliament. The financial mission of Lord Northbrook, the first lord of the admiralty, who had left England for Cairo in company with Lord Wolseley on 30 Aug. 1884, had resulted in complete failure, and the financial position of the Egyptian government was desperate. In these circumstances the powers jointly proposed a loan of 9,000,000l^., and on 26 March 1885 Gladstone moved in the House of Commons a guarantee for the British share. He protested that the loan would give the powers no right of controlling Egypt, which, in a strictly political sense, was true. But objection was not unnaturally taken to the right of financial interference which it would involve, and the motion was only carried by a majority of forty-eight.

On 15 May, just before parliament sepa-