Friday, 18 December 2015

The death of General Gordon, 1885

26th January 1885 was the day of which General Charles Gordon died when fighting the “mad Mahdi” in Khartoum, Sudan.

Gordon was a complex man who combined soldiering with a very strong Christian belief that inspired him to help orphaned children when he was not on campaign. His habit of meditating and reading the Bible for three hours every day led Queen Victoria’s secretary to refer to him as “that Christian lunatic”.

He had acquired the nickname of “Chinese Gordon” for his sterling service in helping to put down the Taiping rebellion in China in the 1860s.

Gordon was sent to Sudan in 1884 to deal with threats being made to British interests in the area by a fanatical Muslim leader known as the Mahdi. Gordon established his base in the city of Khartoum where he began to organise the defences. However, it soon became clear that the forces at the disposal of the Mahdi were considerably greater than those that Gordon could muster, even with the use of Sudanese and Egyptian soldiers. Gordon had no choice but to do his best to withstand a determined siege, which he did for ten months.

Help was sought from the British government under Prime Minister W E Gladstone, but all sorts of delays and bureaucracy got in the way with the result that by the time a relief column had been organised it was too late to prevent the Mahdi’s army from breaking through Gordon’s defences.

Gordon’s force stood no chance and was slaughtered to a man. Gordon himself was hit by spears as he stood of the steps of the royal palace. The relief column arrived two days later.

Gordon’s body was never recovered but an effigy of him was placed in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral.

The current writer’s middle name is Gordon, which was also my father’s name (he was born 21 years after the death of General Gordon). The name Gordon was chosen by many parents in the late 19th and early 20th century in General Gordon’s honour, although in our family’s case there is another reason in that my father’s mother was a member of the Gordon family, her own mother being related to Charles Gordon.

© John Welford