Classic History Books


Great Britain and Her Queen - by Anne E. Keeling

the new Chief Secretary for Ireland, charged with a message of peace and conciliation, had been stabbed
to death within twenty-four hours of his landing on that unhappy shore. She cannot forego the deep

instinctive feeling - so generally manifested at the time of Lincoln's murder - that the lawless spilling of

life for any cause dishonours and discredits that cause; nor have various subsequent efforts made to

terrorise public opinion here been differently judged.

But it was a far more cruel shock that was inflicted through the series of ill-advised proceedings that
brought about the great disaster of Khartoum. Before we deal with these, we must glance at the African

and Afghan troubles, again breaking out and again quieted, the first by a peace with the Boers of the

Transvaal that awakened violent discussion not yet at an end, and the second, after some successes of the

British arms, by a judicious arrangement designed to secure the neutrality of Afghanistan, interposed by

nature as a strong, all but insurmountable, barrier between India and Central Asia. These transactions, the

theme of sharp contention at the time, were cast into the shade by events in which we were concerned in

Egypt, our newly acquired interests in the Suez Canal making that country far more important to us than

of yore. Its condition was very wretched, its government at once feeble and oppressive, and, despite the

joint influence which France and England had acquired in Egyptian councils, an armed rebellion broke

out, under the leadership of Arabi Pasha. France declining to act in this emergency, the troops and fleet

of England put down this revolt single-handed; and in their successes the Queen's third son, Arthur, Duke

of Connaught, took his part, under the orders of Sir Garnet (afterwards Lord) Wolseley. There were again

rejoicings in Balmoral, where the Queen, with her soldierly son's young wife beside her, was preparing to

receive another bride - Princess Helen of Waldeck, just wedded to our youngest Prince, Leopold, Duke

of Albany.

But this gleam of brightness was destined to be followed by darker disaster far than that which seemed
averted for the moment. A mightier rebellion was arising in the Soudan, a vast tract of country annexed

by the ambition of Ismail, the former Khedive of Egypt, to be ill governed by his officials and ravaged by

the slave-trade. These evils were checked for a few years by the strong hand of Charles George Gordon,

already famous through his achievements in China, and invested with unlimited power by Ismail; but,

that potentate being overthrown, the great Englishman left his thankless post, no longer tenable by him.

Then it seemed that chaos had come again; and a bold and keen, though probably hypocritical, dervish,

self-styled the Mahdi, or Mohammedan Messiah, was able to kindle new flames of revolt, which

burned with the quenchless fury of Oriental fanaticism. His Arab and negro soldiers made short work of

the poor Egyptian fellaheen sent to fight them, though these were under the command of Englishmen.

The army led by Hicks Pasha utterly vanished in the deserts, as that of Cambyses did of old. The army

under Baker Pasha did not, indeed, disappear in the same mysterious manner, but it too was routed with

great slaughter.

The English Government, willing to avoid the vast task of crushing the revolt, had counselled the
abandonment of the Soudan, and the Khedive's Ministers reluctantly acquiesced. But there were Egyptian

garrisons scattered throughout the Soudan which must not be abandoned with the country. Above all,

there was Khartoum, an important town at the junction of the Blue and the White Nile, with a large

European settlement and an Egyptian garrison, all in pressing danger, loyal as yet, but full of just

apprehension. These troops, these officials, these women and children, who only occupied their perilous

position through the action of the Khedive's Government, had a right to protection - a right

acknowledged by Her Majesty's Ministers; but they wished to avoid hostilities. General Graham, left in

command on the Red Sea littoral, was allowed to take action against the Mahdi's lieutenant who was

threatening Suakim, and who was driven back with heavy loss; but he might not follow up the victory.

 

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