The story

What happened to the other European residents in Khartoum in 1885?

What happened to the other European residents in Khartoum in 1885?



We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Some sources mention Gordon running into the Austrian consulate to save himself from the Mahdi, which implies that there were other Europeans in Khartoum during the siege. What happened to them?


'In perils oft': romantic biographies illustrative of the adventurous life (1886) provides three versions of Gordon's death, pp. 533-534.

These are:

  1. He was slain by gunfire while on his way to the Austrian consulate
  2. He was killed on the courtyard steps of the governors palace
  3. He was shot while in his study, reading his Bible

All three stories are told by one witness, Rosti Ponago, a Greek merchant who had been in Khartoum for many years. The account is given as reported in the Daily News, as reported by their Dongola correspondent in June of 1885.

The report continues, and states that of 42 Greeks, only 8 escaped; etc.

Note that most of the western Europeans had been evacuated previous to the closing of the siege of Khartoum, though some of these were captured and killed along their way down the Nile.

From the referenced footnote: *"Such is one of the most probable accounts of the hero's death but a different version was communicated to the public towards the end of June 1885 by a Dongola correspondent of the Daily News. He derived it from one Rosti Ponago, a Greek, who had kept a store for some years in Khartoum, had been forced to wear the Mahdi's uniform, but ultimately succeeded in effecting his escape. He thus describes the fall of Khartoum and the death of Gordon: And now the day arrived that was to separate husband from wife, brother from sister, and parent from child. The streets were soon to run with blood I was not at my house. I was with some Greeks, eight in all, near the mosque, when we heard a hideous uproar as of men shouting and yelling and of women wailing around about on all sides. Near and nearer did this long continued roar approach swelling as it were and now bursting close on our ears. Men with frightful gashes on their faces and limbs came flying by and towards us women with torn garments and dishevelled hair shrieking screaming 'Jesu Christo!' I shall not forget that horrible din to the day of my death. We are lost! We are lost! we cried. The place is taken! But no one could tell us exactly what was the matter. We ran up to the top of the mosque and saw that the town was given up to massacre and bloodshed. We ran to a house, barricaded the doors and windows, went upstairs, shut ourselves into a room and determined never to surrender, but die like Greeks, for we, mindful of our ancestors, fight to the last.

Listen I pray you. Have you not asked me where Gordon Pasha was slain? You say everybody has said he was either killed on the court-yard steps of the palace or outside going to the Austrian Consul's house. They all lie. If you choose to believe them you may it matters not to me. I am a respectable Greek merchant not an Arab. You want the truth I tell it to you. True, I did not see Gordon slain, but everybody in Khartoum knows where the event happened. An Arab rushed upstairs and shot him with a gun as he was reading the Bible. Another Arab cut off his head and put it on a spear and so went forth into the city carrying it and brandishing it on high. The Copts in the palace, in the rooms below, were slaughtered at the same time. The Arabs came pouring in; they slew every man they could find, no mercy was shown to any one. There was no resistance. I don't think a hundred shots were fired by Egyptians or blacks. Men ran in and shut themselves up in houses, but doors were burst open and spearing, cutting, and slashing went on bravely in the streets, in the market square, in the bazaars. It was a horrible scene, this bazaar afterwards, I went through it. Gay curtains crimson coloured and orange stripped golden edged satins, silks and muslins lay smeared and splashed with blood; everything was upset and strewed about and trampled on. Everywhere was the wildest disorder. You know how narrow it was and how it winds. One corner was so full of corpses and dying that we could not get by. I had my hands tied and I fell several times in the road slippery with blood. The havoc went on till eight o clock. Then Mahomet Achmet, the Mahdi, sent over word from Omdurman that Allah had revealed to him that the slaughter must cease. We were told this. It was shouted about the streets and those that were still hidden were bidden to come forth. Of forty two Greeks only eight escaped. There were ten Jews, these were killed. I think Gordon's head I saw on a spear. It was taken over to Omdurman and shown to Mahomet Achmet. It was laid before him. A grim savage smile passed over his face He gazed long at the countenance of his late enemy. "God be praised!" he cried "can this be his?" He did not express anger at Gordon's death as you say has been reported; he made merry at his death when it was told him. The head was then borne away and men plucked the hairs out of his head and beard and spat in his face. His body was cut up into little pieces. This was his end."*

Note: the punctuation was not preserved by the transfer, but I restored some to make it readable.


This newspaper clipping from 1895 gives more information to the whereabouts of the Europeans in Khartoum. It states that "in 1887, the prisoners include four Italian sisters, 2 priests and 2 laymen".


General Gordon's last stand after the siege of Khartoum

Gakdul, Sunday
Unfortunately, no doubt can now exist that General Gordon was among those massacred when Khartoum fell into the hands of the rebels. Natives who escaped describe him as having been killed in coming out of his house to rally his faithful troops, who were taken by surprise. They were cut down to a man. For hours the best part of the town was the scene of a merciless massacre. Even the women and children were not spared. All the notables, except the treacherous Pashas and their followers, were put to the sword.

All this seemed too probable from the first when Sir Charles Wilson, with his steamers, went up as far as Tuti and saw beyond the trees that the island, the streets of Khartoum, and the plains outside were crowded with dervishes with flaunting banners and no friendly sign was given from the Palace or Egyptian ensign was flying anywhere.

Had Gordon been holding the fortified monastery, as some averred, he would certainly have fired some shots as a signal to the steamers. Gordon’s other boats and naggars were seen lying beside the banks on the Omdurman side, which was occupied by rebels.

Gordon’s most trusted officer was true to the last, but doubts were entertained of the fidelity of Abdul Ahmed, the second in command, and he justified these by deserting.

General Gordon’s Last Stand, George William Joy (1893). Illustration: Leeds Museum and Galleries

Korti, Monday, 11 30 P.M.
Sir Charles Wilson and Lieutenant Stuart Wortley arrived here this evening from Gubat, after a journey of three days and a half. They bring news that the whole of the party who had been left on the island in the Nile near the Cataract of Shublaka have been safely rescued. Immediately after the tidings of the difficult and dangerous position in which they were placed by the wreck of the steamer had been brought to Gubat by Lieutenant Stuart Wortley, Lord Charles Beresford embarked in a steamer, with a Gardner gun and picked crew of sailors, with some soldiers, to effect the rescue of the whole party.

The island where Sir Charles Wilson and his party were wrecked is but a short distance above a narrow passage of the river where the enemy had mounted some guns. Here as Lord C. Beresford was passing he was heavily fired upon, and just as he had got almost through the pass a round shot struck the boiler and left the engines disabled. For the whole length of the day the steamer lay in the Nile, unable to move and exposed to the fire of the enemy, while the boiler was being repaired. During this time, however, the crew and the soldiers on board the steamer kept up a fire on the enemy’s battery with their rifles and with the Gardner gun, which was so well directed and so effective that after a time the enemy scarcely ventured to show themselves for a moment above the parapet but contented themselves with firing their guns from behind their shelter without taking aim.

Meanwhile Sir Charles Wilson, observing the firing and perceiving that an action was in progress, judged from noting the escape of steam that the steamer was in a disabled condition. He immediately crossed to the bank of the river opposite to that which was occupied by the enemy, taking with him his four guns, with which he marched down to assist Lord Charles Beresford. With the help of his men and guns the enemy’s battery was completely silenced towards the evening.

British troops embarking for Khartoum during the Sudanese revolt against Anglo-Egyptian rule. Photograph: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Sir Charles Wilson then proceeded further down the stream for three miles, as there was not any place nearer where the steamer could draw close enough to shore to take the party and their guns on board. Having selected suitable ground close to the river Sir C. Wilson and party bivouacked for the night. In the morning, the boiler having been repaired, Lord Charles Beresford again got up steam and moved safely back past the position of the enemy, who did not further molest him, but against whom he discharged a few parting volleys as he went by. When abreast of Sir Charles Wilson’s bivouack the steamer stopped, and having taken the whole party on board again started for Gubat, where they arrived safely.

In the attempt to reach Khartoum Sir Charles Wilson’s party steamed up to within a few hundred yards of the town, and there was in the minds of all who were on board no room for the slightest doubt that the Mahdi’s forces were in complete possession of the place.

Korti, Tuesday, 11 30 P.M.
Sir Charles Wilson and Lieutenant Stuart Wortley have arrived here from Gubat, having made the journey in four days. They bring the intelligence of General Gordon’s death on February 4.

A messenger from Colonel Boscawen at Gubat has arrived here, bringing details of the fall of Khartoum. He stated that one of the treacherous Pashas marched the Khartoum garrison to the Omdurman side of the city, telling them that the attack of the Mahdi’s troops was expected there. Meanwhile the other Pasha opened the gates of Khartoum, allowing the rebels to enter. The messenger adds that General Gordon was stabbed while leaving the Government House.


Timeline: 1881 to 1890

1881 A member of the radical group, "Will of the People" assassinates Tsar Alexander II. His son and successor, Alexander III, makes no distinction between terrorists and political activists of the non-violent variety. Censorship is tightened. Publishers and writers with liberal ideas are harassed.

1881 Austria-Hungary joins Germany's alliance with Russia, a move encouraged by Bismarck, who hopes that Russia and Austria-Hungary will manage their rivalry in the Balkans.

1881 In the Transvaal, Boers (Afrikaners) rebel against British rule and defeat the British at Majuba Hill. Britain's prime minister, Gladstone, returns self-rule to the Boer Republic except for control of foreign affairs.

1881 France declares Tunisia a protectorate.

1881 Tennessee's legislature mandates racial segregation on railroads.

1881 On July 2 the President of the United States, James Garfield, is shot by a disgruntled office-seeker. Doctors repeatedly poke their fingers into the bullet hole looking for the bullet, causing an infection. Garfield dies on September 19.

1881 Muhammad Ahmad leads a pan-Islamic rebellion amid cries for war against infidels. He proclaims himself the Mahdi (Messiah) who is to rid the world of evil.

1882 In response to a nationalist revolt in Egypt against Ottoman rule, Britain and France support the Ottoman sultan. A British army defeats an Egyptian force at the Battle of Tell al-Kabir. Britain is concerned about the Suez Canal, and Queen Victoria wants to protect Christians in Egypt. Exercising her power to consult with and advise her government, she favors keeping troops in Egypt.

1882 Massachusetts passes a pure food law.

1882 The Chinese Exclusion Act passed by the US Congress goes into effect.

1882 In Appleton, Wisconsin, a hydroelectric power plant begins operation.

1882 Alexander III believes that Jews are the killers of Christ. Pogroms against Jews have been spreading across Russia's empire. They are being expelled from Moscow and are fleeing the empire.

1882 German physician Robert Koch discovers the rod-shaped bacterium that causes tuberculosis.

1883 Robert Koch discovers the rod-shaped bacterium that causes cholera.

1883 Bismarck introduces a state heath insurance law.

1883 Karl Marx dies, John Maynard Keynes and Benito Mussolini are born.

1883 The Ottoman sultan, Abd al-Hamid II, has his former prime minister, Midhat Pasha, strangled.

1883 The Orient Express railway opens between Constantinople and Baghdad.

1884 After five years of war &ndash the "War of the Pacific" with Chile against Peru and Bolivia &ndash a peace treaty leaves Bolivia landlocked.

1884 France incorporates Vietnam into its empire. In Africa, France occupies Guinea.

1884 In Uganda, Christians object to the King Mwanga's homosexual relations with young boys and men who serve him as pages and attendants. Mwanga has numerous Christians put to death, some by burning. Christians arm themselves and ally with local Muslims in a civil war against Mwanga.

1884 Britain proclaims a protectorate over the southern coast of New Guinea and adjacent islands. The Germans turn northeastern New Guinea into a colony. The Germans are trading in copra and coconut oil.

1884 In Africa, Germany declares Togoland, Cameroon and Southwest Africa as protectorates. The British feel their interests threatened.

1884 In the United States an insurance salesman, Lewis E. Waterman, creates a fountain pen that is not supposed to leak.

1884 Britain sends a force to the Sudan to supervise an Egyptian withdrawal from Khartoum, and the force takes charge of 2,500 women, children, sick and wounded. Muhammad Ahmad's force surrounds them. The British government's rejects a request for military help from a Sudanese slave trader and warlord.

1885 After ten months, Muhammad Ahmad overruns the British force in Khartoum. Its leader, Charles Gordon, is killed.

1885 With help from the British, who are involved in neighboring Sudan, Italy takes from the Egyptians control over what today is Eritrea.

1885 European powers meet in Berlin and make agreements concerning Africa. They give King Leopold of Belgium control of the Congo. Germany acquires what is today Tanzania as a protectorate. Britain annexes what today is Botswana and approves Germany's position in Southwest Africa and the interior of Cameroon. France is colonizing Central Africa and establishes a little colony on the northern tip of Madagascar.

1885 Germany buys some of the Marshall Islands from Spain, a transaction mediated by Pope Leo XIII.

1885 In Germany, Karl Benz develops an internal combustion engine. It can run at 250 revolutions per minute.

1885 A bicycle with a diamond-shaped frame and a chain drive to the rear wheel is exhibited in London.

1886 Britain and Germany agree on a boundary between German East Africa and Rhodesia. Germany recognizes Britain's claim to Zanzibar.

1886 Gold is discovered in the Transvaal &ndash Boer territory.

1886 In Germany, Heinrich Hertz uses sparks to send a radio signal.

1886 After a four-year effort, American troops capture the Apache chieftain Geronimo.

1887 The Interstate Commerce Act is made law. Financier-industrialist J.P. Morgan believes that some order is needed in commerce and he helps enforce the act.

1887 Ethiopians are fighting Italy's attempt at colonization. The Italians remain in Eritrea.

1887 The Yellow River bursts its banks, and the flooding kills 900,000 Chinese.

1888 George Eastman invents the Kodak camera, making it easy for non-professionals to take photographs.

1888 In London, five prostitutes who ate poisoned grapes have been disemboweled. The murders are attributed to Jack the Ripper.

1888 The German Emperor dies. His son, Friederich III, dies of throat cancer after reigning 99 days. Friederich's son, Wilhelm II, son of Queen Victoria's politically liberal daughter, Vicki, becomes emperor.

1888 Slavery officially ends in Brazil. Compensation is paid to the slave owners.

1888 Brazil overthrows its monarchy and becomes a republic.

1888 Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Festival Overture is first performed.

1889 The Ivory Coast becomes a French protectorate, and the English and French agree on spheres of influence on the Gold Coast and on the Senegal and Gambia rivers.

1889 In a small town in Austria, Braunau, by the River Inn, which borders Germany, Adolf Hitler is born, to a mother who is a normally good woman and of humble origins. (baby picture)

1889 John Muir campaigns to save Yosemite Valley in California from exploitation.

1889 North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington become states.

1890 Idaho becomes the 43rd state. Denial of statehood to Wyoming because it allows women to vote is overcome. Wyoming becomes the 44th state.

1890 The US Congress creates Yosemite National Park.

1890 In Constantinople, Armenians in the district of Gum-Gapu protest, and authorities crush the demonstration with bloodshed.

1890 An Indian named Wovoka foresees a messiah rescuing Indians and killing all whites. Acceptance of the vision spreads and is associated with a "ghost dance." Without foundation, whites fear that Sitting Bull, now an old man, will lead a rebellion, and Sitting Bull is shot and killed. About 500 US soldiers massacre 300 or so men, women and children at Wounded Knee.

1890 Forty-five percent of the work force in the United States lives in cities. The South is abandoning its dependence on cotton growing.

1890 Mississippi creates a poll tax, literacy tests and other measures to prevent blacks from voting.

1890 Vincent Van Gogh commits suicide.

1890 For the sake of popularity, Wilhelm II does not renew Bismarck's anti-socialist legislation. As Wilhelm desired, Bismarck resigns.

1890 Economies in Europe have been in a down turn. British investors sell their US stocks for needed money.


Khartoum’s secret cemetery: Piecing together fragments of a lost Jewish past in revolutionary Sudan

Chaim Motzen had trekked through Khartoum to pay his respects at the city’s little known Jewish graveyard, but he could only stay a few minutes.

The plucky Canadian student did not give up. He snuck back to the burial site at dawn to see how it had been turned into a rubbish dump, piled high with mounds of filth.

“I kept thinking that these were people’s families, aunts, uncles and parents,” he told the Telegraph. Little did he know at the time, but this short escapade was the start of a decade-long mission to restore a symbol of Sudan’s multicultural past.

His discovery in the mid-2000s came while Sudan’s Islamist dictatorship was persecuting minorities and mosques were filled with radical preachers.

Over the last three years, the country has gone through a monumental cultural shift. A revolution where people marched through the dusty streets chanting for bread and liberty, toppled the Islamist regime in 2019.

Now change is everywhere in the sprawling capital on the Nile. Gone are the religious police whipping women who dared to wear trousers and the US sanctions which kept the country largely sealed off from the global financial system.

Instead, the government has signalled the unthinkable – formal diplomatic relations with Israel. It has signed deals guaranteeing freedom of worship to all and to separate of mosque and state. Khartoum’s fine restaurants are filled with women in skin tight jeans smoking cigarettes.

Amidst all the changes, the small Jewish graveyard left for ruin has quietly been transformed by Mr Motzen.

Sudan has a small but rich Jewish history. In the 1900s, hundreds of Arabic-speaking Jews from across the Middle East lived in the Sudanese capital harmoniously alongside Muslims and Christians, working as merchants, business folk, doctors and lawyers.

Black and white photos from the era show Khartoum’s Jews joyously celebrating bar mitzvahs and weddings, mingling seamlessly with the city’s other communities.

But when the Arab-Israeli conflict began in the 1950s, a flood of anti-Semitism washed across the Arab world, forcing nearly all of Sudan’s Jews to flee.

Many arrived in Israel, Geneva, London and the US as stateless refugees and by the 1980s, there was almost no trace of the community left except the small Jewish graveyard in downtown Khartoum.

When the Islamist dictator Omar al-Bashir came to power in 1989, the community’s heritage came under attack like never before.

No one quite knows what happened to the graveyard. But it's clear that many of the tombstones were smashed into thousands of pieces, most probably by antisemites. Other marble slabs were looted and local authorities allowed the site to become a dumping ground.

Mr Motzen, who now develops renewable energy projects across Africa, decided to travel back to see the new Sudan after the revolution.

“There was a remarkable difference,” he says. But when he saw the graveyard, his heart sank. The rubbish piles had grown four feet high and there was a pungent smell of urine and rot.

Mr Motzen asked for and immediately got permission from the Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr Eldeen Mofarih in the new transitional government to restore the site as a private individual in January 2020. He paid for a Sudanese archaeologist and dozens of workers out of his own pocket and got to work.

Over several weeks they removed some 14 trucks of almost everything imaginable from the site. “There was about five metric tonnes of glass, car parts, a crazy amount of dirt, medical waste, lots of scorpions, and even beehives,” he says.

Eventually, they uncovered 71 graves, many of their inscriptions broken beyond recognition. The team carefully sifted every spade of dirt for thousands of fragments of the headstones. Then for months, Mr Motzen and the archaeologist then set about laboriously piecing the Arabic and Hebrew inscriptions together like giant puzzles.

Standing in the beating sun with the jangling sounds of the city all around him, Mr Motzen points to a small stone slab marked with Star of David. The grave had been broken apart and scattered across the site. But after hours of work, he had managed to piece together the fragments and translate the Arabic words.

The small grave belonged to Diana Yacoub Ades, a small girl who had died suddenly in 1959 at just eight months. With this information, Mr Motzen explains how he tracked down Diana’s first cousin in London.

The 88-year-old Albert Iskenazi told the Telegraph he was shocked when he heard the news. Mr Iskenazi grew up in Khartoum and remembered his baby cousin clearly. “I remember Diana well. She died suddenly of a fever. It made me feel very happy that he found the gravestone. Now we can mourn her properly.”

“Our happiest days were in Sudan. We used to go to visit our Muslim friends during Ramadan and wish them a happy feast,” says Mr Iskenazi.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” says Daisy Abboudi, founder of the research project, Tales of Jewish Sudan. “He found fragments of my great grandmother’s gravestone, as well as other graves of family members. There is something about the physicality of graves which is so important to people.”

“When I visited in January 2020, I assumed that physical link to my history was lost to time. There was nothing people could point to and say my ancestors were here. And then suddenly there is. It's very powerful.”

Members of the local community say the restoration project has had a transformative effect on the area.

“It was the radical government [who was responsible]. There was a lot of corruption. They wanted to destroy the land by any means just to get new shops. After that they would get money,” explains Yacoub Mohammed Yacoub, a local shop owner.

“Everyone around here is happier. Many people said this place looks so beautiful now. We stay here and we’re going to protect the cemetery.”

With most of the graves cleared and security installed at the site, Mr Motzen envisions a place where young Sudanese students can come to learn about another part of their rich history.

“The graveyard shows that Jews used to live peacefully alongside Muslims,” he says. “It’s an example of what Sudan was and what it could become – and what it is becoming.”

  • Many of the graves are yet to be identified. Mr Motzen has set up a website where people can share any details and photos they may have which might help identify the graves.

Protect yourself and your family by learning more about Global Health Security


1880 to 1889 Important News, Key Events, Significant Technology

Tahiti , Originally discovered by the Royal Navy it was also visited by James Cook (in 1769) and William Bligh (in 1788). Its earliest European settlers helped the Pomare family achieve a rulership over the island. These settlers have brought Christianity with them, and the Pomares ruled until Pomare V gave it to France (after which it became a French colony).

Sitting Bull , Hunger and cold eventually forced Sitting Bull, his family, and nearly 200 other Sioux in his band to return to the United States from Canada and surrender on July 19th , 1881.

Early Prohibition , Kansas had been prohibiting alcohol to Indians since 1860, but it wasn't until 1881 that a State law was passed on its other forms of distribution. No one had permission to brew or sell intoxicating liquors (although its consumption was allowed for medicinal purposes).

Billy the Kid , Billy the Kid, or William Bonney or Henry McCarty, had been captured in December 1880, and was tried for murder in Mesilla, New Mexico in April 1881. He was found guilty and escaped (after killing two deputies) before being shot by Sheriff Garrett (his earlier captor) on July 14th .

American Red Cross , Clara Barton inspired by the work of the International Red Cross establishes The American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. on May 21st, 1881.

Greenwich Mean Time , Greenwich Mean Time becomes the standard by which time around the world is set as +_ GMT.

Gunfight at the OK Corral , Tombstone, Arizona is the site for one of the most famous gunfights in history – the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral on October 26, 1881. Some of the recognizable names who participated include Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and his two brothers, Morgan and Virgil.

Electric Clothes Iron , Henry Seeley patents his "electric flatiron" on June 6, 1882. Electric Irons replaced the use of Charcoal filled irons and flat irons (which were heated on a fire prior to use), when the first thermostatically controlled electric irons (with temperature control) appeared in the 1920s they quickly replaced the use of the more traditional irons.

First Electric Fan , Dr Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invents the first electrically powered mechanical fan.

The 1812 Overture , First played in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow on August 20th , 1882, the 1812 Overture was Tchaikovsky's tribute to the anniversary of Alexander II's accession to the throne. He had planned for it to be played on the square before the cathedral with its bells and cannon fire as a supplement to the orchestral work, but the assassination of Alexander II had circumvented his plans, and he became skeptical of its composition. It was actually a tribute to his countrymen's defeat of Napoleon's march into Russia. On having fought the Battle of Borodino and found Moscow razed to the ground, the Grande Armée was forced to return to central Europe (with one tenth of its men).

First investor-owned electric utility , Thomas Alva Edison (Edison Illuminating Company) builds and opens the first power station on Manhattan Island, New York which provided 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.

Chinese Exclusion Act , Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which barred Chinese immigrants from the United States for 10 years.

The Orient-Express , The Orient-Express began running between Paris and Constantinople in 1883, and covered France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. It had been built by the Belgian Georges Nagelmackers, whose company La Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits et des Grands Express Européens had provided the carriages. Its fabled luxuries included Oriental rugs, velvets, mahogany and fine cuisine. The original journeys were completed by ferry across the southern Black Sea (from Varna to Constantinople).

Brooklyn Bridge , The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States. Connecting the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn by spanning the East River and when it was opened in 1883 it was the largest suspension bridge in the world and had taken 13 years to complete.

The Oxford English Dictionary , The original Oxford English Dictionary was a twelve volume dictionary that included all words from the mid-12th Century onwards. Its publication was prompted by the London Philological Society, whose president, James Murray, had made him the primary editor. It was decided that it would include a definitive, etymological and historical perspective to its entries.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , The first excerpts of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were serialized in the Century Magazine of of December 1884 (and was serialized until February 1885). This was, at the time, a commonplace means of distribution and publication, though not one that Mark Twain himself approved of.

The Statue of Liberty , The Statue of Liberty was made in France, and was proposed by Edouard de Laboulaye, sculpted by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi and funded by the French people. It was shipped in 1885 to New York and placed onto Liberty Island in New York Harbor. It wasn't dedicated by Grover Cleveland until on October 28th , 1886.

Washington Monument , The Washington Monument was dedicated in 1885 and is a granite monument that was made as a tribute to George Washington. It is 555 feet high, and faces the White House.

Modern Photograph Film , George Eastman created the modern photograph film technology. The technology that the modern camera is based on was created several hundred years ago. Although the ancient ideas were far away from the types of cameras that we know, they were well ahead of their time in relation to the technology and materials that they had at their disposal. It wasn’t until 1885 when George Eastman created the modern photograph film technology that made cameras accessible to the masses.

Beginnings Of The Modern Bicycle , J. K. Starley, the English inventor and industrialist, starts selling the Rover Bicycle which uses a chain drive connecting the frame-mounted cranks to the rear wheel.

1920's Fashion

Ladies Dresses From The Decade

Part of our Collection of Childrens Clothes From the Decade

Childrens Toys From The 1920's

1920s Music

Automobile Beginnings , Karl Benz patents his first automobile, the Motorwagen, which was three wheeled, on January 29th. His work had been done in Mannheim, and had an internal combustion engine that went on to become the predecessor of his first four wheeled automobile in 1893 . His company, Benz and Co., had been started in 1883.

Linotype Machine Installed At New York Tribune , The First Linotype Machine is installed at the New York Tribune. Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German Born inventor who emigrated to the United States, had invented the Linotype a machine that could easily and quickly set complete lines of text for use in printing machines. This machine revolutionized the art of printing.

Haymarket Square Riot In Chicago , On May 4th , 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, an unknown person threw a pipe bomb at the police line as they dispersed the Labor Rally in support of striking workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. plant. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of eight police officers, mostly from friendly fire, and an unknown number of civilians.

Coca Cola , John Pemberton begins selling his formula (a mixture of cocaine and caffeine) at Jacob's Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia in 1886. It was initially sold as a patent medicine for five cents a glass at soda fountains. Coca Cola no longer contains Cocaine but that is how it got its name.

First Dishwasher , Josephine Cochrane, a housewife from Shelbyville, Illinois, invents and builds the First Dishwasher. A motor turned the wheel while hot soapy water squirted up from the bottom of the boiler and rained down on the dishes. The company she created is later bought by Kitchenaid (part of Whirlpool).

Earmuffs are patented , Earmuffs had been invented in Maine in 1883, although we don't have a specific date for this enlightenment (enmufflement), the genius involved was the equitable Chester Greenwood of Farmington, and this town still celebrates his skills on December 21st each year. Thankfully earmuffs were patented in March 13th, 1887. Patent number 188,292.

First American Golf Club , The Foxburg Golf Club is organized, and Joseph Fox provided the land upon which to build a golf course in located in Foxburg, Pennsylvania. It is the oldest History of Golf course "in continuous use" in the United States.

The National Geographic Society , Founded on January 27th, 1888 in Washington D.C., the National Geographic Society has gone on to become the world's largest scientific and geographical distribution organization. Its original premise was 'for the increase and diffusion of geographic knowledge.' In the field, National Geographic has supported exploration, education and conservation and a number of geological, natural and literary sources since 1888.

Kodak Box Camera , George Eastman introduces the Kodak No 1, a simple and inexpensive Box Camera that brings photography to all. Because of their simplicity, ease of use and cost The cameras became an enormous success.

Inflatable Tires , The Scottish Inventor John Boyd Dunlop patents the first practical pneumatic or inflatable tyre.

The Eiffel Tower , The Eiffel Tower, or the Tour Eiffel, was opened on March 31st, 1889, and was the work of a Gustave Eiffel, who was a bridge engineer. It was made for the centenary of the French Revolution and was chosen instead of over one hundred other plans that were given. Eiffel's engineering skills would preface later architectural designs. The Tower stands at twice the height of both the St. Peter's Basilica and the Great Pyramid of Giza. Its metallic construction was completed within months.

Oklahoma Land Rush , The Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 begins at high noon on on April 22nd , 1889, with an estimated 50,000 people lined up for their piece of the available two million acres, settlers could claim lots up to 160 acres in size. Provided a settler lived on the land and improved it, the settler could then receive the title to the land under the Homestead Act of 1862 . This land had previously been occupied by Indians but the Indian Appropriations Bill approved the transfer of two million acres for settlement.

Wall Street Journal , Dow Jones & Company, begins publication of the "Wall Street Journal", on July 8th specializing in news relevant to Investors and members of the Financial community. The Journal featured the Jones 'Average', the first of several indexes of stock and bond prices on the New York Stock Exchange.

Johnstown Flood , Following several days of extremely heavy rainfall on on May 31st the South Fork Dam situated upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, USA, fails causing a tidal wave, over twenty feet in height to sweep over Johnstown, PA eight miles below. The wave swept everything before the avalanche of water including houses, factories, and bridges. The death toll is estimated to be in the thousands as there was very little warning for residents.

Several states are added to the Union , North Dakota became the 39th state, South Dakota became the 40th state, Montana became the 41st state, and Washington became the 42nd state.


Mahdist Revolution (1881-1898)

The Mahdist Revolution was an Islamic revolt against the Egyptian government in the Sudan. An apocalyptic branch of Islam, Mahdism incorporated the idea of a golden age in which the Mahdi, translated as “the guided one,” would restore the glory of Islam to the earth.

Attempting to overhaul Egypt through an aggressive westernization campaign, Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali, who was himself a provincial governor of the Ottoman Empire, invaded the Sudan in 1820. Within a year his armies had subdued the Sudan and he began conscripting local Sudanese men into the Egyptian military. In 1822 Khartoum became the capital of Egyptian-occupied Sudan and a distant outpost in the Ottoman Empire.

Egyptian rule over the Sudan involved the imposition of high rates of taxation, the taking of slaves from the local population at will, and the absolute control over all Sudanese trade which destroyed livelihoods and indigenous practices. During the process of military conscription, tens of thousands of Sudanese men and boys died on their long march from the Sudanese hinterlands to Aswan, Egypt.

Ali’s tenure as Egyptian governor ended in 1848, but the suffering of the Sudanese people under Ottoman rule did not. When the anti-slavery campaign of the new Egyptian governor, Ismail, began in 1863, Sudanese unrest intensified since human bondage was now an integral part of the local economy. Matters were complicated by the arrival of the British in 1873 who assumed responsibility over Egypt in order to protect their interests in the Suez Canal and ensure repayment of loans to that government. General Charles Gordon was appointed governor of Sudan and he immediately intensified the anti-slavery campaign initiated a decade earlier. Sudanese Arab leaders, however, saw British efforts as a European Christian attempt to undermine Muslim Arab dominance in the region.

On June 29, 1881, a Sudanese Islamic cleric, Muhammad Ahmad, proclaimed himself the Mahdi. Playing into decades of disenchantment over Egyptian rule and new resentment against the British, Ahmad immediately transformed an incipient political movement into a fundamentally religious one. Urging jihad or “holy war” against imperial Egypt, Ahmad formed an army.

By 1882 the Mahdist Army had taken complete control over the area surrounding Khartoum. Then, in 1883, a joint British-Egyptian military expedition under the command of British Colonel William Hicks launched a counterattack against the Mahdists. Hicks was soon killed and the British decided to evacuate the Sudan. Fighting continued however and the British-Egyptian forces which defended Khartoum in a long siege were finally overrun on January 28, 1885. Virtually the entire garrison was killed. General Charles Gordon, the commander of the British-Egyptian forces, was beheaded during the attack.

In June 1885 Ahmad, the self-proclaimed Mahdi, died. As a result the Mahdist movement quickly dissolved as infighting broke out among rival claimants to leadership. Hoping to capitalize on internal strife, the British returned to the Sudan in 1896 with Horatio Kitchener as commander of another Anglo-Egyptian army. In the final battle of the war on September 2, 1898 at Karari, 11,000 Mahdists were killed and 16,000 were wounded.

Ahmad’s successor called the Khalifa fled after his forces were overrun. In November of 1899 he was found and killed, officially ending the Mahdist state. Exacting vengeance for the death of Charles Gordon a decade earlier, Kitchener exhumed Ahmad’s body and pulled out his fingernails.


Whatever happened to the ‘ton of gold’ ship that kickstarted the Klondike Gold Rush?

Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

A cheering throng of thousands met the SS Portland as it pulled up to Seattle’s Schwabacher Dock on July 17, 1897. The spectators chanted, over and over, to see the gold. The perhaps slightly bewildered but good-humored miners on board the steamer waved in return. Today, a plaque at the Seattle Waterfront Park notes the location of the festivities.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an extra edition that day with the details. The newspaper declared, “This morning the steamship Portland, from St. Michaels for Seattle, passed up Sound with more than a ton of solid gold on board.” Of the 68 passengers, “hardly a man has less than $7,000 and one or two have more than $100,000 in yellow nuggets.”

While the fevered coverage did its part to sell newspapers, the Post-Intelligencer undersold the cargo. Once weighed, there were two tons of the precious metal. Still, the Portland was thereafter known as the “ton of gold” ship. And the quicksilver genius of that simple phrase helped sell a nation on the idea that gold fever might indeed be a rational, practical path to a fortune.

The gold in question came from the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwestern Canada, and the famous Klondike Gold Rush followed in the wake of the Portland’s celebrity. But what happened to the ship that started it all?

The Portland had an unsavory history before the gold rush. The 1,420 ton, 192-foot steamer first launched out of Bath, Maine, as the SS Haytian Republic in 1885. “Haytian” is an archaic spelling of “Haitian,” as in the demonym for the nation of Haiti. For the next three years, it primarily ran goods between the United States and the Caribbean. Yet, not all the goods carried by the steamer were, strictly speaking, legal. By late 1888, it was carrying soldiers, guns and ammunition for the rebel Haitian General, and future president, Florvil Hyppolite.

On October 22, 1888, the Haitian man-o-war Dessalines seized the American-flagged Haytian Republic after it entered a closed port with a cargo of armed troops. This confrontation ignited a minor diplomatic incident. As negotiations between the countries failed to progress, the Americans dispatched warships to more strenuously project their perspective. And in late December, the Haitian government relinquished the steamer. The American ships celebrated the transfer with a 21-gun salute.

In 1890, the ship was sold and sailed around Cape Horn with the seemingly legitimate intent to service Alaska canneries. However, the steamer proved too large for those duties and laid dormant for almost two years, then began hauling freight and passengers along the West Coast, including regular stops at San Francisco, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, and Vancouver.

The Haytian Republic soon earned a notorious reputation — again — in the Pacific Northwest. By the time American customs officials seized the vessel in May 1893, it had already been detained repeatedly for smuggling in at least two states and British Columbia. The ship was a cog in a multinational opium ring. The ringleaders revealed their operations to those in the know with coded manifest descriptions carried by newspapers. “Tons” translated to pounds, and “coal” meant opium. So, for example, when the Haytian Republic was announced as delivering 1,200 tons of coal to Portland in August 1892, it may have instead delivered 1,200 pounds of opium.

For most Americans, its most scandalous cargo was not narcotics but Chinese laborers. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese immigration and was followed by a series of localized ethnic cleansings across America, including the 1886 expulsion of Chinese nationals from Juneau.

Following the May 1893 seizure, authorities released the boat on bond back to ownership. It was seized again that summer in the Columbia River with 172 Chinese laborers aboard. After a series of back of forth allegations, U.S. Marshals ordered a sale. The new owners wisely took the opportunity to rechristen the steamer as the SS Portland, and by 1897, it was one of roughly two dozen ships working the Alaska coast.

That would have been the end of the Portland’s notoriety if not for the Aug. 16, 1896, discovery of gold on a Klondike River tributary. It wasn’t the only ship carrying the happy news south. The SS Excelsior reached San Francisco with a load of successful prospectors and gold two days before the Portland landed at Seattle. Yet the Portland received greater credit for furthering the gold fever that would sweep the nation.

News of the Portland and its cargo arrived in Seattle well in advance of the ship itself. A Post-Intelligencer reporter, eager for the scoop, sailed out and met the Portland. He had time to board, interview the captain and some of the miners, transfer back to a tug, and return to Seattle two hours before the steamer arrived.

At the Seattle dock, one of the passengers tried to lift his leather sack of gold off the deck. The handle snapped in his hand. Another prospector, Joseph Cazla, with $30,000 worth of gold on him, claimed he had spent more than that on drinks in Dawson City. Clarence Berry, who returned with more than $100,000 in gold nuggets, told the Post-Intelligencer, “grit, perseverance and luck will probably reward a hard worker (in the Klondike) with a comfortable income for life.”

None of the fortunate prospectors aboard the Portland that June day attempted to hide their newfound wealth. If anything, they bragged all the more about untapped riches left behind.

This attitude reflected the nature of the Klondike mining community at the time. Economist Douglas Allen found that information, even the location of profitable strikes, was freely shared. For that small, isolated population, a wide-ranging system of cooperation was mutually beneficial and simple to maintain. That system, of course, collapsed under the weight of thousands of greenhorn prospectors.

As the news of the Portland spread, the nation was inspired. Mining equipment, suddenly advertised on the front pages of local newspapers, quickly sold out in Seattle. Workers abandoned shops. Within a day, the news had reached the East Coast, and thousands of New Yorkers reportedly tried to buy tickets to Seattle. Within 10 days of the Portland’s arrival, more than a thousand individuals dreaming of gold had departed from Seattle, bound for the Klondike.

Seattle, conveniently located, became the Lower 48 launching point for the rush. Destinations in Alaska, the gateway into the Klondike, exploded into dangerous boomtowns. At the head of the White Pass Trail into Canada, Skagway essentially ballooned from a family homestead into a bustling town of roughly 10,000 transient residents. Nearby Dyea, with its Chilkoot Pass access, similarly expanded into prominence. In Canada, Dawson City went from 500 residents to around 30,000.

In all, perhaps as many as 100,000 prospectors participated in the Klondike Gold Rush. The average member of the stampede traveled around 2,500 miles.

Only about half of those 100,000 prospectors reached the goldfields. The trek was expensive, arduous, and dangerous. In addition to the difficulties of terrain and climate, criminals preyed on the naïve and unprotected. Worst of all, those who reached the Klondike soon learned that the profitable sites had already been claimed. There was little new money to be made except by selling goods and services to the new arrivals. By 1898, there was a corresponding mass outmigration of frequently broke former prospectors.

Some of the Klondike fortune seekers tried their luck at other strikes. A.C. Craig (1862-1928) was typical of this lot. He left a comfortable life in Chicago for the Yukon, which he abandoned in turn for Nome. The chase for gold then took him to Chisana before he washed up in Anchorage and became a member of its first city council.

Most of the prospectors returned to the Lower 48. Skagway and Dawson City rapidly declined, and Dyea ceased to exist altogether.

The Portland continued to service Southeast Alaska after the waning of the Klondike Gold Rush. On Nov. 12, 1910, it was bringing supplies to Katalla, Alaska’s first oil field, when it struck an uncharted rock. The captain drove the ship onto the sand, beaching preferable to sinking. The 83 total crew and passengers, plus the ship cats, were recovered unharmed. As the ship was a total loss, the crew stripped it as best they could and abandoned the wreck. The owners received $41,500, roughly $1.2 million in 2021 dollars, from the insurance company. Thirteen years after its most celebrated delivery, the Portland was still famous enough that newspapers around the country reported its demise.

By 1916, the battered hulk of the Portland was a prime target for scavengers. With the onset of war in Europe, metal prices had more than doubled, even in areas far removed from the conflict, like Alaska. Junkers stripped bolts, fasteners, and anything else made of brass or copper. Officially, the scavengers were supposed to obtain permission from the ship owners. In reality, abandoned ships like the Portland were considered fair game for whoever was willing to make the effort.

Time and sand eventually covered the Portland until upheaval from the 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake pushed it back to the surface. It was rediscovered in 2004. The history, Seattle memorial, and the dissipating ruins at Katalla are all that’s left of a ship with a storied past and its lasting influence on the region.

Allen, Douglas W. “Information Sharing During the Klondike Gold Rush.” Journal of Economic History 67, no. 4 (2007): 944-967.

“For Past Offenses.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 30, 1893, 2.

“Hayti Forced to Yield.” New York Times, December 24, 1888, 1.

“Hulk of Gold Ship Portland is Dismantled.” Anchorage Daily Times, October 14, 1916, 9.

“Latest News from the Klondike.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Klondike Edition, July 17, 1897, 1.

“A Month’s Shipping.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 1, 1892, 5.

Porsild, Charlene. Gamblers and Dreamers: Women, Men, and Community in the Klondike. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1999.


1878-1899: Chapter One: World Events: Selected Occurrences Outside the United States

France — Presidents Marie Edm é Patrice de MacMahon (1873-1879), Jules Gr é vy (1879-1887), Sadi Carnot (1887-1894), Jean-Paul-Pierre Casimir-P é rier (1894-1895), Felix Faure (1895-1899), and É mile Loubet (1899-1906)

Germany — Emperors William I (1871-1888), Frederick III (1888), William II (1888-1918) Chancellors Otto von Bismarck (1871-1890), Leo von Caprivi (1890-1894), and Chlodwig Karl Victor, Prince of Hohenlohe-Schillingsf ù rst (1894-1900)

Great Britain (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland) — Queen Victoria (1837-1901) Prime Ministers Benjamin Disraeli (1874-1880), William Ewart Gladstone (1880-1885, 1886, 1892-1894), Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, third Marquess of Salisbury (1885-1886, 1886-1892, 1895-1902), and Archibald Philip Primrose, fifth Earl of Rosebery (1894-1895)

Italy — Kings Victor Emmanuel II (1861-1878) and Umberto I (1878-1900)

The Ottoman Empire (Turkey) — Sultan Abd ù lhamid II (1876-1909)

Russia — Czars Alexander II (1855-1881), Alexander III (1881-1894), and Nicholas II (1894-1917)


Get A Copy


If I were a cleverer man, I’d write this review in the idiom of a blustering Englishman. It would be peppered with “cheerio” and “bully” and “capital” and every “r” would be dropped. The phrase “bloody ‘ell” would be repeated several times. In all, it would be a review as narrated by Kipling’s Tommy Atkinson.

Unfortunately, I’m not all that clever.

The point, however, is that Michael Asher’s Khartoum is a pugnacious, throwback type of history. Its subtitle – the Ultimate Imperial Adventure – doe If I were a cleverer man, I’d write this review in the idiom of a blustering Englishman. It would be peppered with “cheerio” and “bully” and “capital” and every “r” would be dropped. The phrase “bloody ‘ell” would be repeated several times. In all, it would be a review as narrated by Kipling’s Tommy Atkinson.

Unfortunately, I’m not all that clever.

The point, however, is that Michael Asher’s Khartoum is a pugnacious, throwback type of history. Its subtitle – the Ultimate Imperial Adventure – doesn’t contain a hint of irony. This really is an adventure story. A Kipling-esque tale of empire, filled to brimming with hard-eyed, square jawed British soldiers and whirling, sword-wielding dervishes, meeting toe-to-toe in battle. Asher shows no interest in exploring post-colonial hand-wringing or the excesses of 19th century British imperialism rather, the focus is on the battles, on warriors going at each other with bayonets and scimitars (there are also camels).

Khartoum begins in 1883, with the destruction of General William Hick’s Egyptian expeditionary force. Hicks, a British commander, had been charged with putting down the Mahdist Revolt. The revolt was led by Muhammad Ahmad, a northern Sudanese religious leader who’d proclaimed himself the Mahdi and vowed to secure the Sudan in the name of Islam. At this time, the Sudan was administered by Egypt, and Egypt (as a result of the Anglo-Egyptian War) was a protectorate of Great Britain.

After the Mahdi’s army defeated General Hicks at the Battle of el-Obeid (and cut off Hicks’s head), Great Britain was pushed to a decision: whether to abandon the Sudan or put British boots on the ground. The locus of this decision was Khartoum, the capital of the Sudan, located along the Nile.

The powers-that-be decided that the Sudan was not worth the effort. Under pressure from Great Britain, Egypt decided to abandon the territory, at least for the time being. However, Egypt needed a man to organize the withdrawal of the Khartoum garrison. The man eventually chosen to oversee the retreat was General Charles “Chinese” Gordon. As it turned out, though, Gordon had no plans to leave.

Chinese Gordon was one of the most famous British generals of the age. He was a small, weird little fellow, what the Victorians called a “mystic.” A five-foot-two bachelor of eccentric beliefs, he surrounded himself with a retinue of young boys. (Though Asher contends his interest in young boys was purely charitable, I have a hard time buying Gordon’s innocence something just seems off about this situation. Put a clerical collar on the guy and we’d know him for a pedophile for sure. I’m barely kidding).

When Gordon got to Khartoum, he informed London that a pullout was impossible, and that the British Army would have to rescue him or else watch him die. The Mahdi’s host soon enveloped Khartoum, and Gordon’s impending martyrdom forced Great Britain to send an expedition to rescue the beleaguered city. This expedition would be under the immediate command of General Herbert Stewart, and would include future World War I heavies such as Herbert Kitchener and John French.

All this context is drawn by Asher is broad, clear strokes. He doesn’t get muddled in the geopolitical triangle of Great Britain, Egypt and the Sudan. Even the controversial choice of Gordon to assume Khartoum’s command is dealt with briskly. As I said before, this is first and foremost a military history, and all those other details just get in the way of the bloodletting.

The bloodletting begins quickly.

For a book with the title Khartoum, there is surprisingly little space devoted to the actual siege of the city. I suppose this is due to a paucity of primary sources. On January 26, 1885, the Mahdi’s army took Khartoum with relative ease. What details we get about the battle concern Gordon’s fate. There are actually several proposed endings for Gordon. In one, favored by the Victorians, Gordon presents himself to the Mahdists unarmed, a Christ-like figure dying for the foreign policy sins of the Gladstone government. In another scenario, Gordon engages the dervishes in a wild sword melee, slashing and parrying like Inigo Montoya. No matter which scenario is true (likely it’s an unknown third option), Gordon’s head ended up on a pike.

Meanwhile, the bulk of Khartoum is devoted to Stewart’s fraught rescue mission. The expedition was the brainchild of General Garnet Wolseley, who conceived of it as a special forces operation. Handpicking the best soldiers from British cavalry regiments, he had the soldiers mounted on camels and set out across the desert from Korti. The hope was that these men could reach the Nile, board steamships, and then sail down to Gordon at Khartoum. (By heading east across the desert from Korti, Wolseley intended to avoid the Great Bend of the Nile). Instead, Stewart’s expedition ran into Mahdist forces at Abu Klea and Abu Cru.

These relatively unknown battles were exceedingly vicious, with fatalities that soared past more famous engagements such as Gettysburg and Antietam. It was colonial warfare at its more iconic and savage: dervishes armed with swords and clad in armor attacking British infantry squares en masse.

Asher takes very real, very detailed delight in describing these vicious encounters. In most nonfiction books, battles are usually described in generalities, with perhaps a personal recollection or two thrown in for color. Asher, however, goes for a personal approach, as often as possible following the actions of individual soldiers. He gives you a literal blow-by-blow account, telling you how many bullets a certain soldier fired and how many hit.

By now the gap had closed. The front rank had reached the enemy gun-bank. British and Beja met in a hand-to-hand clash. It was sword against sword and bayonet against spear. [Bennett] Burleigh saw three or four soldiers cut down after missing shots at point-blank range. Others fired with deadly accuracy. The veteran warriors among the York & Lancs and Marines cooly parried spear-thrusts and sword-cuts and riposted with their bayonets. Often the bayonets hit bone and buckled. Sometimes they made a wound so slight the dervish hardly seemed to notice it. When they struck soft flesh they sliced in deep and were hard to get out. Some of the dervishes grabbed hold of the bayonets with their hands and tried to push them aside…

Beja swords and spears were sharp as razors and cut through bone and muscle without the edges being turned. By comparison, the British officers’ swords were second-rate. Captain Littledale of the York & Lancasters cut at a dervish across the head, only to have his blade bend almost double. He tried his revolver and missed. A second later the warrior wrestled him down, almost severing his arm at the shoulder with his sword. The dervish was stopped by a British private, who rammed his bayonet up to the hilt in the warrior’s back. Another comrade blew the man’s head apart with a .45 calibre dum-dum fired at hard contact range.

If this all seems excessive, I’m a bit inclined to agree. Too often, Asher – who served in the British SAS – seems a bit of a homer. Instead of relating history, he’s cheering on his team, which in this case is the British Army. He’s a bit too enamored of the Tommy, with his wry wit and pith helmet and the Martini-Henry ammunition that he has turned into a hollow-point round. At certain points, he is openly gushing about the professionalism of the British Imperial Army and their formidable square formations studded with gleaming bayonets and Gatling guns.

To Asher’s credit, however, he has also lived in the Sudan and speaks Arabic and Swahili. He spends a fair amount of time describing the makeup of the Mahdi’s forces. The Mahdi’s men were not all fanatical Muslim’s intent on conversion-by-sword. Rather, it was comprised of many individual tribes, each with their own goals. For instance, Asher goes into great detail about the Beja:

Asher goes on to describe the Beja’s nationalist aims. They were not Arabs and they were not fervid Muslims. They were fierce fighters and they wanted their country back.

The more I think about it, the more I sense that it isn’t simply the British Army that gets Asher off rather, it’s warriors in general. The clashes between the British Army and the Mahdist forces represent a coming together of two great warrior traditions. As much as he drools at the mention of a British Tommy, Asher gives the dervishes their due.

Even today, it’s hard not to think of the dervishes in savage terms. I mean, these were guys who charged Gatling guns, Krupps artillery pieces, and Maxim machine guns with swords and spears and body armor. It seems suicidal. Indeed, it seems to stem from a culture that doesn’t value life.
Yet Asher carefully parses the dervish mindset and warrior ethos so that it is no longer a mass of humanity charging the British lines, it is a mass of individuals, each man imbued with a combat ethic instilled and reinforced since birth. (And Asher also reminds us that less than two decades after the end of the Anglo-Sudanese War, the old guard of Western civilization, in all its high-minded, life-valuing enlightenment, would destroy itself by emulating dervish tactics in the face of barbed wire, machine guns, and heavy artillery).

You can’t describe a desert war without describing the desert, and Asher does an admirable job in giving the reader a sense of place. It is helpful, here, that Asher is a military man who has lived in the Sudan and walked these battlefields. As a former soldier, he can look over a piece of ground and assess it as a general leading troops must assess it. This is no small thing. When I look at land, I’m seeing it with a civilian’s eyes. When I look at a hill, I attempt to find a squirrel humping a prairie dog. When I look at a meadow, I try to see if somewhere a snake is eating a rabbit. When a soldier looks at that hill or that meadow, he is evaluating fields of fire, room to maneuver, and places to bivouac. Those kinds of concerns loomed large in the Sudan, as the British Army had to move from waterhole to waterhole.

My main concern with Khartoum is its sourcing. There are precious few endnotes, and the endnotes that are included usually cite to only one source. In other words, this is a big story spun from a small spool of thread. I’d like to believe that everything within these pages actually happened, but I lack complete confidence, especially with some of the smaller details.

Still, this was really just a nagging concern. Khartoum is about men at war in the desert. The causes and consequences are not as important as the warriors on the field of battle. It feels wrong to say that an account of a brutal colonial war is exciting, but that’s what Asher accomplishes. He gives you an account that it immediate, visceral, and yes, an adventure.
. more

Having read much on the British Army in the twentieth century and on Victorian society and empire, one area I had done little more than scratch the surface (the sand even) was Sudan.

The reader is given a background to the political arrangements and past rulers up to the British presence in what was a sideshow for the Empire when compared to South Africa and the shining jewel, India.

This British interest, and clearly at times in London plain disinterest, and a man who is God&aposs Expected One (The Having read much on the British Army in the twentieth century and on Victorian society and empire, one area I had done little more than scratch the surface (the sand even) was Sudan.

The reader is given a background to the political arrangements and past rulers up to the British presence in what was a sideshow for the Empire when compared to South Africa and the shining jewel, India.

This British interest, and clearly at times in London plain disinterest, and a man who is God's Expected One (The Mahdi) are the centre for a war that would see the world's first islamic state rise from defeating the 19th century's superpower before Victoria's men expunged the memory of defeat 14 years later.

The land much blood was spilt on and over was a mix of harsh and unforgiving landscapes with at its heart a thin ribbon of green vegetation emanating from the river Nile (and it's two tributaries the White and Blue Nile) populated by nomadic tribes or people who lived in abject poverty in the few towns with little infrastructure.

Mr Asher provides excellent descriptions on both forces including the main characters, their relationships, influences and organisation, including the building of a railway – it is Victorian Britain after all so you’d expect it – surveyed with great skill by members of the Royal Engineers.

He also clearly knows the country well and his descriptions of the land and the areas where battles were fought are excellent.

To my mind he provides a fair assessment of both armies during the two separate and distinct phases of the war and the tactics used. Although Britain was a modern power with well-trained troops and considerable firepower at its disposal, it would be wrong to think of the native forces as only having spears, swords and shields. They did and employed these with both skill and courage, but they also used firearms and artillery and when coupled with their traditional warrior culture and sheer weight of numbers they were a formidable foe to be treated with caution and respect.

Michael Asher's informative, exciting and balanced account of the wars during the period 1883 - 1898 was a perfect entry for me.

It has left me wanting to read more and has added to my knowledge of Gordon, particularly (Lord) Kitchener and the most of all Sudan a country that today has a population of some 42 million people and since the 1950s has been beset by civil wars and strife that look set to continue for some time yet in one of the world’s most complex geo-political areas.

A well-balanced account of the conflict in Sudan between the Anglo-Egyptians and a collection of Sudanese tribes between 1883-9.

This is a military historical book told in thorough detail. It includes strategic insight as well as areas of weakness in each side and a good feel for what each side was fighting for.

What bothered me the most was the sheer number of fighters and civilians who died. I’m not sure exactly how many but maybe 250,000? I know many participated so that they could fight for wh A well-balanced account of the conflict in Sudan between the Anglo-Egyptians and a collection of Sudanese tribes between 1883-9.

This is a military historical book told in thorough detail. It includes strategic insight as well as areas of weakness in each side and a good feel for what each side was fighting for.

What bothered me the most was the sheer number of fighters and civilians who died. I’m not sure exactly how many but maybe 250,000? I know many participated so that they could fight for what they believe in but it just feels so devastating to have lost that many lives.

I don’t mean to come across as insensitive to human suffering but I am also deeply saddened by the amount of animals that were killed in the crossfire. Those poor camels were obliterated.

The low rating was mostly because as informative as it was it was a very hard read. The detail into each event is commendable however for me, it was too much. Also, there were so many names that kept popping up. Some for short times, others longer and you’re trying to take in their backstory and then they seem to meld into everyone else.

Gordon and Kitchener were the stand out characters.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes detailed accounts of war. . more

This is a historical period that has long interested me. It covers the time between 1880-1898 in the Sudan. I remember that as a young boy fascinated by maps I had been curious at the designation of the “Anglo-Egyptian Sudan” on the map. It was huge and the Nile flowed right through it. I wondered how it had been both British and Egyptian. As a college student of Asian civilizations I had done a large research project on the Taiping rebellion in China in the 19th Century, and there found mention This is a historical period that has long interested me. It covers the time between 1880-1898 in the Sudan. I remember that as a young boy fascinated by maps I had been curious at the designation of the “Anglo-Egyptian Sudan” on the map. It was huge and the Nile flowed right through it. I wondered how it had been both British and Egyptian. As a college student of Asian civilizations I had done a large research project on the Taiping rebellion in China in the 19th Century, and there found mention of a charismatic leader Charles Gordon who had helped end the conflict and seemed to be a principled and righteous British officer who often went against his orders and always did what he thought was right and usually acted to reduce the suffering of the people he was dealing with. There was a mention there that he had died defending Khartoum in the Sudan. My interest was raised, and when I saw a trashy paperback in a bookstore I bought it, and quickly read Gordon of Khartoum. It was quite a fanciful retelling of the story of how Gordon was governor-general of the Sudan when it was ruled by the Turks-Egyptians-British, how he had worked to end the slave trade and eventually was reappointed elsewhere. He was brought back to Khartoum to “rescue” the country from an Islamic fundamentalist leader, the Mahdi (“expected one”) who would purify Islam, or so the legend went. Gordon had died defending the city because the relief column sent to rescue him arrived about 18 hours too late. I knew it was largely history romanticized, but I enjoyed it. I certainly was not as aware as I am now, so the story of a righteous Christian imperialist dying defending his beloved people appealed to me. Later I saw the movie of the same name staring Charlton Heston, which I instantly sensed was entertaining but a load of tripe.

As I was browsing the bookstore shelves buying books for my trip to Mexico (a very serious undertaking) I saw this volume, inspected it, and bought it, hoping that I would now have a more historically accurate picture of the events.

As usual, I began by finding out more about the author. Some background information usually helps me ascertain my feelings about the text. He had been a British military officer in the SAS and then had become an author, achieving much success in many different types of writing. He also was fascinated by this region of the world and had won awards for desert exploration in the Sudan from the Royal Geographic Society. He lived in Sudan for ten years and spoke fluent Arabic. He now lives in Kenya with his Arabist wife and two children.

This text is, in fact, a very detailed retelling of the entire story, from the original massacre of the Anglo-Egyptian force under Hicks in 1883 by the Mahdi to the fall of Khartoum to the Mahdi including Gordon’s death to the eventual capture of Khartoum by Kitchener in 1899. There are several interesting points about the text that are worth remembering.

First, it seems somewhat balanced. A European will always tell such a story from a European perspective, but he did try to balance the story. He was very critical of the British officer corps for its lack of military competence, its reward of “chumminess” over skill, the purchase of commissions and its indifference and hostility to those who were part of the British Empire. His indictment of many officers was specific and cutting. These elements were interesting to me as they showed the arrogance of the British forces in specific detail with stories of specific officers and how they behaved. He showed remarkable respect for the Sudanese people, their various cultures and their tremendous survival skills. He talks a lot about how the Beja, specifically, had been defeating invading armies since the time of the Pharaohs and had always been successful. He specifically praises the skills and cleverness of the Haddendowa leaders Osman Digna, a survivor who outlived it all. His salute to the Sudanese as fighters also seems sincere, whether for the courage of those fighting for the Mahdi and for the steadiness and reliability of the Sudanese and Egyptians who fought with the British. His strongest indictment comes of the Turco-Egyptian ruling class both in Sudan and Egypt as corrupt, cowardly and self-centered. He seems to agree with Gordon, that they were the roots of the problem there and that the people had good reason to rise up against them. Asher’s reliance on British sources is to be expected, but he also seems to have used many Arabic sources as well as oral histories in telling the story.

Second, he saw the conflict as not exclusively religious. The Mahdi provided a charismatic figure around which to rally, and while many did so for religious reasons, there were also many practical reasons to support this regime given the corruption and mismanagement of the Turco-Egyptian government. Many of the ethic groups had not rallied to the Mahdi, but when the existing government collapsed and Gordon was killed, they naturally rallied to the winning side. Likewise, when the Mahdi died soon after the fall of Khartoum, the Islamist state introduced by his successor was a bit too harsh for them and fractures began to develop along ethnic lines.

Third, the descriptions of the battles themselves are detailed and horrifying. I wish I had read this as a boy, and it might have cured me of some of the lingering military romanticism that it took me another ten years to eliminate. His descriptions of steel-on-steel battles (quite often the British steel failed) and the movements of troops were also gripping. The fact that many battles were over quickly but seemed like an eternity was fleshed out by substantial detail and comments written later by soldiers who survived. His strongest salute was to the individual soldiers who showed courage and determination in the face of tremendous adversity, both with the opponents and with the elements.

Fourth, water was often the key. Running around the desert with large military forces requires water, and it was often pivotal. British forces that came upon a watering hole defended by forces of he Mahdi had no choice but to attack, as did the Mahdi’s successor near the end of the conflict. The railroads that were built solved some of this problem, but even they had to carry huge amounts of water to power the steam engines, and at one point half of the train was carrying water for itself. One interesting story is how a surveyor and water diviner brought in by the British actually found two new water supplies that were critical in assisting them cross a route no native would think could be used.

Fifth, the book does a good job of setting the stage for the modern phase of Islamic fundamentalism without becoming too preachy. This was one of the first truly Islamic states established, and was the only colony to win independence by force of arms in Africa. The agenda of the Mahdi and his regime very much set the stage for future Sudanese politics and the rise of Bashir in 1989. Osama bin-Laden spent years in Sudan soaking up the teachings of the Mahdi and his modern followers. It also documented the severe ethnic divides in the country that are being played out today in the crisis in Darfur. I liked the way he made his point but let the reader draw his or her own conclusions.

It was a very good read and I would commend it to all persons of a serious bent. Now that I have some additional solid information about the period I am perhaps ready to engage my colleague at the University of Vermont Darius Jonathan, who is from Sudan, as well as my friend Hassan Suleiman who I met in Qatar, also a Sudanese. Then I might really start learning.
. more

Funny how just last week thanks to that book on Stanley Livingstone I realized how little I knew about African history, and found this in my stack next up! From the Central African slave trade of the 1860s and 1870s, I learnt in this one all about the slave traders in Northern Africa in the 1880s & 90s and all the repercussions from this.

Sudan was the first African country to have a successful revolt against its colonial overlord--but the reason for the revolt was the new ban on slavery Turkey Funny how just last week thanks to that book on Stanley Livingstone I realized how little I knew about African history, and found this in my stack next up! From the Central African slave trade of the 1860s and 1870s, I learnt in this one all about the slave traders in Northern Africa in the 1880s & 90s and all the repercussions from this.

Sudan was the first African country to have a successful revolt against its colonial overlord--but the reason for the revolt was the new ban on slavery Turkey enacted under British and European pressure. Arab traders who had settled in Sudan, who were used to raiding villages to the south, killing all the men, and enslaving the women and children, found themselves with no economy. At the same time, Egypt-Turkey decided to modernize Sudan and passed ruinous taxation. The Turks were also horrible rulers, with corrupt officials pouring civil servant and army wages right into their own pockets. Some troops hadn't been paid in years and were on the verge of mutiny.

Insert one religious fanatic, the Mad Mahdi, who thinks he's the second coming, to fight along Jesus in an apocalyptic battle against the apostates--just what ISIS believes. And this is the birth of Islamic fundamentalism. From women going around in loincloths in a fun communal atmosphere, the Mahdi forces strict dress codes on all females over 5, and floggings for all sorts of crimes. He gathers his dervishes: pissed off slavers, those angry about taxation and wages, those gang pressed, and falls upon a 11,000 of Turkish & Egyptian troops led by an English commander, Hicks, slaughtering them all.

God's perfect idiot, General "Chinese" Gordon is now dispatched to Khartoum to get the lay of the land and prepare an evacuation. On no circumstances is he to say that the British are coming to the rescue--he goes about his mission in perhaps the worst way ever. The author is pretty pro-Gordon and is upset about his reputation's fall and the fact the Gordon statue got quietly taken down in Trafalgar Square--but he seemed ridiculously stupid to me. Granted he went out nobly, but he also ordered every male over 8 to join him in defense. When the situation that you personally bungled horribly is now officially ruined and you're going to make a last stand, it seems kind of bad to institute a Hitler Youth defense. (Especially since he seemed a little pedophile-ish, but I guess no way to know for sure.) Sad his head got cut off, but so did 11,000+ other people.

Gordon's death and the fall of Khartoum was Queen Victoria's personal low point of her reign. It's surprising that there was not a constitutional crisis, because it seemed pretty obvious how much she hated Gladstone and her views on the "rescue attempt." British government toppled over the public furor of this historical version of Benghazi. The death tolls and mass rapes in this book are on the sobering massive size and the author does a good job showing the panoramic of the disaster. The US ambassador was also killed so was the Austrian ambassador and his family--gruesomely, even his pet parrot.

There was a half-hearted attempt eventually that had some success with all British troops, but the British military really didn't want to fight in Sudan and took advantage of distractions in Afghanistan to retreat. The Mahdi died soon after, from disease or poisoned by a woman whose family he killed, and his henchman, takes over. 15 years of atrocities, wars with Ethiopia and Eritrea and the British come back for revenge (well revenge and the fact that France has been looking too close at Sudan herself and now UK wants it again).

Book picks up here with Lord Kitchener taking it over and you see why he was such an icon. The railroad he had built to ferry the troops across the desert is still in use in Sudan and you can see one of his gunboats used in Cairo. Winston Churchill, still a puppy, manages to sneak into the troops with a press pass and is there to witness most of the war's great events. Sometimes ahead of the front lines, since he seemed to get himself cut off in front of the enemy, getting hit by friendly fire, quite a bit in his excitement.

First time British used special forces. The rise of the Egyptian Army. The last regimental cavalry charge. Last time a medieval army fought. I had no idea this war was so monumental. Currently, there's probably no war in the past that affects us so much today presently. The Mahdi were anti any technology invented after Mohammed, so guns were out as apostate tools. They suborned or bribed a pagan tribe from the hills as rifleman, but majority found with spears and swords. He stressed this a bunch, but when he later talks about the bullet factories run by the Mahdists and how Abdallahi's son was the general of the rifleman, I'd have liked more explanations.

The Mahdi and his successor Abdallahi, while their rise from penniless drifters to absolute power is amazing, were tyrants. And it's hard to feel sad about the takedown of first radical terrorists, it seems a lot went down with them and even the British were shocked at the slaughter. The dervishes many said were the greatest enemy the British empire ever fought against ("beyond perfection") and on one day in the Battle of Omdurman, entire villages and tribes walked into machine guns. 50,000 dervishes with spears against 25,000 British & Egyptians with Maxims and artillery. None of the dervishes even made it within 800 yards of the British front lines.

Some of the British soldiers in this battle later were mown down themselves at the Somme.

Giant points to the author for what happened after portion--so many don't do that--with a wrap up for all the main personages. How Kitchener after Sudan in Egypt worked for pro-Arab revolt against Turkey, dying on the day it broke out. How Mahdism always lurked beneath the surface in Sudan, springing out again with the same platform in 1946. And how a Mahdist politician took in Osama Bin Ladin, who left Sudan even more radical than before. You can't help also reading in this book, about the herds of elephants numbering a thousand that you know are not there now. Or anything to do with Darfur, which has parallels throughout this book. It's a "huh" moment when you realize that 9/11 can be tracked directly to slavery and a British-Ottoman pact. Anyways, if you were like me, and knew absolutely nothing about Sudan in 1890s, this book will tell you everything you need to know.
. more


Watch the video: How did Britain Conquer India? Animated History (August 2022).