The Nile Expedition: Lord Wolseley’s Intended Route across the Desert from Korti to Shendy. Click on image to enlarge it.

Our Map of the country, mostly desert, included in the great bend of the Nile from the Sixth Cataract, below Khartoum, to Korti, the advanced head-quarters of Lord Wolseley's army, shows the route which must be taken by such part of the British force—namely, the Camel Corps and the Mounted Infantry, as is prepared to rely on land transport, and to push across the Bayuda Desert from Korti to Matammeh, opposite Shendy, which is about halfway between Berber and Khartoum. On Tuesday last, Brigadier General Sir Herbert Stewart, with a portion of this advanced force, started from Korti on this route, which passes by the oases of Hambok, El Koweiyat, Abou Halfa, and Gakdul, at the foot of the mountain ranges called Jebel Magar and Jebel Gilif, and further along the line where the Egyptian Government once proposed to construct a railway, to reach the Nile opposite Shendy, and there to meet General Gordon descending with his steam boats from Khartoum. The distance from Korti to Shendy is estimated at rather more than a hundred and eighty miles. The favourable indications of water pre sented by the marks of streams, ponds, and wells, are not entirely to be relied upon, as they are often found dry even at this season of the year. At Gakdul, which is ninety miles from Korti, and is about midway of the entire route, there are good wells; and Sir Herbert Stewart will there establish a military post, for which he has taken with him a quantity of stores carried by camels. The Mounted Infantry will bring back the convoy of camels from Gakdul to Korti, after they have been unloaded, and then the Head the rest of the Camel Corps, the Artillery, and the 19th Hussars will move forward, by way of Gakdul and Shendy, to Khar toum. A garrison will be left at Korti, which will constitute the advanced base.

In the meantime, Lord Wolseley has sent this week a large detachment of troops, led by General Earle, up from Korti to Merawi, which is intended first to inflict preliminary chastisement on the Monassir tribe, between the Fourth and Fifth Cataracts, for their treacherous murder of Colonel J. D. Stewart and Mr. Frank Power. After thus dealing with the Monassir tribe, General Earle will proceed northward to Abu Ahmed, at the top of the great bend of the river, where he will cross the Nile and reopen the north road across the Nubian Desert to Korosko. This operation is evidently designed to prepare the line which will be taken hereafter for with drawing our troops from the Soudan, and for the removal of the Khartoum Egyptian garrison. Korosko, as our readers will recollect, is situated in Nubia, halfway between Assouan and Wady Halfa; and the desert road between Korosko and Abu Ahmed, 270 miles in length, avoiding all the most difficult cataracts of the Nile and saving an immense circuit of river navigation, was usually preferred by ordinary travellers. It would appear, from this direction of General Earle's movement, that no attempt will at present be made to capture Berber, though it will be necessary to secure that place after effecting the relief of Khartoum, in order that the Khartoum garrison may be safely brought down the river to Abu Ahmed.

Lord Wolseley expects next Wednesday to advance from Korti, with the remainder of the Camel Corps, the artillery, and other troops, joining those under Sir Herbert Stewart at Gakdul, where two or three days' halt may be needful to complete the final arrangements. The most difficult part of the route for marching is from Gakdul to Abu Klea, there being no water for a space of forty-five miles, so that the camels will have to carry enough water for the horses and the men. Much will depend on the friendly assistance of the Kabbabish tribes, who inhabit the centre and south of the Bayuda Desert. The tribes of the Hassaniyeh, towards Matammeh, have been hitherto most hostile to General Gordon.

The Mahdi has taken up a defensive position northwest of Khartoum, having pithed his camp near araif, either in the the plain of at the foot of Jebel Ferreid or on the reverse slope of that mountain. His reason for selecting this particular spot are obvious. Hence he can command the wells at El Goz and to a certain extent the western route between Debbeh and Khartoum, which he doubtless supposed would be threatened by a British advance. He can keep a watchful eye on the doubtful Hassanyeh, Sowarab, amd Hau-han tribes, whose adhesion to his cause or desertion to our side depends very much on the weakness or strength of the force we may be able to concentrate about the neighbourhood of Merawi. He can,if need be, stretch out a hand to the Monassir Arabs, one of whose shikhs was responsible for the recent massacre of Europeans and natives coming down from Khartoum. He has a firm grip of heights where the Nile runs through a narrow ravine with Precipitous cliffs on each side, and he is in the best position for harassing by frequent attacks the defenders of Omderman, a stronghold to which Gordon clings tenaciously, because it at present covers and would in an enemy's hands dominate the most exposed face of Khartoum. By all these reasons the Mahdi has evidently been influenced, and there cannot be doubt that he has shown considerable strategical skill in electing to make Margait his head-quarters But native reports state this week that the Mahdi's followers are suffering much from famine, and that the dead bodies of several of their number are to be seen unburied in the surrounding country; also that the Mahdi's people are greatly discouraged by the repeated attacks of the Egyptian troops and that many have dispersed on the - news of the approach - of the British; a large number of them, it is said, have entered Khartoum and have submitted to General Gordon.

The Head of the River Column: Royal Engineers and Guards’ Camel Corps Leaving Dongola for the Front. Image and title from the preceding page. .

The detachment to be commanded by General Earle, which started up the river from Korti on Sunday last, the 19th Hussars following on Monday along the bank of the river, and part of the Engineers riding on camels, altogether numbers 2400 men— namely, 900 in fantry, including the South Staffordshire regiment, and 1500 of the Mounted Brigade, with six screw guns. The means of transport are as under: — Camels, 1800; horses, 400; steamers, two; pinnaces, two; and whalers, sixty-four. The 19th Hussars will act as scouts to the Expedition. A camp will beformed at Handab, near the Fourth Cataract, thirty-five miles above Merawi, and a hundred miles from Korti. The river movements are directed by Colonel Brackenbury, in the pinnace of H.M.S. Monarch. The South Staffordshire regiment, nearly 600 strong, is towed in 52 whale boats. A large quanity of intrenching tools is taken, to be used in fortifying defensive positions.

It is expected that the whole of Lord Wolseley’s forces will be collected at Korti by the middle of January. The last of the Camel Corps will be there next Monday, and the Essex and Cornwall regiments of infan try by the end of next week.

Our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior, sends us from Dongola several Sketches of the movements going on there when the head of the river column, including five boats with the Pioneers, under Major Doward, of the Royal Engineers, and two hundred men of the Guards' Camel Corps, marching on the river-bank, left that place for the front; and of the ferrying of camels over the Nile. Much time was inevitably spent in crossing the river, whether the crossing was made at Dongola or below Dongola, at a place named Kerma, close to Abu Fatma, at the head of the Hannek Cataract. It is not easy so exactly to time a march that boats are always ready at the crossing places for the arrival of the troops on the river bank. As a rule, not more than four camels, and sometimes less, can be placed on one boat; and before entering the boats the cannels must be unloaded and unsaddled, both to save damage to their saddles and burdens, and to avoid the risk of strain to the beasts themselves. A party arriving on the river bank opposite Dongola has to signal to Dongola for boats, which may not always be unemployed and for the ferry work. Attempts to provide a larger ferry-boat by lashing two boats together have not succeeded, such a craft becoming unmanageable in the swift stream; and the wood of the country, very hard mimosa wood, which barely floats, has not sufficient buoyancy for rafts.

The start of Sir Herbert Stewart's advanced force, on Tuesday afternoon, from Korti, is described in the telegraphic news published on Wednesday. This force consists of 1150 men, of whom the Guards and Marines number 381, the Mounted Infantry thirty-one, the heavy dragoons ninety men, with 239 camels; the light cavalry ninety men, with 250 camels; the Royal Engineers twenty-nine men, with forty camels; the artillery, without guns, twenty men, with sixteen camels; the commissariat twenty men, and 200 natives, with 500 camels; the 19th Hussars, forty-five men and horses; the medical staff, four officers, forty five men, and thirty natives, with ninety cannels, in cluding a section of movable hospital tents, a section of bearers, and a company of litters, with 750 gallons of water. There are nearly 2000 camels altogether. Every man carries seven gallons of water, seven days' rations, 150 rounds of am munition, the reserve being 40,000 rounds. The Guards and Marines are to remain at Gakdul, the other troops are to return at once, bringing back the Guards' camels. Sir Herbert Stewart expected to reach Gakdul in three days, which would be yesterday (Friday) evening; and he would get back to Korti on Wednesday next. No opposition from the enemy is expected on the way to Gakdal, but General Earle's orders may not preclude him from extending a helping hand to Sir H. Stewart’s column if need be. To chastise the Monassir tribe is the main object of the infantry brigade, but it is possible that Sheikh Suleiman, of Wady Gamr, may be given up by his own people, and no necessity may exist for General Earle's boats to go round to Berber. We learn that on Tuesday the Staffordshire Regiment had passed Merawi, and encamped thirteen miles from the Gerendid Cataract. The Monassir tribe are reported to be coming down to dispute the narrow pass above Dargayat.

News has reached Souakim that the Bishareen Arabs have attacked Rowayat, but suffered repulse and heavy loss at the hands of the inhabitants. General Grenfell leaves Wady Halfa for Abu Fatma, where will be the head-quarters of the Egyptian troops.

Related Material

You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the Hathi Trust Digital Library and the University of Chicago and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.


Illustrated London News 86 (3 January 1885): 1. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 21 August 2020.

Last modified 23 August 2020