Left: The map accompanying the original article. Right: A detail showing the area around Khartoum. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The gratification aroused last week by the news, published on Thursday morning, that Brigadier-General Sir Herbert Stewart, with about fifteen hundred British soldiers, had defeated an army of eight or ten thousand warriors of the Soudan at the Wells of Abou Klea, was followed during some days by serious anxiety for the subsequent fortunes of the small British force, nothing further being known of it at Norti, the head-quarters of Lord Wolseley, since it moved on from Abou Klea, the day after the battle. We gave the news of that victory in the greater part of our impression last week; but a more complete account is here supplied... It was not till the forenoon of Wednesday in this week that the public mind was relieved from suspense by a despatch from Lord Wolseley, dated the same morning, which states that Sir Herbert Stewart fought a second battle on Monday, the 19th inst., against seven thousand of the enemy, and again defeated them, pursuing his march to the Nile at Metammeh. Twenty of our men were killed, and sixty wounded; Sir Herbert Stewart himself severely wounded. Two special correspondents of London newspapers—Mr. Cameron, of the Standard, and Mr. Herbert, of the Morning Post—were killed, and Mr. Burleigh, of the Daily Telegraph, wounded. Lord St. Vincent has died of his wound received on the 17th. The British force has avoided storming Metammeh, and occupies a position two miles higher up the river. It has opened ſommunications with General Gordon, and Sir Charles Wilson has gone up with two of Gordon's steam-boats to Khartoum. We now proceed to relate the events made known since our last connected narrative of the Expedition, referring to the annexed Map.

Our readers know that the distance across the Desert from Korti to Metammeh, on the Nile between Khartoum and Berber, by the route of Hambok Wells, Abau Halfa, Gakdul, and Abou Klea, is about one hundred and seventy-eight miles; and that Abou Klea, the last of these resting-places, is twenty-three miles from the Nile at Metammeh, Sir Herbert Stewart had with him, at setting forth, a force of about two thousand, comprising ninety of the 19th Hussars, the three divisions of the Camel Corps, in all 1080 men, four hundred Mounted Infantry, a Royal Artillery battery of forty men, thirty Royal Engineers, fitty men of the Naval Brigade, the Royal Sussex Regiment, 320 strong, eighty men of the Essex Regiment, fifty men of the Transport Corps, and as many of the Medical Staff Corps; but he must have left some detachments to guard the wells in his rear. On Friday, the 16th inst., his brigade thus diminished had arrived within a few miles of the Abou Klea Wells, having almost accomplished the long waterless march of forty-three miles from the Wells at El Faar. They were, no doubt, looking forward to a halt and rest at Abou Klea, after which there would be but two short marches to Metammeh. Suddenly the Hussars, who were out scouting ahead, rode in with the news that the enemy in force held possession of the Wells. The whole column, formed now in close fighting order—the Guards Camel Corps on the left, the Heavy Division in the centre, the Mounted Infantry, on the right-moved forward until within three miles of the wells; and as the enemy showed no signs either of retiring or of advancing to meet them, the troops were halted. They at once set to work to form an intrenchment, which should serve as a protection in case of a night attack, and as a stronghold where the camels and baggage could be left under a guard, when the main body moved out in the morning to meet the foe. An abattis of felled trees was formed round the camels and baggage, and a stone breastwork thrown up some hundreds of yards in front, where the first rush of the Arabs could be checked. The enemy's camp was in sight at a distance of about four miles; it contained a number of tents, and was fortified. While carrying out their work, our troops were watched by two bodies of the Mahdi's followers from some high hills on the left front. Towards six o'clock in the evening the enemy fired from a distance, but appear to have drawn off upon the Artillery replying with some rounds from the light guns. During the might a few shots were fired at intervals into the camp, but only one slight casualty resulted.

On the morning of Saturday, the 17th inst., the enemy were seen advancing in two divisions. Each numbered some five thousand men, gathered from Berber, Metammeh, and Omdurman; they came on with drums beating and flags flying, halting occasionally to see what course our troops in tended to take. Sir Herbert Stewart for a time remained in the position he had intrenched, hoping to induce the enemy to attack him there; but, seeing at last that they were not to be drawn on, he formed his troops into the order in which they were to fight, and advanced to meet them. The British soldiers were all dismounted, and the camels were left in the inclosure, under the protection of a portion of the Sussex Regiment and some Mounted Infantry. The troops advanced in square; the Mounted Infantry, the Artillery, and a portion of the Guards in the front line; another detachment of Guards and a part of the Sussex Regiment on the right flank; some men of the Heavy Camel Corps and some Mounted Infantry on the left. In the rear were the Naval Brigade and the rest of the Heavy Corps, while the Gardner guns were in the centre, in readiness for action on either side face. As the square, which comprised some fifteen hundred men, moved forward against the enemy, the latter appear to have shifted their position until our troops had reached a position which the Arabs deemed favourable for their attack. Then, leaving their standards still waving to deceive the British as to their intentions, they disappeared from view, and, advancing under cover of some depression of the ground, suddenly charged down upon the square. The destructive fire poured in by the front line was too much for the Arabs, and, sweeping round, they flung themselves upon the left rear of the square, where the men of the Heavy Camel Corps were stationed. As at Tamanieb, the troops were for the moment, unable to withstand the furious onslaught. They broke their formation, and the enemy poured into the midst of them. The men of the Heavy Cavalry, however, rallied quickly, and a desperate hand-to hand fight raged in the square. The troops on the other faces kept their formation, and their tremendous fire upon the masses of the enemy around them prevented the latter from following up the advantage they had gained. The Guards, the Mounted Infantry, and the sailors concentrated their fire on the band of Arabs who had broken through, until the survivors fled, and the square again closed up. By this time the enemy were fairly beaten, and were speedily in full retreat, leaving the Wells open to our troops, who at once advanced and occupied the ground.

This battle of Abou Klea was the first actual fighting in the course of the Nile Expedition. The loss of our army was somewhat severe, nine officers and sixty-five non-commissioned officers and privates having been killed, and nine officers and eighty-five men wounded. Among the list of the slain, the officers killed are Colonel Burnaby, Royal Horse Guards; Major Carmichael, 5th Lancers; Major Atherton, 5th Dragoon Guards; Major Gough, 1st Royal Dragoons; Captain Darley, 4th Dragoon Guards; Lieutenant Law, 4th Dragoon Guards; Lieutenant Wolfe, Scots Greys; Lieutenants Pigott and I)e Lisle, Naval Brigade. The officers severely wounded are Lord St. Vincent, Captain 16th Lancers; Major Dickson, Royals; Lieutenants Lyall and Guthrie, Artillery; and Surgeon Magill. Those slightly wounded are Lord Airlie, Captain 10th Hussars; Lieutenant Beech, Life Guards; Lieutenant Costello, 5th Lancers, contusion; and Major Gough, Mounted Infantry.

The enemy left not less than eight hundred dead round the square, and prisoners report the number of their wounded to be quite exceptional. The Wells of Abou Klea were occupied by the British force at five in the afternoon, but the necessity of obtaining water delayed for some hours the advance of Sir Herbert Stewart on Metammeh ; for which place he was, however, about to push on when his messenger left. A strong post had been established at the Wells, where tents had been pitched for the wounded, who were doing well.

The death of Lord St. Vincent, from his wound in the battle above related, is announced later, with those of Lieutenant Guthrie, R.H.A., Quartermaster A. G. Lima, 19th Hussars, Mr. A. C. Jewell, of the Transport Corps, Mr. Cameron, and Mr. St. Leger Herbert. The officers wounded on the 19th were General Sir Herbert Stewart; Major Lord H. A. G. Somerset, Royal Horse Guards; --Lieutenant Crutchley, Scots Guards; Lieutenants T. D. O. Snow and C. P. Livingstone, Mounted Infantry: Captain A. G. Ilent.ard, East Lancashire regiment; Lieutenant Munro, R.N. ; and Major W. II. Pöe, of the Royal Marines. The wounded left at Abou Klea on the 17th are doing well, and will be brought to Korti very shortly. The following is Lord Wººyº despatch of last Wednesday, reporting the second battle: —

Korti, Jan. 28, 1885, five a.m. “Captain Pigott, of the Mounted Infantry, has just arrived from Gubat, on the Nile, two miles above Metammeh, which he left on the 24th inst. There has been some sharp fighting since the action on the 17th inst., and the men have had ex tremely hard work, and, until the 23rd inst., little sleep. General Stewart, who, I deeply regret, has been wounded, has carried out my instructions; and we have now a strongly fortified post on the Nile, half-way between Berber and Khartoum, and we hold the Desert route between it and this place. On the large island opposite Gubat there is plent of green forage for herses and camels. Gubat can be held against any force the Mahdi can send to attack it. Four steamers from Khartoum, under Nusri Pasha, arrived at Gubat during the reconnaissance made of Metammeh of 21st inst. The l’asha landed men and guns, and took part in the operations. --

Sir C. Wilson left for Khartoum on the 21th inst, with two steamers and a detachment of the Sussex Regiment. Metammeh is occupied by about 2000 men, half of whom are regulars under Nur Angar, who has three Krupp guns, but very little ammunition for them. None of the shells fired from them exploded. At Shendy there is one Krupp gun and a small garrison. A hospital has been established at Metammeh, where the wounded are well cared for.

“The movements of General Stewart's force, since my last telegram, were as follows:–Having established a strong post at Abou Klea Wells, he left there about four p.m., on the 18th inst. After passing Wells at Shebacat, he moved to their right, as my instructions were that, if Metammeh were held, Stewart should establish himself on the Nile between it and Khartoum. About seven a.m., on the 19th inst., when three or four miles from the river, the enemy showed in force. A halt was made for breakfast in a strong zereba. It was here that General Stewart was wounded, and the heaviest fire was sustained. Colonel Sir C. Wilson, as senior officer, assumed the command. The force, leaving wounded and impedimenta in a work constructed under heavy fire, marched about three p.m. on the 19th inst. in the gravel ridge overlooking the Nile, where a large force of the enemy was establfshed. The enemy charged, led by several Emirs on horseback; but none were able to get nearer our square than about thirty yards. They were repulsed with heavy loss; five Emirs and about 250 dead left on the ground. Their wounded were very numerous.

“Sir C. Wilson in report says:—“Nothing could exceed the coolness of the troops both when exposed to fire of sharp shooters in morning, and to the charge of spearmen in after moon.” He speaks highly of Colonel Boscawen, to whom he gave command of the square during these operations. On 21st inst. a reconnaissance in force was made of Metammeh, which had been placed in a state of defence, the walls loop holed. Althougll Sir C. Wilson reports he could have carried the village, which is long and straggling, he did not think it worth the loss it would have entailed. On 22nd inst. a reconnaissance made down the river towards Shendy, with three steamers, which returned same day.

“I most deeply deplore the losses we have experienced; but in every other respect the result of these operations, so ably and successfully conducted by Sir Herbert Stewart, is most satisfactory, and cannot fail to have a great effect upon the future of this campaign. I have had no letters of any importance from General Gordon. The most recent, dated Dec. 29, contains merely one line, saying ‘Khartoum all right—could hold out for years.”

“Sir R. Buller starts to-morrow to assume the command along the Desert route to Gubat. We have plenty of troops, of ammunition, and of food. The Royal Irish begin their movements across the Desert to-day; the West Kent will follow. Sir Herbert Stewart writes in good spirits from on board one of steamers, and the last report of him says he is doing well; but his wound is very severe; and I cannot expect him to be fit for any more work this campaign. The temporary deprivation of his services at this moment I regard as a national loss. He is one of the ablest soldiers and most dashing commanders I have ever known. I recommend him most strongly to the Queen for her Majesty's most favourable consideration. I append a list of killed and wounded. I regret to say Lord St. Vincent and Lieutenant Guthrie, Horse Artillery, died of their wounds. The only officers killed since the 17th are Quartermaster Lima, 19th Hussars, and Conductor Jewell. The enemy did not fight with the same determination or courage as on the 17th inst.”

It is, perhaps, to be regretted that, while Sir Herbert Stewart's brigade was encountering such risks beyond the Desert, and was cut off during ten days, after fighting a severe battle, from all communication with Lord Wolseley, another large portion of the army should have been sent up the Nile in an entirely different direction. The force commanded by General Earle, which numbers 2200 men, consisting of the Staffordshire Regiment, the Black Watch, 42nd Highlanders, the head-quarters and two companies of the Gordon Highlanders, the Duke of Cornwall's regiment, a squadron of the 19th Hussars, and the Egyptian Camel Corps, with the auxiliary native troop of the Mudir of Dongola, has passed above the Fourth Cataract, seventy miles or more to the north-east of Korti, on its way to attack the hostile Monassir and Robatat tribes. It would proceed, afterwards, nearly 150 miles further north to Abou Ahmed, the top of the great bend of the Nile, where the Desert route from Korosko terminates on the right bank of the river. The further ascent of the Nile, from Abou Ahmed to Berber and Khartoum is in a southerly direction ; but the river course from Abou Ahmed to Metammeh or Shendy cannot be much less than 300 miles. It is, therefore, plain that, if General Earle's troops go up to Abou Ahmed, not the least direct assistance can be obtained from them to strengthen the position of Sir Herbert Stewart. By the winding river-route General Earle would take six weeks to get there. A glance at our Map, showing the great bend of the Nile, a circuit of nearly six hundred miles, from Khartoum down to Korti or Ambukol, with the intervening space of desert and the route along which Sir Herbert Stewart marched from Korti to Abou Klea, and subsequently to his present position on the river-bank above Metammeh, will help the reader to understand all the recent movements. Referring again to the position of General Earle's column in the north, we are informed that it is making good progress in boats up the river, the stations being at Hannek, Merawi, Hamdab, and Owli Island, above the Gerendid cataract. Colonel Colville, with the Mudir's troops, marched along the right bank of the river, and a detachment of cavalry scouted the country on that side under Colonel W. F. Butler; while Colonel Alleyne, in three boats manned by Canadians, went up in advance to examine the state of the river. It had been thought likely that the Monassir tribe, under the chief of Wady Gamr, the reputed murderer of Colonel J. D. Stewart and Mr. Frank Power, would fight at Birteh, thirty-five miles above Hamdab; but this is now considered to be doubtful. General Earle has issued very strict and precise orders with reference to each day's movements, and every arrangement has been laid down as to the course to be pursued in case of a sudden attack being made by the Arabs. The natives think that no serious opposition will be experienced until the troops approach Abou Ahmed, near the abode of the Robatat tribe, or until they get nearer the Fifth Cataract on the way to Berber. A chief called Nour-ed-deen commands on behalf of the Mahdi at Berber and at Abou Allmed; at the latter place he has twelve hundred men and at Berber thirteen hundred men, so that together with the Monassir tribes he can dispose of four thousand warriors, half of whom have only spears and swords, the remainder being provided with good firearms. Nour-ed-deen has already left for Abou Ahmed, there to await the arrival of Earle's column. At Abou Ahmed there are several guns and a large quantity of ammunition and rifles belonging to the old Egyptian dépôt there.

The native troops of the Mudir of Dongola muster three hundred, armed with Remington rifles; they are pleased with the treatment they have received since joming our army.

Left: Royal Engineers Building a Fort at Korti.. Right: The Guards’ Camel Corps on the Way to Dongola — Buying Milk at the Village of Magrekah. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The Sketches by our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior, represent Lord Wolseley's head-quarters at Korti, and a party of the Royal Engineers building a fort at that place; there is another scene of unloading boats on the river. Our large Engraving shows an incident of the war, the capturing of intercepted supplies on their way to the enemy.

The Eve of Battle of Abou Klea — The Guards Building a Stone Wall as a Defence. “Sir Herbert Stewart and Staff.”

Related Material


Illustrated London News 86 (31 January 1885): 112-113. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 21 August 2020.

Last modified 23 August 2020