A painful revulsion of feeling was caused last week by the news published on Thursday morning that Khartoum, instead of being “relieved" by the gallant advance of Sir Herbert Stewart's brigade to the Nile above Metammeh, had fallen into the hands of the Mahdi, its Egyptian garrison having surrendered, apparently, on Tuesday, Jun. 27 while the fate of General Gordon, being still unknown, was a subject of distressing anxiety. Our own weekly review of the military events of the campaign had been compiled on Wednesday evening, and its opening sentences had expressed satisfaction at the prospect of the immediate “Relief of Khartoum”; but this paragraph was superseded, in the later part of our impression on Thursday, by an acknowledgment of the disastrous news which the War Office had then received.

The report of the fall of Khartoum was first brought to Metammeh by a messenger who went ashore from the island where the steamers stranded, and came by foot to Gubat, the fortified camp of the advanced British force, whence the news of the disaster was at once sent across the desert to Lord Wolseley. Shortly afterwards, Lieutenant Stuart-Wortley, who had accompanied Sir Charles Wilson in the steamers to Khartoum, arrived at Gubat in a small boat with further details, and a second messenger was promptly dispatched to Korti, the head-quarters of Lord Wolseley. In the meantime, Sir Charles Wilson, having been rescued from his perilous situation on the Nile island by Lord Charles Beresford's steamer, came down to Gubat, and started at once for Korti, where he arrived last Monday evening, and the latest inform ation was then forwarded by telegraph to London.

When Sir Charles Wilson started for Khartoum from Metammeh his expedition was not expected to be dangerous. The report that Omdurman had been captured by the Mahdi rendered it probable that the steamers might have to run the gauntlet of a few shots when they arrived at the junction of the Blue and White Niles; but this was not regarded as a formidable danger. Apparently, however, the river must have fallen since the steamers came down, for one of the vessels is reported to have been wrecked on its way up to Khartoum, probably at the Sixth Cataract, at Shabluka, where the other steamer ran aground on its return. The vessel carrying Sir C. Wilson continued on its way after the loss of its consort until it arrived at Halfiyeh. Here the banks of the river were lined with rebels, who opened fire with four Krupp guns at the steamer. No material damage seems to have been done, owing, no doubt, to the fact that General Gordon had all the steamers protected as far as possible with plates of iron and other means of keeping out missiles. They discovered that the report that Omdur man had fallen into the hands of the enemy was only too true, and from that position also the enemy opened fire. Things began to look worse when the enemy was found to be in possession of the island of Tuti, which lies at the junction of the two Niles, just outside the city of Khartoum. Still pressing on, under a storm of bullets, they came within hail of Khartoum. To their dismay, they found that instead of being welcomed as deliverers, the garrison of the capital took up the fire from which they had been suffering and received them as foes. No flags were flying from the public buildings in the town, which appeared to be in undisputed possession of the enemy. The palace, a well known building, visible from the river, was to all appearance gutted. Finding it impossible to effect a landing in face of the overwhelming forces of the enemy, they were compelled to retreat out of range, and then endeavour to obtain what information they could by communication with the shore as to the fate which had betallen General Gordon. All reports agreed in asserting that Khartoum was in the hands of the Mahdi, and that the city, passed into his possession by treachery. It was stated that Faragh Pasha, being left in charge of the ramparts, on the night of Monday, the 26th, opened the gates and admitted the enemy into the town.

The reports of the fate of General Gordon brought by Lieutenant Stuart-Wortley were conflicting: a messenger from the Mahdi reached Sir C. Wilson when in the steamer on Jan. 29, “telling him that Gordon had adopted the Mahdi's uniform, and calling upon us to surrender; that if we did not become Mohammedans, he would wipe us off the face of the earth.” But it was the general opinion that Gordon had been killed, though some said he was shut up in a church at Khartoum, with some Greeks. On Sunday, Feb. 1, Lord Charles Beresford, with the Sofia, one of the steamers left at Gubat, manned by British seamen of the Naval Brigade, started up the river to relieve Sir Charles Wilson and his companions, on the island where they landed when their steamer was wrecked the day before. The steamer move"d up slowly against the stream, and was not able to get up there before Tuesday. It was fired at incessantly by the enemy's riflemen, who were estimated to be 4000 strong, and a battery of three Krupp guns, at a point about forty miles above Metammeh. The small steamer was temporarily disabled by a shot passing into her boiler. This miship compelled Lord Charles to anchor within 500 yards of the native fort; he succeeded, however, in keeping the enemy at bay by mean: of the Gardners and rifles. The Tuesday afternoon and night were spent in the difficult work of effecting repairs, and the whole party at length got away on the morning of the 4th. The steamer's loss amounted to one seaman killed, seven men wounded, and Lieutenant Van Koughnet, R.N.: wounded. Several men were scalded by the outburst of steam. Sir Charles Wilson's loss was two men killed, and twenty wounded—all Egyptians—and four men of the Sussex Regiment slightly injured.

The latest news brought by Sir Charles Wilson was that General Gordon was killed while leaving the Government House on the morning of Jan. 27, the enemy having been admitted into Khartoum during the night.

The British troops in the intrenched camp at Gubat have not been attacked, and have this week been reinforced by the Royal Irish Regiment, which marched on foot across the Desert from Korti, its stores and ammunition being carried by Arabs of the friendly Kabbabish tribe. The Royal Sussex Regiment, the West Kent Regiment, and the Light Camel Corps would follow, so that General Sir Redvers Buller will have a strong force at his disposal to take Metammeh by storm. After capturing Metammeh, he will intrench himself at Gubat, and wait there for General Earle; or else he will march northwards along the Nile bank and meet him at Berber. Of General Earle nothing more need be said at present, except that a day or two ago he was posted as a spot six miles above the village of Berti, on the way up to Abou Hamed.

In a very short time the interest of the campaign will be diverted to quite a different part of the Soudan – namely, to Souakim. It will be seen from our Map that the Desert between Souakim and Berber measures about two hundred and forty miles across. The garrison at present there is under the command of General Freemantle, who in a recent reconnaissance discovered that Osman Digna was in force in the neighbourhood of Tamai and at the Hasheen Wells, the former about eighteen, the latter about twelve miles from the seaport. The movement of the British troops to Souakim has already begun; two companies of the Mounted Infantry are to start from Egypt immediately, and the other troops which are to be sent from the same country will start in about a week. On the other hand, large forces are now to be sent out from England, and there will be a fresh army collected there in the next five weeks. The Souakim force should be ready to start from its base on or about March 10, and on the first days of April it should be encamped on the Nile at Berber.

The troops which are to be sent out from England are the 1st Battalion of Coldstream Guards, the 2nd Battalion of Grenadier Guards, the 2nd Battalion of Scots Guards, the 20th Hussars, the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, the 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, the 1st Dorsetshire Regiment, the 10th Company of Royal Engineers, and the Telegraph Company, the 1st Devonshire Regiment, and the 1st Cheshire. These will go to Souakim; the 1st Battalion of Highland Light Infantry, the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, from Gibraltar, and the 1st Shropshire, from Malta, are also ordered to Egypt; and there will be two or three native infantry battalions and a native cavalry regiment from India. General E. Newdigate, C.B., is mentioned as the probable Commander of the force at Souakim, which will amount to eight thousand men. Lord Wolseley's army in the Soudan, altogether, is between nine and ten thousand already.

Our Special Artist, Mr. Melton Prior, has furnished this week's Number with several interesting Sketches of the march of Sir Herbert Stewart's troops across the Desert from Korti to Metammeh of the midday halt, with the men of the 1st Life Guards “standing at ease”; the capture of some prisoners near Gakdul; and the water-drawing scenes at Gakdul Wells, the upper and the lower “well,” or pool in the rocks, a Sketch of which, by the late Captain Lord St. Vincent, is also engraved for our front page.

Lord St. Vincent’s Sketches of the Wells at Gakdul

Left: Gakdul Wells. Right: Passing Water Down to the Troops from the Upper Well. The drawing at left, which appeared on the front page, states “From a Sketch by the Late Lord St. Vincent, Capt. 16th Lancers.”

Lord St. Vincent, in his letter accompanying this Sketch, gives the following de scription:- “The wells at Gakdul are two: one very large pool, or so-called well, and another small one, which latter is only reached by a circuitous path winding in and out of the rocks from below. They are on the road from Korti to Shendy, nearly midway between these two places, and in a desert almost entirely devoid of other water. For this reason, they are of the greatest importance, in a strategical point of view, to Lord Wolseley's Expedition, as with out the possession of them it would be impossible to march a force across nearly two hundred miles of desert: and their occupation by the British troops, on Jan. 2, solved the most difficult problem he had to deal with. I may add that two thousand camels marched in five days two hundred miles, there and back, with a daily allowance of two pints of water per man, to effect the capture of Gakdul Wells.”

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Illustrated London News 86 (14 February 1885): 169-72. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 25 August 2020.

Last modified 25 August 2020