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The After-life of General Gordon

  • Cynthia F. Behrman


In February of 1885 news was flashed to England from Egypt that General Gordon was dead, stabbed by an Arab spear as the hordes of the Mahdi were overrunning the city of Khartoum in the Sudan. Dead he certainly was and nothing could resurrect him, and yet he has survived in the pages of biography, in the comments of the press, and in the mythology of culture. His “after-life” reveals some interesting facts about the nature of hero-worship and the role heroes play in the ethos of a national people and their self-image.

Charles George Gordon was born in January, 1833, the second son of a military family. He was trained for the military, too, became a Royal Engineer, and fought in the Crimean War. He saw service in Turkey, and then was sent to China where he gained fame in the suppression of the Taiping rebellion against the Manchu Empire in 1864, earning the nickname of “Chinese Gordon” at home and a Companion of the Bath from a grateful English government. The next six years he spent in service at Gravesend, constructing defensive fortifications, and devoting much of his time to rehabilitative work with the poor street boys of the town. Another six years he spent in Equatorial Sudan in an unsuccessful struggle to eliminate the slave trade. A brief period as Secretary to Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India, was followed by service in Mauritius, and fighting against the Basuto uprising in South Africa for the Cape Government. The penultimate year of his life he wandered in the Holy Land, and finally he answered the call to return to the Sudan, which was threatened by the revolt of Mohammed Ahmed, the Mahdi.



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1 Pall Mall Gazette, January 2, 1885, p. 1.

2 The Standard, February 9, 1885, p. 4.

3 The Times, February 12, 1885, p. 5.

4 Malet, Lucas, “The Youngest of the Saints,” Fortnightly Review, N.S. 38 (September, 1885) 395412.

5 Leighton, Stanley, “Gordon or Gladstone?National Review, 5 (August, 1885), 726.

6 Graham, Gerald, “Last Words with General Gordon,” Fortnightly Review, N.S. 41 (January, 1887), 33.

7 Fortnightly Review, N.S. 37, (May, 1885), 701.

8 The Times, January 1, 1901, p. 5. Contains quotations from its own editorials of the previous century.

9 The Journals of Major-Gen. C. G. Gordon, C.B. Hake, A. Egmont, ed. (London, Kegan Paul, Trench, 1885), p. 395.

10 See, e.g., Leighton, Stanley, “Gordon or Gladstone?National Review, 5 (August, 1885), 730731. Makes an interesting parallel to the downfall of the Aberdeen ministry in 1853 and bitterly anti-Gladstone.

11 [Smith, Haskett], “The Soudan: A Talk with Father Ohrwalder,” Blackwoods, 154 (September, 1893), 348.

12 SirGordon, Henry William, Events in the Life of Charles George Gordon, from its beginning to its end (London, Kegan Paul Trench, 1886); Barnes, Reginald H. and Brown, Charles E., Charles George Gordon, A Sketch (London, Macmillan, 1885); Boulger, Demetrius G., The Life of General Gordon (London, Thomas Nelson, 1896). The most complete bibliography of Gordoniana is in Allen's, Bernard biography, Gordon and the Sudan (London, Macmillan, 1931).

13 Lieut.-General SirButler, William F. K.C.B., Charles George Gordon (London, Macmillan, 1920), p. 252. (first published in 1889; reprinted 15 times).

14 Smith, G. Barnett, General Gordon: The Christian Soldier and Hero (New York, Fleming H. Revell, [1905?]).

15 Russell, Henry, The Ruin of the Soudan, Cause, Effect and Remedy, A Resumé of Events, 1883-1891 (London, Sampson Low, Marston, 1892).

16 Lord Cromer and Modern Egypt,” Contemporary Review Literary Supplement, 93 (April, 1908), 7.

17 Lord Cromer and Egypt,” Blackwood's, 183 (April 1908), 519.

18 ‘Modern Egypt’ by the Earl of CromerAthenaeum, No. 4196 (March 28, 1908), 376.

19 Stead, W. T., “Lord Cromer and Government by JournalismContemporary Review, 93 (April, 1908), 446.

20 Hutchinson, Horace, “Letters of ‘Chinese Gordon’,” Cornhill, 42 N.S. (February, 1917), 237.

21 Courtney, W. L. and Courtney, J. E., Pillars of Empire; Studies and Impressions, (London, Jarrolds, 1918).

22 Blunt, Wilfred Scawen, Gordon at Khartoum, Being a personal narrative of Events in continuation of “A Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt” (London, Swift, 1911).

23 Hutchinson, Horace G., Portraits of the Eighties (London, T. Fisher Unwin, 1920). In his Cornhill article, above, Hutchinson mentions that when he was a school-boy in the 70's he had known Gordon, who had befriended him. This fact would suggest that he was born about 1860 and was therefore around 60 years old in 1920.

24 Strachey, Lytton, Eminent Victorians: Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Dr. Arnold, General Gordon (London, Chatto and Windus, 1918).

25 Holroyd, Michael, Lytton Strachey (2 vols., London, Heinemann 1958).

26 Allen, Bernard, Gordon and the Sudan (London, Macmillan, 1931); Wortham, W. E., Gordon, An Intimate Portrait (London, Harrap, 1933); Crabitès, Pierre, Gordon, The Sudan and Slavery (London, Routledge, 1933). Allen, wrote another book on Gordon, : Gordon in China (London, Macmillan, 1933).

27 Allen, Bernard M., “General Gordon,” Contemporary Review, 143 (February, 1933), 180.

28 Abdullah, Achmed and Pakenham, T. Compton, Dreamers of Empire (New York, Frederick Stokes, 1929).

29 (London, MacLellan, 1958). Note French's use of the honorific title Pasha, an echo from the days of Imperialism.

30 Times Literary Supplement, July 14, 1966, p. 607.

31 Times Literary Supplement, July 28, 1966, p. 670.

32 Hutchinson, , Portraits, p. 100.


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