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.