Who was Charles George Gordon?
Charles George Gordon, better known as Gordon Pasha or Gordon of Khartoum, was an English army officer and administrator, best remembered for his expeditions in China and northern Africa. As a general of the British army, he served in the Crimean War and participated in the expedition to Kinburn, for which he was honored with the Crimean war medal and clasp from the British government and was made the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the French government. However, his major recognition came after his appointment as the commander of the 3,500 Chinese soldiers, known as the ‘Ever Victorious Army’, following which he succeeded in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion and seizing its principal military base, Changzhou Fu. This heroic service earned him accolades from both the British and the Chinese government, apart from the nickname ‘Chinese Gordon’. He entered the Egyptian army under Khedive Ismail Pasha and served in Khartoum and Gondokoro, building stations along River Nile and making attempts to end slave trade. Eventually, his appointment as the Governor-General of Sudan took him to Khartoum to free British and Egyptian forces, due to the uprising of Sudanese rebels led by Muhammad Ahmad, who proclaimed himself Mahdi, against the Anglo-Egyptian rule, where he was captured and executed
Childhood & Early Life
Charles George Gordon was born on January 28, 1833 in Woolwich Arsenal, London, to Major-General Henry William Gordon and Elizabeth Gordon.
He attended Fullands School and Taunton School in Taunton before moving to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
He graduated in 1852 and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers as a second lieutenant. In 1854, he was promoted to full lieutenant.
Upon completing his military training at Chatham, he was dispersed off on his first project to oversee the construction of fortifications at Milford Haven, Wales.
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At the outbreak of the Crimean War, he was deployed at Balaklava in the Russian Empire in 1855, where he served in the Siege of Sevastopol and participated in the expedition to Kinburn, thereafter returning to Sevastopol.
In 1856, he joined an international commission to Bessarabia for drawing the frontiers between the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
Upon his return to Britain in 1858, he moved to Chatham to resume duties as an instructor, following which he was promoted as a captain in 1859.
He joined the British forces in 1860 in the second Opium War against China and witnessed the capture of Beijing and demolition of the Summer Palace.
On returning to England in 1865, he resumed his duties as a commander of the Royal Engineers at Gravesend, Kent, to oversee the Thames fort erections for the next five years.
In 1871, he embarked an international commission to settle boundaries on the mouth of River Danube. A year later, the Egyptian Prime Minister offered him service under Khedive Ismail Pasha, while he was crossing Constantinople.
He accepted the offer and joined the Egyptian Army as a colonel in 1874, where he was sent on his first mission to Khartoum, followed by Gondokoro in southern Sudan.
Appointed as the governor of the province of Equatoria in 1874, he spent the next two years building stations along Rive Nile reaching south as far as present-Uganda to open a route from Mombasa.
His views on ending slave trade conflicted with the Egyptian governor of Sudan which forced him to leave for London in 1876, only to return back in 1877 as the Governor-General of Sudan.
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He returned to Europe in 1880, following which he served in Congo Free State, Cape Colony (South Africa), India, China, Mauritius and Palestine, before being reappointed as the Governor-General of Sudan in 1884.
As a British representative, he was required to evacuate British and Egyptian forces from Khartoum, due to the uprising of Sudanese rebels led by Muhammad Ahmad, who proclaimed himself Mahdi, against the Anglo-Egyptian rule.
Upon his arrival in Khartoum in February 1884, he succeeded in sending women and children and the sick northwards to Egypt. A month later, Khartoum was raided by Mahdist forces, cutting out all communications by April.
It was only in August 1884 that the British government sought to issue a relief expedition, called Nile Expedition or Khartoum Expedition or Gordon Relief Expedition, which was ready by November; however, it was too late.
The Mahdists attacked Khartoum in January 1885 after sensing the approach of Nile Expedition and killed the entire garrison, with an estimated 10,000 fatalities, which was stopped upon Mahdi’s orders.
In 1863, he was assigned as the commander of the 3,500 Chinese force, known as the ‘Ever Victorious Army’, at Songjiang to suppress the Taiping Rebellion. It took him 18 months to seize its chief military base there, Changzhou Fu.
He worked vigorously to instill peace with the Abyssinians and suppress slave traders in Darfur; however, he was imprisoned and transferred to Massawa. He resigned in 1879-end due to ill-health after Khedive was deposed.
Awards & Achievements
In 1855, he was honored with the Crimea war medal and clasp towards his services in the Crimean War.
The French government bestowed upon him the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1856.
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He received the imperial yellow jacket and was raised to Viscount first class by the Chinese Emperor in 1864.
In 1864, he was promoted as Lieutenant-Colonel and made a Companion of the Bath by the British Army, besides earning the nickname ‘Chinese Gordon’.
Personal Life & Legacy
He was captured and beheaded by the Mahdist forces on January 26, 1885 near the governor’s palace, apparently against the orders of Mahdi, two days before the British rescue forces reached Khartoum.
England was informed of his death in February 1885, following which March 13 was declared a national day of mourning, with a memorial service conducted at St. Paul’s Cathedral the next day.
His statue was erected in Trafalgar Square, London, in 1888 by Hamo Thornycroft, with a similar one raised in Melbourne’s Gordon Reserve park near Parliament House in 1889.
In 1890, his statue, mounted on a camel, was unveiled at the Royal Academy, after which it was placed in Brompton Barracks, Chatham.
A second casting of the statue was erected at London’s crossing between St. Martin’s Lane and Charing Cross Road in 1902. However, it was re-located to Khartoum in 1904 and later re-erected at Woking’s Gordon School in 1960.
An elementary school in Vancouver, British Columbia, bears his name while a school in Khartoum has been named Gordon Memorial College.
Various books portraying his life and the siege of Khartoum have been written, namely, ‘Gordon, Martyr & Misfit’ (1966), ‘Gordon – the Man Behind the Legend’ (1988), and ‘The Triumph of the Sun’ (2005).