THOMAS M. M. HEMY (1852-1937) - PAGE 54


Thomas M. M. Hemy datapages 01, 02 & 03 are now on site. Plus all of the other image pages, accessible though the index on page 05. PRIOR PAGE / NEXT PAGE

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The empty box above is not a mistake. It is to remind the webmaster that Thomas Hemy's famous work Running the Gauntlet is still to be located. Someday it will surely 'turn up', & it would not be a surprise if when it does, it bears a different title than that stated above.

What the webmaster knows today about the work is very limited. The work was referred to in the Jan. 27, 1894 edition of Boy's Own Paper, where the following words appear.

Another of his successful works was Running the Gauntlet, a picture of a small river steamer, heavily and clumsily protected by great baulks of timber, carrying relief to Khartoum. Exhibited in Bond Street, then taken to Osborne by Royal command, subsequently sent round the provinces, it now finds a worthy resting-place at Greenwich Hospital, as the gift of Lord Charles Beresford.

The story is a most interesting story in the annals of British military history. And I will try, hopefully in relatively few words, to explain what would seem to be the subject matter of the work.

In Jan. 1885, 'Chinese' Gordon was in Khartoum, under siege & surrounded by the armies of Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah (Aug. 12 1844/Jun. 22 1885) a Muslim religious leader better known to history perhaps as 'The Mahdi'. Gordon's assignment was a most difficult one. For reasons that might better be read in detail elsewhere, the British & the Egyptians had little choice but to abandon the Sudan. Gordon's role was to extricate the many Egyptian garrisons from the area & he took up that role in Dec. 1883.

Gordon was no stranger to the Sudan. He had been appointed Governor-General of the Sudan by Khedive Ismail of Egypt in 1877. The economy was then dominated by the slave trade which was controlled by a very tiny Arab minority. He started to introduce what might be termed 'good government' similar to that which had successfully been introduced into India. And one of the things he determined to do was end the slave trade. His policies in that area were effective but their effects on the economy were disastrous. Increasingly his activities were seen to be a European Christian crusade & anti Muslim in nature. His political support declined after Khedive Ismail of Egypt abdicated in favour of his son Tawfiq in 1877. Gordon wore himself out with his efforts, & totally exhausted, he left his post in 1880 & left the Sudan in 1881.

Now it has been many years since the webmaster last visited this page. He does so in Aug. 2009 when the site must be moved to a new location (or vanish). He finds that the earlier page may never have been completed. In particular he found what appears to be a review text re 'The Story of the Dervish Mohammed Ahmed'. By Richard A. Bermann. With an Introduction by the Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill, P.C., C.H, M.P. The Macmillan Company. New York, 1932. Illustrated. First American Edition. Illustrated. xiv, [1], 318 pages. A fantastic account of Mohammed Ahmed who defeated General Gordon of Khartoum and had his head brought in as a trophy. I should add that the webmaster does not recall, in 2009, where the following text came from probably 8 or 9 years ago. It was on this page as continuous text with no paragraphs, & the webmaster has introduced paragraphs to make the text more understandable, but maybe at incorrect places.

'Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah (otherwise known as The Mahdi or Mohammed Ahmed) (12 August 1844–June 22, 1885) was a Muslim religious leader, a faqir, in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. He declared a jihad and raised an army after declaring himself the Mahdi in 1881, and led a successful war of liberation from the Ottoman-Egyptian military occupation. He died soon after his liberation of Khartoum, and the state he founded fell victim to colonial manoeuvrings that doomed it to reconquest in 1899. An understanding of the British role in these events is important.

In 1869 the Suez Canal opened, and to defend the waterway Britain sought a greater role in Egyptian affairs. In 1873 the British government supported a program where an Anglo-French debt commission assumed responsibility for managing Egypt's fiscal affairs. This commission eventually forced Khedive Ismail to abdicate in favor of his son Tawfiq in 1877, leading to a period of political turmoil. Ismail had appointed Charles George Gordon Governor-General of the Sudan in 1877. Soon after he arrived he started to end the slave trade, which at that point dominated the economy which was controlled by the tiny minority of Arabs. Before his arrival some 7 out of 8 blacks in the Sudan were enslaved by the tiny minority of Arabs; the native Africans formed well over 80% of the overall population. Gordon's policies were effective, but the effects on the economy were disastrous, and soon the Arab Social Ascendancy came to see this not as a liberation from slavery, but as a modern-day European Christian crusade and Muslim and Arab social dominance. It was this anger that fed the Ansars' ranks.

Upon Ismail's abdication Gordon found himself with dramatically decreased support. He eventually resigned his post in 1880, exhausted by years of work, and left early the next year. His policies were soon abandoned by the new governors, but the anger and discontent of the dominant Arab minority was left unaddressed. Although the Egyptians were fearful of the deteriorating conditions, the British refused to get involved, "Her Majesty’s Government are in no way responsible for operations in the Sudan", the Foreign Secretary Earl Granville noted. Even after the Mahdi proclaimed a jihad or holy war, against the Egyptian Ottoman government, Muhammad Ahmad was dismissed as a religious fanatic. The government paid more attention when his religious zeal turned to denunciation of tax collectors. To avoid arrest, the Mahdi and a party of his followers, the Ansar "Helpers" (known in the West inaccurately as "the Dervishes"), made a long march to Kurdufan. There he gained a large number of recruits, especially from the Baqqara. Muhammad Ahmad also wrote to many Sudanese tribal leaders and gained their support, or at least neutrality, and he was also supported by the slave traders who were looking to return to power. They were also joined by the Hadendowa Beja, known as the Fuzzy-wuzzies, who were rallied to the Mahdi by an Ansar captain, Usman Digna.

Late in 1883, the Ansar, armed only with spears and swords, overwhelmed an 8000-man Egyptian force not far from Al Ubayyid ("El Obied") in the Battle of El Obied, and seized their rifles and ammunition. The Mahdi followed up this victory by laying siege to al-Ubayyid and starving it into submission after four months. The town remained the headquarters of the Ansar for much of the decade. The Ansar, now 30,000 strong, then defeated an 8000-man Egyptian relief force at Sheikan, captured Darfur, and, in 1883, took Jabal Qadir in to the south. The western half of the Sudan was now largely in Ansar hands, and this state of affairs lasted for several years. Their success emboldened the Beja, who wiped out a smaller force of Egyptians under the command of Colonel Valentine Baker near the Red Sea port of Suakim. Major-General Gerald Graham was sent with a force of 4000 British and defeated Digna at El Teb on February 29th, but were themselves hard-hit two weeks later at Tamai. Graham eventually withdrew his forces.

Given their general lack of interest in the area, the British decided to abandon the Sudan in December 1883. While their forces still held several northern towns and Red Sea ports, they ordered Gordon to return to Khartoum and organize a withdrawal of the Egyptian garrisons there.

Gordon reached Khartoum in February 1884. At first he was greeted with jubilation as many of the tribes in the immediate area were at odds with the Mahdists. Transportation northward was still open and the telegraph lines intact. However, the uprising of the Beja soon after his arrival changed things considerably, reducing communications to runners. Gordon considered the routes northward to be too dangerous to extricate the garrisons and so pressed for reinforcements to be sent from Cairo to help with the withdrawal. He also suggested that his old enemy Zubayr, a fine military commander, be given tacit control of the Sudan in order to provide a counter to the Ansar. London rejected both proposals, and so Gordon prepared for a fight.

In March 1884, Gordon tried a small offensive to clear the road northward to Egypt but a number of the officers in the Egyptian force went over to the enemy and their forces fled the field after firing a single salvo. This convinced him that he could carry out only defensive operations and he returned to Khartoum to construct defensive works. By April 1884, Gordon had managed to evacuate some 2500 of the foreign population that were able to make the trek northwards. His mobile force under Colonel Stewart then returned to the city after repeated incidents where the 200 or so Egyptian forces under his command would turn and run at the slightest provocation. That month the Ansar reached Khartoum and Gordon was completely cut off. Nevertheless, his defensive works, consisting mainly of mines, proved so frightening to the Ansar that they were unable to penetrate into the city. Stewart maintained a number of small skirmishes using gunboats on the Nile once the waters rose, and in August managed to recapture Berber for a short time. However, Stewart was killed soon after in another foray from Berber to Dongola, a fact Gordon only learned about in a letter from the Mahdi himself. Under increasing pressure from the public to support him, the British eventually ordered Lord Garnet Joseph Wolseley to relieve Gordon. He was already deployed in Egypt due to the attempted coup there earlier, and was able to form up a large force of infantry, moving forward at an extremely slow rate. Realizing they would take some time to arrive, Gordon pressed for him to send forward a "flying column" of camel-borne troops under the command of Brigadier-General Sir Herbert Stuart. This force was attacked by the Mahdists twice, first at Abu Klea (Abu Tulayh?) and two days later nearer Metemma. Twice the British square held and the Mahdists were repelled with heavy losses. At Metemma, 100 miles north of Khartoum, Wolseley's advance guard met four of Gordon's steamers, sent down to provide speedy transport for the first relieving troops. They gave Wolseley a dispatch from Gordon claiming that the city was about to fall. However, only moments later a runner brought in a message claiming the city could hold out for a year. Deciding to believe the latter, the force stopped while they refit the steamers to hold more troops. They finally arrived in Khartoum on 28 January 1885 to find the town had fallen two days earlier.

Faraz Pasha had treacherously opened the gates and let the Ansar in. Gordon was killed on the steps of the palace and beheaded although the Mahdi had expressly ordered for him to be taken alive.

Wolseley's force retreated after attempting to force their way to the center of the town on ships, being met with a hail of fire. Kassala and Sannar fell soon after and by the end of 1885 the Ansar had begun to move into the southern regions of Sudan. In all Sudan, only Suakin, reinforced by Indian Army troops, and Wadi Halfa on the northern frontier remained in Anglo-Egyptian hands.

Kitchener's forces, the Anglo-Egyptian Nile Expeditionary Force, consisted of 25,800 men, including 8,600 British regulars, and a flotilla of gunboats. They reached and fortified Wadi Halfa in 1895, and started south at a very slow pace the next March. In September Kitchener captured Dongola, and constructed several rail lines to ensure supplies. There were small battles at Abu Hamad and Atbara, both times the Ansar were defeated by the massive English firepower which now included Maxim machine guns. Kitchener then marched on Omdurman. On 2 September 1898, the Battle of Omdurman opened with a frontal assault by the Mahdiyya's 52,000-man army. Over the next five hours, some 11,000 Mahdiyya forces would be killed against about 40 of the Anglo-Egyptian forces (and about 400 wounded).

The Mahdiyya ended at this point and the British once again took control of the Sudan. The Khalifa escaped and reformed an army, but this was defeated in 1899 at the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat and the Khalifa was killed. During their short reign, the Mahdiyya had destroyed the Sudanese economy and about half of the population died due to famine, disease, persecution and warfare. Their efforts to wipe out the former tribal differences left few loyalties intact, and internecine warfare was common. In general the country welcomed the fall of the Mahdiyya.

Thomas M. M. Hemy datapages 01, 02 & 03 are now on site. Plus all of the other image pages, accessible though the index on page 05.

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