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Last evening, in the lecture room of the Fogg Art Museum under the auspices of the Engineering Society, Colonel H. G. Prout addressed a large audience on "General Gordon and the Soudan." The lecture was particularly interesting for the reason that Colonel Prout had himself served under Gordon in Egypt and Central Africa. Colonel Prout had intended to speak of Gordon's work as an engineer; but as such a talk would have been chiefly technical, he changed his mind and spoke of Gordon's character and his achievements in the Soudan. The following is a short summary of Colonel Prout's lecture.
The engineer is the flower of humanity. He has a better appreciation of cause and effect than any other man. He must be capable of trust and faithful to duty. These are the characteristics which distinguished General Gordon. The country in which this wonderful man spent the last years of his life is an interesting one. It rolls in graceful hills covered with dry grass. Dotted here and there are groups of straw huts. Above is the clear sky and the hot sun. Near the little village bushy headed men may be seen tilling the sandy soil and women carrying huge earthen water jars. There is little variety of scenery except on the shores of the Nile where there are dense forests. The Soudan is almost entirely surrounded by deserts which cut it off from the outside world.
Negroes, village dwellers, and Bedouin Arabs make up the population. There is also a powerful class of slave dealers. The most important are the Bedouin Arabs. They are the flower of the Soudan. They are nomadic in their habits and splendid horsemen. They use no firearms, but spears and swords, which are very formidable in their hands, as the battle of Abou showed.
The Soudan was governed by officers sent by the Khedive from Cairo. The Soudan service was looked upon by the officers as punishment and a place at which to live as easily as possible and get rich. Every bit of property the natives had was taxed. The oppression was intolerable. Such was the condition of affairs when Gordon arrived. He succeeded Sir Samuel Baker as governor of the Equatorial Provinces, which extended from the 23rd degree of north latitude to the equator and from the Red Sea westward. In this great tract of country Gordon had absolute power. This condition was necessary in order that he might bring about the great reforms which he had projected, especially the abolishment of the slave trade. As The influence of the slave dealers was very powerful, Gordon met with the strongest opposition. One revolt broke out after another. Throughout he was loyal to Ishmael Pasha. The latter was hard pressed for money and called upon Gordon, who came to Cairo. A committee on payment of the debt, which was enormous, was appointed. It was composed of Gordon, DeLesseps, and one other man. It was at this time that Colonel Porut left Gordon's service.
Gordon went back to the Soudan and spent the next four years in fighting. He won victory after victory, taking all the natives who so wished into his service. After a time things did not go so well. He was defeated in a great battle. From that time onward his position was critical. He had never doubted being able to gather the chiefs of the country around him. Now he failed and was unable to relieve his garrisons. He made his way to Khartoum, which he proceeded to put in a state of defence. He had several little steamers on the river. These were made into floating batteries. Inside the fortifications he had 40,000 civilians and 10,000 soldiers. By repeated forays he accumulated enough food to last eleven months. He had an arsenal in which arms and ammunition were manufactured. When his money gave out he issued paper money pledging the credit of the Khedive and of England. So much confidence was felt in him that the paper was never at a discount.
To the last moment Gordon hoped relief would be sent from England. He sent an expedition up the Blue Nile which terminated in disaster. The siege closed down. Not a word of relief came to Gordon. He prolonged the siege for 317 days. Then he sent his little steamers down the river to meet the relief column. On January 26, Khartoum fell and was put to fire and sword. Gordon was shot in the street making a last effort to defend the town.
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