General Charles George Gordon
In 1877, General Gordon (1833 – 1885) was appointed Governor of Sudan, which at that time was a province of Upper Egypt and a British Protectorate. Britain had bought stock [i.e. invested] in the Suez Canal from the Khedive of Egypt in 1875, taking control of the canal away from the French who built it. It was then in the interest of the British government to defend its investment, so they would support the Khedive against his enemies.
In 1882, Mohammed Ahmed (who called himself the ‘Mahdi’ or Messiah) exhorted true believers to rise up in a holy war (jihad) against foreign control of the Sudan. Thousands of them, known as Dervishes, joined his cause and, in 1883, at El Obeid, destroyed 11,000 British and Egyptian soldiers sent to put down the revolt.
Britain decided to withdraw from the Sudan and General Gordon was appointed to supervise the evacuation of the country. He arrived in Khartoum on 18 February 1884 and, in March, sent troops to rescue 800 men from Halfaya, a village to the north of Khartoum, where they had been cut off by the Mahdi’s forces.
The garrison was rescued under heavy fire and returned to Khartoum. Meanwhile, the Mahdi took control of Halfaya and fought off attacks. Gordon’s generals Hassan Pasha and Seid Pasha betrayed him, and they were executed for their treachery.
General Gordon decided to stay in Khartoum and strengthen the defences, sending for reinforcements which never arrived. On 26 January 1885, Faraz Pasha betrayed him and opened the gates of the city to the enemy. The Mahdi took Khartoum and General Gordon was killed. Two days later, British forces arrived to relieve Khartoum.
For further information visit the Egypt and Sudan page.