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Ismailia By Sir Samuel White Baker Characters: 22231

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

ON 6th November, 1871, Lieutenant Baker returned from Gondokoro with four noggurs, and the entire detachment of Lieutenant-Colonel Achmet. The news was as follows:-

After the departure of Major Abdullah, the natives had attacked the camp of Colonel Achmet, and had wounded him in the back with a barbed arrow, which had to be cut out. Another arrow had passed through the heart of his servant, killing him on the spot. Several soldiers had been wounded, but not seriously. The corn had been delivered from his station to the magazines at Gondokoro.

On 3rd November, thirty vessels had left Gondokoro for Khartoum, taking about 1,100 people, including children, women, sailors, soldiers, and invalids.

In spite of my positive orders, that none but the really sick should be sent to Khartoum, Raouf Bey had in my absence sent away great numbers of troops who were in sound health, thus reducing the entire force of the expedition to 502 officers and men, including buglers, drummers, clerks, &c., exclusive of fifty-two sailors.

Thus an expedition that should have comprised 1,645 men was reduced to so insignificant a force, that it appeared impossible to proceed into the interior. The Baris were at war with us; the slave-hunters' companies were treacherous; and yet I was to suppress the slave trade, and annex the equatorial districts with less than one-third of the force required.

Abou Saood had apparently gained his point, and the expedition was paralyzed. It was considered that with so small a force I could not travel far from headquarters: thus as my term of service would expire on 1st April 1873, I had only one year and four months remaining, and in this short time it would be impossible to accomplish my object.

In the dreadful state of the river we could not speculate upon the arrival of reinforcements from Khartoum. Our cuttings and canals in the Dalir Giraffe might have closed up; or they might have improved: of this we were ignorant.

I had sent off my letters to England, also those to the Khedive, complaining of the conspiracy of the officers, and inclosing the documents. At the same time I had impressed upon his Highness the imperative necessity of opening the channel of the great White Nile without delay.[*]

[*Footnote: His Highness lost no time in sending the necessary orders for the clearing of the main channel of the White Nile to the governor of the Soudan. This energetic officer, Ismail Ayoob Pacha, worked with a large force during two consecutive years and restored the river to its original character-completing the work after I had returned to England, but before the arrival of my successor. Colonel Gordon was thus enabled to make use of the six powerful steamers which I had sent up from Cairo to Khartoum, and the expedition continued without hindrance.]

I had written to Djiaffer Pacha for reinforcements [*] to be sent from Khartoum immediately, together with a large supply of dhurra.

[*Footnote: These reinforcements were thirteen months actually on the river from Khartoum to Gondokoro, and they only arrived at the close of the expedition.)

I had very little hope of receiving anything from the Soudan. It was therefore necessary to make my arrangements for the future, independently of all extraneous assistance. With 502 officers and men, and fifty-two armed sailors, I had to accomplish the work.

The force at present with me consisted of 251 officers and men; thus I had exactly half of the troops. Gondokoro was well fortified, and the Belinian had been thoroughly cowed, therefore I had nothing to fear in that quarter.

I had more than filled one of the great magazines with corn: therefore, including the dhurra now on board several vessels, I had about twelve months' supply for the expedition.

Although my force was terribly reduced in numbers, the men who remained were strong and healthy. I did not despair; but I determined that this reduction of military force should NOT paralyze the activity of the expedition, and that in spite of every intrigue, I would succeed in the main objects of the enterprise; the slave trade should be suppressed, and the territory should be annexed to the equator.

On 10th November I took a hundred and fifty men in order to make a reconnaissance of the country, at the last cataracts of the White Nile, about six miles south of our position.

We started early, and marched along the high ground parallel with the river, passing the spot where the natives had attacked us some days previous. Nothing could exceed the beauty of this country as an agricultural settlement. The long, sloping undulations were ornamented with innumerable villages, in all of which were overflowing granaries. On arrival at the dry bed of a broad stream, we ascended a slope, and to my astonishment I noticed a considerable body of natives who neither ran away nor appeared hostile in their demeanour. Leaving my rifle with Monsoor, I rode up within fifty yards of them, apparently unarmed, but I had a pair of breech-loading pistols in my holsters.

My Bari interpreter, Morgian, now explained, that I was only on an exploration, and that I had no intention of disturbing their property; I only desired to communicate with their sheik.

For the first time I received a civil answer from the Baris. They explained, that although they were Baris, they had no connection with the people who had fought us. They were governed by a great sheik named Bedden, whose territory was bounded by the torrent bed that we had just crossed. They promised that he should pay me a visit on the morrow: in the mean tine, if we required any corn, they would supply us. This was a politeness to which I was quite unaccustomed. I therefore thanked them, but declined their offer, saying that I wanted nothing from them except friendship.

I now discovered, that these people had never had any communication with the slave-traders, who were afraid to molest so powerful a tribe.

At parting, I gave them a white handkerchief as a signal to our sentries, when they should arrive.

We then returned to our station, the troops sharing the satisfaction that I felt in having at length discovered friends.

On the following day at about 3 p.m. the sentry on the hill called to the guard, that a very large body of natives was approaching the station.

I presumed that these were the followers of Bedden. I therefore ascended the slope and examined them with the telescope.

My suspicions were aroused from the extraordinary number of people; at least 700 natives were accompanying their sheik.

I returned to camp, and made arrangements to receive his visit with a guard of honour. I drew up a hundred men parallel with the river, about fifty yards from the bank, near the bow of my diahbeeah. Fifty men were in line at right angles with the river: thus the lines formed two sides of a square.

In the front I placed the fieldpiece loaded with canister shot. I intended to receive Bedden with due honour in the hollow square thus protected. In the event of treachery, his force could be almost annihilated by one discharge.

The hill sentry now reported the arrival of a messenger, who waved a white handkerchief on the end of a bamboo. This was the signal agreed upon, and the messenger was allowed to pass. He communicated the fact of Bedden's approach: in a few minutes later the great sheik arrived.

He was very tall and gaunt; and without any delay, both he and his people were ushered into the hollow square, where they all stuck their lances in the ground and sat down.

I now sent for Bedden and a few of his principal men to the poop deck of my diahbeeah, which, being covered with carpets, and arranged with sofas and chairs, was something very astonishing to the great sheik, who had never seen anything but a vessel in the distance.

I explained the objects of the expedition; at the same time I presented him with a long Egyptian blue shirt that reached to his ankles, and made him look more respectable. A crimson sash round his waist, and a red tarboosh (fez) upon his head, improved his appearance wonderfully, and he began to feel at home.

I presented him with six pounds of beads of various colours, together with some strings of harness bells. Brass bugles and a large mirror attracted more attention than any other curiosities.

I gave him a brass bugle, to his great delight. The use of the cannon was then explained to him, and the effects of the shell were pardonably exaggerated to produce a respect for the weapon.

He gave us six pots of merissa and some fowls, promising to come again tomorrow.

All these people believe in sorcery, and each sheik possesses spells and conjurers. Tortoise shells, scales of the manis, lions' claws, and those of the leopard, roots, knots of trees of peculiar shape, and many other things, are worn as talismans.

My wife's parrot was supposed to be a cojoor, or fetish. This was the grey bird of West Africa, that was unknown in these parts. The interpreter explained that "it could speak like a human being, and that it flew about the country and listened to what people said-all of which it repeated to its mistress and myself; thus we knew everything that occurred, and the natives could not deceive us." This parrot was exceedingly tame, and was never confined. It was now walking about the deck, and while its extraordinary powers were being described by my Bari interpreter, Morgian, to the amazement and fear of the natives, it advanced stoutly to the sheik Bedden, and would have bitten his big toe had he not quickly jumped up and taken leave.

The magnetic battery and the large musical box were also believed to be magic.

At sunset, the great sheik departed in the best of spirits, with all his people, as he had drunk a tumbler of Marsala before he started, in order to try the quality of our merissa.

The population of this country is very large, and the natives are good agriculturists. Although the soil is stony, it is very productive, as the cultivation is carefully attended to. Dhurra, sesame, dochan, and beans, in addition to a species of Hibiscus which produces an edible seed and also a fine fibre, are sown in exact oblongs or squares resembling the plots in allotment-grounds in England. Near the villages are large heaps of manure, collected from the cattle zareebas. These are mixed with the sweepings of the stations, and the ashes from the cattle-fires, and are divided when required among the proprietors of the herds.

Each cow of the zareeba is entitled to a certain measure of manure at the commencement of the rains, when all hands turn out to cultivate; thus the owner of many cows is enabled to farm a large area.

The cows are all herded in one or two pens; thus the whole manure is heaped, and, when divided, is measured in large baskets. It is then distributed very thickly over the field, and is roughly hoed with the iron molote, the seed been thrown upon the manure broadcast, previous to the hoeing.

The geological appearance of the country would suggest the pre

sence of precious metals. Large masses of rose-coloured and icy-white quartz project from the surface in dikes. These run for miles in tolerably direct lines, like walls, from west to east. Generally the rocks are granitic, consisting of syenite and gneiss, with micacious schist in the lower valleys. Occasionally, dikes of basalt break through the surface, which is generally much denuded, and the rocks are weather-worn and decomposed.

I have frequently washed for gold in the most likely spots among the deep holes of ravines, where the torrents have worn away the bed, but I have found no sign of either precious stones or metals. Magnetic iron ore in large quantities is the only metal to be discovered in the river-beds.

On 13th November, at sunrise, Lieutenant Baker started with the troops to convey corn from a distant village. I was sitting on the poop-deck of the diahbeeah, enjoying a pipe and a cup of coffee, when he suddenly galloped back with the news that a herd of bull elephants was approaching from the west. I was not prepared for elephant-shooting, and I recommended him to return to the troops, who would otherwise waste their time. I had no suspicion that elephants would approach our position after having been disturbed by the soldiers, in a country that was perfectly open.

Lieutenant Baker cantered back to his men, while I commenced to write up my daily journal according to my daily custom.

In about a quarter of an hour, the sentry reported a herd of elephants. All my people clambered up upon the googoos and buts to obtain a good view of the herd, which from the high poop-deck of the diahbeeah we could see distinctly.

There were eleven bulls, and they were marching in close order along the bank of the river, approaching us at about 400 yards' distance.

I should have thought it almost as likely to meet a herd of elephants in Hyde Park as to find them in this open and thickly-populated country. I now distinguished natives along the distant heights, all of whom were attracted by the uncommon occurrence.

In the mean time the elephants approached, swinging their trunks and huge ears to and fro, apparently unconscious of the presence of the vessels and people.

I always kept my guns and ammunition in beautiful order, arranged on a rack in the cabin. On the left-hand side were the shotguns, i.e., two breechloading No. 12; four muzzleloading No. 10. On the right, the rifles: the little "Dutchman," two breechloading Reilly No. 8, two muzzleloading Holland half-pounders, that carried an iron lead-coated explosive shell, containing a bursting charge of half an ounce of fine grain powder. These two elephant rifles were very hard hitters, and carried twelve drachms of powder. The ammunition for the rifles was on a shelf that formed the rack, contained in a small bag with a simple reload, and a large bag with a considerable supply. The small bag was intended for the deck, should I call suddenly for a rifle.

Seeing that the elephants were so near, I at once ordered my horse, "Greedy Grey," to be saddled, and the rifles and ammunition to be sent after me. My servant, Suleiman, who had started with me from Alexandria, was an honest, good creature, but so exceedingly nervous that he was physically useless in any sudden emergency. The climate of the marshes during our long voyage had so affected his nervous system, that any alarm or start would set him trembling to such an extent, that his teeth chattered as though he had been bathing in iced water. However, there was no time to lose, as I expected that should the elephants observe our vessels, and the troops in their scarlet uniform, they would immediately wheel round and be off, at the pace which an African elephant knows so well how to use.

I quickly mounted "Greedy Grey" and told Suleiman to send on my rifles directly, with ammunition.

I ordered my men to run up the heights, and to come down at about 200 paces in the rear of the elephants, where they were to form a line as though in skirmishing order. This line of red shirts would most probably check the elephants from rushing back. My men had orders to fire at the elephants, and to endeavour to turn them should they attempt a retreat.

I was now on "Greedy Grey;" the sloping ground was as clean as a race-course, I therefore galloped up the incline so as to keep above the elephants. The horse flew along at full speed. At this moment, a chorus of shouts from great numbers of natives who had collected on the east bank of the river was raised in admiration of the white horse, which they probably thought would in some manner seize the elephants.

In a very few seconds I reined up on the slope, about a hundred yards above the herd, which had now halted close to the river's bank. They regarded the horse with some curiosity, and massed themselves together.

In the meantime, my "Forty," who were capital runners, were moving rapidly along the heights, and they presently came down, and formed in a long, open line from the edge of the river up the slope. During this operation, the elephants only moved their ears and trunks, but remained in the same position. They were now completely surrounded; the diahbeeah and my people were in their front, I was above them on one flank, and the servants were coming up with the rifles. In their rear was a line of about twenty soldiers, and on the other flank was the deep river, about 110 yards wide from the mainland to the island.

Just as the rifles were within a few yards of me and I was preparing to dismount, the elephants wheeled suddenly round, and took to water.

They had been standing in a low, swampy spot that was frequently overflowed: thus they had no difficulty in descending to the river. Close to this place, the banks were perpendicular, and as hard as brick.

I ran down to the river, but by the time of my arrival, the elephants had gained the opposite bank; there, however, they were in a difficulty. The water was deep, and the shore of the island was perpendicular, and about six feet above the water. They could not get out without breaking down the bank so as to form an incline. Already these enormous creatures, which are accustomed to such difficulties, were tearing down the earth with their tusks and horny-toed feet; still it was a work of time, that gave me a good opportunity.

It was difficult to obtain a shot, as the elephants were end on. The distance was about 110 yards, which is very uncertain for so large an animal, that must be struck exactly in the right place.

I fired several shots with the No. 8 breechloader, aimed at the back of their heads, but none of these were successful.

Monsoor had the ammunition, and reloaded for me. The stunning effect of the heavy metal confused the animals and caused one to fall backward into the scrambling herd. This turned an elephant sideways. The bank had already given way and had fallen in large masses into the water, which reduced the depth. The elephants, which had now gained a muddy footing, ploughed and tore down the yielding earth with redoubled vigour, as my men in great excitement opened a hot fire upon them with the snider rifles. These had about as much effect as though they had been pelted with stones.

Presently, as the depth was lessened by the falling bank, the elephants showed more body above the surface. The splashing and scrambling was extraordinary; at length a large bull half ascended the bank, and for a moment exposed his flank; I fired a quick right and left shot with a Reilly No. 8 behind his shoulder, and he fell backwards into the river, where he commenced a series of wild struggles that brought him within twenty yards of me, and I sent a ball into his head which killed him. The powerful stream at once carried away the floating carcase.

The bank had now completely given way, and an elephant was nearly on the summit. I fired at him with one of the Holland half-pounders, which by the recoil flew out of my hands for a distance of several yards; this was loaded with twelve drachms of fine-grain powder. The elephant fell on his knees on the steep incline, and was bagged to all intents and purposes, but believing that I had plenty of ammunition at hand, I fired another half-pounder into his shoulder, which killed him on the spot, and he rolled into the water, and the current took him away.

I immediately sent a man to order boats, with ropes and axes, to follow the carcases.

In the mean time I fired my last No. 8 into the shoulder of an elephant that had just climbed the bank and gained the island. I now had a glorious opportunity of a shoulder-shot at every animal as it should ascend the steep incline.

My ammunition was exhausted! My servant, Suleiman, had sent the little bag that contained only one reload for the breech-loaders, and no powder flask or shells for the half-pounders. I had now the annoyance of witnessing the difficult ascent of the elephants in single file, exposing their flanks in succession to the shoulder-shot, while I remained a helpless looker-on.

I had thus bagged only two out of eleven, but these were killed at very long shots (about 110 yards).

The half-pounder rifles were the same calibre and pattern as that described in "The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia" as "the Baby." These were made by Mr. Holland of Bond Street, and are the most overpowering rifles I ever used. They were certain to kill the elephant, and to half kill the man who fired them with twelve drachms of fine-grain powder. I was tolerably strong, therefore I was never killed outright; but an Arab hunter had his collar-bone smashed by the recoil, when the rifle was loaded with simple coarse-grain powder. If he had used fine grain, I should hardly have insured his life.

The elephants having gained the island, remained some time exposed, before they made up their minds to cross to the other side. Unfortunately, the boats had followed the carcases of the elephants down the river, which were two miles distant before they could be secured; therefore we had no means of reaching the island. Our vessels could not have crossed, as there were many rocks below stream.

I therefore took a few shots with Hale's rockets, one of which just grazed the rump of an elephant, and sent them off in great astonishment. We then tried a few shots with the fieldpiece, but the gun made bad practice, and the shells exploded very wildly and not according to the distances regulated by the fuses.

The specific gravity of the elephant differs considerably from that of the hippopotamus. The latter animal invariably sinks when killed, and the body rises to the surface in about two hours, when the gas has distended the stomach. The body of an elephant floats on the surface immediately that it is killed, and is capable of supporting one or more persons. The cavity of the carcase is much larger in the elephant than in the hippopotamus; the latter is a dense mass of flesh, covered by an exceedingly thick and heavy skin, the specific gravity of which is considerably greater than water.

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