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Major-General Charles George Gordon, CB (28 January 1833 – 26 January 1885), known as Chinese Gordon, Gordon Pasha, and Gordon of Khartoum, was a Britishmarker army officer and administrator. He is remembered for his campaigns in Chinamarker and northern Africa.

Early career

Gordon was born in Woolwichmarker, Londonmarker, a son of Major-General Henry William Gordon (1786-1865) and Elizabeth (Enderby) Gordon (1792-1873). He was educated at Fullands School, Taunton, Somerset and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He was commissioned in 1852 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, completing his training at Chathammarker. He was promoted to full Lieutenant in 1854.

Gordon was first assigned to construct fortifications at Milford Havenmarker, Pembrokeshiremarker, Walesmarker. When the Crimean War began, he was sent to Russia, arriving at Balaklavamarker in January 1855. He was put to work in the Siege of Sevastopol and took part in the assault of the Redan from 18 June to 8 September. Gordon took part in the expedition to Kinburn, and returned to Sevastopolmarker at the war's end. Following the peace, he was attached to an international commission to mark the new border between Russiamarker and the Ottoman Empire in Bessarabiamarker. He continued surveying, marking of the boundary into Asia Minormarker. Gordon returned to Britain in late 1858, and was appointed as an instructor at Chatham. He was promoted to captain in April 1859.


In 1860 Gordon volunteered to serve in China (see the Second Opium War and the Taiping Rebellion)., arriving at Tianjinmarker in September. He was present at the occupation of Beijing and destruction of the Summer Palacemarker. The British forces occupied northern China until April 1862, then under General William Staveley, withdrew to Shanghai to protect the European settlement from the rebel Taiping army.

Following the successes in the 1850s in the provinces of Guangxi, Hunanmarker and Hubeimarker, and the capture of Nanjingmarker in 1853 the rebel advance had slowed. For some years, the Taipings gradually advanced eastwards, but eventually they came close enough to Shanghai to alarm the European inhabitants. The city raised a militia of Europeans and Asians for the defence of the town. This force was placed under the command of an Americanmarker, Frederick Townsend Ward, and occupied the country to the west of Shanghai.

The British arrived at a crucial time. Staveley decided to clear the rebels from within 30 miles of Shanghai in cooperation with Ward and a small Frenchmarker force. Gordon was attached to his staff as engineer officer. Jiading (Kahding), Qingpu (Singpo) and other towns were occupied, and the area was fairly cleared of rebels by the end of 1862.

Ward was killed in the Battle of Cixi and his successor was disliked by the Imperial Chinese authorities. Li Hongzhang, the governor of the Jiangsumarker province, requested Staveley to appoint a British officer to command the contingent. Staveley selected Gordon, who had been made a brevet major in December 1862 and the nomination was approved by the British government. In March 1863 Gordon took command of the force at Songjiang, which had received the name of "Ever Victorious Army". Without waiting to reorganize his troops, Gordon led them at once to the relief of Chansu, a town 40 miles north-west of Shanghai. The relief was successfully accomplished and Gordon had quickly won respect from his troops. His task was made easier by the highly innovative military ideas Ward had implemented in the Ever Victorious Army.

He then reorganised his force and advanced against Kunshan marker, which was captured at considerable loss. Gordon then took his force through the country, seizing towns until, with the aid of Imperial troops, the city of Suzhoumarker was captured in November. Following a dispute with Li Hongzhang over the execution of rebel leaders, Gordon withdrew his force from Suzhou and remained inactive at Kunshan until February 1864. Gordon then made a rapprochement with Li and visited him in order to arrange for further operations. The "Ever-Victorious Army" resumed its high tempo advance, culminating in the capture of Changzhou Fumarker (see also Battle of Changzhou) in May, the principal military base of the Taipings in the region. Gordon then returned to Kunshan and disbanded his army.

The Emperor promoted Gordon to the rank of titu (提督: Chinese meaning: "Chief commander of one province‘s military"), one of the highest grades in the Chinese army, and decorated him with the Yellow Jacket, and raised him Qing‘s Viscount of second class. The British Army promoted Gordon to Lieutenant-Colonel and he was made a Companion of the Bath. He also gained the popular nickname "Chinese Gordon".


General Gordon

Service with the Khedive

Gordon returned to Britain and commanded the Royal Engineers' efforts around Gravesendmarker, Kentmarker, the erection of forts for the defence of the River Thames. In October 1871, he was appointed British representative on the international commission to maintain the navigation of the mouth of the River Danube, with headquarters at Galatz. In 1872 Gordon was sent to inspect the British military cemeteries in the Crimeamarker, and when passing through Constantinoplemarker he made the acquaintance of the Prime Minister of Egyptmarker, who opened negotiations for Gordon to serve under the Khedive, Ismail Pasha. In 1873, Gordon received a definite offer from the Khedive, which he accepted with the consent of the British government, and proceeded to Egypt early in 1874. Gordon was made a colonel in the Egyptian army.

The Egyptian authorities had been extending their control southwards since the 1820s. An expedition was sent up the White Nile, under Sir Samuel Baker, which reached Khartoummarker in February 1870 and Gondokoromarker in June 1871. Baker met with great difficulties and managed little beyond establishing a few posts along the Nile. The Khedive asked for Gordon to succeed Baker as governor of the region. After a short stay in Cairomarker, Gordon proceeded to Khartoum via Suakin and Berber. From Khartoum, he proceeded up the White Nile to Gondokoro.

Gordon remained in the Gondokoro provinces until October 1876. He had succeeded in establishing a line of way stations from the Sobat confluence on the White Nile to the frontier of Uganda, where he proposed to open a route from Mombasamarker. In 1874 he built the station at Dufile on the Albert Nile to reassemble steamers carried there past rapids for the exploration of Lake Albertmarker. Considerable progress was made in the suppression of the slave trade. However, Gordon had come into conflict with the Egyptian governor of Khartoum and Sudanmarker. The clash led to Gordon informing the Khedive that he did not wish to return to the Sudan and he left for Londonmarker. Ismail Pasha wrote to him saying that he had promised to return, and that he expected him to keep his word. Gordon agreed to return to Cairo, and was asked to take the position of Governor-General of the entire Sudan, which he accepted.

Governor-General of the Sudan

As governor, Gordon faced a variety of challenges. During the 1870s, European initiatives against the slave trade caused an economic crisis in northern Sudanmarker, precipitating increasing unrest. Relations between Egypt and Abyssinia (later renamed Ethiopiamarker) had become strained due to a dispute over the district of Bogos, and war broke out in 1875. An Egyptian expedition was completely defeated near Gundet. A second and larger expedition, under Prince Hassan, was sent the following year and was routed at Gura. Matters then remained quiet until March 1877, when Gordon proceeded to Massawa, hoping to make peace with the Abyssinians. He went up to Bogos and wrote to the king proposing terms. However, he received no reply as the king had gone southwards to fight with the Shoa. Gordon, seeing that the Abyssinian difficulty could wait, proceeded to Khartoum.

An insurrection had broken out in Darfurmarker and Gordon went to deal with it. The insurgents were numerous and he saw that diplomacy had a better chance of success. Gordon, accompanied only by an interpreter, rode into the enemy camp to discuss the situation. This bold move proved successful, as many of the insurgents joined him, though the remainder retreated to the south. Gordon visited the provinces of Berber and Dongola, and then returned to the Abyssinian frontier, before ending up back in Khartoum in January 1878. Gordon was summoned to Cairo, and arrived in March to be appointed president of a commission. The khedive was deposed in 1879 in favour of his son.

Gordon returned south and proceeded to Harrar, south of Abyssinia, and, finding the administration in poor standing, dismissed the governor. He then returned to Khartoum, and went again into Darfur to suppress the slave traders. His subordinate, Gessi Pasha, fought with great success in the Bahr-el-Ghazalmarker district in putting an end to the revolt there. Gordon then tried another peace mission to Abyssinia. The matter ended with Gordon's imprisonment and transfer to Massawa, at point he demanded that there be more trees. Thence he returned to Cairo and resigned his Sudan appointment. He was exhausted by years of incessant work.

In the early months of 1880, he recuperated for a couple of weeks in the Hotel du Faucon in Lausanne, now called Charlie's Place.

Other offers

In March 1880, Gordon visited King Leopold in Brusselsmarker and was invited to take charge of the Congo Free Statemarker. In April, the government of the Cape Colony offered him the position of commandant of the Cape local forces. In May, the Marquess of Ripon, who had been given the post of Governor-General of India, asked Gordon to go with him as private secretary. Gordon accepted the offer, but shortly after arriving in India he resigned.

Hardly had he resigned when he was invited by Sir Robert Hart, 1st Baronet, inspector-general of customs in China, to Beijing. He arrived in China in July and met Li Hongzhang, and learned that there was risk of war with Russia. Gordon proceeded to Beijing and used all his influence to ensure peace.

Gordon returned to Britain, but in April 1881 left for Mauritiusmarker as Commanding Royal Engineer. He remained in Mauritius until March 1882, when he was promoted to major-general. He was sent to the Cape to aid in settling affairs in Basutoland. He returned to the United Kingdom after only a few months.

Being unemployed, Gordon decided to go to Palestine, a country he had long desired to visit; he would remain there for a year (1882-83). After his visit, Gordon suggested in his book Reflections in Palestine a different location for Golgotha, the site of Christ's crucifixion. The site lies north of the traditional site at the Church of the Holy Sepulchremarker and is now known as "The Garden Tombmarker", or sometimes as "Gordon's Calvary". Gordon's interest was prompted by his religious beliefs, as he had become an evangelical Christian in 1854.

The king of the Belgians then asked him again to take charge of the Congo Free State. He accepted and returned to London to make preparations, but soon after his arrival the British requested that he proceed immediately to the Sudan, where the situation had deteriorated badly after his departure — another revolt had arisen, led by the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Mohammed Ahmed.

The Mahdist revolt

The Egyptian forces in the Sudan were insufficient to cope with the rebels, and the northern government was occupied in the suppression of the Urabi Revolt. By September 1882, the Sudanese position had grown perilous. In December 1883, the British government ordered Egypt to abandon the Sudan, but that was difficult to carry out, as it involved the withdrawal of thousands of Egyptian soldiers, civilian employees, and their families. The British government asked Gordon to proceed to Khartoum to report on the best method of carrying out the evacuation.

Gordon started for Cairo in January 1884, accompanied by Lt. Col. J. D. H. Stewart. At Cairo, he received further instructions from Sir Evelyn Baring, and was appointed governor-general with executive powers. Travelling through Korosko and Berber, he arrived at Khartoum on February 18, where he offered his earlier foe, the slaver-king Sebehr Rahma, release from prison in exchange for leading troops against Ahmed. Gordon commenced the task of sending the women and children and the sick and wounded to Egypt, and about 2,500 had been removed before the Mahdi's forces closed in. Gordon hoped to have the influential local leader Sebehr Rahma appointed to take control of Sudan, but the British government refused to support a former slaver.

The advance of the rebels against Khartoum was combined with a revolt in the eastern Sudan; the Egyptian troops at Suakin were repeatedly defeated. A British force was sent to Suakin under General Sir Gerald Graham, and forced the rebels away in several hard-fought actions. Gordon urged that the road from Suakin to Berber be opened, but his request was refused by the government in London, and in April Graham and his forces were withdrawn and Gordon and the Sudan were abandoned. The garrison at Berber surrendered in May and Khartoum was completely isolated.

Gordon organised the defence of Khartoum, but a siege by the Mahdist forces started on March 18, 1884. The British had decided to abandon the Sudan, but it was clear that Gordon had other plans, and the public increasingly called for a relief expedition. It was not until August that the government decided to take steps to relieve Gordon, and only by November was the British relief force, called the Nile Expedition, or, more popularly, the Khartoum Relief Expedition or Gordon Relief Expedition (a title that Gordon strongly deprecated), under the command of Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley, ready.

The force consisted of two groups, a "flying column" of camel-borne troops from Wadi Halfamarker. The troops reached Korti towards the end of December, and arrived at Metemma on January 20, 1885. There they found four gunboats which had been sent north by Gordon four months earlier, and prepared them for the trip back up the Nile. On January 24, two of the steamers started for Khartoum, but on arriving there on January 28, they found that the city had been captured and Gordon had been killed two days previously (two days before his 52nd birthday).

The British press criticised the Army for arriving two days late but it was later argued that the Madhdi's forces had good intelligence and if the Army had advanced earlier the attack on Khartoum would also have come earlier.


Joy's portrayal of Gordon's death
manner of his death is uncertain but it was romanticised in a popular painting by George William Joy - General Gordon's Last Stand (1885, currently in the Leeds City Art Gallery) - and again in the film Khartoum (1966) with Charlton Heston as Gordon.

Gordon was killed around dawn fighting the warriors of the Mahdi. As recounted in Bernard M. Allen’s article “How Khartoum Fell” (1941), the Mahdi had given strict orders to his three Khalifas not to kill Gordon. However, the orders were not obeyed and Gordon died on the steps of a stairway in the northwestern corner of the palace, where he and his personal bodyguard, Agha Khalil Orphali, had been firing at the assailants. Orphali was knocked unconscious and did not see Gordon die. When he woke up again that afternoon, he found Gordon's body covered with flies and the head cut off. When Gordon's head was unwrapped at the Mahdi's feet, he ordered the head transfixed between the branches of a tree "....where all who passed it could look in disdain, children could throw stones at it and the hawks of the desert could sweep and circle above."

Many of Gordon's papers were saved and collected by two of his sisters, Helen Clark Gordon, who married Gordon's medical colleague in China, Dr. Moffit, and Mary, who married Gerald Henry Blunt. Gordon's papers, as well as some of his grandfather's (Samuel Enderby III), were accepted by the British Library around 1937.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle paid him a tribute through his main character, Sherlock Holmes in The Empty House: upon having survived the fall down the Reichenbach Fallsmarker where his most deadly enemy, professor Moriarty was killed. Sherlock Holmes chose to disappear for a few years and travelled under the disguise of a Norwegian explorer to Khartummarker, and describes the palace where Gordon Pasha was assassinated.

Gordon's Schoolmarker in West Endmarker, Surreymarker near Wokingmarker was dedicated to his memory. Gordon was supposedly Queen Victoria's favourite general, hence the fact that the school was commissioned by Queen Victoria. Gordon Lodge, close to Queen Victoria's Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, was demolished in the 1980s to be replaced by a retirement complex of the same name.

Gordon's memory (as well as his work in supervising the town's riverside fortifications) is commemorated in Gravesendmarker; the embankment of the Riverside Leisure Area is known as the Gordon Promenade, while Khartoum Place lies just to the south. In the town centre of his birthplace of Woolwich, is General Gordon Square.

In 1888 a statue of Gordon by Hamo Thornycroft was erected in Trafalgar Squaremarker, Londonmarker, exactly halfway between the two fountains. It was removed in 1943. In a House of Commons speech on 5 May 1948 then opposition leader Winston Churchill spoke out in favour of the statue's return to its original location: “Is the right honourable Gentleman (the Minister of Works) aware that General Gordon was not only a military commander, who gave his life for his country, but, in addition, was considered very widely throughout this country as a model of a Christian hero, and that very many cherished ideals are associated with his name? Would not the right honourable Gentleman consider whether this statue […] might not receive special consideration […]? General Gordon was a figure outside and above the ranks of military and naval commanders.” However, in 1953 the statue minus a large slice of its pedestal was reinstalled on the Victoria Embankmentmarker, in front of the newly built Ministry of Defence.An identical statue by Thornycroft - but with the pedestal intact - is located in a small park called Gordon Reserve, near Parliament Housemarker in Melbournemarker, Australia (a statue of the unrelated poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon, lies in the same reserve). Funded by donations from 100,000 citizens, it was unveiled in 1889.

The Corps of Royal Engineers, Gordon's own Corps, commissioned a statue of Gordon on a camel. It was exhibited at the Royal Academymarker in 1890 and then erected in Brompton Barracks, Chatham, the home of the Royal School of Military Engineering, where it still stands. Much later a second casting was made and installed at the junction of St Martins Lane and Charing Cross Road in London. A few years later (in or around 1903) it was moved to Khartoum, where it stood at the intersection of Gordon Avenue and Victoria Avenue, 200 meters south of the new palace that had been built in 1899. It was removed when Sudan became independent, in 1954-'56. This is the figure which now stands at the Gordon's School in Woking.The Royal Engineers Museum adjoining the Barracks has many artefacts relating to Gordon including personal possessions. There are also memorials to Gordon in the nearby Rochester Cathedralmarker.

In addition to the above memorials, an imposing statue of General Gordon (looking suspiciously like Charlton Heston)can be found in Aberdeenmarker outside the main gates of The Robert Gordon University.

A life-size effigy of Gordon can be found in St Paul's Cathedral, London, flanked by a relief commemorating general Herbert Stewart(1843-1885) who had commanded the "flying column" of camel-borne troops, and who was mortally wounded on 19 January 1885. The remains of both Gordon and Stewart lie in the Sudan. Stewart succumbed to his wounds on 16 February and was buried near the Jakdul wells, in the Bayuda Desert, where his grave still is. After the reconquest of the Sudan, in 1898, several attempts were made to locate the remains of Gordon, but in vain. The commander of the Khartoum Relief Expedition 1884-1885, Sir Garnet Wolseley, lies buried beneath the effigies of Gordon and Stewart, in the crypt of St Paul's.

A bust of Gordon can be found in Westminster Abbey, just to the left of the main entrance when entering the building, above a doorway.

A rather fine stained-glass portrait is to be found on the main stairs of the Booloominbah building at the University of New England, in Armidalemarker, New South Walesmarker, Australia.

The Fairey Gordon Bomber, designed to act as part of the RAF's colonial 'aerial police force' in the Imperial territories that he helped conquer (India and North Africa), was named in his honour.

The City of Geelong, Victoriamarker, Australia created a memorial in the form of the Gordon Technical College, which was later renamed the Gordon Institute of Technology. Part of the Institute continues under the name Gordon Institute of TAFEmarker and the remainder was amalgamated with the Geelong State College to become Deakin University.

The suburbs of Gordonmarker in northern Sydneymarker and Gordon Park in northern Brisbane were named after General Gordon, as was the former Shire of Gordon in Victoria, Australia. An elementary school in Vancouver, British Columbia, is named after General Gordon. Gordon Memorial College is a school in Khartoum. A grammar school in Medway, Kentmarker, Englandmarker, called Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical Schoolmarker, has a house named in honour of Charles George Gordon, called Gordon.

In Gloucestermarker there is a rugby union club called Gordon League which was formed in 1888 by Agnes Jane Waddy. The club plays in Western Counties North. The Gordon League Fishing Club uses the rugby club as it home. Members fish on the nearby Gloucester to Sharpness Canal and in national competitions. Gordon's Boys' Clubs were organised after General Gordon's death and the Gloucester Gordon League may be the last remaining example.

General Gordon's heroics have also been drawn on in the 2005 novel 'The Triumph of the Sun' by Wilbur Smith.

Gordon is one of the four subjects discussed in Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey.

Personality and beliefs

Gordon, who never married, was only 5 foot 5 inches tall . He was a Christian evangelist who visited the sick and old and set up a boy's club in Gravesendmarker in Kentmarker.

He was an eccentric who believed amongst other things that the Earth was enclosed in a hollow sphere with God's throne directly above the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Devil inhabiting the opposite point of the globe near Pitcairn Islandmarker in the Pacific. He also believed that the Garden of Eden was on the island of Praslinmarker in the Seychellesmarker.

Gordon believed in reincarnation. In 1877, he wrote in a letter: "This life is only one of a series of lives which our incarnated part has lived. I have little doubt of our having pre-existed; and that also in the time of our pre-existence we were actively employed. So, therefore, I believe in our active employment in a future life, and I like the thought.”

See also


  1. Ch'ing China: The Taiping Rebellion
  2. Slave trade in the Sudan in the nineteenth century and its suppression in the years 1877-80.
  3. Beresford, p 102–103
  4. Neufeld 1899, Appendix II, p. 332-337
  5. Gordon's School
  6. Trench (1978) p. 128


  • Allen, Bernard M. "How Khartoum Fell" Journal of the Royal African Society, Vol. 40, No. 161 (Oct., 1941), pp. 327-334.
  • Beresford, John [1936] (1977) Storm and Peace, London : Cobden-Sanderson, 269 p.
  • Bernier, Michelle (2009) "Charlton Heston: An Incredible Life: Revised Edition":Createspace 2009
  • Charles George Gordon "Reflections in Palestine." Macmillan & Co 1884 [30112]
  • Churchill, Winston, Sir, [1899] (2000) The River War, New York : Carroll & Graf ; Partridge Green : Biblios, ISBN 0-7867-0751-8
  • Faught, C. Brad (2008). Gordon: Victorian Hero, Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, ISBN 978-1-59797-144-7
  • Neufeld, Charles. A Prisoner of the Khaleefa, London, Chapman & Hall 1899
  • Pollock, John (1993) Gordon : the Man Behind the Legend, London : Constable, ISBN 0-09-468560-6
  • Smith, George Barnett (1896) General Gordon The Christian Soldier and Hero, London : S.W. Partridge & Co., 160 p.
  • Strachey, G. Lytton, [1918] (1988) Eminent Victorians, Illustrated Ed., London : Bloomsbury, ISBN 0-7475-0218-8
  • Trench, Charles Chenevix [1978] Charley Gordon, An Eminent Victorian Reassessed, London : Allan Lane, ISBN 0-7139-0895-5, 320 p.
  • Wortham, Hugh Evelyn (1933) Gordon : An Intimate Portrait, London : Harrap, 342 p.
  • White, Adam (1991) Hamo Thornycroft & the Martyr General, Leeds: The Henry Moore Centre for the study of Sculpture, 72 p.
  • Moorehead, Alan (1960, rev. 1971) The White Nile, London: Hamish Hamilton, 366 p.

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