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On this day in history in 1885, died Charles George Gordon.
Gordon was a general and colonial administrator who became a national hero for his exploits in China and North Africa.
Gordon was born in 1833 at Woolwich, the son of an artillery officer and received a soldier’s education at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and the Royal Engineers School in Chatham. He first served, as a lieutenant, in the Crimean War of 1853-1856 where he distinguished himself for his bravery at the battle of Sevastopol and was promoted to captain.
Gordon then volunteered to join the British forces fighting in China in the Opium Wars. In 1860, he was in the company that captured Peking and it was Gordon who personally ordered the burning of the emperor’s summer palace. The Chinese emperor was obliged to admit defeat and signed a peace treaty, the Convention of Peking, allowing British trading rights and legalising Christianity in China.
This treaty caused an upheaval in China and a revolt against the Ching dynasty. Gordon found himself propping up the Chinese government, forming a coolie force known as the ‘Ever-Victorious Army’. This group was well named for it successfully defended the trading centre of Shanghai in several assaults on the city. In 1865, when the rebellion had been quashed, Gordon returned home to a hero’s welcome by an enthusiastic public who had dubbed him ‘Chinese Gordon’.
In 1873, Gordon received a commission from the ruler of Egypt as governor-general of the Sudan. Gordon was successful in crushing rebellions and suppressing the slave trade until illness forced him to return to London. Whilst in the Levant, Gordon carried out some excavations in Jerusalem and suggested an alternative site for Christ’s crucifixion and burial, a place now known as the Garden Tomb.
In 1884, Gordon was sent to the Sudan by the British government in order to evacuate British and Egyptian forces from the city of Khartoum, which was under threat from a mystic rebel known as the ‘Mahdi’. Gordon arrived in Khartoum and set about strengthening the city’s defences. A month later the Mahdi’s troops laid Khartoum under a siege, which lasted ten months. Before British forces arrived to free the city, the besiegers broke through the city walls and killed the entire garrison. Back in Britain, Gordon, now known as Gordon of Khartoum, was acclaimed as a hero and a martyr and the government were reviled for not sending relief forces in time. But, there were some contemporary writers who suggested that Gordon had every chance of evacuating Khartoum, before the city was under siege and even afterwards. Gordon’s body was originally buried in Khartoum but in 1956, was repatriated and buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Gordon of Khartoum
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