The Perils of Adventure 2

Charles George “Chinese” Gordon had some odd helpers in extending the British Empire.

Romolo Gessi (1831-1881) had an exotic background (his father was an Italo-Armenian employed on the Levant in the British consular service) and an adventurous disposition.  He served as an interpreter with the British Army during the Crimean War (1854-55).  Here he first encountered Gordon.  In 1859 he fought as a volunteer with the Sardinian Army against the Austrians.  After the completion of the “Risorgimento” he started a business in Rumania, where he again met Gordon.  In 1873, when the khedive of Egypt appointed Gordon governor of the province of Equatoria in the Sudan, he invited Gessi to join him.  On Gordon’s orders Gessi circumnavigated Lake Albert.  Bent out of shape by perceived slights from the Egyptian government, Gessi resigned.  In 1877-1878 he tried to reach western Ethiopia from the valley of the Blue Nile.  This expedition came to nothing, so he answered a new call from Gordon who had been appointed governor-general of the whole of the Sudan.  He made Gessi governor of the Bahr al Ghazal province and ordered him to suppress the slave trade.  The leading figure in that trade was Suleiman al-Zubayr.  Gessi chased Suleiman, then killed him in battle.  Meanwhile, Gordon had been replaced by an Egyptian governor who dismissed Gessi.  Gessi had fallen ill and died at Suez on his way home.

Eduard Schnitzler (1840-1892) had a mundane background and an adventurous disposition.  He studied medicine, receiving his degree in 1866.  Unlike most doctors–German or otherwise, now or then–Schnitzler had no interest in a comfortable life, social respectability, and an early tee-time.  No sooner had he graduated from the University of Berlin than he signed up with the Turkish government.  From 1866 to 1875 Schnitzler was in Ottoman employment in the Balkans.  Not only did he kick over the traces by rejecting conventional employment, but he also took a Muslim name, Mehmed Emin.

In 1875 Gordon hired him as medical officer for Equatoria in the Sudan.  Emin impressed Gordon with his administrative abilities.  In 1878 the Khedive of Egypt appointed Emin as governor of Equatoria province when Gordon resigned.  In 1881 the Mahdist revolt began farther north.  This cut off Emin from all contact with the outside world.  Emin continued to rule Equatoria for the next seven years.  In 1888 Henry M. Stanley arrived to “save” Emin in the same way that he had “saved” Livingston.  Unlike Livingston, Emin went down to the coast with Stanley.  Then the German government, belatedly becoming interested in Africa, asked Emin to lead an expedition to establish German territorial claims around Lake Victoria.  The expedition did not work out well.  Eventually, Emin sent most of his caravan down to the coast to safety, while he remained behind to take care of those members of the expedition who had fallen ill.  Arab slave traders murdered him in Kanema.

Rudolf Slatin (1857-1932) just had an adventurous disposition.  He grew up in Vienna and studied business.  His father died when he was sixteen, so the boy got a job in a bookstore.  In Cairo, Egypt.  Cairo seemed exotic, but not exotic enough.  He went up the Nile to Khartoum with a German businessman, then to Kordofan with a German ornithologist, then back to Khartoum because of a rebellion.  He met Emin Pasha, who promised to recommend him to Gordon, but Slatin had just turned 21 so he had to go back to Austria for his army service.  After fighting in Bosnia, Slatin accepted an invitation from Gordon to come to the Sudan.  Slatin served as governor of Darfur (1879-1883), then was a prisoner of the Mahdists (1883-1895), then made a daring escape, then wrote a good book, then helped defeat the Mahdists (1898), and then helped govern the Sudan (1899-1914).  The rest of his life was quiet.  Comparatively.

1 thought on “The Perils of Adventure 2

  1. Pingback: Sudan. | waroftheworldblog

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