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The Life of the Rt. Hon. Sir Charles W. Dilke, Vol. 2 by Stephen Gwynn

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XXXV. EGYPT (1884)

















LII. LABOUR (1870-1911)












From a drawing by W. Strang.

From a photograph taken about 1878.

MARCH 3RD, 1550-51)
From a painting ascribed to Theodore Bernardi.

From a photograph given by him to Sir Charles W. Dilke.

From a photograph reproduced by permission of the _Daily Mirror_.

From photographs.

From photographs.

From a photograph by Thomson.






The interval between the Sessions of 1883 and 1884 was critical for the
question of electoral reform which interested Liberals beyond all other
questions, but involved the risk of bringing dissensions in the Cabinet
to the point of open rupture. As the months went by, Mr. Chamberlain and
Lord Hartington used less and less concealment of their differences,
while it was well known to all the Cabinet that the alliance between
Chamberlain and Dilke was complete and unconditional. Whoever broke with
Chamberlain broke with Dilke. Fortunately a certain bond of personal
sympathy, in spite of divergent views, existed between Lord Hartington
and Sir Charles Dilke, and this bond largely helped to hold Mr.
Gladstone's Government together.

In the negotiations which followed between the leaders of the two great
Parties, Sir Charles Dilke was able to show the full measure of his
value to the State. It was of first-rate importance that the Liberal
Party should possess at that moment a representative with whom Lord
Salisbury found it congenial to treat, and whom the most advanced
Liberals trusted unreservedly to treat with Lord Salisbury.

The same confidence could hardly have been given by them to Lord
Hartington, who held that "equalization of the franchise was pressing
mainly on account of the pledges that had been given, and not much for
any other reason." [Footnote: Letter to Mr. Gladstone of October 24th,
1883, quoted by Mr. Bernard Holland in his _Life of the Duke of
Devonshire_, vol. i., p. 395.] Most Liberals took a very different view
of the need for this reform. Further, Lord Hartington held that
franchise and redistribution should be treated simultaneously, and he
was unwilling to extend the franchise in Ireland.

At a Cabinet on October 25th, 1883, the question of simultaneous or
separate treatment of the problems had been settled. Mr. Gladstone, says
Sir Charles, 'made a speech which meant franchise first and the rest
nowhere.' On the Irish question, Sir Charles was instructed to get
accurate statistics as to the effects of equalizing the franchise
between boroughs and counties, and 'on Friday, November 16th,' he notes,
'I wrote to Chamberlain: "I have some awful figures for poor Hartington
to swallow--700,000 county householders in the Irish counties."' Lord
Hartington still stuck to his point of linking redistribution and

But on November 22nd,

'Mr. Gladstone read a long and admirable memorandum in favour of the
views held by him, by Chamberlain, and by me, as to franchise and
redistribution--that is, franchise first, with a promise of
redistribution but no Bill; and Hartington received no support after
this from any members of the Cabinet.'

There were, however, matters in which Lord Hartington's Conservative
tendencies found an ally in the Prime Minister. On November 28th, 1883,
at the Committee of the Cabinet on Local Government,

'Chamberlain noted: "Mr. Gladstone hesitates to disfranchise the
freeholders in boroughs--persons voting as householders in boroughs
and as freeholders in the counties in which the boroughs are
constituted. I am in favour of one man one vote, and told him so."
Our not getting one man one vote was entirely Mr. Gladstone's fault,
for the Cabinet expected and would have taken it, Hartington alone
opposing, as he opposed everything all through.'

The question of widening the franchise in Ireland was still unsettled,
and Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Hartington both made allusion to it in
public speeches at this moment. The speeches, apart from their marked
difference in general tone, were on this point in flat contradiction to
each other, and on December 2nd Lord Hartington wrote to Mr. Gladstone
with a threat of resignation. On that day he delivered at Accrington a
long eulogy of the Whigs, who had 'formed a connecting link between the
advanced party and those classes which, possessing property, powers, and
influence, are naturally averse to change.' The Whigs it was, he
contended, who had by their guidance and their action reduced changes in
the direction of popular reform to the 'calm and peaceful process of
constitutional acts.'

'At this moment there was a conflict raging between Chamberlain and
Hartington, and in their autumn speeches each of them pretty plainly
attacked the other's policy. Chamberlain wrote to me: "Why does
Hartington think _aloud_ when he thinks one thing and is going to do
the other? And why does he snub the Caucus when he has made up his
mind to do exactly what they want? If he cannot learn to be a little
more diplomatic, he will make a devil of a rum leader!" A little
later Chamberlain gave me "passages from a speech which _ought_ to
be delivered: 'Yes, gentlemen, I entirely agree with Lord
Hartington. It is the business and duty of Radicals to lead great
popular movements, and if they are fortunate enough to kindle the
fire of national enthusiasm and to stir the hearts of the people,
then it will be the high prerogative of the great Whig noble who has
been waiting round the corner to direct and guide and moderate the
movement which he has done all in his power to prevent and

'The storm between Hartington and Chamberlain having broken out
again, Chamberlain wrote to me on December 5th, enclosing a letter
of reproof from Mr. Gladstone, and saying: "I replied casuistically
that I would endeavour to exclude from my speeches the slightest
reference to Hartington, but that he was really too trying. I
reminded Mr. G. that I had asked if I were free to argue the
question, and that he had said: Yes--no one taking exception." In
the following week Chamberlain came to town and dined with me,
and we discussed the matter. Although Mr. Gladstone had blown
Chamberlain up, he was really much more angry with Hartington.'

It appears from the _Life of the Duke of Devonshire_ that Mr. Gladstone
continued through December his attempts to mediate. [Footnote: See _Life
of the Duke of Devonshire_, by Mr. Bernard Holland, vol. i, p. 398 _et
seq_.] The matter is thus related by Sir Charles, though not from first-
hand knowledge, since he went to Toulon in the middle of December, and
stayed there till January 8th, 1884:

'During my absence I had missed one Cabinet, the first that I ever
missed, and perhaps the only one. It was held suddenly on January
3rd, and I could not arrive in time. Mr. Gladstone had come up from
Hawarden under the impression that Hartington was going to resign,
because we would not produce a redistribution scheme along with
franchise. On the morning of the 3rd, however, he received a letter
in which Hartington gave way on the understanding that Mr. Gladstone
would state the general heads of his redistribution scheme. The
subject was not named at the Cabinet of the 3rd, which dealt with
Egypt only. But the Cabinet adjourned to the 4th, and on January 4th
discussed South Africa, and also ... received a statement from Mr.
Gladstone as to his intention to state the heads of our
redistribution scheme in "very general terms." On the 10th I noted:
"The Cabinets have resulted in peace between Lord Hartington and Mr.
Gladstone, but the Reform Bill will be less complete than I had
hoped." "Mr. Gladstone calmed Hartington by promising not to run
away from us after franchise and before redistribution, which was
what Hartington feared he meant to do."'

Discussion upon the detail of the Bill was resumed, and on January 23rd,

'the Chancellor (Lord Selborne), Hartington, Kimberley, and Dodson,
supported by Mr. Gladstone, forced, against Harcourt, Chamberlain,
and myself, a decision not to attach any condition of residence to
the property vote.'

'On January 28th there was a meeting of the Committee of the Cabinet
on the Franchise Bill in Mr. Gladstone's room. Chamberlain was
anxious to "make Hartington go out on franchise." I asked him how he
thought it was to be done, and he replied: "If he is restive now,
raise the question of Mr. Gladstone's statement on redistribution,
and oppose all limitations in that statement"; and he added that Mr.
Gladstone had only agreed to make the statement unwillingly to quiet
Hartington, and that if Hartington were not quieted Mr. Gladstone
would go back about it. Chamberlain and I on this occasion tried to
make the Franchise Bill more Radical, but failed, Mr. Gladstone
opposing us on old-fashioned grounds.'

'Chamberlain came to me' (on April 26th) 'about a plan which Mr.
Gladstone was to broach at the next Cabinet, for putting off the
operation of the Franchise Act until January 1st, '86, in order to
give time for redistribution to be dealt with. We decided to oppose
it, on the ground that it would not improbably lead to our being
forced into holding an election on the old franchise.'

At the beginning of the Session Sir Charles helped on the general policy
of Radicalism by one of his many minor electoral reforms. This was a
Bill to extend over the United Kingdom the right of keeping the poll
open till eight o'clock at night, which he had secured as a privilege
for Londoners in 1878. He notes that on February 11th he 'fought with
Tory obstructives as to hours of polling, and won'; but the violent
resistance which was offered at first did not continue, and the Bill
passed quietly in July, after time had been given to discuss it in the

'On this day (July 22nd) I had a long and curious conversation with
Healy as to Irish redistribution and as to the hours of poll in
counties, with regard to which he was against extension, but said
that he was forced to support it in public. He told me that his
private opinion was that the Land Act had quieted Ireland.'

The 'Representation of the People' Bill, as the franchise measure was
called, was introduced on February 28th, 1884, and made steady progress,
Liberals finding their task facilitated by the difficulties of their

'On May 7th I wrote to Chamberlain to say that I had to speak at a
house dinner of the Devonshire Club that night, and to ask him if
there was anything he wanted said, to which he replied: "Note
Randolph Churchill's letter to Salisbury with reference to the
Conservative Caucus, and the vindication of the Birmingham one." It
was impossible not to notice this important letter, which
revolutionized politics for some time.'

'_May 14th_.--After the Cabinet I was informed by Chamberlain that a
week earlier, on Wednesday, May 7th, Randolph Churchill had sent to
him to know whether, if he broke with the Conservatives, the
Birmingham Liberals would support him as an independent candidate.'

Sir Charles's letter to his agent at this time sums up the political

'The Tory game is to delay the franchise until they have upset us
upon Egypt, before the Franchise Bill has reached the Lords.... Our
side will be in a humour to treat as traitors any who do not insist
that the one Bill and nothing else shall be had in view--in face of
the tremendous struggle impending in the Lords.'

'On _May 13th_ I had received a letter from Mr. Gladstone in answer
to one from me in a matter which afterwards became important, and
but for Chamberlain's strong stand would have forced me to leave the
Government. I had so strong an opinion in favour of woman's suffrage
that I could not undertake to vote against it, even when proposed as
an amendment to a great Government Bill.'

Sir Charles had written as follows:

'_Easter Eve_, '84.

'I had thought till lately that the Woman's Suffrage division in
Committee on the Franchise Bill would have been so hollow that my
absence from it would not have mattered; but as I find that
Grosvenor thinks that it will not be hollow, it becomes my duty to
write to you about it. I myself think Grosvenor wrong; the woman's
suffrage people claim some 250 "friends," but this they do by
counting all who, having voted with them once, have abstained from
voting for many years, and who are really foes. The division can
only be a close one if the Tory party as a body support the view
which is Northcote's, I believe, and was Disraeli's, but many of the
leaders would be bitterly opposed to such a course. Mr. Disraeli
left the woman's suffrage amendment an open question on his own
Reform Bill, and forbade the Government Whips to tell against the
amendment, but the mass of the Tory party voted in the majority. On
this next occasion there will be a larger Liberal vote against the
change than there was last year, and I do not believe that there
will be a larger Tory vote in its favour. But, supposing that I am
wrong and Grosvenor right, I should feel no difficulty in voting
against the amendment on the grounds of tactics which would be
stated, provided that Fawcett and Courtney, who are the only other
thick-and-thin supporters of woman's suffrage in the Government,
voted also, but I cannot vote if they abstain. Under these
circumstances what had I better do?'

Mr. Gladstone wrote back on May 11th:

'The question as to the votes of members of the Government on
woman's suffrage is beyond me, and I have always intended to ask the
Cabinet, and (like the Gordon rescue) at the proper time. The
distinction appears to me as clear as possible between supporting a
thing in its right place and forcing it into its wrong place. To
nail on to the extension of the franchise, founded upon principles
already known and in use, a vast social question, which is surely
entitled to be considered as such, appears to me in principle very
doubtful. When to this is added the admirable pretext--nay, the fair
argument--it would give to the House of Lords for "putting off" the
Bill, I cannot see the ground for hesitation. But I quite understand
what (I believe) is your view, that there should be one rule for all
the members of the Government.'

'This was an important letter. The words "(like the Gordon rescue)
at the proper time" seem to show that Mr. Gladstone had already made
up his mind to send an expedition to Khartoum, although he would not
say so. The body of the letter proved that Mr. Gladstone had a very
strong opinion against me on the main point, and the consultation of
the Cabinet (which was dead against woman suffrage), and the one
rule for all members of the Government, meant that he intended to
force my vote by a Cabinet resolution, and, killing two birds with
one stone, to attack at the same time Fawcett, who had walked out on
several questions, and announced his intention of walking out on

'By May 22nd I had finally made up my mind that I could not vote
against the woman franchise amendment--even as a mere matter of
tactics and deference to others--if Courtney and Fawcett went out on
the matter. I could not speak to them about it because of the
"Cabinet secret" doctrine. Childers had been directed by the Cabinet
to sound Courtney, because he was Courtney's official superior in
the Treasury. Childers was to offer Courtney that if he would vote
against the amendment he should be allowed to speak for woman
franchise on the merits, and that none of its opponents in the
Cabinet (that is, all except myself) should speak against it on the
merits. I noted: "On the whole I think that we shall walk out, and
not be turned out for so doing." I again explained my position to
Mr. Gladstone.... I felt that the majority of those voting for woman
franchise on this occasion would be Tories, voting for party
reasons, and in order to upset the Bill. I was therefore unwilling
to go out on this occasion, but thought I could not do otherwise
than make common cause with Courtney. On the merits of woman
franchise I had and have a strong opinion. I always thought the
refusal of it contrary to the public interest. The refusal of the
franchise also affects the whole position of women most
unfavourably.' [Footnote: Mrs. Fawcett wrote thanking him 'in the
name of the friends of Women's Suffrage. Your being a member of the
Cabinet made your position in the matter one of special difficulty;
but I do assure you that our gratitude is real and unfeigned.']

On May 24th Sir Charles told the Cabinet what 'I had told Mr. Gladstone
in a letter which I had written to him on Easter Eve, and renewed on the
occasion when he made the reply which has been quoted above.'

When the amendment was reached, Dilke, with Fawcett and Courtney,
abstained. This led to serious trouble. Sir Charles wrote on June 12th
in his Diary:

'Hartington is very angry with me for not voting, and wants me
turned out for it. He has to vote every day for things which he
strongly disapproves, and this makes the position difficult. He says
that my position was wholly different from that of Fawcett and
Courtney, because I was a party to the decision of the Cabinet, and
that custom binds the minority in the collective decision of Her
Majesty's servants. This is undoubtedly the accepted theory. Poor
Hibbert was made to vote. [Footnote: Sir John Tomlinson Hibbert (d.
1908), at this time Financial Secretary to the Treasury, was an able
administrator, and held office in Mr. Gladstone's four
administrations. He assisted materially in the passing of the
Execution within Gaols Act, Married Women's Property Act, and Clergy
Disabilities Act, and was keenly interested in the reform of the
Poor Law.] I fear the Cabinet put the yoke, not of political
necessity, but of their personal prejudice against woman suffrage,
on the necks of their followers.'

The matter came up at a Cabinet on June 14th, and was made worse because
a letter from Lord Hartington, 'offensive in tone,' had been circulated
by accident. However, Mr. Gladstone issued a minute about my walking out
on woman's suffrage, which concluded by a proposal, if his colleagues
concurred, to request me to remain in the Government. Thus ended a
personal crisis which, to use the French phrase, had been 'open' since
my letter to Mr. Gladstone dated 'Antibes, Easter Eve.'

'Chamberlain wrote to me: "It is settled"; and I wrote back: "It is
settled. I would not have asked you to stand by me, as I have no
constitutional case, and your conduct in so doing could not be
defended. I always count on your friendship, but this would have
been too much." He replied: "We are both right. You could not ask
me, but if you had been requested to resign I should have gone too."
Chamberlain had previously informed the Cabinet that, though he
differed from me about woman's suffrage, and regretted the course
that I had felt myself obliged to take, he intended to stand by me
"to the fullest extent."' [Footnote: The further negotiations with
regard to Franchise and Redistribution in 1884, and the 'compact'
which ended them, are dealt with in Chapter XXXVI., infra, pp.


While the great measure of the Session went steadily through its stages,
various other questions were also occupying the Cabinet. The search for
a new Speaker in succession to Sir Henry Brand, who had declared at the
beginning of 1883 his unwillingness to retain office beyond that
Session, was one, and not the least important, of these questions. Sir
Henry James was first mentioned, and he refused.

'November, 1883. Some had thought of putting up Dodson, but the
Tories had announced that they should run Ridley in opposition to
him. There was also a difficulty about filling Dodson's place.
Trevelyan was the only man who could be put into the Cabinet without
causing the resignation of Courtney and Fawcett, and Mr. Gladstone
was still in the humour which he had developed at the time of the
offer of the Chief Secretaryship to me, and declared that he would
not have the Chief Secretary in the Cabinet, the Viceroy being in
it, for this would be to have two Kings of Brentford.'

On November 10th 'Childers seemed the favourite for Speakership,' but on
the 12th it was decided that Herschell, Goschen, Arthur Peel, and
Campbell-Bannerman, were to be offered the Speakership--in that order.
It was known that Herschell would refuse, it was thought that Goschen
would refuse on the ground of sight, and Peel on the ground of health,
and it was intended that Campbell-Bannerman should have it. Herschell
did refuse, but Goschen accepted, and had to be shown by his doctor that
he could not see members across the House, that he would be capable of
confusing Healy with Parnell.... Peel accepted, and in spite of his bad
health took it, and has kept it till this day (1891).'

There was also continuous discussion behind the scenes as to the two
important measures of local government reform--for London and for the

'By November 8th, 1883, I had succeeded in bringing Harcourt round
on the London police matter ... to let the City keep their police,
and then went to Mr. Gladstone.... After twelve o'clock at night
Harcourt joined us, and it was agreed to put both London and local
government in the Queen's Speech for 1884.'

Dilke spent much work upon the London Government Bill with Harcourt in
January of that year; but the Bill, having passed its second reading,
was not further proceeded with, owing to House of Commons difficulties.
Sir Charles gives the true reason in a letter to his agent:

'One unfortunate thing about the London Bill is that no one in the
House cares about it except Dilke, Firth, and the Prime Minister,
and no one outside the House except the Liberal electors of Chelsea.
This is the private hidden opinion of Harcourt and of the
Metropolitan Liberal members except Firth. I am personally so strong
for the Bill that I have not at any time admitted this to Harcourt,
and I have only hinted it to Firth....'

When Sir William Harcourt's Bill collapsed, Dilke attempted a minor
improvement for the Metropolis by framing a City Guilds Bill, which he
described to Mr. Gladstone as following the scheme of the Bills by which
the Universities had been reformed. But the Chancellor, Lord Selborne,
fought strongly against this proposal: and nothing came of it.

The great scheme for reforming Local Government in England and Wales was
meanwhile being considered by the Committee to which it had been
referred. Besides Sir Charles Dilke, who naturally acted as Chairman,
the Committee consisted of Mr. Chamberlain, Lord Kimberley, Mr.
Childers, Lord Carlingford, and Mr. Dodson (who were members of the
Cabinet), and Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice. With them were Sir Henry Thring,
the celebrated Parliamentary draughtsman, and Mr. Hugh Owen, the
Permanent Secretary of the Local Government Board. The task of obtaining
agreement, and even sometimes of maintaining order, in a Committee
composed of persons representing such a variety of opinion, was no easy
one, and it tested to the full the tact and ingenuity of the Chairman.
Mr. Dodson, Sir Charles Dilke's immediate predecessor at the Local
Government Board, and Lord Carlingford represented the views which had
hitherto prevailed in favour of piecemeal and gradual reform. Mr.
Chamberlain, Lord Kimberley, and Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice were, on the
contrary, supporters of the large Bill which the Chairman had prepared;
while Mr. Childers, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, was there mainly to
keep a vigilant watch on the local authorities, who were suspected, and
not without reason, of desiring to treat the Treasury as a sort of
"milch cow," a description which Mr. Gladstone had recently made current
in a debate in the House of Commons, Sir Henry Thring was no mere
draughtsman. He had had an immense experience of official life, had
known every man of public importance over a long period of years, and
had very determined views on most subjects, which he never hesitated to
express in clear-cut language and without respect of persons. Mr. Lowe,
it was asserted, had once observed at a Cabinet just before Thring
entered the room: 'I think before he arrives we had better carry a
preliminary resolution that we are all d----d fools.' As it also
happened, Local Government was a subject on which Sir Henry Thring, and
not without reason, prided himself as an expert, and the Committee over
which Sir Charles Dilke presided consequently had Sir Henry Thring's
views conveyed to them in unmistakable terms. One of his special objects
of hostility was the Poor Law Union area, which he hoped ultimately to
destroy. On the other hand, Mr. Hugh Owen, like nearly all the Local
Government Board officials of that time, regarded the Poor Law and
everything connected with it as sacred. The controversies were
frequently fierce, and on one occasion a serious crisis almost arose
owing to Lord Kimberley asking to be informed if Sir Henry Thring was
preparing a Bill of his own or was acting on his instructions.

The Bill of 1884 contained almost everything now to be found within the
corners of the two great measures of 1888 and 1894, which, the one
passed by a Conservative, the other by a Liberal Government, entirely
revolutionized the Local Government of England. It was, however, decided
to have no Aldermen, but a few ex-officio seats were created on the
County Council. Otherwise direct election was the method chosen for all
the new Councils. The administration of the Poor Law was kept within the
purview of the Bill, after a long controversy as to the method of
electing the representatives of urban parishes on the local Poor Law
authority, when such an authority included both a borough and a rural
district; and the limit of population that was to entitle a borough to a
complete independence from the county authority was raised from the
figure originally proposed of 20,000 to 100,000 and upwards.

It had been part of Sir Charles Dilke's plan to include education within
the framework of the Bill, making the Borough and District Councils the
local education authority, with a limited superior jurisdiction in the
County Council. But it was found that almost insurmountable difficulties
would arise in adding so immense a proposal to an already large measure,
and it had to be abandoned.

Mr. Gladstone expressed a decided view on one portion of the Bill only.
He gave his strongest support to the proposal that the price of any
increased contributions in the shape of Treasury grants should be the
complete reform of the conflict of areas and jurisdictions, which added
so much to the difficulties and the cost of local administration.
[Footnote: In a speech made at Halifax on October 13th, 1885, which
occupies nearly the whole of a page of the _Times_, Sir Charles Dilke,
after the fall of the Government, gave a full account of the proposed

The question of female councillors inevitably found its way into the
discussions, and it was decided in their favour, notwithstanding much
divergence of opinion.

'"I am sorry," Childers wrote, "about female councillors, but I
suppose I am in a minority, and that we shall soon have women M.P.'s
and Cabinet Ministers." This shows that we had decided to clear up
the doubt as to the possibility of women serving as councillors, and
distinctly to give them the opportunity of so doing. When Ritchie
afterwards introduced portions of my Bill, he left this doubtful,
and the Lady Sandhurst decision was the result.' [Footnote: See for
"Lady Sandhurst decision," infra, p. 17.]

Sir Charles differed from other members of the Committee in the desire
to make the county and not the Local Government Board the sole appellate
authority from the district. 'I would, indeed,' he says, 'have gone
farther, had I been able to convince my colleagues, and have set up an
elective Local Government Board for England.'

Owing to the Parliamentary position, progress with any large measures of
reform was, however, difficult even in the preliminary stages; and the
road seemed to get more encumbered every day, for the period now under
review indicates the high-water mark of Parliamentary obstruction in the
skilled hands of the Irish Party and Lord Randolph Churchill, who
successfully defied the feeble reforms of procedure of 1882. So it came
about that early in 1884 Sir Charles was found rather mournfully writing
to Mr. Gladstone:

'We produced to-day our last draft of the Local Government Bill, and
had our funeral meeting over it, I fear. I wish to tell you with
what spirit and skill Edmond Fitzmaurice has gone into the matter.
He is the only man I know who is fit to be President of this Board.'

In the autumn of 1883 Sir Charles made what was rare with him, a kind of
oratorical progress. He spoke at Glasgow, at Greenock, and lastly at
Paisley, where he received the freedom of the burgh for his services
connected with the commercial negotiations. His speech at Paisley
naturally dealt with commercial policy, and drew an admiring letter from
Sir Robert Morier, who was then just bringing to a head the offer of a
commercial treaty with Spain. The Cabinet, however, had been much
inclined to issue a general declaration on the subject,

'Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville being against all commercial
treaties, I for good ones and against bad ones, and Chamberlain for
punishing Italy for her conduct to us.' [Footnote: 'March 5th,
1883.--We turned to Tariff Treaties: Lord Granville and Mr.
Gladstone wishing for a general and abstract declaration against
them, and I, with support of Childers, urging most strongly the
other view. The proposed declaration was a gratuitous piece of
folly, for we were not called on to say anything at all.']

When the proposed treaty with Spain, and the changes in duties which it
would involve, were before the Cabinet on November 10th,

'I am afraid I played upon Mr. Gladstone's favourite weakness (next
to praise of Montenegro)--namely, abuse of the Customs, a department
for the routine of which he always had a perfect loathing.'


Queen Victoria's demand for investigation into the housing of the poor
[Footnote: See Vol. I., p. 509.] had led to prompt administrative
action, planned by Sir Charles before he left for his Christmas holiday.

'While I was at Toulon there were issued from the Local Government
Board the circulars on the Housing of the Working Class, which I had
prepared before leaving London.... One circular, December 29th, 1883
... called on the Vestries to make use of the powers which they
possessed for regulating the condition of houses let in lodgings.
Another, December 30th ... called attention to their powers under
the Sanitary Acts, and under the Artisans and Labourers' Dwellings
Acts; and one of the same date to a similar effect went to all urban
sanitary districts throughout the country, while a further circular
with digests of the laws was sent out on January 7th, 1884. This
action was afterwards repeated by Chamberlain and others, and taken
for new, and again by Walter Long.'

But, naturally, the first man to do it stirred up a hornets' nest.
_Punch_ of the first week in January, 1884, derides the 'Bitter Cry of
Bumbledom' against Dilke and Mr. Hugh Owen, [Footnote: Years after Sir
Hugh Owen, G.C.B., wrote to Dilke: 'I shall always remember that I owed
my first step in the Order of the Bath to you.'] Secretary to the Local
Government Board:

'_Us_ to blame? That's a capital notion! Drat them and their
"statutes" and "digests"!
"Convenience of reference." Ah! that is one of their imperent sly
Removal of Noosances? Yah! If we started on _that_ lay perniskers
There is more than a few in the Westries 'ud feel suthin' singein'
their wiskers,
Or BUMBLE'S a Dutchman. Their Circ'lar--it's mighty obliging--defines
The Noosances namely; I wonder if parties _read_ Circ'lars as signs
If so, Local Government Boarders must be most oncommonly knowin',
And I'd like to 'eave bricks at that DILKE and his long-winded
myrmidon OWEN.
The public's got Slums on the brain, and with sanitry bunkum's have
_We_ make a more wigorous use of the powers with which we're
Wy, if we are at it all day with their drains, ashpits, roofs, walls,
and windies,
Wot time shall we 'ave for our feeds and our little porochial
And all for the 'labouring classes'--the greediest, ongratefullest
I tell you these Radical lot and their rubbishy littery eggers,
Who talk of neglected old brooms, and would 'ave _us_ turn to at their
Are Noosances wus than bad smells and the rest o' their sanitry

Sir Charles's main object in local government was to decentralize, and
he sought to move in this direction by stimulating the exercise of
existing powers and the habit of responsibility in local popularly
elected bodies. But inquiry was also necessary.

'On February 8th, 1884, it had been decided to appoint a Royal
Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, and Mr. Gladstone
had expressed his wish that I should be chairman of the Commission,
on which the Prince of Wales desired to serve.'

'On the 9th it was settled that Bodley, my secretary, should be
secretary to the Royal Commission. I immediately wrote to Manning to
ask him to serve, and he consented on February 12th.'

Lord Salisbury's name lent another distinction to the list, which was
completed by February 16th. [Footnote: In addition to the Prince, the
Cardinal, and Lord Salisbury, Dilke's Commission consisted of Lord
Brownlow, Lord Carrington, Mr. Goschen, Sir Richard Cross, the Bishop of
Bedford (Dr. Walsham How), Mr. E. Lyulph Stanley, Mr. McCullagh Torrens,
Mr. Broadhurst, Mr. Jesse Collings, Mr. George Godwin, and Mr. Samuel
Morley. To these were added later Mr. Dwyer Gray and Sir George
Harrison, for Ireland and Scotland respectively.]

'A very difficult question arose about his precedence. I referred it
to the Prince of Wales, who said that he thought Manning ought to
take precedence, as a Prince, after Princes of the Blood, and before
Lord Salisbury.'

The nice question was referred to Lord Salisbury and to many other
authorities, and finally to Lord Sydney, who wrote, from the Board of
Green Cloth, 'that in 1849, at the Queen's Levee at Dublin Castle, the
Roman Catholic Primate followed the Protestant Archbishop, but he was
not a Cardinal. _A fortiori_ I presume a Cardinal as a Prince of the
Holy Roman Empire would have precedence next to the Prince of Wales. It
showed, however, extraordinary ignorance on the part of the Lord Steward
to suppose that the Holy Roman Empire and the Papal Court were the same
thing.' [Footnote: The story of how the question of precedence was
settled in Manning's favour is given in detail in Mr. Bodley's _Cardinal
Manning, and Other Essays_ (1912).]

'It was on February 12th that I received Sir Henry Ponsonby's letter
announcing the approval of the Queen to the Prince serving on the
Commission as an ordinary member under my chairmanship, and the
Prince of Wales expressed his pleasure at the Queen's approval.'

'On February 22nd the members of the Cabinet present (at a meeting
at the Foreign Office) discussed my proposal to put Miss Octavia
Hill on my Royal Commission, no woman having ever sat on one; and
Harcourt having refused to sign the Commission if it contained a
woman's name, Mr. Gladstone, Kimberley, and Northbrook sided with
me, and Hartington with Harcourt. Lord Granville said that he was
with me on the principle, but against me on the person. After this
Mr. Gladstone went round, and said that the decision of the Cabinet
was against me. Asquith put several women on a Royal Commission a
few years later, but refused them the precedence to which they were
entitled, and gave every male member precedence before them.'

Mr. Lyulph Stanley was included to represent his sister, Miss Maude
Stanley, whom Sir Charles Dilke had wished to appoint.

Later in the year Sir Charles successfully asserted the principle for
which he was contending, by putting women on the Metropolitan Asylums
Board. Lady Ducie had the honour of the first invitation to serve, and
Sir Charles afterwards added Miss Maude Stanley and others. The question
of qualification was discussed, only to be set aside. The law officers

'knew the women would be knocked off if anyone raised the question,
and in Lady Sandhurst's case this was afterwards made clear; but no
one did raise it against my nominees, and they stayed on for life.'

'March 7th.--I had now had several interviews with Lord Salisbury
and the Prince of Wales about the Royal Commission, and the first
meeting of the Commission itself was held on March 5th.... We really
began our work on March 14th. My work was heavy at this time, with
sittings of the Commission twice a week, for which I had to prepare,
as I did all the examination in chief of the witnesses, and, indeed,
found them all and corresponded with them in advance.'

'The Commission was dull, although it produced a certain amount of
valuable evidence, and almost the only amusing incident which
occurred in the course of many months was Lord Salisbury making a
rather wild suggestion, when Broadhurst put down his pen, and,
looking up in a pause, said with an astonished air, "Why, that is
Socialism!" at which there was a loud laugh all round.'

'I wrote to Lord Salisbury on May 7th to ask him for his suggestions
as to what I called "remedies" to be proposed by our Commission, as
I had already made my own list, and wished from this time forward to
examine each witness on the same heads, with a view to collecting a
body of evidence for the Report, intended to lead to recommendation
and legislation upon these particular points....'

Some of Lord Salisbury's suggestions were 'valuable, and still throw
much light on his temporary Radicalism, which unfortunately soon wore

'It is clear that on May 9th, 1884, he was contemplating throwing
the rates upon the land, and making a long step towards leasehold
enfranchisement. Lord Salisbury's proposal on this last head was
virtually one for "judicial rents," as far as principle went, and
destructive of the old view of the rights of holders of landed
property--although, perhaps, not one carrying much advantage to

The Report of the Commission proposed the rating of vacant land, but
before it was drafted Lord Salisbury condemned the proposal in a
memorandum attached to the Report, which Mr. Goschen supported by
another independent minute.

Sir Charles sent also a request for the suggestion of 'remedies' to
Cardinal Manning, who, says a scribbled note, 'is our only

'On Friday, May 16th, at the Commission the Cardinal handed me his
list of suggestions, which were not only revolutionary, but ill-
considered, and I have to note how curiously impracticable a
schemer, given to the wildest plans, this great ecclesiastic showed
himself. He suggested the removal out of London, not only of prisons
and infirmaries (which no doubt are under the control of public
authorities), but also of breweries, ironworks, and all factories
not needed for daily or home work, as a means of giving us areas for
housing the working class, suggestions the value or practicability
of which I need hardly discuss.'

'On May 18th, I having proposed to add to the Royal Commission a
member for Ireland and a member for Scotland before we began to take
the Scotch and Irish evidence, and having proposed Gray, the
Nationalist member and proprietor of the _Freeman's Journal_, who
was the highest Irish authority upon the subject, Ponsonby replied:
"Although the Queen cannot say she has a high opinion of Mr. Gray,
Her Majesty will approve of his appointment, and that of the Lord
Provost of Edinburgh, on the Royal Commission." Sir Henry Ponsonby
was a worthy successor of General Grey--a wise counsellor of much
prudence, invaluable to the Queen.'

'Early in June Chamberlain came a good deal to the Local Government
Board to consider the evidence which he was to give before my
Commission. His view was mine--that in the Metropolis the housing of
the working classes could only be dealt with by imposing the most
stringent obligations on the owners of property on which artisans'
dwellings already existed; and Chamberlain was willing to go so far
as to reserve such property permanently for the object, with State
interference to secure fair rents. I argued with him that a strong
case could be made against him on such points as extension of trade
from the City into Whitechapel, extension of fashionable dwellings
from Mayfair into Chelsea, and so forth. He then fell back upon a
proposal for exchange, and said that at all events there was no
practical alternative to his view, an opinion in which I agreed. On
a later day in June the Cardinal wrote to me expressing his regret
for absence from the Commission, "at which I should like to have
seen Lord Salisbury examine Mr. Chamberlain." But the Commission
kept up its character for dulness, and nothing noteworthy occurred.'

The Commission on Housing, to which so much of Sir Charles's time was
devoted, had an importance, now forgotten, in the modern development of
Social Reform.

'Up to five-and-twenty years ago,' said a writer in a daily
newspaper on Social Reform in 1910, 'when the living Sir Charles
Dilke was the President of the Local Government Board, no one cared
how the poor lived or fared. They could reside in the most
ramshackle tenements in insanitary slums, for which, by the way,
they were charged exorbitant rents, far higher than what they would
now pay for the well-ventilated and well-equipped self-contained
houses of the London County Council and building companies which
provide accommodation for the industrial classes. Sir Charles saw
the abject and helpless condition of the people of London, and
resolved, when he succeeded to office, to try and remedy the evils
under which they laboured. His enthusiasm in the cause of the poor
caught on, and in a short time "slumming" became a fashionable
craze. Committees were formed--the premier one being that which had
its headquarters at the Mansion House--to improve the dwellings of
the poor. In a short time the movement became a great success, and,
that there should be no falling back, medical officers of health,
whose sole time was to be devoted to their duties, and battalions of
sanitary inspectors, were appointed in every district in the

It cannot be said that 'no one cared,' for outside the great official
movement which Sir Charles Dilke directed were the devoted social
workers on whom he called for evidence at the Commission, and to whose
labours he always paid tribute; nor must be forgotten the Queen's fine
letter calling on her Ministers to act. But, as Miss Octavia Hill wrote
to him on March 22nd, 1884, 'you among all men realize most clearly that
action is more needed than words.'

The question of Housing is so inextricably bound up with all the
conditions of the poor, with hours of work and with those questions of
wages which Sir Charles had first studied with John Stuart Mill, that it
is natural to find him presiding over another inquiry which, though
prepared for in 1884, was carried out in the first weeks of 1885.

'At the beginning of the new year of 1885 there were completed the
final arrangements for my presidency of the Industrial Remuneration
Conference, which was held at the end of January at Prince's Hall,
Piccadilly, on three mornings and three afternoons. A large sum of
money had been given for the purpose of promoting the consideration
of the best means for bringing about a more equal division of the
products of industry between capital and labour, so that it might
become possible for all to enjoy a fair share of material comfort
and intellectual culture--possible for all to lead a dignified life,
and less difficult to lead a good life. The trustees who were
appointed decided to promote a conference on the present system
whereby the products of industry are distributed between the various
classes of the community, and the means whereby that system should
be improved. They then divided the subject into subheads, and asked
certain persons to read papers, and an extraordinarily interesting
series of discussions was the result. In my own speech in opening
the proceedings I called attention to the nature of the German
Governmental Socialism, and quoted Prince Bismarck's speeches,
showing what was the object which the Prussian Government had in
view--namely, to try experiments as to the labour of man with the
view "to reach a state of things in which no man could say: 'I bear
the burden of society, but no one cares for me.'" This Conference
first introduced to London audiences all the leaders of the new
Unionism, and future chiefs of the Dockers' Strike. Among the
speakers were Arthur Balfour and John Burns, who told us of his
dismissal from his employment as an engineer at Brotherhoods
[Footnote: A great engineering firm at Chippenham in Wiltshire.] for
attending as delegate of the "S.D.F."'

'I am convinced,' wrote Mr. Burns in 1914 from the Office of the
Local Government Board, over which he then presided, 'that few, if
any, conferences held in London in recent years have done more good
for the cause of social progress than the Industrial Remuneration
Conference of 1885. The Conference focussed public opinion and
sympathy upon a large number of important questions, which have
since made greater headway than they would have done if the
Conference had not taken place. I have the highest opinion of the
value of its work, and of the good influence it exercised in
stimulating inquiry and action in many directions.'

Six years later, when Sir Charles was before the electors of the Forest
of Dean as their chosen candidate, he discussed the whole question of
limiting by law the hours of work; and he told them how his experience
of those days spent in the chair of the Conference in 1885 had converted
him 'from a position of absolute impartiality to one strongly favourable
to legislative limitation.'

A speech delivered by him in January, 1884, to the Liberals of Bedford
Park, brings together the two sides of his work. For him political
reform lay at the very base of social reform; in his opinion the
government of London and extension of the franchise ought not to be
party questions at all; his desire was to call the whole people of the
country into citizenship of the State, and he would make exercise of the
voting power compulsory and universal. People said there was no 'magic
in the vote.' He wanted as many citizens as possible to have the right
to consider 'the sort of magic by which many persons contrived to live
at all under the existing social conditions.'

A proof of his friendship for the cause of labour, and of his desire to
associate manual workers with the administration, was given by him in a
use of patronage, in which he departed from his principle of confining
it to the men in his office, tendering the chance of official employment
to two leading representatives of labour in August, 1884.

'I had a "good" appointment under the Local Government Board to
make, and I offered it not only to Broadhurst, but afterwards to
Burt. I expected both of them to decline, which both did, but I
should have been glad if either of them would have taken it, for
both were competent.'


As to his departmental work, Sir Charles notes in July, 1884:

'I have said but little of my work at the Local Government Board,
because, though heavy, it was of an uninteresting nature.'
[Footnote: There are, however, many entries, of which this for 1884
is typical:

'September 8th.--With the Local Government Board Inspectors Fleming
and Courtenay to the worst villages in England. I made my way from
Bridport to Yeovil, Nettlecombe, Powerstock, Maiden Newton, Taunton
and its neighbourhood, Wiveliscombe, Bridgwater, and North

'Between September 21st and 27th I was visiting workhouses and
infirmaries every day, and on the 27th I completed my visits to
every workhouse, infirmary, and poor-law school in or belonging to
Metropolitan Unions.]

'My chief new departure was in connection with the emigration of
pauper children, which had been long virtually prohibited, and which
I once more authorized.'

Mr. Preston Thomas has fortunately preserved a note of another
innovation. The Guardians of a certain union in Cambridgeshire had
committed the offence of spending three shillings and threepence of
public money on toys for sick pauper children in the workhouse
infirmary. The case had occurred before, and the Board's legal advisers
had held the expenditure to be unwarrantable, and had surcharged the
offending Guardians. Dilke was questioned in the House about the matter,
and admitted the previous decisions, but said that the Board had changed
its mind. So the children at Wisbech kept their toys; and not only that,
but a circular went out from Whitehall suggesting that workhouse girls
should be supplied with a reasonable number of skipping-ropes and
battledores and shuttlecocks.

The appearance of cholera in French and Spanish ports disquieted the
public, and as early as July 25th, 1883,

'I circulated a draft of a Bill to meet the cholera scare, which I
carried into law as the Diseases Prevention Act. I did not much
believe in cholera, but I took advantage of the scare to carry some
useful clauses to deal with smallpox epidemics, the most important
clause being one giving compulsory powers for acquiring wharves, by
which we could clear the London smallpox hospitals, removing the
patients to the Atlas and Castalia floating hospitals on the Thames.
I was a strong partisan of the floating hospitals for smallpox. I
used to pay frequent visits to them, and in the early summer of 1885
stayed there from Saturday to Monday; and I used also to go to the
camp at Darenth to which we removed convalescents from the ships.'

He notes that he was revaccinated before one of these visits:

'September, 1884.--My arm was in a frightful condition from the
vaccine disease, though I was still a teetotaller, now of about ten
years' standing.'

During the autumn recess:

'In the course of this week I was every day inspecting schools and
asylums, the imbecile asylums at Caterham, Leavesden, and many
others; and my smallpox wharves were also giving me much trouble, as
Rotherhithe and the other places showed strong objections to them,
which I was, however, able to remove.'

But the veteran official who has been already quoted attaches a very
different importance to this whole matter. In France and Spain, says Mr.
Preston Thomas, the Governments were chiefly concerned to deny the
existence of any danger. In England the medical staff demanded such an
increase in the number of inspectors as would enable them to take proper
precautions at the ports.

'Fortunately, Sir Charles Dilke had become President of the Board,
and carried with him a political weight which his two worthy, but
not particularly influential, predecessors, Sclater-Booth and
Dodson, had not enjoyed. He had one or two passages of arms with
Childers, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when it was attempted to
interfere with the estimates which he had put forward, and which he
declined to defend in Parliament if they were curtailed. There was
an appeal to the Premier, and Sir Charles Dilke had come off
victorious. So when he proposed largely to increase the medical
staff in order to make a sanitary survey of the entire coast, the
Treasury's sanction was given, and the work was carried out with
far-reaching results. The authorities of the ports ... were
impressed with a sense of their responsibilities; not only did they
organize special arrangements for the inspection of ships from
infected countries, but they also recognized the necessity of
setting their own houses in order in a literal sense, and many of
them for the first time displayed activity in providing pure water,
efficient sewerage, and a prompt removal of nuisances.... The
communications of the Board's expert with the local authorities and
their officers ... did something more than lay the foundations of
that Public Health System ... which has saved us from any outbreak
of cholera for the last quarter of a century, [Footnote: Written in
1909.] and has reduced the mortality from preventable diseases to a
rate which such countries as France and Germany may well envy.'
(_Work and Play of a Government Inspector_, p. 148.)

It should be noted, too, that the first definite action of the Housing
Commission concerned the Local Government Board:

'It was decided to ask Parliament to alter its standing orders with
regard to persons of the labouring class displaced under
Parliamentary Powers, and to insist on local inquiry in such cases,
and the approval of the Local Government Board after it has been
shown that suitable accommodation had been found for the people
displaced. This was done by resolution of both Houses of


The friendliness which had grown up between Sir Charles and Lord
Salisbury, and was later in this year to be of public service, is
illustrated by an amusing note in the Memoir. Sir Charles Dilke was
never a clubman, and had incurred the remonstrances of Sir M. Grant Duff
by refusing to take up membership of the Athenaeum, as he was entitled
to do on entering the Cabinet. But there is a club more august than the
Athenaeum, and here also Dilke showed indisposition to enter. He notes
in May:

'Before this I had been much pressed to accept my election at
Grillion's Club on Lord Salisbury's nomination. The Club considers
itself such an illustrious body that it elects candidates without
telling them they are proposed, and I received notice of my election
accompanied by some congratulations. I at first refused to join, but
afterwards wrote to the secretary: "Carlingford has been to see me
about Grillion's, and tells me that I should have the terrible
distinction of being the first man who ever declined to belong to
it, an oddity which I cannot face, so ... I will ask your leave to
withdraw my refusal." On May 3rd I breakfasted at the Club for the
first time, Mr. Gladstone and a good many other Front Bench people,
chiefly Conservatives, being present.'

The meetings of the Housing Commission had also increased the frequency
of intercourse between Sir Charles Dilke and the Prince of Wales, who
was in this May

'showing a devotion to the work of my Commission which was quite
unusual with him, and he cut short his holiday and returned from
Royat to London on purpose for our meeting.'

On January 11th, 1884, the Duke of Albany wrote to Sir Charles that he
had hoped to call, but was not sure whether he had returned to England.
'I write to express a hope that your opinions will coincide with the
request which I have made to Lord Derby ... namely, to succeed Lord
Normanby as Governor of Victoria.' He referred to their talk at
Claremont of his 'hopes, which were not realized, of going to Canada.'
'The Prince went on to say that, as I had been in Australia, I was "a
more competent judge than some others of the Ministers as to the
advisability of my appointment."' He spoke of the matter as one in which
he was 'vitally interested,' and his 'sincere trust' in Sir Charles's
support. The Cabinet agreed to the appointment,

'unless the Queen persisted in her opposition. The matter had been
discussed at Eastwell (where I stayed with the Duchess of Edinburgh
from the 19th to the 21st) by me with the Duchess as well as with
Princess Louise and Lorne, who were also there. The Duke of
Edinburgh was not there, but at Majorca in his ship. The party
consisted of Nigra, the Italian Ambassador, the Wolseleys, Lord
Baring and his sister Lady Emma, and Count Adlerberg of the Russian
Embassy, in addition to the Princess Louise and Lome already named.'

'On January 24th there was a regular Cabinet. The Queen had written
that she would not allow Prince Leopold to go to Victoria.'

On March 28th 'we heard of the death of Prince Leopold,' codicils to
whose will Sir Charles had witnessed in the preceding year. 'All
newspapers wrote of the pleasant boy as though he had been a man of
literary genius.'

But anxious as Sir Charles had been to further Prince Leopold's wishes,
and in spite of his 'respect for his memory,' he could not allow a
principle, for which he always fought, to be waived.

'The Queen wrote to Mr. Gladstone at this time (April 5th) with
regard to provision for the child and possible posthumous child of
the Duke of Albany, and I wrote to Mr. Gladstone that I could not
possibly agree to any provision for them, for which there was no
exact precedent, without the Select Committee which I had previously
been promised as regarded any new application.'

On April 22nd Mr. Gladstone alluded 'to a letter to the Queen, but he
did not read it to us,' and Sir Charles again insisted 'upon inquiry
before the proposal of any provision for which there was no direct

'At the Cabinet of Monday, April 28th, we found that the Queen was
indignant with us for our refusal to make further provision for the
Duchess of Albany.... None of the precedents of the century
warranted provision for children in infancy. It was agreed that Mr.
Gladstone was to write to the Queen again, but "our negative answer
is only applicable to the case where the children are in infancy."
In other words, we did not wish to bind those who might come after
us, but the phrase was not to commit us as to what we would do in
five years' time.'





At the close of 1883 the destruction of Hicks's army had made clear to
all that the Soudan was, for the time at least, lost to Egypt; and close
upon this disaster in the central region had followed defeats on the Red
Sea coast. But Egyptian garrisons were holding out at Sinkat, some fifty
miles from the port of Suakim, and at Tokar, only twenty miles from the
coast. In October, 1883, a small force sent to relieve Sinkat was cut up
by the Dervishes under Osman Digna; in November, a larger column of 500,
accompanied by the British Consul, was utterly routed in an attempt to
reach Tokar. General Baker, with his newly formed gendarmerie, was then
ordered to Suakim. He desired to enlist the services of Zebehr Pasha, a
famous leader of men, but a former dealer in slaves. To this the British
authorities objected, and Zebehr was not sent. Baker went, attempted
with 3,500 troops to reach Tokar, and on February 2nd, 1884, lost 2,000
of them near the wells of El Teb. Both Tokar and Sinkat soon after fell
into the hands of the Dervishes.

Long before this event, the evacuation of the Soudan had been decreed. A
peremptory mandate from the British Government was sent to Cherif Pasha,
the Egyptian Prime Minister, who, as he had intimated that he would do,
resigned rather than be responsible for giving up so vast a possession.
On January 8th, Nubar took office to carry out the prescribed policy.
But the problem was how to get away the garrisons, and, since England
had ordered evacuation, the Egyptian Government looked to England for

'On January 16th I noted: "Baring wants to make us send a British
officer to conduct the retreat from Khartoum. I have written to Lord
Granville to protest." Baring had been pressing for an answer to his
suggestion named above. I had all along fought against the "Hicks
Expedition," and this seemed a consequence. The Egyptian Government
had resigned, and the sole supporter of the abandonment policy among
the Egyptians in Egypt was the Khedive himself; but Nubar was sent
for, and accepted office (with a number of cyphers) to carry it into
effect. On January 10th Lord Granville had telegraphed to Baring,
without my knowledge, "Would Gordon or Wilson be of use?" [Footnote:
Colonel Sir Charles Wilson. See his _Life_, by Sir Charles Watson,
p. 244.] On the 11th Baring replied, "I do not think that the
services of Gordon or Wilson can be utilized at present"; and after
a reply had been received I saw the telegrams. The earlier Gordon
suggestions by Granville, now revealed by E. Fitzmaurice from the
Granville Papers, and expounded in Cromer's (1908) book, were never
before the Cabinet. [Footnote: Life of Lord Granville, vol. ii., pp.
381, 382.]

'On the 14th Lord Granville telegraphed to Baring: "Can you give
further information as to prospects of retreat from (? for) army and
residents at Khartoum, and measures taken? Can anything more be
done?" Power, our Consular Agent at Khartoum, had also been told
that he might leave. On January 16th Baring telegraphed: "The
Egyptian Government would feel obliged if Her Majesty's Government
would send out at once a qualified British officer to go to Khartoum
with full powers, civil and military, to conduct the retreat." Lord
Granville then telegraphed for Gordon, and on the 18th I was
summoned suddenly to a meeting at the War Office in Hartington's
room, at which were present, before I arrived, Hartington, Lord
Granville and Lord Northbrook, and Colonel Gordon. Gordon said that
he believed that the danger at Khartoum had been "grossly
exaggerated," and that the two Englishmen there had "lost their
heads"; he would be able to bring away the garrisons without
difficulty. We decided that he should go to Suakim to collect
information and report on the situation in the Soudan. This was the
sole decision taken, but it was understood that if he found he could
get across he should go on to Berber. Gordon started at night on the
same day.

'On January 22nd the first subject mentioned was that of Egyptian
finance, a Rothschild loan for six months being suggested, but
nothing settled. The Cabinet approved our action in sending Gordon.
But they had before them a great deal more than what we had
done--namely, what he had done himself. On his road between London
and Brindisi he had prepared a series of decrees which he
telegraphed to us and which we telegraphed to Baring. In these he
announced the restoration to the various Sultans of the Soudan of
their independence, and he made the Khedive say: "I have
commissioned General Gordon, late Governor-General of the Soudan, to
proceed there as my representative, and to arrange with you" (the
peoples of the Soudan) "for the evacuation of the country and the
withdrawal of my troops." He then made the Khedive appoint him
"Governor-General for the time necessary to accomplish the
evacuation." He also telegraphed to the Hadendowa and Bishareen
Arabs of the desert between Suakim and Berber, directing them to
meet him at Suakim, and saying that he should be there in fourteen
days. In sending these we told Baring: "Suggestions made by Gordon.
We have no local knowledge sufficient to judge. You may settle
terms, and act upon them at once, as time presses, or after
consultation with him." Mr. Gladstone did not object, although
strongly opposed to our undertaking responsibility in the Soudan,
because Gordon still spoke in every sentence of conducting the
evacuation; but reading his proclamations in the light of his
subsequent change of mind, and desire to stay in Khartoum and be
supported by force, it seems clear that he had deceived us and did
not really mean evacuation. This, however, could not yet be seen
from the words he used. I wrote to Lord Granville on January 22nd,
to point out that in addition to the danger in the Soudan, which had
been foreseen, there was a risk that Gordon might get himself
carried off alive into the desert by some of the Arab chiefs that he
was to meet, and that in that case we should have to send an
expedition after him.

'On January 31st there was a meeting at the War Office about Egypt
between Hartington, Lord Granville, Edmond Fitzmaurice and myself.
As the facts about Gordon were beginning to be misrepresented in the
Press, Lord Granville set them down in writing. [Footnote: See _Life
of Gladstone_, vol. iii., pp. 152-155; Life of Granville, vol. ii.,
pp. 381-385 and 512, where a letter from Lord Cromer on General
Gordon's instructions is printed; and chap. xvi. ('Gordon, and the
Soudan') in _The Development of the European Nations, 1870-1900_, by
Dr. J. Holland Rose.] It had been stated, and was afterwards
repeated by Justin McCarthy in his history, that the mission on
which we sent Gordon "was in direct opposition to his own ideas. He
was not in favour of the abandonment of the Soudan or the evacuation
of Khartoum." It had also been said that the whole mission had been
forced upon us by the Press--i.e., by Stead, in the _Pall Mall
Gazette_. Lord Granville gave me a memorandum saying that Gordon had
acknowledged that the statements in the _Pall Mall_ were "not
accurate." Lord Granville went on to say that he did not think that
Gordon could be said to have "changed his mind. It appeared in his
conversation with Wolseley on the Tuesday that he (Gordon) was not
decided in his opinion, and that he was as likely to recommend one
course as another.... I told him that we would not send him out to
re-open the whole question, and he then declared himself ready to go
out merely to help in the evacuation of the interior of the Soudan.
He is not remarkably precise in conversation, though I found him
much more so than Wolseley had led me to expect."

'Lord Granville had previously written to me on this point: "The
papers seem to think that Gordon is a new discovery by the
Government under pressure of the Press. It happens that I consulted
Malet on the subject months ago. But after communicating with Cherif
he sent me an unfavourable reply. I subsequently consulted Baring,
who agreed with Cherif that it was best not to do so. I consulted
him again after the change of Ministry, with the same result. On the
other hand Gordon was in Syria, having declared before leaving
England that he would not enter the Egyptian service. It was only on
his return to England that I heard indirectly that, although he had
no wish to go, he would willingly obey the orders of Her Majesty's
Government and act under the instructions of Sir Evelyn Baring and
the orders of General Stephenson. Having got the full concurrence of
Sir E. Baring by telegraph, the matter was arranged."

'The fact was that it was Wolseley, Gordon's friend, who suggested
that he should be sent and who induced him to go; but Wolseley's
account of the matter could not, I fear, be trusted, as he is more
inclined to attack Gladstone than to let out anything which in the
light of subsequent events might be unpleasant to himself.

'Edmond Fitzmaurice had drawn up an elaborate memorandum for our
meeting at the War Office, which I have, with my own corrections. He
thought that the public was hostile to us on four grounds: our
non-interference to stop Hicks; [Footnote: General Hicks advanced
west of the Nile, contrary to the views of Lord Dufferin, who wished
him to limit his advance to the province lying between the
bifurcation of the Blue and White Nile. See the _Life of Dufferin_,
by Alfred Lyall, vol. ii., pp. 56, 57.] our failure to withdraw the
garrisons of Khartoum and of the Equatorial Provinces in time to
avoid disaster; our failure to relieve Sinkat; and, on the other
hand, our decision to force the Egyptians to evacuate the Soudan in
the face of defeat, a decision which had overturned Cherif Pasha.
With regard to Hicks, we could only tell the truth, which was that
our policy was to limit, not extend, the sphere of our
responsibilities in Egypt; that we followed the advice we got, which
was either for doing exactly what we did, or for a moderate support
of Hicks, which latter we declined. Our opponents were prophesying
after the event. We should have taken a great responsibility had we
absolutely forbidden the Egyptian Government to make use of their
own troops (not including any portion of the army officered by
English officers under Sir Evelyn Wood for the defence of Lower
Egypt) to crush the Mahdi. Hicks had at first defeated the Mahdi in
every encounter and cleared him out of the whole country east of the
Nile. [Footnote: Hicks Pasha complained that directly Lord Dufferin
had left Cairo for Constantinople, he ceased to received adequate
support from the Egyptian Government (_Life of Dufferin_. vol. ii.,
p. 55).] The main point, however, and that of present importance,
was our forcing upon the Egyptians the policy of evacuating the
Soudan after Hicks's defeat. Fitzmaurice wrote: "The Soudan could
not be held without the assistance of England, and it is not a
British interest to hold the Soudan.... The cost of the Soudan is
one of the causes which ruin the Egyptian Treasury." Edmond
Fitzmaurice then went on to explain in his memorandum the reasons
which had forced us to wait until January 4th before we had told the
Egyptian Government as to withdrawal from the interior of the
Soudan, including Khartoum--"that the Ministers must carry out the
advice offered them, or forfeit their places."

'On January 9th we had been told from Khartoum that, if a retreat
was ordered at once, it could be safely effected; and it was on the
next day, the 10th, that we offered the services of Colonels Gordon
and Sir Charles Wilson, which were declined. It was not till January
16th that we were able to induce the Egyptians, even under their new
withdrawal Government, to ask for a British officer, and on the 18th
Gordon was sent. Gordon, however--who had left us to go to Suakim,
and for whom we had drawn up a route from Suakim to Berber, in case
he should go forward, and negotiated with the tribes for his free
passage, and of whom we had telegraphed to Baring, "He does not wish
to go to Cairo"--went to Cairo, "at Baring's" suggestion. He did not
even land at Alexandria, but he was stopped by Baring at Port Said
when on his way to Suakim, Baring sending Sir Evelyn Wood to meet
him. Baring had already given orders, through Nubar, to commence the
evacuation. Gordon had telegraphed to us requesting us to send
Zebehr Pasha to Cyprus--that is, arbitrarily to arrest him and
deport him. Yet, when he reached Cairo, at his own wish he had had
an interview with this very man, and shortly afterwards he
telegraphed to us, asking leave to take him to Khartoum and to make
him virtually Governor of the Soudan, which, indeed, would have been
entirely outside our power; for Forster, supported by the Anti-
Slavery Society and the Conservatives, would at once have upset us
in the House of Commons and reversed the policy. Wolseley had
already begun to press as early as the 23rd for the sending of an
expedition via Suakim and Berber.

'On January 26th Gordon had left for Khartoum without any
communication with us upon the question whether he should go, and
the last thing we had from him before he started was a memorandum in
which, among other things, he said of the Soudan: "Few men can stand
its fearful monotony and deadly climate." He insisted on absolute
authority, and Stewart, who was with him, did the same for him, and,
backing up his chief's arguments at this moment against Zebehr, said
that Zebehr's return would undoubtedly be a misfortune to the
Soudanese, and also a direct encouragement to the slave trade.

'On February 1st we received a telegram from Baring, telling us that
Gordon had taken with him proclamations of evacuation, and other
proclamations less direct, with authority to issue those which he
thought best; but "he fully understands that he is to carry out the
policy of evacuation, in which he expressed to me his entire
agreement. I have sent home by last mail my instructions to him,
which leave no doubt on this point, and which were drafted at his
request and with his full approval.... There is no sort of
difference between his views and those entertained by Nubar Pasha
and myself." Here ended our responsibility, because it must be
remembered that Gordon at Khartoum was entirely outside our reach,
and openly told us that he should not obey our orders when he did
not choose to do so. From this moment we had only to please
ourselves as to whether we should disavow him and say that he was
acting in defiance of instructions, and must be left to his fate, or
whether we should send an expedition to get him out.

'Doubtless "we" wavered between these two opinions. Mr. Gladstone
from the first moment that Gordon broke his orders was for the
former view. Lord Hartington from the first moment was for the
latter. Chamberlain and I supported Hartington, although we fully
recognized Gordon's violations of his orders in much of his action
at Khartoum, where he changed the policy agreed upon with Baring and
with us to that expressed by him in the words, "Smash the Mahdi."
Many members of the Cabinet went backwards and forwards in their
opinion, but the circumstances were of incredible difficulty, and it
must be remembered that we were not sure of being allowed to carry
out either policy; and not only was it difficult to decide which of
the two was right, but it was also difficult to decide whether
either policy was possible--that is to say, whether the one adopted
would not be immediately upset by a Parliamentary vote. The Liberal
party in the House of Commons was divided on the matter, the Whigs
generally wishing for an expedition, and the Radicals being hot for
immediate abandonment of the Soudan, which meant abandonment of
Gordon. The Conservatives were divided; most of them probably wished
for an expedition, but they were afraid to say so; and Randolph
Churchill, whose strength at this time was immense, was in full
agreement with Labouchere and Wilfrid Lawson, and was denouncing the
retention of the Soudan as a violation of the principles of freedom.

'Gordon on his way up and on his arrival at Khartoum issued
extraordinary proclamations. Arriving there alone, but with
incredible prestige, he was hailed as father of the people; he
burned the taxation books and the whips upon the public place; he
released the prisoners from the gaol; he sent away the commander of
the garrison with the words, "Rest assured you leave this place as
safe as Kensington Park." He declared the Mahdi "Sultan of
Kordofan." Gordon, of all men in the world, sanctioned slavery by
another written document; and he then asked us to send the arch
slave-driver Zebehr to his help, which we thought on Baring's
truthful opinion of the moment that we ought not to do, and which we
certainly could not have done. I thought and still think that Gordon
had lost his senses, as he had done on former critical occasions in
his life; but the romantic element in his nature appealed to me,
and, while I could not but admit that he had defied every
instruction which had been given to him, I should have sent an
expedition to bring him out, although thinking it probable that when
Wolseley reached him he would have refused to come.'

While Gordon was on his way to Khartoum, which he reached on February
18th, the defeat at El Teb had occurred, and the question arose as to
what should be done in the Eastern Soudan.

'On February 6th the Cabinet met twice, and at our second meeting it
was decided to send marines to Suakim.

'On Thursday, February 7th, I visited the Admiralty with Pauncefote
in order to take in hand the defence of the Red Sea coast against
the Arabs, and then I went to the War Office, where I met
Hartington, Northbrook, Wolseley, and Cooper Key, in order to
concert steps. When I passed through the Secretary's room after the
meeting, and stayed for a moment to talk with Hobart and Fleetwood
Wilson, the Duke of Cambridge (whose room opened into theirs, and
who had evidently been lying in wait for me) rushed out and carried
me off into his room, and made much of me, with an enthusiastic
desire to help an expedition. At night, Hartington, Chamberlain, and
I met in Hartington's room and decided to press for relief of

'On February 8th Chamberlain wrote to me, "I should like to
telegraph to Baring, 'If you think that employment of British troops
could relieve beleaguered garrisons in Soudan without danger, you
are authorized to concert measures with Evelyn Wood.'" A Cabinet was
called at the wish of Hartington, Chamberlain, and myself, for this
day upon this point. Hartington, Harcourt, Northbrook, Carlingford,
Chamberlain, and I, were for asking Gordon if a demonstration at
Suakim would help him. Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville, very strong
the other way, broke up the meeting sooner than agree.'

'Gordon had acted as Governor-General of the Soudan without having
told us that he had accepted this appointment, and we had had to ask
on February 4th a question which had been answered by Baring on the
5th, to the effect that Gordon had "at his own request" been
appointed Governor-General. On February 6th Baring had telegraphed
stating that Gordon had said that it was possible he might go to the
Mahdi and not be heard of for two months, as the Mahdi might keep
him as a hostage for Zebehr. On the same day we telegraphed to
Baring approving his having told Gordon that there would be the
strongest objections to his placing himself in the Mahdi's power. On
February 7th we received a despatch by post from Baring in which he
informed us that, while Gordon would probably ask for Zebehr, "it
would certainly not be desirable to send him ... for he is
manifestly animated by a feeling of deep resentment against General
Gordon." At the same time Baring forwarded a shorthand report of the
meeting between Gordon, Zebehr, Baring, Stewart, Colonel Watson, Sir
Evelyn Wood, and Nubar, at which Zebehr had told Gordon that he had
entrusted his son to him, "and told you he was thenceforth your son.
He was only sixteen years of age.... I entrusted my son to you....
But you killed my son whom I entrusted to you. He was as your own
son." _Gordon_: "Well, well, I killed my own son. There is an end of
it." _Zebehr_: "And then you brought my wives and women and children
in chains to Khartoum, a thing which for my name in the Soudan was
most degrading."

'By the same mail we received a despatch from Baring in which he
made it clear that Gordon's instructions had Gordon's full approval.
"He expressed to me his entire concurrence in the instructions. The
only suggestion he made was in connection with the passage in which,
speaking of the policy of abandoning the Soudan, I had said, 'I
understand also that you entirely concur in the desirability of
adopting this policy.' General Gordon wished that I should add the
words 'and that you think it should on no account be changed.' These
words were accordingly added."

'Between this Cabinet and the next we received, on February 9th, a
telegram from Baring to the effect that he was sending home a letter
from Gordon to the King of the Belgians in which he urged the king
to appoint him Governor of the Equatorial Provinces, Gordon's idea
being to go there from Khartoum; and Baring stated his own view that
we should forbid Gordon to go south of Khartoum. In his letter,
which was dated February 1st, Gordon said that the King of the
Belgians had told him that he would take over the Provinces with the
troops in them, when Gordon had been at Brussels immediately before
we sent him out; but not one word had Gordon ever breathed of this;
and when we first heard of it he was virtually beyond our reach,
seated, when our answer arrived, at Khartoum, and little disposed to
listen to us, although on some points, for a few days, he pretended
to listen.

'On February 12th Baring telegraphed that he hoped that "H.M.G. will
not change any of the main points of their policy"; but, as will be
seen a little later, Baring soon changed his own, adopting the new
policy of Gordon, and pressing it upon us.

'On February 12th it was decided, against Mr. Gladstone, to send an
expedition to the Red Sea Coast.

'On February 13th we had before us a statement which had been made
the previous day by Randolph Churchill, to the effect that in the
summer of 1883 General Gordon had offered to go to the Soudan, and
that the Government had telegraphed to him accepting his offer, and
then written to him declining it. Lord Granville instructed me to
say that the whole story was one gigantic concoction. I then asked
Hartington if he knew anything about it; and Lord Wolseley
ultimately discovered that Randolph Churchill had confused the Congo
with the Nile, an amusing example of his harum-scarum recklessness.
Gordon had telegraphed from Syria in October for leave to accept
service under the King of the Belgians on the Congo, and the
Commander-in-Chief had replied by telegraph that the Secretary of
State declined to sanction his employment. In transmission the word
"declines" was changed into "decides," which exactly reversed its
sense, so that Gordon had received a confirming letter consistent
with the telegram as sent, but exactly reversing the sense of the
telegram as received. He had told the story which Churchill had
heard, but altered from one side of Africa to the other.'

On February 14th Sir Charles made effective use of this blunder in the
debate upon the vote of censure concerning Egypt. It was a debating
speech which, he himself notes, 'had extraordinary success.' Lord
Randolph Churchill had been more than usually aggressive, and Sir
Charles hammered him with detailed facts. [Footnote: He comments on the
20th on the opinions expressed to him as to his powers of debate: 'This
is a curious position for a man who has no natural gift of speech. I can
remember when I was the worst speaker that ever spoke at all.'] The
debate on this vote of censure, occasioned by the fall of Sinkat,
occupied the House for five days. The motion was defeated by forty-nine.

'On February 14th I found that Lord Granville had not answered an
important question from Baring about Wood's Egyptians which had been
received by us on the 13th, and that because he had not seen it. We
had started a red label as a danger-signal for pressing notes; but
Lord Granville's room was full of red-labelled notes not touched.'

He records his remonstrances with Lord Granville as to the non-
employment of Sir Evelyn Wood's Egyptians. On February 18th there was a
Cabinet 'partly upon this subject. It was decided to send reinforcements
to Egypt.'

'On February 21st there was another Cabinet which again discussed
the Egyptian question and decided to send Wood's Egyptians to
Assouan. On the 15th Gordon had reassured us by telling us that all
communication between Cairo and the Soudan would be finally at an
end within three months' (that is, that evacuation would be easily
carried out). 'On February 18th we had heard that on the 17th Gordon
had issued a proclamation saying that the Government would not
interfere with the buying and selling of slaves; and this telegram,
having got out from Cairo, produced a storm in England. On the 19th
there occurred another matter which was considered by the Cabinet at
the same time--the absolute refusal of Admiral Hewett, and very
proper refusal, to issue a proclamation calling on the chiefs from
Suakim to go peacefully to meet Gordon at Khartoum, inasmuch as the
Admiral knew "that English troops are about to be sent against the
people in question." The issue of this proclamation had been
recommended by Wolseley, who thinks that Governments exist for the
purpose of deceiving enemies in war for the benefit of generals.

'On the same day, February 19th, we had received a telegram which
had been sent off from Khartoum by Gordon on the 18th, asking that
Zebehr should be sent to the Soudan, "be made K.C.M.G., and given
presents." This was backed by Stewart, so far as that he said that
someone should be sent, adding that he was not sure whether Zebehr
was the best man. It was clear from Gordon's proposed conditions
that Zebehr was to be free to prosecute the slave trade. In another
memorandum on the same day Gordon said that we must "give a
commission to some man and promise him the moral support of
H.M.G.... It may be argued that H.M.G. would thus be giving ...
moral support to a man who will rule over a slave state.... This
nomination of my successor must ... be direct from Her Majesty's
Government.... As for the man, H.M.G. should select one above all
others, namely Zebehr." Baring now backed this opinion up, so that
we were face to face with an absolute change of front on the part of
Gordon and Baring, and a partial change of front on the part of
Stewart. On the other hand, Baring, at the same time when he told us
to appoint Zebehr, added: "I am quite certain that Zebehr hates
Gordon bitterly, and that he is very vindictive. I would not on any
account risk putting Gordon in his power.... He is, to my personal
knowledge, exceedingly untruthful.... I cannot recommend his being
promised the moral support of Her Majesty's Government. He would
scarcely understand the phrase, and, moreover, I do not think he
would attach importance to any support which was not material.... I
doubt the utility of making conditions. Zebehr would probably not
observe them long." Baring further proposed that Zebehr should be
given money, and he left us to judge of the effect of the whole
scheme on public opinion in England. Colonel Watson, who had been
present at the meeting between Zebehr and Gordon, informed us that
to let Gordon and Zebehr be together in the Soudan "would entail the
death of either one or other of them." On the 21st Gordon
telegraphed to the newspapers explaining away his slave trade
proclamation, but its terms were even worse than could have been
gathered from the first summary, which was all that we had received.

'On February 21st we received the text of Gordon's proclamation,
which contained the words, "I confer upon you these rights, that
henceforth none shall interfere with your property," and spoke with
apparent regret of "severe measures taken by Government for the
suppression of slave traffic, and seizure and punishment of all

'On February 26th there was a meeting of Mr. Gladstone, Hartington,
Childers, Chamberlain, Dodson, and myself, to approve a telegram
from Hartington to General Graham; [Footnote: General Graham was in
command of the expedition to Suakim.] and on the next day again, the
27th, a meeting of Lord Granville, Hartington, Northbrook, and
myself, which decided to invite the Turk to show himself at the Red
Sea ports. On the 29th there was a Cabinet at which it was decided
that the Turk must approve our future ruler of the Soudan, and that
British troops were to go as far as Assouan if Baring thought it

'On February 27th Gordon had frightened us out of our senses by
telegraphing that, having put out his programme of peace, and
allowed time to elapse, he was now sending out his troops to show
his force; and another telegram from him said: "Expedition starts at
once to attack rebels." On the same day he telegraphed that he had
issued a proclamation "that British troops are now on their way, and
in a few days will reach Khartoum." It was very difficult to know
what to do with this amazing lie: solemnly to point out to him by
telegraph that it was a lie was hardly of much use with a man of
Gordon's stamp; and what was done was to send a strong private
telegram to Baring to communicate with him about it, but the result
was not encouraging, for it was the first ground for the desperate
quarrel which Gordon afterwards picked with Baring, and for his
charge against Baring of inciting the Government to drive him to his

'On the next day, February 28th, Gordon, having heard that Zebehr
was refused, telegraphed his policy of smashing up the Mahdi, which,
however, he seemed inclined to attempt with a most inadequate force.
"Mahdi must be smashed up. Mahdi is most unpopular, and with care
and time could be smashed.... If you decide on smashing Mahdi, then
send another hundred thousand pounds, and send 200 Indian troops to
Wady Haifa, and an officer to Dongola under pretence to look out
quarters for troops.... At present it would be comparatively easy to
destroy Mahdi." Gordon had also telegraphed to Baring to recommend
that 3,000 black Egyptian troops should be kept in the Soudan, and
completely throwing over the evacuation policy. Baring added for
himself: "There are obviously many contradictions in General
Gordon's different proposals"; but he went on to express his
agreement in Gordon's new policy, strongly supported the selection
of Zebehr, and sneered at us for having regard to uninstructed
opinion in England. On the same day Gordon telegraphed: "If a
hundred British troops were sent to Assouan or Wady Halfa, they
would run no more risk than Nile tourists, and would have the best
effect." At the same time Baring said: "I certainly would not risk
sending so small a body as 100 men." It will be seen in how great a
difficulty the Government were placed; but Baring's position was, in
fact, as difficult as our own. We were evidently dealing with a wild
man under the influence of that climate of Central Africa which acts
even upon the sanest men like strong drink.

'On the same day Gordon telegraphed to us completely changing his
ground about Suakim. He had previously prevented our doing anything
except trying to relieve the towns blockaded, but on March 1st told
us to do something to draw the Hadendowa down to Suakim. On the 2nd,
General Graham having beaten the Arabs at Teb, the Admiral asked us
to send more troops and to threaten Osman Digna's main force, a
suggestion which concurred with Gordon's. And on March 5th the
Cabinet met and decided that, while it was impossible to send Zebehr
to the Soudan, General Graham was to be allowed to attack Osman
Digna's main force.... Chamberlain then suggested that I should go
to Egypt: Hartington evidently thought that somebody should go, and
thought he had better go himself. Lord Granville would not have
either, as might have been expected.... I suggested a way out of the
Zebehr difficulty, and wrote to Chamberlain: "If I were sent out to
do this, I believe I should get away the forces from the interior
and have Zebehr elected, entirely without our action, by the
Notables at Khartoum. On the whole, this would do if we did not do
it. This would, in my opinion, be improved by Turkish approval under
Turkish suzerainty, but that you do not like." Chamberlain answered:
"Perhaps we cannot help having Zebehr, but surely we ought not to
promote him, directly or indirectly; not only because he is a slave-
hunter, but also because he will probably attack Egypt sooner or
later, and very likely with the help of our subsidy." I replied: "I
am quite clear that we must not set up Zebehr, but if we retire we
cannot prevent his election by the Notables; and they would elect
him." In the meantime Gordon had completely thrown over Baring's
suggestion that Zebehr should be sent (but so sent that he and
Gordon should not be in the Soudan together) by telegraphing that
the combination at Khartoum of Zebehr and himself was "an absolute
necessity," and that it would be "absolutely necessary" for him to
stay at Khartoum with Zebehr for four months; and Stewart had now
completely come over to Gordon's policy about Zebehr personally. On
the other hand, Baring and the military authorities in Egypt were
unanimously opposed to the idea of sending a small British force to
Wady Halfa.

'On March 7th it was decided to give an inland district to the
Abyssinians, but not to offer them a port (which was what they
wanted), on account of its not being ours to give away from the
Turks. The Cabinet would not hear of receiving a Turkish
Commissioner at Cairo.

'On March 11th we further considered pressing demands from Gordon
and Baring for Zebehr. Mr. Gladstone had taken to his bed, but was
known to be strongly in favour of sending Zebehr. The Cabinet were
unanimous the other way, and Hartington was sent to see Mr.
Gladstone, we waiting till he returned. When he came back, he
laconically stated what had passed as follows: "He thinks it very
likely that we cannot make the House swallow Zebehr, but he thinks
he could." Morley has told this, but the words which he took
verbally from me are less good. [Footnote: _Life of Gladstone_, vol.
iii., p. 159.] Baring on the 6th had recommended a further attack on
Osman Digna, which he thought might open the Berber route. On the
9th we received Gordon's replies to our telegrams of the 5th,
showing that he had done nothing towards the evacuation of Khartoum
except by sending away the sick. He admitted that it was possible
that "Zebehr, who hates the tribes, did stir up the fires of revolt,
in hopes that he would be sent to quell it. It is the irony of fate
that he will get his wish if sent up." On the same day Baring
informed us that it was clear that Gordon now had no influence
outside Khartoum, and that he contemplated the despatch of British
troops. The Anti-Slavery Society had strongly protested against the
employment of Zebehr, and they pointed out to us the records of
murders "in which this man has stood the foremost and the principal
actor.... Countenance ... of such an individual by the British
Government would be a degradation for England and a scandal to
Europe." W. E. Forster, amid loud cheers from the Conservatives,
protested in advance in the House of Commons against the policy of
sending Zebehr. On March 11th we had received in the morning from
Baring twelve telegrams from Gordon, of the most extraordinary
nature, which Baring had answered: "I am most anxious to help and
support you in every way, but I find it very difficult to understand
exactly what it is you want." Besides deciding that Zebehr could not
be sent, the Cabinet changed its mind about the employment of Turks
in the Red Sea, and decided that they could not be allowed to go
there at present.

'On March 13th the matter was again considered by a Cabinet, which
was not called a Cabinet as Mr. Gladstone was in bed and Chamberlain
was at Birmingham, and on the 14th we met again, still retaining our
opinion; and on Sunday, the 16th, Mr. Gladstone at last unwillingly
gave up Zebehr as impossible. [Footnote: _Life of Granville_, vol.
ii., p. 388.]

'I had been at this time working out the facts connected with the
two routes to Khartoum in case an expedition should be sent, and had
made up my own mind in favour of the Nile route; Wolseley still
being the other way.

'On March 17th, I wrote to Lord Northbrook to protest against a
proclamation which had been issued by the Admiral and General at
Suakim offering a reward for Osman Digna, and I wrote also to
Hartington upon the same subject, stating that I would not defend
it, and that if it were "not disapproved, and the disapproval made
public, I cannot remain a member of the Government." Northbrook
would not admit that he had disapproved it, but Hartington did, and
also informed me that Northbrook had telegraphed. Lord Granville
agreed with me that the proclamation was not defensible, and it was
as a fact withdrawn, although the Admiral was very angry.

'Mr. Gladstone had gone down to Coombe, near Wimbledon. On March
22nd we held a Cabinet without him.... Harcourt was now writing to
me in favour of the view "that we must get out of Egypt as soon as
possible at any price. The idea of our administering it or of the
Egyptian army defending it is equally out of the question." On the
25th we had another Cabinet without Mr. Gladstone. Turning to
Gordon, we decided that a force was not to be sent to Berber; but I
noted in my diary: "It will _have_ to be sent next autumn, I
believe"; but when I said to Berber, it must be remembered, of
course, that there were two ways of reaching Berber, and Lord
Hartington, Brett, and I, now turned steadily to the consideration
of which of those two ways should be taken. It will be remembered
that we already had a report in print as to the Suakim-Berber route.
[Footnote: See p. 33; 'We had drawn up a route from Suakim to
Berber.'] We now obtained from Wolseley a general report, which was
afterwards printed and circulated to the Cabinet on April 8th. Lord
Wolseley, preparing for the sending of a military force to Khartoum
this autumn, stated that his force must be exclusively British, for
he doubted whether the very best of our Indian regiments could stand
the charges of the Arabs, besides which our natives took the field
encumbered with followers. Lord Roberts, who was not given to
boasting, told me, long afterwards, that he, on the other hand, was
sure that he could have marched from Suakim to the Nile and Khartoum
with an exclusively Indian force. It is the case that our best
Gurkha troops have sometimes stood when white troops have run.
Wolseley had now come round to a boat expedition, which I had been
for a long time urging, upon information which I had obtained for
myself from the Admiralty, and which was afterwards printed by the
Foreign Intelligence Committee at the Admiralty, and circulated to
the Cabinet in April, a further document upon the subject being
circulated to the Cabinet in May. It must be remembered that the
date of passing the cataracts was settled for us by the high Nile,
and that there was only one time of year at which the expedition
could be safely sent.

'The Cabinet of March 25th further decided that Graham must soon be
brought away from Suakim.

'On the next evening, March 26th, when the Ministers were dining
with the Speaker, we received a very unpleasant telegram from
Baring, pointing, we thought, to a possible resignation unless it
was promised to send an expedition to Khartoum. I suggested the
following answer: "We adhere to our instructions of the 25th, 160
Secret. We cannot send an expedition now, and entertain the gravest
objection to contemplating an expedition in the autumn." This answer
was rejected in favour of one suggested by Mr. Gladstone and Lord
Granville. Our telegram 160 Secret had been an absolute refusal, and
my additional words had been intended by me slightly to open the
door, which was as much as I could hope that the Cabinet would do.
But the telegram actually sent on March 28th (165 Secret, extended
in 191) was to the effect that we were unable to alter the
instructions, and it was accompanied by two long despatches,
virtually written by Harcourt, and afterwards laid before
Parliament, explaining our reasons for not sending Zebehr and for
not sending an expedition. Gordon had been communicating with us
with difficulty, as the telegraph was broken from time to time, but
he had told us that if he was to evacuate Khartoum he wished to
resign his commission and to take all his steam vessels and stores
to the equatorial provinces, "which he would consider under the King
of the Belgians." This Baring had told him he must not do. Baring
had rejected every possible alternative except the sending of
Zebehr, and Zebehr we could not have sent. In discussing the
question of an expedition to Khartoum, Baring had told us that
Gordon was "not in any immediate danger. He has provisions for six
months." Gordon himself had telegraphed: "As I have been
inconsistent about Zebehr, it is my fault, and I should bear the
blame if Zebehr is sent, and should put up with the inconvenience if
he is not." He had himself told us that he had provisions for six
months, but had after this informed us that provisions were still
coming in freely to Khartoum--as late as after March 15th, a week
later than the date at which he had told us that he had six months'
provisions in the town. I had made up my mind that we must send an
expedition, but I did not agree with Baring that it was physically
possible to send an expedition at this moment, and thought that if
sent at high Nile it would be in time. On the 23rd, after Gordon's
defeat, by treachery and shooting, of the two black Pashas, Gordon
telegraphed: "I think we are now safe, and that as the Nile rises we
shall account for the rebels." This we received on March 31st.

'On March 27th there was a Cabinet without Chamberlain, who was
listening to George Russell's speech which I had got him leave to
make, and without Mr. Gladstone, who was still ill. The Cabinet
decided against an expedition to Khartoum, but the Chancellor' (Lord
Selborne) 'gave us to understand that he should resign if one were
not sent in the autumn, and Harcourt intimated that he should resign
if one were sent. Lord Granville observed that no Cabinet could last
a day if it was to be exposed to going to pieces on differences as
regards the future. Harcourt proposed to "clear out" of Egypt
immediately. Lord Granville won an easy victory over him by proving
that only three weeks ago he had wanted to take Egypt under our
protection. Harcourt then said that as long ago as November, 1883,
he had spoken in favour of clearing out. "Yes," said Lord Granville,
"so you did; but I said three weeks ago."

'On March 29th there was a Cabinet at Coombe Warren. Mr. Gladstone
seemed pretty well, and had at least one good laugh. He still
regretted Zebehr. The Cabinet considered Gordon, what we should do
with slavery at Suakim, and House of Commons business.'

About this date the main body of the British troops was withdrawn from
Suakim in accordance with the decision of March 25th. They had inflicted
defeats on Osman Digna at El Teb, and again at Tamanieb; many Dervishes
and not a few English had been killed, but no effect of moment had been
produced, and the road to Berber was not opened.

A new complication now arose. Egypt was presented with Europe's total
claims for the losses to Europeans in the burnings at Alexandria. They
amounted to four millions and a half. How was this demand to be met?
Under the Law of Liquidation established in 1880, Egypt could not borrow
without the consent of the five Powers who had constituted the
Commission of Liquidation. The demand presented to Egypt had to be
considered by the one Power which was now _de facto_ supreme in Egypt.

'On April 2nd there was an important Cabinet called on Egyptian
finance. It began, of course, on something else. We discussed the
future of Suakim; the replies to be given in the House on the next
day as to Gordon; and then Childers' views upon Egyptian finance;
while we were considering these, there came a letter from Northcote
with the questions that he intended to put on the next day'
(questions which could only be answered by a full statement of
policy on all the points of the Egyptian problem). 'After going back
to this, we went on again to finance, and decided to call a
conference of the Great Powers to alter the Law of Liquidation. Mr.
Gladstone had unwillingly consented to meet the Powers by proposing
to reduce the charge for the British army; and he was anxious to get
the money for the British taxpayer out of a borrowing operation on
the future value of the Canal Shares. Chamberlain and I decided that
if he did this the Tories would declare that Mr. Gladstone had
become a pensioner on the bounty of Lord Beaconsfield. There was
some talk at this Cabinet as to whether we should guarantee the
Egyptian debt, to which I was opposed. Chamberlain had at one time
been friendly to such an operation, but had now "gone round" on the
ground that we could not "carry it against the Tories and the
Radicals." "Is there anything else?" said Chamberlain to Mr.
Gladstone as the Cabinet was breaking up. "No," said Mr. Gladstone,
"we have done our Egyptian business and we are an Egyptian


From this time forward the 'Egyptian Government' at Westminster had two
main subjects of concern--the question of extricating Gordon with the
garrisons, and the question of dealing with the international situation,
partly diplomatic and partly financial. France, increasingly unfriendly
to Great Britain, was above all unfriendly in regard to Egypt: while
Bismarck, doing his best to foment this quarrel, was at the same time
weakening Great Britain by menaces in Africa and Australasia, and the
danger of a Russian advance in Central Asia hung like a thundercloud
over the whole situation. [Footnote: Sir Charles wrote to Mr. Brett on
November 15th, 1884: 'I told Herbert Bismarck when he was here that it
was very silly of his father to get in the way of our Egypt plans, for
France would not go to war about them, and therefore, after threatening,
he would have to look on and see the things he had threatened against
done quietly.']

There were three groups of opinion in the Government in regard to the
Soudan. The first was for an expedition which should carry with it the
consequence of occupation more or less prolonged. Another was against
any expedition and in favour of immediate evacuation. A third section--
including Sir Charles Dilke and Mr. Chamberlain--accepted the need of an
expedition, but was determined that occupation should not follow. It was
incumbent on this last-named group to suggest a positive policy, and
Dilke, as will be seen, had his plan ready. There was a further decision
to be taken. When once an expedition was in contemplation, the route and
the character of the expedition had to be fixed. On this matter also Sir
Charles had early formed a resolve, but neither he nor anyone else could
pin the Cabinet to a clear course of action.

'At this time' (April 2nd) 'Chamberlain wrote to me of Egypt: "Once
more Hartington, and you and I, are at opposite poles. For one, I do
not mean to be forced any further in the direction of protectorate."

'Although they would not admit it, the Cabinet were rapidly coming
round at this time to an autumn Gordon expedition, and Chamberlain
wrote to me: "I believe it will come to this in the end"; while
Northbrook was in favour of an expedition. I then made up a list
from private information showing that six of us were favourable to
an expedition, as against five the other way--several members having
made no statement either way. Those for an expedition were
Hartington, Northbrook, the Chancellor (Lord Selborne), Derby,
Chamberlain, and myself; and those against it, Mr. Gladstone, Lord
Granville, Harcourt, Kimberley, and Dodson. On April 21st, Egypt was
discussed without decision, though with the note by me: "The
majority now begin to see that an October expedition is certain."

'On the 23rd a Cabinet ... considered the possibility of reaching
Berber.... After the Cabinet of April 23rd, I advocated a naval
expedition by the Nile on the ground that the Admiralty were likely
to do the thing better than the War Office. [Footnote: A review by
Sir Charles in the _Athenaeum_ of October 24th, 1908, deals with the
_Life of Lord Northbrook_, by Sir Bernard Mallet, and his allusions
to Lord Northbrook's consideration, as early as April, of a 'rescue

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