GORDON, Charles George (1833-1885, 'Chinese Gordon'). Series of approximately 98 autograph letters signed (two with signatures removed, five incomplete, lacking opening or concluding leaves) to his friend and fellow officer Charles Harvey (one to his wife), England, China, Galatz, Sudan, Mauritius, Holy Land and other places, 11 June 1859 - 6 October 1883, 11 of the letters illustrated with sketch-maps or diagrams, together approx. 375 pages, mostly 8vo, many letters docketed over text by recipient (some tearing or splitting at folds, especially of later letters, letter of 23 April 1873 torn through and roughly repaired with tape, letters of 1 July and 12 August 1875 much worn at folds, letters of 14 October 1876 and 26 December 1882 with an upper corner torn off but present), together with a transcript of a letter of 26 March 1877, a letter of Gordon's brother M.A. Gordon to 'Mr Harvey', 29 December 1890, urging him to censor the correspondence ('I should be so glad if you felt inclined to scratch out the names of the officers my brother wrote about in his letters' -- a suggestion which was not complied with) and two other letters.
GORDON IN CHINA, EGYPT, PALESTINE AND THE SUDAN
The correspondence covers virtually the whole of Gordon's active career, beginning when he was adjutant of the Chatham depot of the Royal Engineers and ending with him in the Holy Land, having passed through the looting of the Summer Palace in Peking (1862), the great exploits against the Taiping rebellion in the following years and the heady days as governor general of first Equatoria and later the whole of Sudan (1873-1879). Only his Crimean service and the last act in Khartoum are outside the range of the correspondence. The recipient, Charles Harvey, was a fellow officer in the Royal Engineers, and the letters contain frequent affectionate enquiries after not only Harvey and his family, but also after a large circle of other brother officers.
The looting of the Summer Palace:
Gordon's letters on his way out to China show an alert, though critical, interest in his surroundings, noting at Hong Kong 'The Chinese here do not care a fig for the defeat. What an absurd mode of speaking English they have got into in this colony!', and later 'The banks of the Pei Pao are exactly like the Thames at Barking'. Arriving in Peking on 25 October 1860, he complains 'You will see that the War is over, and such a rotten war as it has been', but reports with satisfaction 'I have got such a piece of plunder which I think will be for the mess. It is part of a throne out of the Summer Palace. It is of iron wood & some red wood beautifully carved. There was a splendid screen behind which I took for Mitchell the General & I kept the throne', providing illustrations of the screen and throne. On 13 November he refers to the dispatch of the throne, 'The other fellows (RE) want to present it as a joint gift. As I had the bother of getting it and carting it off ... I am not anxious for it ... It is valuable I think from the place it came from & the beauty of the carving. I hope you will not think me selfish about it, but I am rather sore at some of the other fellows taking such very good care not to present any of their own plunder & yet so willing to join in presenting mine'.
Tsientsin and the Taiping rebellion:
'Tsientsin is a miserable place': Gordon's letters focus initially on his hard work and the difficulties he faces, not least with his men -- 'Grumbling, dirty, idle, helpless to a degree and without the smallest spark of Esprit de corps, what a brute the ordinary British Linesman is' -- but refers to the detailed reconnaisance of the district ('I have got such a plan of Tientsin nearly completed, it would astonish it') which was to play such an important role in his successful defeat of the Taiping forces in 1863-64. That hectically busy period is referred to in satisfied retrospect in a letter of 13 March 1864: 'My troubles are now over ... The Rebels hold now only Waichow ... My endeavour now is to instruct Chinese officers in Artillery & Infantry drill'; although he expresses some regrets at British policy in China, 'We have done the Chinese a large amount of harm and are now only beginning to treat them well & fairly', he has no regrets as to his own role, 'I have no hesitation in having been an assistant in putting [the rebels] down for they were utter locusts. I went to Nankin after its capture, and went over the city. The Imperialists blew up the wall which is 40 ft high with 60000 lbs of powder ... My old foe Chung Wang was made prisoner, but I did not like to see him for he was a brave & daring man ... the Tien Wang committed suicide by eating gold leaf when I was at Nankin in June ... The Chinese make very formidable field works ... but an attack in flank generally upsets their equanimity & they bolt'.
Gravesend and the Danubian Commission:
Gordon's frustration at home life is often evident in the letters after his return from China in early 1865, particularly at the mundane requirements of his command in Gravesend, from 1865 to 1871 -- '[I] most heartily wish I was in the Celestial Empire again. I will never come back to this land again if can get abroad'; the letters also reflect his growing religious pre-occupations at this period. A group of six letters written from Galatz (present-day Romania) during Gordon's service in the Danubian Commission, giving detailed descriptions of his work there, suggest that his mood was scarcely improved by his changed circumstances -- he now counsels Harvey not to consider overseas service, 'I hope you won't think of it, "abroad" is very dreary'.
It is with evident relief that at the end of 1873 he announces his acceptance of an appointment in the Egyptian service as governor general of Equatoria -- though evidently to his correspondent's disapproval, 'Sorry you do not like my going to the Pharoahs' -- summarising his mission (with a sketch-map of his proposed territory) as follows: 'the Khedive gives me what troops I want to guard my operations. He wishes me to put steamers of which there are two in sections on the lakes & to trade with the people. He gives me full powers military & civil in the district -- all I want for Barter -- right to issue orders causing (?) monopoly of trade &c'.
The earliest letters from Equatoria give the impression of an uneventful life -- 'it is a humid & unhealthy clime, and beyond now and then a little excitement with the slavers, there is not much going on' (though the letter does go on to recount his capture of a slave trader) -- and depict the locals as 'miserable' and 'listless', 'you see I have no high flown ideas of being able to civilize Central Africa'. Later letters give accounts of his pleasure at finding the Nile navigable much further south than expected, and of his setting up stations along the river (frequently illustrated with sketch maps) as well as progress in mapping and pacifying the country; characteristically he is less pleased at his colleagues, except when they depart on sick leave, 'I never had such a tumble down set of men, they are all now gone, & I am very glad of it', later noting with satisfaction 'I am now the only European in the Province'. Although Gordon professes to find travelling 'terribly dull' and at one stage comments 'I hope Stanley, having completed Victoria Lake, will do Albert Lake and save me the trouble for I hate the worry of exploration of any sort', the letters include a number of vivid descriptions of his situation, not least a letter of 5 October 1879 on his way to visit King Johannes in Abyssinia, which is enlivened with a neat sketch and description of a characteristic 'amba' or hill-top fortress, and a similar sketch of the 'odd' topography of Abyssinia itself, illustrating a proposed strategy of trapping Johannes in his uplands if necessary. (98)