Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Against Mahdist forces: January 26, 1885

General Charles George "Chinese" Gordon (1833-1885), who was killed at Khartoum whilst defending that city against Mahdist forces.

The Onslow Ford statue when it was at Khartoum.

They tell a tale in Gordon circles of a time when the Empire was drawing to a close and the sun setting in places it had not set before. And as British garrisons closed their gates, and Retreat sounded for the last time, British officers, troops, and their families headed back to the homeland. Khartoum in the late 1950s was such a place.

One of those military families had been at Khartoum in those waning days. Father was a Colonel, mother was “the Colonel’s lady” and there were two sons, aged eleven and eight. And since their early times at Khartoum, they had maintained a family ritual.

On evenings when the Colonel was not on duty, he would take his two sons to visit the famous Onslow Ford statue of Gordon on a camel. Father had initially instructed the children that each evening they should bid goodnight to the statue until the next evening or visit. And they should carry forward the tradition thereafter until such time as the Khartoum sun set for the last time prior to their leaving for home. Each evening, the boys would dutifully salute and say “Goodnight Gordon” before trudging back to their quarters.

So came the day. Came the last evening, came the final farewell, came that moment of sadness as “Goodnight Gordon” murmered the elder, and “Goodnight Gordon” whispered the younger. The Colonel beckoned and they turned to leave, but the boys were in tears, and the father was close to that condition, yet holding back. It was then that the youngest boy turned to the Colonel and asked quietly: “Father ………… who is that man on Gordon’s back?”

The Onslow Ford statue at Woking:

The Onslow Ford statue was originally near Trafalgar Square, later moved to Khartoum, and finally to Gordon’s School at Woking. At the statue is the late David Dixon -- a friend, a scholar, a good fellow, and one the finest men my wife and I have ever met.


  1. Very interesting. The pose reminds me of Charlemagne outside of the Notre Dame cathedral. Was the gentlemen in the photo a professor? My condolences.


  2. Thank you Tom. Yes, David was at University College London for most of his adult life. He joined the Department of Egyptology in the 1950s, worked in Egypt and the Sudan, became a department lecturer in 1967 and later Honorary Curator of the Petrie Museum for about ten years. He was a regular fellow, devoid of pretense – and a joy to be with. Best. Gerald.

    I have never seen the Charlemagne statue in Paris, but Google Images helped. Interesting, that there are stories in Gordon circles that Onslow Ford patterned parts of his statue on a horse.