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SIR WILLIAM BUTLER 



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Photogravure by Annan iSono. Glasgow 









SIR WILLIAM BUTLER 



AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 



BY 



LIEUT. -GENERAL THE RT. HON, 

SIR W. F. BUTLER 

G. G. B. 






WITH FOUR PORTRAITS IN PHOTOGRAVURE 



LONDON 
CONSTABLE AND COMPANY LTD. 

10 ORANGE STREET LEICESTER SQUARE W.C. ^ 

^ 1911 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

Foreword .......... xi 



CHAPTER I 

Earliest Recollections. The Irish Famine. ' Butler's Country.' 

School. Gazetted Ensign to the 69th Regiment .... 1 

CHAPTER II 

Old soldiers and young. Orders for India. A four months' voyage. 

Burmah ........... 15 

CHAPTER III 

From Rangoon to Madras. A hurricane at sea. The Nilgherry 
Mountains. The Carnatic Plain. The lives and thoughts of 
Eastern peoples. Leave spent on the western coast ... 34 

CHAPTER IV 

Down to Cape Comorin, and back to Madras. The scene of a bygone 

massacre. Starting for England. St. Helena .... 52 

CHAPTER V 

Aldershot. Visit to the Belgian battlefields. Afterthoughts on 

Waterloo 68 

CHAPTER VI 

The Channel Isles. Victor Hugo. The Curragh. To Canada. Leave 

in the West. Bufialo hunt ....... 83 

CHAPTER VII 

A new conception of life. In charge of the ' Look Outs.' Montreal 
and Quebec. Home. Father's death. A hopeless outlook in 
the Army .......... 98 

ft2 



vi SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

CHAPTER VIII 

PAGE 

The Red River Expedition. Under Colonel Wolseley. Fenians. 
The purchase system. No step after twelve years' service. Paris. 
The end of the Commune . . . . . . . .112 

CHAPTER IX 

Paris in her agony. Writing The Cheat Lone Land. On half-pay. 
Bound for the Saskatchewan. The lonely journey. Home. 
Ashanti. With Sir Garnet Wolseley again . . . .130 

CHAPTER X 

West Coast of Africa. ' The Wolseley Gang.' Beating up the natives. 

Recalcitrant kings. Fever. The forest. Invading Ashanti . 147 

CHAPTER XI 

An excuse for the craven native. End of the Expedition. Near'death 
from fever. Queen Victoria's visit to Netley. Companion of the 
Bath. Start for Natal. With Sir Garnet Wolseley again. Pro- 
tector of Indian immigrants. The Tugela. Through the Orange 
Free State 164 

CHAPTER XII 

The state of South Africa in 1875. On the Staff at the War Office. 
MiUtary administration. First meeting with Gordon. Marriage. 
War in Eastern Europe. Annexation of the Transvaal. Visit to 
Cyprus. The Zulu War. Isandula. Departure for South Africa 183 

CHAPTER XIII 

Assistant Adjutant-General in Natal. Death of the Prince Imperial. 
Advance into Zululand. Ulundi. Transports for England. Im- 
prisonment of Cetewayo. St. Helena again . . . .198 

CHAPTER XIV 

War in South Africa. Majuba. Adjutant-General in the Western 
District. The Egyptian question. Bombardment of Alexandria. 
Arabi. Service in Egypt. On Sir Garnet Wolseley's Staff. EI 
Magfar. Tel-el-Mahouta. Kassassin. The night march. Tel- 
el-Kebir 216 



CONTENTS vii 

CHAPTER XV 

PAGE 

Cairo. The fate of Arabi in the balance. Mr. Wilfrid Blunt. Leaving 

Egypt. To the Saskatchewan again. The Red Man . . . 238 



CHAPTER XVI 

The Hudson Bay forts. Winnipeg. Back to London. Trouble on 
the Upper Nile. Revolt of the Mahdi. Destruction of the forces 
of Hicks Pasha and Baker Pasha. General Gordon sent to the 
Soudan. Gordon and the garrisons in danger. Delay and vacilla- 
tion at home. Bmldingof Nile ' whalers.' Ascent of the Nile . 26(J 



CHAPTER XVII 

Delays on the Nile. Success of the ' whalers.' Letters. Korti. The 
Desert column. Fall of Khartoum. The River column. Kir- 
bekan. News of Gordon's death ...... 281 



CHAPTER XVIII 
Meroe. Wady Haifa. Kosheh. Advance of the Dervishes. Ginniss 307 



CHAPTER XIX 

« 

Back to Wady Haifa. Letters. Sickness among the troops. Leav- 
ing the Soudan. Assouan. Home on sick leave. Half-pay in 
Brittanj'. K.C.B 329 



CHAPTER XX 

In Delgany, Ireland. Parnell. Army Ordnance Enquiry : Report. * 
Proposed fortifications for London. Command at Alexandria. 
Death of Khedive Tewfik. Palestine. . . . . .351 



CHAPTER XXI 

End of Alexandria command. Aldershot. The Jameson Raid. Com- 
mand of the South-Eastern District, Dover. Offer of command at 
the Cape. Arrival in South Africa, Acting High Commissioner. 
Initial difficulties. Mr. Cecil Rhodes. Grahamstown. ' Cape 
Boys.' The ' Edgar Case ' 376 



t 



viii SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

CHAPTER XXII 

PAGE 

The South African League. The true life of the land. Apparent 
public opinion. Warnings to the Government of real position. 
Return of Sir Alfred Milner. Tour of inspection. Scheme of 
defence. Uncertainty at Headquarters in London. Interviews 
and correspondence with the High Commissioner. Absence of 
m instructions from England ....... 404 

CHAPTER XXIII 

The Bloemfontein Conference. Two interesting letters. Further 
interviews and correspondence. Proposed raid from Tuli. De- 
spatch of 22nd June to the Secretary of State. Some cablegrams 
from and to the War Office. Increased difficulty of the position. 
Resignation of the Command. Departure from South Africa . 431 

Afterword .......... 456 

Index .....'...... 461 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL SIR W. F. BUTLER, K.C.B. Frontispiece 

From a sketch by Lady Butleb, made at the Cape in Juue 
1899. 

ENSIGN W. F. BUTLER Facing page 14 

At the age of twenty, on joining the Service in 1858. 

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL W. F. BUTLER, C.B. . „ 250 

Taken in 1883 as Queen's A.D.C. 

MAJOR-GENERAL SIR W. F. BUTLER, K.C.B. . „ 392 

Taken in 1898, commanding the South-Eastern Distinct. 

MAPS— 

Map of the West Coast of Africa .... .. 150 

Map of the Nile „ 240 



• 



i ' 



FOREWORD 

My father began this Autobiography in March 1909, and 
worked leisurely at it up to within a few days of his un- 
expected death on 7th June 1910. 

The manuscript breaks off in the middle of the last chapter, 
which deals with the end of his command in South Africa ; 
and though, on his deathbed, he entrusted the task of com- 
pleting this chapter to me, I was unable to learn his wishes 
as to the sources of information among his papers to which I 
should apply. On finding the detailed ' Narrative of Events,' 
which he wrote shortly after his return from the Cape, I thought 
I could not do better than adhere solely to this record. 

The reader will understand the onerous nature of my task, 
for, while keeping closely to the 'Narrative,' I have realised the 
necessity for abbreviation and condensation, without omitting 
what appeared to be essentials. Whether my father would 
have wished for more or for fewer omissions, I cannot say ; 
but I have inclined towards few, for fear of losing anything 
he would have wished retained. 

EILEEN BUTLER. 



• • 



SIR WILLIAM BUTLER 

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 
CHAPTER I 

Earliest recollections. The Irish famine. ' Butler's country.' 
School. Gazetted ensign to the 69th Regiment. 

Had it been possible for any one child to tell us exactly what 
he saw when he first opened his eyes, that earliest impression 
of the world would probably have proved the most interesting 
brain-picture ever given by an individual to the general public. 
Nothing like it could ever have been told by him in later life. 

' We awake at our birth,' somebody says, ' staring at a 
very funny place. After serious examination of it we receive 
two fairly definite impressions — delight and fear." He puts the 
sensation of delight first, that of fear second. That is right ; 
but do they keep these places always ? I think the verdict of 
humanity would be that Life was a longer or shorter process of 
the change of place between these two predominant powers. 

Our delight at the first sight of earth we are able to recall 
only dimly in after time. The fear is bound to grow. Once 
at St. Helena there came a huge avalanche of rock, loosened 
from an overhanging mountain, in the dead of night, crashing 
down upon the poor straggling smgle street of Jamestown. 
It crushed to powder two houses, killing instantly sixteen men 
and women. When daylight came, the frightened neighbours, 
climbing through the rums, found a three-months-old baby 
lying on its back close by the mountain boulder, alive, kicking 
and crowing — every other thing was dead. To the baby the 
rock was only a new possession. That is the whole point. 

Anyway, our child-world was a happy one. Everything was 
ours — the green foreground where the spotted pet rabbits 
nibbled and nuzzled together ; beyond these, long glimpses of 
green grass seen between lime and beech trees ; then a glisten- 

A • 



2 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

ing river, with shimmering shallows and bending sallows ; 
beyond that, more green fields ; and then a long blue mountain 
range, which grew bolder and loftier as it stretched westward, 
where it ended in two peaked summits, behind which the sun 
went down only to come up again next morning at the east 
end of the range — our sole unquestioned property still. Such 
are my earliest recollections of the home of ' the little sallow ' 
— Bally slat een, where I first saw the light on the 31st of 
October 1838, the seventh child of Richard and Ellen Butler. 
The world, as the young child saw it, was a very different 
place from the world which the older child was to hear and 
realise a few years later. The early "forties gave no warning 
word of what the decade would do in Ireland before it closed. 
I was about eight years old when the crash came. The country 
about where we lived in Tipperary was swarming with people. 
Along the road were cabins or little thatched mud-cottages at 
every hundred or hundred and fifty paces. I had been taken 
at the age of four years to live with a maternal aunt and uncle 
at Artane, near Dublin, a charming spot three miles from the 
city ; and in this second home, with the kindest relations 
that child could have, I spent the years from 1842 to 1846. 
These years are, of course, only a bright hour in memory now, 
but one or two events stand out in clearest light. I stiU 
retain the recollection of being taken into a large building, 
the name of which I knew only in after years. Richmond 
Penitentiary it was caUed. We passed through big gates and 
doors, and came out mto a garden which had a very high wall 
around it. Following a walk to a spot where another walk 
crossed ours, we found a group of strange men, with one very 
big burly man among them. I remember the scene particu- 
larly, for the reason that there were a good many apple-trees 
growing on either side of the walks, and the fruit was suffi- 
ciently large upon them to rivet my attention while the older 
members of the party were conversing with the burly man 
and his companions. All at once the big figure moved forward, 
and, taking me in his arms, lifted me above his head, while he 
shouted in a great strong voice, ' Hurrah for Tipperary ! ' The 
big man was Daniel O'Connell, and the time must have been 
in the June of 1844 ; for he was in Richmond Prison from May 
to September of that year. 



' THE BLACK FORTY-SEVEN ' 3 

Early in 1846 I was taken from these loving relations at 
Artane back to the Tipperary home. It was a two days' coach 
journey, of which I remember Httle beyond the grief of the 
first day at parting from these beloved ones ; and the grey 
monotony of the second day passing slowly through long 
stretches of bog until at last, as evening was closing, the great 
towers and battlements of the Rock of Cashel rose before the 
post-chaise in the gloaming ; but another weary hour had to 
pass before home was reached. When we were quite near 
home, my sister, who knew the road thoroughly, began to name 
the persons whose cottages we should have to pass before our 
gate was reached. She repeated about a dozen names, I being 
terribly tired, the list gave me the idea that we had still a long 
road to travel, and I heard it with dismay ; but my alarm was 
needless, the distance was only a few hundred yards. I passed 
along that same road a few days ago : not one house, not even 
the site of a house, can now be discerned there. In that 
month of March 1846 the famine which was to sweep four 
millions of Irish peasants out of Ireland was about to begin 
its worst slaughter. The following winter brought ' the black 
forty-seven.' It was a terrible time. Everywhere the unfor- 
tunate people sickened, died, or fled. There was no prepara- 
tion, no warning ; the blow fell straight. The halting and 
creaking machinery of the State could not cope with this 
sudden onslaught. A second or third rate despot could have 
at least parried the blow ; but a constitutional government 
face to face with a sudden crisis is as helpless as a stranded 
whale m an ebb-tide. 

My father and the better-endowed neighbours flung them- 
selves bravely against the advancing plagues of famine and 
fever. Their purses were none too flush ; but they gave 
liberally. They bought meal in the nearest town where it 
could be got, carried it fourteen miles by cart, and, under 
escort of pohce, gave it to the famishing people. I have some 
of the old books still which hold the record and keep the 
accounts of these weekly distributions. They are pitiful reading. 
They range from early February to the end of July 1847. The 
Uttle entries opposite the names of rehef recipients are more 
striking in their briefness than elaborate descriptions of misery 
could be. Here are some of them. 



4 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

* Kitty Marony and three children. Her husband has gone 
from her and she doesn't know where he went." 

' The widow and five children, two and a half stone 

weekly.' 

* Nicholas Murphy and four children ; has an old cow/ 
' Edward Mockler of " the Idiot " is receiving.' 

' The cost of the Indian meal varies between 1/4 and 1/10 
the stone.' 

Sometimes a name disappears from the list, and the entry 
column knows it no more. 

The records end in July 1847, perhaps because the Govern- 
ment machinery had then got into working order, or because 
the earth had begun to yield some stray bits of nutriment 
again. 

In September 1847, things looking somewhat brighter I 
suppose, I was sent with two older brothers to a school in the 
King's County called Tullabeg. This estabhshment was con- 
ducted by the Jesuit Fathers. It was situated m the midst of 
a great region of bog-land, as the name implies — Tullabeg, the 
little bog — in contradistinction, I suppose, to the great many big 
bogs which surrounded it. My recollections of this school are 
not happy ones. I was nine years old, and thin and delicate ; 
and the cold of the winter, in that elevated marsh-land which 
lies to the north of the Slieve Bloom Hills and almost in the 
centre of the island, seemed to strike into the heart and soul 
of a frame such as mine. All the more did the climatic 
conditions tell against a small boy because the majority 
of the other boys were strong. Many of them were rough, 
and, it is needless to say, were as merciless to their smaller 
and weaker fry as though the school had been of pilchards. 
My mother's death in the summer of 1849 caused us 
to be taken from school. Things had grown worse over 
the land. If actual famine had lessened, its after effects 
had spread and deepened. Sickness of many kinds prevailed 
everywhere, and contagion carried death into homes of rich 
and poor alike. The winter of 1848-49 dwells in my memory 
as one long night of sorrow. I was only ten years old ; 
two children still younger than I was were both stricken with 
the long wasting fever which was ravaging the country. It 
was at this time that my mind began to take impressions 



THE OLD HOME 5 

which time has not been able to impair, and to form thoughts 
which experience of hfe has only tended to deepen. 

In what manner my father was able to weather the storm 
which had so suddenly broken, in which so many stronger craft 
had gone down, I do not know, but he was a brave man. The 
strange part of it was that it was all new work to him. He had 
not fought these foes before, and he was at this time not far 
off his sixtieth year. This is where religion comes in. Gradu- 
ally things grew better. Youth soon rallied ; and even when 
things were at their worst, we youngsters had the fields, the 
river, and the mountain still with us — the country of which 
Spenser had said that it was ' the richest Champain that may 
else be rid ' ; and the mountain that he speaks of as ' the 
best and fairest hill that was in all this Holy Island's heights," 
Nor had he forgotten the river : he calls it ' the gentle Shure.' 
But that was saying little : gentle it was, no doubt ; but many 
things besides — ^grass-banked, wiUowj', winding, pebbly, with 
deep limpid pools and silvery shallows — ' the fishful Swire/ 
another old writer caUs it. Our old home lay at the other 
side of the river, and its name told the sylvan story of the 
beautiful stream, ' the town-land of the winding river ' — 
Ballycarron. My father had been bom there, as had some 
eight or nine generations of our family, since the time Black 
Tom of Carrick^ had settled his brothers and a lot of his followers 
west of the Suir after the destruction of the Desmonds in 
1584. 

The family traditions were almost as extensive as the family 
purse was limited. I think that there was a somewhat similar 
antithesis of thought with us between purse and pride, not 
uncommon in cases of the kind — as though nature had put 
into old blood some antitoxin to neutralise the effect of the 
bacteria of poverty*. Be that as it may, the river, the moun- 
tains, and the family history were aU interwoven together. 

The old peasants stiU called the great plain that stretched 
from Slieve-na-Man to the Galtees, ' Butler's country.' The 
name alone survived. The possession had long since shrunken 
to narrow limits. CromweU had ridden over it, and WiUiam 
had crossed it agam forty years later, harrowing where the 
other had ploughed. A century of penal law had bitten out 

^ Thomas Butler, tenth Earl of Ormond. 



6 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

many a broad acre from it as the devil was said to have bitten 
out the big gap in the ' Devil's Bit ' Mountain, that bounded our 
range of sight to the north as the Galtees stopped it to the 
south. What ups and downs of life had all these ups and 
downs of land surface seen ! Some very old men had survived 
the famine and fever years, and they were always ready to 
spin a story of ' the good old times ' for us young people. 

Cromwell's war was not such a far-away event in 1850 to 
men or women who could reckon eighty or ninety years of 
existence. They had heard, as children, old men and women 
of fourscore years telling their tales by the winter's fireside — 
1850, 1770, 1700, 1630— when Oliver Cromwell was farming and 
brewing in Huntingdon. A hears a story from B who had 
heard from C what D was told ten years before the time when 
forty of the Butlers feU at Kilrush fighting under Mountgarret 
in Wexford — that time when a riderless horse belonging to one 
of the forty, with broken bridle and saddle topsy-turvy, came 
galloping into the castle ' bawn ' on Kilmoyler HiU, a short 
mile across the fields to the south of our river. The church- 
yard lore, too, seemed to have survived the wreck of Ufe and 
estate longer than other traditions. Our famUy burial-place 
was by the old ruined church of Killardrigh, half a mile beyond 
the hill of Kilmoyler. A fragment of an old headstone, lying 
among debris near the east window of the Uttle ruin, said that 
in this place several generations of the Butlers of Kilmoyler, 
descendants of the ninth Earl of Ormond, were interred. 
Before KiUardrigh, the old people said we had buried in Lough 
Kent, four miles to the east ; and before that at Clerihan, 
about the same distance to the south-east. This showed the 
steps which the course of incessant tribal fighting between the 
Butlers and Desmonds had caused the family outposts to 
foUow, as the Desmonds were being slowly pushed back towards 
the west. If Desmond had ' wine from the royal Pope ' and 
guns from the King of Spain, ' Black Tom,' in his great house 
at Carrick, had had many a boat-load of arms, powder, and 
bullets from his ' cousin ' the Queen of England. Her likeness 
and royal cipher are still to be seen in Italian stucco work in 
a dozen medallions round the ruined banqueting-hall of the 
castle at Carrick. 

In the old times neither chief nor clansman went far to marry 



FATHER'S EARLY DAYS 7 

or to bury. Wherever you jfind one of those lonely, lofty, 
square stone towers, called ' castles ' in Ireland, you will also 
find, close by, the ruined church, with mounds and mouldering 
headstones around it — MuUaghnoney, Woodenstown, Kilna- 
cask. Cromwell's soldiers smashed them all to bits, but the 
dead steal back to the ruined churches still. 

Looking back now at the early days of my boyhood, I often 
think with keen regret of all the opportunities lost for ever 
of hearing more and still more of what those grand old people 
had heard or read of in their day. My father had been edu- 
cated at Ulverston in Lancashire, at a school kept by Bishop 
Everard, a refugee from France in the time of the Revolution. 
This remarkable ecclesiastic, afterwards Archbishop of Cashel, 
had, with the aid of some of the old highest Catholic families, 
started a private school in the little Lancashire village in the 
last decade of the eighteenth century. We were related 
through marriage with the family of Everard, and thus had 
arisen the connection between teacher and student at Ulver- 
ston. What mines of historic interest here lay entombed ! 
An Irish-French bishop getting away from the south of France 
before Napoleon had taken Toulon. My father used to tell 
us of dehghtful evenings spent at the house of a Catholic lady 
who had hved at Ulverston at this time — Barbara, Lady 
Mostyn. She had early separated from her husband, Sir Piers 
Mostyn, for some incompatibihties, one of which I remem- 
ber. Sir Piers was sitting late with his foxhunting friends one 
night shortly after the marriage. My lady was in her own 
apartments. It was proposed that she should be ' blooded ' — 
this ceremony consisted in drinking a cup of claret in which 
the brush of the fox last killed was put. My lady was sent 
for. Seated at the table, the rite was explained to her, and 
the noxious draught placed before her. She refused to drink 

it. ' By G , madam,' thundered Sir Piers, ' you will have 

to drink it ; you must be " blooded." ' Lady Mostyn drank 
the cup, and left the castle, to which she never returned. 

Another Ulverston story I also remember. One of the young 
men at the school (they were aU of university age) came in 
from the garden one evening showing signs of great mental 
distress. A strange form, he said, had appeared to him on a 
garden walk. It tried to utter some words : the light was 



8 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

good, he could not have been deceived. Next day he adhered 
to his sto^3^ He was advised to go back again to the spot. 
He did so. The form again appeared at the same place. It 
spoke. It was the form of a relation who was abroad in some 
distant place. A ship had gone down at sea ; he (the relation) 
had been lost. There was a sum of money owing to some 
person : the form had come to ask that this money might be 
paid ; that was all. Months later came the news of shipwreck. 

My father had lived too in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte, 
and of that still more successful warrior, King George the 
Fourth, whose charge at Waterloo, when Prince Regent, as is 
well known, had smashed the French army to pieces. Of this 
last hero he (my father) had seen something : he saw the First 
Gentleman of Europe standing up in his carriage, either in 
College Green or at the Curragh — a cap of green velvet with a 
long gold tassel on his rojaA head, and a tumbler of hot whisky 
punch in his roj^al hand, pledging the health of his true and 
loving Irish subjects with whom he had determined to spend 
the remaining days of his Ufe. I will not here indulge in anj^ 
speculations as to what the course of history might have been 
had this royal intention been carried out. 

I was never told, nor do I know to this day, how it had 
happened that our family had been able to hold on to Bally- 
carron through all the vicissitudes of the Penal times. So 
long as a Stuart was on the throne they had friends of some 
sort at Court ; but after the accession of the House of Hanover 
the family anxieties must have been considerable. Among the 
fourteen main clauses of confiscation and persecution in the 
penal code, there were at least three which must have made 
the life of a Catholic gentleman in the eighteenth century a 
very doubtful blessing, and a most precarious possession. 

11. Any Protestant seeing a Catholic tenant at will on a 
farm, which in his opinion yielded one-third more than the 
annual rent, might enter on that farm, and by simply swearing 
to the fact, take possession of it. 

14. Any Catholic gentleman's child who became a Protestant 
could at once take possession of and assume title to his father's 
property. 

7. Any two justices of the peace could caU any man over 
sixteen years of age before them, and if he refused to abjure 



CROMWELLIAN ANECDOTE 9 

the Catholic religion, they could bestow his property on the 
Protestant next of kin. 

With provisions of spoliation such as these, and there were 
many more of similar impact, making, every morning, poverty 
a ' possible contingency ' before evening, the lives of some of 
my progenitors in Ballycarron must have been somewhat 
Damoclesian ; but Nature has many ways of correcting the 
errors of the law-maker, and no doubt she used them at this 
period along the winding river. The habit of seeking wives 
near at hand had caused a very numerous cousinship to spring 
up in the valley of the Suir. One mile down the river there 
resided, sometime about the year 1750, a certain ' Mosh ' or 
Tom Butler, of desperate fighting tenacity. Tradition said 
that he was always ready to fight anybod}^ ; but the descendant 
of a Cromwellian settler had ever first claim on him, and the 
great duel between him and one Sadler at a place called Ock- 
na-Gore (the ford of the goat), close by where I am now writing, 
was a favourite subject for spirited recital by elderly black- 
smith folk and old fishermen along the river when I was a 
boy. Large crowds had assembled to see the fight. The 
point of the story was that Sadler was reputed to wear under 
his clothes a suit of chain mail, impervious to the bullet of that 
time. In loading the pistols, ' Mosh's ' second contrived to 
insert a silver coin as the wad between the powder and the 
bullet. The word was given ; the combatants fired. Sadler 
was seen to wince ; * Mosh ' was untouched : the seconds 
declared themselves satisfied. Both combatants mounted 
their horses to return to their respective homes, but when 
Sadler reached the ford at the little stream of the Fidogtha, 
and his horse bent its head to drink, somebody observed blood 
running down the leg of Sadler and into his boot. Examina- 
tion could no longer be deferred ; but while preparations were 
being made for it the Cromwellian champion fell from his horse, 
and then there was found outside his net of steel a flattened 
bullet, and inside the mailed shirt a small incised wound, 
through which the silver coin had found its way into a vital 
spot. The old blacksmith, who used to love to relate this 
story and many others of a similar kind, was a philosopher of 
no mean contemplative power ; and often when pursuing some 
train of thought he would sum up the lost Cause by carrying 



10 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

it into the other world, and he would suddenly ask me such 
a question as, * Wliere 's Cromwell now ? ' or, ' Where 's 
Ireton to-day ? ' I was always careful not to anticipate the 
supreme point by giving direct answer to his question ; but 
I would just say, ' Where ? ' Then his eyes would flash like 
the sparks from his own anvil. ' I '11 tell ye,' he would cry. 
' He 's where he could kindle his pipe with his elbow/ Then 
there was nothing more to be said. 

By means of a cousinship of the kind exemplified by 
' Mosh,' and a numerous famUy of the O'Doherty clan, a 
member of which had moved into Tipperary from Innistown 
towards the close of the seventeenth century (whose son 
married a Butler of Ballycarron early in the eighteenth 
century), the eleven hundred acres that lay within the town- 
lands of the winding river had remained tolerably secure 
throughout three hundred years of penal confiscation. 

It was about 1778 that Catholics were given the legal right 
to hold estates. Through the same relaxation of the penal 
codes during the American War a large number of these fighting 
cousins found their way into the army. 

Some half-dozen of those family feudatories appear in the 
Army List of the end of the eighteenth century — one of them 
Colonel Richard O'Dogherty in the 69th Regiment of Foot, 
which regiment he saved from capture by the French in 1795. 
A nephew of this man, another Richard, got a commission 
about ten years later ; but his name appears as * Doherty ' — 
the ' 0' ' and the ' g ' omitted. What 's in a name ? A good 
deal, sometimes. Richard had a brother Theobald, who also 
got a commission in the 40th Regiment after the rupture of 
the Peace of Amiens. Theobald had a wellnigh unequalled 
fighting record : he fought at Roleia, Vimeira, Talavera, 
Busaco, Badajoz, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Orthes, and 
Toulouse. He only attained the rank of captain ; and he was 
compelled to leave the army years later because, under cir- 
cumstances of very gross provocation on the score of his 
religion, he had challenged a senior officer to fight a duel. The 
elder brother, Richard, saw active service only at Guadaloupe 
and Martinique : he had those two bars to his war medal 
against his younger brother's ten ; but he gave up his faith 
as weU as the obnoxious ' 0' ' before his name. 



AN EVICTION SCENE 11 

Nevertheless, to Richard I owe the fact that X was a soldier, 
and that I was posted to the 69th Regiment. I remember 
well a visit which I paid to this old kinsman in 1856 or 1857. I 
was under inspection. It was an anxious moment. He was 
reserved, graciously solemn, and of the type of veteran not 
uncommon at that time, but now rarely to be seen — the type 
of Gough, Napier, Harry Smith, and a dozen others. He wore 
a high black silk stock, behind the stiff shelter of which he 
seemed to be able at times to withdraw a good deal of the 
lower part of his face in order to regard me to greater advant- 
age from the upper portion. ;3ut I anticipate by a few years, 
and I must go back to the years succeeding the great famine. 

When things became financially safer, we boys were sent 
to school again — this time to Diiblin, where, in a large house 
in Harcourt Street, once the residence of the notorious John 
Scott, first Earl of Clonmel, a Doctor James Quinn had estab- 
lished himself as president, assisted by a staff of teachers, 
nearly all of whom, like their chief, attained celebrity as bishops 
in the colonial ecclesiastical world. I often wondered in after 
Ufe how the balance of the account lay, between the loss of 
school education caused by those famine years, and the gain 
of that other lesson of Ufe — its necessities, its sorrows, its hard 
bed-rock facts which that terrible time had implanted in my 
mind. In particular there was one scene in the theatre of that 
time which did more, I think, to shape the course of thought 
than years of study could have done. 

One day I was taken by my father to the scene of an eviction 
on that road of which I have already spoken as being so full 
of the cottages and cabins of the people who were called 
cottiers — peasants with three or four acre plots of land. I 
have never forgotten the pity of that day. On one side of the 
road was a ruined church, the mounds of an old graveyard, 
and a few of those trees which never seemed to grow any larger 
but remained stunted and ragged deformities, nibbled at by 
goats below and warped by storms above, and left to find 
voice for the wind as it whistled through them ; on the other 
side, and beyond the old church, stood some dozen houses 
which were to be pulled down on this day, and their denizens 
evicted. At this time the weakening effects of the famine 
were still painfully evident in the people, and the spirit of 



12 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

opposition which, m after years was to become so strong was 
not in being. The sheriff, a strong force of pohce, and above 
aU the crowbar brigade — a body composed of the lowest and 
most debauched ruffians — were present. 

At a signal from the sheriff the work began. The miserable 
inmates of the cabins were dragged out upon the road ; the 
thatched roofs were torn down and the earthen waUs battered 
in by crowbars (practice had made these scoundrels adepts 
in their trade) ; the screaming women, the half-naked children, 
the paralysed grandmother, and the tottering grandfather were 
hauled out. It was a sight I have never forgotten. I was 
twelve years old at the time ; but I think if a loaded gun had 
been put into my hands I would have fired into that crowd of 
villains, as they plied their horrible trade by the ruined church 
of Tampul-da-voun (the church of the east window). 

Singularly enough, it feU out that, after twenty-five years, 
I should meet at Highclere an ex-colonial governor who had 
fiUed many positions of trust and authority in his day — Sir 
Arthur Kennedy, He had been in early life one of the Famine 
Commissioners in the County Clare, and not the least tragi- 
cally interesting in the gloomy Blue Book which has collected 
the reports of these officers throughout Ireland are the reports 
sent in by the then Captain Arthur Kennedy of his experiences 
in Western Clare during the famine years. 

One day the conversation turned upon Ireland and the Irish 
famine. Something was said which caused the old veteran's 
face to flush. Turnmg full towards his host he said, ' I can 
teU you, my lord, that there were days in that western county 
when I came back from some scene of eviction so maddened by 
the sights of hunger and misery I had seen in the day's work 
that I felt disposed to take the gun from behind my door and 
shoot the first landlord I met.' ' Strong words. Sir Arthur,' 
was all that the then Colonial Secretary could say. ' Not 
stronger, my lord, than were my feelings at that time,' answered 
the old soldier. 

While I was at school in Dublm the Crimean War began ; 
and as the regiments in garrison were all sent to the East, 
their departure for the seat of war was an event of great 
interest to the schoolboys. Daily we used to accompany some 
regiment of horse or foot, cheering them as they marched 



SCHOOLDAYS ENDED • 13 

through the streets. In one of these mfantry regiments there 
marched a subaltern officer who was afterwards destined to 
rise to great distinction, and with whose career I was in after 
life to have the honour of being associated on many occasions. 

In the Story of a Soldier's Life, Lord Wolseley has graphically 
described the departure of his regiment, the 90th, from Dublin ; 
the scenes of the streets ; and the sympathy of the men and 
women with the eight or nine prisoners who were under his 
charge as subaltern officer of the day. ' Many purses were 
handed to them, and they had a real ovation. I found myself 
the centT-e of a crowd that regarded me as a jailer. " Poor 
boys ! " I heard on every side, whilst men and women scowled 
upon me. They (the prisoners) were assumed to be England's 
enemies because thus guarded, so of course they became the 
heroes, the dear friends of the Dublin rabble,' For my part, 
I have found this feeling of sjTnpathy with prisoners a very 
general one tlirough the world, and I do not think that human 
nature has any reason to be ashamed of it. Nor is the senti- 
ment of sympathy, even when it is misdirected, peculiar to 
the people of Ireland. I remember once seeing a naval picket 
in Plymouth carrying, or endeavouring to carry, a very 
turbulent sailor to his ship. A crowd of women were follo\ving 
the cortege, and cries of ' Ah ! don't hurt the pore sailor ! ' 
were frequent. As the picket passed, I noticed that the 
* pore sailor ' had got the petty officer's thumb into his mouth 
and was vigorously engaged in the attempt to chew it off ; 
but the greatly suffering petty officer had no pity expressed 
for him. Here undoubtedly was a case of sympathy so mis- 
directed that there was not even a rule of thumb about it. 

The Crimean War was over before I left school. A short 
interval of aimless expectation followed it. My father was not 
keen that his son should enter a profession in which the dis- 
advantage of the absence of money could only be overcome 
by the surrender of one's rehgion — for that at least was the 
lesson which the cases of his relatives in the army had taught 
him. 

In June 1857 came the news of the Indian Mutiny. I have 
already spoken of a visit paid to the old kinsman. Sir Richard 
Doherty, and of ' the inspection ' then undergone. It appears 
to have been tolerably satisfactory, because not long after- 



14 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

wards a letter arrived from him to my father enclosing a 
communication from the Military Secretary, nominating me 
to a direct commission without purchase. In July 1858 I passed 
the qualifying examination at Old Burlington House, and on 
the 17th of the following September was gazetted ensign in 
the 69th Regiment, the corps which had been saved from 
capture by the French through the instrumentality of another 
Richard O'Doglierty some sixty-three years earlier. My new 
corps was stationed in Burmah, and its depot was at Fermoy, 
in the County Cork, some forty miles at the other side of the 
Gal tee Mountains. At that time there was no railway to this 
military station, so I proceeded thither by a roundabout journey 
on a long-car which ran from Kilmallock to it through a wild 
hilly country dividing the valley of the Blackwater River 
from the waters flowing into the Shannon and the Suir. It 
was a dull November evening, the 17th, as we reached Fermoy. 
I carried a letter from Sir Richard Doherty to the commandant 
of the depot battalion — a Colonel Egerton, who had once 
been my venerable cousin's adjutant. There is a certain 
aspect of awe about the interior of a barracks when it is entered 
by a young officer for the first time ; and the square of the old 
barracks at Fermoy made no exhilarating-looking picture as 
it appeared to me in the gloom of a damp November evening 
when I made my way across it to the house of the colonel 
commanding. But how kind and bright was mj'' reception at 
the hands of Colonel Egerton and his wife ! I was to come 
and lunch with them the next day. I was to dine at the mess 
that evening just as I was. The colonel took me himseK to 
the officer commanding my depot, and then I went back to 
the httle hotel to get ready for the mess dinner. 



JP 



CHAPTER II 

Old soldiers and young. Orders for India. A four months' voyacre. 

Bunnah. 

I HAD had but little acquaintance with the world up to this 
time. Fifty years ago boys were very far removed from the 
intercourse with older persons which is now so common among 
them. The thing, therefore, that struck me most strongly 
was the kind and familiar manner with which I was treated 
from the first moment of joining at Fermoy. Nearly all the 
older officers had seen service in the Crimean War, which was 
then only a recent event. The majority of them were splendid 
fellows ; that long siege had been a wonderful school for the 
forming of manly characters. They had a type and manner 
of their own. Their hair was not cut short, as in the present 
day, but was worn long over the ears ; and they had large 
fuzzy whiskers, with moustaches that went straight into them. 
They smoked much, and some of them drank a good deal ; 
but they carried their liquor well, as it used to be said. There 
were the depots of six different regiments in the battalion — two 
companies from each regiment (twelve in all on parade), with 
a colonel, two majors, an adjutant, and quartermaster specially 
attached as battalion officers. Some of the captains had been 
promoted from the ranks for distinguished conduct on the 
field. The colonel, Isaac Moore, had risen from the ranks. 
He was an old officer, with the profile of an eagle, the voice of 
a Stentor, and a heart of great goodness. He was exceedingly 
strict on all matters of duty, a splendid drill after the manner 
of the time, and he rarely left the barracks except to take the 
battaUon out to the drill field. His pronunciation of some 
military words was peculiar. Qp was warned not to exert 
his voice too much on pairade, but he persisted in giving the 
long-drawn-out cautionary commands of the old Peninsular 
drill days, such as, ' The battalion will change front by the 
wheel and countermarch of subdivisions round the centre ' ; 



18 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

shallow where I was standing, expecting every moment to 
smash rod, line, and wheel ; but luck was on my side. Nothing 
broke, and in ten minutes or so my fish was boring quietly in 
some deeper water nearer shore. Then I waded back to the 
bank, and getting his head down stream, took him down to 
where an eddying backwater, close under the bank, had 
collected on the surface of the water a lot of white foam. Into 
this little circular pool I steered mj^ salmon. I had no gaS, 
and he lay just beneath the surface. I could see that he was 
no smaU fish, but a salmon of ten or eleven pounds. What 
was to be done ? No one was near to help. I had a pocket- 
knife of ordinary size with me. I opened its larger blade, 
got down to the lower ledge of turf close by the pool, and as 
the now tired fish came slowly round in the eddy and the 
foam, close against the bank, I struck the Uttle knife with 
my right full into his shoulder, holding the rod in my left hand 
bent in towards the shore. The fish gave one great plunge ; 
but the blow was straight and sure, and I found that my 
stroke had pinned him against the bank. Then, dropping the 
rod from my left hand, I got my fingers under the gills and 
lifted the salmon safelj^ in to the shore. He was a beautiful 
fresh-run fish. I got back to the mess as the long June evening 
was closing — wet, tired, but very proud of my feat ; and as 
the depot battaUon had many good anglers among its numbers, 
I had to go through the scene in the ante-room with all the 
original paraphernalia of the performance shown in action. 

There was an old captain of the 95th Regiment in the 
battalion who had his quarters on the opposite side of the 
passage where I Uved — Captain Robert Weild — * Old Bob 
Weild,' as he was popularly called amongst us youngsters. 
He was a very quaint specimen of a soldier now quite extinct. 
He drank a good deal, and smoked pipes of many kinds and 
colours. He spoke the broadest Lowland Scotch. He took 
a fancy to me, and would often come into my room with his 
long cherry-stick pipe and sit smoking at the fire and telling 
me of his early life and former service. He was a native of 
the town of Wigtown, where his father had been the principal 
baker, and young Bob's business had been to deliver the 
bread through the town. He preferred to try his fortune as 
a soldier, and enlisted in the 95th Regiment. He went to the 



SAILING FOR INDIA 19 

Crimea as a colour-sergeant, was at Abna and Inkermann, and 
did his full share of trench service. One day a round-shot 
hopped over the parapet and struck Colour-Sergeant Weild 
in the chest. Fortunately a wave of wind which came a little 
in front of the ball had turned the man shghtly on one side, 
so that the mass of iron only carried away two or three ribs, 
laying bare the heart below them. To all appearances he 
was killed ; but there was a spark of life still left m him : the 
heart had not been actually touched. * As they were carrying 
me back through the trenches/ he used to say, ' we met a 
surgeon who had a well-filled box of medical comforts, and 
the first thing this good fellow did was to empty a pint of strong 
brandy down my throat ; that kept the heart going and saved 
my life.' It must be said that old Bob never forgot the hquid 
to which he owed his salvation. Sometimes he would stay 
late in the little club at the foot of the barracks hill ; and as 
I would be crossing the square to the mess, I would encounter 
mj'' old friend making the best of his way from the gate to his 
quarters, walking straight to the front, but gazing at the 
ground with a fixed stare and an expression in his e3'e that told 
me it would not be safe to speak a single word to him. He 
had taken his line from the gate, and he was steering for his 
door upon a mental compass bearing so fine that the smallest 
whisper might have deranged it. On other occasions we 
passed each other like ships in the night. Orders for India 
came m the early summer of 1860, and we went our several 
wa3'3 — old Weild to India, I to Burmah. Six months later I 
heard of his death in Central India. 

I was very active in those days. A month before we started 
for the East there were foot races in Limerick, where I won 
the two hundred and fifty yards hurdle race against the south 
of Ireland garrison. 

Our 69th draft — three ofl&cers and one hundred' and twenty 
men — embarked at Queenstown in the ship Coldstream for 
Madras in July 1860. There were also in this Uttle vessel of 
eight hundred tons sixty men of the Royal Irish Regiment 
and three ofiicers. After a delay of three days in Queenstown 
Harbour, for laying in provision for a long voyage, we were 
towed out beyond the mouth of the harbour and cast off. It 
blew a btiff gale that night, and we kept plunging into a heavy 



20 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

head sea, for land was on the lea and there was no sea room. 
It was the 11th of July, a Wednesday ; I remember the day 
of the week because from the midday of that Wednesday to 
the evenmg of the foUowmg Sunday no food passed my lips. 
I was then nearly dead of starvation. For one hundred 
and twenty-four days we continued to crawl over the ocean, 
and in those four months saw but two specks of land — 
Madeira, and St. Paul's Island in the Southern Indian 
Ocean. We lay becalmed in the vicinity of the equator 
for three weeks. The drinking water was horrible — the 
colour of weak tea and with a taste that was nauseating. It 
had first rotted in the barrels, then fermented, and after it 
had gone through that cleansing process it was declared to 
be wholesome. Bad as it was, the men became mutinous 
because they could not get enough of it to satisfy their thirst 
when we were lying becalmed in the tropics. After some 
forty days we caught the south-east trade winds and shaped a 
course towards the coast of South America ; then by Tristan 
da Cunha, which was hidden in dense masses of clouds ; and 
round the Cape of Good Hope, but some four hundred miles 
to the south of it. Here, towards the end of September, we 
entered upon a vast ocean of gigantic roUers, a grey limitless 
waste of waters that came surging after us in stupendous billows 
as though they would overwhelm the little speck of ship that 
carried us. Vast flocks of sea-birds circled high above our 
masts. 

The captain was a most excellent man ; the crew of twenty- 
nine hands were strong and fearless fellows. It was often a 
splendid sight to see them aloft, double reefing topsails on a 
night of storm and lightning in the Southern Indian Ocean — 
black darkness everywhere, then a flash lighting up the deck, 
masts, and spars, and showmg the black specks aloft in the 
rocking rigging, clewing in the flapping canvas to the topsail 
yards. 

We kept night-watch like the crew, and wretched work it 
was ; the ship leaked badly from the beginning, but it was 
only when the stormy southern latitudes were reached that 
the leakage became really serious. The ship was then making 
several inches of water every hour. We had one pump near 
the mainmast on the quarter-deck ; and it used to take the 



A DANGEROUS CARGO 21 

men of the watch, with the pump handles fully manned, a 
full hour's hard work before the water was got out of the vessel. 
Three times in the night this work went on. The soldiers 
hated it so much that it was no easy matter to get them up 
from the lower deck out of their hammocks to the wet and 
slippery quarter-deck. 

With the sergeant of the watch one had to creep along the 
odour-reeking deck under the hammocks, shouting, and often 
unslinging the hammock lines before the men would turn out. 
Then, when the handles were manned, they would vent their 
ill-humour upon the wretched pump by working it lil^e demons 
up and down — until the captain, hearing the banging, would 
rush out from his cabin behind the little ' cuddy ' vociferating 
to the men that if they broke the pumps the ship would smk 
in thirty hours. This miserable work went on until the ship's 
course was turned northwards from the Uttle island of St. 
Paul's, and as smoother latitudes were gained the leakage 
lessened. We did not know then, but it was afterwards dis- 
covered, what was the cause of the leakage. The ship was 
carrying a very dangerous cargo, and one that should have 
made it impossible for her owners to obtain a commission 
for the carriage of troops — railroad iron. She had six hundred 
tons of iron rails down below the other ordinary cargo. 
It was this dead soUd weight that had caused her timbers 
to open in the gale and heavy seas into which we plunged 
the night after leaving Ireland. Fortunately the rent was 
just at or above the water-line, so when the sea was fairly 
smooth the intake of water was small ; but whenever bad 
weather came, and the vessel's bows went down mto the waves, 
the water came in in quantities, and for six hours in the twenty- 
four the men were at the pumps. There was no Plimsoll in 
those days : the shipowners could do as they pleased ; and a 
five-pound note placed in the palm of an inspector between 
decks by the agent from the office in Leadenhall Street could 
lighten the duties of inspection and remove many doubts and 
difficulties. 

My kit was a small one, but I had managed to include in it 
one box of books, and I was able to borrow other works from 
brother officers on board. I read a great deal in the long 
weary months, sailing the great circle to India. 



22 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

In a little book wliich I wrote more than forty years ago, 
subsequent to that voyage, I was comparmg the sailing ship 
of the old bygone times with the steamers of to-day, and I 
wrote that it was then ' the great circle, but now it was the 
short cut/ A London literar}- review, with the well-known 
infallibility of the editorial armchair, which embraces every- 
thing m knowledge from a needle to an anchor, pointed out 
that I was in error, inasmuch as ' the great circle ' and ' the 
short cut ' were sjiionymous expressions. But he forgot that 
we were dealing with sailing ships, and that the trade wind 
was the chief factor concerned in the question. From England 
to India by the short cut via the Cape is about ten thousand 
miles ; but no sailing ship attempting that passage in the 
teeth of the trade wind could get to its destination under a 
term of years. The great circle, which the sailing vessels 
still follow en route to India — makmg a fair wind of the south- 
east trade by running towards the coast of South America 
from the Line and thence, before the powerful western winds, 
by Tristan da Cunha to St. Paul's and Amsterdam Islands, 
where they turn north for India — is some eight or nine thousand 
miles longer in distance, although it saves many months in 
time. 

Now and again on that long voyage we had some incidents 
that gave us, at least, a subject for conversation at the little 
' cuddy ' table where we gathered for meals. One morning, 
in the earlj)- watch, strange sounds were heard as of some one 
singing under the bottom of the ship. No one could locate 
the sound. It was fitful and indistinct, hilarious and despondent 
by turns. Men looked at each other. At last the morning 
roU was called, and it was found that there was a man missing. 
AU the decks were searched, the cook's galley, the long-boat, 
where the six or eight sheep and the dozen pigs were, and the 
forecastle wherein the crew had their bunks — ^no man could 
be found ; but stiU the mj^sterious sounds rose at intervals. 
At length it was discovered that a person looking down the 
square hole through which the long chain cable was passed 
into its box below, could hear the strange noise with greater 
distinctness than elsewhere in the ship. This discovery soon 
solved the mystery : the missing man was far down in the 
chain locker. Some one descended the shaft. A very fat 



INDIA SIGHTED 23 

soldier was found near the bottom of the aperture, stretched 
upon some cargo in the hold. Fresh discoveries followed. 
The captain and the mate descended. From where the fat 
man was found a track led over piles of general cargo to a bulk- 
head, which was directly under the stem part of the ship. 
This bulkhead had had a hole cut through it into the spirit- 
room. This hole passed through, a still stranger sight was 
revealed : many cases of gin and other strong spirits, which 
had been destined for the consumption of Asiatic committees 
in general, were found opened and rifled ; a comfortable straw- 
lined tap-room was next found among the cases, and many 
small candle ends, some of which, in Ueu of candlesticks, had 
been stuck on to the ship's side, the timbers of which the lighted 
candles had in many places charred. Here had been the chosen 
meeting-place of a select few among the crew and soldiers. 
Night after night those faithful fellows had descended the chain 
locker and sought the seclusion of this spirituous paradise. At 
last, in a happy moment for the remainder of the uninitiated, 
the fat soldier was bidden to the feast. He had descended 
easily ; but when the hour came for reascending to the cold 
upper world, either his size or the quantity of liquor he had 
swallowed prevented the ascension. His companions could 
not drag him up the locker, and he had to be left at its base : 
elation or terror did the rest. The fatness of this particular 
male siren had probably saved the good ship Coldstream from 
a fate worse than any shipwreck ; and the hardest part of the 
thing was that he was the sole man of the wrong-doers whom 
it was possible to punish. Instead of being the recipient of 
many Humane Society's medals for savmg the lives of about 
two hundred and fifty human beings, he spent the greater 
portion of the remainder of the voyage in leg-irons. 

At daybreak on 2nd November land was in sight. We had 
been heading for it a day or two before, and there it was at last 
— a low coast beaten by a white surf, fringes of palm-trees, 
some white houses, and a range of hills beyond the Coromandel 
coast. Some forty miles north of Madras we anchored in the 
open roadstead of that town about noon. A high surf was 
running, and only a naked Catamaran man on his three logs 
lashed together could come out to us with letters and orders 
carried in his skull cap of oiled wicker work. After three or 



24 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

four days' rolling and pitching at anchor we were allowed to 
land, and when evening came we all marched to a place called 
Poonamallee, about twelve miles west of Madras. Every- 
thing was new and strange to us — the people, the trees, the fire- 
flies in the bamboo hedges, the cicadas in the feathery palm- 
trees, the bull-frogs in the grassy fields, the endless multi- 
plication of life human and animal everywhere to be seen, 
heard, or felt. Poonamallee was a delightful old cantonment, 
built in the days of Clive or earlier — an old semicircular mess- 
house with mango-trees surrounding it, and a broad verandah 
raised two feet above the ground, supported along its outer 
edge by pillars of snow-white ' chunam ' ; three hundred yards 
away a Moorish fort with a broad ditch around it full of bull- 
frogs; and beyond it the village or town of Poonamallee, a very 
extraordinary assemblage of Hindoo temples and houses, the 
former representing, with an effrontery not to be abashed, 
the lower and most disreputable fines of the Hindoo worship. 

This old depot station was commanded by one of the most 
mteresting veterans it was ever my good fortune to meet in 
life — Colonel Impett, formerly of the 71st Foot, in which 
regiment he had fought at Waterloo. He was now in his 
sixtieth year, taU and spare, the most lovable old soldier who 
ever drew to him the heart of man or woman. What days I 
had fistening to this man ! After Waterloo he had marched 
to Paris, when he was not yet fifteen ; then later he went to 
Canada. He had been at Fermoy in the 'twenties, and now 
for thirty years his service had been wholly in India. Before 
I was a week at Poonamallee he had taken me out to shoot 
snipe with him in the paddy fields, five miles from the station. 
In the gharry going to and coming from the ground, and in 
drives to and from Madras, he often used to speak about his 
early experiences — particularly of the day at Waterloo. He 
was given a commission at either Eton or Harrow, and had 
been hurried out to Belgium in the spring of 1815 to join his 
regiment there cantoned — part of that vast force of about a 
million men which those brave feUows, the kings and emperors 
of Europe, had gathered round the French frontiers to fight 
the single soldier whose army two months earUer had numbered 
a bare five hundred all told. He described the repeated charges 
of the French cavalry upon his regiment in square on the windy 



ON TO BURMAH 25 

slope of the ridge behind the hollow road that ran from La 
Haye Sainte. When night fell the wearied men, already 
half asleep, lay down where they stood. Impett caught a 
black horse which passed by without a rider ; he tied the 
rein to his wrist, and then sank into a deep sleep. When 
he awoke in the early June dawn, the horse was gone. * It 
was a lump and a line all day,' he said : * a lump to resist the 
cavalry, a line to avoid the havoc wrought by the round-shot.' 
That was certainly a baptism of fire for a boy of fourteen. 

Many incidents of lesser interest in his Hfe he used to speak 
about in those httle shooting excursions — of days camped on 
an island in Georgian Bay, Lake Huron, fishing and deer 
hunting ; of long walks in the mountains I had lately left near 
Fermoy. One day, in a glen somewhere in those hills, he and 
his companion, Captain Markham, a noted shot, came upon 
a still in full work. No information was given to the excise 
ofiicers in the town, and a couple of weeks later Markham and 
Impett found a small keg of poteen whisky laid outside the 
door of their rooms in the old barracks. 

After two or three months in Poonamallee the draft moved 
on to Burmah by steamer from Madras. We touched at several 
ports on the east side of the Bay of Bengal. Boats carrying 
fruits and lunka cheroots surrounded the vessel at one of these 
places. After a time many men were found to be drunk on 
board ; this was strange, because care had been taken to 
prevent the bringing of spirits on board. But the attack 
usually beats the defence. We found on close examination 
that the oranges in many cases had a small round hole drilled 
in the rind, through which the juice of the fruits had been 
extracted and the vacuum filled in with arrack, the rind plug 
being again inserted. 

In due time we reached Rangoon, and shortly afterwards we 
embarked in Burmese boats for the Pegu River, and marched 
thence across the twenty miles of low-lying jungle and high, 
grass-covered waste which divided the Pegu River from the 
larger Sittang. 

A very perfect pagoda, one of the loftiest and most grace- 
fully tapering structures of the kind in Burmah, Hfts its ' thay ' 
of many bells- three hundred feet and more above this wilderness 
of grass. Our camp was at the base of this beautiful object. 



26 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

now the sole survivor of everything that had made Pegu one 
of the greatest cities of the East in the early days of Portuguese 
commercial enterprise. It was not easy to look up at this 
glittering musical spire in the hot glare of daylight ; but when 
evening was closing over the landscape, which everywhere 
showed evidences of ruin and retrogression, the eyes were 
instinctively drawn upwards to this triple tiaraed crown of 
tinkling bells, whose lark-like music feU soft as dew through 
the cooling air. Gone was everything else of that once proud 
kingdom of Pegu ; this, the work of some old Buddhist saint 
or hero, was left alone with its own music in the wilderness. 

We marched at night across the twenty miles of grass and 
jungle, and at a spot called Khyatsoo, on the Sittang, found a 
flotilla of boats ready to embark us for a long journey of twenty 
days up that river. The wide river was here still subject to 
the tide, which at times forms a ' bore ' of a very dangerous 
character, A few years earUer the entire half-battahon of a 
native infantry regiment, with all its o£&cers, baggage, etc., 
had been swamped near this place by the tidal wave — the 
' CaUgima Yeh,' the bad water of the Burmese. We soon 
passed the wide, tidal part of the river, and entered the narrower 
stream, which was still high and turbid after the monsoon rains. 
At first the strangeness of the scene, and above all the boats 
and boatmen, gave occupation to the mind. The boats were 
of a shape and structure unlike any other craft in the world : 
about twelve feet of the stern end of the boat was thatched 
with strong reeds, the remainder of the boat was open, the 
stem sloped high above the water, and at its extreme end 
a high wooden chair gave the steersman a lofty seat, from which 
he was able to move a big spoon-shaped oar, by a simple turn 
of his hand, to the right or left. He thus looked over the 
thatched cabin and weU beyond the bows and the bamboo 
platform from which the crew worked the boat. The crew of 
four men took it in turns to propel the boat with long poles, 
which they worked by going forward to the bow, placing the 
pole against the hollow of the shoulder, and in this bending 
position walliing down the narrow bamboo platform to the 
thatched cabin ; then, releasing the poles from the bottom, 
they went back again to the bow to repeat the toilsome journey. 
The current, swollen by the rains, ran strong, and during quite 



UP THE SITTANG RIVER 27 

half of the clay the boat was brushing against the tall reeds that 
covered the banks, sometimes on one side of the river, some- 
times on the other. One would have thought that after their 
long work at this laborious poling, the men would have been 
glad to lie down to rest when we tied up at night against the 
bank ; but that they seldom or never did. When the rice 
was boiled and eaten play of some sort began, and often in the 
grey morning hght I have looked out from under the thatched 
roof of the boat and seen the crew still hard at work at cards, 
or stones, or some queer game of chequers. In the damp fog 
which then hung over shore and river, they would get up from 
the little fire by which they had squatted all night, unfasten 
their ' loongies,' and take a plunge in the yellow waters of the 
river, diving about like ducks, and coming up wet and glisten- 
ing to resume the long bamboo poles for the day. 

Our average rate of progress was about ten mUes a day. Now 
and again the boat would tie up a little earUer than usual, or 
the pace would be arranged so as to arrive at some village 
where a ' pooay ' or play was going on in celebration of a local 
marriage or funeral. 

At some of the larger villages a pecuhar smeU would manifest 
itself when the cooking hour arrived : this was caused by the 
preparation or consumption of the celebrated Burmese deUcacy 
known as ' Napee." As the river was now falling quickly, these 
napee nights became more frequent, because the time had 
come to unearth the deposits of fish, buried in the sand- 
banks of the river before the torrential rains of the monsoon 
began to fill its wide bed. A deep pit is dug in the sand 
and filled with fish of many kinds ; the sand is pressed down 
upon the mass of fish ; a long pole is driven into the bar to 
mark the spot. The river rises, and water overflows the 
cache for six months ; then, when the waters subside, 
the cache is dug up, a terribly pungent efiiuvium is evolved 
from the opened pit, and the napee is carried off by the villagers 
to be eaten as a special delicacy during the next twelve months. 
The traveller is conscious of a napee night while he is yet at 
a considerable distance from the place of entertainment. But, 
after aU, has not man, even in his most civilised state, some 
bonne-bouche of this kind — a venerable Stilton, a mite-riddled 
Roquefort, a semi-liquefied Camembert ? 



28 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

After three long weeks of this slow travel our boats reached 
the bank of the river at the top of which stood Tonghoo. We 
had been twenty-one days doing these two hundred miles ; but 
at the end of these three weeks one had gained a knowledge 
of Burmese life, labours, and manners which was an asset of 
much use to one in many ways. 

At this station of Tonghoo I foimd my regiment, the 69th. 
They had been here more than three years — one might say 
buried in the Burman forest, for communication was at that 
time so tedious that a letter took two and a half months to 
come from London, and a voyage by the long sea route was, 
as we have just seen, a matter ot about six months' actual 
travel. 

Under conditions of life such as these, rust of mind and 
body must be the prevailing features of European life. The 
seasons, too, helped the distance and environment. Tonghoo 
led to no place ; it was the end of the track : beyond and on 
every side was forest. This month of February was the middle 
of the dry season. In three months the clouds would sweep 
up over the tree-tops from the sea, and in terrific thunder and 
lightning the ball of the monsoon would open. Then for 
nearly six months it would not be possible to stir beyond the 
roads of the cantonment. All the forest would be a swamp ; 
the river, which was now thirty feet down in its channel, 
would be running level with the tops of the banks ; the bull- 
frogs would croak outside every compound ; and all the creep- 
ing things that love heat and damp — scorpions, centipedes, 
huge spiders, strange lizards, beetles, cobras, and pythons — 
would hold general carnival. 

With these climatic conditions in view, it became necessary 
to do something in the way of exploring the surrounding 
country in the next couple of months, while the forest tracks 
could still be travelled by a pony. Once the monsoon began, 
only the elephant could manage to plough through the deep 
black mud. Daily rides were therefore taken in many directions. 
Tonghoo, like all Burmah, has had better days. A huge 
waUed city had been once here ; the rectangular wall, measuring 
one mile on each face, alone remained with its enormous 
ditch, now a jungle-grown swamp. Inside this great brick 
waU, which was thirty feet thick, a little wicker town of bamboo 



LIFE IN THE FOREST 29 

and rushes occupied about a twelfth part of the origmal city 
site. The pagoda again remained the sole remnant of the old 
glory, and a beautiful pagoda it was, though not equal to its 
Pegu rival. Beyond this great city wall spread mingled spaces 
of low jungle and paddy fields, all of which were now quite 
dry. As one galloped along the sandy jungle tracks there 
would open out at sudden intervals some Uttle village scene — 
a dozen bamboo huts ; a small pagoda with its ghstening 
spire ; a teak-wood rest-house for travellers ; a little Poongee 
monastery, the cocoa palms and mango-trees about it, and its 
shrine piled with httle figures of Buddha, cross-legged and long- 
armed, with long pendent ears, and big dreamy eyes looking 
out upon a big dreamy world. 

It would be impossible not to like the Burmese people — 
good-natured, nice-mannered, pleasant people. They never 
scowled at one nor shouted some unknown word of abuse ; 
they were glad to render any little service of the wayside 
without thought of * backsheesh ' ; everj^body smoked big 
cheroots made up in a large green leaf; everybody seemed happy. 

But the life of the forest was the one I was most anxious to 
see ; and late in May I managed, in company with a brother 
officer, to induce the official in charge of the Forest Department 
to lend us three elephants (their purchase was quite beyond 
the reach of our subaltern purses), and loading these animals 
with our supplies, we sent them to a place some sixty miles 
south, there to await our arrival by boat. This time the 
craft selected was a long ' dug-out ' canoe of teak wood. With 
ten or a dozen men paddling, we travelled by the hght of a 
full moon, and went gaily down-stream, expecting to reach our 
landing-place by dayhght, and to find the elephants awaiting 
us with our supphes, and breakfast ready. But it was noon 
before our destination was reached : there were no elephants, 
no food, no anything. We sat all day in a Burman bamboo 
hut, expecting that every hour would bring us refreshment. 
Evening came, still no food. Next day it was the same ; then 
hunger began to assert itself, for rice and napee were not 
encouraging, so my companion, who spoke a Uttle Burmese, 
essayed to get a fowl in the village ; but the people were aU 
good Buddhists, and no one would sell us a fowl, much less 
kill one. The day wore on, and we were becoming ravenous. 



30 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

My friend sallied out again with his gun. There was an old cock 
on the outskirts of the town, and this antiquated bird he was 
allowed to shoot. The woman of the house where we had 
taken up our abode plucked the bird in some form, and boiled 
it in an earthen vessel. It was then served up half hot, but 
very tough. I tried it, but had to forbear at the third bit ; 
my companion, with a braver digestion, performed an unhappy 
despatch upon his victim, while I looked on. Just as the 
melancholy meal ended, I heard what seemed to be the solemn 
sound of the elephant beU in the neighbouring forest. Yes, 
it was our belated beasts coming slowly into harbour with all 
our good things on board. That evening we went on about 
twelve miles into the forest to a place called Banloung, and 
camped there in absolute freedom — neither house nor village 
was near. Some previous hunting party had put up a rude 
shelter of bamboos. A lake close by had water ; round the 
lake there were large spaces free of forest. We began to beat 
for big game next morning. It was a hunter's paradise : bits 
of high grass almost level with the shoulders of the elephants 
alternated with stretches of splendid forest ; there was low 
jungle, high jungle, and no jungle. To these varied covers 
aU sorts of animals had come — sambhur, bison, themming, and 
jumping deer. It was often like rabbit shooting in bracken, 
only the rabbits were sometimes sixteen hands high, and the 
bracken six feet. The themming were in grand herds in the 
open spaces, the old stags with heavy brow antlers always 
keeping on the outskirts of the herd. We saw the tracks of 
many tigers, but the bodies of none — the cover was too dense. 
The monsoon broke while we were yet in the forest, and 
when we moved back the elephants had to swim across a 
dozen nullahs, which had been dry as dust a fortnight earlier. 

The monsoon ran its dreary course during the next few 
months. The rain pattered in big straight drops all night 
long upon the broad leaves of toddy palm and plantain, and 
the whole land was streaming and steaming with water. 
Everybody went to mess with lanterns carried in front, 
for snakes were very numerous, and they had a disagreeable 
habit of gettmg up from the wet lower ground on to the little 
raised tracks of brickwork which led from the bungalows to 
the mess-house. 



DOWN THE SITTANG 31 

Among the senior officers in the station there were some 
strange and interesting survivals of an earlier generation. 
At times, when the Madras troops paraded with our regiment, 
one occasionally heard strange words of command given to 
the brigade, such as, ' The brigade will prime and load/ All 
the drill formations were those which old Davy Dundas had 
designed in the days before the Peninsular War ; and although 
the flint-lock musket had disappeared twenty years earlier, 
the recollection of its cumbersome processes of combustion 
still lingered among our seniors. All the same, they were fine 
old gentlemen, and it was to one of them that I am indebted 
for my first quasi-staff appointment. 

The regiment was inspected in December 1861 by a medical 
officer of high degree, whose official report declared it to be 
suffering from a too prolonged sojourn in the enfeebling forests 
of Burmah, and who recommended its early removal to the 
drier climate of India. Orders were received in January 1862 
for our removal to Madras. The battalion was to descend the 
river in two separate bodies each of five companies. The old 
colonel who was to command the last of these detachments 
appointed me as the staff officer of the wing, and aU at once I 
found myself adjutant, paymaster, and quartermaster of some 
four or five hundred men. A month later we moved in a great 
fleet of boats down the Sittang River. The water was now 
very low, and at one or two places elephants were used to shove 
with their heads the flat-bottomed boats over the sand-bars 
in the stream. Where the river ended and the estuary began 
we had some exciting experiences of the dreaded ' bore.' Our 
boatmen were fully prepared for it, and the boats were all 
taken out from the banks and anchored in mid-channel ; bow- 
men, crew, and steersman were all at their posts ; the ' Caligima 
Yeh ' was constantly uttered among them. After we had been 
some time thus moored a low noise became audible far down 
stream ; this sound gradually grew in depth and volume, but 
neither the water around our boats nor the reach of the river 
below us showed any sign of motion. The sound increased 
rapidly ; it was now coming to us across the neck of reed- 
covered land round which the river disappeared at the end 
of the last reach which our sight commanded. All at once a 
great white billow of water appeared, sweeping round this 



32 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

neck of land. At the banks the splash of this white wave 
rose several feet in the air ; but when the entire wave had 
rounded the turn, one could see that in the central part of 
the river the wave was comparatively low, yet all of it was 
curling forward almost in a straight line up-stream. It struck 
our boats fuU on the bows ; all of them rose well to the impact ; 
but some were torn from their moormgs, making confusion as 
they ran amuck among the others. It was a fine sight — 
the ' bore ' itself, and the manner in which the boatmen bore 
themselves. 

The next night we marched across the low ground to Pegu. 
At the moment of starting from Khyatsoo an incident occurred 
which fortunatelj^ ended happily. A man of recalcitrant 
character m the regiment, who had been a prisoner for some 
time, refused to march. As I was acting as paymaster as well 
as adjutant, the prisoners and the cash chest of the regiment 
were in my charge, I had come to the guard to see the cash 
chest safely put into a Burmese buffalo waggon, and the guard 
and prisoners moved with it after the column. As the first 
battalion was moving off, the prisoner in question suddenly 
refused to budge. What was to be done ? The only course 
possible was to tie him to the rear of the waggon ; he would 
then have to march perforce. But in this arrangement the 
buffaloes had not been reckoned with. These curious animals 
have never taken to the English invaders. You will see a 
small native boy leading or driving a pair of enormous blue 
beasts with perfect command over them, but they will shy from, 
and sometimes charge at, any European who may approach 
them. On this occasion, no sooner was the word to march 
given, than the buffaloes attached to our treasure waggon, 
seeing that the other end of the waggon had an English soldier 
attached to it, began to behave in a very excited manner ; 
and to make matters worse, our prisoner still refused to march. 
The only thing then to be done was to lift the man bodily 
into the waggon, and put him in company with the cash chest. 
This was done in a twinkling ; but now the buffaloes, growing 
quite beyond control, started off across country over dry paddy 
* bunds,' deep ruts, and many other obstacles. The guard was 
quickly left behind ; the infuriated buffaloes, with their driver, 
the waggon, the cash chest, the prisoner in tow, were careering 



EMBARKATION FOR MADRAS 33 

madly over the plain, making the most horrible noise possible 
to imagine. Being on horseback I was able to keep up with 
this tornado ; and I could see that in the stampede the prisoner 
and the regimental cash chest seemed to be having a tremen- 
dous boxing match in the interior of the conveyance, as they 
were shot up and down and about by the incessant joltings 
of this primitive vehicle. The prisoner, as a light weight in 
the contest, got a good deal the worst of it. There was a hole 
in the wicker bottom of the waggon, and at last the prisoner's 
legs got into this opening, and the unequal fight was terminated 
by his whole body following its legs through the aperture, 
leaving the regimental cash chest alone in its glory. The rope 
which tied the prisoner to the waggon quickly ran its length, 
and then he was dragged along the ground after the waggon 
in a very alarming manner. AU I could do was to hack at 
the ropes with my sword as I galloped along, and between the 
cutting at the line and the strain upon it the man was soon set 
free. He was black, and bruised, and bleeding, but the first 
words he uttered when the guard had overtaken us soon re- 
assured me of his safety. ' I '11 march now,' he said. 

About the beginning of spring the wing embarked at 
Rangoon for Madras. 



CHAPTER III 

From Rangoon to Madras. A hurricane at sea. The Nilgherry Mountains. 
The Carnatic Plain. The lives and thoughts of Eastern peoples. Leave 
spent on the western coast. 

We were carried in two vessels — a steamer and a sailing ship, 
the first towing the second. As my lot fell to the sailing vessel, 
I will deal with it only. For two days all went well with us, 
but on the morning of the third day a change began to show 
itself in the aspects of sea and sky. A curious grey gloom 
spread itself quickly over the circle of the ocean ; everything 
became the same colour ; there was little or no wind, but the 
still, unbroken surface heaved a little. This undulation grew 
more perceptible as the morning passed, until it began to lift 
our ship uneasily, and made her rise and fall upon the tow-line. 
The barometer began to fall. Whatever it was, we appeared 
to be going to meet it, and it seemed that it was coming to 
meet us also. Our captain was a rather elderly man of the 
Indian Marine Service, and he appeared to be suffering from 
marked depression of spirits, which one of the junior officers 
explained was the result of the death of a brother, who had 
been drowned a couple of weeks earlier in the Rangoon River 
through the upsetting of his boat as he was proceeding from 
the shore to his ship lying in the river. During the two days 
we had been on board he had kept to his cabin, and had not 
taken his meals with us in the saloon. The second officer, a 
gentleman named Salmon, impressed us all as being the 
moving and governing spirit of the ship's company. These 
latter were all Lascars from the Chittagong side of the Bay 
of Bengal. They were a poor lot, but, so far, there was little 
or no occasion for their services on the deck or aloft, nor did 
it seem likely that there would be any ; all the sails were furled. 
The chain cable had been left in great coils along the deck, for 
the run across the Bay of Madras in the wake of the steamer 

34 



IN THE JAWS OF A HURRICANE 36 

even at the slow rate of towing was not expected to occupy 
more than five or six days. The Tubalcain, as our ship was 
named, was an old and cranky craft, half transport, half 
warship. She mounted a couple of guns on the main-deck. 
The strong suns of the Bay of Bengal and the Persian Gulf 
had not improved the seaworthiness of her timbers. 

At the head of the native crew there was a powerful and 
masterful-looking * Syrang,' or mate of Lascars, in whom both 
European officers and Indian crew seemed to have complete 
confidence. 

We passed the Cocos Channel between Burmah and the 
Andaman Islands, and were now well into the centre of the 
Bay of Bengal. Suddenly the gloomy murkiness of the sea 
and sky became lit to the westward with vivid lightnings, and 
the rumbles of an incessant thunder struck the ear ; there 
was still hardly any wind, but hot puffs of storm came at in- 
tervals from ahead, ceasing as quickly as they arose. Then all 
at once a storm began, and a vast commotion manifested itself 
among the crew on deck. The motion of the ship on the tow- 
line had become more and more uneasy as the sea rose. AU 
at once a big wave sprang like a panther upon the bows of the 
Tvhalcain, scattered the Lascars that were on the forecastle, 
and jumped again into the sea, carrying with it our splendid 
Syrang. The Syrang swam bravely, and as he passed beneath 
the stern of the ship he caught at the log-line that was hanging 
from it, trailing in the wake of the vessel ; but the rate at 
which we were being towed, slow though it was, was too fast for 
the man to let him get a firm grip on the thin line, and it ran 
through his fingers to the end where the patent brass log was 
twirling like a fishing minnow ; that, of course, was impossible 
to hold, and we saw the poor fellow still swimming bravely on 
the tops of the waves behind us. There was a shout to cut 
the tow-line, but that could not be done without orders from 
the steamer, which all this time had been tugging us into the 
jaws of a hurricane, for that was what all this strange turmoil, 
and thunder, and gloom of the afternoon had really meant. 

The captain of the steamer seemed now to realise what he 
was in for, for he shouted through a trumpet, ' I am throwing 
off the hawser,' and in a couple of mLuutes more we were 
separated from him. I shall never forget the look of things 



36 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

that evening when we found ourselves left alone in that deepen- 
ing light and rising hurricane, as we saw our hitherto guide 
and leader steaming off into the black gloom of the coming 
night. There was a great deal of confusion for a moment, 
but the best men stepped instinctively to the front, and dis- 
cipline soon reasserted itself. It had all happened so suddenly 
that it was inevitable the parting of the ways should have 
found us unprepared. The second officer, whose name I have 
given, sho"W''ed himself master of the situation in a moment. 
The first thing he had to do was to restore spirit and confidence 
among the Lascars, shaken as they were by the recent loss of 
their leader. Fortunately, we were as yet only on the outer 
edge of the main whirlwind, that stiU lay to the westward, and 
the lightnmg and thunder were all ahead of us. Four of the 
strongest of the Lascars were now lashed to the tiller, a few 
sails were set on the lower yards and booms, the decks were 
cleared of some of the loose rubbish that encumbered them, 
and a course was laid which gave the ship greater ease in the 
now boiling cross-seas that were showing themselves. When 
night closed we were running towards the north-west, amid 
a rapid alternation of blinding flashes of lightnmg and inky 
darkness. The hatches of the lower decks had aU been battened 
down upon the soldiers and the women and children, the dead- 
lights fastened, and only the reefed foresail and some other 
light fore-and-aft canvas set. The barometer was still falling. 
A couple of hours later the full crash of the hurricane came. 
No one can ever describe such a scene accurately. There are 
things in it that when put into words are bound to appear 
exaggerations. There is no sea and no sky, and no air. They 
have all become one vast, black, solid, gigantic animal, com- 
pared to which the lion is a lamb, the whale a minnow, the 
biggest cannon a child's popgun. There is no sea running 
as in an ordinary storm ; beneath this awful wind the sea 
crouches for a time like a lashed hound, and that is exactly 
what it is. It cannot get up and run before that vast wall 
of wind. It lies down at first and the wind mows it like grass, 
shaves it off in swathes of white foam which are caught up into 
the rushing wind itself, so that no eye can open against it, 
and no face can face its saltness. But the roar is the thmg 
that lives longest in memory ; it seems to swallow even the 



SUBSIDENCE OF THE STORM 37 

thunder, as though that too, like the sea, had been brayed 
into it. 

As the night wore on the damage grew ; there was no attempt 
made to take in sail, and one by one they were blown away 
into the night. The ship then was put before the wind, and 
we ran as the hurricane listed. Fortunately, there was sea 
room on every side. At times we seemed to get thrown into 
the trough of the seas. No man could stand on the poop-deck, 
and on the quarter-deck the rolling of the vessel set the guns 
free from their lashings, and caused them to go rolling from 
one side of the deck to the other, until they broke through 
the bulwarks and shot out into the sea. The chain cable 
also got adrift on the deck, and began to roll its immense links 
from side to side as the ship lurched to and fro. The watch 
could not live on the deck ; they were brought into the saloon, 
where they lay on the floor so beaten that one could walk over 
their bodies. Our boats, too, were torn from their davits, 
one wave carrying away the long-boat and some live-stock 
that were penned within it. Towards morning the upper 
foremast went with a great crash, and the wreck of it could 
not be cleared. Just before daybreak some one discovered 
that the barometer had lifted a shade above the extraordinary 
depth to which it had fallen. This news infused life and 
vigour into many, who amid these long-continued crashes and 
disasters had begun to give up hope, and had made up their 
minds that the ship must founder. The unfortunate captain 
had shut himself up m his cabm, the Lascar crew were com- 
pletely demoralised, half of us landsmen were lying in the most 
exhausting pangs of sea-sickness, and the ship herself was 
only a floating wreck — boats, yards, gone ; booms broken, guns 
disappeared. When daylight came it was seen that the 
hurricane was going down as quickly as it had arisen. There 
was one man who had fought the elements undauntedly 
throughout that long night, Salmon, the second officer. He 
had lashed himself securely to the mizzen-mast before the 
worst came, and from there he called his orders to the steersmen. 
Undoubtedly, he saved the ship. 

A dead calm succeeded the rage of storm, the sun came up 
bright in the east. Away to the north-west a vast bank of 
hurricane was driving towards the Orissa coast. We were 



38 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

about one hundred and iBity miles out of our true course, a 
dismantled wreck upon the heaving ocean. By the afternoon 
things were got into some shipshape, and we were able to 
bend some sails and rig up a little canvas again. Then, when 
observations had been taken, a course was set for Madras. 
Meanwhile the women and children had been brought up 
and laid out on the deck ; they had suffered much. The seams 
of the deck had opened, the strained timbers had let floods 
of water into decks and holds — everything was water-soaked. 

A week later we crept into Madras ; the steamer had got in 
four days earlier. She gave a bad report of the chances of the 
Tuhalcain ; we were given up as lost, poor chaps ! The 
Army List page of the 69th Regiment had to be revised, and 
then it had to be revised again ! We were quartered in 
Fort St. George, a four-company detachment being sent to 
Wellington in the Nilgherry HOls. A new colonel and several 
officers joined, and fresh drafts were awaiting us. I closed my 
accomits with the paymaster and the quartermaster, handed 
over the wing documents to the adjutant, and started for the 
hills with a wonderful little Pegu pony, which had escaped 
injury on the deck of the steamer. He had been thrown 
out of his crib and rolled about the deck, but had picked 
himself together again and again, and escaped with a few 
cuts and bruises. Some other horses had to be cast into the 
sea. 

I know no change so satisfying to body, soul, and sense as 
that which a man experiences when in the month of May he 
passes from the Indian plains to the Indian hills. No trans- 
formation scene can equal that change. Every wearied sense, 
exhausted in the intense heat of the lower lands, sprmgs at 
once into Hfe. The air of India, when it is breathed at an 
elevation of six thousand to eight thousand feet, is purity and 
freshness and life itself, and nowhere does it combine all those 
attributes in a higher degree than in the Nilgherry Mountains, 
the Blue Hills. Blue they are when seen from a distance, 
but green when reached, and what is more, green with all the 
verdure and scent of the grasses and flowers of Europe. That 
is the touch which makes us at once at home in these beautiful 
hills. Through the rose hedges at Coonoor flits the smaU 
brown wren ; blackbirds and thrushes build their nests in the 



SOME CONTRASTS 39 

gardens at Ootacamund, and the lark singa high and clear 
in the radiant atmosphere over Dodabetta. All our rare 
shrubs are there, too, in tree form — the heliotrope, azalea, 
myrtle, magnoha, gardenia grow to forest heights. From 
fifty to sixty inches of rain fall annually on this lofty tableland, 
from which innumerable streams and watercourses wind their 
opposite ways to rivers which fall into the Bay of Bengal on 
one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Once the level of 
the upper hills is gained the ground is practicable for riding 
almost in any direction, and from the ramparts which look 
down on the plains of the Camatic on the east to those which 
overhang the coast of Malabar on the west some six hundred 
or seven hundred square miles of rolling tableland lie open to 
the traveller. If the Garden of Eden was not here, it might 
well have been. There are points on the eastern ramparts 
of this paradise from which, in gardens hung with roses and 
jessamine, one can sit and look down from a clear and bracing 
atmosphere upon a hundred miles of the fevered, quivering 
plains of Southern India seven thousand feet below. 

In this delightful spot I spent a couple of months, the Bur- 
mese pony enabling explorations to be made in many directions 
through the hills. The change back to Madras in the hottest 
time of the year was, however, very trying, and unfortunately 
the heat disabled so many of our officers that those who were 
not on the sick list found themselves almost incessantly detailed 
for garrison or regimental duty. Many of the men fell sick too, 
and cholera appeared among them. The ground upon which 
Fort St. George stood was a very hotbed of disease. In 
October came a welcome change, for the musketry training 
began, and I moved to a place called Palaveram, about twelve 
miles to the south-west of Fort St. George, for that practice. 
It was here possible to see a good deal of the lives of the people 
of Southern India — the outdoor people, they who bend and 
toil in the paddy-fields ; who dwell in mud huts without the 
commonest articles of household furniture ; who have scarcely 
any clothes ; who are lean of leg, and shrunken in body, and 
hollow of stomach ; whose women work at water wheels all 
day long ; who are patient beyond any limit of patience 
known to white men ; who live and die scratching the hot 
soil and pouring water upon it ; the poor, starved race, the 



40 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

feeble foundation of aU the wealth, splendour, and magnifi- 
cence the very name of which has made the hungry mouth 
of the rapacious West water for the last four hundred years. 
How long will it go on ? 

Looking back on thef lives of the toiling millions of the 
Carnatic plain through fifty years, one can see many thmgs 
which were not then visible. In the fulness of his animal 
life the British subaltern in a marching regiment is not 
overmuch given to philosophic inquiry. He drops easily 
into the belief that he represents the highest form of 
civilisation, and that he has only to snipe-shoot or pig-stick 
his way through the world, while at the same time in some 
mysterious manner he is bearing aloft the banner of British 
freedom and Western culture. It would be better, perhaps, 
for the contmuance of the ' Raj ' which he represents if the 
British oificer could by inclination, or even through com- 
pulsion, put himself m closer touch and sympathy with the 
lives and thoughts of the masses of the Eastern peoples with 
whom the greater portion of his service has to be spent under 
the conditions of army life now existing in the Empire. I 
will not pretend that I was different from my fellows in this 
respect, but even at that time I think I had an instinctive 
knowledge that the work we were engaged upon in India lacked 
the greatest element of stability — sympathy with the people 
of India. I find myself writing at this time, ' It has yet to 
be proved ... in our rapid development of intellectual power 
among the people of India . . . whether it be possible to graft 
upon the decaying trunk of an old civilisation the young offshoot 
of a newer and more vigorous one. For my part, I am mclined 
to think that the edifice we are uprearing in India has its 
foundation resting upon sand. We give the native of India our 
laws and our scientific discoveries ; he sees that they are good, 
and he adopts them and uses them as some counterbalance 
to the misfortune of our presence in his land. . . . He knows 
that the white man came as a suppliant trader to his shores 
and begged humbly for the crumbs of his riches. He believes 
our religion to be a thing of yesterday compared to the antiquity 
of his own. He knows that by violence and bribery, often- 
times by treachery and fraud, we obtained possession of his 
lands. He knows that by force of arms and strength of disci- 



THE ARMY OLD AND NEW 41 

pline we hold our possessions ; nevertheless, he hates and fears 
us, and while he adopts and uses the discoveries of our civilisa- 
tion, he still holds that civiUsation in contempt. We pull 
down the barriers within which his mind has hitherto moved, 
but the flood of his inquiry being set flowing, we cannot stay 
or confine it to our own limits. I can see signs that this great 
structure wo are building will be a ruin before it is completed. 
I can find no instance m history of a nation which has possessed 
an old and completed civilisation of its own being able to fuse 
it, imperfect though it may be, into a newer and a foreign one.' 
When I re-read these words now I see better what was wantmg 
in the edifice. 

There was another subject, and one which appears to have 
reached a crucial stage in the political outlook of our present 
day, but which my old notebooks show was very evident to 
my subaltern comprehension just fifty years ago. Notwith- 
standing all I have heard and read about the superiority of 
voluntary enlistment over conscription, it is still, I think, an 
open question. In a few years the old British army will be 
extinct — the rocks of the Crimea and the sands of India 
have covered all but the last of it. How will voluntary enlist- 
ment work then ? While the army remained small and select, 
as it was prior to the Crimean War, all went well ; strong 
men were easily obtained, and no soldiers equalled ours in 
strength, courage, and endurance. That day is gone. We 
have now to garrison India with three times the number of 
men that used to suffice there, and our home army has to be 
considerably increased. Already the result is visible : the 
standard has to be reduced ; men are now taken who would 
have been rejected with scorn a few years ago ; we get recruits 
no longer from the rural districts, but from the slums of the 
big cities, and even from these sources we find it difficult to 
obtain them in sufficient numbers. I believe that a serious 
war to-morrow would prove to our cost that the army is not 
of the old stamp. At present enough is still left of the old 
stufiE to counterbalance the admixture of the new element, 
but that wUl soon cease, and then England will have to elect 
between a bad army and conscription. I shall never forget 
the sorry contrast that presented itself on the bank of the 
Sittang River at Tonghoo, where one draft of a hundred and 



42 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

twenty men of the new model formed up on the high shore from 
the boats. The old soldiers had come down from the big teak 
huts a couple of hundred yards away to see the new arrivals. 
The contrast between the two sets of men was not flattering 
to the newcomers. The 69th Regiment had been in the West 
Indies during the Crimean War. The men were thus of the 
old type, the men of Meeanee and Sobraon, men of splendid 
physique and well-chiselled feature. The flank companies 
were still in being, the Grenadier and Light Infantry Com- 
panies. I often look now as soldiers pass and marvel what 
has become of those old Greek gods, for not only are the figures 
gone, but the faces have also vanished — those straight, clean- 
cut foreheads, the straight or aquiline noses, the keen, steady 
eyes, the resolute lower jaws and shapely turned chins. What 
subtle change has come upon the race ? Is it the work of 
railroads ? Free Trade ? the Penny Press ? Democracy ? 
Education ? All I know is that they are gone as the buffalo 
are gone from the prairies, or the Red Man from the American 
continent. I sometimes think that if these men were bred 
amongst us to-day there need have been no suffragettes. 

In 1861 and 1862 little was occurring in India to make resi- 
dence there interesting to a soldier . Profound peace had followed 
the close of the Mutiny. A great conflict had broken out in 
North America ; but ocean telegraph cables were stiU unknown, 
and the news of aU the desperate fighting upon the shores of 
the Rappahannock and the Potomac and in the Shenandoah 
Valley took a long while to get to Madras. Only in one sense, 
and that a strange one, was this gigantic conflict brought 
immediately home to us on the Carnatic coast. One hot season, 
when Madras lay gasping for breath, there were no cooling 
drinks to be had — the ice-ship from Boston to Madras had not 
arrived. The Alabama was known to be out, and to her 
account the fact of the ice-ship's being missing was at once laid. 
The Southern cause had many supporters among us at the 
time, but this supposed interference with our thirst by the 
celebrated Confederate cruiser was a thing which had not 
been reckoned with when the balance between the rival com- 
batants had been struck in our community. Had not our 
Mess rights just as pressing to us as those of Alabama or the 
Carolinas to the Southerners, and had they not been violated in 



THE CHOLERA 43 

this matter ? So for a time, at least, there was pause in 
debate among us, imtil one day the ice-ship was seen in the 
oflfing, and the Federal cause went down again to zero like 
the temperature in our tumblers. 

We were seldom quite free from cholera at this time in the 
fort at Madras. It seemed to strike at random among us. 
Although the disease had been the scourge of India for more 
than thirty years, little was known about its treatment, and 
still less about the science of its cause. Certainly the con- 
dition of the fort was at this time so bad as to make it un- 
necessary to look for other sources of disease anywhere else. 
At about 2 A.M. the outlet of the terrible main drain of Black 
Town was opened, some five hundred yards to the north of the 
fort, and a frightful flood of pent sewage was discharged into 
the sea. The current set down shore, and thus this horrible 
black mass was carried slowly dowTi along the shingle in 
front of the quarters, filling the entire air of night with a 
stench so penetrating that it caused the wretched inmates 
of our barracks to start instantly into wakefulness, no matter 
how sound might be the sleep into which nature, wearied by 
the excessive heat of the day and early night, had at that 
hour faUen. 

Our colonel, a most estimable man and an excellent ofl&cer, 
was one of the first to fall a victim to this scourge ; his own 
child was also taken on the same day. Several of the finest 
men went too. The blow fell without any warning. A strong 
man went down all at once ; he was carried in a dhooley to 
the hospital ; and aU was over in six or eight hours. Certainly 
the ' finest appanage of the British Crown ' levies heavy toll 
upon the Crown's subjects. ' The Pagoda Tree ' has its roots 
in the graveyards of India's military cantonments. 

In May 1863 I set out with two other officers to spend our 
sixty days' ' privilege leave ' in visiting the western coast of 
the peninsula. We were to cross by railway to Beypore, 
and there, taking bullock bandies, proceed northward to 
the falls of Gairsoppa, near Honore, a journey of two hundred 
miles by road. The falls are said to be the most remarkable 
in India, the River Sheranditty precipitating itself down the 
face of the Western Ghauts in leaps of eight hundred and a 
thousand feet. As the south-west monsoon would break in 



44 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

June, the river was likely to be in full flood by the time we 
reached Gairsoppa. Such was my plan, but when one travels 
in a trio there is always a chance that you will have two to one 
against you. We reached Salem in the evening, and, as the 
train stopped there for the night, we made our beds on the 
station platform. It was not a lively experience, as a cooHe 
died of cholera close by us during the night. The heat was 
excessive, and, bad as the fort at Madras had been, this was 
worse. Next morning our train continued its western pro- 
gress, and the evening found us at Palghaut. We got into the 
travellers' bungalow at that place. Palghaut hes in the 
bottom of a great rent or fissure in the Western Ghauts, which 
gives easy and level access to the Malabar shore from the 
Carnatic. On either side of a very long defile the mountains 
rise steeply. Great forests of teak, blackwood, and green 
undergrowths take the places of the burnt, cindery hiUs and 
arid plains of Salem and Coimbatore. 

A magnificent storm, the prelude to the opening of the 
monsoon, burst upon Palghaut that night, and the forest 
dripped rain for many hours ; but the morning broke bright, 
and again our train resumed its slow march for Be3rpore, the 
terminus on the Malabar coast. We got to Cahcut that even- 
ing. This old town, the first spot in India reached by Vasco 
da Gama, and described as being then a place of great magni- 
ficence, is now poor and decayed, a straggling town hidden 
in cocoa-nut palms, its old harbour silted up, a big sea breaking 
ceaselessly upon its straight sandy shore. Here preparations 
were to be made for the journey of two hundred miles along 
the coast to Honore, but, alas for the permanence of our 
projects, things fell out badly for us. 

The senior member of our httle party was an old colonel 
whose mihtary career of close upon thirty years had been spent 
in India. He had an old native servant, ' Sam ' by name. Sam 
liked his ease as much as did his master. That night on the 
railway platform at Salem had checked the travelling ardour of 
both master and man. Under date 10th May I find this entry 
in my notebook, ' Calicut. Sam lost.' What really happened 
I don't know. Sam turned up in the night, but his master's 
spirits did not rise with the return of this ancient native. I 
find the following entry in my notebook : — ' Calicut. Various 



CONFLICTING PLANS 45 

and conflicting plans,' and then : ' Scene, the Bungalow in 
Calicut, time 10 p.m. 

' H. Well, out of this infernal hole we must get, so let us decide 
at once. 

' M. (from his bed). Go anywhere. I don't care where. 

' B. Why not Gairsoppa ? Mangalore is only one hundred miles 
from here. 

' H. I vote for Palghaut. 

' M. I think Palghaut a capital place. 

' H. We can stay there and eat our stores. 

' B. Well, we can never show our faces again in the Mess if we 
do that, that 's all I say. 

' M. Oh, d the Mess ! 

' B. (anxious at all costs to save the ignominy of Palghaut). 
What about Sissapara ? 

' H. Of course, Sissapara. 

'B. Or Cochin? 

' H. Cochin. I always thought it an excellent place. 

' M. (very sleepy). Palghaut, Palghaut. 

* B. Let 's try to get bandies for Cannanore. 

' After a short discussion this proposal is agreed to, and Sam and 
other servants are despatched for bandy-wallahs. Silence until 
arrival of bandy-wallahs. ]\L sleeps. Enter the wallahs and 
servants. 

' B. (through interpreter). How much charge to Cannanore ? 

* Servant. Twelve rupees each band3\ (General consternation, 
during which M. wakes.) 

' H. We will give him ten rupees. (Animated dialogue ensues 
in Telugu between servants and wallahs. Offer refused. Exit 
wallahs. M. falls asleep murmuring " Palghaut.") 

' Arrival of a second batch of wallahs, who after a protracted 
discussion agree to take three masters to Caimanore for ten rupees 
eight annas each master. An advance of eight rupees on each 
bandy is now made, and general harmony appears to prevail. 
This is shortly broken by fresh outbreak of Telugu tongue. 

'Servant (interpreting). He says '•Bridges," Sa. 

' Travellers, What bridges ? 

' S. Five bridges, Sa, Master must pay five bridges, 

* M. (from bed). It 's all rot, 

' Exit second batch of bandy men. Debate adjourned until 
next morning, when a last effort is to be made for Mangalore and 
Honore en route to Gairsoppa, failing which all agree to turn 
south for Cochin and Travancore. 



46 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

* N.B. — The rocks I have to guard against are first a return to 
Palghaut, there to consume our stores. Second, a retreat to PuUcat, 
a place on the coast south of Madras, said to be famous for fish, 
but not otherwise of any interest.' 

The next entry is made at a place called Trichoor on the 
15th May, so I had succeeded in getting my companions south 
of the railway line which led back to Madras, and their heads 
were now turned towards Cape Comorin. Trichoor was a quaint 
old place; the Portuguese had been there, and the Dutch; then 
had come Hyder Ali and Tippoo Sultan. Like aU the other 
towns and villages on this coast, it lay deep in palm trees. 
Here began that remarkable series of backwaters which run 
south for nearly two hundred miles. Three lakes of salt water 
are separated from the Arabian Sea by a thin ridge of the 
cleanest and finest sand, sand such as might be put into an 
hour-glass without further refinement. Upon these sands 
which the sea has cast up grow beautiful groups of palm trees 
and many flowering shrubs. The lakes widen out at intervals 
into large expanses of open water, and at other places narrow 
to channels of canal width, fringed with mango trees and spice 
plants. Large water-lilies spread themselves from the shores, 
and water-fowl of many kinds and plumage float or fly over 
the sparkling waters. Our boat carried ten oars, and under 
their strokes, and often with a sail to aid the rowers, we sped 
along, and, travelling through the night, reached Cochin at 
sunrise next morning. 

Cochin was in its way the most mixed and variegated-looking 
spot I saw in the East. Once everything in commerce, it had 
now shrunken to next to nothing in the world of barter. The 
Portuguese had had it, and the Dutch had taken it from them, 
and made much of it in their peculiar ways of business. It 
used to be said of old that the Portuguese began their colonial 
settlements by building a church, that the Dutch ina.ugurated 
theirs by building a fort, and that we commenced ours with 
a public-house. In Cochin this triple transition can stiU be 
seen. The old cathedral of da Gama or Albuquerque is turned 
into a fort, and the public-house has been superimposed upon 
both, but not even these several transitions had kept trade 
true to its old centre. It had fled from Cochin. Eighty years 
earlier the town had 'a harbour filled with ships, streets crowded 



TO QUILLON 47 

with merchants, and warehouses stored with goods from every 
part of Europe and Asia ' ; now the cocoa palms hid the 
desolation that followed the destruction of the fortifications 
and public buildings by order of the British authorities in 1806. 
One curious survival remained : there were still to be seen here 
representatives of the old pol^^glot population which had once 
made it famous. St. Thomas the Apostle is supposed to have 
come here in the earliest days of Christianity, and two distinct 
races of Jews are still here, the black and the red Jews. It 
is strange, too, to find in this place two distinct bodies of 
Christians, the descendants of the early Syrian proselytes 
of St. Thomas, and those who acknowledge the jurisdiction 
of Rome. These do not worship together, no more than do 
the black and the red Jews. 

But however desirous I might have been to make longer 
stay in this museum of almost extinct Eastern races, one 
dominating factor forced me forward. Another wild night 
of rain and storm broke upon us as we sat in the verandah of 
the travellers' bungalow. It was a grand sight to watch the 
thunder-breeding clouds come whirling in from the Indian 
Ocean, giving out rain deluges, lightnings, and storm gusts 
as thej' swept over the roaring beach across the great lagoon 
and up into the rocks and forests of the range of the Ghauts, 
which rose immediately above the inland waters. But those 
displays of fire and water had a fatal influence upon the spirits 
of my companions. Again they proposed a retreat to Madras. 
Fortunately, in a moment of exuberant expectation, when the 
weather had been fine a day or two earlier, I had been made the 
paymaster and treasurer of the expedition. I held the common 
purse. There was no use in any further expostulation or 
pronouncement as to what the Mess would say about the 
ignoble polic}- of retirement to Palghaut, so I waited my 
opportunity to answer, and remarked quietly that ' I would 
crack on alone for Quillon at twelve o'clock next day, and 
had engaged a large boat for the journey.' There was another 
pause, several looks at the weather to windward, and then 
came the final plunge. ' WeU, we won't break up the party. 
Let 's all go together to Quillon.' So at noon next daj^ we 
embarked in a fine boat with fourteen rowers, and favoured 
by»a fair breeze we sped bravely through the water. The 



48 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

day was glorious with sunshine, the water clear and smooth. 
At first our course was through the middle of the great blue 
lake, the shores of which in some places were not visible, and 
in others just marked by a fringe of trees which seemed to be 
growing out of water. After sunset the shores closed in 
towards us again, and we pulled all night under a brilliant moon, 
arriving at Quillon at nine next morning. A mile before making 
the landing-place, we came on one of the many mimic promon- 
tories rising from the water which has a stone monument built 
upon it. It has a history. Many years ago a certain Colonel 
Gordon was resident at Quillon. He was the owner of a large 
Newfoundland dog. One morning Gordon was bathing in the 
lake off this promontory ; the dog lay by his master's clothes on 
the shore. Suddenly he began to bark in a most violent manner. 
Gordon, unable to see any cause for the animal's excitement, 
continued to swim in the deep water. The dog became more 
violently excited, running down to the water's edge at one 
particular point. Looking in the direction to which the 
animal's attention was drawn, the swimmer thought that he 
could perceive a circular ripple moving the otherwise smooth 
surface of the lake. Making for the shore, he soon perceived 
that the ripple was caused by some large body moving stealthily 
under the water. He guessed at once the whole situation : 
a very large crocodile was swimming well below the surface, 
and making in liis direction. The huge reptile was already 
partly between him and the shore. The dog knew it all. 
Suddenly he ceased barking, plunged into the water, and 
headed in an obUque line so as to intercept the moving ripple. 
All at once he disappeared from the surface, dragged down by 
the huge beast beneath. When the dog found that all his 
efiforts to alarm his master were useless, he determined to give 
his own life to save the man's, and so Colonel Gordon built 
the monument on the rock above the scene, and planted the 
casarina tree to shadow it. 

We spent a couple of days in this remote but beautiful 
cantonment of Quillon. Here under date 23rd May 1863 
I find the following entry : — ' Dined with the officers 23rd 
Madras Native Infantry in their delightful Mess. Heard 
rumour of war with America.' What particular rumour of 
war this referred to in the long civil strife I cannot now identify, 



TRAVANCORE 49 

but undoubtedly during those years of the early 'sixties there 
were many times when the question of peace and war with the 
Northern States hung in very delicate balance. 

Our southward course now led to Trivandrum, the capital 
of Travancore. This small native state, the most southern in 
the peninsula of India, probably combined within its five 
thousand square miles a larger diversity of scenery and race, 
and a more extraordinary variety of social manners and customs, 
than any other part of the world known to me. 

It is a long and narrow strip of territory lying between an 
impassable mountain range and a sea upon whose shore huge 
breakers are almost always beating. The mountain barrier 
rises to heights of seven thousand and eight thousand feet, 
and, with the exception of two gaps or ghats, one at the north 
end, Palghaut, the other at the south end near Cape Comorin, 
it is unbroken and untrodden by man. Every animal from the 
tiger to the tmiest monkey is in the forests of these mountains ; 
the rivers and the backwaters are fuU of fish, birds are here 
in vast varieties and of rainbow colours, and reptile Ufe is as 
plentiful as heat, moisture, and underbush can make it ; but 
above aU other life that of man is the most varied and interest- 
ing. The Nairs and Tiers of old Hindoo origin are generally of 
fine figure and handsome face, graceful in carriage, and of a 
rich, light oUve complexion. A limited but very fierce race of 
Mohammedans are found in the towns along the coast, Moplahs 
by name ; these are descendants of old Arab traders settled 
on the coast long before da Gama appeared from Europe. 
High up in the wild glens and secluded ' sholahs ' of the moun- 
tains are an extremely rude race, who dwell in little round bee- 
hive-shaped huts and live upon wild animals, and cultivate 
a few patches of the castor-oil plant. Of these people I shall 
have occasion to speak later. 

Out of a total population of more than one million souls 
Travancore numbers some one hundred and fifty thousand 
Christians of Syrian and Portuguese descent. Here, as 
elsewhere in India, the dominating note of the land is life. 
This great fervid sun, these sweeps of rain, this rich soil, these 
limpid waters, have all combined to call forth in forest, plain, 
island, lake, and shore an all-pervading sense of human, animal, 
bird, fish, and insect existence. In these countries you cannot 

D 



50 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

get away from this fact of life ; it jostles you in the towns, it 
roars at you in the forest, it flies and hums about you in the air, 
it swims around jt^ou in the waters. These graceful Nair and 
Tier women with their rich golden skins and black, silky tresses, 
wading in the warm inland waters, or working in their island 
gardens amid all the spice plants of the earth, are, no doubt, 
the descendants of the people whom Camoens saw on this 
coast, and sighed after, and wrote about in the dread days of 
misfortune and captivity. 

Continuing our southern course from Quillon, we reached 
the end of the greater or northern backwater, and crossed on 
foot a low range of hills separating it from a shorter lake which 
runs to Trivandrum, the capital. At sunset we were on the 
height of land between the two long reaches of water ; to the 
right as we marched was a magnificent ocean prospect. The 
sun had burst forth from masses of cloud on the horizon, and 
in rich folds of hiU and forest the land lay green and golden in 
the level rays, backed by the glorious Ghauts, tree-covered 
to their summits. Looking back we saw for many a winding 
mile the water track we had followed from Trichoor. A little 
distance to the westward of our road lay the old city of Anjengo, 
once a place of importance in the early Portuguese trade. 
Some forty years after this evening of glorious sunset views, 
I read in St. Helena the following entry in the old island 
records : — 

'June 21th, 1757. — I, Mr. Scott, Your Honour's Resident at 
Anjengo, transported to this island in the Clintoji and Hector ten 
Malabar men who it seems were officers to the King of Travancore, 
to serve you as slaves here, one of which died on the passage. 
The other nine were landed and clothed. A few days after they 
were sent into the country five of them hanged themselves, and one 
of the remaining four has since died. The other three threaten to 
destroy themselves if they are put to any kind of work.' 

Well done the British trader as a missionary of civilisation ! 
This sample of his pecuHar methods occurred a hundred years 
prior to my visit to Travancore, but in the fifty years which 
have since elapsed I have seen enough of our missionary 
trader to make me think that he might be still at his old 
methods of civilisation, if there had been no French Revolution 
to give him pause in his calculations. The ' Records ' from which 



A BIT OF FORGOTTEN HISTORY 51 

the above extract is taken contain many reverential observa- 
tions on humanity in general and the Bible in particular. 

The lake which lay south of this ridge between the two 
backwaters carried us into Trivandrum, the capital. Here, 
after a couple of days' delay, we quitted this delightful mode 
of water transport, and held our way by road towards Cape 
Comorin. 

The monsoon had not yet broken, the sun was straight over 
our heads, and the heat sufficiently great to make night or early 
morning travel preferable to the march by day. The country 
was rich and undulating, mountains grand and bold to our 
left, and to our right the sounding Indian Ocean. ' How,' I 
find myself asking in my notebook, ' has it happened that the 
All-grasping Company kept their hands from this fertile pro- 
vince ? True, they got eight lakhs out of it, and they kept in 
their hands the civil and mihtary power. I suppose the reason 
was that Hyder Ali never conquered Travancore, for we seem 
to have usurped aU his usurpations as a matter of course.' 

On the second day from Trivandrum we reached a quaint old 
place called Oodagherry. A crumbling fort built round the 
base of a steep rocky hill, and half covered with jungle growth, 
gave us shelter in one of its bastions, upon which the travellers' 
bungalow (that last remnant of the old regal hospitality of 
India) had been built. A few miles south-east of this spot 
began the Aroombooli Pass in the mountains, the southern gate- 
way through the Ghauts. It was through this gate that the 
British column marched in 1809 to the conquest of Travancore, 
and here at Oodagherry the last effort of resistance was made 
by the Travancoreans. My own corps, the 69th Regiment, 
had formed the principal European portion of this force. We 
found the tradition of the old conflict still living, and some old 
natives, having scraped away the tangled foliage below our 
bastion-bungalow, showed us the graves of Europeans who 
had fallen in fight or died of disease at this place ; but the 
rains of fifty years had rendered the names upon the grave- 
stones quite illegible. 

Here, close to Cape Comorin, and one thousand five hundred 
miles northward and east and west, from Orissa to the Arabian 
Sea, they lie in countless graves, these old, forgotten, heroic 
soldiers, unthanked and unthought of by the millions to whom 
their deaths gave untold riches and unequalled empire. 



CHAPTER IV 

Down to Cape Comorin, and back to Madras. The scene of a 
bygone massacre. Starting for England. St. Helena. 

Before continuing our journey to Cape Comorin our little 
party broke up, and two of us turned aside into the Ghauts 
to seek for sambhur and bison in these wonderful forests 
which had so long flanked our line of march on the eastward, 
revealmg, when the sunset Hght struck fuU mto their countless 
glens and ' sholahs,' innumerable parks and game preserves. 
The spot selected for our incursion was caUed the Ashamboo 
Vallej^ at the extreme southern end of the range of Ghauts 
and only a few miles north of Cape Comorm. In this glen a 
couple of gentlemen of the London Missionary Society had 
built themselves two small bungalows for retreat in the hot 
season at a height of between five and six thousand feet above 
sea-level. Very steep and rough, a narrow pathway wound 
among rocks and jungle from the lower level, and after two 
or three hours of heavy toil we gained the entrance to the 
valley. It was a wild and picturesque spot, looking right down 
upon the southern pomt of India. Higher mountains enclosed 
the glen on three sides, but to the south the eye ranged over 
the immense expanse of ocean which surrounds the cape. 
Two little thatched cottages stood on a rising ground some 
three or four hundied yards from the entrance gap in the 
hills ; through this gap the gathered waters of the glen plunged 
down the mountain-side. The lower slopes of the valley were 
free of forest and grass-covered ; the higher ridges were seamed 
with belts of deep green forest — ' sholahs,' as they were 
called. 

A missionary in Nagracoil, at the foot of the mountain, had 
kindly given us the key of his mountain cottage, so we marched 
straight to it. The house had not been occupied for many 
months, and the lock was rusty and difficult to open ; but at 

. 52 



ON THE TRACK OF THE BISON 53 

last entrance was effected, and then a strange sight met the 
first man that went m. Underneath a charpoy, or coir bed- 
stead, in one corner of the little room, a large brown mass was 
seen, like a piece of old bedding folded and put away. The 
man came running out, exclaiming that there was a very big 
serpent lying coiled under the empty bedstead. We now got 
a side window open to give us more light, and then it could 
be easily perceived that the bundle was a huge snake lying in 
a semi-comatose state. It was not easy to make out where 
his head was and where his tail, but I took the bulkiest part 
of the coil for aim, and gave him a bullet, at ten feet distance, 
full mto the middle of it. Then a great upheaval and dis- 
entanglement began, during which I retreated to the door to 
await developments, for with the smoke and the rumpus one 
could not tell what the next move of the reptile would be. 
When the thick smoke cleared out of the little room our 
sleeping python was quiet ; the ball had broken his body in 
halves at its thickest part. He was about twelve feet in 
length, and thick as a man's leg. A big figure 8 repeated itself 
along his back m a sort of purple tint upon a brown back- 
ground. He had done us one signal service : there was not a 
rat in the bungalow. 

Next morning we were out before sunrise. We first crossed 
a steep ridge called ' Bison Point,' and descended into another 
valley ; again we climbed a hiU, and, crossing another glen, 
reached at noon a place called by our guide ' The Hillmen's 
Valley.' Here some half a dozen httle black men were collected 
out of about the same number of little beehive huts. These 
strange dwarf-like people were the first and last of their kind 
I met in India. They were all much under five feet in height, 
very black in colour, and almost naked. Their instinctive 
knowledge of the habits of wild animals, and their power of 
following a trail across all kinds and conditions of ground, were 
equalled by their noiseless and yet rapid methods of moving 
through dense jungle. 

W^ith these men we now plunged into some very thick 
forests, and soon separated. I was following my particular 
little man through this jungle, when suddenly he stopped his 
rapid steps and pointed to some object in advance and slightly 
to the left of where he stood. A step brought me beside him. 



54 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Following his ' point/ I could discern, at a distance of about 
twenty or thirty paces, a huge head that was looking at us 
over and through some lower jungle. It was a bison. I 
carried a short rifle which loaded at the breech in some strange 
fashion long ago obsolete. I aimed at the big head that was 
looking at us, but before I could puU the trigger the beast 
threw himself half round from us. Dropping the muzzle 
below where I thought must be the level of his shoulder, I 
fired. There was a great crash, and I heard and saw no more. 
Fearing the beast was off down the slope, I rushed forward, 
my black friend remaining where he was. On his side lay the 
bison, struggling hard to get on his legs again. I fired at 
twelve feet from him two more shots into his huge carcass, 
neither of which seemed to have any effect ; but the first wound 
was mortal, and after a last struggle he laj'' still. AU the hill- 
men now came together, and with their keen knives the big 
head was severed from the body, poles were cut, and we all 
marched back, bringing the head in triumph to the hut. The 
bison was one of the largest the little hunters had ever seen. 
He measured eighteen hands at the shoulder, and his girth 
was ten feet. We slept that night in a sort of porch belonging 
to the largest of the beehives, and the little men, and the little 
women, and their yet smaller children, were soon inside their 
hives. 

After nine days of this wild life, but with no sport to equal 
that first day's, we said farewell to our good friend Mr. Cox, 
who was about to attempt coffee-planting in Ashamboo ; and 
descending again to the low country pursued our route to 
Cape Comorin. The heat was now great, and felt particularly 
trying to us after the cool days and really cold nights of the 
upper mountains. The country was now covered with old 
forts and ruined temples. At night, when it became too dark 
for the buUocks to make their way, we would tie up beside some 
old temple and sleep until day came, lulled by the sea winds 
whistling through the broken masonry and dilapidated figures 
of Vishnu or Parasu Rama. The last-named Brahminical deity 
was the favourite god of the Travancoreans ; for they say that 
it was he who created this country by hurling his axe from 
the summit of the Ghauts into the ocean, which then came to 
the foot of the mountains, and that the waters, receding from 



TO TUTICORIN 55 

the space over which the weapon sped, left bare the rich region 
of this province. 

Early on the morning of 16th June we reached the cape. 
Here India slanted quietly into the sea, in gently sloping shores 
upon which the waves had washed up three distinct kinds and 
colours of sand — puce, garnet, and black. An old bungalow 
stood at the extreme point, facing south, and three big rounded 
granite rocks marked the southmost bit of land. The bunga- 
low was very large ; it had been built by a former resident at 
Trivandrum, and even at this hot time of the year was cooled 
and freshened by winds that were always from the waves. 

From this point our bullocks had their heads turned north- 
east to Tuticorin, a port on the coast of Tinnavellj^ facing 
Ceylon. Slowly they dragged us through the Aroomboli Pass, 
and out once more into the blinding levels eastward of the 
Ghauts. I look over the old notebook, and read : — 

' At length we are turned towards Madras. I liked Comorin 
much ; wild, secluded, and scarcely ever visited. What a place for 
study ! The quaint old house with the roar of the surf echoing 
through its lofty rooms, and the sea winds whistling round the 
gables, making even noonday, dreamy. Halted for the night six 
miles from the cape, on the frontier.' 

Then we pushed on through Tinnavellj% by Palamcottah, 
and a dozen other places ending with ' ary ' or ' gully,' and 
late on the 24th reached Tuticorin, after having covered in 
the last stage thirty- three miles in twenty-six hours. The 
heat was very great during those seven days' travel, and the 
country scorched and sandy, and with many salt marshes. 
The day following our arrival at Tuticorin is marked, ' Sick 
and seedy all day.' It was really a day of intense illness. The 
Carnatic climate had begun to tell upon me, and for some 
time past a recurring day of horrible sickness came upon me 
at intervals of about a month. The doctors could not make 
out what it was, and as it usually happened that there was a 
fuU moon when these violent night attacks occurred, I had 
begun to think the moon was in some way answerable for 
them. 

At Tuticorin we hired a native boat called a ' dhoney,' and 
set sail through the Gulf of Manaar for Madras, following the 



56 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

general line of the coast northward, anchormg at sunset, and 
gomg on at sunrise next day. 

It was a new experience of Indian life, and therefore of great 
interest, despite the general condition of discomfort that 
necessarily pervaded it. The ' dhoney ' was of about twenty 
tons burden ; the crew — a whole family and a couple of 
followers — was Mohammedan. My companion and myself 
had a small after-hold for our mattresses, and an equally 
small space on deck to sit in during the day. A big lateen 
sail towered above and gave us shelter from the sun ; forward 
of the sail the crew, of all ages, was huddled together on jute 
bales. The craft itself was old, and its planks were simply held 
together by coir ropes and stitches. 

On the 28th June we passed through Adam's Bridge and 
anchored at Paambaun. Many islands were scattered about 
these narrow seas between India and Ceylon. The coasting 
trade was large, and native craft were numerous. Passing 
through Palk's Straits on the 29th, our ' dhoney ' was aU but 
run down by a two-masted native vessel of ten times our 
tonnage. I had seen under the lateen sail this big craft coming 
towards us more than a mile away, and had pointed her out 
to our ' Ries,' for the courses on which we were both running 
must bring us close together. Then the sail had intervened, 
and I ceased to watch. All at once there was wild shouting 
from our crew before the mast, and a more distant bellowing 
from the people on the brig. How we scraped by each other 
I don't know ; but amid aU the bellowing and gesticulation 
the big craft brushed past us a few feet distant on the starboard 
side, our jomt speeds giving a rate of perhaps twenty mUes an 
hour. 

On the 30th we passed the tall lighthouse on Point Calymere 
at noon, were off Negapatam at three, and anchored at Carrical 
at sunset just as the tricolor was being hauled down from the 
French flagstaff. Then to Pondicherry for one day on shore, 
and to Madras on the evening of 4th Jul3^ It had been well 
timed. Our sixty days' leave would expire next morning. 
We had travelled some twelve hundred miles by rail, boat, 
bullock, bandy, dhoney, and on foot in these fifty-nine days. 

At Madras we found the orders for home had arrived ; we 
were to sail in the following February. 



A VISIT TO VELLORE 57 

But there was one spot in the Camatio which I had not yet 
seen, although it had been of particular interest to me since 
I had read the early records of my regiment as they were told 
in a large folio MS. volume in our Orderly Room. This spot 
was Vellore, a fortress and town lying some eighty miles to 
the west of Madras. Not even in the cindery plains of the 
Carnatic is there to be found a place of more intense heat ; 
red rocky hills surround it, the radiation from which makes 
the night almost as fevered as the day. In the splendid fort 
built by early Mohammedan conquerors of the Carnatic four 
companies of the 69th Regiment, together with nearly all their 
officers and families, were shot down one hot night in July 
1806 by the native troops who were in garrison with them. 
The mutiny of Vellore had been a very notable occurrence 
in its day ; it was now entirely forgotten. AU the greater 
reason for going to Vellore, 

I arrived there in the end of Jul}-, when it was about as hot 
as the sun and the hills could bake or make it. The fort, a 
magnificent structure of early Moslem work, stands intact 
and entire, as sound as the day it was buUt, and it will pro- 
bably remain in that condition for another thousand years. 
The immense ditch is hewn out of soUd rock, and the walls 
and bastions are of great square stones quarried from the ditch. 
Almost in the centre of the large square which is enclosed by 
these massive walls, a very lofty Hindoo pagoda, covered with 
sculptures and carvmgs of Khrislma and Rama and his monkey 
armies, lifts its head. 

The object of my visit was to see this scene of a bygone 
massacre, and the graveyard where the bones of so many old 
soldiers of my regiment had been laid at rest. Strangely 
enough, I found in the fort a depot of old European pensioners 
of the Indian army, and to their little huts within the fort 
I first went. Men were there whose service dated back to 
earlier years than even 1806, and among them there was a 
survivor of the battle of the Nile, the only one I ever met. 
He had been a boy on board a ship in Nelson's fleet in that 
celebrated fight, and had afterwards served in the Company's 
service for many years. He was very old and very deaf ; but 
his brain was still going. * What was it like ? ' I roared into 
his better ear. ' What was it like ? ' he answered, gaining a 



58 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

little time for his reply before he uttered it. * Well, it was like 
the sound of the water-wheel of a big mill/ That was aU I 
could get from him. 

Other old pensioners were tried as to the mutiny with 
greater success. Two or three of them knew from hearsay 
all the sights of that memorable night and morning at VeUore 
in July 1806. The old barracks through the windows of which 
the mutineers had fired on our men as they were lying 
asleep in their cots ; the rampart and bastion to which the 
survivors had escaped, and which they held until the arrival 
of the gallant Gillespie from Arcot at the head of his avenging 
cavalry; the flagstaff, from the summit of which the green flag of 
Mysore was torn down, under a murderous fire, by two splendid 
soldiers of the 69th ; the spot on the ramparts over the great 
gateway from which Sergeant Brady first descried the hero 
GUlespie riding far in advance of his leading squadron ; the 
gate blown in by the fire of ten galloper guns of the King's 19th 
Dragoons — aU these places we visited ; and finally we 
reached the graveyard where, shaded by an old decaying tree, 
stood the square mound of brick and mortar, without date or 
inscription, and broken with rents, through which wild plants 
grew luxuriantly, marking the ground where so many of the 
old regiment rested. 

It was late at night when I got back to Madras. A sub- 
scription was soon set on foot, the Government of Madras 
helped with a grant, and six months later, when the regiment 
embarked for England, they left a fitting monument in the 
graveyard at Vellore to the memory of the gallant men who 
lay there. 

I was sorry then to leave India, and I am sorry stiU that I 
did not labour more when I was there to know better its people 
and their history. India is a bad school for the young soldier 
in many of its aspects. There are some of our race to whom 
contact with the native spells retrogression ; there are others 
to whom this old civilisation, these vast edifices of power 
decayed, and wealth squandered, and religion degenerated, 
teach lessons which are not to be found in the school-books. 
Cradle of aU things ! Tomb of aU things ! Gorgeous, starved, 
degraded, defiled, debauched, mysterious East ! I wish that I 
had studied you more deeply when I dwelt with you. And yet 



SOLDIER AND CIVILIAN 59 

I can well believe that we of the old army, snipe shooting, and 
bison hunting, and serving and even romping with the people, 
knew more of them and their ways than did our rich cousins 
of the Civil Service. The gulf between the European fighting 
man and the Indian is shallower than that which divides the 
ruling man from the ruled man. I used to meet in my wander- 
ings man}' highly paid civilians — commissioners, collectors, 
judges, and all their deputies of so many degrees ; but now, 
looking back upon it all, I think that the men who impressed 
me most favourably in the Civil Service were those who had 
begun their careers in the army, and had subsequently passed 
from military life to civil administration. Wherever the 
Mohammedan is found, the love of arms inherent in his nature 
will make him regard the man who carries them in a sense 
different from that in which he regards a purely civiUan 
superior. The Asiatic fighting man quickly sees through the 
* superior person ' of our time. It is Colonel Newcome and the 
Collector of Boggly WaUah over again ; and it will remain so 
to the end of the chapter, even though the colonel should 
always die in a Cliarterhouse Hospital. 

I am not quite sure that our new superior person, governor 
or collector, is a better ruler than the old-type civilian who was 
still to be found in the out-stations in my time in India. 

Bungay Smith was a type. He possessed one marked 
social accomplishment, and to this it was said that he owed 
his fortune in the Civil Service. He could buzz like a 
bumble-bee. One evening at a reception in Government 
House somebody mentioned to the governor-general the 
fact of Bungay's accomplishment. By special desire he was 
requested to give a performance in the role of the bumble- 
bee, a screen being provided to render the performance less 
arduous. From behind that screen Bungay poured forth such 
variations of buzzing that the company were delighted beyond 
the measure of words. He buzzed as the bee approaching the 
flower ; he buzzed as the bee leaving the flower ; he buzzed as 
the bee who has struck against your hat and become violently 
irritated and enraged at his own stupidity ; and he buzzed 
as the bee dreamily dozing amid the scents of linden trees. 
From that moment his success was assured. He went up 
country to a collectorship, which unfortunately was in a part 



60 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of India where tigers were numerous. From a love of nature 
in the humbler lives of the striped bumble, he passed to the 
higher levels of striped animal life. He would hunt the tiger. 
A collector finds many willing hands to aid him in compassing 
his wishes. It was soon arranged that a ' machan,' or stage, 
should be erected at some spot frequented by the lord of the 
Indian jungle. Upon this stage Bungay was to take his seat, 
a bait or lure for the tiger was to be fastened underneath, and 
the remainder of the proceeding would, it was said, be almost 
automatic : the tiger would come to eat the bait, Bungay had 
only to discharge bullets down upon him from his ' machan,' 
and the desired end would be achieved. The whole arrange- 
ment fulfilled all the conditions known as * a dead certainty.' 

The ' machan ' consisted of a sort of strong double step- 
ladder, having a stage at top upon which Bungay with his 
head shikaree was to be seated. Everything promised well. 
Before darkness closed over the forest Bungay and his shi- 
karee were in position ; a small buffalo calf was tied to a 
stake underneath the structure. Night and silence followed. 
The tiger was now the only actor wanting in the piece, and he 
had to appear under the staging, and not on it. It was here 
that the hitch came in. 

It was late when he appeared, with the stealth and caution 
common to his kind. There was something suspicious about 
this buffalo calf, and what was the meaning of this curious 
wooden pyramidal thing placed straddling its legs over the 
jungle pathway ? It required examination. He approached 
the scene. His back had been giving him trouble in the matter 
of mange ; this sloping arrangement of wood offered a con- 
venient means of getting on even terms with some parts of his 
own person which had previously defied his attempts to scratch 
them. AU at once a thing never calculated upon by tiger or 
collector happened ; there was a crash, a roar, a going off of 
firearms, the thud of falling weights ; full upon the tiger's back 
fell Bungay straddle-legs. Away went the tiger, scared as he 
had never been scared before ; tight to the tiger clung Bungay, 
roaring for all he was worth ; shikarees descended from 
neighbouring trees, firing promiscuously in all directions ; a 
spring from the tiger, wilder than anything he had yet achieved, 
flung Bungaj'^ into the jungle, from whence his roars served 



START FOR HOME 61 

to guide his followers to the rescue of their chief. He was taken 
back to his palace practically unhurt, but with nerves so 
shaken that severe mental complications ensued. He imagined 
himself a tiger, and, as before he had hummed as a bee, he 
now broke forth in the roars of a tiger. After a period of 
prolonged treatment these fits of imagination lessened in 
severity, and the intervals between them grew longer. But 
they never quite left him, and a powerful native servant always 
accompanied him carrying some yards of strong light rope, 
which, upon a warning note sounded by Bungay, he had 
orders to tie quickly round his master's arms and legs, for 
unfortunately, under the stress of the delusions, he felt impelled 
at times to act the part, as weU as to utter it. 

There was a favourite story told in the club at Madras of 
how upon one occasion when Bungay was proceeding at night 
in his gharry along the Mount Road, the tiger delusion sud- 
denly came upon him as they approached the long bridge over 
the Adyar River. Something had gone wrong with the rope, 
and before the servant could reach his master the fit was fully 
developed. The servant turned and fled ; the master pursued ; 
down they went into the dry bed of the wide river ; from arch 
to arch the chase went on ; the servant hid himself behind a 
buttress ; Bungay growled on aU-fours till he found him ; then 
the sohtudes rang with the roar of the king of the forest, as in 
and out of the arches the master followed the man. I have 
forgotten how this strange rendermg of the poet's ' Hound of 
Heaven ' ended. 

In the month of February 1864 the 69th Regiment, or what 
was left of it, embarked for England in two vessels of the 
famous line of ' cHpper ' ships owned by Messrs. Green of 
London. 

The right wing of the regiment sailed on the 10th February. 
There were ten days between the sailing of the two vessels, the 
Trafalgar and the Lord Warden. Both were noted sailers, 
and there was much excitement as to which of them would do 
the thirteen or fourteen thousand miles in the quickest time. 
Both were to caU at St. Helena, and then to make for Ply- 
mouth. I was with the left wing of the regiment in the Lord 
Warden. 

It is interesting to compare these old logs of sailing ships 



62 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

with the ' runs ' made by liners to-day. We kept a journal 
on board — the Homeward Bound by name — and in its 
pages I find the record : — 

* In the first fortnight after leaving India we averaged only 80 
miles a day ; in the second fortnight the average was 124 miles ; 
the third fortnight saw us out of the tropics and into the 
latitudes of strong winds, and our average increased to 184 miles ; 
then when the stormy seas of the Cape of Good Hope were entered 
we ran up to 197 miles in twenty-four hours ; finally we attained 
in the run from St. Helena northwards an average of 212 miles, 
and covered in one day 320 miles between the Azores and the 
Lizard.' 

The only event in the long three months that is worth 
remembering is a short stay of two days at St. Helena — 15th 
and 16th April ; but they were days so steeped in thoughts of 
glory and of grief that if I lived for a thousand years they 
would live with me. Our ship had been standing off the 
island in the late night, and long before dawn I was on deck 
to catch the first glimpse of the rock. It came in the west 
as the stars were going out in the east. Nothing like this 
black berg is elsewhere in the world. Nothing so lonely, so 
gaunt, so steep, so age-riven, so thunderous with the sound 
of seas, so sorrowful in the wail of the winds, so filled with the 
sense of blank distance, so sombre in desolation. Beranger 
said that where some older earth had been ruined in the great 
conflict which the powers of Good and Evil had waged, the 
rock of St. Helena had been left at the special prayer of the 
vanquished spirits of Evil as a memento of their having been 
once supreme upon earth. And he makes the Almighty ask 
the reason for the request thus made. 

' I ask this boon," answers the spirit, ' in order that one day 
in a far-distant age of this new world there may be brought to 
that dark ocean rock a mortal all but godlike in his genius, 
who shall undergo there upon that black altar a lingering death 
at the hands of evil men.' 

I got on shore at the earliest possible hour, and was soon 
riding up the steep road that led from Jamestown to the tomb 
and to Longwood. At St. Helena one quickly masters the 
chapter of St. Helena. These gigantic rock walls, these im- 



AT LONGWOOD 63 

passable precipices, and all this environment of charred deso- 
lation in the midst of which the miserable farmhouse is perched, 
gamit and alone, tell in the space of a three-mile ride the entire 
story of the captivity. When the summit level above the 
tomb is reached at Hutt's Gate, the ' altar ' craved of the 
Demon lies outspread before the traveller, and the word 
' prison ' is read in gigantic characters on sea and sky, on peak 
and precipice of that grey, gloomy circumference, in the centre 
of which is Longwood. Here all the names known in the 
history of these five or six years of suffering cease to have a,ny 
individual meaning, ' Rupert's,' ' Deadwood,' ' Longwood,' 

* the Flagstaff,' ' the Bam,' ' the Valley of Silence,' disappear, 
and there only remains the all-pervading sense of an inner 
prison, surrounded by even more impassable boundaries of lava, 
chasm, and rock wall than the ocean and the outer sea face of 
the island had already provided. 

I had stood by the tomb, had seen the house, and looked 
long on the features of the marble bust within the black-railed 
space which marks the spot where the Mttle camp death- 
bedstead stood on the 5th May 1821 ; and now it was time to 
leave Longwood. Perhaps it was because one had asked the 
French sergeant who was in charge questions which he was not 
able to answer, or perhaps from some other reason, but as I 
was about to depart he volunteered the mformation that there 
was still living, at only a little distance from Longwood House, 
an old soldier who had been on the island during the captivity. 

' Monsieur might care to see him ? ' 

' Yes, very much.' 

' He lives close by, monsieur, in a little hut, there below the 
dip of the ridge between us and the gate of Longwood.' 

Five minutes later I was at the hut. An old man was at 
spade-work in a little garden. 

' Well, old friend, they tell me you were here in Bonaparte's 
time,' I say, speaking very loud, for he is deaf. ' Can you tell 
me anything about him ? ' 

He looks up from his work, leans on his spade handle, and 
says nothing, I put the question again in a louder voice. 

' Is it Bony ye mane ? ' he says, in an accent which, not- 
withstanding a lapse of forty or fifty years, still tells of Ireland, 

* To be shurc I remember him, and so I ought, for manj' the 



64 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

day and the night I mounted guard over him, and stood sentry 
beyond the gum trees there by the house/ 

* How long have you been here ? ' I ask. 

' Fifty years come October next,' he says. ' I came out with 
the 53rd Regiment, and when it left to go to India I exchanged 
into the 66th, and I married and settled here. Did ye ever 
hear tell of SUgo ? ' he went on. 

' Yes, often." 

' WeU, that was my country. I wonder now how it 's 
getting on, and if there 's any of my people living.' 

So anxious was I to follow the thread of the guard and 
sentry memory that I could at the moment have consigned 
Sligo to the deepest bottom of its own bogs ; but it was wiser 
to dissemble a little, so after a few words about Sligo I got 
the old fellow's memory back again to Longwood, the guards, 
the sentries, and the old times of the captivity ; and as a 
starting-point I asked him where the line of sentries used 
to be placed by day and by night. 

' The sintries is it ? ' he says. ' There 's the field over where 
the sheep are grazing ; that 's where the big camp stood. By 
day the sintries were kept below the ridge, along the far side 
of the valley ' (pointing across the depths of Fisher's Ravine), 
' and by night they were drawn in, and they closed up around 
the house.' 

' Did you ever see the Emperor ? ' 

' Who ? ' 

' Bonaparte.' 

' Yes, often. I used to see him of times working m the 
garden at the house, or throwing crumbs to the fish in the pond 
near the door. When he got too bad to walk out in the garden, 
I used to see him sometimes in the house ; for I was told off to 
look after the Chinamen that were employed there, and to 
see that they fetched up the water every day from the spring 
down by Torbutts, where the tomb is now.' 

Then we spoke of the house and the dwarf gum trees that 
grew on the level ground just above his cabin. 

' There were more of them there in them days,' he said, 
' but the storm that blew the night before he died — the awfullest 
wind that was ever on the island — ^knocked most of them down.' 

Then, after some other talk about St. Helena, his mind 



WARS AND RUMOURS OF WARS 65 

wandered ofE again to Sligo ; and he soon ceased speaking. 
The old man's brain was tired. 

I could have remained a long while there, but it would not 
have been of any use. This curious, old, time-rusted link in 
the chain between past and present, dressed in a soldier's 
tattered coat, had said his say ; and the well of his memory 
had run dry. What things had these old eyes looked at ! 
Old friend, good-bye. 

I mounted and rode away, thinking over the words, ' closed 
up around the house.' All these vast precipices, from the edges 
of which the passer-by recoils in instinctive horror ; these 
gloomy rampart rocks ; all these camps of soldiers — one there 
at Deadwood, one hundred j^ards in front of the farmhouse ; 
another at Hutt's Gate, where the sawback ridge begins which 
just suffices in its width at the top to carry the road on to 
Longwood between the prodigious rents in the earth plunging 
down, one thousand feet in depth, below the narrow roadway ; 
these were not wards and guards and barriers sufficient, placed 
though they were with thousands of leagues between them 
and the nearest land, but the Une of sentries must ' close up 
at sunset ' around the walls of the miserable house itself. 

The news that reached us at St. Helena was full of interest. 
The Civil War in America seemed to be drawing to a close ; 
but a Kttle speck of conflict was showing in Northern Europe. 
Two great Powers had invaded little Denmark. To us poor 
homeward-bound soldiers, anxious for service, it seemed that 
this wanton and cowardly proceeding must produce the 
general war which some of us, at least, wished for. I find in 
the pages of our little sea journal some lines entitled ' War's 
Whisper,' the concluding verse of which ran thus : — 

'Ho ! babblers of "peace," ye who boasted in pride 
That the sword in its scabbard for ever was tied ! 
Did ye hear that low murmur waft over the main 
Its tidings of battle in the land of the Dane 1 ' 

But alas for poetic flight and bellicose imaginations ! No 
sword leaped from scabbard either in France or England, and 
the massacre of Diippel passed unnoticed by either of the 
Powers whose one great chance in modem history it was. 
These things do not happen twice. Louis Napoleon might 

£ 



66 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

easily have saved Sedan and Paris had he then struck for the 
Dane, and there would, in all human probability, have been no 
' Dreadnought ' scare to-day had there been a single soldier- 
statesman m England in that year 1864. 

There was no Suez Canal in 1864, and the roadstead at 
St. Helena had always plenty of shipping in it, vessels taking 
in food and water on their homeward route from India and 
China. At the time of our visit it held other craft — American 
whalers from the Antarctic hiding from the Alabama, which 
was still at work of destruction in various seas. I went on 
board one of these whalers. She was three months out from 
Maine ; her captain and crew in beards and clothes like so 
many Robinson Crusoes. It was early morning. The captain 
insisted upon my having breakfast with him — a black bottle 
of terrible spirit and a plate of hard-tack biscuits, on a table 
that had been lubricated with blubber. It was sufficient. 

Our sister ship, the Trafalgar, conveying the right wing of 
the regiment, had gained a week upon us in the run from 
Madras to St. Helena. She had left the island with a clear 
seventeen days' start. The race home now seemed hopeless 
for us. 

We left St. Helena with the south-east trade blowmg strong, 
and it bowled us along before it durmg the next sixteen days. 
No halt from calms on the Line ; the northern tropic proved 
equally propitious, and the ' roaring forties ' sent us flying along 
from stormy Corvo to the Cornish coast in glorious style. 
On 21st May we anchored at Plymouth, ninety days out from 
Madras. An hour later a full-rigged ship was visible on the 
horizon from beyond the Eddystone Lighthouse. Our captain, 
who had only one eye (but, like Nelson's, it was a very good 
one) laid his glass upon the distant vessel. ' It 's the Trafalgar,' 
he said ; and so it was. That three hundred and twenty mile 
day on the 17th had done its work ; we had gained some 
seventeen days upon our sister ship in the run from St. Helena. 

When we entered the Channel a thing foretold by the ship's 
officers happened. We carried some seventy or eighty invalid 
soldiers from India, the wrecks of the Carnatic climate. ' You 
wiU see many of these men die when we get near the 
English coast,' the officers and doctor used to say. So it fell 
out. We buried several of these poor feUows almost in sight 



ENGLAND AGAIN 67 

of the Lizard. For them the ' chops of the Channel ' had a 
sinister meaning. 

On 22nd May the two sisters, now in companj'^, sailed before 
a delightful westerly breeze along the coasts of Devon, Dorset, 
and Hampshire to Portsmouth. Very fresh and beautiful it 
all looked ; hawthorn blossom holding out welcome to us ; 
scents of spring from the shores, and May-green on the hills 
for the rest and refreshment of our sun-seared eyes. To 
understand all the loveliness of an English spring you should 
spend a few summers in the Camatic. 



CHAPTER V 

Aldershot. Visit to the Belgian battlefields. Afterthoughts on Waterloo. 

We were stationed at Gosport after arrival, and then we went 
to Aldershot. These south of England town garrisons made 
bad stations for soldiers lately arrived from abroad ; that 
harpy the Jew jeweller, and the betting or gambling man 
have there a wide field for the exercise of their various greeds, 
wiles, and villanies. Before we were a year at home half of 
our officers were in debt, and many of them had to exchange or 
leave the service. 

After a short leave of absence at home, I was sent with a 
party of men to Hythe to learn out of books that theory of 
musketry in the practice of which I was already no mean 
proficient. But Hythe was no exception to the rule which I 
have found existmg in every part of the world — namely, that 
a man will find something of interest, something that is worth 
knowmg or seeing, no matter what the spot may be on the 
earth's surface where fortune has cast him. 

Visiting Dover one day, I turned into the Ship Hotel for 
lunch. At a table in one corner of the public room four men 
were sitting. The waiter informed me that they were officers 
of the American Federal cruiser Kearsarge, which was then 
lying in the harbour. Over at Calais lay also in harbour, and 
afraid to stir from it, the Confederate cruiser Alabama. The 
Federal agent in Calais kept the captam of the Kearsarge 
constantly informed of the doings of his rival. The Kearsarge 
lay in Dover with steam always up. The truth was, the 
Alabama's game was up, unless some extraordinary freak of 
fortune should again befriend her, for the Kearsarge had ' the 
legs of her,' and whether the brave Semmes headed out into 
the North Sea, or went down Channel, he must be overhauled 
by his enemy. 

68 



ALDERSHOT IN 1865 69 

Suddenly the door of the coffee-room opened, and four 
gentlemen, dressed in rather peculiar suits of ' mufti,' entered 
the room. They stopped short, stared hard at the occupants 
of the table in the corner, turned abruptly round, and left the 
room. They were officers of the Alahama, who had crossed 
from Calais by the mail-boat that mornmg, probably to have 
a look at their enemy from the pier. A couple of weeks later 
the Confederate slipped out from Calais at night, and with 
something of a start made her way down Channel ; but the 
Kearsarge was soon upon her tracks. 

Cherbourg afforded a last refuge for the little warship whose 
career in all the oceans, and even in the comers of seas, had 
cost the Northern States such enormous loss. When the time 
limit was up she had to put to sea. A few miles off Cherbourg 
the two cruisers met for the first and last time. It was all over 
with the Alabama in an hour. Semmes and his crew were 
picked up by an English steam yacht — I have forgotten her 
name — but curiously enough she had steamed close alongside 
for many miles, a month or two earlier, when the two clipper 
ships were racing each other along the south coast of England 
from Plymouth to Dartmouth. 

Early in 1865 we moved to Aldershot, then in a very different 
condition from what it is to-day. Great expanses of sand 
stretched from beyond the Long Valley up to the doors of the 
wretched huts in which we were housed. All the verdure and 
foliage which chiefly owe their origin to the labours of Colonel 
Laffan of the Engineers were then unknown, and when a south- 
west wind blew one might have imagined that Caesar's Camp 
was a koppje m the Sahara. 

But the thing that made the Aldershot of 1865 a place of 
delight for memory to recall was the individuality of the 
military characters one met there. Not one solitary vestige 
of these old vanished heroes can now be found in our army. 
Truly can it be said that the entire military type and bearing 
of that time is gone, ' lock, stock, and barrel.' The stock still 
clung to the soldier's neck, the lock and barrel were of the 
old percussion muzzle-loading model ; ' fire-lock ' it was still 
called by the older drill sergeants. 

Our regiment ' lay,' as the expression used to be, in the 
North Camp, and very imcomfortable ' lying ' it was for all 



70 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

concerned. When I marched the company to which I belonged 
to the group of huts assigned to us, I heard one of the old 
twenty-one-j'ear men mutter as he entered the hut, ' Twenty 

years all round the worruld, and in a cowshed at the end 

of it/ 

All the drills, movements, and manoeuvres were exactly 
what they had been fifty years before. There might just as 
well have been no Crimean War, no Mutiny, no anything. 
Most of the old officers swore as their ancestors had sworn on 
the fields of Flanders one hundred years earlier. I think the 
men liked them all the better on that account. The general in 
command was a splendid veteran. It was he who, a quarter 
of a century earlier, had told his men at Meeanee to ' turn the 
fire-locks ' as they drove their bayonets into the enemy when 
these brave Belooch swordsmen were hacking at the Twenty- 
Second over the levelled bayonets. He had borne at Inker- 
mann the worst pressure of the Russian attack in the early 
hours of the fight. When the first reinforcement — Cathcart's 
Division — came up, that general had ridden forward to ask to 
what part of the field he should direct his troops. ' Anywhere 
you like, my dear sir ; you '11 find plenty of fighting all round.' 
And indeed he found it, for within a couple of hours Cathcart 
and about half of his division were dead on the slopes that lay 
to the right rear of the famous Sand-bag Redoubt. 

I can still see this old hero sitting his charger on the top of 
a knoU over the Basingstoke Canal, across which the engineers 
had, in manoeuvre language, ' thrown a pontoon bridge ' 
(two pontoons and twenty planks). Over this structure our 
brigade had to go, and the great point was that they should 
not keep step as they crossed, but the poor feUows had been 
so mercilessly trained to keep step that they couldn't break 
it to save their lives ; and as the canal was only about four 
feet deep in the centre of its twenty or thirty feet width, it 
didn't matter a pin whether they fell in or not. 

But from the general's excitement you might have thought 
that the operation was quite on a par with that of the Russians 
retreating over their bridge of boats from the south to the north 
side of Sebastopol. Up we came to the canal in solid, serried 
ranks. The more he swore at us, the more his staff roared at 
us shouting ' break step,' the more our men stepped ' as one 



ARMY ANECDOTES 71 

man/ as they had been taught and drilled and bullied into 
doing for years : tramp, tramp, tramp. I can never forget 
the sight of that fine old soldier ; the reins dropped on his 
charger's neck, his hands uplifted as far as they could go, and 
a whole torrent of imprecations pouring from under his snow- 
white moustache. Two ladies who had ridden out with the 
staff thought it prudent to retire from the scene. The two 
pontoons stood it all. 

Among the old ofl&cers of lesser rank the one who gave us 
youngsters the most unvarying entertainment was the colonel 
of a distinguished Fusilier battalion, a North Briton. All the 
manoeuvre formations were then in close order ; a modern 
dynamite shell bursting in a brigade would inevitably have 
ended the collective life and entire martial capacity of that 
military unit. This view of the question, however, had not 
occurred to any of our superiors ; and to us subalterns in the 
ranks these close formations had, at least, the merit of enabling 
us to get all the mounted officers of three or four battalions 
within easy range of our ears and eyes. We knew, in fact, 
everything that was going on in the brigade. Old Colonel 
R. S. was our central pomt of interest. He had a profound 
contempt and dislike for a staff officer, and in this feeling we 
were with him to a man. 

An A.D.C. or a Deputy A.D.C. would ride up to the brigade, 
salute, dehver his orders, wheel his horse round, and gallop 
away. Colonel R. S., being a very senior officer, was fre- 
quently in command of the brigade. He would never move a 
muscle as the staff officer went through his message. He 
would then gravely turn to one of the old ' fizzer men,' as they 
were called (pensioners who had the privilege of hawking 
ginger-beer among the troops), and ask him, ' What did the 
d f ule say ? ' 

* He said, yer honour, that the brigade was to move to the 
right.' 

' Did he ? Third brigade, fours left.' 

Or, again, he would on occasion, when he had had words 
with the messenger of movement, take all the men into his 
confidence by turning in his saddle, and remarking with a most 
comical expression of face, ' He '11 nae puzzle the Fusihers, 
I can tell ye.' And indeed, I am quite sure that nothing which 



72 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the most conceited young staff oflSicer could do would ever 
have ' puzzled ' that splendid body of men. They would 
have died to a man with that old Scotsman. 

I had one resource at Aldershot of inestimable value to me. 
It was the Prince Consort's library. Many an hour I spent in 
that cool retreat reading of the wars on land and sea, and of the 
men who fought them. By hook or crook I must go to Belgium, 
and see some of the scenes themselves. The few pounds I had 
put together in India were now gone. Aldershot was an 
expensive station at that time, for regiments and battalions 
were constantly arriving, and the reputation of the ' Old 69th ' 
for hospitality had to be kept up, literally at all costs. But 
I managed to get together about twenty pounds, and one fine 
evening I was off, knapsack on shoulder, for Lille, intending 
to leave the train at Tournay, and begin to work the ground 
on foot from that place. 

I reached Tournay early on the second morning, picked up 
a guide on the steps of the cathedral, and was soon on the road 
to Fontenoy. The guide was a ghastly failure. He professed 
to know the battlefields around Tournay, but I soon found 
he knew only the public-houses. ' You know the field of 
Fontenoy ? ' I said as we cleared the old town. Certainly he 
knew Fontenoy, he answered ; was not his father in that 
battle, and did not the Emperor decorate him when it was 
over ? Astonished by this information I merely said, ' Go 
ahead." 

It was a very hot afternoon, the road was deep in dust, and 
the knapsack still a new burden to my shoulders. Whenever 
we passed a beer shop he looked longmgly at it ; but I held 
steadily on, taking a most malicious satisfaction in the situation 
that was now developing, for I soon saw that the feUow was 
soft as butter. At last he craved a halt and a drink. These 
I gave him, even though he still adhered to the story of the 
decoration of his father on the field of Fontenoy by the Emperor 
himself. Then I thought, ' Are we not now in the Cockpit 
of Europe ? ' There were so many battles fought here that 
this man ras^j well have got a bit mixed among them, and 
perhaps in this matter of the decoration he had only inherited 
an ancestral antipathy to the truth. So we went again along 
the dusty road. 



IN THE 'COCKPIT OF EUROPE' 73 

It was getting towards sunset when we approached Fontenoy. 
I had a map of the ground, and was on the lookout for the 
wood of Barri. Passing that, we entered the scene of the 
battle. A large country waggon, full of women and girls 
returning from work, came along. ' Fontenoy ? ' I asked 
inquiringly. They laughed, and pointed away to my left 
front, where the ridge bent dowTi into lower ground, and over 
the curve could be seen a church spire, some white houses, and 
trees. They asked me to join them, and made room for me 
in the waggon, laughing and talking, under large lace or fringe- 
bordered caps, all the while. I was clearly a puzzle to them ; 
but all the same they seemed disposed to accept my presence 
as that of an old friend. Another time I might have accepted 
the seat offered in their midst, but as there was less than an 
hour's Ught in the sky I thought it wiser to keep my feet, and 
made straight for Fontenoy. The ground was all familiar 
to me, for I had studied the map of it well. I paid off my 
guide. He had brought me to Fontenoy, even though he had 
failed to convince me of the decoration bestowed upon his 
father in the battle. 

On every side where the land was clear of wood the ground 
lay open and unfenced : stubble interspersed with grass. Three 
miles away on the right, Antoiag showed its church top above 
the valley of the Scheldt ; then the higher ground upon which 
the French army had stood curved round towards Fontenoj^ 
about two miles, and then ran in on the same easy circle to 
Barri, the semicircle making altogether about four miles along 
its circumference from the wood of Barri on the left to Antoing 
on the right. 

In front of the village of Fontenoy the ground dropped 
quickly into the valley of Voyon. Never was there easier field 
upon which to identify the events which took place there on 
the 11th May 1745. Save that the French redoubts have 
long ago been levelled by the ploughshare, everything is un- 
changed. Between the village of Fontenoy and the wood of 
Barri all the fighting took place. There Ligonier led on his 
column of fourteen thousand English and Hanoverian troops 
and twenty guns into the left centre of the French position. 
Shot at by cannon, charged by cavalry, fired mto by infantry, 
they go slowly forward, until meeting the French Guards the 



74 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

two columns exchange first compliments and then volleys, 
until half of the whole are down in the young corn. 

The battle began at five in the morning, and it was all 
over by one o'clock. At noon the aUies were in full retreat 
on Ath. Some fifteen thousand dead and wounded covered 
this gently rolling ground. History has given half a dozen 
versions of this once famous fight ; but what is assured as 
fact is that Cumberland's column under Ligonier had all but 
won victory when it was wrested from their grasp by the 
terrible onslaught of Saxe's reserve troops, among which six 
regiments of Irish infantry, under Count Lally, formed the 
most potent body and struck the most decisive blows. 

I made my way across the field of Antoing as the dusk was 
gathering over Fontenoy, and a white mist was coming up from 
the Voyon Valley, creeping like a great ghost of battle across 
the ridge where this wild slaughter had been wrought. The 
partridges were calling briskly to each other in the cool twihght ; 
the smoke of supper was going up from many cottage chimneys. 
How was I to fare in that way at Antoing ? I struck straight 
for that Uttle old Flemish town, and at the inn kept by Monsieur 
and Madame Roger Dubois the question was most satisfactorily 
solved. After a little preparatory delay, a fillet, a partridge, 
a salad, an omelette, a bottle of Bordeaux, grapes, coffee, and 
a petit verre — what more could mortal ask on the evening of 
a hot day ? Heroes of Fontenoy, old, forgotten, long- waist- 
coated grenadiers of England, France, and Ireland — Saxe, 
Cumberland, Ligonier, d'Auteroche, Richelieu, and LaUy — 
I pledge aU your memories in silence as the clock in the old 
church tower outside strikes the hour of nine ! To you in 
particular, Madame Roger Dubois, I hft my glass and take off 
my hat ! If history tells truth, your husband's very remarkable 
namesake, the Archbishop of Cambray, received a cardinal's 
hat through the friendly intervention of George the First, 
whose son was to lose this fight at Fontenoy some few years 
later. Well, if the first George was to get a cardinal's hat 
for anj^body, it was perhaps meet that it should have been for 
that ' httle thin meagre man with the pole-cat visage, in whom 
all the vices . . . contend for mastery ' ; but perhaps the royal 
victor of Fontenoy would have had a better place in history to- 
day had he hanged him. 



FIELDS OF MALPLAQUET AND JEMAPPES 75 

The following day came oppressively warm, and I had a 
long march before me. I was to sleep at Mons, for I 
wished to see the field of Jcraappes, that opening scene 
of the conquering revolution, and another great field of 
former fight which lay near Mons — Malplaquet. The sun 
was beating down on the narrow paved streets of Antoing 
almost with the fervour of the Camatic as I cleared the town 
and took the road Mons-ward. It lay along the vaUey of the 
Scheldt, sometimes hot and dusty, sometimes under shade of 
rustling poplars, cool and refreshing after the glare. It took 
me long to get out of sight of the spire of Antoing and the tall 
tower of the old chateau, but at last I reached Jemappes 
very tired. No ' field ' here for thought or study ; nothing 
but a dry cinder-heaped hill, with smoking chimneys above it 
and coal-mines below. Nothing to show where Dumouriez 
placed his troops for the attack, where Clarefait's fourteen 
heavy batteries were ranged, where young De Charteris led 
his blue-coated volunteers up the hill of Cuesnes to assault 
the Austrian batteries ; no chance, even, of identifying the 
three particular coalpits down which the victorious French 
put their own and their enemy's twelve thousand dead men 
and horses. The black country in Stafford is scarcely more 
cinder-heaped and smoke-grimed than is this spot where the 
first act of the greatest drama ever plaj-ed in human history 
began. 

At INIons next day I had better luck. From the top of the 
high tower of St. Wadru, that old towTi of neither toil nor traffic, 
the eye could range far over this south end of the great ' cock- 
pit,' over Malplaquet, over Frameries, over Bavay, over 
Jemappes. There yonder, between Sars and Tenniers, on 
the 11th September 1709, fell some thirty-five thousand French, 
English, Dutch, Danes, Germans, and Italians. ' Those who 
were not killed,' wrote Eugene, * died of fatigue. I gave some 
rest to the remains of my troops, buried aU I could, and then 
marched to Mons.' Of all the battles of Queen Anne's wars, 
this of ^lalplaquet was the most deadly. Although the AUies 
won the honours, the French got the tricks. ' The plunder 
of France was the general discourse in Germany, England, 
and HoUand at the opening of the campaign of 1709 ' ; but the 
loss of the twenty-five thousand of the best of the Allied troops 



76 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

saved France from serious invasion, and so crippled the attack- 
ing power of the Allies that it practically led to the conclusion 
of the war. ' If it pleases God/ wrote Marshal Villars after 
the fight, ' to favour j'our Majesty with the loss of another 
such battle, your enemies wiU be destroyed.' That was about 
the truth. 

I rambled along for another few daj^s, and finally found my- 
self on the road which led north from Fleurus to Ligny. The 
hot weather still continued, but notwithstanding the heat and 
foot-travel, the days were pleasant in themselves and delightful 
now to look back upon. I kept a notebook, and I find in it 
little bits of the life in town and country that read freshly 
now : — 

' Stopped to rest in a clump of trees crossing a little mound on 
the right of the road, where there was an image of the Crucifixion, 
and underneath the inscription which poor Tom Hood wove so well 
into the ode that made Rae Wilson famous and ridiculous lq his 
generation : — 

The pious choice had fixed upon the verge of a delicious slope, 

Giving the eye such variegated scope. 

" Look round," it whispered, " oil that prospect rare, 

Those vales so verdant and those hills so blue : 

Enjoy the sunny world so fresh and fair : 

But" (how the simple legend pierced me through), 

" Priez, pour les malheureux." 

' Yes, it was a fair world, and a delightful thing to wander over 
it. No anxiety for the morrow, no care for to-day, no regret for 
yesterday ; eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, reading the 
leaves of the trees, seeing the sunny half of the great round peach 
which we call the world. When I repine at poverty and wish for 
money, it is not for love of the gold thing itself, but for the love 
of all the golden scenes which the want of it hides from me. And 
then so little would suffice for what I long to do. The money 
which thousands waste without anything to show for it would 
carry me through the length of this glorious world. Men talk of 
knowledge of the world, meaning only knowledge of the human 
town mites that are on it, but of the true world they know nothing. 

' Evening. — Halting in a sheepfold. The sheep have gathered in 
for the night. They stare at the strange intruder, first with 
awe, then with surprise, then with indifference or contempt. One, 
older or bolder than the others, presumes upon his ten minutes' 



FIELD OF LIGNY 77 

acquaintance to approach close, look straight into my face, and 
stamp his foot at me. " Be off out of that," he says. 

' Sunday morniiig. — The chimes in the old church tower have been 
busy for some time, and the inhabitants of the village are going 
past my open window in their best bib and tucker. I looked into 
the billiard-room of the inn last night, and now I can scarcely 
recognise in the black-coated churchgoers the players of last even- 
ing. I begin to be ashamed of my single tweed suit, now looking 
dusty and travel-stained ; but when a man has to carry his own 
baggage he cuts his clothing, not to his cloth, but to his knapsack.' 

This day at Ligny was the longest and hottest of any in my 
rambles. All the names on the milestones were like the faces 
of old dead friends seen in a dream — Ligny, St. Amand, Som- 
brefife, Bry, Quatre Bras, ' To Genappe,' ' To Namur,' ' To 
Waterloo.' I had been reading of these places, great hinges 
of history, graveyards of human glory, for years in all sorts of 
places, trying so hard to transfer their printed names into 
brain pictures, that now when I came upon them, not in the 
flesh but in corn ridge and pasture slope and cottage plot, it 
seemed impossible they could be what the milestones and 
fingerposts said they were — themselves. 

I passed through the little village of Lign}', and got to the 
higher ridges of Bry immediately behind it. The old windmill 
at Bussy, where Bliicher had seen his centre broken in the 
twUight of the June evening, was there still, and near it stood 
a single old walnut-tree, offering most grateful shade under its 
branches. From this point, the events of the 16th June 
1815 could be seen in a single sweep of vision. It was another 
of these Fontenoy fields, readable from a single centre, a thing 
never to be possible again. One hundred years ago men stood 
six hundred yards from their enemies ; now thej^ stand six 
thousand yards away. Below where I sat ran the little 
streamlet of Ligny, its valley forming an almost continuous 
line of hamlets from St. Amand on the right to Sombre ffe on 
the left. 

All along this valley, for a distance of some four miles, a 
terrible combat was waged on the afternoon of 16th June 
1815. Villages, hamlets, and farmhouses were taken and 
retaken again and again ; while above, on the parallel ridges 
which front each other before either side of the rivulet of 



78 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Ligny, some four hundred and fifty guns thundered over the 

combatants. 

I had to sleep somewhere near Quatre Bras that night, 
so after a rest of about an hour I struck the main line of paved 
road between Namur and Nivelles, near Sombreffe, and held 
westward towards Quatre Bras. 

About liaKway between the two places there is some high 
ground on the right of the Chaussee which commands an 
extensive prospect upon either side. You can see Fleurus and 
Charleroi to the south, a.nd the half-dozen white houses of 
Quatre Bras to the west, while where you turn north-west the 
top of the cone of the lion-mound on the field of Waterloo is 
visible in this direction. You can see, too, a little to the east 
of north, the smoke of Wavre. At Marbais you stand nearly 
in the centre of the square which has for its corners the four 
battle-points of Ligny, Quatre Bras, Waterloo, and Wavre, 
and all the grand but simple strategy of Napoleon's campaign 
of 1815, planned in Paris, is apparent, magnificent in con- 
ception, simple when it is once understood. The armies of his 
adversaries, Wellington and Bliicher, were cantoned facing 
the northern frontier of France from Namur to Ath, along 
a distance of some fifty miles. They numbered a total of about 
two hundred and thirty thousand men, with more than five 
hundred guns. 

The Emperor Napoleon could strike at this great array with 
a total of only one hundred and eleven thousand men and 
three hundred and fifty cannon. It was an enormous, almost 
a hopeless, disparity of force, but it had to be faced, because 
at least another four hundred thousand men were moving from 
all Europe against the French frontiers. 

From east to west, and through the centre of the Allied canton- 
ments, ran a great paved highway (the same we are now on at 
Marbais), affording the easiest means of concentrating both 
armies, either separately or together. This great road was 
bisected at Quatre Bras by another main road leading from 
Charleroi to Brussels, running nearly north and south. If 
Napoleon could seize Charleroi, he would be within striking 
distance of the great central road from Namur to Quatre Bras 
and Nivelles. Here at Marbais we are at the spot which 
marked the point where the left of the army under Wellington 



NAPOLEON'S STRATEGY 79 

touched the right of Bliicher's army. Napoleon's plan was to 
strike this road at two places — one Sombreffe, which we have 
just quitted ; the other Quatre Bras, to which we are going. 
If he could gain these two places on the main road, he had 
cut in two the direct line between his powerful enemies, and 
as neither of them had as yet concentrated their armies, he 
might hope to engage them separately and beat them in detail. 
At daybreak on the 15th June he launched some seventy 
thousand men in three columns upon Charleroi. They were 
all to meet at or near that city. By noon the heads of these 
three columns had crossed the Sambre, carried Charleroi, and 
were pursuing the Prussian corps of Ziethen back to the great 
road at Sombreffe. On the same evening the French left 
column under Ney, following the bisecting road from Charleroi 
to Quatre Bras, had reached Frasne, less than three miles from 
Quatre Bras, driving the Allied troops of the Prince of Orange 
back to Quatre Bras. When night closed on the 15th the 
position of the three armies was as follows : the French head- 
quarters were at Charleroi, the centre concentrated round that 
place, the Prussians at Namur, the English at Brussels. Not 
until midnight on that day (the 15th), did the Duke of Welling- 
ton know that his enemy, whom he believed to be still in Paris, 
was in reality at Charleroi, thirty miles south of Brussels. 
Bliicher, seventeen miles east of Namur, was in equal 
ignorance of Napoleon's movements, and of the concentration 
of his army on the frontier, one march distant from Charleroi, 
until the night of the 14th June. 

It was a master-stroke of strategy, among the most brilliant 
in the records of war. One incident had alone interfered with 
its complete success — it was the desertion of the traitors, 
Bourmont and Cluet, on the 14th June, to the Prussians at 
Namur. Bourmont was the chief of the stafif of Gerard's Corps 
forming the right wing of the French army. Cluet was an 
officer of Engineers, and there was a third officer of lesser rank. 
These three traitors carried to Bliicher, on the night of the 14th 
at Namur, the first news he had received of the French move- 
ment ; and Bourmont, from his high position on the staff, was 
able to impart secret information of the highest moment. 

It is now certain that if it had not been for this traitorous 
act the whole Prussian arm}" would have been quiet in its 



80 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

cantonments on the morning of the 15th June, and it would 
then have required a clear fort3'^-eight hours to assemble even 
three corps of the Prussian army in front of Charleroi. With 
the information given him by Bourmont, Bliicher was able to 
beat the ' Generale ' in his various cantonments on the night 
of the 14th Jmie, and to get his scattered corps in movement 
in the direction of Fleurus at daybreak on the 15th. Bour- 
mont 's treachery had robbed Napoleon of about twelve precious 
hours. 

Nevertheless, the chances were all in his favour at midnight 
on the 15th. Ney had actually reported his occupation of 
Quatre Bras. Napoleon himself was within striking distance 
of Sombreffe. Thus the main road commanding the two 
Allied armies would probably be in his possession on the 16th, 
and the two armies would be cut asunder. 

The next day's work was to be this : 

With his centre and right massed together, Napoleon would 
attack the Prussians at or near SombreSe. Nej'' was to attack 
Quatre Bras eight miles west of Sombreffe, whatever might be in 
his front. The result of the 16th June" is easil}^ told. Napoleon 
performed his part of the programme by smashing the Prussians 
at Ligny ; Ney failed in his much easier task at Quatre Bras. 
On that morning of the 16th he had more than forty thousand 
men, and over a hundred guns under his command, between 
Gossehes and Quatre Bras. Only a weak, mixed brigade of the 
enemy held that important post. Nevertheless, Ney let the 
precious morning hours slip away in total inaction at Frasnes, 
and it was past two o'clock in the afternoon when he moved 
on Quatre Bras. That position had then been heavily rein- 
forced, and every hour of daj^'hght that remained saw fresh 
accessions of force arriving from the English reserve at Brussels, 
and the scattered cantonments to the west. Here occurred 
the first loss of the campaign of 1815 for Napoleon. The 
essence of this tremendous problem he had set himself to solve 
was time. In war, time must inevitablj' be often lost ; but 
for this loss of at least eight hours before Quatre Bras there 
was neither reason nor excuse. It was the most gratuitous 
waste of opportunity that the history of war affords, unless, 
indeed, it be found two days later in another inexplicable loss 
of ten hours on the part of a French marshal on the other 



FIELD OF QUATRE BRAS 81 

side of this great square, of which the four corners held the 
campaigning ground of 1815. Grouchy, on the 18th, will 
repeat, with still more disastrous results to his master, this 
terrible inaction at Gembloux, at Tabaraque, and at Wavre, 
which Ney is here practising at Gosselies, Frasnes, and Quatre 
JBras. 

I must resume my own march upon Quatre Bras, and see 
the ground for myself. So, taking up the knapsack again, I 
trudged westward along the high road. I reached the little 
hamlet at the cross-roads as the sun was getting low towards 
the horizon. There was the field untouched : the wood of 
Boissu, the farm of Gemioncourt, rising into the higher ground 
behind which lay the village of Frasnes, the half a dozen white 
houses standing bare about the point of intersection of the 
two great highways. 

The stubble was crisp under foot as I held on by Gemion- 
court and Frasnes. A few ploughmen were unyoking their 
teams and turning homewards. Of all the fields of Flanders 
this of Quatre Bras had the strongest personal interest for me. 
Just there below the ridge of Gemioncourt the 69th Regiment 
had fared badly at the hands of Kellermann's Cuirassiers on 
the afternoon of that 16th June. It was not their fault, poor 
fellows. The Prince of Orange had insisted upon line being 
formed from the square into which a careful colonel (who was 
killed two days later at Waterloo) had put them; the Cuirassiers 
had simpl}^ rolled up the line from right to left, killed and 
wounded a hundred and fifty officers and men, and taken the 
regimental colour back with them to Ney on the ridge of Frasnes. 

Before I left Aldershot, one of those excellent men who have 
leamt to laugh at everything out of England asked me why 
I was going abroad to look at a lot of turnip fields ; ' You 
know that here in England they say you can't get blood out 
of a turnip.' I answered : ' But in Belgium you can get plenty 
of turnips out of blood ; that 's why I 'm going there.' 

I reached Frasnes very tired after sunset. The day had 
been hot and hard, and I was badly in need of supper and rest. 
I found both in a clean little cottage here at Frasnes. When 
the homely supper was served on a snow-white cloth, I found 
another guest at table. He was the head of the village com- 
mune, an excellent specimen of the Flemish peasant. There 

F 



82 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

was a dessert of grapes and two or three peaches, one of the 
latter bemg redder and riper than the others. My companion 
had the plate of fruit in front of him ; he turned it carefully 
round until the big peach was facing where I sat, and then 
courteously offered the plate to me. It was a simple thing, 
but I have never forgotten it. Civility goes a long way, they 
say ; in the case of my peasant friend at Frasnes it has gone 
more than forty years. Liberty, equality, fraternity, and the 
greatest of these is fraternity ; and perhaps if people practised 
it more frequently they need not have troubled themselves so 
much about the other two. 

I walked from Frasnes to Waterloo on the following day. 
It was quite as hot and hard as any of the other days ; but by 
this time I was hard too. 

I have said enough about these old Flemish fields of fight. 
We are not yet one hundred years from Waterloo. It is quite 
possible that there are thoughtful people in England to-day 
who are not quite so keen as their fathers were upon the ' leg 
up ' on the high horse of Europe which we gave Germany in 
that memorable campaign ; and neither am I sure that there 
may not be ' a good few ' in other parts of Europe who rather 
regret that flank march from Wavre to Waterloo, which saved 
Wellington from defeat, and made the rock of St. Helena 
famous. 



CHAPTER VI 

The Channel Isles. Victor Hugo. The Curragh. To Canada. 
Leave in the West. Buffalo hunt. 

The 69th went from Aldershot to the Channel Isles in the 
summer of 1866, and my lot fell to the beautiful little island 
of Guernsey, where two companies were quartered in Fort 
George on the crest of the hill above St. Peter's Port. The 
view from the rampart of this old fort was very striking — 
islands near and far on what was usually a blue and sparklmg 
sea, and beyond the islands the coast of Normandj^ from Cape 
La Hogue to Coutance. It was a verj^ happy spot, this island: 
no very rich people and no very poor people in it ; moderate 
comfort everywhere ; fruits and flowers everj'where ; the land 
and the sea giving a two-handed harvest to the inhabitants. 
It had, however, one serious drawback : intoxicating drink 
was as plentiful as it was cheap. The island had a copper 
currency of its own ; unfortunate^, a depreciated one. If a 
man tendered an English shilling in pajTnent for a glass of 
brandy, he received twelve Guernsey pennies back. This 
was too much for old soldiers, particularly for the men who 
had served in tropical countries — a glass of French brandy 
and twelve Guernsey pennies given in return for one English 
shilling ! No soldier in his senses could understand a rate of 
exchange based on such principles, even before he had drunk 
his glass of brandy, and after that event the problem became 
still more abstruse. It was impossible not to love these old 
soldiers, for, notwithstanding this failing, they had so many 
splendid qualities. I call these men old ; in reality they were 
all under forty years, but they were old in every other sense of 
the word. If you asked any of these men when they were in 
hospital what was wrong with them, they would usually 
answer, ' Only them pains, sir ' ; and if you asked again what 
had given them those ' pains,' they would invariably say it 



84 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

was the heavy belts and cumbersome pouches they had to wear 
for twentj^'-four hours on guard. It was true. Our stupid 
regulations broke down those fine soldiers long before their 
time. Men said that there were other causes, but I don't 
think there were. There was not a regimental band in the 
service in which you could not have found some old bassoon 
or trombone player, who had sampled in his time every in- 
toxicating fluid from cocoanut toddy to methylated spirits, 
but who, nevertheless, was still going and blowing strong, 
simply because he had not done a night's guard duty in his 
twenty years. 

A short road led to St. Peter's Port from our fort on the hill. 
Half-way down the slope one passed a rather gloomy-looking, 
soUd, square house, standing on the right of the road. This 
was Hauteville House, in which Victor Hugo had lived for 
several years. He was absent from Guernsey at this time, 
on a visit to Belgium. I had but recently finished reading his 
Les Miserables. I thought his description of Waterloo the 
finest piece of writing I had ever read. It had been constantly 
in my mind during the recent visit to Waterloo, and I had felt 
all that time the want of a practical acquaintance with the 
French language. The first thing I now thought of doing in 
this French-speaking island was to learn it. 

A chance inquiry about a tutor gave me the name of a 
M. Hannett de Kesler, who lived in a smaU house at a little 
distance below Hauteville. It was thus that I made the ac- 
quaintance of one of the most delightful human beings I have 
met in life. He lived in very straitened circumstances with 
only an old woman servant to keep house for him. He 
had had a remarkable career. Editor of a Republican news- 
paper in Paris in 1848, he had all the courage of his convictions, 
and had stood beside Baudin on the barricade in the Faubourg 
St. Antoine on the memorable morning in December 1851. 
Then he had gone into exile with Victor Hugo and others. 
When an amnesty was offered later he refused to acpept it. 
' Never,' said Victor Hugo, at poor Kesler's grave two years 
after the time I am writing of — ' Never was there more pro- 
found and tenacious devotion than his. He was a champion 
and a sufferer. He possessed all forms of courage, from the 
lively courage of the combat to the slow courage of endurance ; 



1 



ACQUAINTANCE WITH VICTOR HUGO 85 

from the braver}- which faces the cannon, to the heroism which 
accepts the loss of home/ He was a deep and sincere Re- 
pubUcan, and his love and devotion to Victor Hugo were an 
extraordinary thing to see. He literally worshipped the poet. 
But above all that anybody could say of him, stood his honesty 
and his simplicity of life. I look upon the hours spent in the 
society of this dear old man with unalloyed pleasure. He 
was broken in health, and was already showing symptoms of 
the slow form of paralysis of which he died two years later. 
He wrote poetry, simple and touching little verses, inspired, 
I think, b}^ the antics of a minx of some sixteen summers 
who lived opposite, and who used to make eyes at him across 
the street. He used to read these verses to me. I remember 
one that began 

' Elle a le charme, elle a la grace.' 

He was, as I have said, in very straitened circumstances ; 
but he kept it all to himself, and would not even let Victor 
Hugo know of his wants. 

A month or two after I had begun to take lessons from him, 
in August I think it was, I had to go away for a few weeks. 
I was settling his modest fee for tuition, and I wanted to pay 
in advance up to the end of the j-ear. I put the gold pieces 
on the table, but he would only take what was due to him at 
the moment, and insisted upon returning the rest of the money 
to me. It was some time after my return that I discovered 
the cause of this refusal. He had determined to go on board 
the Jersey steamer, and drop quietly overboard in front of 
the paddle-box on the voyage. He did not want to be a burden 
upon anybody. That was the reason he had returned the few 
sovereigns I had wished to give him in advance ! Meanwhile, 
somebody told Victor Hugo of the pecuniary straits of his 
devoted follower, and provision was at once made to meet his 
simple wants. 

Shortly after the return of Victor Hugo to the island, I 
received a very courteous invitation to Hauteville House. 
' n a ajout6, " J'aurais le plus grand plaisir a voir Monsieur 
Butler, et j'espere qu'il ne tardera pas a me faire cet honneur." ' 

There was a District Court-martial that forenoon, which I 
was obliged to attend, and I went to it with feelings not easy 



86 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

to describe. Something went very wrong with the pro- 
ceedings shortly after we assembled, and I took advantage of 
the adjournment to fly to Hauteville House. I found there a 
party of some eight or ten persons assembled in a room which 
had many curious conceits in its furniture and decorations. 
Four carved seats were let into the wainscoting, with paint- 
ings done on their high straight backs in the old Dutch style. 
Three of these stiff chairs were for the living, and one, which 
had a chain across its arms, was marked ' For the dead.' The 
paintings represented ' The End of the Soldier,' ' The End of the 
Law^'^er,' and ' The End of the Priest.' I have forgotten how 
the two first were supposed to come by their ends, but in the 
last picture a woman was laj^ing a birch broom across the 
shoulders of a French cleric who was in the act of disappearing 
through a doorway. 

During the dejeuner Victor Hugo spoke a great deal. I 
was able to follow what he said with difficulty. What struck 
me most was the extraordinary sonorous tone of his voice, 
its modulations, and, if I might use the word, its ramifica- 
tions. It seemed to run up and down through words as the 
fingers of a great musician might range through notes of 
music. 

He frequently repeated the invitation to me to attend these 
little weekly parties, and I used to meet him also in his walks 
to Fermain Bay, a beautiful little secluded sea cove between 
very high rocks, not far from our fort. At times he used to be 
full of fun and raillery, but the general tone of his mind was 
grave and serious. I kept no regular diary at this time, but 
I find in an intermittent little notebook some references to 
these meetings, 

' 22nd Octr. (1866).— At breakfast with Victor Hugo. After 
looking at me for some time, he suddenly said : " I have examined 
your face, and if I was ever to be tried I would wish to have you 
for a judge." 

' 2&h Nov. — To-day at Victor Hugo's. He said : " I also am an 
Irishman. I love Ireland because she is to me a Poland and a 
Hungary, because she suffers. . . ." Later he asked me if I would 
accompany him the following year through Ireland. " I want to 
see that island and its i^eople. You shall be my guide there. The 
only stipulation I will make is that we shall drive everywhere, 
and that you will not ask me to travel in a train." ' 



VICTOR HUGO AT HOME 87 

But the next year I was far away in Canada ! 

* 4th Dec. — Dined this evening in company with Victor Hugo at 
Monsieur Le Bers'. He was full of fun. " Take care of him ! " he 
said, pointing at me ; " he is an enfant terrible." 

' 10th Dec. — Breakfasted at Victor Hugo's. He said that there 
were two English words which he hated : one was " Respectable," 
and the other " Ragged." " Ragged School ! think of that," he went 
on ; " does it not make you shiver ? " ' 

Of the many curious things to be seen in Haute ville House, 
the master's sleeping-room was the strangest. He had built 
it on the roof between two great blocks of chimneys. You 
ascended to his workshop bedroom by stairs which somewhat 
resembled a ladder : quite half of the room was glass, and the 
view from it was magnificent ; the isles of Jethou and Sark 
were in the middle distance, and beyond lay many a mile of 
the Norman coast. Alderney lay to the north, and beyond it 
one saw the glistening windows of the triple lighthouses on 
the Casquet rocks, and still more to the right the high ridges 
overlooking Cherbourg. The bed was a small camp bedstead, 
with a table on one side of it, and a small desk chest of drawers 
on the other, with pens, ink and paper always within reach. 
Near the bed stood a small stove, which he lighted himself 
every morning, and on which he prepared his cafe.-au-lait ; 
then work began at the large table which stood in the glass 
alcove a few feet from the foot of the bed. This work went on 
till it was time to dress and descend to the dejeuner in the room 
on the ground floor already described. 

As the sheets of writing-paper were finished, they were 
numbered and dropped on the floor, to be picked up, arranged, 
and put away in the drawer-desk at the end of the morning's 
labour. He called the writing-table his ' carpenter's bench,' 
and the leaves which fell from it his ' shavings.' It was at 
this table and in this airy attic that most of the great work of 
his later life was done. Here were written Les Miserahles, Les 
Travailleurs de la Mer, and many volumes of poetry. Among 
the few things which have survived the tossings and travails 
of life I have still managed to retain in my possession some 
of the ' shavings ' from that ' carpenter's bench,' which he 
gave me as souvenirs of his friendship. 

Nowhere in these islands is the sea more delightful than at 



88 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Guernsey. Victor Hugo has told us that when he and his 
son found themselves exiles in the Channel Isles, the son asked 
him what he proposed to do. ' I shall look at the sea/ replied 
the father ; ' and you ? ' 'I will translate Shakespeare/ 
answered the son. In this little conversation we get the key 
to two of the poet's works, Les Travailleurs de la Mer and 
William Shakespeare — the last httle known, but nevertheless 
the work of which its author was proudest. 

It is a wonderful sea that laves the feet of these beautiful 
island rocks. I bathed m it through the winter months of 
1866-67. 

Suddenly, at the end of the winter, ' the route,' as it used 
to be called, came. The 69th was ordered to Ireland. So, 
in March 1867, we sailed away from Guernsej^, leaving with 
many regrets its kind, gentle, and generous people. The 
soldier is but a ' toiler of the sea ' and the land, and that means 
many partings in his life. But this life of changing scene 
has several sides to it. I have sometimes thought that a 
marching regiment filled in our social system the place taken 
by a comet in the solar system when it comes along and the 
people run to the window and look out. 

We spent the early summer of 1867 at the Curragh ; but in 
August ' the route ' came again suddenly, and we embarked 
for Canada on the 19th of that month in the transport Serapis, 
then making her first voyage. It was a very uncomfortable 
experience ; the vessel had little or no baUast, and she bobbed 
about among the Atlantic rollers for thirteen days before 
getting to Quebec. After a delay of one day we were trans- 
ferred to boats plying between Quebec and Montreal, and 
again transferred to other river craft bound for Hamilton, at 
the western end of Lake Ontario ; finally getting to a little 
town in Western Canada called Brantford, about midway 
between Lakes Ontario and Erie. This district had been the 
scene of some recent incursions at the hands of armed bodies 
of Fenians who had formerlj^ served in the Northern armies 
of the now once more L^nited States, and who, finding their 
occupation gone on the Potomac and the Rapahannock, had 
elected to carry on war on their own account on the St. Law- 
rence and the Welland Canal. Hence our rapid movement to 
Canada. 



CANADIAN LIFE 89 

The whole character of the new scene of service was so novel 
to me, and so fuU of the virility of a youthful people, that it 
would be impossible to give expression to the sense of the 
freshness of life that went with it to us who now beheld it for 
the first time. The approach by the mighty estuary of the 
St. Lawrence River, the gradual drawing in of these great 
shores, the immense width of the stream when it is still six 
hundred miles from the open sea, the varied scenery of lake 
and rapid along the upward course to Ontario, and then that 
beautiful expanse of water itself, all combined to strike the 
mind of the newcomer with the sense of size and majesty 
which is the dominant note of the American continent. 

In boyhood I had read the novels of Fenimore Cooper 
with an intensity of interest never to be known again 
in reading. ' Leather Stocking,' Lucas, Chingaghook, the 
Mohicans, the Hurons, the scenery of the Thousand Islands — 
aU these had been things quite as real to- me in imagination 
as the actual scenes through which we were now passing. 
Only the Indians and the wild animals were wanting. \Miere 
were they ? Gone from this West Canada, but still to be found 
west of the Mississippi and the Missouri, I was told. It was 
now the middle of September. I got three months' leave of 
absence and, in company with another old friend of the Indian 
forest days, started out for the great West. Three days after 
leaving Brantford we were at Omaha, west of the Mississippi. 
Fortune had favoured us. We knew nobody, nobody knew 
us, and yet it was simple truth to say that everybody be- 
friended us. You met a man on board the train going to 
Chicago : he couldn't do enough for you ; he passed you on 
to some other good fellow who knew somebody else five hundred 
or a thousand miles nearer to the setting sun ; and when you 
alighted at the longitude of that particular location, you found 
that man as friendly as though he had been expecting you 
for years. 

This was exactly what happened to us. We struck upon a 
general going west in the Chicago hotel, and he at once offered 
his good services to and at Omaha on the Missouri, where he 
was then stationed. At that period the soldiers of the armies 
of Sherman and Grant seemed to be all either in the West, or 
going there. The new railway to California was just opened 



90 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

to Omaha ; and it was said that a train ran as far over the 
Nebraska prairies as Fort Kearney on the North Platte River, 
three hundred miles west of the Missouri, where the garrison 
of the fort was largely rationed, so far as fresh beef went, upon 
buflfalo-meat. This was indeed news to us, and we set off from 
Chicago in high spirits. When the next evening came we 
crossed the Missouri over a very crank-looking temporary 
wooden bridge to Omaha. We found that city a very lively 
place ; railway navvies, gold-diggers, speculators abounded. 
Shooting went on pretty briskly in the gambling rooms and 
drinking saloons, of which there appeared to be an unlimited 
number. Every man policed himself with a sort of murderous 
solemnity that was most impressive. At one of the principal 
saloons, a day or two before our arrival, a miner had quietly 
drawn a bead upon a man who had just entered and was walking 
up towards the bar. ' WTiat did you shoot him for ? ' asked 
his mate. ' Wall, I just guess that if I hadn't done that he 
might have hurt somebody,' was the plea of justifiable homicide 
entered by this voluntary preserver of the peace. 

Our friend, the Chicago general, called early next day at 
our hotel, and asked us to go with him to the headquarters 
of the command. We went, and were introduced to General 
Augur, a very distmguished officer of the regular army who 
had held high command in the Civil War. Augur was of that 
splendid type of gentleman which West Point has so long given 
to America, and I will venture to hazard the opinion that if 
America keeps her military school at West Point m the future 
as she has kept it in the past, she need not fear that either 
foreign or domestic enemies wiU do her serious harm. West 
Point will give her captains for many wars ; and the class 
to which that ' peace preserver ' belonged, whose peculiar 
methods of disciplme I have already described, will give her 
the rank and file of fighting men. 

The general had already been informed of the object of our 
journey to the West, and he entered warmly into our plans. 
He would telegraph at once to the commandant at Fort 
Kearney as to the whereabouts of buffalo on the Platte prairies, 
and if the answer proved favourable to our hopes he would 
send his aide-de-camp. Captain RusseU, with us to the Fort, 
to smooth difficulties and facilitate our progress. The reply 



A MERRY PARTY GOING WEST 91 

came quickly. Yes ; there were several herds on the prairies 
near Kearney. So the next morning, in company with Captain 
Russell, we took the train for Fort Kearney Station on the 
new Union Pacific Railway. Some other officers and soldiers 
were proceeding west to join garrisons in the Indian districts 
of the Platte and RepubUcan Rivers. We were a very merry 
party. All the officers had served in the Civil War — some 
with Sherman, others with Grant. We had the end of the 
Pullman car to ourselves. 

There was no want of refreshment, and nobody thought of 
retiring to the sleeping compartment until the night was more 
than half over. Storj' followed story. A major of the United 
States Infantry named Burt told the best ; but the general's 
A.D.C. was a good second. I remember one of these stories 
which had a touch of historical interest in it. 

General Grant was carrj^ing out on the Mississippi, previous 
to the battle of Shiloh, one of the most hazardous operations 
known in war — crossing his army from one shore to the other, 
within striking distance of his enemy on the farther shore. 
He had only three river steamers to ferry his troops over. On 
the third day the operation was almost completed, and the 
general and his staff were on horseback on the enemy's side of 
the Mississippi, watching the passage of the rearmost battalions 
in the three steamboats. Grant sat his horse, silently smok- 
ing a large cigar, which he rolled a good deal between his 
lips. A staff officer in the group happened to observe that 
if they were licked in the next day or two they would want 
more transport to take the army back to where it had come 
from than those three httle boats could give them. Rumour 
said that the general had consumed a good deal of Bourbon 
whisky that day, as was his wont at the time, I have heard ; 
but be that as it may, it did not unlock his lips ; he continued 
to roll and bite the big cigar in grim silence. The staff officer 
repeated his observation about the scantiness of transport. 
After a bit the general seemed to have become aware that 
somebody had spoken, and that he was himself expected to 
say something in reply. Then the big cigar rolled quicker 
than before, and from the compressed lips the remark issued, 
' Guess them three boats wiU be enough to take back what 's 
left if I 'm hcked to-morrow ! ' 



92 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

We reached Kearney Station as day was breaking, and found 
a six-team army mule- waggon awaiting us. The fort was still 
some six miles from the railway, and on the other side of the 
Platte River. Things were soon fixed up, and away we went 
across a prairie as level as a billiard- table, just as the light was 
making the surrounding scene visible. Here was the mystic 
word ' prairie ' at last a veritable reality. Since my early 
boyhood that word had meant to me everything that was 
possible in the breathing, seeing, and grasping of freedom. 

We came suddenly to the Platte River, a huge, sandy bed 
more than a mile in width, wdth several streams running through 
portions of it. A mile from the south bank stood Fort Kearney. 

The sun was now on the horizon, and the mists were lifting. 
As we approached the wooden palisades of the fort, we saw 
two big black objects standing on the prairie about a thousand 
yards on one side of the buildings. Buffalo ? Yes, there they 
were. Another mmute, and we were drawn up at the door 
of the commandant's house m Fort Kearney. He was at the 
door to give us welcome, in full uniform, and with a broad- 
brimmed, steeple-crowned hat on his head ; and a very cheery 
welcome it was. 

' Colonel,' he said to me, * these early Fall mornings have 
chills in them ; we have some medicme here which we find 
very effective against Platte fever.' A large bowl of hot 
Bourbon whisky egg-flip was on the table, and he ladled 
us tumblers of this fever-kiher all round. The commandant 
was one of the most typical American figures possible to 
imagine — tall, thin, gaunt, wrinkled many years in advance 
of his age, he might have stood as the model for a picture of a 
primitive New England Puritan in the second generation from 
the Mayflower. Every now and then there came some word 
into his speech giving at first rather a shock to any ideas 
of complete Puritanic perfection, which his outward semblance 
and strong nasal utterance might have occasioned. He 
belonged to the 18th Regiment of Infantry. He had been 
many things in his time. He had run a newspaper in Pitts- 
burg, made three sections of the Indiana and Memphis Railway, 
had kept a store in Lake Street, Chicago, had fought the 
Confederates for three years as a volunteer colonel, had been 
in as many general actions as the Duke of WeUington, and 



SIGHTING THE BUFFALO HERD 93 

when the Northern army was reduced at the end of the war, 
he contentedly accepted a lieutenancy in the regular service 
of the United States. England must have seen many men 
of his type in the army that was drawn up on Blackheath as 
Charles the Second rode past to London in 1660. 

The sight of the two big buffalo bulls within a mile of the fort 
was so strong in our minds, that we proposed to proceed at 
once in pursuit of them. This proposal for immediate action 
before breakfast seemed to tickle his fancy. He at once 
abandoned Salem mannerisms, and descended into congre- 
gational colloquialisms. ' Boys,' he said, bringing us down 
with a run to our proper levels from previous field rank, ' Boys, 
don't you trouble about them darned two bull-buffaloes. We '11 
have breakfast in half an hour, the horses will be ready at 
nine o'clock, the shooting irons all fixed up, and we '11 have 
the hull day for the buffalo.' He was right. There was plenty 
of time and plenty of buffalo before us. 

We set out shortly after nine — the old commandant leading 
— six or seven men on ragged-looking but very serviceable 
American army horses. The course taken led across the dead 
level prairie which surrounded the fort towards a low line of 
sandy ridges due south. Our two bulls had vanished. Nothing 
but our own seven or eight horses moved within the wide 
circle of our vision. 

We were now at the foot of the sandy ridge, and five or six 
miles from the fort. The commandant stopped. ' Colonel,' 
he said, again revertmg to service form, ' Colonel, ride up that 
slope ; before you get quite to the top of it take some place 
where grass is growing, so as to let you look over without 
showing your heads ; get the shooting irons ready, and then 
I give the word "go." ' 

We did as he directed, approached the top of the hill cauti- 
ously, and looked over. Before or since I never saw the equal 
of that sight, and, what is more, no man can ever see it again. 
The ridge on which we rode dropped down at the far side 
into a prairie that quite dwarfed that over which we had come ; 
but the sight that struck us with astonishment was not the 
vastness of the scene, but the immensity of the animal life 
that covered it. From a spot three or four hundred yards 
from where we stood, far off to a remote horizon where sky 



94 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

and prairie came together on a line that was visible to us only 
by the small black specks of life that were on it, a vast herd 
of grazing buffaloes stretched away to the south ; huge animals 
in the foreground, gradually lessening in size as the middle 
distance was reached, and then dwindling down into the faint 
specks I have spoken of. A rifle bullet might have reached 
the nearest of the herd ; two hours' hard riding would not have 
carried you to the farthest animal where the earth limit was 
a line of buffalo backs. The commandant gave the word, and 
over the top of the hill we went spreading out to right and left, 
as we rode down the other side. The mass of animals was so 
vast that there was no picking or choosing of group or ground. 

It was strange to see the wave of alarm pass from the edge 
of the vast herd that was nearest to us, on through the mass 
itself. The buffalo has (or we should say had, for he is now 
practically an extinct animal) a way of throwing himself away 
to the right or left from the heavy forepart of his body, pivoting 
as it were on his fore legs, and swinging the remainder of his 
body to either side. In an incredibly short space of time the 
part of the herd we could see was in motion straight away 
from our advance, ploughing at full gallop over the prairie. 
It was now a case of each man for himself. I was soon 
at the heels of a very big old bull, tearing at full gallop 
after him. The commandant had given us each a short and 
handy Spencer carbine, the then cavalry arm in the United 
States Army. It loaded through the butt, by an action of the 
trigger guard ; the magazine held seven cartridges ; and as the 
process of reloading was easily effected in the saddle, it formed 
a very handy weapon in attack, pursuit, or retreat. All these 
a buffalo hunt afforded. 

When my particular bull found that he was outpaced, he 
began to swing from side to side in his gallop, so as to eye his 
pursuer first from one eye and then from the other. I took 
advantage of one of these side surges to give him a shot, the 
only effect of which was that he planted his forefeet well in 
the hght soil of the prairie, and pivoting as I have said, swung 
round upon me in a second. It was now my turn to fly and 
his to pursue ; but again finding I had ' the legs of him,' he 
swerved again and made off after the still flj'ing herd. It was 
some little time before I caught him up again and got a second 



THE AMERICAN TYPE 95 

shot at him, and again came the same tactics and the same 
result. At last, after a couple of miles had been run, and some 
four or five shots fired, he turned for the last time, pawed the 
ground, bellowed, and fell on his knees to the ground. 

I had now time to look around ; a change had come upon 
the scene in that two-mile gallop. ^ly companions were not 
visible on any side. The great herd was still careering south, 
and from out its dust came the sounds of a few distant shots. 
I continued the pursuit, and soon came up again with the 
nearest animals. They were all bulls — some old, some young. 
The same firing, charge, and pursuit were again enacted, and 
another big buU was on the ground. The tail and the tongue 
were taken, one as a trophy, the other for the table, and again 
the chase went on southwards ; then fatigue of horse and man 
called a halt, and after a rest one turned back towards the 
north to look for the ridge from which the fort would be visible. 
Some of our party came together at the ridge, others turned 
up singly, and in the evening we were all united at the fort. 

At this time Nebraska was still a Territory of the United 
States. Settlement had not yet penetrated into these great 
wilds. Indians and buffalo were still numerous ; and the line 
of forts from the Missouri westward was maintained for the 
protection of the line of real conquest, the railwaj^ which had 
now reached this central spot of the United States on its 
progress to the Pacific. The four years' Civil War had arrested 
for a time the opening up of this vast region, and now the wave 
of settlement was in motion again, with a force, a directness, 
an energy, and, I might add, a sense of empire, to aU of which 
the long and costly war seemed only to have added strength 
and power. 

What impressed me most strangely about the men I now 
came in contact with was the uniformity of the type which 
America was producing — ^northern, southern, eastern, western, 
miner, hotel-keeper, steamboat-man, raihoad-man, soldier, 
officer, general, — the mould was the same. ' There has got 
to be ' seemed to be the favourite formula of speech among 
them all, whether it was the setting up of a saloon, the bridging 
of a river, or the creation of a new State. ' There has got to 
be ' this railway, this drinking bar, this city, this State of the 
Union. Nobody dreamt, except when he slept ; everybody 



96 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

acted while he was awake. They drank a good deal, but you 
seldom saw a man drunk, and you never saw anybody dead 
drunk. They sometunes shot each other, they never abused 
each other ; they were generous, open-hearted, full of a dry 
humour, as manly as men could be ; rough, but not rude ; 
civil, but never servile ; proud of their country and boastful 
of it and of themselves. That day and evening, and all the 
other days and evenings I spent at Fort Kearney, were the 
same — good fellowship, good stories round the festive board 
at night, hard riding and hunting aU day over the glorious 
prairies. 

The accommodation of the fort was limited, and we four 
visitors had one room for sleeping in. At about six o'clock 
every mornmg the fort doctor used to enter this room with a 
demijohn of Bourbon whisky on his shoulder, from which he 
poured four doses of ' medicine ' for the guests. ' It will wake 
you, boys,' he would say ; and sometimes when his gait was not 
quite as steady as it had been previous to the dinner-hour of 
the evening before, he would lurch forward a little while he 
was preparing to pour the prescription into a tumbler, and 
send a liberal dose of it over the bed-clothes. ' It will do you 
no harm, boys,' he would then say ; ' it 's good outside 
and inside.' Later in the day he compounded several other 
draughts from his demijohns, the secrets of which he told us 
he had discovered when he served on the Upper Mississippi ; 
but I do not remember to have ever detected the flavour of 
that or of any other water in any of these many compounds. 

Before returning to the Missouri we visited North Platte, 
the extreme point to which the Pacific Railway then ran. 
Civilisation, as it moves west, is compelled to halt at intervals, 
rest itself, and collect its stragglers before it moves on again. 
The construction of the line was proceedmg at the rate of four 
miles a day, so the termmal station was constantly moving on, 
and the strangest part of this condition of movement was the 
effect it had upon the motley crowd of saloon society which 
had congregated to supply the wants of the army of navvies, 
constructors, engineers, etc., at work at this point. These 
people moved like the baggage carriers of an Indian column, 
carrying on their own backs, in waggons, or on the backs of 
animals the household gods (or demons) of their various trades. 



THE COMING CHANGE 97 

At North Platte we found a distinguished officer of the army 
in command, Colonel Dodge, one of the foremost frontier men 
of his time, and the descendant of officers who had prepared the 
road for the army of settlement in the West. He was a mighty 
hunter too, and had killed every variety of big game from the 
Rocky Mountains to the Missouri. We told him of the week's 
hunting we had had on the Platte prairies. More than thirty 
buffalo bulls had been shot by us, and I could not but feel 
some qualms of conscience at the thought of the destruction 
of so much animal life ; but Colonel Dodge held different views. 
* Kill every buffalo you can,' he said ; ' every buffalo dead is 
an Indian gone.' It sounded hard then, and it seems hard 
now ; but seven years after this time I crossed by railway 
from California to New York, and looking out at this same 
Platte valley I saw it a smilmg plain of farms, waving crops, 
and neat homesteads. The hungry crowd from overcharged 
Europe had surged into settlement over the old buffalo pastures 
of the Platte. ' Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit 
the earth.' It was right. These Crows, Cheyennes, Sioux, 
and Blackfeet Indians were no doubt splendid hunters, and 
fierce raiders, and crafty foemen, but no man could say they 
were meek. 



CHAPTER VII 

A new conception of life. In charge of the ' Look Outs.' Montreal and 
Quebec. Home. Father's death. A hopeless outlook in the army. 

We were back in Omaha again. I was the paymaster of the 
party, and carried the purse. It was Hterally a bag bulky 
and weighty with greenbacks and a depreciated silver currency 
at that time used in the States. To avoid the dual dangers 
of carrying it with one in this rowdiest of Western cities, and 
of leaving it in one's trunk in the hotel, I tried a middle course 
one evening by concealing the bag inside a large shooting boot 
placed casually in the trunk. Then we went out with our 
United States Army friends to do the sights of Omaha. It 
was late when we got back to the hotel, and I was tired and 
sleepy. Before getting into bed, I bethought me of having 
my boots cleaned, and never thinking of the bag of money 
hidden in one of them, I took the boots from the trunk and 
put them outside ray door in the passage. Next morning I 
awoke to an instant consciousness of what I had done. To 
make certain, I sprang out of bed and went to the trunk : 
there were no boots in it. ' Molloj^' I said to my room com- 
panion, ' we are ruined ; we have no money, I have lost 
the purse.' Then I opened the door and looked out : there 
stood the boots cleaned. It was not always a certainty that 
you would find them thus poHshed ; but unfortunately, as it 
seemed to me, on this occasion the negro boot-boy had come 
along in the night and done his duty. I stooped down ; the 
bag was in the boot ; but was there anything in the bag ? 
That was the question. ' Molloy,' I said to my friend, ' the 
bag is still in the boot ' ; but here I stopped, because the poor 
fellow was leaning on his elbow, just awake, and regarding me 
with an expression of face that plainlj'-; told me he thought 
I was quite mad. I opened the bag. Out came the bundle 
of greenbacks, out came the depreciated dollars and other 

98 



THE MAINE LIQUOR LAW 99 

currency ; all there untouched to the last ' red cent.' I had 
scarcely finished countmg the money when the door opened 
and a wooUy-headed black appeared. ' Boots ! ' he ejaculated 
in a frightened manner, and then vanished. That much 
elucidation of the mystery I got, and no more. The only 
explanation I could arrive at afterwards was that some youth- 
ful understudy in the blacking business of the hotel had got 
the boots in the first instance, and finding the bag of dollars 
in the boot when he was cleaning it, had been frightened at the 
discovery, and thought it better to replace them at the room 
door as if nothing unusual had been discovered ; that, later 
on in the morning, he had related his strange experience to the 
head boss black bootblack ; and that that functionary had 
rushed at once to the door of the room where we were, only to 
find the boots inside the door instead of outside, hence his wild 
ejaculation and rapid exit. 

Returning by the route we had come, we had a few days' 
excellent wild-bird shooting in Iowa, and got further experience 
of the settlement of the West in what might be called the second 
line of the army of invasion. Iowa was one of the States 
which had adopted the law known far and wide as the Maine 
Liquor Law. No intoxicating hquors could be bought or 
served within the Hmits of the State except by order of a doctor. 
On the evening of our arrival at the Kttle town of Boone, a 
leading citizen came to visit us. He was friendly and familiar 
from the first, and he made no secret of the object of his visit. 
The prohibition law was a shameful interference with the Uberty 
of the American citizen ; tea was not a beverage upon which 
the hunter could successfully pursue his vocation, and there- 
fore he had come to show us an easy means by which this in- 
justice could be set right, and a door through which access 
might be obtained to the hunter's proper paradise — that door 
being the apothecary's. If we would enter the apothecary's 
shop that evening, ask for a small bottle of Perry's pain-killer, 
he, our visitor, would be in an inner room behind the shop ; 
a prescription would be duly prepared by him, for ' he was a 
member of the medical profession,' and the apothecary would 
do the rest. We would only have to sit round and swallow 
the draughts thus prescribed for us. 

We did as we were told, and soon found ourselves in an inner 



100 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

apartment of the apothecary's residence, in which some eight 
or ten persons were abeady assembled, excellent patients all 
of them ; they took their physic without a wrj'- face. Instead 
of the bottle's being shaken before it was taken, it was the 
patient who underwent the shaking process, in repeated con- 
vulsions of laughter, after he had swallowed the compound. 

As at Omaha, we found that the high rank with which we 
had been invested upon our arrival soon underwent reduction. 
We were all colonels, some of us even generals, at the commence- 
ment of the examination and when the prescription was being 
written ; but when we had paid our fees and were about to 
quit the professional room, our medical adviser whispered, 
' To-morrow evening at the same hour, boys ! ' But we were 
far away to the north after the duck, the wavies, and prairie 
fowl when the next evening came. These men were largely 
ex-soldiers who had served under Grant or Sherman, and who 
had come out West when the war was over. They were very 
fine fellows, despite the little idiosyncrasies and failings to which 
I have aUuded. 

Youth does not concern itself much with tracing back facts 
to causes : it accepts the facts it sees ; the causes can keep. 
\Vhen I look back now upon that tremendous struggle through 
which America passed in the early 'sixties, I can see in it 
many things which were not then visible. It seems to me 
that the back of human nature must always be ridden by some- 
body. Victor Hugo in his breakfast-room thought that these 
riders would eventually be dismounted and driven out : I 
cannot think that hope wDl ever be fulfilled. Meanwhile I 
have come to believe that the soldier is not always the worst 
rider that human society can put into its saddle. 

When we returned to Western Canada, the beautiful season 
known as ' the Fall ' was still in being, and the woods were 
glorious in all the colours of their dying foliage. But that 
was soon over, and November brought fogs and chills from the 
great lakes by which the peninsula of Upper Canada is almost 
surrounded. It would be difficult to picture a more desolate 
scene than the aspect presented by a Canadian half-cleared 
forest landscape when the leaves are gone and the snow has 
not yet come. Gloom has followed close upon the heels of 
glory ; the wreck of the forest lies on every side in fallen 



A CANADIAN FOREST 101 

trunks and blackened remnants ; the remaining squares of 
uncut forest trees stand bare and leafless, flinging out great 
ragged branches into the cleared spaces, as though they were 
stretching arms of sorrow over the graves of their fallen com- 
rades. The settler has here fought this forest giant for forty 
years ; the battle is now over ; the newcomer is the victor ; 
but the dead still lie unburied, and the twilight of the coming 
winter is closing upon the battlefield. Here and there, at long 
intervals, the log-shanties of lately arrived immigrants are seen 
interspersed with the more comfortable frame-homesteads of 
the older inhabitants. The fight which has cumbered the 
ground with the dead giants of the forest has at least given 
to these homesteads a spoil of the finest firewood for defence 
against the rigours of a Canadian winter. At the time I speak 
of, practicable roads were few in this region. They were of 
three kinds — ' gravel,' ' corduroy,' and ' concession ' roads, the 
latter being only the surface of the ground cleared of wood. 
The corduroy roads were of rough trees laid together over 
swamps and boggy places. The gravel roads were alone 
possible for travel at all seasons. One of these gravel roads 
led from Brantford south-east towards Lake Erie, following 
the high left bank of the Grand River to the little port of 
Maitland. During my absence on the prairies an old veteran. 
Colonel Cotter, who had been in the 69th Regiment sixty-five 
years earher, visited the regiment in Brantford. He lived now 
on the shore of Lake Erie, some forty miles from Brantford. 
He had fought as a captain at Quatre Bras and at Waterloo, 
and had even served in the short war in Travancore (of which 
I have spoken in Chapter iv.) in 1809. I was now engaged 
in completing a history of my regiment, begun at Aldershot 
two years earlier, so I was very anxious to meet this old veteran 
with as little delay as possible. At eighty years of age the 
sand is running out of Life's hour-glass very quickly. I set 
out for Port Maitland. Twenty miles from Brantford a little 
wooden town stood on the north side of the Grand River, 
called Caledonia. At this village settlement a long wooden 
bridge crossed the Grand River, and at the farthest side an 
Indian reserve had been marked off in the forest for the 
remnants of the once powerful Six Nation Tribes, 

I have described at some length the aspect of that particular 



102 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

spot in Western Canada as I saw it in the early winter of 1867. 
I was at that time full of energy, of a boundless desire to do 
something. Nothing tired me, nor damped the ardour that 
was in me ; but a distinct and single purpose of life I had not. 
To go seemed enough ; it did not matter where. Here amid 
the desolate scener}" on the Grand River a new conception of 
life seemed all at once to open before me. I must achieve a 
definite thing. When that resolve is once fixed deep and solid 
in the mind, the opportunity is certain to come. 

I found the old veteran 69th officer in a very dreary domicile 
at Lake Erie. Although he had been so long away from home, 
and was so far removed from those early years of service in 
India and Belgium, his mind was clear and his memory of the 
campaign of Waterloo was most retentive. As we sat that 
night over the fire, he told me of many episodes in those 
famous distant days. He described the rush of the Cuirassiers 
in the rye-field at Quatre Bras, the retreat next day upon 
Waterloo, and the night of rain and mud. * It was so cold,' 
he said, ' and as the ground was ankle-deep in mud, I preferred 
to stand and walk about rather than to lie down. Soon after 
daybreak I was ordered to take my company to the village 
of Waterloo, to mount guard at the inn occupied by the Duke 
of Wellington. As we marched along the front of our line, 
the soldiers were busy drying, cleaning, and snapping off their 
firelocks which had rusted during the night. Arrived at the 
inn I drew up in front, and stood at ease. Presently an 
A.D.C. came out and told me to return to the regiment, as 
the Duke was about to leave his quarters for the field. 
Shortly after I got back the first gun was fired from the 
French position.' 

Many other little episodes he spoke of, the following among 
them. 

When the 69th had formed up in column, a commissariat 
waggon drove up with a supply of rum for issue to the men ; 
and with it came the quartermaster, Matthew Stevens, the 
same man who at St. Vincent, eighteen years earher, had broken 
the stern gallery of the San Nicholas and led the way for 
Nelson to the quarter-deck of the Spanish vessel. When the 
rum was serving out, a round shot struck the waggon and carried 
off the head of a pioneer employed at it. ' Weel noo/ said the 



LIEUTENANT REDVERS BULLER 103 

quartermaster gravely, ' it "s aboot time for a peaceable non- 
combatant like myself to gang awa/ 

It was strange to hear on the shore of Lake Erie in Canada, 
from the lips of this veteran, these old stories of the great 
battle fought on the plains of Belgium fifty-two years earlier. 
But the stories were not all of Waterloo. He described at 
length an encounter forced upon him on his return to his 
native County Cork after Waterloo. Some local hero of duelling 
celebritj- determined to try his mettle at twenty paces, near 
MaUow. The challenge was, of course, accepted, the whole 
countryside flocked to witness the fight, and a field of a couple 
of thousand spectators was ranged in two long lines, extending 
far on either side of the combatants. Shots were exchanged, 
no one was hit, honour was satisfied, and shouts and shillelaghs 
rent the air. 

Cotter had entered the 69th in 1804. Like many other 
officers, he settled in Western Canada after the close of the 
war, and had remained there ever since. 

But the strangest part had to come. Six months after this 
interview, on the 18th June 1868, the old gentleman came to 
see his former regiment, then in London, Canada West ; and 
we put him standing between the colours in the front rank, 
exactly fifty-three years after he had stood in square with them 
at Waterloo. He died a few months later. 

These military settlers had not been happy or fortunate in 
their new homes. The glamour of the forest life, as it appeared 
in the pages of a romance, was a very different thing from 
its actual reahty in the backwoods of the West. The greater 
number of these old soldiers drifted into the towns or came 
back to Europe. Some of them perished miserably in the 
backwoods. 

In the spring of 1868 I was appointed officer in charge of 
the ' Look Out ' on the Canadian frontier, in succession to 
Lieutenant Redvers BuUer of the 60th Rifles, who had held the 
billet for more than a year. Thus began an acquaintance 
which lasted upwards of forty years, and which was destined 
to run through many distant lands and strange scenes. At 
this time Redvers Buller was the best type of the regimental 
officer possible to be found. Young, active, daring, as keen 
for service as he was ready to take the fullest advantage of it, 



104 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

he stood even then in the front rank of those young and ardent 
spirits who might be described as the ruck of army Ufe which 
is waiting to get through. We had met at Brantford during one 
of his monthly visits to the * Look Outs.' These were small, 
detached parties of old and reUable soldiers, selected from the 
regiments in Western Canada, and placed at certain points 
along the frontier for the purpose of intercepting deserters 
to the United States. 

Early in May 1868 I relieved Buller of this frontier duty. 
Needless to say that the work was congenial to me in every 
respect. I had to visit the various posts along the frontier 
once in every month. They were about fifteen in number, 
some in places that could be reached only by road, and in the 
circuit of the whole entailing a round of about fifteen hundred 
miles each month. The circle, which had London as its centre, 
embraced forts on Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and Lake Erie, 
thence inland to Caledonia, and northward to Paris, Stratford, 
and Adelaide. 

Summer was now over the land, and the forest country was 
as beautiful m June as before in November it had been dreary. 
To the west of London great tracts were still in forest, and 
through these the railway ran in a vast avenue, cut deep and 
straight through woods of beech and maple. South of the line 
at a place named Watford, a region known as the Brooke 
Swamp extended for miles. It had the reputation of holding 
deer, and it was said that even a few bears were stiU to be 
found in it. I determined to explore it. In the inn at Watford 
I was directed to the house of an inhabitant who was said to be 
the village sportsman. Yes, he knew the swamp, and he had 
heard of that bear. So we started together next morning. 
In the evening we had reached a log-hut in which a couple 
of lumbermen were at work. We slept there, and spent all the 
next day from morning to night seeking anything we could 
get, and finding neither deer nor bears. In the afternoon 
we happened to meet a soUtary Indian hunter ; my friend 
the village sportsman shook his fist at the lone stranger and 
cursed him. ' What has he done to injure you ? ' I asked. 
' Injure me ! ' he answered, ' the devil will never stop until he 
has killed that bear.' ' But the bear is as much his as it is 
ours,' I said ; ' probably that poor devil's ancestors have 



A PROPOSED SPECULATION 105 

hunted bears in this forest ever since it has been a forest.' 
' Wall, I wouldn't leave a red-skin alive in the land if I had 
my way,' he answered. Here in this Canadian backwood 
as in the prairies of the Platte, twelve hundred miles farther 
west, the sentiment was precisely the same. 

I got back to Watford very tired after this fruitless chase 
of three days, and was glad to find in the little wooden inn 
supper ready. At the table with me there sat a curious- 
looking man of that peculiar type of American known as the 
' down-Easter ' — sharp, determined, of restless eye, straight 
upper lip, and firm-set lower jaw. ' Stranger,' he said, after 
a bit, * you 'ave bin to the Brooke Swamp ; now don't tell me 
'twas arter bars j^'ou were for three days in that darned hole. 
No, sirree, 'twas arter lumber, or petroleum oil, or some other 
fixen, I guess you were. I don't want to go into that thar 
swamp myself, for I 've got a wife and family ; but as sure as 
my name is Horatio Nelson Case, thar 's money in that swamp, 
and you 've bin arter it those three days.' It was with con- 
siderable difficulty that I could persuade my chance companion 
that it was a real live ' bar,' and not a bar of gold I had been 
after ; and then I think the very absurdity of the idea seemed 
to strike him as so original that he quite ' cottoned to me,' as 
being entirely out of his own line in thought and action. He 
first told me every detail of his own life and family — who his 
wife was, the number of children they had, the various occu- 
pations he had filled, and he finally wound up by asking if I 
was disposed to join him in a speculation which would have 
for the theatre of its effort this same swamp of Brooke ? He 
had been told that, back in the swamp, there were fine ridges 
of higher ground which bore heavy timber ; and he was very 
desirous of getting some trustworthy information upon these 
tracts of higher ground. I told him that what he had been told 
was correct ; there were many such ridges well- timbered, where 
the land was as dry as that on which the village stood. This 
seemed to banish the last shred of doubt from his mind. If I 
had had speculative outlooks regarding the swamp, I should 
have kept this knowledge to myseK : I might be a fool, but 
it was clear I was not a knave. He ended by proposing a 
joint partnership in the purchase of some thousand acres in 
the so-caUed swamp. I was to find the money ; he would 



106 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

furnish the brains. I told him I didn't like the arrangement ; 
that it was liable to end in his getting all my money, and in 
my having only a portion of his brains. This seemed to tickle 
his fancy. We exchanged names and addresses, and I left 
Watford at midnight with a large card in my pocket on which 
was printed Horatio Nelson Case, Postmaster, City, Ont. A 
few weeks later I received a letter from Horatio, proposing 
another scheme for my consideration. It was the purchase 
of a square block of forest lying further to the west in the 
neighbourhood of a place called Petrolia, where oil in some 
quantity had already been discovered. Horatio had visited 
this new oil field, and had fixed up in his mind some distinct 
theories about it. The forest was so dense that it was not at 
all easy to determine the general set and direction of the sub- 
terranean oil stream which had been tapped here and there ; 
but his observations had led him to think that the trend of the 
oil was in the direction of this square of forest -land, which he 
proposed to acquire at a cost of eight hundred pounds. Had 
I that sum of money ? No. Not in the least disconcerted 
by this negative, he asked how much I could command. 
Perhaps four hundred. Was there any other officer in the 
regiment who would be willing to put down a similar sum ? 
I went to the ground and saw for myself the correctness of the 
general idea upon which he was working. The well in which 
oil had been struck did seem to follow a rough sort of line 
through the trees. If you stood at one end of the hideous 
line of scaffolding, which marked the mouth of a well, you saw 
that while to the right or left of that line wells were doing little, 
the general continuation of the line had along it more pros- 
perous borings. Our proposed block of two hundred acres 
lay on that line of continuation about a mile deeper in the 
forest. The end of the matter was that another officer joined 
me in this oil venture ; and Horatio Nelson Case, Lieut. W. F. 
Butler, and Ensign Albert P. Wodehouse became the joint 
owners of two hundred acres of forest in the vicinity of Petrolia, 
Ontario, sometime in the early part of 1869, 

Before the purchase could be effected, however, the regiment 
had moved from London to Montreal. My delightful roving 
occupation at the ' Look Out ' was over, and I was once more 
' cribbed, cabined, and confined ' within the limits of a big 



WIDER HORIZONS 107 

city in the depth of a Lower Canadian winter. As soon as I 
could obtain leave, I was back again in Western Canada. 
Horatio was more sanguine than ever. The line of wells in 
which oil had been struck was slowly but steadily drawing 
nearer to our dark block in the forest. Only two other blocks 
of forest-land now intervened between our possession and the 
latest find in the new oil field. The money must be got at once, 
or all our anticipations would be dashed to pieces. 

The tendency to change the stations of our regiment still 
clung to us, and in the spring of 1869, while I was still in the 
West, we were moved from Montreal to Quebec. 

I rejoined at the latter place in June. Two years had not 
elapsed since I had landed there for the first time ; but what a 
change had these few months wrought in the aspect of life to 
my mind ! 

This America was a great mind-stretcher. All these lakes, 
these immense prairies, these deep forests, these rivers of which 
the single lengths are greater than the width of the ocean be- 
tween Canada and Europe ; all the throbbing of the life that one 
saw everywhere, on road and river, in the cities, on the plains ; 
this great march that was ever going on — all seemed to call with 
irresistible voice to throw one's little lot into the movement. 
It all seemed the exact opposite of the profession to which at 
this time I had given ten years of my life. There one seemed 
to be going round in a circle ; here the line of march was 
straight to the west. I had seen a sunset over the prairies of 
Nebraska, and the dream of it was ever in my mind — a great 
golden mist, a big river flowing from it, a dark herd of buffaloes 
slowly moving across the prairie distance to drink at the 
river, and the sun himself seeming to linger above the horizon 
as though he wanted to have a longer look at the glory he had 
made below. 

In my ' Look Out ' wanderings I had frequently to visit a 
little lake — the Blue Lake — which lay in the forest a few miles 
north-west of Brantford. I had a cotton-wood canoe and a 
tent, and with these in possession youth has a * free pass ' 
wherever water flows, or trees grow. The Blue Lake was a 
very beautiful spot ; no one had built above its shores or bored 
beneath them ; the larger forest trees were mostly gone, but 
another growth had sprung up, and the sheet of clear blue 



108 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

winding water lay in as perfect repose and reflection of shore 
and foliage as though no white man had ever placed his burden 
upon the land of Canada. 

I determined to cross the Atlantic ; raise the four hundred 
pounds necessary to begin a partnership with Horatio Nelson 
Case ; and, even if we failed to strike oil, to strike out some 
line in life other than that military one which, so far, seemed 
to lead to nothing. 

I sailed from Quebec early in September in the Moravian. 
We took the northern channel between Newfoundland and 
Labrador, saw lots of icebergs after passing Belleisle, and 
reached Ireland after the usual rough passage. I have sailed 
in many good and bad vessels in my time, but I can truthfully 
declare that I never sailed with a bad sea-captain. I do 
not mean only in the mere sense of his profession ; I mean 
the man himself. He is the very best man this Empire pro- 
duces ; the salt of the sea and the soul of the land are in him. 
He is as superior to the men by whom he is employed as the 
army ofi&cer is better than his departmental chief, and the 
naval officer is above his official admmistrator. These three 
classes of captains stand for the honour of English commerce, 
the fame of England's arms by land, and her naval superiority 
at sea. Men may cozen in the counting-house, be witless at 
the War Office, and play Dreadnoughts or Donnybrook in 
Whitehall ; but if England holds on to her captains by sea 
and land she will pull through in the end. In the Services 
the servants have ever been better than the masters. 

After my arrival at home, I made every effort I could think 
of to prevent what was then looked upon as the worst of pro- 
fessional disasters from happening to me — namely, being pur- 
chased over by junior subalterns for the rank of captain. It 
was useless. At that time I had neither friends at the Horse 
Guards, nor money at the bankers'. My father was in very 
bad health ; my colonel was a complete military nonentity ; 
my captain, once a very able man, was getting softening of 
the brain, and had been obliged to retire from the service. 
Altogether, the outlook was about as hopeless as it could weU 
be ; and to crown the catalogue of misfortune, a long space 
of regimental stagnation in promotion had just broken, and 
many purchase steps in rank were going. 



PARIS IN HER GLORY 109 

With some difficulty I was able, through the kindness of 
relations, to raise the four hundred pounds required by Horatio 
Nelson Case for the purchase of the block of forest-land at 
Petrolia ; but whether that venture was destined to pour oil 
upon the troubled waters of my fortune, or to add yet another 
item to the already long list of professional calamities, had still 
to be proved. 

In the midst of those disappointments I received an urgent 
message from my old captain, then residing in England, to go 
to him. I found him in a deplorable condition of mental 
illness. He who had been a model of all the military virtues, 
a strict disciplinarian, and a most high-minded gentleman, 
was now filled with the wildest delusions. His friends could 
do notliing with him. To relieve the strain upon his family, 
and to try what change of scene would do in his case, it was 
proposed that he and I should go to Paris. We proceeded 
thither. At first everything went well. It was my first visit 
to the French capital, and my poor friend appeared to take 
pleasure in showing the sights to me. In December 1869 
Paris W£is in the meridian hour of her glory ; Baron Haussmann 
had put the finishing touches to the great streets and edifices 
of the Second Empire. I shall never forget the effect of the 
blaze of light which the Place de la Concorde presented as we 
turned mto it on a clear frosty December night, the last of the 
year, an hour after our arrival from dull, grimy, leaden London. 
All the long lines of sparkling streets radiated from this brilliant 
centre ; the Imperial Court was in residence at the Tuileries, 
and the windows of that famous palace shone through the 
leafless trees. 

We turned into the Place Vendome, and stood at last at the 
foot of the Roman column, with all the bronze of Austerlitz 
wreathed round it, and the figure of the great captain dimly 
discernible in the starHght above. To-morrow the first visit 
of daylight would be made to his tomb beyond the river. It 
all seemed so real on that closing night of the old year ; and 
yet aU this panorama of pride and power, seemingly fixed 
and soHd as the earth upon which it stood, had at that moment 
little more than six months' lease of life. 

Less than a year and a half later I was destined to stand 
in this Place de la Concorde again, and to see the palaces in 



no SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

smouldering ashes, the statues rent with cannon-shot, and 
the great column and its mighty figure lying prone in the dust 
of the Place Vendome. But that is anticipating. 

The mental affliction, which seemed at first to have calmed 
down in my poor friend, soon began to show itself again. One 
night we had come back to our hotel in the Rue St. Honore 
from the Porte St. Martin theatre, and had retired to our 
rooms. I occupied a room inside that in which my old captain 
slept. We were speaking to each other through the doorway, 
and some trifling difference of opinion had arisen in our con- 
versation. Suddenly he raised his voice and shouted, ' Now 
I '11 have it out with you for bringing my brother over from 
Cork.' (When his iUness had reached an acute stage a fort- 
night earlier in England, I had thought it necessary to telegraph 
for his only brother, who was in garrison in Ireland.) Then 
1 heard a thud on the floor of the outer room, the door was 
flung open, and in came my old commander, mad with rage, 
and shouting, ' I '11 throw you out of the wmdow.' 

I was a much younger as well as a stronger man, and quickly 
as he had come I was out of bed and on the floor ready for 
him. He came to within a few feet of where I stood, then 
stopped short, rushed to the window, flung it open, crying, 
' I '11 throw myself out.' The drop looked ugly, for we were 
two or three floors up, and the courtyard below was hardly 
visible in dim lamplight. Then he rushed back to his room. 
Next morning he met me as though nothing had happened. 
But I had had enough of the undertaking now : we squared up 
accounts, and I left Paris. A few days later the poor fellow 
got into an altercation with a Frenchman, whom he accused of 
having pushed against him as they were leaving the door of 
some theatre. My friend drew a sword from a cane which he 
carried, and lunged at the Frenchman, who fortunately received 
the blade through his gibus-hat. That matter was settled in 
some way or other ; but a night or two later he joined a demon- 
stration got up by the partisans of the then celebrated Victor 
Noir, and he was promptly arrested by the police and lodged 
in Mazas Prison. He never recovered his right reason. Nearly 
forty years later I had a curious confirmation of the character 
borne by my old commander in his early days. Lord Roberts 
said to me one day, ' You were in the 69th Regiment. You 



FATHER'S DEATH 111 

must have known my old schoolfellow .' ' Yes, sir ; he 

was my captain for ten years.' ' When I went to school at 
Clifton,' continued the commander-in-chief, ' he was the best 
boy in the school. The headmaster said to me when I went 

there, " Follow the example set by . I might talk a long 

time to you, but I could not say more. Do as he does." ' 

When I returned to Ireland I found that my father's health 
had grown worse. Two months later he passed quietly away, 
and we laid him in the old churchyard of Killardrigh, by the 
banks of the river and at the foot of the Galtee mountain, 
both of which he had lived beside and had loved all his long 
life. 

The ruined church at Killardrigh was said to have been 
named after a high king of Ireland, an ' Ard High,' who met his 
death in the seventh century while bathing in the waters of 
the Suir. If the story be true, then a second king among 
men was laid in that lone graveyard in March 1870. 

I had now to return to my regiment in Canada. No '. Look- 
outs ' there, and no outlooks anywhere else. Regimental 
promotion had begun, but it was not for me : the steps were 
all by purchase. I made a last attempt on the Horse Guards, 
and was kindly informed by a very choleric old Peninsular 
MiUtary Secretary, who had a terrible reputation for vocabular 
vehemence to old officers (but whom on this and other occasions 
I found particularly gracious to young ones), that I had not 
a ghost of a chance. Then I sailed for America. 



CHAPTER Vin 

The Red River Expedition. Under Colonel Wolseley. Fenians. The 
purchase system. No step after twelre years' service. Paris. The end 
of the Commune. 

It was not quite correct to say that I had no mihtary outlook 
at this time. There was a remote chance that a disturbance 
which had arisen on the banks of the Red River, in Manitoba, 
might develop into some occasion of active service. The news- 
papers had already announced that regular troops would be 
sent from Canada to Winnipeg in the coming summer. The 
commander of the Uttle expedition, Colonel Wolseley, had been 
named. I had met him once or twice in Montreal, but only 
in the sense in which a subaltern without any record can meet 
a colonel who has a very distinguished one. I sat next him at 
an inspection dinner one evening, and when, in his capacity as 
Chief of the Quartermaster-General's Department in Canada, 
he had called for specimen sketches from regimental ofl&cers in 
order to select men for the Survey Service in Upper Canada, 
I had sent in two drawings, the very indifferent artistic quality 
of which I had endeavoured to compensate for by the geo- 
graphical and historical associations I had connected with 
them. One was a plan of the cantonment in Tonghoo in 
Burmah, the other of the field of Waterloo ; neither had suc- 
ceeded. I was not among the selected surveyors. This, 
however, did not prevent my sending a cable message from 
Ireland when I saw that Colonel Wolseley was named com- 
mander of the expedition to the Red River. Among the many 
vices which the ocean cable has introduced into the world, it 
has at least one virtue — the absent can sometimes be almost 
right. On this occasion my long shot hit its mark, and although 
I did not know that I had struck the target at Ottawa, I fol- 
lowed the shot as soon as possible. The longer the range the 
more likely is it that somebody may rub out the hit before 

112 



COLONEL WOLSELEY 113 

you can get to the marking butt. This, indeed, had ahnost 
happened. Everybody wanted to get on this expedition, 
which, small as it was in numbers, had such an immense 
* beyond ' in it, a beyond into which steam power did not enter, 
where there were no roads, where there were still real live 
Indians and great silent lakes, vast woods and rushing rivers, 
and, more than these, boats and canoes in which brams would 
be at the helm, skill at the prow, and youth and muscle working 
at the oars. 

Travelling via New York, I reached Torontv") just in time to 
find Colonel Wolseley still there. He was to start for Lake 
Superior the following day ; all the staff officers had been ap- 
pointed ; there was ' no berth vacant,' he said. I suggested 
one : that of an Intelligence officer who, travelling through the 
United States, might perhaps be able to get to the column in 
some part of the last three hundred of the six hundred miles 
lying between Lake Superior and the Red River. He caught 
at the idea, directed me to proceed to Montreal at once, and see 
General Lindsay there, adding that he would write that night 
to him. 

At this time Colonel Wolseley was in the prime of manhood, 
somewhat under middle height, of weU-knit, well-proportioned 
figure ; handsome, clean-cut features, a broad and loity fore- 
head over which brown chestnut hair closely curled ; exceed- 
ingly sharp, penetratmg blue eyes, from one of which the 
bursting of a shell in the trenches at Sebastopol had extin- 
guished sight without in the least lessening the fire that shot 
through it from what was the best and most briUiant brain 
I ever met in the British army. He was possessed of a courage 
equal to his brain power. It could be neither daunted nor 
subdued. His body had been mauled and smashed many 
times. In Burmah a gingall bullet fired within thirty yards 
of him had torn his thigh into shreds ; in the Crimea a shell 
had smashed his face, and blinded an eye ; but no man who 
rode beside Wolseley in the thirty years of active life in which 
I afterwards knew him could ever have imagined that either 
in his grip of a horse or his glance at a man on a battlefield, 
he had only half the strength and the sight with which he had 
started in life. I never knew him tired, no matter what might 
be the fatigue he underwent. I never knew his eye deceived. 

H 



in SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

no matter how short might be the look it gave at a man or a 
plan. 

I went at once to Montreal, saw that fine soldier, General 
Lindsay, then commanding in Canada, and found him favour- 
able to my proposed appointment, the final sanction for which 
rested with the civil authorities at Ottawa. Meanwhile I was 
to await the answer at Montreal. 

But before it came a strange Uttle event happened. While 
we were all looking out fifteen hundred miles away to the 
north-west, a httle flame of service sprang up, close at our 
doors, fift}^ miles south from Montreal. All through the 24th 
May telegrams were arriving at the headquarters office from 
places on the Canadian frontier, and over the boundary line, 
from Huntingdon and Hinchinbrook on our side, and from 
Malone and Potsdam Junction on the other side, announcing 
the arrival of bodies of armed men at, or near, the frontier. 
Of course, the numbers given varied, but the fact of the gather- 
ings could not be doubted. The news came from our own 
people near the frontier, and from men in the Fenian ranks 
on the other side, among the latter being a man who years 
later, under the name of Major le Caron, became weU known 
in London at the time of the Pigott Conspiracy. 

The INIiHtary Secretary, Colonel Earle (afterwards killed at 
Kirbekan in the Soudan), sent for me. ' We have ordered your 
regiment up from Quebec. It will arrive here by train to- 
morrow ; you will join it at the railway station, and proceed 
with it to the frontier near Huntingdon." He showed me the 
telegraphic messages received from that quarter. I wired at 
once to my colonel in Quebec that I would meet him at the 
railway next day with a horse ; then I went to a well-known 
keeper of a hvery stable. He had a good saddle-horse — ' the 
Doctor ' by name, a big chestnut animal. I secured this war- 
horse for as many daj^s as might be needed, and was then 
ready for any eventuahty. Later in the day I received a 
telegram from the colonel appointing me Intelligence officer 
to the column, which was to consist of the 69th Regiment, 
and a corps of Canadian mihtia, whose headquarters were in 
the town of Huntingdon, in the neighbourhood of the menaced 
jDoints. 

When the train carrymg the 69th Regiment arrived at the 



AFTER THE FENIANS 115 

Montreal station, I was there to meet it. It was pleasant to 
meet old friends again, for I had been nine months away in 
Europe, and there was much news to hear and to tell. I got 
* the Doctor ' into a waggon ; and the train moved on, after a 
short delay, for Lake St. Francis, on the north shore of which 
it deposited us, bag and baggage. A couple of steamboats 
were here in waiting to ferry us across to the south shore of 
that beautiful lake, and from there the march to Huntingdon 
began. I got ' the Doctor ' off the boat at once, and rode on 
in advance to Huntingdon to gather the latest information at 
that place. The distance was about eight miles, the last two 
before Huntingdon was reached being over a ' corduroy ' 
road through a bad swamp. It was dusk when I got to Hunt- 
ingdon. In the Uttle square of the town I found the militia 
regiment drawn up, ready to march back to Lake St. Francis. 
The staff officer attached to the regiment and the colonel of 
militia had decided upon this retrograde movement in conse- 
quence of reports which had reached them of the enemy's 
movements at Hinchinbrook on the Trout River some six 
or eight miles south, and adjacent to the American frontier. 
1 had arrived at an opportune moment, for a few minutes 
later the regiment would have abandoned Huntmgdon and 
begun its retreat on Lake St. Francis. 

I had known the staff officer at Hythe six years earUer. 
He was very much my senior in rank and service ; but I 
knew that to give up the town of Huntingdon would be a fatal 
mistake, even had there been no regular troops advancing to 
support that position. However, I had to proceed cautiously. I 
was only a subaltern ; the staff officer was a major, and he 
had already seen service. I asked him to come with me a httle 
distance from the parade where we could not be overheard. 
I first got from him the information which had decided him 
to retii'e. It was generally a continuation of the news I had 
heard from the Military Secretary in Montreal on the previous 
day. I find ui an old notebook some of these messages : — 

' To MacEachern, Huntingdon. 

' " Fenians got large reinforcements last night, field-guns and 
ammunition, provisions plentiful, expect fight Wednesday." Another 
message reported : "Seven hundred well-armed men are at hand." 



116 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Another from Malone reported : "150 Fenians here, they leave for 
Trout River." Another from Potsdam stated that " two companies 
Cavahy and three ear-loads of men had arrived there from Rome, 
no fight before Saturday." Another from South Hinchinbrook 
said : " Telegraph operator just said ' good-b3^e.' Fenians close at 
hand, expect to cross frontier to-day." ' 

These reports from different places on the frontier showed 
that Huntingdon was the point aimed at whenever the concen- 
tration near the frontier was sufficient to justify a movement 
over the line ; but it was easy to see also that there was not 
likely to be anj" advance in force for some hours ; and in any case 
it was now night, the 69th would be up in a few hours, and here 
MacEachern and his merry men must remain. It was urged 
that the position at Huntingdon was not a good one, that the 
Seafield swamp, with onlj^ one practicable ' corduroy ' road 
through it, lay immediately in rear of the little town, and that 
the supply of provisions at hand would only suffice for a few 
hours' consumption. These facts were all true, so far as rule 
ran ; but when you put 3^our foot into that ready-made boot 
it is well to have elastic sides to it. 

The regiment was dismissed to their tents, and an hour or 
two later the 69th marched into Huntingdon. Before I turned 
in for the night a big bearded man came to me. ' I have two 
or three chaps here,' he said, ' and we have horses ; we would 
like to ride with you to-morrow to the line, if you 're gwyne 
that way.' I liked the look of the man and his chums, and 
without telling him where I was ' gwyne ' to, I said I would 
meet them there in the market-place at daybreak, three hours 
later. 

A cold mist lay on the land as we rode out of Huntingdon 
at four next morning, taking the main road south. I had the 
old scout and four younger men as companions. After a couple 
of miles we lessened the pace, and began to examine roads 
that led to right or left. It was about six o'clock when we got 
to Hinchinbrook. It was only a cross-roads with three or four 
frame houses ; the mist had lifted, the sun was out, and one 
could see well on either side. The post-office and telegraph 
were closed ; a man came out of one of the houses, and for a 
moment eyed us suspiciously ; but the scout soon made matters 
straight, and we got the news, such as it was. There was a 



ENCOUNTER AT TROUT RIVER 117 

camp of Americans just over the border ; a few of their scouts 
had been here the evening before. The border line was a mile 
and a half farther ou. 

I sent one of the men back with this information, sent two 
more along the right and left roads, and then rode on with the 
old scout to the front. We trotted, but kept on the grass 
border of the road. The country was as green and fresh as the 
end of May could make it ; apple-trees were in blossom, and 
a strip of deep forest on the right was all in leaf. Trout River 
lay at a little distance to the left ; about three-quarters of a 
mile farther on a large hop field crossed the road ; the hops 
were already well up the poles, affording good cover the height 
of a man. We went cautiously through this cover, and still 
more quietly as we approached the boundary line. There was 
a bend in the road before it got to the frontier, and a skirting 
of wood at the bend, then a straight bit which ran direct to the 
line. The road was quite empty for five or six hundred yards 
forward. We rode on to the line. It was marked by a square 
stone set in the earth ; two or three houses stood in trees just 
beyond the boundary on the American side. An early-rising 
inhabitant or two were on foot here, but uoinformation was 
to be gleaned from them. 

Of course, I would not cross the line, and stiU I did not like 
to go back from it without any news, so I waited with the scout, 
looking up the road which ran straight on American territory 
for nearly a mile. Suddenly a body of men marching in 
columns of fours began to wheel out from a cross-road about 
five hundred yards forward, on the right side. They came 
straight for the line, arms at the slope, and the sun bright on 
the ' unbrowned ' barrels of their rifles. I made them out 
roughly to be about two or three hundred. Their appearance 
seemed to put thought and tongue into one of the early in- 
habitants. ' Them 's the boys,' he said. ' I guess you chaps 
had better go back now/ The head of the column was coming 
along at a brisk pace. We took the hint and cantered back 
along the road we had come until we got to the bend I have 
mentioned ; there we pulled up imder cover of the trees and 
waited. Thinking that the advancmg ' boys ' might have 
halted on the line and not entered our territory, I turned my 
horse and walked him round the bend whence I could see 



118 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the road to the frontier. There was no mistake. The ' bo3's ' 
had come along, and were within three hundred yards of me, 
well within our ground. Thej' shouted something, and I saw 
the rifles of the leading fours coming down to the ' ready/ I 
Wheeled ' the Doctor ' on his tracks and galloped round the 
bend, a few bullets going wide through the trees as I went. 
We rode back to Hinchinbrook, and awaited there the arrival 
of our column. It soon arrived. I showed the colonel the 
ground ; there were no men on the near side of the hop field, 
but as I had seen them almost up to that cover, they must be 
there. The river would be on their right, the forest on their 
left ; a front of half a mile lay between the two flanks. We 
went forward as soon as this was explained, the 69th along the 
road and in the fields on either side of it, the militia battalion 
in support, some in the wood. My old compan5% No. 10, led 
the advance. A new captain had it : he had purchased his 
company over mj' head, but we were old and tried friends ; 
besides, I was a free-lance now. and could ride where I liked, 
BO I liked the old soldiers of No. 10, nearlj'- every man of whom 
I knew intimately. 

As we turned into the straight road leading to the hop field, 
I could see that the ' snake ' fences on either side near the 
hops had been taken down and the timbers made into an 
obstacle across the road ; behind this fence a picket of about 
a dozen men stood with rifles in their hands, and to the right 
and left one could catch the glint of barrels here and there in 
the green leaves of the hops. We on the road were about the 
same number as the picket behind the obstacle. It was an 
interesting situation. The road ran quite straight between 
the two parties. We were without cover on it ; the other side 
had partial cover behind the thick timber fence. All the would- 
be combatants, save myself, were on foot ; the chestnut 
' Doctor ' offered a good target in the bright sunshine, which 
was in our faces, I wondered, indeed, why the enemy did 
not give us a volley at three hundred j'^ards, low down the 
straight road ; they must have hit something. ' Mansfield,' 
I said to my friend, ' don't stand on ceremony, but give these 
fellows a voUey at once.' The Sniders were already loaded, 
and off they went in six seconds. There was a lot of powder 
smoke ui those days, and plenty of scattered shooting followed 



JOURNEY INTO THE WEST 119 

this opening, and we all ran forward, loading and fixing bayonets 
as we went. When we reached the wooden obstacle not a man 
was behind it, and we raced through it, firing and cheering. 
In a few minutes we were again at the boundary line : the 
battle (!) of Trout River was over. We had no one killed or 
wounded ; the enemy lost one man, it was said, and Colonel 
MacEachern's braves had come upon an old Fenian lying in 
a hole in the forest. Some United States troops appeared 
next day to pohce their frontier, and send the scattered bands 
of raiders back to their several cities. I had some long rides 
with the scout to the west of Trout River, where other bands 
of raiders had been reported, but they, too, had vanished ; 
and then we marched back to Montreal. I said good-bj^e to 
the scout with real regret ; he was a splendid fellow. A short 
time afterwards he sent me a letter with his photograph, which 
I still have. He signed the letter, ' Yours until Death, The 
Scout.' In the photograph he is depicted in baggy civilian 
Canadian clothes, with many pockets ; he has a large bushy 
beard and a big, broad-brimmed, brown straw hat. In his 
right hand he holds a large cavalry sword, m his left a pipe ; 
the butt of a revolver is visible out of one of his many pockets. 
I hope I may meet him in the next world. What splendid men 
I have met along the thin track of my path in life ! I should 
have liked to listen to the scout telling of these three or four 
days' rough-riding in after years. Once only did I meet any 
one who knew of Trout River. It was in a haircutter's shop 
near the Haymarket. After the manner of his profession the 
barber was extremely communicative. He had had a brother 
in the 69th Regiment, but he had suffered so much in Canada 
in the war there that he was never any good again. ' ^Vhat 
war was it ? ' I asked. * The war of Trout River,' he answered ; 
and then the details followed. ' The men had no food, they 
lay for days and days in the forest, until they had to eat their 
blankets.' I laughed so much that he suspended his operations 
to stare at my reflection in the glass. There are manj^ wslyf- 
of writing history. 

I went to Quebec with my regiment, and waited for the reply 
to the letter sent to Ottawa. It came on 7th June, and on 
the 8th I began a long journey into the West. 

There was one old friend to whom I had to wish good-bye. 



120 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

however, before starting — Private Henry Connors of the 69th 
Regiment. Before leaving Fermoy ten years earUer, Recruit 
Henry Connors had been confided specially to my care by an 
old couple who had come from Cork to see their son ere the 
draft sailed for Burmah. From that time forward Private 
Connors had been my servant. No more faithful heart ever 
beat in body of man or master. He had always been dehcate 
with lung trouble, and he was now d3'^ing in the regimental 
hospital in Quebec. He died while I was in the West, and 
when I came back I put a small stone over his nameless grave 
in the military graveyard which was then outside the walls 
on the historic Plains of x^ibraham. The dust of many other 
good soldiers must have been there. I had cut on the stone 
his name and regiment, and underneath : — 

HIS master's friend 
HIS friend's servant 

It wasn't much, but it was true, and the meaning of the words 
had memories in them that went through many distant lands. 
It would be blasphemy to doubt of heaven while such souls 
are found on earth. 

I have told the story of the next ten months of my life in 
another book,^ and I shall pass over that interval now, though 
there were many things omitted from the old narrative which 
might be of interest to readers of to-day, for the things seen 
then, or their kind, are no more to be looked at by the eye of 
man. We know that the old dodo wasn't thought much of 
when he was found flopping and flapping about, four himdred 
years ago ; in fact, his early discoverers called him the ' Silly.' 
How people would flock to see him if he were on view in the 
Zoological Gardens to-day ! Every egg would be worth a 
thousand guineas. But I have a long road in front, and I 
must get along it before the Hght fails. 

At the time of the Red River Expedition it took three 
months to get from Quebec to the Rocky Moimtains. It took 
me more than two months to return by dog-sled over the snow 
from the Rocky Mountain House of the Hudson Bay Com- 
pany to Winnipeg alone. You can do the distance from 

^ Tht Great Lone Land. (E. B.) 



THE NORTH-WEST AS IT WAS 121 

Quebec to the mountains now in three days. I left Quebec in 
Jime, and reached the mountains in December, but there were 
many side journeys made by canoe and horse and stage-coach 
in the interval. 

On the return journey to Canada it required a whole fort- 
night to get from Winnipeg to St. Paul's, Minnesota. You 
can do it now in fifteen hours. And yet that is the least part 
of the change which these fort}' years have wrought. Winni- 
peg, now a huge city, was then a village of thirty houses and 
perhaps a hundred and fifty inhabitants. A dozen cities have 
sprung into existence where buffalo roamed and Indians warred 
in that day. Railways traverse the land in all directions, 
and the output of grain to Europe is enormous. I open the 
report which I wrote when I got back to Fort Garrj% by desire 
of that admirable man, Mr. Adams Archibald, Manitoba's first 
governor, and this is what I find in the concluding paragraph 
of that lengthy document : — 

' These, Sir, are the' views which I have formed upon the whole 
question of the existing state of affairs in the Saskatchewan. They 
result from the thought and experience of many long days of travel 
through a large portion of the region to which they have reference. 
If I were asked from what point of view I have looked upon the 
question, I would answer : From that point which sees a vast 
country lying, as it were, silently awaiting the approach of the 
immense wave of human life which rolls unceasingly from Europe 
to America. Far off as lie the regions of the Saskatchewan from 
the Atlantic seaboard on which that wave is thrown, remote as 
are the fertile glades which fringe the eastern slopes of the Rocky 
Mountains, still that wave of human life is destined to reach these 
beautiful solitudes and to convert the wild luxuriance of their no\N' 
useless vegetation into all the requirements of civiHsed existence. 

' And if it be matter of desire that across this immense continent 
— resting upon the two greatest oceans of the world — a powerful 
nation should arise, with the strength and the manhood which race, 
climate, and tradition would assign to it ; a nation which would 
look with no evil eye upon the old Mother-land from whence it 
sprang ; a nation which, having no bitter memories to recall, would 
have no idle prejudices to perpetuate, then surely it is worthy of 
all toil of hand and brain on the part of those who to-day rule, 
that this great link in the chain of such a future nationality should 
no longer remain undeveloped, a prey to the conflicts of savage 



122 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

races, afe once the garden and the wilderness of the Central 
Continent. 

•W. F. Butler, 
' Lieutenant, 69th Regt. 

' Manitoba, lOth March 1871.' 

This report handed in, I started for Canada in horse-sleds 
over the snow. It was slow work, not more than twenty 
miles each day. I had as feUow-travellers a gentleman and his 
secretary, who had been sent from the Colonial Office in London 
to Winnipeg to report upon matters there, and an archdeacon, 
on his way to England to collect funds for the Church Mission 
in the new province of Manitoba. We slept each night in the 
cabin of some Red River half-breed settler, laying our blankets 
on the floor in a row, the archdeacon usually having the centre. 
One night, near Pembina, the archdeacon sprang from his 
couch shouting, ' They are putting guns through the window ; 
they are going to fire ! ' A crash of breaking glass seemed to 
confirm his alarm. I caught at the supposed gun barrel. It 
was the tail of a cow. The animal had been rubbing the hind 
part of her person against the small window frame, and her tail 
had broken the window and our sleep together. 

I reached Ottawa, travelling via the United States, in about 
three weeks. My report had been received. It was the wish 
of Governor Archibald that I should return to the North-West, 
officially charged to take in hand the opening up of that vast 
region, carrying into practical effect the principles of Indian 
settlement, the establishment of a police, and the foundation 
of Government stations which I had advocated in mj'^ report. 

I saw the Canadian ministers, Sir John MacDonald, Sir 
George Cartier, Mr. Joseph Howe, Sir Francis Hincks. They 
were highly complimentary, said nice things about the three 
thousand miles' travel in the wilderness, most of it through 
snow and ice, and with the thermometer hovering somewhere 
about the zero of Fahrenheit ; hemmed and hawed when it 
came to Governor Archibald's recommendation as to the 
commandantship of the North- West, and laid particular stress 
upon the letter they were writing to the Colonial and the War 
Offices in London on the subject of my services to Canada 
generally. 

At that time I took the world very much without question- 



BLANK PROFESSIONAL OUTLOOK 123 

Lag its men or motives. Each of these excellent colonial 
ministers had wives, sons, and daughters. An arm}" ofl&cer 
who married a minister's daughter might perchance have been 
a fit and proper person to introduce the benefits of civilisation 
to the Blackfeet Indians on the Western prairies, but if he 
elected to remain in single cussedness in Canada he was pretty 
certain to find himself a black sheep among the ministerial 
flock of aspirants for place, no matter what might have been 
the value of his individual services. 

I found myself almost alone in Canada : the army, with the 
exception of one battalion, had been withdrawn ; my own 69th 
were in Bermuda. The military leave, which had been granted 
to me for the purpose of going out to the Rocky Mountains 
on a civil expedition when the Red River Expedition was over, 
had not yet expired. I determined to go to England. 

Three weeks later I was in London. I received a similar 
charming reception at the Colonial Office from the minister 
of the day. Another letter expressive of ofl&cial approbation 
was written, this time to the Secretary of State for War, in 
relation to my services in North America ; and feeling certain 
that I had now run the elusive quarry, Success, to his last 
haunt, I presented myself once again at the door of the institu- 
tion in Pall Mall, which, perhaps more than any other of its 
kind in the capital of the Empire, might fitly inscribe over its 
portals the best known words of the Inferno. 

The moment was not propitious. The union under the same 
roof of the office of the Commander-in-Chief with that of the 
Secretary of State had just been effected. The dual wheels of 
administration were not numing smoothly, and my unfortunate 
case seemed to be a little bit of grit between them. I must 
pay the memory of His Royal Highness the Commander-in- 
Chief the justice of saying that he did his best with Mr. Cardwell 
to obtain for me an unattached company. I had now twelve 
years' service. I had been five or six times purchased over 
by officers, most of whom were many years junior to me. I 
was told by all those heads of departments, mihtary and civil, 
that I had done the State some service. The reward asked for, 
a half-pay company, did not seem to be a very large act of 
recognition ; nevertheless, the reply came curt and chilling, 
' Mr. Cardwell could not sanction the promotion of Lieutenant 



124 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Butler to an unattached company, an appointment which, if 
now given, would confer purchase rights/ Truly, reason is 
sometimes a two-edged weapon. I who, had there been no 
purchase system, must have been a captain two years ago, 
must now, because they were abolishing the system, suffer 
a further loss of two years before the coveted and acknow- 
ledged step in rank could be given to me. I had, in fact, fallen 
between two stools. The book of the Red River reward was 
closed six months earUer ; the other book could not be opened 
untU purcliase was abolished ! 

Suddenly one morning the Times announced that Paris was 
in flames. 

The news of war between France and Germany first reached 
us on the Winnipeg River in the preceding August, and at 
intervals the remote theatre of our little expedition had caught 
the echoes of these colossal combats in North-Eastern France 
and the investment of Paris. Then as I got farther away 
from all sources of information, and the winter deepened 
over the wilderness, complete silence had ensued ; but on 20th 
February, when I returned to Fort Garry, I find one entry, 
' Heard Capitulation of Paris.' From that day interest seemed 
gone. Now it woke again. 

The gentleman who had been my recent companion from 
Fort Garry to Ottawa was at the Foreign OflBce. I went at 
once there and told him what I wanted — a, passport for Paris 
as soon as possible. ' You know Voltaire's saying,' he an- 
swered, ' " Tigers and Monkeys " ? You wiU fuid the " tiger " 
fit on now. I would not go if I were you.' I pressed my 
request, got the passport, and that evening took the mail-train 
from Charing Cross to Dover. 

Dayhght comes early in the end of May. The opening of 
the carriage door at Abbeville roused me from sleep ; a soldier 
with a pickelhmibe on his head was in the carriage ; a Prussian 
guard was on the station platform ; passports were scrutinised, 
and passengers compared with them, and then we went on 
again. It was j^et quite early when we reached St. Denis, 
the extreme point to which the train ran. More Prussian 
guards and soldiers everywhere. No use in asking ; there 
we must remain. The ifitat-Major would not be open until 
eight o'clock. Another man who had come from London for- 



PARIS SEEN IN FLAMES 125 

gathered with me at the station, and we sought breakfast 
together. Then came the ]Stat-Major. My companion spoke 
French with facility ; he was of the Law, and the ways of the 
Army were utterly unknown to him. Between us we made 
an excellent unit for dealing with a state of siege. 

We were ushered in before a big bearded man, a Bavarian 
staff officer of high rank. My companion spoke ; I prompted. 
The commandant was very civil and very firm. Into Paris 
we could not go, but we were free to ascend to the top of 
the abbej'^ tower of St. Denis, and see Paris from that lofty 
standpoint. We got passes for the abbey, and went to it. 
From the place in front we could hear the boom of heavy guns 
in the direction of Paris, but the church hid the view to the 
south. We were soon at the top of the tower. One scarcely 
noticed eight or ten officers who were already on the leads, 
so wonderful was the panorama that burst upon us. All Paris 
lay there, from Mont Valerien on the west to Vincennes on the 
east, and all Paris apparently burning. A great pall of black 
smoke hung high over the centre of the city, fed and supported 
by eight tall pillars of flame and smoke, which rose straight 
through the calm sunlit atmosphere of a May morning. From 
the rounded summit of Montmartre on our right front a battery 
of heavy guns was firing steadily across the middle distance 
in the direction of the Buttes de Chaumont, Belleville, and 
Pere la Chaise on our left as we looked due south. From 
another point on that left front, apparently the Pare des 
Buttes de Chaumont, a battery of the Communist army was 
replying to the guns on Montmartre. The shells were making 
great arcs, the trail of their flight made visible by the smoke 
of the fuses. 

Under the curves of this cannonade the domes and towers 
of the northern half of Paris were visible, and some even to 
the south of the river. The fires seemed to be in the centre 
of the city, in the region of St. Eustache, the Tuileries and 
Louvre, and the Hotel de Ville. 

From the Prussian officers on the tower we could get but little 
information. The Versaillais troops had entered Paris on its 
western side three or four days earlier ; there had been heavy 
firing all that time, and the progress from west to east had been 
slow but steady. They were now at Montmartre on one side, 



126 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

and beyond the Pantheon on the other. The * Reds ' had 
retired to the north-east extremities of the city, and they 
appeared to be making a last stand from La Villette to Pere la 
Chaise. Fires had been raging for three days and nights ; 
many great monuments had been destroyed. 

What a strange sight this was ! Assuredly St. Denis in all 
its history from the days of Dagobert had never seen its equal. 
German officers watching the bombardment of Paris by France, 
smoking, spitting, and laughing as they watched ! 

One had now time to look to other points of the great circle 
that lay around this lofty tower. There underneath to the north 
was the battered fort of La Briche, which had suffered so much 
from the Prussian batteries beyond ; two or three miles to 
the east was the village of Le Bourget, the scene of terrible 
fighting a couple of months earlier. The old abbey where 
we stood had many scars and wounds to show. Shells fired 
high over La Briche from two Prussian siege batteries had met 
here before they went to earth ; the roof was pierced in several 
places ; the tower on which we stood had been hit ; and a 
shell had taken the head from the big stone statue of St. Denis 
on the centre of the high roof. 

We descended the long flights of steps to the great square 
beneath the pavement of which lie in a common grave all the 
dust of old royal France. Were the Germans on the tower 
above, and the scene upon which they stolidly looked, the 
punishments for that outrage of seventy-eight years earlier ? It 
seemed to us that we had been looking at the death of France. 

There was nothing more to be done in St. Denis. Could we 
get by any means to Versailles ? Yes, an omnibus ran there 
daily, but one must have a pass to go by it. We went again 
to the fitat-Major, got the pass after another inspection of 
passports, mounted the roof of the omnibus, and waited for 
the start. It was not yet midday. All that long afternoon 
we trundled along a roundabout way to Versailles, keeping 
between two great loops of the Seine, and finally crossing that 
river on a ferry-boat near Bougival. At this place we passed 
from the German to the French lines. All the bridges had been 
broken ; the fields looked dishevelled and the houses tattered, 
for the big guns on Valerien had often reached them during the 
winter just over. 



ATTEMPT TO ENTER PARIS 127 

It was interesting to note, along the twelve or fifteen miles 
of our journey, the facility which this river of many windings 
had given the Germans for investing Paris on her western side. 
Break the bridges, watch well, and sit tight on the farther 
bank of the river — ^nothing more was necessary there, from St. 
Denis on the north to Bougival on the south. 

We reached Versailles at dusk. My companion knew a 
compatriot, the correspondent of a leading London journal. 
We made out his inn and found him playing at billiards. ' You 
have not the smallest chance,' he said, ' of getting into Paris : 
awful work is going on there. The strictest watch is kept to 
prevent strangers entering at the Point du Jour, the only gate 
now open ; a special pass signed by the general is necessary. 
Half Paris is burning, and news has just come that the Arch- 
bishop and some forty priests have been shot by the Com- 
munists.' He directed us to where we could find sofas for 
the night, and with that we had to be satisfied. Nevertheless, 
I determined to have a try for Paris next morning. 

The Versailles omnibus was like an ant whose road is cut ; 
the ant runs as far as the cut and back again. The bus was 
doing this at Versailles, running to the Point du Jour, and 
then coming back again. I got on the top of this conveyance 
next morning. My quondam companion did not come. We 
reached the Versailles end of the Point du Jour in the forenoon ; 
the bus stopped ; I took up my knapsack and began to cross 
the bridge. There was a guard at the farther end. The 
sentinels stopped me. An officer appeared ; I presented my 
passport. He read it, turned it upside down, shook his head, 
and went back to his room. I put my knapsack down, and 
sat upon it with my back to the battlement. I thought that 
by this show of resigned acceptation to military authority I 
might thaw the military mind, but it had no effect. Presently 
a portly person came from the other, or Paris, side of the 
bridge. His passes were examined ; the omnibus was pre- 
paring to start back for Versailles, and he was going there. 
I took up my bag and ascended the vehicle with reluctance. 
Presently I addressed the portly man in the worst French. 
He replied in the best English. We forgathered. We found 
a link in a mutual knowledge of a distinguished Frenchman 
of that time who had resided m Ireland for many years — 



128 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Monsieur le Comte de Jarnac. M. D'Arcy (for that was my 
companion's name) was an Orleanist whose normal residence 
was in London. He possessed many sources of information, 
and seemed to be able to go where he pleased. He had now 
been in Paris for some days, and he was going to Versailles 
for one night. One confidence led to another. He thought 
he would be able to obtain a pass for me to enter Paris the 
followmg day ; meanwhile there was no place in Versailles 
where he could get a lodging for the night. I thought my 
landlady of the previous evening could manage this for him. 
We dined together in a cafe at Versailles, and then we walked 
out to see the great avenue leading to Paris. The evening was 
as glorious as May in its last week could make it. The three 
great avenues which lead from the open space in front of the 
palace were thronged with people. All kinds of rumours were 
afloat. The ' Reds ' still held Villette and the Buttes de 
Chaumont, but the cordon of the Versailles army was being 
dra^vn closer around them ; great numbers of Communist 
prisoners and many cannon and mitrailleuses had been taken ; 
the loss of life was enormous ; the destruction of property 
was stiU greater. 

Presentlj'' we could see movement and commotion going on 
far down the broad avenue towards Paris. Troops were 
advancing up the roadway between the elm-trees ; a wave of 
shouting and gesticulation accompanied them. The head of 
the column was soon abreast of where we stood — cavalry 
horses and men lean and hungry-] ooking ; faces grimed and 
greasy ; luiiforms dust-covered and worn. Behind these 
came a great straggling band of Communist prisoners, men, 
women, and children, ragged, fierce, powder-marked, streaming 
with perspiration ; such people as I had never seen before, 
and have never seen since ; faces at the last gasp of exhaustion ; 
faces that looked scornfully at the howling mob of bourgeois, 
that shouting, racing crowd which ran under the elms on either 
side and ran out of the cafes, throwing vile epithets over the 
heads of the soldiers. At the end of this dismal column came 
the carts with the wounded. In one of these there sat, bolt 
upright, a woman in the prime of life ; her black hair hung 
loose upon her shoulders, her olive face had a gash across one 
cheek from which the blood was still flowing, her hands were 



AT VERSAILLES 129 

tied behind her back ; two or three wounded men lay at her 
feet helplessly stricken, but had there been a thousand dead 
or dying around her it would not have mattered. It was her 
face that held the eye. I have never forgotten the face and 
figure of that proud, defiant, handsome woman. The cart 
passed with the rest, but I followed it with my eyes while it 
was in sight, and ere it passed into distance I saw the figure 
against the background of the great chateau as the terrible 
cortege filed away into the open space before the palace. 
There it all was, grouped, set, framed, and told as never pen 
could write it, nor picture paint it. Two hundred years of 
French history were there : the great King, the shameless 
Court, the wreck of France. And so, until after sunset, the 
stream flowed on : the dirtj^ ill-horsed dragoons, the cowardly 
crowd along the side-walks, the struggling, shambling masses 
marching in the roadway. Every phase of human age and 
misery was there : white-haired men of seventy, desperado 
boys of sixteen, old battered women, young girls clinging on 
the arms of wild-looking j'ouths — ^all tired, hungry, blood- 
stained — this time the defeated ones in the everlasting strife 
between rich and poor, marching into the twilight. In a pocket- 
book of that time I find these scenes outlined in a few short 
sentences which end with the words : ' What hope ? What 
hope ? ' Then overleaf I read this : ' Everywhere around 
this scene was the beauty of the summer, the scent of leaf and 
flower ; the horse chestnuts and elms were rippling with the 
music of May, the air was filled with the song and chirp of 
birds.' 

That was the eternal answer to my question. If I did not 
hear it then, I know it now. 



CHAPTER IX 

Paris in her agony. Writing The Cheat Lone Land. On half-pay. Bound 
for the Saskatchewan. The lonely journey. Home. Ashanti. With Sir 
Garnet Wolseley again. 

My new-found friend, M. D'Arcy, was as good as his word. 
Next day I attended with him at the ^fitat-Major in the palace 
and passed the scrutmy. We set out again on the onmibus for 
the Point du Jour. One incident occurred on the road, besides 
the passage of captured guns and prisoners, now familiar to 
me since the preceding evening. It was the coming of a strong 
body of cavalry, escorting a carriage in which sat a short man 
with round, owl-eyed spectacles and a general officer in undress 
uniform. We drew up to let this cavalcade go by, and I had 
a good look at the two men in the carriage. They were Mon- 
sieur Thiers and Marshal MacMahon — the chief of the newly 
formed Republic and the commander-in-chief of the French 
armj^ The fighting phase of the war of France against the 
Commune was clearly over. 

When we passed the barrier at the enceinte of Paris, a long 
road lay before us to our destination in the Rue Vivienne. I 
carried my knapsack. My companion was already domiciled 
in the Hotel des ^fitrangers, for which we were bound. There 
were no horses or carriages and very few pedestrians to be 
seen ; patrols, mounted and on foot, were about. We struck 
the Seine somewhere near Auteuil, and followed the right bank 
of the stream for a long distance. Looking up the river 
towards the north of Paris one still saw a bank of smoke, but 
it was nothing Hke what it had been two days before from St. 
Denis. It was dusk when we reached the Place de la Concorde ; 
a long May twUight had light still left to show at least some of 
the devastation that had here been wrought by fire and shell. 
The great offices of State that flanked the Place on its north 
side were all in ruins, roofless, and black with smoke ; masses 

130 



ASPECT OF PARIS IN MAY '71 131 

of charred and burnt papers covered the paved floor of the 
Place, and were blowing in the breeze ; a strong smell of burnt 
stuff filled the air ; the palace of the Corps L6gislatif and the 
buildings on the Quai d'Orsay were black and roofless. Looking 
to the left up the Rue Castighone one saw no column above 
the Place Vendome. But the strangest sight was the Tuileries. 
Nothing remained of that great historic pile but the bare, gaunt 
walls, through the glassless windows of which the glow of 
floors and rafters still burning below cast a deep red glare ; 
the effect in the twihght was like that of lighted candles 
set within a colossal skull. I do not remember having seen a 
single human being in that huge scene of destruction around 
the Place de la Concorde. 

At every entrance along the Rue de Rivoli great barricades 
of stone and timber were standing. The silence of death was 
here. Not a single lamp was lighted. Twilight seemed to be 
closing over an enormous graveyard in which even the tombs 
were ruined. Just seventeen months earUer I had looked at 
this scene ghttering in myriad jets of gas. A turn of the thumb 
and forefinger can put out a good deal of gas. 

We turned into the gardens of the Palais Royal, and here 
at last there was life. It was now quite dark, but two bat- 
taHons of regular soldiers were encamped in the gardens, and 
their supper fires were stOl smouldering. 

There was one old woman in the Hotel des iStrangers, who 
let us in after some debate, and got us some cold salt beef for 
supper. 

I could not enter into the details of the next week, although 
it was a very wonderful week. The days were gloriously fine ; 
I was quick of foot and could go for manj^ hours together 
without tiring. I explored the great city in every direction, and 
I saw many scenes that are not likely to be seen again in our 
time. Morning after morning I started out early, ate and 
drank somewhere, and got back at nightfall to the Rue 
Vivienne. Troops were pourmg into Paris, and the hunt for 
Communists was in full swing ; the barricades were disappear- 
ing ; horses began to show in the thoroughfares again. One 
could follow the routes of the Versailles troops along both sides 
of the river up to Belleville, and tell by the shell marks 
and bullet holes the places where the fiercest resistance had 



132 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

been made. A great stand had taken place in front of the 
Hotel de Ville and along the Une of the Boulevard Sebastopol. 
Great numbers of dead had been hastily buried in the square 
near the tower of St. Jacques, and the warm May sun was making 
the air smell badly. Another stand had been made at the 
Place de la Bastille. Ammunition seemed literally to have been 
poured along the streets in the vicinity of this spot : a tin hat 
suspended over the door of a hatter's shop had six bullets in it. 
At the corner of the Rue Castex and the Rue St. Antoine every 
wall, door, and window was pitted. The column of July had 
a dozen cannon-shots through its base. 

The Hotel de Ville was a scene of the greatest destruction 
I had ever beheld ; everything in it or near it was smashed 
to atoms — the great clock, the wonderful staircase, the statues, 
the bronze railings, the equestrian figures of Liberte, Egalite, 
and Fraternite — all was broken, charred, and brayed into 
bits. 

I went on to Pere Lachaise. Here the last stand had been 
made among the tombs, and it was here that the heavy shell 
fire I had watched from the tower of St. Denis had wrought 
the greatest havoc. Of the great and noble soldiers whose 
graves or monuments are in Pere Lachaise — Ney, MacDonald, 
Suchet, Massena, Kellermann, Foy, Lavalette, and Labedoyere 
— nothing was stirred or injured ; but some at least of the 
stock-jobber and capitalist fraternity — that dynasty which 
seems to have succeeded to the thrones vacated by the old 
despots — had not been so fortunate. The gorgeously vulgar 
mausoleum of Casimir Perrier had been shot into with bullets, 
and the tomb of the Due de Momy had apparently served as an 
eating- table for the ' Red ' soldiers, for there were broken 
loaves of bread and ends of wine bottles on it. 

In the Place de la Concorde the Egyptian obelisk had escaped 
a rain of shells fired from a Versailles battery at the Arc de 
Triomphe, but the statue of Lille was shattered to pieces, its 
head and bust lying on the ground. The winged horses at the 
main entrance to the Tuileries Gardens were wingless, the' 
marble balustrades were knocked about, and the trees and 
asphalt paths and floorings rent and torn with shells. 

To me the pity of it all centred in the column of Austerlitz, 
and its statue lying prone in the dust and litter of the Place 



THE PRISON OF LA ROQUETTE 133 

Vendome. The Prussian shot from the siege batteries of 
Chatillon and Meudon had spared the dome of the Invahdes, 
but Frenchmen had been found base enough to pull down in 
cold blood the bronze pillar made from the cannon of Austerlitz, 
with the statue of the Great Conqueror on its summit. That 
sight hardened my heart to the scenes I was now to witness. 
These were the hunting out of those wretched people, all 
through the north and north-east of Paris. By this time the 
prisoners taken by the Prussians in the war had all returned 
to France, and it was easy for the new Government to obtain 
soldiers ; but they were soldiers upon whose faces it was not 
difficult to read the story of the defeat and demoralisation of 
that war. They had been prisoners, they had been marched 
away from disastrous fields of defeat and surrender, huddled 
together in tens of thousands, just as they were now huddling 
their own brothers and cousins into the camps at Satory and 
Versailles. 

One saw soldiers everywhere — idle, undisciplined, dirty. 
Few among them seemed to care for themselves, or for any one 
else. There was no pride about them, no apparent sense or 
knowledge of the things they were looking at on every side. 
The moral rivets of their individual bodies and souls seemed 
to be as loose as were the social and pohtical screws of the 
body politic in the collective fabric of the State. The marines 
and sailors were of quite a dififerent type : one saw in them 
a look and demeanour alert and serious : they seemed to know 
what had happened. 

Paris was now locked up more securely than ever. People 
returning to their homes from the country were allowed to 
enter ; people wanting to leave Paris for the country could 
not go out. The prisons were all full, and over and over again 
one saw repeated in smaller groups the scenes I had witnessed 
at Versailles on that second evening there. 

I went one day to the prison of La Roquette. It was there 
that the Archbishop of Paris and some forty priests had been 
shot in cold blood by the Communists. M. D'Arcy was with 
me on this occasion, and we were passed in at once. We were 
shown into a small courtyard of the prison by a young naval 
lieutenant, who coolly explained to us the processes of the trial 
and execution of Communists. ' We strip their right shoulders,' 



134 SIR WILLIMI BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

he said. * If the skin of the neck and shoulder shows the dark 
mark produced by the kick of the chassepot rifle the court pro- 
nounces the single word " classe " ; if there is no mark of 
discoloration on the shoulder tlie president says " passe,'" and 
the man is released. Those to whom " classe " is said are shot. 
One hundred and fifty were shot at daybreak this morning in 
this courtyard.' There was ghastly proof around that the man 
spoke truly. The courtyard wae paved with round stones, 
and one had to step from stone to stone to avoid the blood 
that fiUed the interstices between them. A horrible smell, 
as of a shambles, filled the yard. Along the waU where the 
condemned men had stood the high-growing dock and marsh- 
mallow weeds had their heads aU cut off, and the waU was 
pitted with innumerable holes by buUets. It was a battalion 
of Breton sailors who were emploj^ed on this duty. 

In a room of the prison the officer showed us the hand and 
ring of the murdered archbishop. Probably these ghastly 
reUcs were kept there in order to nerve the Breton sailors to 
their terrible work. 

In another courtyard stood a great pile of rifles, knapsacks, 
and accoutrements, all made for fighting the Prussians. This 
was the end. 

I had seen enough of Paris in her agony, and would have 
been glad to shut my eyes upon her sufferings ; but to leave 
the city was now much more difficult than to enter it had been 
a week ago. The thought that had been growing in my mind 
above every other thought in those days and amid those scenes 
was the hopelessness of all this social world of our so-called 
civilisation. Was this all that we had been able to do for the 
people, for the men who had nothing, for those poor whom we 
were always to have with us ? Nations fought themselves into 
victory on one side and the other, dynasties rose and dis- 
appeared, rehgions ebbed and flowed ; but in this war there was 
no cessation, no equilibrium, no end. The have's and the have- 
not's were always face to face, ready to shoot down or to rush 
in. Often before my mind at this time came that scene 
in the Elysee on the morning of the 22nd June 1815, four 
days after Waterloo, when Napoleon, hearing the shouts of the 
populace of the faubourgs calling upon him to dissolve the 
Chamber of Deputies and proclaim himself Dictator, exclaimed 



FROM PARIS TO IRELAND 135 

bitterly, ' Poor people ! they alone stand by me in the hour 
of my reverses, yet I have not loaded them with riches or 
honours, I leave them poor, as I found them/ How many 
since that day have had their chance of doing something for 
these submerged millions, and have done nothing ! And yet 
now, when I look back upon it aU, over the almost forty 
years gone since I saw the faU of the Commune, it seems that 
only on one road, humanly speaking, lies the hope of redemp- 
tion for them. It is outlined in another utterance of the 
Great Conqueror, recorded as spoken on that same day of his 
abdication, 

* You come from the village of Gonesse ? ' said Napoleon 
to the boy page who had brought him a cup of coffee, ' No, 
sire, from Pierrefitte,' ' Where your parents have a cottage 
and some acres of land ? ' ' Yes, sire.' ' That is the only 
true happiness,' Yes, and it is the only true wealth, of men 
and of nations. Man under modern dispensations has been 
graciously permitted by his masters to go back to the land 
only after he is dead : I think if they would permit him to do 
so during his Ufe, and allow him that ' cottage and some acres 
of land,' things would not be so bad in our world. Did not a 
son of Cain build the first city ? 

I got permission to leave Paris, Trains ran from the Gare 
du Nord again. In the carriage with me were two English 
surgeons who had been doing ambulance work in those final days 
of the Commune, One, afterwards a weU-known man, related 
some incidents which had come under his notice in these last 
fights. An old woman was found crouching under an upturned 
cart behind a barricade ; the troops advanced thinking the 
barricade had been abandoned by everybody ; the old woman 
shot with a revolver the first soldier who approached her, ' I 
have had three sons kiUed in this fighting,' she said, ' and I 
swore that I would kiU one enemy. You may shoot me now.' 
They did so, 

I went to Ireland, and began at once to write a book on those 
great lone spaces of the earth which I had quitted only a few 
weeks earher. It seemed so strange that there should be 
these vast, vacant lands, while here the city-pent millions were 
murdering each other with such ferocity, and I longed, too, to 
get back to the wilds again. In the army there seemed to be 



136 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

no chance for me. When my leave of absence expired, I was 
ordered to join the depot of my regiment, then at Chatham. 
I went there in the end of 1871. The men in authority were 
exceedingly kind, work was hght, and I was able to devote 
several hours every day to my manuscript. It grew rapidly. 
In that Uttle dingy red-brick subaltern's quarter on the old 
terrace in the ' Phonghee ' barracks at Chatham I Uved again 
in the wilds. What an infinite blessing is the mystery of 
memory ! No possession or instinct belonging to man can 
touch that single gift — to look back, to remember, to be young 
when you are old, to see the dead, to paint a picture upon a 
prison wall, to have ways to escape, to be free — aU this out of 
Memory. Surely this was ' the breath of life ' breathed into 
the brain of man when God gave him ' a living soul.' And yet 
there are people who say they cannot see the soul ! 

While I was thus far away in memory in the lone spaces an 
unexpected piece of good fortune happened. Horatio Nelson 
Case had ' struck oil.' A syndicate had been formed in Canada 
for the development of Petrolia, and our plot of forest-land 
was wanted by it. Case was adamantine. He would only 
take six thousand pounds for our lot. He got it. I tele- 
graphed to my officer-partner in Bermuda to proceed at once 
on leave to Canada to be present at the division of profits. 
He could not, or would not go. The profit available appeared 
to be a simple sum — five thousand two hundred pounds to be 
halved, and halved again. But in business of this kind there 
is nothing simple ; it is always compound. I had calculated 
my share of one thousand three hundred pounds, but somehow 
or other it worked out a good deal less. It always does. Any- 
how the conclusion of the ' bear ' transaction, begun in the 
Brooke Swamp three years earlier, left me with a clear thou- 
sand pounds. Had it come a year or two earlier I would 
undoubtedly have purchased a company in the 69th Regiment, 
and might have eventually blossomed into a retired major. 
So, my dear yoimg friend, if you meet with a check in life or 
a disappointment in your profession, as in three cases out of 
four you are bound to do, remember an old soldier's advice, 
' Go on again.' Repack your knapsack if necessary, but 
whatever articles you throw out of it, don't unload that imagin- 
ary baton of field-marshal. It costs nothing to carry, it has 



TO THE WILDS AGAIN 137 

no value to anybody except yourself ; but neither has the 
apple of your eye. 

In the middle of April 1872 I was gazetted to an unattached 
(half-pay) company in the army. I had finished my book, 
and sent the MS. to a publisher, and was immensely pleased 
when he was good enough to accept it. I was now free to go 
where I chose, and I chose the wilds again. I left my postal 
address at the War Office, ' Carlton House, Saskatchewan.' 
I have an idea that the name ' Carlton ' in the address induced 
the clerk in the War Office who had to deal with the postal 
addresses of officers to refrain from raising any objection to the 
remainder of the domiciliary location ; or it may have been 
that the head of his department, with a wider geographical 
knowledge, had said to his subordinate when the pap^ was 
presented to him, ' Not far off enough.' In any case, no 
objection was raised. Carlton House was at that time nine 
hundred miles from the nearest railway station, but it was 
the point of distribution for the winter packet dog-post, 
which left Fort Garry just before Christmas ; and wherever I 
might be in the territories of the Hudson Ba}" Company, 
letters would find me some time. Then I started for New 
York. 

I set out with no fixed plan of travel. I wanted to go 
beyond where I had been before, and the ' beyond ' that lay 
to the north of the Saskatchewan Vallej^ was a very big place. 
You could get a round two thousand miles in it in almost any 
direction north of an east and west line running through Fort 
Carlton. 

I had a general idea of getting into the basin of the Mackenzie 
River, descending that great stream nearly to its mouth, then 
going into the valley of the Yukon, ' and so on and so on,' 
as my Levantine interpreter used to say on the Nile, twelve 
years later, when he had exhausted the one hundred and 
twenty-five English one-syllable words which were his entire 
linguistic stock-in-trade, and the possession of which enabled 
him to draw the pay and allowances of a major in the British 
army. 

In the few months I had spent in Chatham I was in the 
habit of visiting the library of the Royal Geographical Society. 
It was the time when Livingstone had not been heard of for 



138 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

years ; an expedition was being organised by the Society to 
look for him. I ofiFered my services, was not accepted, and, 
true to the old habit of ' going on again,' I set out shortly 
after in the opposite direction to Lake Bangweolo (where the 
great missionary-explorer had been last heard of), with the 
result that, just one year later, I found myself at Lake Atha- 
basca, twelve hundred miles north-west of Fort Garry, with 
the prospect of another twelve hundred miles up the valley of 
the Peace River to the Pacific coast at Vancouver. The 
narrative of that journey has been written long ago.^ 

Before striking north from Fort Carlton I had spent three 
months in a hut at the ' forks ' of the Saskatchewan, in com- 
pany with a brother officer of my regiment, and trusted friend. 
Captain Mansfield. Mansfield had left the 69th Regiment, 
tired of serving without seeing service. We had a plan that, 
after tasting again the wild life of the prairies, we would settle 
in some part of the Saskatchewan Valley, and begin ranching 
life there with a herd of cattle driven from the States. Had 
we carried this intention into efiEect, our ranch would have 
been the first of its kind in the Canadian North- West. At 
that time I think I may say with truth that I stood almost 
alone in my belief that this vast region had a great future 
before it. Among all the officers of the Hudson Bay Com- 
pany I did not know one who believed in the potentialities 
of the land in which they had spent their lives. Furs it had, 
and minerals it might have, but for the grain or food products 
of the earth, they did not think anything of it. Even at 
Winnipeg at this time so slight were the expectations that 
the place would become the site of a large city that I was 
offered, in the month of August 1872, sixteen hundred acres 
of land, where the town stands to-day, for sixteen hundred 
pounds. This offer was pressed upon me by an old army 
pensioner. Mulligan by name, who had gradually bought up 
for a mere trifle the grants of land given to private soldiers 
in the 6th Regiment some twenty years earlier. Dissatisfied 
with the trend of public opinion after the Riel Rebellion of 1870, 
he was desirous of leaving the place for ever. For myself, I 
am not sorry that I stuck to the army ship. The best and the 
worst that can be said of it is that it is a poor profession : I 

1 The Wild North Land. (E. B.) 



THE ARMY :MAN— A DIGRESSION 139 

hope it wiU long remain so. 'I look around on every side/ 
wrote Carlyle, ' and I see one honest man in the community. 
He is the drill sergeant/ WeU, I will not go so far as that ; 
but this I can say, that if the soldier be honest it is because he 
is poor, and if he is poor it is because he is honest. He is unfit 
for business, they teU me, and I agree with those who say so. 
You will usually find that when the soldier has tried his hajid 
at business he has made a fool of himself, and has lost his httle 
money. He believes in others, that is the mistake he makes 
in business ; he thinks that a man's word spoken should have 
as much weight as when it is written across a penny postage 
stamp, and he finds out, generally too late, that it hasn't. 
Even when the soldier tries to be a rogue, he usually makes 
a mess of it. He is like a trooper in the 11th Hussars at 
Canterbury, who once complained to his general that whenever 
there was a row in the town he was invariably caught by the 
police, because of the cherry-coloured breeches he was com- 
pelled to wear : * them darker-coloured overall chaps get off,' 
but he, the red-breeched one, was sure to be nailed in the end, 
no matter how many comers he got round in the run home to 
barracks. In no part of the Empire does the soldier make such 
a fool of himself as inside of Temple Bar, East of that historic 
boundary he is a child ; there was no necessity for the City 
Fathers to stipulate that soldiers should unfix bayonets when- 
ever they came within the city precincts : they disarm them- 
selves when they go there. There were only two soldiers in 
history who did well in the city of London : one was Oliver 
Cromwell, the other was George Monk. They both plundered 
it. 

I think I may add to this digression by putting down a httle 
incident which happened in the Crimean War, but of which I 
only became aware two years ago. On the night preceding 
the attack on the Redan on the 18th June 1855, a party of 
officers of the Fourth Division, who were detailed for the assault, 
were playing cards in a tent on the heights before Sebastopol. 
The ' fall in ' was to go at 2 a.m., and there was no use in 
lying down that night. Before the card-party broke up 
accounts were settled. A cousin of mine — a captain in the 
57th Regiment — received from a captain in the 17th Foot, 
named Croker, an I O U for a considerable sum of money, 



140 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

which he, Croker, had lost to my relative. A few hours later 
Croker was killed at the Redan. There had only been a half- 
hour s interval between the ' fall out ' for the game of cards 
and the ' faU in ' for the great game of war, so of course my 
cousin tore up the I U, and thought no more about the trans- 
action. A couple of months later he received a letter from 
the army agents, Cox & Co., in London, informing him that 
they had received on the day of his death an advice from the 

late Captain Croker directing the sum of £ to be placed 

to the account of Captain Butler in their hands. So much has 
been said and written in recent years against the old army 
and the old regimental system that I give this little incident 
as a trifling tribute to both. 

During the autumn and winter of 1872, and the first half 
of 1873, I had movement, sport, travel, and adventure suffi- 
cient to satisfy the longings of anybody. I was at that time 
boiling with the spirit of movement, and distance alone sufficed 
to lend enchantment to my prospect of travel. The scene 
could not be too remote, nor the theatre too lonely. The 
things I did not want to see or know of were trains and steam- 
boats ; the canoe or the prairie pony in summer, the snow- 
shoe and dog-sled in winter, one's own feet and legs at all times 
— these were good enough for passing over the surface of God's 
wonderful world. I was a fair shot, and even where the 
Hudson Bay Companj^'s posts were some hundred miles apart, 
and Indian camps were few and far between, the gun and the 
baited fish-hook could still provide dinner and supper; and 
for bed, old Mother Earth gave it, and the pine brush made 
mattress and pillow. I have often thought that the reply of 
the once potent Indian chief. Black Hawk, to the American 
commissioner who offered him a chair to sit on at a conference 
on the Upper Mississippi eighty years ago, held in it the whole 
secret and soul of the wilderness. ' Thank you,' said the 
Indian chief, as he seated himself on the ground, ' the Earth is 
my mother, and on her bosom I can rest myself.' You can 
never know that mother until you go and live with her in the 
wilderness ; it is only there that she takes you on her lap 
and whispers to you her secret things. It is only when you 
join the ranks of the wild things that they will accept you as 
one of themselves and will cease to look at you as a stranger. 



BACK TO CIVILISED TRAVEL 141 

Fancy a place where there are no drains, no coal smoke, no 
factory chimneys ; where you cannot speak ill of your neigh- 
bour, nor envy him, nor tell him the simplest form of He, nor 
be bored by him — that last, the greatest of all the earthly 
beatitudes ! And the strange part of it is that if you have 
once tasted well of the wild fruit, you have got an antidote for 
ever against being bored. INIy friends sometimes say to me, 
* How can you listen so patiently to that terrible old bore, 
General Pounce ? ' or, 'I saw you to-day in the morning- 
room with that stupid old Major de Trop, and you seemed to 
be hanging on every word he said/ At which I smile, but 
say nothing, for it would destroy my happiness if the secret 
were known. As he ripples along, I launch my canoe on the 
stream of his story, merely on the sound of it, and I sail away 
into the lone spaces. It is the Athabasca, the river of the 
meadows, the Souris River, the river that echoes, that I am 
on again. He, poor fellow, hasn't the sUghtest suspicion of 
what I am doing. He never asks me a question. He wants 
none of my thoughts, and he gets none. He only wants some- 
thing to speak at, and I give him that generously. Then, 
when he is quite tired, he goes away, and I go to the writing- 
table and scribble down some doggerel such as this : — 

' If a bore had seen what one swallow saw 
Or could read from a rook his Mayday caw 
Or could riddle aright one wild-bee's hum, 
No bore he would be — but he might be dumb.' 

But then we would have changed places, and I might have been 
the bore. 

At last, in the middle of 1873, I got out through that great 
tangle of mountains, lake, and rushing river which forms the 
northern portion of British Columbia, and with one dog, the 
untiring ' Cerf volant,' for companion, reached the ways of 
civilised travel and the Pacific Ocean. In the very centre of 
this tangle of mountains and rapids I had struck a small 
camp of gold-miners at a place called Germanson, on the 
Ominica River, a large tributary stream which joins the Peace 
River west of the Rocky Mountains. To get to this spot we 
had been working for twenty days in a ' dug-out ' canoe 
against the flooded stream of the Ominica, We were a party 



142 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of four. The steersman was a little Frenchman from Belfort, 
Jacques Pardonnet by name, a man of extraordinary know- 
ledge and pluck, qualities to which was mainly due under 
Providence our escape from many perUs of rock and rapid, 
whirlpool and ice-floe, for we had launched our ' dug-out ' on 
the Upper Peace River before the ice had been cleared from the 
current. 

As we drew near Germanson, Jacques began to speak at 
the camp fire in the evening of an English captain who was at 
the mining camp the previous year. He called him by a name 
that had been familiar to me at Fermoy fourteen years earlier : 
if he had known the officer's Christian name identification 
would have been assured, for the first name had been Napoleon ; 
but he knew only the captain's surname. On entering German- 
son the first person I came upon was the very man. 

It was the end of August when I got back to Canada proper, 
the Canada of the St. Lawrence River. I was fairly puzzled 
what next to do. The long traU through the north and west 
by the Athabasca and Peace River to the Pacific had eaten a 
big hole iuto the round thousand won out of the day in Brooke 
Swamp three years earlier. To tell the truth, it is a very wide 
step from the real wilderness to that state of semi-civilised 
savagery which is the life of the frontier settler, those first 
and second stages in the evolution of the ranch and the wheat- 
field from the primaeval prairie and the pme forest. When the 
wild man and the buffalo disappear from the stage, the next 
comer, whether man or beast, doesn't show to advantage. 
Even the old white hunter, the trapper, the ' Leather-Stocking ' 
of the immortal Fenimore Cooper, has to fold up his camping- 
kit, shoulder his rifle, and move off into lonelier lands or deeper 
forests. He cannot stand it. As it was in ' the old Colonial 
days ' of America, so was it forty years ago. When I first went 
to the Platte River in 1867 a few ' Leather-Stockings ' were 
stni to be found at the forts of the United States troops ; and 
foremost among that small, lessening band was the celebrated 
Bridger, the grizzled veteran of the great days of Captain 
Bonneville, Fitzpatrick, and Sublette. One day a newcomer 
from the east, seeing this old veteran Bridger standing silent 
at Laramie, thought to open conversation by asking if it was 
not a long time since he had come out west. The old hunter 



OFFER OF SERVICE FOR THE GOLD COAST 143 

did not seem to have heard his questioner, and the remark was 
repeated. Then Bridger took his pipe from his mouth, and 
gravely answered as he pointed towards Pike's Peak in 
the west : ' Young man, do you see that thar peak ? ' 
* Yes/ ' Well, when I came out to these prairies that thar 
peak was a hole in the ground.' He then went on smoking 
again. 

One evening when I was in this undecided frame of mind 
as to where I would go and what I would next do, I opened a 
paper in an hotel at Ottawa, and read in the cablegram from 
England the announcement that an expedition was being 
prepared for the West Coast of Africa. Sir Garnet Wolseley 
was to command. His stafif would consist of many officers 
who had served under him on the Red River expedition. No 
troops were to be sent until after the general and his officers 
had reached the West Coast. It was expected that this cam- 
paign would be over by March. Sir Garnet and his friends 
were to sail from England on the 8th September. That was 
all. It was now the 30th August. I read the message carefully 
a second time, took in the situation, went to the telegraph- 
office, and sent a message to Sir Garnet Wolseley in London 
that I was coming. Then looking up the steamer sailings I 
found that there was a steamer leaving New York on the 3rd 
September. The telegrams of the next day brought further 
particulars. The well-known unhealthiness of the West Coast 
of Africa generally, and of the Gold Coast in particular, was 
the reason assigned for the extraordinary fact that no troops 
were being sent with the general and his staff to the new seat 
of war. It was hoped that the native negro levies would suffice. 
If, after the general had arrived at Cape Coast Castle, it was 
found that the natives would not fight the soldiers of the King 
of Ashanti, then white troops would be sent from England, 
and an advance made upon Coomassie. 

It is the most precious privilege of youth not to question 
anything. ^\'liat did it matter if the Gold Coast had been the 
White Man's Grave ever since Columbus had been there ? 
One never dreamt of asking whether a climate was good or 
bad. A missionary who would stop to inquire if his pre- 
decessor had disagreed with the caimibal king who had eaten 
him would be as ridiculous as the young soldier who troubled 



144 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

his head as to the precise points of disagreement between his 
constitution and the climate of the country to which he was 
bound. It is the business of the young soldier to agree with 
his climate even when it disagrees with him. 

Even the quickest of steamships went slowly in those days 
compared with the ocean fliers of to-day. The Russia 
took ten days to get to Liverpool, and I missed the start 
of Sir Garnet and his staff from the same port by eight 
hours. 

I remember little of the voyage save a small personal in- 
cident in it which was a pleasant surprise to me. I had left 
England seventeen months earlier, while my Mttle book of 
travel was still in the printer's hands. Its subsequent fortunes 
were therefore scarcely known to me, for I had been buried in 
the wilds during the greater part of the interval. One evening, 
when I was sitting in the smoking-room of the steamer, a man 
observed to another passenger, ' I hear the author of The 
Great Lone Land is on board the steamer." As I had the 
manuscript of another book of northern travel in my bag, 
nearly completed, the chance remark was doubly pleasant to 
me. Perhaps I should find some balance in the Army bankers' 
hands to my credit, and perhaps, too, the publishers of my 
first literary venture would be favourably disposed to try a 
second one. 

When I reached London from America, I found a message 
from Sir Garnet Wolseley directing me to follow him to the 
Gold Coast, and I received official information from the War 
Office that my passage would be provided in a West African 
steamer, sailing on the 30th September. So on the last day 
of September I left England again in the steamer Benin bound 
for Cape Coast Castle. A terrible-smeUing craft was the old 
Benin. Fever seemed to have established itself securely amid 
her close, Ul-kept decks. A couple of voyages earlier, eleven 
men had died out of her small crew, a steward and two cabin 
servants being among them. On this voyage of ours the 
captain and some half-dozen others were to go. Like every 
other sea-captain I had ever sailed with, this commander of 
the Benin, Captain Stone, was a splendid fellow. ' I hope to 
be back again by Christmas,' he said, * and to spend the holidays 
with my wife at home in Dublin.' He never came back. A 



ARRIVAL AT CAPE COAST CASTLE 145 

month later he was in a hammock-shroud mider the waters 
somewhere m the steaming Bight of Benin. 

' Remember, remember the Bight of Benin ; 
Few come out, though many go in.' 

So ran the old sailor's song of our grandfathers' days, when 
Tom Cringle kept his log and Captain Marryat wrote his sea- 
stories. They tell me things are better there to-day. Perhaps. 

The Benin touched at many places on the coast — Sierra 
Leone, Palmas, Liberia, Jack- Jack, and Monrovia. A little 
while before, a strange thing had happened at the last-named 
place. All these ships trading to West Africa carried in round 
holes near the scuppers on the deck two rows of roundshot, 
six or nine pounders ; these were not for hostile use, they were 
kept for a funereal purpose — that of sinking the poor dead men 
deep in the Bight of Benin, by being fastened to the foot of 
the hammock-shroud. But one day when the vessel was 
steaming into Monrovia, and the signal gun had been duly 
loaded with powder for the blank shot which was to wake up 
the government and postal officials of that place, a wag on 
board quietly dropped one of these roundshots into the carron- 
ade on the top of the powder. Presently, bang ! went the alarm 
gun, and then a round black object was observed hurling itself 
through the air in the direction of the wooden pier whereon 
the sable officials were already drawn up in state to greet the 
English steamer. The shot struck the pier, sending woodwork 
flying in all directions ; the officials fled, the President of the 
RepubUc of Liberia leading, the Postmaster-General, a very 
old negro, bringing up the rear. I never heard how the matter 
ended. 

The Benin reached Cape Coast Castle early on the 22nd 
October. A surf-boat came out with an officer for mails. He 
ofifered to put me on shore. As we paddled in through the 
heavy surf, which is ever rolling in three great lines of foam 
against the shores of tropical Africa, I asked the officer his 
name. It was the same as that of ' the captain,' formerly of 
Fermoy, whom I had left at the Ominica gold-mine in British 
Columbia four months earlier. ' Any relation in America ? ' 
' A brother somewhere in the wilds of whom I have not heard 
for years, if he is stiU alive,' he answered. ' He was alive four 

K 



146 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

months ago,' I replied ; ' and what is more, he gave me a 
message for his brother in the service, should I chance to fall 
in with him.' I had come almost straight from that distant 
spot. The first man I met at the end of the fifteen thousand 
miles was the brother of the last man I had seen in Ominica. 



CHAPTER X 

West Coast of Africa. ' The Wolseley Gang.' Beating up the natives. 
Recalcitrant kings. Fever. The forest. Invading Ashanti. 

As steam bends the stoutest blackthorn wood, so the hot, moist 
climate of the Gold Coast bends and makes limp the stoutest 
human body. 

This melting work begins even before the coast is reached. 
No sooner has the ship turned eastward from the Atlantic into 
the ' Bights ' than an immediate change becomes perceptible 
in the atmosphere ; an oppressive, damp, steamy air is 
breathed ; the body streams with perspiration of a clammy, 
weakening kind ; the very sap of strength is bleeding at every 
pore. There is no fury about the heat. Compared with the 
range of the thermometer in the Soudan, or even in India, the 
heat on the coast or in the forest behind it is nothing ; but 
it is incessant, unvarying, and its quality of excessive dampness 
is the killing factor in it. The sapping process goes on night 
and day : a peculiar damp, leaden look is on the skin. As 
poor Prince Henry of Battenberg wrote of the climate twenty 
years later, ' the damp heat is indescribable, so also is the 
effect it produces. Even if you sit quiet without moving, 
perspiration streams off your body day and night. The air 
reeks with malaria and poison. . . . What would not one give 
for a few whiffs of pure air without these dreadful miasmas 
that hang about one like ghosts ! ' But on the day of arrival 
all this had yet to be learnt ; and I stepped ashore from the 
surf-boat, and went up the wretched street that led from the 
old Slave Castle to Government House with as light a step 
as though I were still in the Black Caiion of the far-away 
Ominica. 

The general and his staff were assembling for breakfast. 
It was pleasant to meet old friends of Red River days again 
— Redvers Buller, Huyshe, McCalmont. Baker Russell was 

U7 



148 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

down with fever, and McNeill with wounds. New men 
were there too : Brackenbury, Maurice, Lanyon. Evelyn 
Wood was at Elmina. Hume was making a road towards 
Coomassie. It was the habit in later years to call these men, 
and a few others, ' The Wolseley Gang/ I see in the dictionary 
that the word is derived from the Danish, and that it means, in 
its primitive sense, ' to go,' but I don't think that was the 
meanmg its users attached to it. I see, too, that its modem 
signification is sometimes ' a number of persons associated for a 
certain purpose, usually a bad one.' I look back now over 
nigh forty years, and I don't think there was any bad purpose 
individually or collectively in that httle group of men. I 
accept with pleasure the Danish definition of the word, ' to go.' 
We, for I was a humble member, certainly did go : some 
dropped on the road early, and others fell out later ; a few 
struggled on to the end. They rest in many places : one at 
Prah-su, another under Majuba, another in the middle of the 
Desert of Bajaida, another at Spion Kop, another under the 
sea near St. Helena, another in the sands at Tel-el-Kebir, 
another in the veldt at Magersfontein. Poor old ' Gang ' ! 
They kept going as long as they could go, and now they are 
nearly aU gone. May they rest in peace ! 

It would have been difficult to match the military situa- 
tion which was now existing in and around Cape Coast 
Castle. A general and some thirty or forty officers of various 
abihties had landed on the most pestilential shore in the 
world for the avowed object of driving back a horde of forty 
thousand splendidlj^ disciplined African savages, who had 
invaded British territory. AU the hopes founded upon the 
idea that the native races who lived under our protection in 
the forest lying between the sea and the River Prah — Fantis, 
Assims, Abras, and others — would rally under English leader- 
ship to do battle against their hereditary enemies, the Ashantis, 
had proved entirely fallacious. Palaver had followed palaver, 
the chiefs and kinglets were profuse in promise, feeble in 
performance, and cowardly in action. Nothing could induce 
them to tackle the Ashanti enemy. If men wanted to study 
the ejffect, good and evil, upon man brought up with discipline 
and without it, here on this coast was to be found the best field 
for such an inquiry. On one side of the Prah River lived a 



THE SLAVE TRADE 149 

people possessing to an extraordinary degree a high military 
spirit, on the other a people as cowardly as could be found 
anywhere on earth. Both were of the same race : in ancestry, 
colour, size, language, and feature they were identical. A 
hundred years earUer they had been one kingdom : what had 
happened to make this extraordinary change in character 
and habit ? 

I think it would be correct to say that beyond the Prah the 
old African idea of a cruel but effective system of despotic 
authority had been maintained ; and that to the south of that 
little river of forty yards span the blessings of trade and com- 
merce had steadily sapped the moral strength and physical 
courage of the ' protected ' tribes. 

An American writer has said that if you put a chain round 
the neck of a slave, the other end of the chain will fasten 
itself round your own neck. Perhaps that was what had 
happened here. This coast had been for two hundred and 
more years the greatest slave preserve in the world. All 
these castles dotted along the surf-beaten shore at ten or 
twelve mile intervals were the prisons where, in the days of the 
slave-trade, milhons of wretched negroes had been immured, 
waiting the arrival of slave-ships from Bristol or Liverpool to 
load the human cargo for West Indian or American ports. It 
would not be too much to say that from each of these prison- 
castles to some West Indian port, a cable of slave skeletons 
must be lying at the bottom of the ocean. In that terrible 
trade the protected tribes of the coast were the prime brokers. 
They bought from the black interior kingdoms of Dahomey 
and Ashanti, and they sold to the white merchant traders of 
Europe ; slaves, rum, and gunpowder were the cliief items in 
the bills of lading. The gunpowder went to the interior, the 
rum was drunk on the coast, the slaves, or those who survived 
among them, went to America. If two in ten lived through 
the horrors of the middle passage the trade paid. John 
Wesley knew what he was talking about when he said of that 
heUish traffic that it was ' the sum of all human villanies ' ; 
and yet there never was one man in the world to whom it was 
possible to know even half of the villanies concentrated in 
that single phrase — the slave-trade. 

After a week on the coast, one began to know the way of 



160 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

things fairly well. This coast had ways of its own that no 
other coast known to me possessed. Our forty special-service 
oflScers and their motley groups of natives were distributed 
between the seaports of Elmina and Cape Coast Castle, and 
in certain positions a few miles inland, chiefly along the forest 
track leading towards the River Prah. The great forest did 
not come right down to the seashore ; there was an interval 
of bush some six or eight miles deep before the real trees began. 
In this deep real forest lay the Ashanti army spread out 
along a circle of crooms or villages distant from the sea about 
twelve miles. Little was known about the numbers of this 
army : it had originally been forty or fifty thousand men, 
but many forms of disease were said to have thinned its ranks 
since it had crossed the Prah six months earUer. StOl less was 
known as to the intentions of its commander, Amonquatier by 
name. The spies sent out by us brought back no trustworthy 
information ; they were as cautious and as cowardly as were 
their chiefs and kinglets. At last some tangible news reached 
us from this mysterious Ashanti camp at Mampon. It was 
brought by a fugitive slave woman direct from the Ashanti 
headquarters ; and the story told by the runaway had so many 
little bits of domestic detaU and family intrigue woven into 
it that the more important facts of Ashanti movement and 
intentions seemed to derive confirmation from the lighter parts 
of the woman's tale. 

The Ashanti army in the forest around Mampon was break- 
ing up, and was falling back to the Prah River under orders 
from the King of Ashanti. The sick and wounded had 
already moved ; the main army would soon follow, but first 
it would take Abra Crampa, a tOMTi lying some twelve miles 
from Cape Coast Castle, near the forest track to the River 
Prah. This news, confirmed by reports from this road of 
Ashanti scouting parties having appeared in the vicinity, 
put us aU in action at Cape Coast Castle. If we only had the 
soldiers, what an opportunity was now offered of destroying 
the retreating army of Ashantis ! It was moving across our 
front at the slow rate of progression which alone was possible in 
this dense forest ; but we had only a few West Indian soldiers with 
which to strike it ; arms, ammunition, forty officers brimming 
over with energy and action, and no men. During the foUow- 




SirETCH MAP OF 

English Miles 



Authors Route 
Other Roads 




C) 



A TYPICAL DAY 151 

ing week some of this band of forty officers started off in as 
many directions. As for myself, I had in me all the power 
and go of the frozen lands I had quitted a few months earlier. 
It seemed impossible that one could not still cover the old 
American distances. Of course the conditions were as opposite 
as those which He between the coldest ice and the hottest sun ; 
but youth takes small heed of such differences or measure- 
ments. Between the night of 25th October and that of the 
29th, I covered some seventy miles of forest and swamps, 
in a temperature a good deal higher than that of the tropical 
hothouse at Kew. In these four or five days I had seen and 
sampled the forest, the crooms, the kings, their armies, and 
their method of fighting. A page description ^ of the 29th 
October will suffice to tell the story of many days and places : 

* At daybreak the whole force was to move to Dunguah from 
Abra Crampa to attack the wing of the Ashanti army near that 
place. The King of Abra's warriors led. A lieutenant of the 
Royal Navy was attached to this tribe : by dint of extraordinary 
exertions he got his crowd into some order, and cleared the village 
two hours after the appointed time. They were supposed to 
number five hundred men : I stood by the pathway and counted 
them as they passed ; they numbered one hundred and forty of all 
ranks. The procession moved in this order : six scouts, the king, 
two blunderbus-men, one carr\'ing a very large horse-pistol, fifty 
men with long flint-gims, two drummers with skull drums, two 
men with powder barrels, a standard-bearer with an old flag, 
Pollard, R.N., sixty or seventy more men, a large negro with an 
entirely flat nose, and a small crimson smoking-cap for uniform (he 
was called the Field-Marshal, and the title was not given in any 
derisive .sense). We got to Assanchi by noon. The day was 
fearfully hot ; the sun streamed down upon the forest, drawing 
from the darkest depths of tangled creeper and massive tree-trunk 
a steam of dense, exhausting atmosphere. As we emerged into 
the overgrown plantain-gardens around the village of Assanchi, a 
couple of shots were fired on the left, and an Abra scout limped 
in with his legs cut by " slugs." The wildest confusion now ensued 
among the Abras, and it was only by actually laying hands upon 
them and by placing them in the required positions facing the 
enemy that any order or plan could be evolved. While we were 
at this work another volley announced a new foe in the bush on 
our left. Then came shots and shouts from the thick plantain- 
1 From Akim-foo, the History of a Failurt. (E. B. ) 



162 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

leaves, and runniiig thither I came upon six or eight men struggling 
in the dense brushwood, some on the ground and some on their 
legs. In the centre of the mass there was a short, stout savage 
with his hair twisted into spiral spikes which stood straight out 
from his head. He was fighting for his life ; and so strong was he 
that he was able in his twistings to move the three or four men 
who had him down. A couple of other Abras were striking him 
on the back of his head wth the butts of their long " Dane " guns ; 
but they were unable to stop his wri things. At the edge of the 
group stood a tall Houssa soldier with a long knife in hand, ready 
for an opening which would enable him to draw it across the 
throat of the Ashanti. He was so intent on watching his 
opportunity that he did not see me. Just as I came up the 
unfortunate underdog man heaved himself up a bit from the 
ground, and the movement seemed to give the Houssa the chance 
he was looking for. He leant forward to get a better draw for his 
knife across the man's neck ; but as he did so I caught him full 
on the ear with my fist, and over he went, knife and all, into the 
bushes. At the same instant the Ashanti rose, and seeing a 
white man close to him he threw himself forward, caught hold of 
my hand, and -s^as safe. He was the first full-blooded Ashanti 
taken, and I was very glad to have him because I was doing 
Intelligence work at this time for Redvers Buller, who was down 
with fever, and we badly wanted sohd information from our 
enemies. But what was of more importance was that Sir Garnet 
Wolseley was in need of some trusty messenger to send to the 
King of Ashanti in Coomassie, and this prisoner would be just 
the emissary to send there. But before I could get him safe from 
the crush, we were all very near coming to grief, for a fresh body 
of Houssas, belonging to Baker Russell's regiment, came upon the 
scene, and hearing a row going on in the bushes, they levelled half 
a dozen rifles upon us, intent upon observing the great rule of 
African warfare, which is to fire first and then look to see what 
was fired at aftei-wards. Fortunately for us Baker Russell was 
near this party : he saw the situation, and the muzzles of the 
Houssa Sniders were thrown up at his terrific word of command. 
By this time the marines and sailors in rear were thoroughly 
exhausted ; the day was swelteringly hot, the path was deep in 
mud and water, and the narrow track was only wide enough to 
allow men in single file to move along it. Many strong men went 
down that day, some of them did not get up again. The record 
of the day's work would be incomplete if it did not finish as it 
began -nith the army of the King of Abra under the command of 



SPECIAL COmilSSION TO WEST AKTM 153 

Lieutenant Pollard, R.N. It was directed to feel its way to the 
main road at Donguah. It fell in towards evening with an 
Ashanti camp : panic immediately ensued ; the one hundred and 
forty Abras, the Field-Marshal, the drums, and the horse-pistol 
man ran in various directions through the forest. Pollard dis- 
charged the six barrels of his revolver at his vanishing army, and 
found himself alone in the great forest. He was thoroughly ex- 
hausted, and night was coming on. After a time six or eight of 
his army crept back through the bush, got him on their shoulders 
and carried him by a by-path to Akroful on the main road.' 

I have dwelt upon this day's work because it grouped into 
it many incidents and experiences peculiar to West African 
warfare. One saw then the utter hopelessness of the original 
idea upon which the expedition had been based — that our 
debased and degenerate protected tribes could be able to fight 
the army of the King of Ashanti. One understood, too, 
something at least of what this coast climate meant to a Euro- 
pean, in the waste of strength and the deadly sap of health and 
energy. Even without exertion, the strength of the body 
seemed to be hourly melting out of the system. It was now 
the end of October. Two entire months must elapse before 
white troops could arrive on the coast from England. Would 
we last over that interval ? Of all the strange things in life 
human hope is the strangest. No matter how dark it may be 
on this side of the hiU, the other side generally gets the credit 
of sunshine. If life is reaUy a vale of tears, there are bursts 
of laughter coming through the sobs from some imaginary 
upper glen. 

Work in a new region now opened for me. In a kingdom 
called Akim, some hundred or hundred and fifty miles north- 
east from Cape Coast Castle, there reigned two kings — Cobina 
Fuah and Coffee Ahencora, both of whom were supposed to be 
of better fighting quality than the sable monarchs dwelling 
near the coast. 

A commission to these Akim sovereigns was duly given to 
me, and I was directed to proceed ' in one of Her Majesty's 
men-of-war to Accra, as a special Commissioner to the king 
and queen and chiefs of that district, in order to raise the 
whole of the fighting men in Western Akim for the purpose of 
closing in Amonquatier's army as it is endeavouring to re-cross 



154 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the river Prah into Ashanti. ... It is impossible/ went on 
the words of the Commission, ' to give jou more precise instruc- 
tions, and there is nothing to add further than that the major- 
general relies upon your zeal and discretion, and on your know- 
ledge of barbarous people, to carry out quickly the objects of 
this most important mission which has been confided to you.' 

My Commission bore date 2nd November, and by the evening 
of the 3rd I had got together a dozen Snyder rifles, two Union 
Jacks, a few servants, ammunition, a bag of a hundred gold 
pieces, some AustraUan turned meats, and a lot of proclama- 
tions and addresses to black kings and queens in general, but 
particularly to the potentates reigning in the regions lying 
behind the coast at Accra. By dint of hard labour everything 
was ready for embarkation, and I got on board the gunboat 
Decoy late in the afternoon. Steam was already up, and we 
were soon rolling along to the eastward, pitching and tossing 
from one side to the other m those gigantic waves which never 
cease to roll, night and day, against the shores of tropic Africa. 
We rocked all night in the cradle of the deep, and at daybreak 
were off Accra. Another big slave castle was here, and the 
huge bastions of yet another prison could be seen three miles 
deeper in the Bight, at Christianburg. The last ghmpse seen of 
the shore after sunset on the previous evening had been of slave 
castles ; the first sight in the morning was of slave castles ; 
and round that fatal coast-line, between the feverish forest and 
the yellow sand, they stand, now lonely and mitenanted, with 
rusty gates and empty vaults, the mouldering monuments of 
two centuries of a gigantic mjustice. 

I got on shore as quickly as possible, for the night had been 
one of sleepless torment. Here at Accra the debasement of 
the negro seemed to be even greater than at Cape Coast Castle. 
A great ' Custom ' was going on to celebrate the movement of 
Captain Glover's native force from Accra to Addah, at the 
mouth of the Volta. ' Dashes ' of rum and gunpowder had 
been plentiful for days earlier, and the result was to be 
seen in men lying on their backs along the foul sea-front, 
firing guns into the air, turning head over heels, and firing 
as they turned, and uttering a strange mixture of Coast- 
Enghsh curses and invocations to some forest fetich for fortune 
in their coming campaign. 



THE MARCH TO ASHANTI BEGINS 155 

All that day and the next day I spent m Accra, endeavouring 
to evolve out of this hideous scene of naked and unabashed 
negro animalism the semblance of a sober convoy for my inland 
journey to Akim. Night came, but no convoy. The gun-firing 
might have been less than on the first day ; but the drunk- 
enness did not appear to have diminished. I had, however, 
the satisfaction on the first day of making the acquaintance 
of one of the most remarkable among the many remarkable 
persons to whose efforts are due the estabUshment of our 
Empire in Africa — Captain Glover, R.N. He had spent many 
years on the shores of the Bight of Benm. To him more than 
to any other man belongs by right the merit of being the first 
to discover the value of the trade which lay at the back of this 
equatorial coast forest, behind the kingdoms of Ashanti, 
Dahomey, and Benin. Forty years from the present time. 
Glover, as governor and maker of Lagos, had alreadj^ foreseen 
the possibilities of forming a British possession which would 
embrace the countries of the Niger from its source to the sea. 
He was before his time. That great region has now many 
claimants for its possession, and it is still a matter of doubt 
in what direction its trade will eventually seek its outlet. 

On the evening of the 5th November I got away from Accra 
with a very motley crowd of carriers, the greater part of whom 
were still under the influence of the ' Custom.' I have not space 
to tell in any detail of the march from Accra to the Akim 
Prah. On the second day I had marched my men into a 
state of semi-sobriety ; but new difficulties arose. My kings, 
Fuah and Ahencora, had heard of the largesse distributed by 
Captain Glover at Accra, and they had both set out from 
Akim to share in these wonderful ' dashes,' which, no doubt, 
rumour had magnified to them. Two days from Accra I 
met King Fuah moving in all the pomp of negro buffoonery 
towards the coast. It was a repetition of Pollard's army, 
with variations — sword and pipe bearers, horn blowers, 
umbrella men, skull mace-bearers, litter-carriers, three of the 
king's wives, bodyguards, and at last King Fuah himself. We 
had been exchanging messengers for three days : he beseeching 
me to await his arrival at Accra ; I sending emissaries to tell 
him that he must return to his own country, whither I was 
coming ; that he was turning his back upon the Ashanti enemy ; 



156 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

that there were only old women left at Accra, and that it was m 
his own kingdom of Akim that I would bestow upon him the 
gifts, arms, and ' dashes,' which I was commissioned to give 
him by the general-in-chief at Cape Coast Castle. AU to no pur- 
pose. So now we met at a place called Edoocfoo, three marches 
from Accra. I was in no frame of mind to brook delay in 
opening this palaver. I told King Fuah exactly the state of 
afifairs : Captain Glover was not the commander of this expedi- 
tion, neither was he the head dispenser or ' dash '-giver of all 
the good things of negro life ; I read and explained Sir Garnet 
Wolseley's letter ; I told Cobina of Akim the exact position 
of affairs, now that the Ashantis, broken and disheartened, were 
retreating on the Prah, offering to him the precious opportunity 
of striking them in flank and destroying them, if he would now 
return with me to his kingdom, get out his fighting men, and 
move with me against his ancient enemy, at whose hands he 
had suffered so many injuries in this and other wars. All was 
useless. To Accra he must go, for it was there that fetish 
should be done, and ' Custom ' carried out. I tried manj'' 
things with this obstinate Akim. I ' dashed ' him six Snyder 
rifles, ammunition, wine, as an earnest of what things would 
be his if he did as the English general wished him to do. I 
tried first to work on his greed, then on his greedmess, and 
finally upon his sense of shame. He had had a good name in 
Cape Coast Castle, would he add to it by coming back with 
me, or destroy it by running away to Accra where there were 
only women and cowards left ? ' TeU him,' I said to the 
interpreter, ' that I can never go back : I must go forward. 
If he returns with me now he will become the greatest king 
that ever reigned in Akim ; if he goes on to the coast he will 
cover himself with disgrace and his name wiU be a byword.' 
No use. To Accra he must go. So we parted. 

Weary beyond words, I set my face to the north, and plodded 
on to the next miserable croom. This was West Coast war ; 
these were the poor, down-trodden people we had come to 
give our lives for. I positively laughed as the full absurdity 
of the position forced itself upon me. In the evening I reached 
a town called Koniako, where dwelt an old chief named 
Quassiquadaddie, in whose house I stopped the night. It 
was clean and comfortable, with walls neatly plastered, and a 



HALTED 157 

good four-posted bed in an inner room — the best habitation 
I saw on the coast outside the towns. Quassiquadaddie did 
the honours admirably, and, what was of more importance, 
he was full of valuable information of route and distance. 
Another day's march brought me to Eniacroom, where my 
second long, Coffee Ahencora, was awaiting me. He too was 
bound for ' Custom ' to Accra, but my messengers had stopped 
him. After another long palaver I succeeded in effecting a 
change of purpose, largely due to my being able to pit his 
prospects if he went back to the Prah with me against those 
of his rival monarch Fuah who had disregarded mj wishes and 
continued his course to the coast. But he would do nothing 
in a hurry, and in this matter of getting a slap at the Ashantis 
before they crossed the Prah, hurry was the whole essence of 
the problem. I was marching two, perhaps three, miles to 
their one. 

Here at Eniacroom I had to wait two whole days while 
this second king was making up his mind, with the aid of a 
score of counsellors, as to what he would do. The heat 
was intense all this time. The women of the town came to 
stare at me in great numbers : all day while light lasted they 
flocked round my hut, looked through windows, round comers, 
and along the tops of mud walls. Although the feeling of being 
constantly stared at is not a pleasant one, there were circum- 
stances in this case which made it less irksome than it might 
have been. With the exception of the very young girls and 
the old women, the majority of the ladies had babies with 
them ; these they carried seated astride on a sort of bustle 
held to the small of the back by a thin piece of cotton cloth. 
The manner in which these little black babies kept looking 
round their mothers' backs, and groping with tiny fingers for 
the maternal bosom in front, was very comical ; and one 
marvelled at the exceeding patience with which the mother 
bore the constant importunities of her offspring. But patience 
is the everlasting lesson of Africa. ' What patience is required 
in this African travel ! ' I find myself writing on this day, 1 1th 
November. The king came to see me frequently. He would 
return with me to his town, Akim-Swaidroo ; but he had to 
settle a dispute with a neighbouring chief on the waj'^ : would 
I act as arbitrator in the matter ? WTiat was it about ? 



158 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

About a goat. The oath of friendship which this chief had 
sworn to him had not been sealed by the killing of a goat : the 
omission of this sacrificial rite was the cause of the dispute. 
What was my opinion ? I replied that the matter was of such 
importance as to render its postponement until after the ter- 
mination of the war imperative. This view did not seem to 
suit the king or his comicil ; and they aU began a laboured 
exposition of the question at issue, ending by again urging 
that I would use my influence to bring the recalcitrant chief 
to a sense of his transgression. WTiile still adhering to the 
necessity of postponing the case, I indulged in some observa- 
tions upon goats in general ; I further remarked that they were 
perfectly distinct and different from sheep, and this being the 
case, I thought that mutual concessions would best advance 
the interest of all parties. When the interpreter had got these 
profound opinions into their Akim equivalents, I was astonished 
to observe an expression of agreement on the faces of the 
king and his counsellors. They uttered a kind of prolonged 
* Hah,' which I read as a sort of * I told you so.' They would 
start, they said, to-morrow. Night came at last to end the 
visits and the begging, and to hide the black faces at windows 
and doorways, corners and chinks ; and I lay down to sleep 
with the prospect of a start next morning. But there was 
one thing the night could not hide : that these past twenty days 
of toil had told terribly on my health and strength. The 
desire for food had grown less and less ; a lassitude never felt 
before had come upon me ; sleep brought with it no sense of 
rest or refreshment. 

At last I got away from Eniacroom. The king and his 
retainers were also on the road. The march was only one of 
eight miles, but it taxed all my strength to accomplish it. 
The path was deep in mud, and the hammock could not make 
way among the crowded and tangled trees, so I went on on 
foot. A raging thirst consumed me, and whenever we reached 
running water I had to drink deeply. What, I asked myself, 
was this strange, dry feeling ? Only some passing ailment, I 
thought : I will walk faster and shake it off. We were now in 
a forest of prodigiously large trees, matted imdemeath with 
tendrils and creeping plants. Those giant trees seemed as 
endless pillars on an endless road. I reached another croom, 



SPLENDID BEARING OF OUR OFFICERS 159 

and sat down in a porch while a hut was being prepared. The 
dry heat of the skin grew drier ; the thirst became more 
incessant ; then came a pain that seemed to be everywhere 
at once — the dull, dead, sick pain of African fever. 

Hitherto I have written in detail of the Ashanti War of 
1873 through the first three or four weeks of my personal 
experience of it. I have done so because I wished to put before 
the reader a picture of life with the real negro at home. I 
thought also that the narrative might be of use as showing 
these little wars, which have been so frequent in our history 
during the past fifty or sixty years, in comparison with the big 
wars of earUer days, the wars which OtheUo thought ' made 
ambition virtue.' These old wars seem to me to bear the same 
relation to our modern wars — opium wars, colonial wars, which 
might fitly be called ' sutlers' ' wars — as the glory of an old 
EngUsh cathedral of Plantagenet times compares with the 
meanness of houses and shops that are grouped around its base. 

This Ashanti War of 1873-74^ has been forgotten long ago. 
Pestilence kiUed ten men for every one knocked over by a 
bullet. Now, when more than thirty years have passed, I 
look back on all the toil and sweat and sickness of that time, 
and the picture I see is a sad but splendid one — men, the best 
I ever met with in my long service, toiling on, despite of fever 
and dysenter}^ over narrow forest paths ; some of them worn 
to skeletons, all with drawn, haggard features ; down with 
fever one day, staggering along the dark path the next day ; 
eating wretched food ; fighting, urging, wrestling with recalci- 
trant carriers ; streaming with perspiration at aU times ; yet 
always putting a good face upon the worst ills that fortune 
sent them. 

And, fixed as that picture of the human factor, I see another 
memory — that great, gloomy forest ; these endless arches of 
colossal cotton trees, under which two other growths of forest 
flourish, the lower one a mass of tangled and twisted ever- 
greens, the middle one hung with spiral creepers hke huge 
serpents hundreds of feet in length. Below aU there is the 
hot, wet earth emitting foul odours from its black mud-holes, 
and many pools of slime-covered water. There is dense fog in 
the early mornings — a ' thick smoke ' the natives caUed it — fierce 
sun on the lofty tree-tops at midday ; but only in fretted 



160 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

patches can the hot rays reach the ground through these great 
trees, of which the trunks run up one hundred feet without a 
branch, and then spread forth for another hundred feet into 
massive limbs, every one sulBficient to make a forest tree. 
Evening. A splash of water upon aU the land ; rain pours 
upon the big leaves m ceaseless torrents, and the roll of thunder 
crashes loud and long over the echomg forest depths. So 
closely does the forest hem in the crooms that if one could 
walk along its upper surface, one would look right down into 
the little clusters of mud and wattle huts which form the 
village homes. 

In this forest and in these crooms I now spent three very 
long months, the longest I ever remember. During November, 
December, and January I marched about nine hundred miles — 
every day with a little more difficulty. Not a week went by 
but my bout of fever came. Sometimes it would last two 
days, sometimes only a night ; but always one rose from the 
wretched bed on the earthen floor a little weaker and thinner, 
until at last the bones seemed all that was left of the body. 
Long before the campaign was over I was able to join the 
ends of thumb and forefinger and run the loop thus made from 
wrist to elbow, and from elbow to shoulder, without having 
to open the circlet. The body wasted in a similar proportion. 
How I was able to walk was often a subject of wonder to me. 
A year earlier I had been doing twenty and thirty mile marches 
daily on snow-shoes, with dogs, along the frozen Peace River ; 
and as then I had attributed hardiness m the cold largely to the 
fact that I had bathed in the open sea during a previous winter, 
so now I believed I was able to walk this tropic forest, not- 
withstanding a state of extreme emaciation, because that 
fifteen hundred mile tramp in the snow had habituated my 
legs to marching. 

Of this fever, which began, as I have said, on the march 
from Eniacroom to Dobbin, I must say something. I can 
never forget that first attack. For three days and nights I 
lay in the corner of a very small hut on a door with two logs 
of wood under it and a blanket spread over it. I drank in- 
cessantly, and was always thirsty. The fingers seemed to be 
lighted candle ends ; the throat was parched ; the mouth was 
fiUed with an odious taste ; every bone and joint ached ; the 



IN THE GRIP OF THE FEVER 161 

head reeled with a sickness worse than that of a rough sea ; 
when sleep came, it brought terrible visions, so that one would 
say on waking, ' I must not go to sleep again/ I had, of course, 
no doctor, and but one or two medicines. I swallowed large 
doses of quinine — twenty grains at a time. WTien the night 
grew still, and the incessant noises of the negroes' daily village 
life ceased, loathsome things came out from the mud walls and 
thatched roof and prowled about my room. A large black rat 
ran several times across my door-bed as I lay tossing upon it in 
sleepless pain. 

On the morning succeeding the third night of this misery 
some lightening of the fever must have come : I was in a pro- 
fuse perspiration, terribly weak, but could breathe more freely. 
The idea of escape from this foul sick-room came to me. If 
I could only get out of this horrible place I should be better ; 
and if I did not get better, the big forest would be a fitter 
place to die in than this hateful hole. There was not a soul 
to speak to ; the candle, stuck in a bottle, had died out ; the 
night was wearing towards daybreak ; that strange little animal 
of the sloth species, which gives out a series of terrible shrieks 
as the dawn is drawing near on the Coast, was already sending 
his dismal howls through the forest. I got off the bed and 
staggered to the hut window. Day was breaking ; the croom 
and the forest were wrapped in fog, but, above, the stars could 
be seen. I was horriblj'' weak, for no food had passed my lips 
during three days. The cool air seemed to revive me, and I 
felt that I must tear myself out of the grasp of this fever. I 
called my servant ; he roused the hammock men ; for the 
first time they were ready, and I was carried out of the still 
sleeping village before daylight had fully come. For ten days 
following this day the routine was the same : night usually 
brought a return of the fever — more quinine, more perspiration; 
in the morning less fever and less strength. 

King Ahencora, finding that I had left Dobbin and 
was making for his capital of Swaidroo, set out at once 
after me. AATien I reached Swaidroo I was scarcely able 
to stand ; but my brain was clear enough to reahse that 
this so-called city of a strong king was just like a score of 
other crooms through which I had passed ; that the Akims 
were exactly as all the other tribes — Assins, Denkeras, Arbias, 

L 



162 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Accras, and Agoouahs had been — a hopeless lot of craven 
beggars. 

I must run quickly through the crowded events of the next 
three months. After twenty days of travel, palavers, toil, 
and fever I reached the Prah at Prahsu with a following of 
one chief, three scouts, and twenty-six Akim soldiers. This 
was the total muster which had rallied to my call ! My first 
king was still doing fetish at Accra ; my second monarch had 
reported himself very lame that morning from a place twenty 
miles to the rear. 

The last six miles of the paths to the Prah presented a very 
gruesome appearance ; dead bodies lay along it in advanced 
stages of decomposition ; the stench was horrible ; and every- 
thing betokened the stricken state in which the Ashanti army 
had crossed the sacred river, the banks of which I was the first 
white man to reach. 

The first phase of the war was now over ; the next would 
open with the invasion of Ashanti when the British tro®ps 
had arrived at the Coast. 

The plan of invasion was as follows : — the entire English 
force was to move along the main road to Prahsu, cross the 
river, and advance straight upon Coomassie. I was again 
instructed to visit Akim, collect as many men as I could 
gather in that kingdom, cross the Prah at a place some thirty 
miles higher up stream, and invade Ashanti on my own 
account. Thirty miles still farther to my right. Captain 
Glover was to lead all the Volta natives he could collect together, 
with nine hundred or a thousand disciplined Houssas, into 
Ashanti. The date for this simultaneous crossmg of the 
frontier was fixed for the 15th January. I did not get back 
to West Akim until the 23rd December, so that I had three 
weeks in which to prepare, collect, organise, arm, and equip this 
new expedition. It would be impossible now to go over again 
these three weeks' work. It will suffice to say that I reached 
the Prah at a place called Beronassie on 13th January, to find 
a following of about one hundred Akims, and with a pulse 
beating at about the same figure. A bad night of fever fol- 
lowed the long, hot march over a rugged track, filled in many 
places with stagnant water, and crossed by roots of trees laid 
bare by rain torrents. Again came the old routine of the 



THE FRONTIER CROSSED 163 

night, now so familiar — the wakeful hours, the sickness, the 
wet fog, the dayhght, the lightening of the fever. As I lay- 
in the languor of the next day, messages came from Fuah 
and Ahencora, from Darco and other chiefs, all secretly de- 
hghted that the white man was down again ; and that three 
other English officers, who had just arrived from the main road 
to assist in this new expedition, were also lying, some ten 
miles back on the road I had come, prostrate with fever. 
' Surely I will delay the crossing of the Prah,' they urge. ' No, 
the orders are the 15th.' On the 15th I was able to move 
again, and I set out for the Prah — three miles. I found an 
advanced guard of some fifty Akims on the near bank of the 
river. ' Move your men across,' I said to the chief in com- 
mand, ' and make camp on the Ashanti shore.' ' They could 
not cross,' he said, ' they were too few ; the Ashanti fetish 
held the river ; they must wait until more men had come 
up.' * Then we shall cross alone,' I said. ' It is the day named 
by the English general : his orders must be obeyed.' Two of 
the three sick officers had arrived that morning. We rested 
a while in the Akim camp ; then I told the policemen to carry 
a few loads down to the edge of the ford. There was a ridge 
of sand in the centre of the river, and beyond it the current 
ran deep and strong. We waded to the sand island ; then 
divesting ourselves of clothes, we took the deeper water. 
In the centre it rose to our lips ; then we just touched bottom, 
caught the outlying branches of a fallen tree, and climbing 
through them, got to the farther shore. It was midday. Not 
a sound stirred in the great forest. The Akims stood in 
groups on the south shore gazing at the white man's doings. 
The sight was certainly a curious one : three white men and 
six native policemen carrying baggage had invaded Ashanti. 



CHAPTER XI 

An excuse for the craven native. End of the expedition. Near death from 
fever. Queen Victoria's visit to Netley. Companion of the Bath. Start 
for Natal. With Sir Garnet Wolseley again. Protector of Indian 
immigrants. The Tugela. Through the Orange Free State. 

As these days now come back iii recollection, I could easily 
write a volume about them. Their strangeness has grown 
stranger to me. It is all thirty-five years ago, and a thousand 
other scenes have crossed the looking-glass since then, and yet 
in that infinite wonder, the mirror of memory, I seem to see 
it all to-day perhaps even in truer perspective than I was able 
to see it in then. 

Looking back now upon that big forest, with its days of 
disappointment, its nights of sickness, its toilings under those 
gloomy green arches, the endless vistas of that gigantic laby- 
rinth of trees, the horrible brain-pictures that grew in the long, 
dark hours when the brain still saw after the eyes closed, I can 
perceive things that I did not discern then. I see much that 
was good and human in these poor black savages — true and 
faithful service, patience, honesty, strange childlike accepta- 
tion, doglike fidelity. These traits were common among them, 
the lower ranks possessing a hundred times more of them than 
the upper ones. After all, we were expecting too much from 
these Coast negroes. Firstly, we expected they would accept 
as truth everything we told them ; but why should they ? 
For three or four hundred years the white man had robbed, 
tricked, and enslaved them ; had dragged them m hundreds 
of thousands from their homes, crowded them into foul ships, 
lied to them, lashed them, cheated them in trade. What 
reason was there now that they should thmk honest, truthful 
men had all at once come amongst them, whose words they 
were to believe at the first sound ? I once asked the best and 
most truthful negro I met on the Coast this question, * When 
a white man speaks to a black one, what does the black man 

164 



OUR DEALINGS WITH THE NATIVE 165 

think of what he is told ? Does he believe it ? ' ' No,' was 
the prompt reply, ' he thinks every word the white man says 
is a lie.' Secondl}', we expected to find among them the 
habits of punctuality, obedience to command, order, and even 
discipline, which wc had been accustomed to find at home ; 
but surely this was wrong. It was our drink, our trade, our 
greed, which had hopelessly demoraHsed the native African. 
We wrung our wealth out of his sweat ; we drugged him with 
our drink ; we shot him with our guns ; we sold him powder 
and lead, so that he might shoot and enslave his fellow-black. 
These castles along his Coast were the monuments of our 
savage injustice to him. 

Thirdly, we were wrathful with the tribes of the Coast 
because they did not at once turn out and fight the Ashanti at 
our bidding. In this, too, we were looking for more than we 
had a right to expect. WTien the Ashantis had come down 
upon the tribes six months earlier, the help we had been 
able to give these tribes against their enemies was of the feeblest 
sort. In that invasion they had suffered almost everything that 
they could suffer ; thousands had been killed, all the villages 
had been destroyed, the fetish trees cut down. ' The way- 
side,' says one very accurate writer,^ ' was littered with corpses, 
with the dj^ing, with women bringing forth children.' AU the 
tribes knew this, even those whom the tide of devastation had 
not reached. Why then should they have rushed at our bid- 
ding again into a fray which had already proved so disastrous 
to them ? It is a peculiarity with many of our people that 
they do not know how much they do not know. There is 
nothing in a land before thej^ came there. History began when 
the first Enghsh traders arrived. Before that event there was a 
blank. The erection of Smith's shop marks the year one. This 
method of thinking is not confijied to traders. I remember a 
very- high civil authority at the War Office once remarking to 
a military officer whose business it was to take daily to him a 
map showing the progress of our troops in war against the 
Zulus, * Dear me ! what a lot of geography these wars teach 
one.' It is a little late to begin the acquisition of that know- 
ledge when the fighting has begun. But we must finish our 
story. 

^ Winwood Reailc. 



166 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Little by little, in the days following our unique passage of 
the Prah, I succeeded in getting an increasing number of 
Akims over the river and inducing them to go forward with 
me into Ashanti. By 22nd January we were at Yancoma, 
a place about twenty miles across the frontier. No enemy had 
been seen, but traces of scouts were here met with. From this 
place two paths led towards Coomassie : we followed that 
which went by Ennoonsu to Akim and Cocofoo. It seems a 
marvel to me now how we got the Akims along. Their numbers 
had increased to over one thousand, and more men were coming 
in. Many of the men and a few of the chiefs were of good 
stuff and spirit, but the kings and leading men were in a state 
of fear that was often comical to look at. It was this element 
of comicality in the black man which was the saving clause in 
all the long chapter of fever, fiasco, and apparently fruitless 
effort which had bj^ this time reduced my body to the condition 
of a walking skeleton. I was certainly the one officer on the 
Coast who had dwelt wholly and entirely among the natives. 
For three months I had literally lived alone with them ; the 
ways of their daily lives had become familiar to me. As the 
body of the African is almost destitute of clothing, so is his 
mmd an open one ; he has few concealments, physical or 
mental. You think, perhaps, that only in civilised communi- 
ties is the study of human nature possible, but it is not so. 
Africa is the real bed-rock school of that stud3^ CiviUsation, 
even at its best, has often to curb itself in order to keep its 
clothes on. The African has not to write a novel when he wants 
to take them off. The negroes say that Adam and Eve and 
their children were aU black, and that Cain only turned white 
through fear after he had killed Abel and when he found that 
he could not hide the dead body of his brother. I do not 
pretend to decide the question, but it is significant that the 
black man to-day does not build cities, nor, if he can help it, 
does he like to live in them. I have an idea that he will exist 
on the earth a very long time. 

We got to the Ennoon River, had a skirmish there on 25th 
January, in which the enemj'' was routed and some heads 
taken by the Akims. After another delay there of two dsuys I 
managed to get the kings, lords, and commons of Akim, now 
numbering fourteen hundred men, forward on another day's 



IN TOUCH WITH THE ENEMY 167 

march in the direction of the city of Cocofoo, one of the sacred 
spots of Ashanti situated near the Lake Boosumaque, from the 
waters of which the King of Ashanti obtained fish for his palace. 
We were now well mto the old kingdom of Ashanti. Only one 
among the four officers (Brabazon), who had joined me three 
weeks earlier, was fit for service on this day ; two of the others 
were prostrate with fever ; the fourth, MacGregor, was just able 
to stagger along the track. Two hours' march brought the 
advanced guard under Brabazon in contact with the enemy 
at a village called Akina, situated on the top of a steep hiU 
and more than one thousand feet above sea-level. Here there 
was another skirmish ; we had two Akims killed, but their 
heads were not taken. The Ashantis retreated, and the 
village was ours. It really seemed that Fortune had at last 
declared for us. I had now to close up the ranks of my extra- 
ordinary army, fortify this commanding position, and boil up 
the spirits of my kings for a further advance upon the enem3\ 

On the early morning of the 28th January a party of Ashantis 
stole into our camp along a bypath, fired at and wounded some 
Akims who were lymg asleep near a fire, and got away un- 
molested. We had taken in Akina a very sacred fetish stool 
belonging to the chief of the town ; the night raid was said 
to have had for its object the recovery of this venerated relic. 

I spent the 30th January urging upon the kings the necessity 
of making another forward move. We must now be very near 
to the main line of advance, probably only a few miles from it. 
On the preceding day one of our scouting parties had entered 
the town of i\Iansuah at Lake Boosumaque, which they found 
deserted. They brought back news that the Ashantis were in 
a camp at Cocofoo, a few miles to the north of Mansuah, and 
that the King of Ashanti, Coffee Kerrikerri, was with them. 
They added that there was another large camp of the enemy 
at Amoaful, on the main road west of Akina. This news of the 
scouts filled my kings with fear. One of them, Darco of 
Accassee, chattered with terror as he urged in palaver the 
dangers they were in. I had just received a despatch from 
Sir Garnet Wolseley, dated Fommanah, 25th January, a 
hurried postscript to which aimounced that the King of Ashanti 
had acceded to all the demands of the major-general, and that 
in view of his submission a speedy termination of hostilities 



168 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

was probable. When I communicated this news to my kings 
they one and aU declared that the King of Ashanti was a liar, 
that he meant to fight, and that his people were determined 
to do so. In this view they were right. The acceptation of 
Sir Garnet's terms of peace was only a pretence to gain time. 
Subsequent events proved that the news brought by my scouts 
from Mansuah was quite correct. Ten thousand Ashantis 
were at Cocofoo between Akina and Coomassie. 

On the afternoon of the 30th January the entire force of 
Akims on and around the hiU at Akina suddenly began to 
move out of their camps back along the road we had come from 
the Ennoon River. The kings had given me no warning of 
this intention : my campaign in Ashanti was at an end. 

A fortnight later I reached the Coast. On the march down 
I met the then Captain Redvers BuUer, Head of the Intelligence 
Department, and from him I heard the other side of the story. 
During the two daj^^s spent in Coomassie he had collected a mass 
of Ashanti information. 

' Ten thousand Ashantis were gathered at Cocofoo in front 
of you,' he said ; ' they were not at Amoaful. The presence 
of your force at Akina until the evening of the 30th kept them 
from being on our flank the next day.' 

So, after all, my Akim venture had been of some service to 
the campaign. There would be Uttle gained by attempting to 
after-cast either what might have been if this Cocofoo army 
of ten thousand had been present with the other ten thousand 
which fought so stiffly at Amoaful on 31st January ; or again, 
what might have happened if they had fallen upon my fifteen 
hundred or two thousand Akims at Akina ; or again, what 
would have come to pass if I had succeeded m inducing my 
kings to make another forward move on that Slst. Of aU the 
might-have-beens, those in war are the most futile. 

In Sir Garnet Wolseley's despatch to the Secretary of State, 
written on the evening of the day upon which he left Coomassie, 
this sentence occurs : — 

' So far as the interests of the expedition under my orders are 
concerned, Captain Butler has not failed, but most successfully 
achieved the very object which I had in view in detaching him for 
the work he so cheerfully and skilfully undertook. He has effected 
a most important diversion in favour of the main body, and has 



NEAR DEATH 169 

detained before him all the forces of one of the most powerful 
Ashanti Chiefs.' 

Although I got down to the sea the wreck of a wreck, I 
imagined that all my troubles were past, and that I should 
only have to get on the deck of a transport and lie down to 
rest for twenty days. That was not to be. 

Three or four days after I reached Cape Coast Castle a virulent 
fever, compared to which the other intermittent fever I had 
suffered had been as nothmg, suddenly burst upon me like a 
thief in the night, and the pent-up poison of the long toil 
broke out in overwhelming illness. I possess no record of the 
next two or three months, and only a very dim recollection 
of the earlier half of that period. I was embarked on board 
an old and indifferent steamship which was told off for the 
conveyance of sick and wounded from the Coast. Twenty-six 
officers, mostly suffering from fever and dysentery, had to be 
put in hammocks below the main-deck. The accommodation 
for sick people was very bad. The heat was intense ; most of the 
attendants were themselves either sick or convalescent. Some- 
thing happened on the third or fourth night after sailing, the 
exact particulars of which I cannot recall ; but I remember 
leaving my swinging cot below, climbmg to the open deck, 
and being there in the night air with very scanty covering for 
some time. Then there was a crash, and I remember striliing 
some hard substance with mj* head as I fell upon the deck. 
How long I remained lying unconscious on that wet deck I do 
not know ; but aU at once consciousness returned, and with it 
a numbed sort of fear. I remember getting down the steps 
of the ladder as best I could, and regaining my cot. Next 
morning the doctor found me in the highest fever. It would 
not be possible to speak or write of the next ten days' suffering. 
Sleep left me — nothing was able to bring it back. At last 
death was supposed to have come one morning. I dimly 
remember people gathered about the cot, and one good comrade 
asking in my ear for my last wishes. I remember, too, suddenly 
declaring that I died a Catholic. Then there is a blank, but 
not altogether, for I can recoUect that after the usual final 
settlings of face and Umbs had been made — the eyes closed, 
and the sheet drawn over the laid-out figure — there was a 



170 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

curious indistinct idea in my brain that it was not as people 
supposed ; that I was still conscious, and even that I was 
being carried by invisible hands, or being floated on towards 
a great cloud-veil, the passing through which it seemed was to 
be the final passage out of life. There was no sensation of 
bodily pain. How long I lay in this condition I don't know, 
but I remember men coming agam about the cot, lifting the 
sheet, and touching me and talking to each other. Then I 
thought, ' These men are about to prepare my body for the 
sea ' ; and as in these hot latitudes the time between death 
and burial in the ocean was a very short one, I felt the extreme 
horror of the situation, and longed to be able to make some 
sign or movement by which they might know that I was not 
really dead. Next I heard one of the men who was moving 
my limbs suddenly say to his comrade, ' I don't think he 's 
dead.' It was ' Bill,' or ' Tom,' or ' Jack,' but I have forgotten 
which name it was. The other man replied, ' Dead ? you 
something or other, why, I saw him die at eight o'clock this 
morning.' Then there was some more arm lifting or moving, 
and the man who had first spoken went on, ' Well, I don't 
think he 's dead ; anyway, I '11 go for the doctor.' Then more 
people came about the swinging cot ; something was done, 
and I awoke or became actively conscious again. 

For many days after this coming back I lay hovering on the 
brink — a shuttlecock between life and death. One day I had 
a narrow escape. I jumped from the cot suddenly in raging 
delirium, and rushed along the mam-deck, looking for any 
exit that might promise escape. I sprang mto the first open 
door ; it was the cook's galley. Men caught hold of me ; the 
skeleton had the strength of six sound men. I could not be 
got out of the place until an old acquaintance came. Then I 
went quietly back with him. After that I was put into a 
closed cabin, and special men were told off to watch day and 
night. As we slowly sailed into cooler latitudes the fever of 
the brain grew less ; and at Madeira a Portuguese clergyman 
came off to the tossmg ship, bad sailor though he was, to 
bring to the ' ruckle of bones ' the final ministrations of that 
Faith, the tinkle of whose Mass-bell — more continuous and 
far-reaching even than the loud drum beat of England which the 
American imagined circling the earth and keeping company 



NETLEY HOSPITAI^-PROMOTION 171 

with the hours — carries its morning message of mercy to the 
sinners of the world. 

I lay for two months m Netley Hospital, and at last, when 
the summer was half over, was declared fit for the outer world 
again. Of course, I missed all the rejoicings, the feastings, and 
the field days that followed the return to England of the 
victorious general and his little army, but I was not forgotten 
at Netley by queen or country. Her Majesty came to my 
bedside and spoke some very gracious words to me, among 
them being a message of peculiar thought and kindliness. 
' When Sir Garnet Wolseley rode up to my carriage at the 
Wmdsor Review, the Duke of Cambridge whispered to me, 
" If you wish to please Sir Garnet, the first question should be 
an inquiry for Captain Butler." ' 

In the Ashanti Gazette I was promoted to a majority in the 
army, and made a Companion of the Bath. It now only 
remained to get into the Bath-chair to which I had also been 
appointed, by the excellent doctor at Netley. And here I 
desire to say a word about a body of gentlemen-servants of 
the State with whom a long active life made me familiar — the 
medical officers of the army, I have known them m many 
lands, and mider the varying conditions inevitable to military 
life. I never knew them to fail. There is no finer sight in 
war than the figure of a military surgeon kneelmg beside a 
wounded man just behind the fighting line. Shots may come, 
and shots may go, but the surgeon goes on at his work, quietly, 
coolly, and with hand as steady and dexterous, and gaze as 
concentrated on his business, as though the scene were 
the operating-room in a London hospital. 

Until the close of my work in Akim I had no doctor with 
me ; then one was sent at the time the three officers, Brabazon, 
Paget, and MacGregor, joined my column. The doctor, Lowe, 
was a big breezy sort of man, who on his arrival laughed at 
malaria. ' It is only a convenient professional expression,' 
he said. A day or two later he was ' down with fever ' at 
Yancoraa, and for the rest of my short campaign I had him 
carried in a hammock. 

At long last I got away from Netley. I made for the west 
coast of Ireland, to regain, if possible, the health and strength 
which seemed to have been hopelessly lost on the west coast 



172 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of Africa. I was stiU able to move only a few yards on my 
feet, so I drove as much as I could. The outside car, the great 
cliffs of Clare, and the heatherj^ glens of Kerry — ^these were 
now my doctors. In three weeks I was feeling a different man, 
though still very weak. At last I came to a little seaside 
hotel where a few fisher and shootmg folk formed the company. 

One day in late September some of them asked me to go into 
a neighbouring bog to look for somethmg. I went with them. 
A snipe got up in front of me ; the effort to get the gun to the 
shoulder caused me to stagger, but there was a bank close by, 
and I leant against it while aiming. Bang ! the snipe was 
down. I was well. 

I was loth to leave these wonderful scenes which had given 
me back hfe's most precious gift, and, learnmg to walk, I 
tarried off and on among the Kerrj^ hills, shooting and writing. 

One da}^ in February 1875 a telegram came from Sir Garnet 
Wolseley in London : — 

' Come at once, and be ready to start with me for South Africa 
on Thursday.' 

My book on Akim-land ^ was all but finished. I put up the 
MS., packed my things, and was in London the next day. 

Then I heard what the telegram meant. Sir Garnet Wolseley 
was going to Natal in a joint civil and military capacity — 
Governor and High Commissioner. He had asked four of his 
old Ashanti staff to go with him. I was one of them. Five 
days later we sailed from Dartmouth for Cape Town and 
Durban. The voyage was then of nearly twice the duration 
that it is to-day, and we had full time to study the work to be 
done, as our vessel steamed slowly southwards, skirting these 
same jaws of Benin, which, just a year ago, had all but closed 
their bite upon me. One day, while steammg through this 
steaming sea, something went wrong with the machinery, 
and we stopped for a few hours to set it right. A large number 
of sharks gathered about the ship. The water was very clear, 
and with the sun straight overhead it was possible to see down 
through its unruffled surface to a great depth. The sailing 
voyage to India fifteen years before had taught me something 
of a shark's ways in these waters, for we had lain becalmed in 

^ Akim-J'oo, the Hiiitory of a Failure. (E. B. ) 



SAILING FOR NATAL 173 

thera for many days. I crumpled a newspaper together and 
dropped it over the stern. A huge shark came swimming 
upward towards the white floating object. I had a rifle laid 
on it ; as he snapped, I fired. The bullet hit him fair in the 
head ; he turned a complete somersault out of the water aijd 
lay dead as a stone on the surface ; then the great body began 
to sink slowly, belly upwards. It was curious to watch it 
fathoms and fathoms below, the glare of the tropic sun striking 
on the snow-white body as on a looking-glass. ' I have sailed 
the sea for thirty years,' said our captain, ' but that is the first 
shark I ever saw shot dead.' 

All the members of this new mission had been former comrades 
on the Coast with me. Colonel Pomeroy Colley, whose extra- 
ordinary' vigour and energj^ a few months earlier had saved 
the transport service from collapse on the Gold Coast, was the 
only ofiicer among our group who had had previous service in 
South Africa. Major Henry Brackenbury ^ had also distin- 
guished himself in the late campaign as military secretary to 
Sir Garnet Wolseley ; and Captain Lord Gifford, V.C, had a 
name which was then a household word in the service and out 
of it for the cool and determined courage with which he 
explored with a small band of native scouts the labyrinths 
of the forest in front of the Ashanti enemy, A new colonial 
secretary for Natal, ]\Ir. Napier Broome, was also of our 
party. He had been a recent leader-writer on the staff of 
the Times. 

We made a merry party. Our chief was of that rare make 
of men in whom the thing we caU ' command ' in the army 
is so much an essential item of their nature that one has no 
more thought of questionmg it than one would think of 
asking a bird why he flew, or a river why it flowed. Wolseley 
was the only man I met in the army on whom command sat 
so easily and fitly that neither he nor the men he commanded 
had ever to think about it. And it was this fact of command 
by right that made his companionship as easy to others as his 
leadership was easy to himself. It was such a delight to meet 
a general of a type entirely different from an\i:hing of the kind 
I had ever seen before in our army, that the chief regret I had, 
on this my third turn of service with him, was that I was less 

^ Now Sir Henry. 



174 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

likely to be of use to him now than I had been in Canada or 
Ashanti. 

The poison of the bite of the Gold Coast was not yet all out 
of my veins, and Natal in March was said to have still a fervid 
sun above it. 

We reached Cape Town on 17th March, had a few days there, 
and then went on in a splendid frigate, the Raleigh, to Durban. 
This vessel had just been launched, the first and last of her 
type, meant for steam and wind, with great engines and large 
masts — a combination which our own experience was shortly 
to prove useless. Sir Garnet carried a letter from the Admiralty 
directing the admiral at Simon's Town to detach a ship from 
the flying squadron for his transport to Natal, and the Raleigh 
was placed at his service. After a dinner on board Admiral 
Randolph's flagship we rowed to the Raleigh, and were received 
by Captain Try on on his quarter-deck. His name will be long 
associated with one of the most tragic chapters in modern 
naval histor3^ In weighing anchor immediate^ afterwards 
something went wrong in the operation of catting the anchor, 
and, as the sea was rising before a south-easterly wind, the 
huge mass of the anchor swinging just at the water-line was 
considered dangerous, and there was a good deal of hauhng 
work before it could be secured. Captain Tryon came into 
the deck cabin where we were assembled, to explain what had 
happened. The trouble was complicated because a rock known 
as ' the Roman ' was only a short distance off, on the lee side, 
so that if the ship went ahead the anchor would swing against 
her bows, and if she didn't go ahead the wind might take us 
on ' the Roman ' rock. Wolseley was seated on the table. 
' My dear captain,' he said, ' on the deck of a British ship-of- 
war I always feel that I am on the safest spot in the world.' 
When morning came we had cleared False Ba,y and were steer- 
ing in the teeth of a violent south-easter. Trj-on was a veritable 
Triton, a powerfully built man, with a large strong face and a 
deep voice. He spared nothmg on this occasion to make the 
few days we were on his ship pleasant to us. The Raleigh 
burned nearly three hundred tons of coal in twenty-four hours ; 
but in the face of the south-easter she made slow progress, 
and her captain and officers were not a little put out when, 
in the middle of the driving mist of the first day's storm, we 



NEW DUTIES 175 

saw our old friend the W aimer Castle steaming slowly past us, 
burning some thirty tons in the same period. But the gale 
went down the next day, and then canvas had its chance, 
and took it splendidly. With every stitch set on the huge 
masts, the ship sped along the coasts of Kaffraria for four 
hundred miles, and on 29th ]March the sight of a canvas- 
clouded frigate coming up to the roadstead at Durban was 
the first intimation the people of Natal had of Sir Garnet's 
advent among them. 

Then began some six months of most varied and interesting 
work. The central object of the mission was to mduce the 
Government and people of Natal to alter their Constitution, 
giving to the Crown larger powers in the nomination of members 
to the Legislative Council, the object being to prevent the 
recurrence of certain repressive measures against the natives 
which the Secretary of State considered had been hostile to 
the spirit as weU as to the letter of English law. 

The part which fell to my lot in the programme of work 
was a varied one. I was nominated Protector of Indian 
Immigrants, a position which gave me a seat on the Council 
and also in the Legislative Assembly of the colony. 

I had to report on the land system existing in Natal, with a 
view to the introduction of British colonists, to study native 
questions, and take part in the debates when the Legislative 
Council was in session. Meanwhile a season of social hospitali- 
ties was begun on the most lavish scale. Dinner parties at 
Government House were of nightly occurrence. Dances were 
constantly taking place. Within a fortnight the ladies were aU 
on the new governor's side. It could not well have been other- 
wise. Who could resist the fascination of this young general, 
in whom an extraordinary capacity for labour of the most 
serious kind was combined with a buoyancy of spirit and 
natural kindness of character seldom found united in the same 
individual ? 

Of course, ' the attempt to tamper with the Constitution,' 
as it was called by a section of Natal societj% gave rise to 
considerable opposition ; and when the Legislative CouncU 
met, very hvely discussions took place in that small assembly 
at which ambitious Hampdens and journalistic Vanes were 
present. But the whole thing was in truth a teacup tempest. 



176 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

The eternal African native was the sole reality in it, and all 
the talking, and the travelling that was to follow the talking, 
got Natal no nearer to the solution of that immense human 
problem. 

The longer I have watched the workings of the great and 
the little representative and deliberative assemblies of the 
world, the more I have been disposed to think of the dog on 
the deck of a canal boat, who imagines he is pulling the load 
because he stands barking at the old horse that is dragging it. 
But perhaps if that dog did not think he was doing all this 
work, he might be biting some of the people at the other end 
of the boat. 

The Natal Constitution Bill passed by a very small majority, 
and then came a time of intense interest to me personally. 
We started up country to visit, first, the locations from which 
the tribes of Langalabalele and Putili Zulus had been recently 
ejected, at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains ; then the 
line of the Tugela River and the Ladysmith and Newcastle 
districts ; and, finally, I was to be detached on a mission to 
President Brand in Bloemfontein, the Kimberley Diamond 
Fields, and Basutoland. If, a quarter of a century later, it 
was to fall to my lot to hold a high civil and military position 
in South Africa on my own account and to endeavour to tell 
the governing powers of England of the size, weight, and sub- 
stance of certain forces and quantities in the problem with which 
they would then have to deal, I owe it largely, if not wholly, 
to the mission I was now about to undertake, that many 
warning words written and spoken by me under circumstances 
of no little difficulty and complexity in that later time, were at 
least found fairly accurate when all the account was closed. 

We set out in mid- June for the Drakensberg, with saddle- 
horses and waggons. The weather was perfect, the scenery not 
to be surpassed. Tower-topped moimtaius, ten and twelve 
thousand feet in height, snow-crowned and purple, rose as 
Natal's western boundary wall. Along the feet of these we 
travelled, each night camp measured from the last night's one 
by the ' trek ' of the oxen — sometimes ten miles, sometimes 
five, for there were many drifts to be crossed and hours were 
often lost at some of them. But with our horses to let us rove 
in front or on the flanks of the transport waggons, the shortest 



IN THE ORANGE FREE STATE 177 

day's trek often gave us the longest day of sport or rambling. 
June is South Africa's mid-wmter, a season of brilliant sunshine 
and clear frosty nights ; sunrises of great silent beauty, with 
snow-white mists rising from unseen river beds, and climbing 
slowly up the mountain's eastern face, thinning and dissolving 
as they ascend ; evenings of still more perfect lustre when the 
sun has gone down behind the many domes and turrets of the 
Drakensberg, and the western sky above the serrated snow is 
one vast green and saffron afterglow. These were pleasant days. 

We struck the Tugela in the centre of the great angle which 
half encloses it for some miles after it has come down in three 
great jumps from the top of the Drakensberg ; then we jour- 
neyed past scenes which, twenty-five years later, were to loom 
large m our history : to Ladysmith, and up to Newcastle, a 
tiny village of a dozen houses. From this place Sir Garnet 
Wolseley followed the Tugela Valley, and I began my journey 
through the Orange Free State to Kimberley. 

At that time no land on earth seemed to lie in greater peace 
and surer prospect of its continuance ; but, strangely enough, 
I find in a pocket notebook I then carried a quotation which 
must have expressed some foreboding in my mmd, other- 
wise it would scarcely have found entry there : — 

' Thus far their (the white men's) course has been marked with 
blood, and with blood must it be traced to its termination either in 
their own destruction or in that of thousands of the population of 
Southern Africa.' 

From Newcastle in a long day's ride I ascended the Drakens- 
berg by the Ingogo Valley and Botha Pass, thence by post-cart 
from Harrismith and Bethlehem and Winburg to Bloemfontem. 
This was a five daj-s' journey. xA.bove the berg the land was 
all a great rolling plain of veldt, unmarked, unfenced, with 
enormous herds of blesbok, springbok, and other antelopes 
grazing or galloping over it, the cart path a thin ribbon of lighter 
colour winding away through a brown waste, over which 
blew a wind of the keenest and most invigorating freshness. 
At intervals, on either side of the road-ribbon, table-topped hills 
rose near and far, breaking the dull monotony of the lower 
level, until the straight lines of their summits became merged 
into a distant horizon. 

M 



178 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

At Bloemfontein I presented my letters of introduction to 
President Brand, and during the following days I had many 
interviews with that remarkable man. Bloemfontein was 
then onty a large village, but on market-day the place was 
crowded with men in well-horsed Cape carts, or large waggons 
drawn by many oxen — a fine, manly, heavy-bearded, and broad- 
shouldered race of men, and with women with large fair faces, 
big figures, and light brown hair. Babies were very numerous. 

I passed on to Kimberley, travelling in a four-horsed post- 
cart which left Bloemfontein shortly before sunset. A little 
Bushman driver and two half-Hottentot, half-Bushman girls 
were the only other occupants of the vehicle. 

A strange green porcelain-coloured sunset tinged half the 
western sky and presaged some weather turmoil from the west, 
into which we were rapidly driving, and a wild storm broke 
upon us before we were manj^ hours out. First, blinding dust, 
then a deluge of rain, which soon turned into blinding snow, 
and thunder and lightning such as I had not seen even on the 
Gold Coast. The lightning was everywhere at once, so rapidly 
did the vivid flashes follow one another, and simultaneously 
with them came the burst and crash of the discharges. We 
were moving through an atmosphere so charged with electric 
currents that, looking up, I saw for the first and last time in 
my life a curious phenomenon — a bluish light like that of a tall 
thin candle flame extending some inches from the top of the 
long whip handle which the driver had m his hand. The post- 
cart owner in Bloemfontein had provided a large sheepskin 
' karrosse ' for my use, but I could not allow the two wretched 
Bushman girls in the back of the cart to lie cowering in the 
wet snow, and the karrosse made them less miserable. 

At four in the morning we reached the village of Boshoff, 
the rain still falling in torrents. Next day Kimberley was 
reached in baking sunshine. At that time Kimberley (or 
Colesberg) was a strange place. It had just concluded a small 
rebellion on its own account — had risen against its English 
governor and his colonial secretary, established a provisional 
government, rescued a recalcitrant storekeeper from the hands 
of three constables, and done several other free and independent 
things. No Dutchmen or Boers took part in this movement, 
which had its origin in some Government order permitting the 



A GLIMPSE OF KIMBERLEY 179 

black men to work as diamond diggers for themselves. The 
approach of six companies of British soldiers marching from 
Cape Town had caused a general stampede of the four chief 
standard-bearers of liberty — an Englishman, a German, an 
Irishman, and a Natal colonist — across the border, and things 
had resumed their normal condition of good-fellowship. 

I found the British battalion (the 24th Regiment) encamped 
at Barkle}^ on the Vaal River, north of Kimberley. It was this 
battalion, with nearly all the officers who were now present 
at Barkley, which was totally destroyed by the Zulus at 
Isandula four years later. 

Manj?^ interestmg characters had gathered in Kimberley at 
this time. Eton and Harrow men ; old army officers ; young 
adventurous spirits from the Cape Colony ; East End and 
German Jews in great abundance — all these were to be found. 
The late Mr. Rhodes was there, but I did not meet him. The 
town consisted of corrugated iron and canvas, the streets were 
deep in mud and empty bottles, and ten or twelve thousand 
negroes were at work in Colesberg pit, which was twelve acres 
in size and two hundred feet in depth. Every grade and shade 
m life was represented here. There was a university man who 
gave readings in the Town Hall, and his rendering of Tennyson's 
* May Queen ' so deeply affected a huge Cornish miner at the 
back of the audience that he ejaculated in a deep voice at the 
end of the words ' For I 'm to be Queen of the May, Mother ' : 
' And so am I ! ' He w^as a large, bearded man, and he appeared 
so thoroughly' in earnest in the matter that the reading could 
not be continued. 

I got back to Bloemfontein on 23rd July, through a country 
where thousands of sheep had been killed by the snow-storm ; 
and after many more conversations with President Brand, in 
which twenty-five years of the previous history of that part of 
vSouth Africa were reviewed, I set out for Basutoland, intending 
to enter Natal by a pass over the Drakensberg near the great 
Tugela Waterfall, We camped at Thabanchu the first night, 
where the old chief of the Barralongs, Moroko, ninety years of 
age, still dwelt, and reached Maseru early the next day. 

The commissioner here, Colonel Griffiths, had seen much 
colonial service ; and, like Colonel Southey at Kimberley, he 
had gone through campaigns in Kaffraria under Sir Harry 



180 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Smith. We rode together over the remarkable table mountain 
called the Berea, where the paramount Cliief Moshesh had 
defeated a column of British troops in the war of 1852 ; then, 
having bought a couple of Basuto ponies for the ride to Natal, 
I set out on the 4th August for the head of the Calcdon River. 
Unfortunately, one of the ponies came down under me on 
some flat rocks as we were nearing a French Protestant mission 
station at the advanced posts. The cap of my knee was deeply 
cut ; but the excellent wife of the missionary dressed the 
wounds, and I went on the next mornmg towards Leribe, a 
ride of over forty miles, where dwelt the Basuto chief Moloppo, 
the son of Moshesh, the owner of fifty wives, and reputed to be 
full of craft and cunning. The agent at Leribe was Major 
Bell, an old Cape Corps soldier, who had fought under Harry 
Smith at Boomplatz in 1849. The next day's ride from Leribe 
was through scenery of a very wild and striking character. 
We were bound for the kraal of Letsika, still higher up the 
Caledon. I had with me two Basuto policemen, with whom 
I could not exchange a word ; but we got on well by signs, 
and when one has been in the habit of living with any one 
African race, it is easy to be at home with another. The root 
ideas and tokens are the same everywhere ; so is the food. 

Our path lay through a gorge in the mountains, at the 
bottom of which the river ran in deep curves. The sun could 
not reach the bottom of this glen, which was bounded on either 
side by steep precipitous cliffs of sandstone rock, ending above 
in turrets and spires. The path wound in zigzags up to a 
ledge, upon which stood the kraal of Letsika. 

Lower down on the level ground we had met a Basuto, gallop- 
ing for all he knew on a grey pony, coming towards us. The 
policemen called to him to stop, but as he had no bit, and only 
a rope at one side of the pony's mouth, he could only pull up 
by circling his steed round and round us until the animal came 
to a stand for want of a smaller circle space. They had heard 
I was coming, and he was riding to the nearest store, ten miles, 
for some English food, coffee, sugar, etc. They had killed a 
kid in the kraal. How like all these people were to old Bible 
folk ! It was we who were different. We got to the kraal 
with tired horses. Letsika was a good-looking young man, 
and his yo-ang wife did her household work well. They had 



OVER MOUNTAIN PASSES 181 

evacuated their circular Basuto hut, which was swept and 
ready. The kid was cooked and eaten ; then Letsika and his 
wife came and sat on the clay bench that ran round the wall. 
They had a Basuto Bible, printed in English letters ; t had a 
story of Bret Harte's. 

To Letsika's astonishment, I read, letter by letter, his Bible, 
my pronunciation evoking frequent laughter ; and to my 
own astonishment Madame Letsika spelt out Bret Harte in 
the same manner, the French clergyman's wife having taught 
her at the mission school. 

As night closed, the literary entertainment was continued 
by the light of a fibre wick floating in the grease of the fatted 
kid. 

Next day we continued the ascent, along dizzy ledges round 
which the ponies crept with wonderful sure-footedness, ascend- 
ing often by steps cut in the rock. I should have been glad 
to dismount at these places, but as the native guides kept 
their saddles, I did the same. No horse in the world can 
beat a Basuto pony in mountain cUmbing. 

On our left we had the Roode Berg, and on our right the 
Mont Aux Sources began to show its turret tops. This is the 
highest mountain south of the Zambesi, and from its sides the 
largest rivers of the Transvaal, Natal, and the Cape Colony 
shed their waters. 

In the afternoon a violent storm came sweeping after us up 
the Caledon ; its coming was preceded by a loud howling 
noise lower down the valley. I was riding in front, the two 
Basutos some distance behind ; they called out something to 
me, but I did not imderstand, and before there was time to do 
anything the wind was on us. It struck so hard that my pony 
was blown off the path, fortunately landing on a slope two or 
three feet lower down. After this experience we all dis- 
mounted at the bad places. We reached the source of the 
Caledon, then mounted the steep divide on which snow was 
lying, but the gale was sweeping the ridge so furiously that 
we could not stand before it. Below, on the farther side, lay 
Witzic's Hoek, where dwelt Paulus Moperi, a cousin of old 
Moshesh's. Paulus had been to London in early 3'ears, and 
he did not appear to have been unduly astonished at anything 
he had seen there. I once asked an educated negro on the 



182 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Gold Coast what his people thought of Englishmen. ' Half a 
fetish, half a fool,' was the answer ; ' a fetish because they do 
things we can't do, and a fool because they come out here to 
do them.' 

From Moperi's kraal I crossed the Drakensberg by a rough 
bridle path into Natal, and in a long day's ride reached the 
Tugela presidency, where my damaged knee was again dressed. 

Another ride of fifty miles took me from the presidency to 
the valley of Colenso, by reaches of river and spurs of mountain 
to which another quarter of a century would bring celebrity. 

On I2th August I reached Maritzburg. 



CHAPTER XII 

The state of South Africa in 1875. On the Staff at the War Office. Military 
administration. First meeting with Gordon. Marriage. War in Eastern 
Europe. Annexation of the TranaviiaL Visit to Cyprus. The Zulu War. 
Isandula. Departure for South Africa. 

I FOUND all the members of our mission reassembled in 
Government House, Maritzburg, after their various travels. 
Reports had now to be written embodying the impressions 
formed upon the different subjects of reference — native affairs, 
land tenures. Crown lands, and the possible trend of affairs 
in the Dutch states beyond our borders. 

A notable visitor had joined Sir Garnet Wolseley's party 
in the person of Mr. James Anthony Froude. My friend, 
General Sir Henry Brackenbury, in a recent volume of recollec- 
tions, referring to Mr. Froude's presence at this time, has said 
that ' Butler got more into his (Mr. Froude's) confidence and 
intimacy in a day than he (Colonel Brackenbury) had done 
in six months ; in the woes of Ireland they had a subject 
of deep common interest to both.' My recollections of that 
pleasant intercourse and of those social gatherings round the 
general's table in old Government House, at the foot of the 
slope that led up to Fort Napier and the Zwart Kop, are not 
quite General Brackenbury 's. He is not fair to himself. I 
think that if Mr. Froude honoured me with a larger share 
of liis conversation than that which he gave to my com- 
panions, it was because being Irish and Catholic I presented, 
perhaps, a wider target for his shots than they did. In his 
own way he had a deep and fervid affection for Ireland. 
His heart was set in Kerry, and I have an idea that it was 
by the lessons he had learned in the study of Tudor and Stuart 
times in that part of Ireland that his views of the Dutch 
question in South Africa had been coloured and even moulded. 
He liked, too, to try Uttle bits of religious or political badinage 
upon me. I remember his asking me in a large company if I 

183 



184 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

had gone when at Madeira to see the Portuguese statue of the 
* Winking Virgin,' which was said to be there. I said that I 
had not, and gave as my reason that I had seen so many 
winking ladies in England that the sight had ceased to have 
novelty for me. It was afterwards that we became friends. 
At this time Mr. Froude was terminating a quasi-political 
mission to South Africa, undertaken at the request of Lord 
Carnarvon, in the interests of the Confederation of all the 
States and Colonies. What a strange retrospect those thirty- 
four years present to-day ! How eager we were at our 
writings, our proposals, our plans for colonisation, for native 
government, better land division and tenures, extensions of 
railways and telegraphs, and half a dozen other matters — so 
hopeful about it all. And how exceedingly droll it must all 
have seemed to the little cherub up aloft, who, no doubt, saw 
the thirty years then coming as we saw the thirty years that 
had gone. 

At the time of this mission of ours South Africa had enjoyed 
profound peace for a quarter of a century. Two weak battalions 
of infantry sufficed to give it garrison. Old racial issues were 
disappearing ; that best form of race-amalgamation was 
steadily progressing — intermarriage. Then began, first at 
Kimberley, and later in the other mining centres, the intro- 
duction of the new element, the preaching of the religion of 
' the top Dog and the under Dog ' ; the bounder suddenly let 
loose in the ' Ilhmitable,' to be followed by a quarter century 
of strife and bloodshed, until to-day we are arrived at the 
precise spot — Confederation — which Mr. Froude and a few 
other people then strove for, and which was just as possible 
and as attainable at that time as it has been found to be 
to-da5^ In the eye of the very young child and in that of 
the old man there is the same strange look of surprise, 
the wonder of what it is all about, and the question of ' What 
it was all for.' And doubtless so it wiU be to the end, 
until we can aU sit with the cherub and see both sides of the 
Bwing. 

Not the least interesting among the personahties met with 
in this visit to South Africa was the then Mr. (Sir) Theophilus 
Shepstone. In the earlier days of my journey, while we were 
Btill in that beautiful region in Natal lying at the foot of the 



MR. SHEPSTONE AND DR. COLENSO 185 

Drakensberg Mountains, that quiet land of the Putili and 
Langalabeleli tribes, I enjoyed many a day's companionship 
with Mr. Shepstone. He had begun to study human philosophy 
at the bed-rock. He had lived among the Zulus from his child- 
hood. HaK the philosophers of the world have to go dowTi 
from the class before they can go up to the clouds. They are 
like plants nurtured in a hot-house, unable to stand in the 
open. Shepstone had been alwaj's in the open. With him the 
years had drawn out the telescope of hfe to its full focus ; he 
saw long distances, and, moreover, the hills on the horizon 
had other sides for him. He had the native habit of long 
silences ; then something would occur — the sight of a blesbok 
on a hill-top, a flower by the wayside, an outcrop of some 
coloured rock in a landslide — and the silent spring of thought 
would begin to flow in words. He would repeat some anecdote 
heard from an old Zulu chief a generation earher, told in those 
quaint conceits of language which the wild men fashion so 
easilj^ out of the winds, the waters, and wilderness in which 
they live. People wonder how men whom we call barbarous 
have so often in their hves a natural level of right and wrong, 
a sense of good and evil which we imagine belongs to our- 
selves and our civilisation only. They forget that in nature 
every^thing has a right and a wrong side, and that it is only in 
art you have to teach people on which side the shadow falls. 
I think that a day's ride in the company of that old white 
Zulu chief and statesman was worth a whole term in a 
University. 

Shepstone made one mistake in his life ; but of that later. 

Another friend met at that time in Natal was Dr. Colenso, 
a brave and devoted soldier fighting an uphill battle against 
the greeds and cruelties of man. He was not in touch with 
the majority of his fellow-colonists in those days, for causes 
which will be famihar to readers of Nathaniel Hawthorne fifty 
years ago, or of Olive Schreiner in our own time. When you 
cut down the forest or clear the brushwood in a new colony, 
the first crop that springs from the soil has many weeds in it. 
It is inevitable that it should be so ; perhaps it is even neces- 
spiTj. The man who doesn't know how much he doesn't know 
may have his uses in a new land, where there is plenty of 
space. 



186 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

We left Natal early in September, and reached London a 
month later. 

It was an interesting moment, the close of the j^-ear 1875. 
Mr. Disraeli, having then fairly settled his account with home 
poUtics in the previous eighteen months of office, was free to 
launch forth into foreign enterprises. Some great specialist 
of the brain had said that until his sixtieth year a man was 
himself, that from sixty to seventy he belonged to his family, 
and that from seventy onwards he was merged in his tribe. 
Disraeli was now in his seventy-first year. The Eastern in- 
stinct glowed strongly within him — how strongly only the 
Memoirs will teU ; but, looking back now, it is not difficult 
to see that signs were showing above the surface in November 
1875 plainly indicating the whitherwards of coming events. 

Shortly after our arrival in England I attended a levee 
held in the old Horse Guards by the Duke of Cambridge. His 
Royal Highness was kind and gracious, said some nice things 
about bygone service, and a week or two later I was agree- 
ably surprised to receive a letter from his military secretary 
asking if I would accept the position of deputy assistant 
quartermaster-general at headquarters. I replied in the 
affirmative ; and before I could be gazetted to the appoint- 
ment another letter came from another high official asking if 
I felt disposed to proceed first on a mission to trans-Caspian 
Persia for the purpose of reporting upon the Russian move- 
ments along the Attrek Valley in the direction of Merv, after- 
wards taking up the post at headquarters. All my natural 
inclinations lay in the direction of Persia as against Pall Mail, 
and I replied accepting the mission to Merv ; but the proposal 
fell through owmg to the refusal of the Foreign Office to 
sanction the necessary expenditure, and shortly before the 
year closed I joined the staff at the War Office. 

It was a marked change of scene, from the extremity of the 
circumference where my service had hitherto led me, to the 
exact centre of the system. 

And a highly centred system it was at that time, far more 
than it is at present. A corporal and a file of men could not 
move from Glasgow to Edinburgh except with the sanction 
and under the sign-manual of the headquarters in London. 
' I am glad to hear that you are going to the War Office,' wrote 



THE WAR OFFICE 187 

a general of the widest experience to me. ' Yon will at least 
see there the extraordinary system under which our army is 
administered, and you will also be able to form a judgment upon 
the stability of the human pillars which support the edifice of 
administration/ The thing that soon became clear to me, 
holding even a subordinate position in that great congeries 
of confusion then known as the War Office, was the hopelessness 
of any attempt to simplify or improve matters in any way. 
A vast wheel was going round, and all men, big and little, were 
pinned upon it, each one bound to eat a certain set ration of 
paper every day of his hfe. It was not the subject so much 
as the paper that mattered. In the months following my 
appointment I saw a great deal of Major Redvers BuUer, 
who held an appointment similar to mine in the adjutant- 
general's office, then presided over by Sir Richard Airey. 
My own office had for its head Sir Charles Ellice, and 
later on Sir Daniel Lysons. Many other officers whose names 
became known to army fame in subsequent years held positions 
at this time on the headquarters sta£F — Colonel T. D. Baker, 
Colonel Robert Hume, Colonel, afterwards Sir, Charles Wilson, 
Sir Patrick MacDougall, Captain Herbert Stuart, Sir John 
Ardagh, and others. I would speak in particular of Colonel 
Robert Hume, R.E. He was an exceptionally brilliant officer, 
mixing wit and work in a rare combination. Like most of 
the young and ambitious soldiers of the time, his economic 
resources were not large, and he had a hard struggle, as the 
real head of the Intelligence Department, to work his official 
position and maintain a large family. 

When the long-expected war between Russia and Turkey 
began, the work that fell to his lot in briefing or coaching the 
ministers responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs was 
very great. He died of a slow fever about the time of the 
occupation of Cyprus. He had distinguished himself during 
the Ashanti War as the engineer-m-chief of the expedition, 
and no doubt his constitution had suffered on the Coast. But 
I knew something of his family affairs at the time, and I believe 
that a life of the largest value to the State was lost, not because 
of the labour it was doing in the public service, but because 
of financial anxieties and worries at home. 

At the moment when Colonel Hume was finding brains 



188 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

and knowledge, geographical and other, for ministers and 
statesmen whose names figured large in the European con- 
gresses that preceded and followed the Russo-Turkish War, 
he frequentlj^ sat late into the night at home workmg a sewing- 
machine to keep his children in clothes ! What a lot of splendid 
human steel I have seen cast on the scrap-heap in my time, 
in the fulness of its strength and usefulness, through the selfish 
stupidity of a system which never seemed to know the worth 
of any human material it had to deal with ! 

The mass of old and confused buildings in Pall Mall in which 
the administration of the army was then carried on was quite 
typical of the confused work itself. Six or seven houses had 
been selected, and thrown into intercommunication by means 
of three-step doorways and devious stairways. All grades of 
London houses had thus been brought together — from the 
fine rooms of a ducal residence, where one saw walls and 
ceilings with medaUions by Angelica Kauffmann and Italian 
mantelpieces of the finest sculpture, to the mean-looking 
lobbies and by-rooms of what had been once a silk-mercer's 
establishment. The old sailor proverb about the island 
of St. Helena — ^that you had the choice of breaking your 
heart going up, or your neck coming down — had in a small 
way its parallel in the Pall Mall makeshift building with its 
many stairs ; and it was typical also of the misfortunes 
attending upon the house that is divided against itself that 
for fully forty j^^ears the department of State which most 
vitally affected the existence of the Empire was attempted 
to be carried on in a hole-and-corner collection of buildings, 
most of the rooms of which were as unhealthy to the 
administrators as they were unsuitable for the administra- 
tion. 

The division existing between the civil and military sides 
in the War Office was as lasting a source of trouble to the 
men who went into the houses as it was an active agent in pro- 
ducing faults in the work that came out from it. Men spent 
the greater part of their time in official hours in writing 
' minutes ' from one duigy room to another across these dusty 
passages and dark corridors. The clerk who could write the 
sharpest minute in the most illegible handwriting was a valuable 
reinforcement to his particular side, and he had never to be at 



THE SYSTEM 189 

a loss in finding opportunity for discharging his ' minute ' guns 
into the ranks of some opponent. Plenty of fighting could be 
had all round. The strangest part of it was that nobody ever 
seemed to think why it was wrong, or to question the foundation 
upon which the system rested — a foundation which was entirely 
wrong m prmciple, and was therefore as certain to work out 
as wrong in practice as though it had been a piece of architecture 
set on false foundations and built upon faulty measurements. 
In my time I knew m that old building half a score of Secretaries 
of State. It was almost pathetic to see each of these men 
in turn begin in hope and end in failure. Those among them 
who made the fewest mistakes were those who tried the fewest 
changes : bad as the old machine was, it went better with oil 
and leisure than it did with grit and energy. It was like a man 
whose constitution is thoroughly unsound, but who, neverthe- 
less, can sometimes reach old age, if he does not play pranks, 
or imagme himself either a young man or a strong man. 

To understand the truth about our military administration 
you must go a long way back m history — in fact, to Oliver 
Cromwell. One fact alone in the history of the last seventy 
years should give pause to all military reformers. It is this, 
that at the end of every war waged by us in that period we 
have come to a unanimous agreement that we were totally 
unprepared for the war when we entered upon it ; and yet if 
you go back to the beginning of each of these wars you will 
also find that when we began them we were perfectly certain 
we were ready, down to the traditional last button. 

London in the middle 'seventies was a gay place of residence. 
Much of the gold which the Franco-German War had poured 
into it four years earlier v/as still there ; men and women, 
horses and dogs, even the sparrows, looked fat, sleek, and jolly ; 
only the poor were stiU thin. I look back to a host of friends, 
kind, hospitable souls, chief among them on the army side being 
Sir Garnet Wolseley, Redvers Buller, Evelyn Wood, R. Owen 
Jones, Robert Hume, Henry Brackenbury, T. D. Baker, Lord 
Gifford, John Ardagh, Cecil Russell, Baker Russell. 

Everybody was eagerly watching the war-cloud in the Near 
East, speculating where the cloud would burst ; little un- 
noticed parties of selected officers were going out to look at 
the scenerj^ of islands in the Levant, or seek for snipe along the 



190 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Suez Canal, or ride through Asia Minor for the sport of the 
thing. Everybody knew that something was coming. The 
names of places well known in old war days — Gallipoli, 
Sebastopol, Constantmople, Varna, the Dardanelles — came 
again into constant conversation. More distant names also 
entered into the imaginary map of the theatre of coming war 
which we were so frequently constructing — -Kizil, Arvat, 
Cabul, Candahar, the Oxus, Merv. 

It is all thirty years ago, and two-thirds of the map-makers 
are dead. The world has known many wars since then, and, 
as usual, it was the utterly unexpected thing that happened 
in the end. Wherever you went in London in the later 'seven- 
ties, you saw numbers of little yellow-faced men, with dark, 
shifty eyes, and a peculiar expression of half pain and half 
pleasure upon their Mongolian features. No one took them at 
all seriously as a possible factor in war or statesmanship. It 
was true that they wore hats and trousers, but did not thej^ also 
eat rice ? If any one at those pleasant club dinners had even 
hinted at the possibility of these little yellow men meetmg and 
beating the armies and navies of the great white Czar, he would 
have been treated as an undiluted lunatic. These little men 
were then busy learning in London the lesson of how Asia was 
to whip Europe. Nothing so fraught with momentous results 
to the world had happened for thirteen hundred years. 

There was one little club dinner at this time which was by 
far the most interesting I had ever sat clown to, and which left 
on lay memory recollections not to be effaced in life. In the 
winter of 1876 Major Robert Owen Jones asked me to meet an 
old friend and brother officer of his. Colonel Charles Gordon, 
at the time a passing visitor in London from the Egyptian 
Soudan. Of course, the name of Chinese Gordon was familiar 
to every soldier in the service, but, as usual, men accepted the 
sobriquet without troubling themselves much about the deeds 
that had won it ; indeed, some years later, I met an officer 
who believed that ' Chinese Gordon ' was a Chinaman born and 
bred. 

The day of the dinner came ; there were only mine host, 
Gordon, and myself. We met in the hall of the club, and I 
was introduced to a man of middle age, rather under middle 
height, of figure lithe, active, and well-knit, and with a face 



A CLUB DINNER WITH GORDON 191 

which still lives in my memory, not because it had any marked 
peculiarity in its profile or full-face, but because of something 
indefinable in the expression of the eyes. On the ocean one 
is able at a glance to discern the difference between the 
surface that has the depth of the Atlantic under it, and that 
other surface which has the mud of the English Channel only 
a few fathoms below it. A depth like that of ocean was 
within Gordon's eyes. I never saw thought expressed so 
clearly in any other man's. Above these windows of his soul 
rose a fine broad brow, over which a mass of curly brown hair 
was now beginning to show streaks of grey. 

We sat down to dinner ; there was the little restraint natural 
to men meeting for the first time, but that soon wore off, and 
before the dinner was half over conversation was in full flow. 
It was the best and cheeriest talk I ever listened to. Gordon's 
voice was as clear and vibrant as the note of an old Burmese 
bell, which has a great deal of gold in its metal. We adjourned 
to the smoking-room, and there the stream of thought and 
anecdote flowed on even better than before. In turn came 
the Nile, the desert, the Khedive Ismail (from whom Gordon 
had that day received a letter begging him to return to Egypt), 
the fever of the lake regions, and how there was a new prophy- 
lactic for it called Werburgh's tincture, the efficacy of which 
was such that ' it would make a sack of sawdust sweat.' Then 
he would change to the Lower Danube and its races ; the 
Russian, the Bulgarian, the old Turk, Sebastopol. He spoke 
in low but very distinct tones, and his voice, varying with its 
subject, carried to the ear a sense of pleasure in the sound 
similar to that which the sight of his features, lit with the light 
of a very ardent soul, gave to the listener's eye. I never heard 
human voice nor looked into any man's eye and found similar 
tone and glance there, nor did I ever meet a man who had 
equal facility for putting into words the thoughts tliat were 
in his brain. You had never to ask an explanation ; the thing, 
whatever it might be, was at once said and done. That night 
was the only one in my club life in which I saw the man with 
the bull's-eye lantern come to say the hour of closing had 
come and gone. We were alone in the big smoking-room, 
but I had not been aware of it. I met two men m my 
life who possessed this charm of conversation, Sir Garnet 



192 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Wolseley and Charles Gordon, but in Gordon the gift was 
the greater, 

A few months after this time the war-cloud broke along 
the Lower Danube and in Asia Minor, and the spring and 
summer of 1877 — ^the year that saw my marriage — were full 
of rumours and preparations. At first it seemed that the 
Russian march upon Constantinople would meet with feeble 
opposition ; then came Plevna, the fierce fighting in the 
Balkans, the taking of Adrianople, and the forward march of 
the Russians upon the Bosphorus. The excitement reached 
its highest pomt in London, but it was of a very frothy nature, 
the music-hall god ' Jmgo ' playing a very conspicuous part 
in it. 

AU these wars and rumours of wars kept the staff in Pall 
MaU chained to their desks, but as the great war seemed to 
draw nearer to us, or we to it, the lesser war of which I have 
already spoken between the rival sides in the War Office grew 
less. The reserves were called out, and, despite of aU the 
vaticinations and prophecies of failure and desertion, the 
reservists turned up almost to a man. 

Notwithstanding the journalists and the Jingoes, an impres- 
sion began early to pervade the War Office that there would 
be no war. The letters of that time which have since seen the 
light show that this idea was also prevalent in India. Lord 
Lytton gauged the position very accurately when he wrote to 
a friend, upon hearing that a mob had broken Mr. Gladstone's 
windows, ' I don't think the great heart of the English people 
is likely to do more than break wmdows just at present.' Had 
he known, however, as I came to know later, the personalities 
and the means employed to smash these few panes of glass in 
Harley Street, he would not have confused the breakers even 
with a London mob, still less with the mass of the English 
people. 

By a strange coincidence, I happened to meet Mr. Gladstone 
in the Opera Arcade on the day his windows were broken by 
a few blackguards who had been specially hired for the business. 
The dark, piercing eyes had an unusual flash in them. A shower 
of rain was falling at the time, and the great leader had stopped 
a moment in the shelter of the arcade. He had no umbrella. 
I had one, and as I was at the door of my club, I offered it to 



THE ARIMY CONTRACTOR 193 

him. The expression of his face softened instantly, and he 
thanked me in most courteous terms, but said the shower was 
a passing one and that he did not need any protection from it. 

The pretence of a war was kept up until the Congress met 
in Berlin in the middle of 1878, and then the bubble burst. 
The whole business had been quietly arranged weeks earlier 
between the high contracting parties. 

Amidst the knowledge of facts gathered in these years at 
the War Office few impressed me more strongly than the power 
possessed by the civil side of stultifying any attempt which 
military officers might make to better the position, or improve 
the efficiency, of the men in the ranks. An officer in the GOth 
Rifles, whom I had known in Canada, had invented a very 
complete and highly sensible set of military equipment, belts, 
knapsack, and other accoutrements, which was very much 
lighter and easier to put on, take off, or carry than the exist- 
ing equipment. 

This officer had spent his little all in bringing the new 
patterns to perfection. Committees and Boards had reported 
most favourably upon them. Soldiers upon whom they were 
tried, on guard and on the march, had declared them to be 
lighter, easier to manipulate and to wear than the old heavy, 
hard things our infantry soldiers had so long been condemned 
to carry. Nevertheless, no progress could be made in getting 
this new equipment taken into general use, and time after time 
the unfortunate designer and patentee used to appear at the 
War Office, only to meet with the same negative opposition. 
On one occasion his feelings of disappointment so overcame 
him that he quite broke down. I then found where lay the 
source of this dead-weight opposition. It was in the man who 
held the contract for the old man-killing stuff. I use the term 
' man-kiUing ' with reason. Many a time, when going the round 
of some mUitary hospital, as I have already related, I have 
asked an old soldier what he was suffering from. ' Them pains, 
sir,' would be the answer ; and ' them pains ' were ascribed, 
nine times out of ten, to the wearing for twenty-four consecu- 
tive hours of ' them belts.' 

In the knowledge that I was thus able to gain of the power 
possessed by the army contractor began a lifelong effort to 
expose the evils of the contract system as it was practised and 



194 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

sustained by our army administrators ; but it was only towards 
the close of a long military career that I was able to deal it 
one good crushing blow, and though my own knuckles suffered, 
through the action of a few men in high positions who suddenly 
stood up on the side of the contractors, I never grudged the 
temporary annoyance their interference caused me. 

In the sudden mania for acquisition which Lord Beaconsfield 
inaugurated in 1875-76, certain measures were begun m. South 
Africa and in India which soon produced their various fruits 
of friction and strife. In September 1876 it was decided that 
the Transvaal was to be annexed. I don't think the fuU story 
of that event is known to many people now living, and it is 
sometimes of mterest and always useful that events from 
which very great issues came should be traced to their fountain- 
heads. 

I had returned from a flying visit to America in September 
1876 to find my old friend and companion, Mr. Theophilus 
Shepstone, in London. He had been summoned home from 
Natal for the purpose of conferring with Lord Carnarvon, for 
whom the recent failure to bring about the confederation of 
the South African States had produced new conceptions of 
policy and new advisers of procedure. When I met Mr. 
Shepstone he entertamed no thought of a speedy return to 
South Africa, and I looked forward to the opportunity of 
meeting him frequently in London during the autumn, and 
having many more of those conversations and discussions 
upon South African questions the interest of which I have 
already alluded to in this chapter. He had arranged to dine 
with me on a certain evening, but on the day of the evening 
on which we were to meet I received a telegram from him 
teUmg me that it had been suddenly decided he was to return 
immediately to Natal, and that, as he was sailing next day, 
our dinner could not come off. A day or two later a battalion 
of infantr}'', then in Ireland, was ordered to prepare for early 
embarkation for the Cape of Good Hope. Knowing what I 
knew of the drift of things generally at this time, I put both 
these sudden orders together without any difficultj^ The 
next question that arose was as to the port to which the 
transport taking out the infantry battalion should proceed 
in South Africa. There were four ports possible — Cape Town, 



SIGNIFICANT EVENTS 195 

Port Elizabeth, East London, and Durban. No decision would 
be given on this point. Meantime the troops were on board, 
and the ship was ready to sail. I went to the Colonial Office 
to point out the necessity of a speedy decision, in order to save 
demurrage, etc. Still no decision could be arrived at. I then 
suggested that the transport should sail, and call for orders 
at St. Vincent, and the thing that struck me as strangest in 
the matter was that the officials with whom I was dealing 
were at that time unaware that there was a cable to St. Vincent 
by means of which it would be possible to leave the matter 
of destination still an open one for nine or ten more days. 

My proposal was finally sanctioned, and the transport sailed 
about a fortnight or three weeks after the departure of Mr. 
Shepstone for Natal. 

A curious thing now happened. Both the mail steamer 
carrying 'Mr. Shepstone and the transport steamer carrying 
the reinforcements were wrecked on the South African coast, 
forty or filty miles from Cape Town. Thus the annexation of 
the Transvaal, decided upon early in September 1876, was 
delayed by untoward events some months. Mr. Shepstone 
was finally able to proceed to the Transvaal in December 1876. 

Sir Bartle Frere went out as High Commissioner in March 
1877, and the annexation of the Transvaal was a declared and 
accomplished fact on the 12th April in the same year. 

These httle movements, unknown and unnoticed at the 
moment of their occurrence, were in reahty the spring-heads 
of the stream of events destined to plunge South Africa into a 
state of intermittent war for twenty-six years, and to cost 
Great Britain a sum of not less than three hundred millions 
of money ; and to-day, after all the blood spUt and the treasure 
spent, we are pretty much ' as we were ' in South Africa. 

The new pohcy soon began to bear fruit. KafFraria had 
been annexed by stroke of pen, and the Kaffirs responded by 
stroke of assegai. Troops were sent from England ; the 
recalcitrant natives were soon hunted out of their patches of 
bush and forest near King William's Town, and the troops were 
then sent northwards to Natal for purposes the scope of which 
the Government at home knew very little about. It soon 
transpired that it was the intention of Sir Bartle Frere to 
break the power of the Zulus beyond the northern boundary 



196 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of Natal. The time seemed to him to be opportmie. Natal, 
which up to this period had only seven companies of mfantry 
to its garrison, had now seven battalions within its Hmits. 
The Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, a man of exceptional sense 
and foresight, did not want war, but his views were set aside. 
A ' Bill of Indictment,' as it was called, was prepared against 
the Zulu king, Cetewayo. The usual toll of cattle was de- 
manded from him, and, before time was allowed for the collec- 
tion of the animals, four separate columns of invasion entered 
Zululand. From the right column to the left there was a 
distance of about two hundred miles. It was to be the usual 
picnic expedition. ' There wiU be no fighting," people said in 
Natal. ' The Zulus are too good-natured. It wiU only be a 
walk over.' 

It was in the month of November 1878 that a staff officer 
of high position at the Cape came to my office in Pall Mall, 
and in a few words sketched the situation then existing in 
South Africa. ' There was absolute peace in Zululand,' he 
said. ' The difficulty was to poke Cetewayo up to the fighting 
point.' When I heard of the movement in four separate and 
far-apart columns, I said to my friend : ' It may fare roughly 
for one of the pokers ; we are giving Cetewayo the tongs.' 

In the last days of the year I left England to spend a few 
weeks with Sir Garnet Wolseley in Cyprus. We had occupied 
the island five months earlier : the newspapers were still full 
of the recent acquisition, the visit promised many points of 
interest, and it gave more than the promise. During three 
or four weeks I traversed the island in every direction, from 
Nicosia to Kyrenia on the north coast to the top of snow-clad 
Troados in the west, and to Famagusta in the extreme east. 
I had been a stranger to the East since leaving Burmah and 
India fifteen years earher. All the young life of America 
and the black life of Africa had since been my companions, 
but here in Cyprus it was the East again, the East with the 
Turk added on : the ragged squalor, the breast of the earth 
dried up and desolate, the old glory of Greek, Roman, Norman, 
and Venetian civilisation lymg in dust and ashes under a thing 
that was itself a dying force in the world. 

On 23rd January I set out with Sir Garnet Wolseley and 
three of his staff from Nicosia to Mount Olympus, to find a site 



TO THE ZULU WAR 197 

for a summer camping-ground in the pine woods on the south 
shoulder of the mountain, five thousand feet above sea-level. 
Day had just broken. As we rode along the track leading 
to Peristerona, the conversation ran entirely upon the war 
which was then opening in Afghanistan. What bad fortune 
it was that the chief and so many of his staff officers should be 
hidden away in this dead island of the Levant, when so much 
of stirring moment in the outer military world was about to 
open. ' I have put my hand to the Cypriote plough and must 
hold it until the furrow is finished,' was the chief's summing 
up. But, at the moment when we were cantermg along the 
track that early morning, the remnants of Lord Chelmsford's 
main column of invasion were moving out of the wrecked 
camps at Isandula in Zululand, and the commotion which 
was to follow this disaster was destined to move us all to 
South Africa a few months later. For mj^self I was to go there 
almost at once. I returned to England via Trieste, where 
the news of the massacre at Isandula reached me. I tele- 
graphed the quartermaster-general offering my services for 
South Africa, and two days later, loth February, was in 
London. Two regiments of cavalrj', several batteries of 
artiUery, and eight battalions of infantry were immediately 
put in orders for Natal, and on the 28th February I sailed 
from Southampton in the ss. Egypt, bound for the same 
destination. 



CHAPTER XIII 

Assistant Adjutant-General in Natal. Death of the Prince Imperial. 
Advance into Zululand, Ulundi. Transports for England. Imprison- 
ment of Cetewayo. St. Helena again. 

I WAS again in Natal. Three and a half years had passed 
since I had left the colony in profound peace : it was now 
seething in strife. Of the four original columns of invasion, 
the principal one had been cut in pieces at Isandula ; the 
action of the remainder had been paralysed. That next the 
coast had entrenched itself at Etchowe ; all its transport had 
been taken by the Zulus. The northern column, under Colonel 
Wood and Major Redvers BuUer, had been alone able to move 
out of its fortified position at Kambula ; but the mounted 
portion of the force had just suffered very severely at a place 
named Zlobane in Northern Zululand, and, although the 
columns had been able to defeat the attack of a Zulu ' impi ' 
on the day following the disaster at Zlobane, it was no longer 
a mobile entity. News of these events reached us at Cape 
Town, and when we got to Durban Lord Chelmsford had just 
succeeded in effecting the relief of the garrison at Etchowe 
which had been brought back within Natal. So that, of the 
original plan of campaign, there only remamed Colonel Wood's 
column upon the soil of Zululand. 

The state of confusion existing within Natal could scarcely 
be exaggerated. To the extreme of over-confidence which 
had, indeed, been the primary factor in the disaster of Isandula, 
had succeeded the dread of a Zulu invasion. You will usually 
find that the term ' picnic ' at the rising of the curtain upon 
one of these little wars is readily changed to ' panic ' before the 
conclusion of the first act. The reinforcements now pouring 
into Natal reassured public opinion, which had grown over- 
excited at the report of a native Natal woman living in Zulu- 
land, who had come down to the Musinga Drift to tell her 
father what the Zulu soldiers were saying to Cetewayo : ' The 

198 



WITH SIR HENRY CLIFFORD, V.C. 199 

English are now afraid to meet us in the open ; they are lying 
behind stone walls. Let us raid into Natal/ No doubt it 
would have been possible for detached parties of Zulus to 
carry into effect this idea, had their king been inclined to 
accede to the wishes of his soldiers ; but he would not sanction 
it. All through this time he never abandoned his old belief 
that he was the friend of the English, and their ally against 
the Dutch ; and he clung to the promises made him by the 
Government of Natal through Mr. Shepstone at the time of 
his coronation, all of which were now forgotten. ' Ah, Shep- 
stone ! ' he is said to have frequently exclaimed at this time, 
' why have you grown tired of carrying me on your back ? ' 

The staff billet to which I was appointed was that of assistant 
adjutant-general under the general commanding the base and 
lines of communication — Major-General Sir Henry Clifford, V.C. 
Of him I shall say at once that among all the generals I 
have been brought into contact with, none possessed a per- 
Bonality more lovable, none had a higher courage, a larger 
sense of public duty, or a greater aptitude for untiring toil. 
The endless labours of his office during the ten months in 
Natal that were now beginning broke down the health and 
sapped the great physical strength of an exceptionally strong 
man ; and he returned from South Africa, a year later, only 
to die. 

For some weeks after landing, he and I worked together in 
a stifling little office in Durban, the corrugated iron roof of 
which in the semi-tropical climate of the coast made the 
temperature almost insupportable in the afternoons. After 
a while. General Clifford moved to Maritzburg, and I was alone 
in the Durban office. It was a strange life at first. I lived, 
worked, ate, and slept in that office. For weeks there was no 
respite from work. Troops were pouring in and moving on 
up country ; demands for every article in the long catalogue 
of modern war equipment for transport — remounts, medical 
stores, camp equipment, clothing, ammunition, and fifty other 
things — were incessant. 

War brings all the fantastic idiosyncrasies of human nature 
to the surface. Men will rob and pillage and rape and burn 
in war who would have lived very passable and decent lives 
in peace. Many of them think that it is part of the business ; 



200 SIR WILLIMI BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

and, of course, the meaner and more sordid the war is, the 
more that part of the programme becomes possible. 

I have seen, even at a peaceful railway station in England, 
a plethoric captain of Volunteers, proceeding to his summer 
camp in uniform, begin to leer and ogle at the passing female 
sex generally, who, had he been in his usual dress and at his 
daily business vocations, would have been the picture of 
decorous provincial family respectability. 

Our work at the base of operations was largely added to 
by the shipwreck at Cape Agulhas of a transport carrying a 
vast amount of army stores — saddles, boots, harness, and other 
things. These had to be replaced, as far as they possibly could, 
by local purchase ; and the merchants of Durban and Maritz- 
burg soon amassed fortunes by selling their indifferent wares 
at fancy prices. Part of my work was to sanction those 
purchases : they covered everything from anchors to needles. 
Of course we were robbed right and left, despite our work 
of day and night. Sometimes I caught the thief ; but oftener 
he escaped scot-free. Nature blessed me with a good memory, 
and I could recollect fairly weU the description, at least, of 
the articles the purchase of which I had previously sanctioned : 
so, when the passing of the bills came, I was able, generally 
speaking, to remember whether I had approved the purchase 
in the first instance, or not. 

One night I was going through these monotonous files, when 
my eye fell upon an entry — ' One water-cart, £25.' I was 
morally certain that I had not given sanction for the buying 
of this article. The official was ordered to produce it. It 
was not to be found in any of our numerous storehouses ; and 
at last, after searching inquiries, it was discovered that no 
such article had been bought ; that the nearest approach to 
it had been a water-can, price 5s., and that an ingenious under- 
strapper in the Ordnance Office had changed the words * water- 
can ' into ' water-cart,' and made the 5s. in the figure column 
into £25. This, however, was the merest trifle in the account 
of our losses. We had sent men out to buy horses in every 
direction. One unfortunate man was purchasing animals in 
the Orange Free State : he had forded a ' drift ' easily in the 
mornmg, made many purchases in the day, and came to the 
drift again in the evening. Rain was falling ; the water was 



AN HISTORIC TRAGEDY 201 

running breast deep ; his horse missed his footing ; rider and 
horse were carried into deep water, and the man was drowned. 
When his body was recovered, it was found to have on it 
a leather belt full of gold pieces, more than three hundred in 
number. These represented exactly ten per cent, on the pur- 
chases of horseflesh made that day. It was their weight that 
had caused him to sink like a stone. 

Shortly after landing, I visited Maritzburg on business. 
The troops were now moving up country. Lord Chelmsford 
was also going forward. I met, in the Httle Government 
House in Maritzburg so well known to me three years earUer, 
the Prince Imperial, at this time a visitor with the Governor, 
Sir Henry Bulwer. We had a long conversation : he had 
many questions to ask about the Zulus, the up country for 
which he was about to start, the climate, horses, arms, equip- 
ment, everything. ' Although he was an artillery officer," he 
said, ' he preferred to be as he was now, attached to the staff. 
He might thus be able to get in closer touch of the Zulu enemy 
than if he remained with a battery of artUlery.' Within one 
month of the day upon which we thus spoke, this splendid young 
soldier — handsome, active, brave to a fault, the very soul of 
chivalrous honour, and yet withal of a singular grace and 
gentleness — fell fighting, deserted and left alone by his escort, 
one against twenty of this same Zulu enemy. The manner 
in which this news came to us in Durban was singular. I had 
a single Zulu to look after my few wants in the office which 
was now my home. Every morning he entered the room, set 
the bath on the floor, and went out as silently as he had come 
in ; but on the morning of 3rd June he spoke a few words : 
' A big " inkoos " had been kiUed.' Later that day or the 
next came the details of that wretched tragedy in which so 
many things besides Hfe had been lost. 

Ten days later, the body of the Prince Imperial was brought 
to Durban to be embarked on board a ship-of-war for England. 
I think that the scene as the funeral cortege wound down the 
Berea Hill towards Durban was the saddest but the most 
impressive sight I had ever witnessed. It was the sunset hour ; 
the eastern slope of the Berea was in shadow, but the town 
beneath, the ships in the roadstead, and the deep blue Indian 
Ocean beyond the white line of shore were aU in dazzhng hght. 



202 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

The regiments that had gone up countrj^ had left their bands 
on the coast, and, one after the other, these took up the great 
March of the Dead, until the twilight, moving eastward towards 
the sea, seemed to be marching with us as we went. Night 
had all but closed when we carried the coffin into the little 
Catholic church at the base of the Berea HiU. 

I could not get any money from the State or from the Colony, 
but the people of Durban readily answered my appeal ; and, 
though we had only twenty-four hours' notice, the church was 
entirely hung in black cloth, violets were in profusion, and 
many wax lights stood around the violet-covered bier upon 
which the coffin lay. A few French nuns prayed by the dead, 
relievmg each other at intervals through the night. As the 
cortege, followed by the mourners, came slowly down the hill, 
I heard from the groom who led the prince's charger the 
particulars of the final scene — so far as it had been possible 
to put them together at that time, for none save the Zulu 
enemy had witnessed the last desperate struggle. But the 
servant had seen his master's body, and that bore a tribute to 
the dead man's courage more eloquent than had thousands 
acclaimed the last struggle, not for life — that was hopeless 
— but for honour. There were twenty-six assegai wounds, all 
in front of the body ; the high riding-boots were found filled 
with blood — so long and so firmly had the boy stood under the 
rain of spears ; for though there were eighteen or twenty 
Zulus facing that single figure, they dared not close with him 
while he stood. The scene of the fight was a long, shallow, 
sloping valley between hills ; a Zulu kraal was close at hand, 
with patches of mealies around it ; then came a donga, with 
grass growing high in places near it, and a spot of bare ground 
by the edge of the donga (a dry watercourse) where the body 
was found lying. Some of the Zulus carried guns : they had 
stolen up through the mealie gardens and fired a volley at the 
party, who were in the act of mounting their horses. The 
captain of the escort galloped away, followed by his men in 
a general stampede. The prince must have been still dis- 
mounted when they ran, for his grey charger was found with 
the holster cover torn off, as though the prince had caught it 
in the act of mounting. The horse was restive at mounting 
at all times ; and in the confusion of the shots and the galloping 



THE CLOSING SCENE 203 

away of the escort, it would have been more difficult than ever 
to gain the saddle. But the groom was certain that if the 
holster flap had been of good leather the prince would have 
been able to mount, for he was of extraordinary activity in 
all matters of the riding-school, and could vault from the 
ground on to the back of any horse. The man's statement of 
opinion found corroboration in an incident which occurred a 
month before this time. It was thus described in one of the 
Natal newspapers : — 

' As time rolls on, the death of the Prince Imperial loses none of 
its melancholy significance, and no doubt many an iacident of his 
brief stay here will, sooner or later, come to light. One in particular 
may be mentioned. When at the Royal Hotel, the prince asked Mr. 
Doig to show him his horses. At the Crown stables there was a 
wild young horse which had just thrown one of the stable hands. 
The prince, without the aid of stirrups, vaulted into the saddle, 
and although the horse bolted away and made every endeavour to 
throw him, he brought him safely back to the stable, and dropped 
from the saddle with a most extreme nonchalance. The horse has 
since thrown another rider and broken his leg.' 

The next morning we all assembled again at the little church, 
where an old French priest said a requiem Mass. Then we 
carried the coffin to the hearse, and the long procession passed 
through the town to the wharf at the Point, two miles distant, 
with the same solemn parade as on the previous evening. At 
the wharf the coffin was handed over to the naval authorities, 
and taken to the flagship in the outer roadstead. 

In her strangely sad history South Africa has seen many 
sad sights, but none so sad as this one. 

I am writing to-day thirty years after that terrible tragedy 
occurred. Three years ago I visited the scene where it 
happened ; walked the ground by the fatal dongas, and stood 
by the cross which Queen Victoria caused to be erected on the 
spot where the body was found the day following the death 
of the prince. Nothing has changed in the valley of the 
Ityotyozi. A few Zulu kraals are there still ; the dry dongas 
may have worn a little deeper ; but the long yellow grass is 
waving there, and the mealie patches ; and the big dark slate- 
coloured hills slope up on west and south, and the deep dry 



204 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

channel of the Ityotyozi curves away toward the north-east, 
the highest tributary of the White Umvolosi River. 

No man wiU ever pierce the * Might have been ' of history. 
Fourteen years after the death of the Prmce Imperial, I met 
in the Mediterranean a distinguished admiral in the French 
navj^ and we spoke of that day in Zululand. ' If the Prince 
were alive to-day/ he said, ' he would without any doubt be 
Emperor of the French, The French people would have 
hailed him as their chief.' 

I have spoken of the chaos which reigned in Natal following 
up the disaster at Isandula. To that chaos, to that general 
scramble of direction, to the absence of any real thmking or 
governing power running through aU the army staff machinery 
of the time must, in the first and leading sense, be attributed 
the death of the Prince Imperial. As usual in our history, 
the men who were first at fault got off, and the unhappy 
subordinate actor m the tragedy was immolated. There was 
no excuse for the conduct of the captain of the escort and 
his miserable scratch following of six makeshift troopers ; 
but neither was there any excuse for the general in command 
of the army, nor the staff officers whose duty it was to see 
that this young French prince, a volunteer to us in this war 
and engaged in doing our duty for the moment, should not 
be allowed to go out into an enemj^'s countrj'' without full 
and proper escort, and under the eye and command of an old 
and experienced mounted officer. ^Vhat were these people 
thinking of when they allowed that wretched party to go nine 
or ten miles from camp straight into a land full of armed and 
lurking enemies ? Four months before this time, an entire 
British regiment and four or five hundred other troops, artillery 
and cavalry, had been assegaied to a man at a place within a 
day's easy ridhig distance of, and twenty miles nearer to our 
frontier than, this valley of the Prince Imperial's death. 

It was afterwards said by way of excuse that the prince was 
brave to rashness, and that it was his reckless daring which 
led to his death. What an excuse ! making the fault of those 
who were responsible for the escort and its leadership only 
more glaringly apparent. It is all a horrible black night of 
disaster, with a solitary star of one man's glorious courage 
shining through it. 



A SOLDIER'S PRAYER 205 

When they came to look over the poor boy's papers, they 
found among them a written prayer ; these sentences were 
in it : — 

' My God, I give Thee my heart ; but give me faith. To pray 
is the longing of my soul. I pray not that Thou shouldst take 
away the obstacles on my path ; but that Thou mayst permit me 
to overcome them. I pray not that Thou shouldst disarm my 
enemies ; but that Thou shouldst aid me to conquer myself. . . . 
If Thou only givest on this earth a certain sum of joy, take, God, 
my share and bestow it on the most worthy. ... If thou seekest 
vengeance upon man, strike me. Misfortune is converted into 
happiuess by the sweet thought that those whom we love are happy ; 
and happiness is poisoned by the bitter thought that, while I rejoice, 
those whom I love a thousand times better than myself are suffering. 
For me, God, no more happiness : take it from my path. If I 
forget those who are no more I shall be forgotten in my turn ; and 
how sad is the thought which makes one say, " Time effaces all " ! 
. . . O my God, show me ever where my duty Hes, and give me 
strength to accomphsh it. . . . Grant, God, that my heart may 
be penetrated with the conviction that those whom I love, and 
who are dead, shall see all my actions ; that my hfe shall be worthy 
of their -witness, and my innermost thoughts siiall never make them 
blush.' 

Reading these sentences, one seems to lift a corner of the 
veil that hangs between man and the Face of the Inscrutable. 
Happily for those who have to work in war, there is stiU time 
left for thinking. 

A few days after the close of this sad chapter, the telegrams 
from England via St. Vincent announced that Sir Garnet 
Wolseley was coming out to reheve Lord Chelmsford of his 
command. ' The cloud of misfortune seems ever to overhang 
this miserable and luckless war,' thus wrote Archibald Forbes, 
from Camp Itelezi Hill on the night of Whitsunday. It was 
true. But there was more than misfortune in all that had 
happened : things were done that read to-day as beyond 
possibiUty of credence. The advance into Zululand was made 
in two columns — one entering by Landmarm's Drift over the 
Bufifalo River ; the other by the coast -road from Durban over 
the Tugela to Port Durnford. This latter force, consisting 
of two brigades of British infantry and cavalry and artillery, 



206 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

had now been creeping slowly forward, with many halts between 
the creeps, for about six weeks. It was now halted at Port 
Durnford. Of certain officers many stories were current, and 
numerous were the epigrams and lampoons which the Natal 
newspapers indulged m at the time. 

A letter written by a staff officer of high place early in July 
speaks of a general ' moving, at a time when transport is above 
all things precious, with a waggon fitted as a movable hen-house, 
with coops and places for hens to lay so that he may always 
be sure of his fresh eggs for breakfast. He dresses or did dress 
(I fancy Sir Garnet has altered matters) in the most absurd 
costume, with a sombrero hat and a long pheasant's feather, 
and an imitation puggaree tied in what he considers a pic- 
turesque and artistic carelessness on one side. He telegraphed 

to for six milch cows among other supplies ; but , 

while meeting all his other demands, telegraphed back, " Must 
draw the line at milch cows." ' Describing the appearance of 
the streets in Durban, the same writer says : ' The streets are 
full of all sorts of military and naval types ; the wonderful 
number of straps and dodges that some of them have about 
them is a sight, and every one seems to try how many odds 

and ends he can carry about him. Y is said to beat every 

one ; a man describing him to me said, " He only wanted a 
few candles stuck about him to make a Christmas tree \ " ' 
These descriptions are in no way exaggerated. They might, 
indeed, be amphfied and yet be within the truth. What is 
there in the air or soil of Africa which seems to unlevel the 
heads of so many newcomers in that part of the world ? Truly, 
a master-spirit was wanted here. 

Sir Garnet Wolseley reached Durban on the 28th June. 
He landed early ; rode round the camps, hospitals, and store- 
houses ; had breakfast, and started by train for Botha's Hill 
and Maritzburg, where he was sworn in. He was back in 
Durban the next day ; went on board a man-of-war, and 
sailed for Port Durnford — intending to land there, pick up 
the Coast Column, and move with it at once towards the King's 
Kraal at Ulundi. But now South Africa came into play. 
The violence of the surf made landing impossible at Durnford ; 
Sir Garnet and his staff were obliged to return to Durban. I 
had horses and waggonettes ready for them, and they left for 



ABSENCE OF THINKING FACULTY IN ARIVIY 207 

Port Durnford by land. Through these various contretemps 
six days had been lost. Meanwhile, on 4th July the action 
at Ulundi was fought, and the Zulu War was practically over. 

It was fuU time ; it had lasted eight months, and was costing 
one million pounds each month. A war with the Zulus, if 
properly planned and carried out, meant from its beginning 
what it was found to mean at its end — just thirty minutes' 
fighting. The arms of an enemy, and his methods of using 
them, are the chief factors which should dictate to a general 
the disposal of his forces, and his fighting tactics. The Zulus 
were armed with assegais ; they did not fight at night ; they 
charged home in dense masses in open daylight ; they had 
neither artillery nor cavalry. Eight good infantry battahons, 
two regiments of hght cavalry, three field batteries, and three 
hundred native Basuto scouts would have been amply sufficient 
to do in seven weeks what at least twice that number of men, 
guns, and horses succeeded in accomplishing, after defeats and 
disasters, m the same number of months. 

As I look back over forty-seven years of service, the thing 
that astonishes me most is the entire absence of the think- 
ing faculty in nine out of ten of the higher-grade officers 
with whom I was associated. AVhat obtained at Aldershot 
was made the rule throughout the world — from Greenland's 
icy mountains to India's coral strand. It was not Caesar, 
most imaginative of tacticians, who was the teacher : it was 
his so-called camp over the Long Valley, with the Basingstoke 
Canal at the end of it, and the site for the luncheon bej^ond that 
again, which set the lesson of the tactical apphcation of the 
three arms, and often gave the key to victory. I knew of one 
very successful leader at Aldershot who regulated the move- 
ments of his brigade by the direction which the refreshment 
carts took in the commencement of the fray. They were 
supposed to be under a sort of h}^notic inspiration from the 
mind of the garrison sergeant-major as to the point at which 
victory would declare itself, and the battle would terminate at 
1.30 P.M. 

While the new commander-in-chief in Zululand had now to 
proceed with the final phases of the capture of Cetewayo, and 
the settlement of Zululand, we at the Base and on the Line of 
Communications had to prepare and carry out the embarkation 



208 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of more than half the army, and quite two-thirds of its late 
generals and their staff. 

Some of the battahons and batteries had been a long time 
up country, and very large arrears of pay were due to them, 
as well as to the very numerous irregular corps which had been 
recruited for service after the disaster at Isandula. It would 
be difficult to imagine anythmg more irregular than the majority 
of the rank and file of these latter bodies : the Turkish title, 
Bashibazouk, seems alone suited in its sound adequately to 
describe them. Their regimental titles were also suggestive 
in many instances of the general trend and direction of their 
disciplme and methods — Sham-buckers' Horse, Raafs' Rangers, 
the Buffalo Border Guards, etc., etc. 

To pay off, disarm, and embark those worthies was a work 
requiring some little tact and method on the part of the 
officers who had to deal with them under their respective 
heads. These various units of raffish swashbucklers now 
came to the port of embarkation to be paid their reckonings 
and to pay them again into innumerable pubhc-houses of 
Durban. I devised many plans by which the evil might be 
lessened. Sometimes I put a pay officer and his paysheet, 
with a good guard of regulars, on board a transport in the 
outer anchorage, and informed the men that they would onl}?- 
be paid on board ship. Another plan was to encamp the 
corps six or eight miles out of Durban, in the vicinity of a 
railway station, by means of which they could be fed and 
supplied from the port. The scenes which were daily taking 
place were often of a very ludicrous description. A battalion 
of infantry, to whom some five or six thousand pounds had 
to be paid, would reach the wharf for embarkation, having been 
made the recipients on the march through Durban of a public 
luncheon and innumerable quantities of large water melons — 
the latter a most innocuous fruit on any ordinary occasion, 
but somewhat embarrassing when presented to a man after 
a hearty meal and many libations en route. I had prepared, 
however, for the dangers of the embarkation from the wharf 
in the large flat boats, and a dozen steady men with boathooks 
stood ready to gaff the men who feU into the water — a pre- 
caution which bore fruit in more senses than one, for many 
of the men deemed it a point of honour to hold on by their 



LUNATICS AT LARGE 209 

water melons even when they were in the sea. The acme 
of confusion was, however, reached on the occasion when some 
eighteen hundred ' details,' prisoners, ' insanes,' sick, and 
absentees from previous embarkations had to be put upon a 
troopship in the outer anchorage. 

At the last moment a train had arrived from Maritzburg 
with six ' insanes ' for shipment to England. The transport 
was still m the roadstead, so a boat was sent out to her. The 
corporal in charge had just time to run up the gangway with 
his charge ; the anchor was already up. On reaching the 
quarterdeck, crowded with eighteen hundred men, the six 
' insanes ' saw their chance, and while the corporal was handing 
his papers to the staff officer on board they adroitly dispersed 
themselves among the miscellaneous crowd of men thronging 
the decks. Identification was entirely impossible in that 
mixed crowd : the corporal had to get back to his escort in 
the boat as quickly as possible, and the big troopship moved 
off to shake her motley collection of men into that subsidence 
which only grows more complete as the sea grows more restless. 
But the hour came when the staff officer asked the sergeant 
of the guard, ' Where are the six insanes ? ' No man on board 
could say where ; and soon the rumour passed from deck to 
deck that there were six madmen at large among the troops. 
Every man began to take a strange interest in his neighbour. 
' And who is thy neighbour ? ' asks the catechism. ' Mankind 
of every description ' is the answer, so far as I can recollect 
it over the lapse of years. But surely that reverend and 
estimable namesake of mine, when he penned that question and 
answer, can never have contemplated a contingency^ such as 
this crowded troopship, with twenty different corps repre- 
sented in its human freight, and at least two unknown madmen 
at large upon every deck ! And yet never could there have 
been a time when men regarded their neighbour with more 
lively interest. A council of the leading authorities on ship- 
board was rapidly assembled, and a course of action decided 
upon. Practically it came to this, that the whole mass of 
military was placed under observation ; a select corps of 
observers was organised, and the work began. Any man 
who was sitting apart in the anticipatory stages, or after effects, 
of sea-sickness found himself walked round and suspiciously 

o 



210 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

regarded ; at frequent intervals a man would be tapped on 
the shoulder and told to come before the doctor. When the 
vessel reached Cape Town there were twenty-six men under 
observation, and it was afterwards found that not one of the 
six ' insanes ' was among them. A curious thing now hap- 
pened : after a while, some sergeant or corporal, more observant 
than his comrades, remarked that there were certain men in 
the crowd who were ready on all occasions to lend a hand 
in running in the suspected ones, first to the doctor and after- 
wards to the ' observation ' hold. The eagerness and alacrity 
of these few men attracted first praise and then suspicion. 
There was an expression of self-satisfaction on their features 
which was peculiar to them alone among those whose duty 
it was to discover the missing madmen. Then their off 
moments were watched, with the result that when the ship 
reached St. Helena the ' observation ' hold was cleared of its 
former inmates and the six insanes were duly installed therein. 
At last the weary work of sweeping up the wreckage of a 
war which was unusually fertile in shipwrecks drew to an end. 
A crowd of contractors flocked to the base to batten upon the 
expected spoil when the time for selling surplus stores came. 
Enormous accumulations of food, forage, and all the other 
paraphernalia of war had to be got rid of. At first high prices 
were obtained ; then the usual rings were formed. We had 
some thousands of tons of food-stuffs to sell, and the dealers 
saw their chance : they would only give first one shilling, and 
then sixpence, for a heavy sack of Indian corn. I had two large 
transports sailing with troops, the cargo decks of which were 
empty. ' All right, gentlemen ; we will put these two thousand 
odd tons of excellent food-stuffs on board these empty vessels 
and send them to London.' Then the counter-attack began. 
The dealers worked hard to prevent this move ; the depart- 
ments were also hostile to my proposal. It had not been 
done before ; it would comphcate departmental accounts ; it 
was a new departure, etc., etc. ' But is it not common-sense ? ' 
I said. ' These innumerable sacks of food, for which we can 
get sixpence here, will sell in London for ten or twenty times 
that figure. We are already paying enormous prices for the 
freightage of these ships ; it wiU cost us nothing to send all 
this food to England.' This and a lot more I urged. At last 



THE OLD STORY 211 

sanction was given, and I saw the enormous stacks of supplies 
vanish into the empty ships, the cargoes to fetch in London 
even more than I had anticipated. 

This war against the Zulus in 1879 was, in fact, a small 
undress rehearsal for that other war which was to be fought 
in South Africa twenty years later. But new men had in the 
interval come upon the scene ; the older ones who still remained 
above ground were set aside ; and every error made in 1879- 
1880 — in strategy, tactics, foresight, administration, transport, 
remounts, supplies, multiplied by the power of twenty or per- 
haps thirty — was repeated in 1899 and 1900. Four million 
pounds were thrown away in the war of 1879 ; at least one 
hundred millions were flung to the winds in that of 1899 and 
the two following years. 

' It 's a way we have in our Army, 
It 's a way we have in our Navy, 
It 's a way we have in Pall Mall.' 

How often in my small sphere I have laboured hard to save 
fifty or a hundred thousand pounds, making thereby enemies 
for myself in every direction among contractors, clerks, and 
officials in general, only to find in the end that there was some 
colossal noodle above me whose signature had the power of 
flinging ten times my savings into the melting-pot of waste, 
inefficiency, and ineptitude. 'I go to Paris to find my 
enemies there,' said Marshal Vendome to Prince Eugene, as 
they parted somewhere in the ' Cockpit ' during the War of the 
Spanish Succession. * And I to Vienna, where mine await 
me," replied the prince. It is a very old story ; it is certain 
to grow older. 

While Durban was the scene of the closing phases of the 
Zulu campaign, robberies and burglaries became unusually 
prevalent, as many of the Government stores had to be kept 
in large marquees, into which ingress was easily obtained at 
night. To check these robberies, a non-commissioned officer 
of the Ordnance Department was put in the large marquee at 
nightfall, with orders to fire at any interloper he might chance 
to find there. Unfortunately for the plan, a drunken old 
conductor, who had come down from the front, had gone 
quietly into the marquee earlier in the afternoon for the purpose 



212 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of sleeping off his potations among the piles of blankets within. 
He was in a profound slumber when the watch was set, and he 
remained m it for hours after ; but at length, towards midnight, 
he awoke and began to stir himself. Bang ! went a revolver 
some little distance from his resting-place ; then another shot, 
and another. ' Holy Moses ! ' he shouted, ' are the Zulus on 
us agam ? ' This was, I think, the very last of the scares in 
the Zulu War. They had lasted without intermission from 
January to July. The shadow of a cloud in the moonlight 
moving over the side of a hill was sometimes enough to set 
the rifles going in one of the laagers of the invading force, or 
even to cause fire to be opened from the ramparts of one of 
the forts on the line of communication. It was always the 
advance of a Zulu ' Impi ' that was conjured up in somebody's 
excited imagination. On one occasion, when many thousand 
rounds of ammunition were fired off, the ' Impi ' came on 
again and again, only to wither away before this jeu 
d'enfer, which went on for many hours. When day dawned, 
a single dead cow was discovered lying upon the field of 
battle. 

Early in January 1880 all the work was over, and I was able 
to leave Durban for England. I had an interview with Sir 
Bartle Frere at Cape Town. He seemed feeble and broken, 
but his eye had still the old look in it. He spoke much about 
the war, and I gathered from his conversation that matters had 
not been going well between him and the Home Government. 
* But,' he said, ' what other course could I have pursued ? 
My military advisers told me that they had an ample force 
for the invasion of Zululand ; that they were ready and pre- 
pared in every respect. I was bound to believe their reports. 
I had no means of knowing otherwise, nor had I any right to 
thmk they did not know what they were speaking about.' 
Of course, that was quite true ; but it was a dangerous time 
to begin a war in South Africa when already there was war 
beyond the Indian frontier in Afghanistan. At the time Sir 
Bartle Frere was speaking thus, Sir Frederick Roberts had 
been sent up near Kabul. That city was again in the hands 
of the enemy, and the reUef of the English garrison had still 
to be effected. That Afghanistan had been in Sir Bartle 
Frere's mind at the time he was urging on the destruction of 



A HOME-SICK MONARCH 213 

the Zulu power is extremely probable, for I find in my notebook 
this reference : — 

'At the begioniag of the Zulu War (Lord Chelmsford's 

chief adviser) is said to have remarked that they would march 
through Zululand and then go on to Afghanistan.' 

But more interesting even than my visit to Sir Bartle Frere 
was a visit to Cetewayo in the castle at Cape Town. Previous 
to my leaving Natal I had received a letter from Major 
Ruscombe Poole (the officer who had charge of Cetewayo) 
asking me, if possible, to bring some few bundles of green rushes 
from Zululand when I was coming to Cape Town, in order that 
one of the king's wives might make some mats, on which the 
king could sleep. (He was unable to sleep in an English bed.) 
I sent into Zululand, through Mr. Grant, a true friend of the 
Zulus, and I soon had three large bundles of green rushes to 
take with me to Cape Town. The first thing I did on arrival 
was to get the bundles on to the top of a four-wheeled cab 
and drive to the castle. Everything leavmg the docks was 
subject to duty ; but as rushes were not in the taxable cata- 
logue, the gatekeeper had to let me through free. I was soon 
in the room wherein the unfortunate Cetewayo was kept. He 
was delighted to get this little bit of his beloved Zululand in 
his dreary four-waUed prison. It was the same as putting a 
bit of green sod into the cage of a lark ; only the unfortunate 
Zulu king wept when he saw these reminders of his old home, 
and he said to the interpreter as he shook my hand, ' Say to 
him that he has brought sleep to me : now I can rest at night.' 

I reached England in the middle of February 1880. The 
Government of Lord Beaconsfield was on its last legs : every 
thing had gone wrong with it ; all the castles in the East had 
crumbled, and in the South things were no better. Shore Ali, 
it is true, was dead beyond the Oxus River ; Cetewayo was a 
prisoner in the castle at Cape Town ; but other spectres were 
rising above the frontiers of both countries. Sir Bartle Frere 
had asked me to see Ministers when I got home, but they were 
already in the throes of dissolution. Thmking that some one 
in colonial authority might wish to see me, I put down a few 
recent impressions upon the general trend of affairs in South 
Africa which read fairly accurate to-day : — 



214 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

• The state of Dutch feeling in the old Colony (Cape Colony) is 
being affected by the condition of the affairs in the New (the 
Transvaal). The one-sidedness of whites and natives is increasing ; 
emigration is the only cure.' 

On the voyage from the Cape the steamer touched at St. 
Helena. It was close to sunset when the anchor was down. 
' How long can you give me, captain ? ' I asked. ' Two hours,' 
he replied. I was off to shore at once. I found a small black 
boy with a small pony at the landing-place. Away we went 
through the single-streeted town, and up the steep mountain 
path — ^the black imp holding on by his pony's tail as the 
ascent steepened. I knew the road, for I had been over it 
sixteen years earlier. It was dusk when we gained the zigzags 
on the track above the ' Briars ' ; then came the bit of level 
curving track by the alarm post, and then the well-remembered 
/side path to the left dipping down steeply to the head of 
Rupert's Valley. There in the dusk was the silent tomb again ; 
the dark cypress trees, the old Norfolk Island pines, the broken 
wiUow, the iron railings, the big white flagstone in the centre 
of the railed space — all the lonely encompassing lava hills 
merging into the gathering gloom of night ; and only a yellow 
streak of afterglow, still lying above the western rocks, to make 
the profound depths of this vaUey seem more measureless. 

I was back on board the Nubian ere the two hours had 
expired. The time at the grave had been short ; but it did 
not matter : twenty-six years later I was to be there again, 
a dweller for days together on the ridge of Longwood above 
the tomb. 



CHAPTER XIV 

War in South Africa. Majuba. Adjutant-General in the Western District. The 
Egyptian question. Bombardment of Alexandria. Arabi. Service in 
Egypt. On Sir Garnet Wolseley's Staff. El Magfar. Tel-el-Mahouta. 
Kassassin. The night march. Tel-el-Kebir. 

Lord Beaconsfield resigned office after the General Election 
of March, and Mr. Gladstone came into power in April 1880. 
In the new administration the Marquis of Ripon was appointed 
Viceroy of India, Colonel Charles Gordon going with him as 
private secretary. Lord Ripon had, quite unknown to me, 
proposed my name for that position, but Mr. Gladstone had 
not approved the selection. He considered that a Catholic 
viceroy in India was sufficiently experimental without further 
endangering the position by the appointment of another of the 
same creed to a subordinate but still influential post. So, 
in place of proceeding to our great Eastern dependency ' in a 
position of considerable power and influence and fuU of very 
interesting though very hard work,' as its last holder, Colonel 
CoUey, had described it, I was sent as chief staff officer to 
Devonport, having been previously promoted heutenant- 
colonel in the army for services in Natal. 

Mihtary life in England can never be * magnificent,' stiU 

less, of course, is it likely to be ' war.' In India it can be both. 

As private secretary to the viceroy I should have received 

between three and four thousand pounds a year ; as assistant 

adjutant-general of the Western District I received six hundred 

pounds. Service in England, however, possesses the saving 

grace of having a large measure of humour attached to it ; 

nothing makes for humour more than make-believe. An 

army, the officers of which are dressed for the benefit of the 

London tailor, and the soldiers of which are administered largely 

in the interests of the War Office clerk, must of necessity afford 

situations replete with humour ; but the laughter they evoke 

has to be paid for by somebody in the end. 

216 



216 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Before the year 1880 closed, war had broken out again in 
South Africa and Afghanistan. Up to the middle of the year 
the prospect, people said, was entirely peaceful. The leading 
authority in Eastern affairs — Sir Henry Rawlinson — had 
publicly declared that the outlook on the side of Candahar 
was eminently tranquil. The Transvaal administrator — Sir 
Owen Lanyon — repeatedly asserted that no apprehension 
need be entertained in that country. Suddenly, as though 
he had come in a balloon, Ayub Khan descended into the 
valley of the Helmund. With equal rapidity the Boers 
concentrated at Heidelberg, and declared the Transvaal a 
Republic. In midsummer Burrowes was ' annihilated ' at 
Maiwand. In December, Anstruther, movmg with the head- 
quarters of the 94th Regiment from Heidelberg to Pretoria, 
was destroyed at Brunker's Spruit. Then in rapid succession 
came disasters at Laing's Nek, Igogo, and finally at Majuba, 
where poor CoUey fell. Before the defeat of the late Govern- 
ment he had been transferred from the private secretaryship 
in India to the position of lieutenant-governor of Natal. In 
the months following my return from Natal to England I 
had seen a good deal of him in London, and I was present at 
the banquet given to him by the Colonial Office in May on the 
eve of his departure for Natal. How fuU of felicitations and 
of hope were the speeches of everybody that evening ! Par- 
ticularly optimistic was the speech of Lord Kimberley, the 
Secretary of State. A new South Africa was about to arise 
out of the mists and vapours of the past, they said, as indeed 
we shall find them saying seventeen years later when another 
' Proconsul ' was about to depart for the same destination. 
AU make-believe again. When will our governors realise that, 
of all the foundations possible for building empire upon, this 
of make-believe is the very worst 1 

I was in London when the news of Majuba arrived there. 
On the evening of Sunday, 26th February, a telegram had 
been received at the War Office from CoUey announcing the 
occupation by him that morning of a commanding position 
overlooking the Boer camp, and completely commanding the 
ridge of Laing's Nek. The Boers were preparing to trek from 
their camp. I had seen a copy of this message late on Sunday 
evening. At breakfast next morning the fuU report of the 



A LULL # 217 

disaster, which had followed immediately upon the despatch 
of this message, was in all the London papers. I went to the 
War Office. None of the higher officials were there. Sir 
Garnet Wolseley was then residing some twenty miles from 
London. I knew that he would pass through Trafalgar 
Square, and I waited there until he came. Then I walked to 
the War Office with him. Colley was, I think, the dearest 
friend he had in the army ; certainly he was the one in whom 
he trusted the most thoroughly. He felt his loss deeply. It 
was a very busy day in the Office ; reinforcements were under 
orders immediately ; the Duke arrived early. There were 
councils and consultations. Before the afternoon had come 
everything was arranged. Sir Frederick Roberts was to go 
out in command. Sir Garnet Wolseley must remain at the 
War Office as quartermaster-general. The command of the line 
of communications had been offered to Colonel T. D. Baker, 
who was abroad at the moment. In the event of his re- 
fusal. Sir F. Roberts asked if I would accept the position. Of 
course I said ' Yes," but Baker took the post ; and, as is known 
to everybody, the Peace of O'Neill's Farm was made before 
the commander, his staff, or the reinforcements arrived in 
South Africa. 

For more than a year now the work in the Western District 
was of the usual staff type common to home service. I have 
spoken of the humorous contrasts by which it was sometimes 
enlivened. An Easter Monday Volunteer Review at Ports- 
mouth or Dover, or a Grand Field Day at Aldershot, not un- 
frequently provided the incidents which caused these pleasant 
interludes in what must have been otherwise a period of a 
somewhat monotonous character. 

The army in its higher ranks still swore, not perhaps as 
lustily as it did of old in Flanders, but stiU a good deal more 
than was good for it, or for those who had to listen to it. 
There was once a general commanding at Aldershot whose 
reply to a royal personage, on an occasion when the display 
of forcible language was more than usually emphatic, struck 
me as being exceptionally neat and appropriate. He had been 
the recipient during the operations of a good deal of strong 
language, and at the final ' pow-wow ' some allusion was made 
to those fireworks of the tongue. ' I don't mind being called 



218 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 
a d fool/ he said, * if it pleases your Royal Highness 



to call me so ; but I do mind being called a d fool before 

your Royal Highness's other d fools/ and he swept his 

hand towards the large and brilliant staff grouped behind the 
commander-in-chief. 

The troubles in South Africa and Afghanistan had scarcely 
subsided ere things began to threaten in the valley of the Nile. 
When a ' question/ as it is called, suddenly seems to approach 
solution, or to demand some active treatment, the general 
public (who up to this pomt have been kept entirely in the dark 
in relation to it) are suddenly deluged with information about 
it, but it is always information of a single type and pattern. 
The Egyptian question, which began to assume light in 1881, 
was a striking example of this rule. It had been slowly 
maturing in the minds of certain politicians for several years. 
As early as the winter of 1875-76, three military officers had 
been sent to Egypt to report upon frontiers and possibilities. 
The movement of Russian armies in Bulgaria and Asia Minor 
two years later postponed action ; then came the deposition 
of Ismail Pasha in 1879 ; the succession of Tewfik as Khedive ; 
the budding of a National party in Egypt in 1880-81, and the 
subsequent intrigues of Jews and Gentiles, Turks, Arabs, 
Greeks, and Syrians ; of aU those extraordinary, astute human 
units grouped under the name of Levantines, whose greeds, 
lusts, and various financial activities have played such a promi- 
nent part in shaping the flow of the history of the last forty 
years. 

In such watching of the world's forces as I have been 
able to give through thirty of those years, I have been struck 
by a general course of action which has pervaded most, if not 
all, of those various movements. I would describe it thus. 
The faddist appears first upon the scene. He is, generally 
speaking, an honest and sincere man, quick to catch impressions, 
eager to teU about them, of an overweening vanity, an un- 
balanced ambition, and a facility for putting thought into 
speech or writing far beyond his power of putting thought 
into sense or action. This man is consumed by a wish to do 
something. He would canalise the plain of Esdraelon, flood 
the valley of the Jordan with the waters of the Mediterranean, 
run a railway from the Euphrates to the Himalayas, repeople 



THE FINANCIER IN WAR 219 

Palestine with the children of Israel, supplant Christianity 
by Buddhism, or Buddhism by Confucianism ; in a word, he 
is a little of a genius and a good deal of a madman with a pur- 
pose ; the mass of madmen have no purpose. The second 
man to appear on the scene is the politician. He sees in this 
idea something which he may be able to turn to his own pur- 
pose — a new frontier, an outlet for trade ; a bigger vote at 
the polls, a higher place in a cabinet. Then comes the great 
financier, the man of many millions, the controller of vast 
enterprises. He is reaUy the final factor in all this business. 
When he takes sides, throws his weight into the scale, the 
matter has passed into the region of practical politics, and the 
old nebulous proposition has become the supremely important 
question of the hour, 

I know of no more iUuminating work published in recent 
times than the Secret History of the English Occupation of 
Egypt, by Mr. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. In the pages of that 
book the devious ways of diplomacy are made clear : the 
genius, the politician, the young diplomatic attache, the Foreign 
Office official move to and fro before our eyes ; and, at last, 
we find the financier whipping the whole pack together and 
letting loose the dogs of war. 

It is not a very high or ennobling level from which to begin 
the business of war. Compared with most of the old causes 
of conflict which our fathers knew of, it is decidedly below 
the average standard of dynastic jealousies, the rivalries of 
States, the great social or political questions, such as underlay 
the Civil War in America — even of the old loves of men and 
women. These were aU subjects likely to caU from war the 
thing which Shakespeare considered made ambition virtue. 

But the soldier of to-day has to be content with what he 
can get, and the gift war-horse which the Stock Exchange is 
now able to bestow upon him must not be examined too 
severely in the mouth. 

On 11th July the forts at Alexandria were bombarded by the 
British fleet, with the result that the forts were destroj-ed and 
a large portion of the town was reduced to ruins. The huge 
shells flew wide and high, some of them reaching Lake Mariout, 
two miles inland. The Egyptian army retreated from the city 
during the night following the bombardment, and the rear- 

\ 



220 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

guard, with numerous bands of Arabs, fired and plundered 
a large portion of the European and Levantine quarters of the 
city. 

The bombardment of Alexandria was a strategic and tactical 
error of the first magnitude. It was known in London that 
Alexandria could not be made a base for the conquest of the 
Delta in August. Ismailia, on the Suez Canal, was always 
recognised as the true base from which to deliver a rapid blow, 
the object of which would be the capture of Cairo. The 
possession of Alexandria was no more essential to the campaign 
than the possession of Smyrna or the Piraeus would have been. 
The longer the Egyptian army could have been induced to 
remain at Alexandria, the better it would have been for us. 

By forcing Arabi Pasha to withdraw his troops behind 
Kafr-Dowr, we enabled him to mask Alexandria with a small 
force and use the bulk of his troops m the desert at Tel-el- 
Kebir. But space forbids that I should delay over the political 
and strategic aspects of the war in Egypt, and I must pass to 
the relation of my own personal experience in that short 
campaign of 1882. 

It is not impossible that the English Cabinet believed, when 
they gave a half-reluctant consent to the bombardment of 
Alexandria, that the destruction of the forts would be followed 
bj'' the coUapse of the National movement, but, as has hap- 
pened so often in our military history, the exact opposite of 
the expected occurred. The determination of the Egyptians 
to resist intervention in their internal affairs received fresh 
strength and purpose from the spectacle of destruction wrought 
by the British fleet in what was an entirely one-sided conflict, 
and in the month following the bombardment it became 
abundantly clear that if the National movement in Egypt 
was to be overturned, an army of invasion must be sent into 
the Delta. 

This army was hastily got together in the latter part of 
July, and it left the United Kingdom in the first half of August. 
It had not undergone any prehminary organisation or pre- 
paratory training in brigade or division ; the regimental 
battalion had sufficed for all preparatory work, and the larger 
units of military command, together with their generals, staffs, 
and transport, were to be put together at the port or place of 



THE DESERT CAIMPAIGN OPENS 221 

disembarkation, after the expeditionary force had landed in 
Egypt. 

Of these generals and their staffs there was an extraordinarily 
large number, a number out of all proportion to the strength 
of the fighting men. There were, I thuik, some eighteen general 
officers to twelve thousand bayonets. On taking the three 
arms — infantry, cavalry, and artillery — together, there was a 
general to every nine hundred men. At first sight this plethora 
of the highest rank might seem of small account, but in reality 
in war it was certain to prove a serious injur5^ Even in a 
campaign of exceptional activity, the days of actual fighting 
must bear smaU relation to the daj^s when there is no external 
fighting. \Vhen there is no external fighting going on, internal 
squabbles are apt to show themselves in camp or on the march. 
Staffs are also belligerently disposed on these occasions. The 
feathers of the domestic cock have for many years been used 
to distinguish general and staff officers in the British army. 
' Fine feathers make fine birds ' is an old saying ; and why should 
not the plumage of the rooster, fluttering gaily in the cocked 
hat of generals and staff officers, have some effect upon the 
heads of the men who are called ' the brains of the army ' ? 

I cannot delay over these domestic differences. In spite of 
them the flow of action, under the inspiring touch of the 
commander-in-chief, moved steadily forward from the base 
at Ismaiha to the big grey, gravelly desert that lay in front of 
the Egyptian lines of Tel-el-Kebir. There were minor actions 
fought at El Magfar and Kassassin before this point had been 
gained on the Sweet Water Canal, which ran from the Delta to 
the Suez Canal at Lake Timsah, and of these minor actions, 
that which took place at El Magfar on 24th August was the 
most important. Three days earher the advanced portion of 
the army began to land at Ismailia. All through the 22nd 
and 23rd, horse, foot, and artillery were got on shore, and an 
hour before daybreak on the 24th they pushed out into the 
desert along the Sweet Water Canal, the waters of which had 
been shrinking with ominous rapidity throughout the previous 
day and night. The canal had, in fact, been dammed at 
Magfar, ten miles forward in the direction of Cairo, and the 
railway had been broken at the same place. 

Sir Garnet Wolseley, dissatisfied with the reports he received 



222 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

from his InteUigence Department, had determined to ride for- 
ward with a few mounted troops, in order to see for himself 
what was in his front. He took a few staff officers with him, 
of whom I was one. Two Horse Artillery guns and a couple of 
infantr}^ battalions were to follow the mounted men. I have 
never forgotten that first morning out from Ismailia. Here, 
as day broke, was the desert at last, the first sight I had ever 
had of it. There is nothing like it in all the world — only sand, 
the sand of the hour-glass, but made infinite by space, just 
as a tumbler of sea water becomes infinite in the ocean. Sand, 
drifted into motionless waves, heaped in ridges, scooped into 
valleys, flattened, blown up into curious cones and long yellow 
banks, the tops of which the winds have cut into fretted 
patterns as it blew over them. And aU so silent, so withered, 
and yet so fresh ; so soft, so beautiful, and yet so terrible. 

The reconnaissance was to be a morning ride ten or twelve 
miles forward, then back ; haversack food, and water from the 
canal, the bank of which the left of the advancing column was 
to keep in touch with. This canal, which made life possible 
at Ismailia, Suez, and Port Said, made a sharp angle in its 
course not far from Ismailia. The advancing troops followed 
the two sides of this angle. I and another officer of the 
staff struck straight from Ismailia into the desert, so as to 
cut the angle on a shorter line than that on which the troops 
moved. We were some three or four miles out when the sound 
of cannon shot came booming over the desert from the direction 
of our left front. The sun was now high above the horizon, 
and the mirage was showing distorted water patches and 
inverted bushes on many sides, but it was easy to steer towards 
the cannon sound. 

We had cleared the soft sand hillocks that surrounded 
Ismailia, and the surface of the desert was now good going. 
In twenty minutes we were in the little oasis of Abu Suez, 
close to the railway and canal, where the hard desert was 
mixed with patches of soft clay, on which mimosa scrub and 
weeds grew. Here we found the commander-in-chief, a 
squadron or two of Household Cavalry, and a company of 
mounted infantry. A mile or two in rear a battalion of 
infantry, one of Marine Artillery, and two Horse Artillery guns 
were coming in clouds of dust along the railway track from 



THE FIRST SHOT 223 

NefisM. From where we stood, the desert for three thousand 
yards rose gradually to Tel-el-Mahouta, where some lofty 
mounds of sand and broken pottery still marked what is 
supposed to have been the spot at which Pharaoh decreed that 
the Israelites should make bricks without straw. These mounds 
ended the forward view ; they were now black with figures, 
while to the right and left of them a long, open line of Arab 
camel-men and horsemen stretched along the skyline far into 
the desert on either flank. 

It was a very striking scene : the morning sun shone fuU in 
their faces ; musket barrel and spear head flashed and glittered 
along the desert ridge, while behind it the heads of many more 
men and camels showed above the ridge ; and beyond them 
again straight columns of black railway smoke were rising 
into the still, clear air of the desert, showing that the resources 
of civilisation had also been called into request by the Egyptian 
enemy, and that his infantry were being hurried up from the 
direction where lay Tel-el-Kebir to make head against our 
further advance. These smoke columns really changed the 
plan and purpose of the morning's work. The reconnaissance 
became a fixed movement. The commander-in-chief was here, 
and here he would stay. He had in the ground immediately 
around him a favourable position for fighting an advance-guard 
action which would give six or eight hours for bringing up 
reinforcements. Away went an A.D.C. back to Ismailia to 
hurry up the Guards Brigade and what odds and ends of the 
three arms had disembarked. It was now nine o'clock, and 
the sun was rapidly making his presence felt. Kot a breath 
of wind stirred. Adye would take an hour and a half to reach 
Ismailia, the troops another hour and a half to turn out. The 
march through the sand in this burning sun would take three, 
four, or five hours ; say seven hours must elapse before any- 
thing of consequence could arrive. 

The opening moves on the Egyptian side were well done. 
A single gun placed at the Mahouta mounds opened the 
ball with a shell so well aimed that after it had passed a 
couple of feet exactly over the commander-in-chief's head, 
as he stood with his staff on the top of a sand hillock, it 
burst among the leaders of an artillery team just arrived 
upon the field. Half an hour later five additional Egyptian 



224 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

guns are in action on this ridge, their shells falling freely 
among the sand hiUocks and ground folds where our nine 
hundred foot soldiers are partially concealed from Egyptian 
sight. The mounted men are out nearly a mile to the north 
on the gravel ridges, keeping in check a flanking movement 
which the Egyptian is making in that direction threatening 
to overlap our right. Altogether, it makes a very interesting 
little battle picture, to the scenic effect of which are added 
other quahties of doubt, expectation, chance, and calculation, 
the presence of which makes a battle by far the most 
exciting and enthralling of all hfe's possibilities to its mortals. 
WTiat has Arabi got behind the desert ridge ? That is the first 
point. By ten o'clock he has shown six guns on the ridge ; 
their practice is now so good that between ten and ten-fifteen 
o'clock he has burst eight shells on and close around the hiUock 
where our two Horse xArtillery guns are hard at work trying to 
reply to these heavy odds. At twelve o'clock six more guns 
are pushed over the ridge crest on our extreme right, enfilading 
our first position and partly taking it in reverse. Behind those 
new guns we can see at times men moving in formed bodies to 
our right. About noon A.D.C. Adj^'e is back from Ismailia : 
the Guards Brigade was to move at one o'clock. The Duke of 
Cornwall's Regiment from Nefishi was a mile or two m rear ; 
two Gatltngs and a party of sailors from the Orion wore at hand. 
MeanwhUe, the heat had become simply outrageous, the sun 
stood straight overhead, the j^eUow sand glowed like hot coals ; 
not a breath of air stirred over these hot hillocks. 

It was a curious situation. What if the Egyptian puts another 
ten or twelve thousand men and a couple of brisk batteries on 
our flank ? He has a railway to the foot of this ridge ; our rail- 
way line has been broken in two or three places between us and 
Ismaiha. It is all soft, hot sand for our men, who are just off 
ship board. But the Egj^Dtian would not come on ; he kept 
playing at long bowls with his twelve guns, and as the afternoon 
wore on his chances grew less. The Duke of Cornwall's 
Regiment arrived at one o'clock. At four came some squadrons 
of dragoons, and at six the Guards and four Horse Artillery 
guns reached the field. Better than any or all of these came 
the sunset hour, the cool breeze from the north, and a few carts 
with food of some sort. Speaking for myseK, the last reinforce- 



OUR CHIEF 225 

ment was the most welcome. I had started from Ismailia at 
5 A.M., with a cup of coffee and a biscuit in the inner man, and 
a tiny tin of ' Liebig ' on the outer one, for we were to have been 
back in Ismailia for breakfast. These, -wdth a shce of water- 
melon, had kept me going for thirteen hours under a sun and 
in an atmosphere the strength and fervour of which it would not 
be easy to describe. The thing that struck me most throughout 
that long day and dwelt longest in mj' memory was the bearing 
of our chief. The enemj-'s guns might multiply from over the 
ridge in front and to our right flank, the shells drop faster 
and closer upon our ten or fifteen hundred men, the sun might 
glow stronger overhead — it didn't matter ; cool and cheery, 
with a kind word for everj' one who approached him, an eye for 
everything that happened on front or flank, or amongst us, he 
personified more than any man I had ever seen the best type of 
the soldier. 

I remember a Httle incident that happened during that 
afternoon when the Egyptians were pushing their left attack 
with greater ardour, and their fixe had compelled our cavalry 
on the right to retire from the position they had first occu- 
pied directly on our right flank. Ordering his horse to be 
brought up, the commander-in-chief mounted, and telling me 
to accompany him, he rode in the direction of the cavalry, who 
were then about a mile distant in the desert, where they were 
drawing a good many of the enemy's shells upon them. When 
we had got about half-way across the intervening space, and 
the Egyptians, spotting us, had begun to favour us ^ith some 
shots, the commander-in-chief pulled up.sa^-ing, 'I cannot stand 
the pain of this leg of mine any longer, the London boot- 
maker has made the leg of my right boot so tight that when I 
was dragging it on in the dark this morning the riding breeches 
got so wedged and crumpled upon the calf of the leg that its 
pressure has been intolerable for some time past. Can you get 
it right for me ? ' We dismounted, I made him sit on the 
sand, got the boot off, cut a sUt in the leather, and we went on 
again. I thought it strange at first that he had not required 
this little service of me while we were still among the troops in 
the sand hillocks, instead of waiting until we were out in the 
barest part of the desert and quite visible to the enemy on two 
sides ; but then it occurred to me that had this boot pulling-off 

p 



226 SIR \\1LLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

been performed in the midst of the men, who were bj^ no means 
too happily situated imder the conditions then existing, there 
might easily have spread the idea that the commander-in-chief 
was down, and that the surgeons were preparing to cut his leg 
off ; and so he had kept the pain to himself for hours rather 
than ease it under the eyes of his soldiers. 

We soon reached the cavalry. The two squadrons were kept 
moving slowly on the desert in open column in order to 
distract the aim of the enemy's gun-layers. A sheU had just 
dropped into them and killed a horse. Its rider was on his feet 
in a moment, calling out, ' Three cheers for the first charger in 
the Life Guards killed since \Yaterloo ! ' 

An hour later the first of the reinforcements arrived upon 
the field. The relay was specially welcome to the two Horse 
Artillery guns, which had fired off two hundred and thirty 
rounds that day. There were other targets now for the dozen 
Egyptian guns to fire at ; but the army of Arabi had lost its 
chance, one that was not likely to occur again in this short 
campaign. 

' The Chief ' ^ returned to Ismaiha at sunset. I was left to 
see the reinforcements in and the bivouac arranged, then I 
rode back along the canal under a brilliant moon. It was nine 
o'clock when I reached Ismaiha. It had been a long day, more 
than sixteen hours of saddle, sun, and sand, fourteen of them 
on little except canal water. In six hours we were to be off 
again to Magfar. It was not likely that the twelve Egyptian 
guns which had kept fixing at us until after sundown would 
have got far away from Magfar at daylight next morning ; 
there would, therefore, be every chance of getting some of them 
by a rapid advance of aU our mounted troops at daybreak. 

I got a shakedown on the ofi&ce floor for a few hours ; and we 
were again clear of Ismailia at 3.30 a.m. on the 25th August, 
floundering through the deep sand in the dark. We reached 
the scene of yesterday's fight as day broke. The troops, now 
swoUen to a division, had left their bivouac, and were formed 
up on the desert facing Mahouta, the cavahy and artillery on 
the right, the infantry near the canal, the whole in attack 
formation. 

We were soon on the top of the ridge from which the Egyptian 

1 The name thev called Sir Garnet bv.— E. B. 



GENERAL DRURY LOWE'S CAVALRY 227 

guns had pounded us on the previous day. A long stretch of 
desert opened at the farther side towards Kassassin, ten miles 
forward. The sun was now well up and the mists were drawing 
off from the desert ; several trains were moving along the rail- 
way in the valley to our left front ; clouds of dust forward 
showed that artillery was retiring before us, A rapid survey 
of the scene sufficed. The Chief called me to him. ' Gallop 
to Drury Lowe/ he said ; ' tell him to take all his cavalry and 
Horse Artillery forward, and coute que coute capture one or more 
of those trains. An engine would be worth a lot of money to 
me now.' I galloped off without waiting for the order to be 
written, and soon overhauled the cavalry, which were moving 
along the gravelly desert in advance, under a dropping shell fire 
from some Egyptian guns on lower ground near the railway. 
I delivered my order to General Drurj?- Lowe ; the cavalry went 
forward at the best pace they could ; but the horses, all just 
off shipboard, were already showing the severe strain of the last 
twenty-four hours in sand and sun. Five hours later the rail- 
way station at Mahsamah was captured by General Lowe ; the 
Egyptian camp, with seven guns and large stock of ammunition 
and rifles , was taken ; many railwaj^ trucks with camp equipment 
and provision also fell into our hands, but the engines got away. 

I cannot delay over the next fifteen days' work. It was hot 
and hard on all ranks, for the very success which had attended 
these opening moves in the campaign had imposed upon men 
and animals exceptional difficulties. Twenty miles of the 
canal were in our possession up to the lock at Kassassin, its 
weakest spot, but it required no small strain upon troops and 
transport to keep the force necessary to hold that important 
point supplied with food and forage over these twenty miles of 
shifting sands, when the canal was dammed and the railway 
interrupted. When these obstacles and interruptions had been 
surmounted, and two or three engmes were at length running 
on the railway, the concentration of troops was swiftly accom- 
plished, and on the evening of 12th September the Army 
Corps was in position at Kassassin, six miles distant from the 
Egyptian lines at Tel-el-Kebir. 

One had been kept so busy during these preparatory days 
that there was little time to give to matters of policy or politics 
outside the actual labour. It was only on an occasional evening 



228 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

that one could get away for a ride in the twilight over the sand 
hills outside Ismaiha. It was a strange sight to see on those 
occasions more than one hundred large ocean-going steamers 
lying packed together within the compass of Lake Timsah, 
their lights at night being visible over the desert for long 
distances. It often occurred to me to wonder why no attempt 
was made by the Egyptians to move a light column with a few 
guns from Salahiyeh, only eighteen miles distant to the north- 
west, over a good hard desert, and fire twenty or thirty shells 
among those steamers packed like herrmgs in a barrel. There 
was a Pasha with some eighteen thousand men and ten or 
twenty guns lying at the end of the railway at Salahiyeh. 
AVhat was that Pasha about all this time ? One evening in 
the first week of September I happened to be out along the 
Sweet Water Canal at the north end of Ismailia. At a point 
where the desert approached the canal a small group of Arabs 
and camels were squatting on the ground under the trees ; 
there was no mistake about these men and their animals — 
children of the desert, all of them. The sheik was a tall and 
handsome man of the Howawak tribe. Presently a few men 
of rank in tarbooshes came along in the twilight and passed out 
into the desert mounted on those camels. The centre of that 
little group of Egyptian officials was Sultan Pasha. They 
disappeared m the direction of Salahiyeh. I need not have 
troubled my head about the general, the eighteen thousand 
men, and the ten or twenty guns at that place, nor did I after 
that night. We wiU go on to Tel-el-Kebir. 

The night of 12th September fell dark upon the desert ; there 
was no moon. Stars were bright overhead, but when one 
looked along the desert surface all things were wrapped in a 
deep grey gloom impossible for the eye to pierce. All through 
the afternoon the staff had been busy writing copies of the orders 
of the commander-in-chief, and striking off smaU plans showing 
roughly the formation in which the troops were to move from 
the positions they were to occupy ia the desert lying north-west 
of the lock at Kassassin and about one and a half miles distant 
from it. Things went on as usual in the camp during the day 
and evening, but when darkness had fuUy closed in the troops 
moved out from their camps into the desert, leaving their fires 
burning. The foint d'appui was a mound known as the 



MARSHALLING THE FORCES 229 

* Ninth Hill ' on the level, gravelly ridges north of the canal 
and railway. At this spot a line of Engineer telegraph posts 
had been erected, runnmg due west for a thousand yards. 
This line was designed to give a marching point for the directing 
column to move along when it first started. When the end of 
that line of posts was reached, the direction would be by the 
stars alone. The formation adopted for the movement of the 
Army Corps across the six miles of open desert extending from 
Ninth Hill to the lines of Tel-el-Kebir was at once simple and 
yet closely calculated — simple, in order to meet the conditions 
imposed by a moonless night ; thoroughlj^ thought out, because 
the formation in which the Armj^ Corps started must be that in 
which it would engage the enemy when he was found, as it 
was hoped. There could be no manoeuvring, no afterthought, 
no rectification after these seventeen thousand five hundred 
officers and men with their sixty or seventy guns had been 
launched out into the night from the plateau of Ninth Hill, a 
gigantic bolt of flesh, steel, and iron shot westward into the 
darkness. 

The march and the attack were made in two lines. The first 
line, of eight infantrj' battalions, moved in two distinct bodies, 
separated from each other by an interval of twelve hundred 
yards. Both of these bodies marched in lines of half-battalion 
columns. The second line, moving a thousand yards behind 
the first, was in a similar formation to the first line, but con- 
tinuity between its brigades was maintained b}' a line of forty- 
two field guns, which filled the twelve hundred yards from the 
right of one brigade to the left of the other. On the extreme 
right of this infantry and artillery formation marched General 
Drurj'- Lowe's Cavalry Division, with two batteries of Horse 
Artillery — twelve guns ; while on the extreme left, and m the 
lower ground of the canal and railway, moved the Naval 
Brigade and the Indian Division. The entire front of the 
formation measured from north to south seventy-four hundred 
yards ; its depth from east to west was about two thousand 
yards. From the desert at Ninth Hill to the lines of Tel-el- 
Kebir was all but four miles in a direct line. The surface 
undulated sHghtly, but maintained a general uniform level of 
from a hundred and ten feet to a hundred and thirty feet 
above the sea. It was throughout hard enough to make 



230 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

movement easy, and yet sufficiently soft to make it almost 
noiseless. We were aU in position by eleven o'clock, lying in 
the desert near Ninth HiU as silent as the stars that seemed 
the only living things in view. 

About half-past one the march began due west. We went 
slowly forward for less than an hour, then halted and lay down. 
It was a sort of trial mile to test the working of the scheme, 
the steering of the great mass, and its discipline. All had 
worked smoothly, there was no noise, no confusion, everything 
had gone mysteriously well, as a clock works as regularly in 
the night as in the daylight. 

During this halt I was lying on the sand near the commander- 
m-chief (he had told me to ride beside him that night) ; the staff 
were scattered on the desert close by. I held the reins of my 
horse twisted round my arm, for the drowsy hours had come. 
We had been at work aU day, and it was easy to drop off to 
sleep on this cool, dusky sand bed. I had a second charger, 
ridden by a groom, following in rear. I had told the man to 
keep a tight hold of this horse at any halt on the march, for 
the animal had a nasty temper, and a way of his own on all 
occasions. I tried aU I could to keep awake during the halt, 
but could not succeed ; the blmking stars above, the vast, dusky 
desert around, which already seemed as though it had swaUowed 
our host, the deep silence that prevailed, all tended to produce 
a state of semi-consciousness or partial oblivion. AU at once I 
felt something moving close to me. I was wide awake in- 
stantly. Two horses were there beside me, the one fastened to 
my arm, the other standing beside him, saddled, and with the 
reins trailing on the ground. It was my second horse. The 
servant who was in charge of him, sleeping a hundred j^ards 
behind, had let my horse go, and the animal, more intelligent 
than the man, had picked his way through sleeping men and 
horses until he got to his old stable companion, with whom he 
stood quietly — aU his temper tamed, and his rough manners 
softened by the strange desert night-world in which he found 
himself. About three o'clock we began to move forward again. 
(My groom had come up to seek me m consternation.) The 
night was now darker than ever ; the stars by which we had 
heretofore moved had gone below the western desert, but the 
Pole-star was always there. By it we were able to find new 



MARCH GUIDED BY THE STARS 231 

lights on which to steer west. For more than an hour now 
the march went on in absolute silence, except for one strange 
occurrence. Suddenly to our right front a peal of wild and 
hilarious laughter rang out in this deep stillness. It ceased 
almost as abruptly as it had arisen. One expected that some 
alarm might have followed this weird, unwonted outburst, but 
the void was all still again. It afterwards transpired that a man 
in one of the Highland regiments of the leading brigade of the 
Second Division had carried a bottle of very strong rum with 
him, and his repeated application to this source for sustaiu- 
ment during the march had ended in a hysterical paroxysm. 
Fortunately, we were at the time more than a mile away from 
the enemy's position. 

During the next hour the strain of things grew. I rode on 
the left of the commander-in-chief. He had given the leading 
of the staff group to me. As one by one some guide-star 
dropped into the mists that lay deep upon the horizon, another 
star higher in the heavens had to be taken for direction, and 
that at times became obscured or dimmed by some passing 
cloud ; but at no time was the Pole-star, over my right shoulder, 
and the star in front, upon which I had laid my horse's ears, 
hidden at the same moment. Sir Garnet Wolseley had in his 
possession a very fine repeater watch given to him by the late 
Lord Airey. By striking this watch he knew the exact moment 
of the night, and as the minutes between four and five o'clock 
began to strike longer numbers, they seemed to draw into 
tighter twist aU the strands of our expectations. And yet, as 
I can see it now, what did it matter to this old desert and to 
these older stars ? ' Our guides,' we thought them. Ours ! 
Had not Moses led his Israelites here three thousand years ago ? 
Had not Napoleon marched the best soldiers known to the world 
over these sands and under the same stars ? Countless Pharaohs 
had driven their chariots across these brown ridges ; and one 
day did there not come along this route into Egypt a man 
leading an ass on which a woman rode, bearing in her arms a 
Babe, who was to be a wider conqueror than they all ? What 
did our little night-march matter in that catalogue or context ? 
Perhaps the poor hysterical Scottish soldier, whose weird laugh 
broke so rudely upon the desert silence an hour before, knew as 
much about it as the best of us ! 



232 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

It was about half-past four when the commander-in-chief 
told me to ride in the direction of Sir Archibald Alison's High- 
land Brigade and teU him to move forward as rapidly as 
possible, as the entrenchments must now be close before us, 
and the daylight could not be far off behind us. I took ground 
towards the right front, and soon struck full upon the Highland 
Brigade. It was a moment of very considerable danger and 
confusion to that body of men. An order to halt for a few 
moments had been given by the brigadier a little while earher. 
This order passmg from the centre to the flanks did not reach 
the outer companies for some moments ; thus, when the centre 
companies halted, the outer ones still continued moving, though 
keeping the touch, as it was caUed, inwards. The result was 
that the flank battalions wheeled inwards and lay down m a 
kind of half -circle. When the word to advance was again given 
in a low voice, they moved to their respective fronts and came 
nearly face to face with each other. A terrible catastrophe 
might easil}'- have happened in the case of raw and inexperienced 
troops ; but discipline was good, and the brigade was reformed 
in line by the efforts of the brigadier and his officers. I stayed 
with Sir A. Alison until everything was straight, gave him the 
message to push on with all possible despatch, and then turned 
to find my chief. I had counted my horse's steps in coming to 
the Highland Brigade, and calculating that the commander-in- 
chief would have continued to move to his former front, I 
steered a course south-west, as I had before come north-west. 
Captain Maurice had accompanied me to the Highland Brigade. 
WTien we got to a spot which I reckoned to be in the track of 
the commander-in-chief's route I pulled up, and dismounted 
in order to see better towards the east. Presently a few heads 
appeared against the horizon. We were straight on the staff 
track. 

I reported what had happened, but that the brigade was 
now in full march forward. There could be little doubt that 
we were now not far from the enemy's works, but, so far as sight 
and sound went, they might as well have been a hundred miles 
away. At no time during this dark night had the stillness 
of the desert space been more profound or the darkness deeper. 
This desert seemed still to have kept embalmed in its sands 
one of the old plagues of Egypt. 



FIRE OPENS 233 

The commander-in-cliief decided to dismount at this spot 
and await developments. In the next twentj^ minutes I could 
hear the repeater repeating its minutes frequently, ' Four, 
forty, forty-five, fifty ' ; all was stiU dead silence. Looking 
eastward, I thought that the dawn was already showing in the 
horizon, but it was a dawn such as I had never noticed in the 
eastern heavens before. A large shaft of pale Ught, shaped 
like a sheaf of corn, and of the colour of pale gold, was visible, 
shot straight up from the horizon some twenty degrees into 
the heavens. It appeared to be rising from where the sun 
would be, due east. I called the attention of the commander- 
in-chief to this strange foreglow of the coming day, and he too 
believed it to be the approaching dawn. It was in reality 
the Great Comet of 1882, which had not been visible before, 
as the comet was actually going round the sun at that time, 
and was lost in the sun's raj's. It had got round now, and its 
long tail, whisked before it, had become suddenly visible to 
the naked eye, while the head was still lost in the solar raj's. 

We mounted and rode on. We had only proceeded a short 
distance when the all-pervading silence was broken hj a single 
shot to our right front ; then came two or three more shots, 
and then a thunderous roU of musketry, mixed with heavy- 
gun fire, swelling from our right front far along the western 
desert on either side. When this great volume of fire first broke 
out all was stiU dark ; five minutes later, in that short dawn, 
the eye was able to distinguish objects on the desert within a 
quarter of a mile ; in ten minutes the landscape and the line 
were aU revealed to us. To our left front a large earthwork 
was sending shells on three sides. We were at first too close 
to it for damage ; but it soon found our range — about a thou- 
sand yards — and shells began to fall about us. This earthwork, 
the largest of any in the enemy's defences, was an isolated 
redoubt standing at least a thousand yards m front of the 
main Ime of entrenchments. The record of the night-march, 
with particular reference to this isolated and advanced sentinel 
battery, is a very curious one. Had the march of the Highland 
Brigade of the Eleventh Division been made along a due east 
and west line from Ninth Hill, some portion of the left of the 
brigade must midoubtedly have struck the work. I am not 
sure that the centre of the line would not have come fuU against 



234 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

it. It would be impossible to say what the ultimate effect 
upon the fortunes of the day would have been, but it is safe to 
say that the loss to the assailants must have been out of all 
proportion larger than it actually was. I shall not here discuss 
this question, but press on to the end. 

As daj^ight broadened things took better shape. We could 
see that the large work immediately on our left front stood at 
a considerable distance in advance of the main line of works : 
from this main line a body of cavalry was coming out in rear 
of the advanced redoubt. Our big group of staff had been 
ordered to scatter at this time, so as not to draw too con- 
centrated a fire from this redoubt. The commander-in-chief 
still kept me by him. I called his attention to the movement 
of the enemy's cavalry. ' Order the squadron of the 19th 
Hussars to meet them,' he said. It was not in sight. I 
galloped back to meet it, and they went forward at a canter 
in column of troops, passing within three hundred yards of 
the eight-gun redoubt, and offering a splendid target to it. The 
redoubt fired four or five shots as the squadron passed it, but 
neither man nor horse was hit. When I rejoined the com- 
mander-m-chief the firing of musketry and artillery was in 
full swing, but the flashes from the big guns were dying out in 
the increasmg daylight. We galloped to the right front, and 
soon struck the main line of works. The desert was here dotted 
over with wounded men, chiefly of the Highland Light Infantry ; 
the old colonel of the Duke of Cornwall's was down with a 
bullet through his jaws. Farther to our right, our line of forty- 
two guns had broken into columns, and the leading batteries 
had already entered the enemy's line. Galloping through the 
gaps they had made in the parapet, we were soon inside the 
works. The detached fort had continued to follow our course 
with shells ; it was now the only unsilenced redoubt in the 
enemy's line. Inside the works, the desert was strewn with 
dead Egyptians, dead horses and camels. The sun was now 
well above the horizon. To the right one could see the First 
Division moving quickly in regular formation across the desert. 
Portions of the Second Division were still in our front, descend- 
ing the slopes towards the railway station of Tel-el-Kebir, 
and to our left, where the desert sloped to the railway and 
canal, the wrecks of i\.rabi's late army were strewn in all 



AFTER THE BATTLE 235 

directions. Down the slopes, through the camps, over the 
railway, and across the canal, the white-clad fugitives were 
flying south and west in dots, in dozens, in hundreds. Desultory 
firing was going on everywhere, but actual fighting had ceased 
thirty-five minutes after the first gun was fired. 

It was about 6.20 a.m. when we reached the canal bridge at 
Tel-el-Kebir. Beyond the canal lay the Wady Tumilat, a 
narrow sheet of green lying between two glaring deserts. Two 
or three hundred Highlanders, a squadron of cavalry, and some 
odds and ends of moimted corps had just arrived. The first 
thing to be done was to stop the shooting which was going on 
at everything and often at nothing. The seamy side of a battle 
was here painfully apparent ; anything seemed to be good 
enough to let o£E a rifle at. Dead and wounded men, horses, 
and camels were on all sides. Some of the wounded had got 
down to the edge of the water to quench their thirst ; others 
were on the higher banks, imable to get down. Many of our 
ofl&cers dismounted and carried water to these unfortunates, 
but the men were not all similarly disposed. I heard an 
officer ask a man who was filling his canteen at the canal to 
give a drink of water to a gasping Egyptian cavalry soldier 
who was lying supporting himself against the battlement of 
the bridge. ' I wadna wet his lips,' was the indignant reply. 
Close by, in the midst of her dead and dying fellow-countrymen, 
a woman attached to the Egyptian camp was washing her infant 
at the canal, concentrating her attention on the child as though 
to steady her thoughts ; and many of the wounded Egyptians 
had managed, as they lay, to cover their heads with pieces of 
paper to try and keep off the flies and the scorching sun. 

When the orders for the movement of the cavalry and 
Indian Division to Cairo and Zagazig were issued by the 
commander-in-chief on the bridge at Tel-el-Kebir, and these 
two bodies had started on their respective roads, I took up 
my quarters at the lock-keeper's hut on the south side of the 
bridge, had something to eat, and then started on a fresh horse 
to go back over the battlefield. 

The saying that ' dead men tell no tales ' has the he given 
to it on every battlefield ; this one was no exception. I 
directed my course to the part of the field and the entrench- 
ments across which the Second Division had come. Vast 



236 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

numbers of Egyptian dead cumbered the ground from im- 
mediately behind the parapet where the Highland Brigade 
entered to quite a mile within the works in the direction of 
the bridge. This portion of the position had an mner double 
line of works extending obliquely along it, facing north, and 
it was among these lines and gun emplacements that the dead 
lay thickest. They were often in groups of fifteen and twent}^ 
heaped together within the angles of smaU works into which 
they appeared to have crowded ; the main line of entrench- 
ments had also great numbers of dead behind it. The ground 
showed everywhere the complete nature of the surprise which 
had overtaken the enemy. Arms, accoutrements, uniforms, 
the cotton clothes of the fellaheen, boxes of cartridges and food 
— a general debris of everything lay exposed upon the desert. 
Of wounded there were very few to be seen ; too many suc- 
cessive waves of armed men had crossed this portion of the 
jfield. The sun was now a flaming fireball overhead. I had 
been at work for fully twenty consecutive hours. When I 
returned to the lock-keeper's hut at the bridge, things had 
not improved in the Wady Tumilat. Several men had managed 
to get across the canal, and the people in the hamlets had been 
robbed and ill-treated by these blackguards. This is part of 
the performance of the lower sort of the soldier-mind : to 
them war means plunder. It has always done so, and it wiU 
always do so. Indeed, it may be truly said that the instinct 
of plunder in some shape or form is the strongest passion 
among men. That it comes out in war is only justifying the 
old proverb that the ruling passion grows strong in death ; 
death had been very plentifully exhibited that morning over 
these three miles of desert from the Egyptian lines to the 
bridge at Tel-el-Kebir. 

In this respect I do not imagine that the instincts of man 
have changed much since Moses marched this way three or 
four thousand years ago. If anybody should be disposed to 
doubt this opinion, I would ask him to read the Life of Sir 
Neville Chamberlain at pages 143-150 of that remarkable work. 
Sir Neville Chamberlain knew the realities of war as few men 
knew them in our time, and when he raised his voice in a vain 
protest against the whole horde of financial civilian- warriors 
who were howling to let loose hell upon the women and children 



SONS OF THE SOIL 237 

of the Dutch republics some ten years ago, he knew what he 
was speaking about. 

Somebody said of the Egj^tian War of 1882 that it was 
' the Counter-march of Moses/ Since that time poor Moses 
has had rather a surfeit of wars, and perhaps to-day he is not 
so ready to embark upon them in a general ' damn the conse- 
quences ' sort of spirit. 

There is one thing which I should like to put on record 
regarding this battle of Tel-el-Kebir. Complete surprise though 
it was to the Egyptian soldiers behind their entrenchments, thej'' 
nevertheless fought with the greatest determination against over- 
whelming odds. Not a moment was given them to awake, form 
up, prepare, or move into position. The assault fell upon them 
as a thunderbolt might fall upon a man asleep. The leaders 
in whom they could trust were, lilie themselves, fellaheen ; 
few among them knew anything of war, its arts, manoeuvres, 
or necessities ; they were betrayed on every side, yet they 
fought stoutly wherever ten or twenty or fifty of them could 
get together in the works, m the angles of the hnes, and in 
the open desert between the lines. The heaps of dead lying 
with and across their rifles facing the up-coming sim bore 
eloquent testimony to that final resolve of these poor fellows. 
Peace be to them, lying under these big mounds on the lone 
desert — ten thousand, it is said. No word should soldier 
utter against them ; let that be left to the money-changers. 
They died the good death. Dust to dust. They did not desert 
the desert, and Egypt will not forget them. 



CHAPTER XV 

Cairo. The fate of Arabi in the balance. Mr. WUfrid Blunt. Leaving 
Egypt. To the Saskatchewan again. The Red Man. 

All resistance in Egypt ceased at Tel-el-Kebir on 13th Septem- 
ber. Cairo was surrendered on the 14th to a small force of 
cavalry, and on the 15th Sir Garnet Wolseley, His Royal 
Highness the Duke of Connaught, the staff, and a battalion 
of the Guards reached the capital at 10 a.m. Redvers BuUer 
and a sapper private drove the engine of the train that carried 
us to Benha. The scene in the streets near the railway station 
was a curious one. Several Pashas and officials were on the 
platform, and we waited some time at the station for some 
formality or other. BuUer said to me, ' Let 's get a cab and 
drive to the Abdin Palace, where we are to live : I am very 
hungry.' We did so, and in a quarter of an hour we were at 
the palace. There was only an old Nubian ' bowab ■" in the 
place. Not many Arabs were to be seen in the streets, and 
most of them took little notice of us, though some scowled, 
and the irrepressible Arab boy hissed vigorously at us as we 
passed. The Abdin Palace looked the most enchanting place 
of rest and coolness I had ever seen. What a change to those 
lofty halls and broad staircases, cool corridors, gilded ceilings, 
and crystal chandeliers from the blinding heat, the foul dust, 
and the innumerable flies of the desert ! But all such things 
without food are of little use to hungrjT- men, so we got into our 
cab again and told the driver to go to an hotel. The first two 
or three we tried were barred and bolted, and silent as the grave. 
At last we struck one in which there was a ' bowab,' and after 
a good deal of talk between him and the interpreter he con- 
sented to open the door. Yes, there was food in the house, 
he said, and he would cook some breakfast for us. In half an 
hour he had an excellent omelette and a bit of meat served up, 
and he confided to the interpreter that he knew where the key 

23S 



CAIRO IN '82 239 

of the cellar was, though that door was also sealed. Most 
excellent Nubian ! Down we went to the cellar, took one bottle 
of claret from an old dusty, cobwebby bin, resealed and locked 
the door, put up a paper over the lock saying what had been 
done, and, having duly signed it, sat down to breakfast. We 
were in a hurry, as there was plenty of work to be done at the 
palace, so we ate our food and drank our wme without delay, 
and went out again to the cab. So far, aU had gone weU in 
the cool house, but once in the sun things went very differentl5^ 
My head had begun to swim ; the carriage seemed to be always 
turning a very sharp corner ; my companion was looking at 
me with a strange look on his face. ' Old chap,' he said, ' I 
think we had better take a turn through the city before we 
go back to the palace.' I quite agreed. At that moment I 
would not have met the commander-in-chief for a good deal. 
We drove about the half-deserted streets for half an hour, 
and the effects of this wonderful old heady wine, suddenly 
swallowed, went off almost as quickly as they had come. 

Cairo was at this time a wonderful place. It can never be 
again as it then was. Moses in Levantine form had not yet 
come back. What pictures they were, those streets of old 
Cairo ! It was my duty to hunt out all the tents I could find 
in the storehouses of the citadel for the use of our troops, 
as all the camp equipage was still at Kassassin. Arabi's late 
officials, although they were all coffee, cigarette, and obsequious 
courtesy, were in no hurry to show me the extent of their stores 
and camp equipage, but I kept at them for two days, until I 
had dug out sufficient for our immediate wants. The filth and 
vermin in the permanent barracks everywhere made it perfectly 
impossible to put European troops into them. At this work 
I managed to see a great deal of the outer side of Cairene life, 
and to get several glimpses into the inner scenes too. I had 
to take over, with Herbert Stewart, the old palace at Abbas- 
siyeh, and as the harem of the late Pasha of the blood was still 
located in that building, the work was a protracted one ; for 
the ladies had to be removed from room to room before we 
were allowed to enter the apartments, and thus we were playing 
a sort of hide-and-seek with them through the palace. 

In a short time our men were comfortably provided for, 
chiefly in tents on Gezireh Island, and then we had time to 



240 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

do a little sightseeing in Cairo and its vicinity. Wonderful 
sights some of them were. I got up one morning very early 
in order to see the comet, which had now become visible at 
that early hour. From the roof of the Abdin Palace one could 
see the whole city and the land from Mokattim to the Pyramids. 
Before day came, the Great Comet stood above where the sun 
would rise. It resembled a vast wheat-sheaf of light, or a 
flaming broom sent to sweep the stars out from the threshold 
of the sun. The city slept in the shadows. Then, one by one, 
from a hundred minarets rose the cry of the muezzin — the 
weirdest wail of man to God that can be heard over the world. 
Then as the light grew stronger the old domes of forgotten 
sultans and Mameluke chiefs could be distinguished rising 
above the city buildings to the east and south, and looking 
westward across the palm groves that fringed the great river 
one saw the Pyramids changing from grey to rose-pink in the 
growing light — vast and clear-carved as though they had been 
finished yesterday, and had not saluted the sunrise over 
Mokattim for twice three thousand years. ' If you make the 
canal from Suez to the Mediterranean you will bring the 
English into Egypt," said Mehemet Ali in his old age, as he sat 
in the window of his little palace in the citadel looking out 
upon that wondrous scene below. Well, they made the Suez 
Canal, and the English came into Egypt by it, and their bugles 
were now sounding reveille from camp and quarters in the 
city ; nevertheless, somehow these giant sentinels standing 
erect in the desert, who began their watch six thousand years 
ago, seemed as they reddened in the sunrise to be even smiling 
at the thought that this new invader of the Nile Valley was to 
be the last they were to look at. 

Nothing in the world has lasted as Egj'-pt has lasted. They 
wiU tell you that the tombs and temples of the Nile have defied 
the tooth of time because of the air, the sand, and the sun of 
Egypt ; but far more wonderful has been the lasting of the 
Egyptian people amid the mud, the yellow water, and the 
lentil gardens of the land. A thousand invaders have swept 
this Delta. Egypt has rubbed them all out one after the other. 
What was the secret ? A Turkish officer gave me the only clue 
to it I ever got. ' When a man of my regiment,' he said, 
' comes and asks me to be allowed to marry, I ask him, " Whom 




§\ 




ARABI BROUGHT TO THE ABDIN 241 

do you want to marry ? " and he generally replies, " I want 
to marry a Nubian or a negro " ; and when I ask the reason, 
he says, " Because then my children will be Turks ; whereas, 
if I marr}^ an Egyptian girl, the children will be Egyptians." ' 

You look in vain in Egypt to-day for any distinctive feature 
or figure of Turk, Circassian, Mameluke, or Greek ; all are 
Egyptian, and, strangest part of it all, are Egyptian in the 
face and form of the type which you find graven on tombs and 
temples that were built many thousand years ago. How has 
this result been arrived at ? I thmk it can only be explained 
by the simplicity and the uniformity of the elements out of 
which the bodies of the children of Egypt have been built — 
Nile mud and Nile water, fashioned and fertilised into Nile 
food, through the agency of the Nile sun. 

On the 18th September it was thought necessary to move 
Arabi Pasha from Abbassiyeh to the Abdin. The most 
truculent among the old Circassian and Syrian officers in the 
service of the Khedive soon after this entered Cairo, and their 
enmity to Arabi was so bitter that his life was in danger at 
their hands. A very base and cowardly attack and outrage 
was made upon him one night in his prison. There were 
circumstances connected with the secret history of the con- 
stitutional party in relation to the ex -Khedive Ismail and 
the present one, Tewfik, which made the assassination of Arabi 
Pasha quite a possible contingency. ' Dead men tell no tales ' 
— nor would even a dead ' Pasha of three tails.' The next 
plan was to get Arabi tried by a court-martial composed of 
Circassian and other officers of this class, and sentenced to 
death as an Egyptian in rebellion against his country and its 
ruler. There was a very real danger that this course might be 
followed. The bondholder would not be strenuously opposed 
to it, and his representatives, who were then in the ascendant 
in Cairo, made no pretence that this course would not have 
been thoroughly in keeping with their wishes. A number of our 
own officers were also in favour of it, but there were others 
who thought otherwise. I remember being at the Abdin when 
Arabi was removed thither from Abbassiyeh. A large group 
of officers had gathered in the verandah of the building to see 
Arabi arrive. He was brought under escort in a carriage. 
He alighted, and began to ascend the steps as one tired and 

Q 



242 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

weary. When he saw the group of officers he pulled himself 
together, drew himself up, and saluted us with dignity. I 
noticed that only one officer besides myself returned the 
prisoner's salute ; that one was General Drury Lowe. I was 
in good company. 

A we3k later Khedive Tewfik was brought into Cairo under 
the protection of our troops, and for several days after his 
arrival the fate of Arabi hung in the balance. 

It is now made pretty clear, by the publication of papers and 
private correspondence of that day, not only that the putting 
to death of Arabi under the shelter of Khedivial authority was 
an idea perfectly agreeable to persons in very high ministerial 
positions in England, but that its frustration was largely due 
to the devoted efforts made by Mr. Blunt and a few other 
friends of justice at the time in London. 

Of course, I could know nothmg of aU this in Cairo. I was 
immersed at the time m the details of my official work with 
the troops. Sickness of a grave character had broken out 
among the army, and changes of camp sites, hospital arrange- 
ments, etc.; occupied all my time. But m the evening at 
our mess I heard the fate of Arabi frequently discussed, and 
it was easy to see that the tide of opmion was flowing strongly 
against the prisoner. 

It was announced one evening that the chief of the staff. 
Sir John Adye, would leave for England next mornhig to 
resume his duties at the War Office. A thought struck me. 
I had known Sir John many years ; I knew him to be a straight 
and honourable soldier, and a personal friend of Mr. Gladstone. 
It had become quite clear to me by this time that the larger 
part of the information which had been transmitted to England 
from Egypt during the past six months bearing upon this 
National movement had been either grossly exaggerated or 
was absolutelj^ false and misleading. Many of the men who 
were engaged in transmitting this information were profound 
haters of the ministry then in power, and particularly of their 
chief, Mr. Gladstone, and to some of them the idea of making 
that statesman an accessory before the fact to the judicial 
assassination of Arabi was possessed of a sort of subtle and 
refined satisfaction. It is curious to mark now in the pages 
of Mr. Blunt's extraordinarj^ book the accuracy with which, 



A LETTER 243 

in my own small sphere, I had gauged the situation. When I 
got to my room in the Abdin Palace that night I sat down and 
wrote a letter to Sir John Adye, which I intended to hand to 
him next morning at the Cairo railway station when he was 
starting for England. I began : — • 

' Nothing but a very strong belief in the necessity of doing what I 
can to avert what I beheve would be a national crime makes me 
now write to you upon a subject far removed from the sphere of 
military duty which has hitherto given me a claim as an officer of 
your staff to communicate with you. I write to urge you to tele- 
graph from Alexandria to England to stop the execution of Arabi 
Pasha (should the Court which is sitting, or about to sit, condemn 
bim to death) until you have arrived in England and are in a position 
to place before the Government a full view of the Egjrptian question 
as it will then have taken its place in your mind, in just and true 
proportion. 

' You may ask why I, holding a subordinate position on the staff 
of this expedition, should thus take up a question removed from the 
class of work I have hitherto done in this campaign. I would, in 
the first place, point out that leniency toward men who have been 
in rebellion has seldom been thrown away in history : the wounds 
inflicted in war, no matter how deep they may be, soon heal compared 
to those which are left in the memory of a people by the work of the 
scaffold.' 

Then I instanced the great war of the South against the 
North in America, where, after four years of tremendous 
fighting, only one hfe had been taken on the scaffold, and that 
one the hfe of a man who had starved to death and cruelly 
maltreated thousands of Northern soldiers. 

' If we go further back in history, can any one say that the 
execution of Ney and Labedoyere made the Bourbon throne more 
secure, or gave the Settlement of Vienna a longer lease of exist- 
ence ? Did St. Helena ensure the continuance of the restored 
dynasty ? Had there been no St. Helena, there might have been 
no Second Empire. But let us look at this matter from another 
point of view. In what light wUl history regard the execution of 
Arabi ? It will be written that we, a great and po^^•erful Empire, 
vanquished this man and then surrendered our prisoner to the 
vengeance of weak, and therefore cruel, rulers. The voice of the 
civilised world \vill be against us. Legal technicahties and petty 
quibbles will be forgotten, and history will record a strong verdict 



244 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of condemnation against us. It is the same all along the line. It 
will be useless to say the act was not ours, we cannot get rid of our 
responsibility that way : the world will not accept the transfer. 

' There is another point and I have done. It is perhaps a selfish 
point. Will the execution, as a traitor, of the man against whom 
all our immense preparations have recently been made — the seas 
covered with our ships, the desert with our men — will the execution 
of the object of all this preparation, effort, power, as a felon, redound 
to our own proper pride, or to " the pomp and circumstance " of 
our profession ? It strikes me that in condemning Arabi to the 
scaSold we cut down the measure of our own achievement to a very 
low point. Another thing I can foresee. If Arabi's execution should 
be carried out, many of the men who are now foremost in calling for 
it will be the first to turn round and fling the stone of reproach at 
the English statesman whom they hate with far greater intensity 
of feeling than that Avhich they bear to their Egyptian prisoner, 
and they will not fail to pursue Mr. Gladstone to his grave with 
the cry of blood-guiltiness. 

' I must apologise for the length to which this letter has run. 
I can only excuse it by pleading the never-failing kindness and 
courtesy I have received from you whenever my duties as your 
staff officer brought me into contact with you.' 

I have taken this letter from a rough draft in an old pocket- 
book in which I find it most indifferently pencilled. I sat up 
all night writing and copying it out, and when all was finished 
it was time to go to the railway station to see the old chief of 
the staff off on his journey. 

I handed the letter to him on the platform. I thought there 
was a look in his eye as I gave him the document as though 
he imagined it was some matter of personal promotion or 
reward about which I was troubling him, and I just said, 
* Not about myself, sir.' I never heard again what happened, 
but the trend of events soon satisfied me that the executioners 
were not to have it all their own quick way at once. At the 
time my letter was written (at the end of September), the 
execution of Arabi by order of the Khedivial court-martial had 
been virtually settled, as we now know. On 27th September 
it was announced that the court was to be named instanter. 
The correspondent of the Times in Egypt reported that ' the 
Khedive, Sherif and Riaz Pashas all insist strongly on the 
absolute necessity of the capital punishment of the prime 



AN OPEN TRIAL FOR ARABI 245 

offenders, an opinion from which there are few, if any, dissen- 
tients.' That this court would then have been a packed 
tribunal of the very worst description was just as certain as 
that the sun would rise on the Mokattim side of Cairo the next 
morning. All the passions were now in entire possession of the 
Egyptian vantage points : the Levantine jackal, the Khedivial 
eunuch, the bloodthirsty Circassian, the Greek money-lender, 
the many representatives of Dame Quickly 's old and highly 
endowed profession — these were now flocking into Egypt in 
thousands. With them were coming the former advisers of the 
EngHsh Foreign Office, whose persistently erroneous counsels 
had, as we now know, produced the crisis which had just been 
closed by the slaughter at Tel-el-Kebir. Behind these various 
persons and professions this unfortunate fellah, Arabi, had 
ranged against him the entire tribe of the Levites and High 
Priests of Finance, foreign and Egyptian, from the heads of 
the great Jewish banking-houses in Europe to the humble 
' schroff ' money-changers at the street comers of Alexandria. 

With all these powerful interests, schemes, monopolies, 
policies, and professions in league against his life, the chances 
of the late leader of the National party might well seem hope- 
less ; and so they would have been had not breathing time been 
given. Whatever may have been Mr. Gladstone's earlier pre- 
possessions against Arabi and the National part}', his better 
angel prevailed, and it was decreed that a full and open trial 
should be accorded him. That was sufficient to ensure his 
ultimate safety. Neither Turk, Jew, Infidel, nor imaginary 
Christian could face the publication in court of the secret 
papers of which Arabics counsel were now in possession. These 
papers, cleverly hidden from the Khedive's pohce by the wife 
of the prisoner, saved the situation. Arabi owed his life, under 
Providence, to the splendid pluck and generous purse of Mr. 
Wilfrid Blunt ; and, looking back upon it all to-day, I am 
not sure that the memory of Mr. Gladstone is not still more 
deeply indebted to the same gentleman. 

Many days of that time live in my memory, but one has 
particular place in it. The commander-in-chief gave a huge 
picnic at the Pyramids of Sakkara, the site of ancient Memphis. 
We went by steamer to Beddreshin on the top of the Nile flood. 
More than one hundred Arab donkeys were collected under 



246 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the palms on the west shore. These were quickly mounted, 
and away we went for Sakkara. Nearly all the higher officers 
of the expedition were there — Sir Garnet Wolseley, the Duke of 
Connaught, Generals Willis, Graham, Alison, and some nmety 
others of various degrees and qualities, several civilians being 
among them. To most of the party the Egyptian donkey 
was still a strange riding animal. If you tried to ride as in an 
English saddle, discomfort was inevitable ; the stirrups were 
not fixed, and if j^ou leaned more to one side than the other the 
shding stirrup leather went in the same direction, and a fall in 
the sand was the result. If you sat well back, almost over the 
donkey's tail, and threw your legs well out in front, you soon 
found a balance which seemed to fit into the animal's short 
gallop. Prominent among our uniformed party rode Colonel 
Valentine Baker Pasha, who, for some reason known only to 
himself, had come to the picnic in a fashionable London frock- 
coat, a tall black silk hat, and the rest of his costume in due 
keeping. AU went calmly and quietly on the outward journey. 
We saw aU the wonderful sights ; the house of Tei, that mar- 
vellous interior wherein all the industries, the duties, the 
domestic life, and the amusements of the oldest civilisation in 
the world are graven and coloured in characters as clear and 
vivid as though they had been done yesterday. Then we 
dived down through the sand of the desert into that vast rock 
warren of the Serapeum, which the genius of the great French 
Eg5^tologist first revealed to our modern world. The wonder 
of it all was endless as one looked at these vast sarcophagi 
of polished syenite. How did these old people get aU the 
seventy solid single-stoned tons of granite or porphyry into huge 
side niches which open from the vast rock gallery under the 
desert ? Greater even than the wonder was the prodigious 
foolishness of the whole thing. AU for dead bulls ! Stifled 
with the heat, the candle smoke, and the smell of bats of this 
subterranean bull warren, we got up at last into the desert 
air, and were soon at work upon the scores of good things 
which Cook had provided for our refreshment by order of the 
commander-in-chief. More tombs, more pyramids, more stone 
carvings, more hieroglyphics, more sarcophagi, and at last we 
were off again on donkey-back for the Nile. Then the fun 
began. The donkey boys prodded the animals behind, some 



THE FELLAH IN HIS HOMELAND 247 

of the younger guests raced their donkeys at full speed in 
front, the burly j&gure of Baker Pasha seemed to become the 
central point in the human stream that poured over the desert 
sand, and then along the top of a great embankment built to 
retain the waters of the inundation. \^Tiat with the heat of 
the sun and the stifling atmosphere of the many sepulchral 
chambers and galleries visited, aU our clothing had become 
bedraggled and saturated ; but if this was the case with khaki 
and dust-coloured homespun, how fared it with the black frock- 
coat, tall silk hat, and fashionable nether gear of our Piccadilly- 
clad Pasha ? Words could not paint that picture : the silk 
hat was bent and broken by frequent contact with the roof of 
rock cavern and tomb chamber ; the frock-coat looked as 
though several policemen had been tussling with its owner ; 
the legs of the fashionably cut trousers had worked up under 
the exigencies of the donkey saddle until the ankles were 
where the knees ought to have been. There was no stopping : — 

' With hark and whoop and wild halloo 
No rest Ben Bam'se's echoes knew.' 

And thus we reached the steamer at Beddreshin satiated with 
sarcophagi, and with a thirst for tea such as only the dust 
of six thousand years of mummy powder could give us. 

I left Eg3rpt at the end of October with feelings of keen regret. 
There was nothing to make one imagine at that moment that 
events would soon arise in the vaUey of the Nile which would 
call one back to that region. The Egyptian chapter seemed 
closed, and I was sorry to quit a land in which the ends of time 
seemed to be always touching each other ; the oldest reHcs 
of man's pride and power lying prone in the dust, the latest 
efiforts of his endless husbandry blooming fresh and fair over 
aU the garden of the Delta. More interesting to me than the 
tomb or temple of the dead past m the desert was the endless 
picture of the life of the fellah in the soft green level of his 
homeland ; his fields of grain m their many stages between 
seed and stubble, his plots of onions, sweet-smeUing beans, 
deep green clover, cotton, and flowering flax ; the brown 
canal banks, where the cattle, goats, donkeys, and camels stood 
in the shade of the acacia-trees in the hot hours, munching the 
stalk of sugar-canes, or nibbhng the golden ' tibbin ' ; the big 



248 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

blue buffaloes, with their horns and noses just showing above 
the yellow water ; and the date palms rustling in the cool 
north wind round some old marabout's tomb, whose little 
dome shows very white over the green fields ; and under the 
glorious sunshine the great flocks of white pigeons skimming 
over villages, the strange ' paddy ' birds standing in the 
inundated fields ; above all, man, woman, and child at work 
everywhere, sowing, reaping, weeding, working the water 
wheel in winter, and in summer, when the Nile is pouring down 
its flooded waters, opening the little watercourses from one 
field to another with their feet to let the saving flood flow on 
its way. 

To-day it is the same as it was in that far-off time of the 
Exodus, when Moses told his people that ' The land whither 
thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt from 
whence ye came out, where thou sowedst the seed, and 
wateredst it with thy foot as a garden of herbs ; But the land 
whither ye go to possess it is a land of hills and valleys, and 
drinketh water of the rain of heaven.' 

This short war had at least been the means of teaching me 
a few great lessons which were of use later on. I saw and 
learnt a good deal of the machinery by which the thing can be 
done to-day, the turn given to the wheel which sets ' public 
opinion,' as it is called, into one channel or the other. I thought 
the war was ended, but I was wrong. Doubtless the Great 
Comet, as I saw it that morning flaming over Mokattim, knew 
more about what was coming than any of us : — 

' Comets importing change of times and states, 
Brandish your fiery tresses in the sky, 
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars.' 

Quite so ; but which had been the bad, revolting star in this 
Egyptian business ? That one, ' Canopus,' famous night- jewel 
of the southern desert ; or that other one of the northern 
heavens, ' Arcturus,' which had guided us to overwhelm the 
sleeping fellaheen host at Tel-el-Kebir ? The Egyptian peasant 
in revolt against his plunderers, or an English Liberal Govern- 
ment in revolt against Liberalism ? 

Some day, perhaps, Egypt will help us to answer the ques- 
tion. She has ever played a strange part in the destiny of 



ACROSS THE ATLANTIC AGAIN 249 

empires. The late Lord Salisbury came to the conclusion 
towards the close of his life that we had an unfortunate facility 
for ' backing the wrong horse/ I think we have had an equal 
knack of generally hanging the wrong man. 

When the army of Egypt returned to England it was the 
recipient of a good deal of public and private adulation and 
reward, which lasted through the winter and into the summer 
of the next year.i Then things assumed their old shapes 
again. 

One day, in the late summer of 1883, 1 received a letter from 
a syndicate of company promoters in the city of London 
asking me if I would undertake a journey to the north of the 
Saskatchewan River, in order to investigate and report upon 
a large tract of land in that region, about the agricultural 
capabilities of which thej^ were desirous of obtaining trust- 
worthy information previous to the formation of a joint-stock 
company for its future development. It was added that Lord 
Dunraven had been also approached in the matter, and that 
he was willing to undertake the journey provided I was also 
agreeable to it. Of course, I accepted. I forget what the 
emolument was to be — one hundred pounds, and out-of-pocket 
expenses, I think ; but that didn't matter. I would have 
given more than I could then afford to give merely to see again 
the great prairies and the pine forests of my earlier days. 

The season of the year, the autumn, didn't much matter. 
Indeed, nothing matters when your heart is in a matter. 

After several delays I left Liverpool on the 6th October 
in a brand-new steamer, the Oregon. She was the latest vessel 
then off the stocks, and she was expected to break the record 
of that time, which she did, gettmg into New York on the 
evening of the 14th. Ship, ship's company, passengers, and 
ocean were at their best. Every human item seemed to be 
represented in the two hundred passengers. Beauty and the 
Beast could be studied close at hand. The charm of the one 
lies in its great contrast to the ughness of the other ; but 
we ought not to say the ' Beast,' for there are very few beasts 
that are ugly ; it is the mass of ugly people m the world that 
makes us worship beauty when we see it. 

It was interesting to look at America again after an absence 

^ I was honoured by being appointed extra A.D.C. to the Queen. 



250 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of ten or a dozen years. The sharpening process seemed to be 
stiU going on among the population. Is it destined to continue 
until the original Caucasian has been fined down to vanishing 
point ? At the moment it seemed to me that the Irish and the 
German stock were having the reproduction business all to 
themselves, but the African black was beating them both. 

I got away up the Hudson Valley the next day. Commercial 
enterprise was so far unable to spoil the glories of the sunset 
skies and their reflection on the broad river, but it had seized 
on every rock and headland on the shores to defile and deface 
them with hideous advertisements of pills, purgatives, and 
pick-me-ups ; even the moonlight was sought as an illuminator 
for these horrible concoctions. One asked oneself who were 
the men and women who swallowed these things ; and were 
the ' Castoria Bitters ' and the various Capsicums, the names 
of which were written in five-feet letters on the grand old 
rocks, the real grindstones upon which the sharpening or 
attenuating process of the American human family was 
going on ? 

Dawn found us in Vermont. A great round moon, now safe 
from the desecration of the city advertisement, was going down 
in fleecy folds of vapour bej^ond Lake Champlain ; the big 
woods were glowing in their autumn tints as the sun came up, 
mixing his bright, new golden coinage with the molten moon- 
beams in the west. Wliite frost was on the ground, and there 
was ice on the little pools already. There was no time to lose 
if the Saskatchewan River was to be crossed free of ice. I 
hurried on north, for the objective point was a station called 
Troy, on the Canadian Pacific Railway, from whence a stage 
waggon ran once a week to Prince Albert, on the North Sas- 
katchewan. If I missed that weekly stage, then there could 
be no chance of getting to my destination before the winter 
had shut up the land from human observation. How easily 
can our best-laid plans be jeopardised ! At Milwaukee, on the 
19th October, the train stopped for dinner. After the meal, 
by a stupid mistake I got into what seemed to be the last car- 
riage in the St. Paul's train. A moment later I saw the carriage 
in front move slowly away from the one in which I sat. The 
northern train was moving so very slowly that I thought I 
could catch it running, for we were still in Milwaukee city. I 




-Annan & Sons Glascow fr^rn: a liotocrnajiibf Heath.Plymcr-ith 



^ 



A FRIEND IN NEED 251 

was out and after the train in a second, going aU I could, and 
neither gaining on it nor losing. I had a large overcoat on, 
and but for that I think I should have caught it up. All at 
once there came a break in the track on which I was runnuit^. 
caused by a switch block in the rails ; over that I jumped, and 
as I lighted at the far side of the obstacle, bang went something 
in the calf of my leg. I stopped, dead lame ; away steamed 
the express, with aU my baggage, and all my hopes of getting 
to the Saskatchewan for another fortnight. Suddenly I heard 
behind me the roar and whistle of an engine. I looked back 
and saw a single locomotive coming on my line of raUs at a 
rapid pace. As it approached I noticed that the driver was 
leaning out to one side of his engine and shouting at me, but 
as I had already hobbled out of his track I didn't know wha.t 
he wanted of me. Then I saw him slowing down, and I guessed 
what he was at. He pulled up suddenly. * Jump on, 
stranger ! ' he shouted. I caught hold of the rail of his engine, 
and lifted myself by it to the driver's platform. He gave one 
glance to see that I was safely on, then he seemed to let her head 
go, and away we went forward. By this time the St. Paul's 
express, stUl going slowly, for there were numerous street 
crossings on the line, was a quarter of a mile ahead. Holding 
on all I knew, for I was now quite out of breath, I gave one look 
at my good friend. He was a big strong man, with a great 
round face and a lot of hair round it. His eyes were steadily 
fixed on the rails ahead, the train in front, and the crossing- 
places ; both his hands were on the stops and goes of his engine, 
and he was able to check his speed or let go as he pleased. 
When we got clear of the streets he let out fuU speed, and was 
soon within a hundred yards of the express, which so far had 
seemed to take no notice of us, and I began to fear that my 
good friend would give up the stem chase in disgust. But I 
heard him growling something about * going to St. Paul before 
he 'd stop ' ; and I was completely reassured, for there was a 
light in the big eye that was nearest to me that told me it had 
now become altogether a personal question between him and 
the express. 

As though to bring matters to a climax, he now let out his 
engine to a full gallop, and I thought he was going to ram the 
train in front, for he would run up quite close to it, and then 



252 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

suddenly rein in his charger. AU the time he was making a 
wonderful amount of steam whistling. At last the express 
caved in and pulled up ; then only did my friend relax his 
stern silence. He helped me to get down from his engine. 
I flung a five-doUar note on to the floor of his loco- 
motive, told him he was the best friend I had ever met 
in the world, and then hobbled to the last carriage of 
the express, and scrambled on its platform. As I did so 
I saw that the driver had quitted his engine and followed 
me. He piit the five-dollar bill on the platform, saying, 
* Thank you, stranger, but it wasn't for that I did it,' and 
went straight back to his engine. In another second we 
were steaming north. I then saw that the number of his 
engine was 218. When we got to St. Paul next morning I 
wired to the stationmaster, Milwaukee, asking the name of the 
driver of 218 engine ; the reply came that the name was Bill 
Macauley. It was worth a sprung leg just to have met such 
a man. The passengers were very kind. They had been 
watching the race with interest, and one of them, seeing me so 
lame, brought out a bottle of ' Pond's Extract.' According to 
its label this compound cured every pain and ailment of man, 
woman, and child ; that it relieved the great pain I was then in 
is certain, and, though lameness lasted for many days, it gradu- 
ally wore wa5^ Of my good friend I shall have more to say later. 
I got to Troy station, three hundred miles west of Winnipeg, 
and found there an old friend waiting for me — another Mr. 
Macauley, this one an old officer of the Hudson Bay Company, 
with whom I had spent some days at Dun vegan, on the Peace 
River, thirteen years earlier. The stage was not to leave" Troy 
for a few hours, and my friend had his two-horse buggy at the 
station to drive me some two miles to his fort at Qu'appelle, 
which the stage would pass some time later in the day. I have 
not forgotten the beauty of that drive across the rolling prairies 
from the railway to Qu'appelle, in which one was brought all 
at once face to face with the old-remembered glories of space, 
silence, and sunset ; with the extraordinary clearness of the 
prairie atmosphere, through which the blue line of horizon 
lay clear-cut fifty miles away ; the intense blue of the long, 
winding lakes ; the copses of yeUow cotton-wood ; the oak 
thickets, now crimson in the Fall; and the curious, white sand- 



THE 'CIVILISERS' 253 

stone cliSs to the north of the lakes, the echo at the foot of 
which had made the early French fur hunters give its sweet- 
sounding name to the place two hundred years earHer. 

My joy at finding myself once more in a lone land of silent 
beauty was, unfortunately, of short duration, for when, three 
or four hours later, the stage stopped at the Hudson Bay fort, 
I saw at a glance that I should have as companions through the 
three hundred miles to Prince Albert three or four of as rough 
specimens of the first-fruits of Canadian settlement as could 
possibly be met with in the Great West. 

That evening the stage stopped at a lone hut named O'Brien's. 
The stage manager or owner was of the party, as the trip was 
a sort of pioneer imdertaking to bring the Saskatchewan into 
touch with the new civilisation of the Pacific railroad. This 
new civilisation appeared to be terribly anxious to begin its 
labours ; and of its apostles it might be said that they were 
hard at work swearing themselves into office through the 
whole three hundi-ed miles that still intervened between the 
railway and the savagery of the Saskatchewan. As there 
were no Indians or half-breeds or wild animals in this region, 
the inanimate things of hill, wood, water, and plain received 
their full baptism of fire at the hands or tongues of the new- 
comers ; the driver scattered imprecations on everj'thing ; the 
lumberman smoked so incessantly that his benedictions could 
only take form in occasional words jerked out between whiffs 
of tobacco smoke, but they were strong words when they did 
come. Of wit, even of a coarse kind, of humour of any kind, 
there was none among these men ; it was all the dull, heavy, 
cursing, spitting, eructating, and smoking kind of savagery. 
In O'Brien's hut that evening I thought with regret of the old 
days in some Indian or half-breed camp, where, if the floor- 
space and the head-room were no larger, the study of human 
character and habit was infinitely more interesting. When 
the time for lying down came I took my roll of bedding outside, 
and had a capital night's rest in the open prairie in a tempera- 
ture of only twelve degrees below freezing-point. I was up 
at 6 A.M., and had the satisfaction of making the lazy civiHsers 
get up too. The driver was inclined to be aggressively impre- 
catory, but I effectively silenced him by saying that if he would 
kindly show me where he kept his oats, I should be glad to feed 



254 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

his horses for him every morning at five o'clock. This offer 
seemed completely to change his mental attitude towards me, 
and I found, too, that whatever might be the prevailing tone 
of his conversation with men, he was uniformly kind and 
thoughtful about his animals. 

On the 28th October we reached the South Saskatchewan, 
at the same spot where I had lost my little black riding horse 
through the ice just thirteen years earlier. It was strange 
to look again at this and at other old scenes of camp and 
adventure in those times of former travel. Many of the old 
things of that time had gone for ever into the Silences. There 
was not a buffalo to be seen from Wmnipeg to the Mountains ; 
most of the Indian prairie tribes were broken up, and the wild 
men who had followed the great herds and lived on them were 
now scattered into a few isolated and remote reserves, destined 
soon to disappear altogether from the land. 

One thing was still here unchanged : it was the twihght. 
Before that hour came the stage had reached its stopping- 
place, and I was able to get away from its atmosphere to some 
neighbouring hill, or by the edge of some lakelet, where one could 
look again at some of the old sights, the great red sun going 
slowly down over the immense landscape, and leaving the 
western sky a vast half dome of rose-tipped wavelets from 
horizon to zenith. Scarce a sound but the splash of a wild 
duck on the placid lake, scarce a movement but the motion 
of a musquash swimming in the rainbow-coloured water, his 
head forming the beak of a bird-of-paradise, whose gorgeous 
wings and body plumage were the widening ripples that 
followed after. 

In the last days of October I reached the land north of the 
North Saskatchewan, which it was the object of my journey 
to see, and at a point fifty miles north of the river I turned back 
again to the south. I found that the million acres, which were 
to become the property of the syndicate destined to exploit 
them, foi-med an oblong block of territory tying to the south 
and west of the sub-Arctic forest which roughly bordered it on 
two sides. The Saskatchewan made the southern boundary, 
and a range of low hills, called the ' Thickwood HiUs,' the 
western. The land was of good quality, suitable for cultivation 
or grazing. It had water and timber, and it lay between two 



AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE 256 

thousand to two thousand five hundred feet above sea-level. 
The trail of the fur traders to the north lay directly through it. 
In favourable years good wheat was grown on it, but summer 
frosts as early as the 20th August had often injured the grain. 
On the whole, looking to the great distance which intervened 
between this region and the railwaj^s, I could not recommend 
that it should be made the basis of a joint-stock company, 
the capital of which was to be one to two million doUars. That 
was the nature of the report which I submitted when I returned 
to London. But of this more anon ; I have stiU to get back 
there in this narrative. 

In the Indian reservation I found my old acquaintance, 
Mistawassis, the Cree chief of my former visit. Once a man of 
fame and influence over the prairies, he was now reduced to a 
very miserable condition. His story, told m his own way, 
put the whole question, as Indian story always did, in short 
and true language. 

* In the old daj's,' he said, ' before the Canadians came, 
we had food and clothes. At times, it is true, the snow caught 
our people on the plains and we froze, or at times the buffalo 
were few out on the prairies and we wanted food, but that 
was only at times ; now we are always in want of food, our 
clothes are fuU of holes, and the winter winds come through 
them, to find our bodies thin for want of food. I can go back 
for fifty years, but no time Like this time can I find. Our men 
and women put on rags over rags, but it is only hole over hole ; 
we cannot get warm. I once had plenty of horses, but they are 
gone one by one to buy food. Most of the men who came to 
this reserve with me are already dead, and only six j-ears have 
gone since we came here. They (the Government) were to 
have put glass windows in our huts, but only the frames without 
glass came. Our oxen have died dragging flour here from 
Prince Albert.' 

Times had indeed changed with poor old Mistawassis since 
I had seen him in 1870. He was then the owner of seven tj^ 
horses ; his buffalo robes were numerous ; he had hundreds 
of bags of pemmican wherewith to trade with the Company for 
tea and sugar. Alas for the Red Man ! it was the same here 
on this North Saskatchewan as it had been on the Assineboine, 
the Red River, the IMississippi, the Missouri, and a hundred 



256 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

other rivers big and little over this Great West ; and yet it 
was not one hundred years since the ' Blackbird,' chief of the 
Minatarries, five hundred miles south, had asked that he might 
be buried on the top of a hill overlooking the Missouri, so that 
he might be able to see his white brother the trader passing 
in his trading boats up and down the river. 

I got back to the North Saskatchewan on 2nd November. 
The ice was now forming rapidly, and it would soon set in the 
broad channel, but we got over in the ' scow ' to Carlton with 
only a wetting. The question was now how to get back to 
the railwa3^ I hated the idea of the stage again. The pro- 
spect of another five days' ' boarding and bunking ' with the 
* civilisers ' was too much for me. The land north of the 
Saskatchewan was still safe ; I would keep to it, follow the old 
trail by Fort Pitt to Edmonton, and then make my way to 
Calgary, which at this time was the end of the railway east of 
the Rocky Mountains. It was a good six hundred miles, and 
the winter was fast setting in ; but I had been over the road 
thirteen years before, and some old friends in the Hudson 
Bay Company were still alive along it. Preliminaries were 
soon arranged through another old companion in travel,^ and 
on the same afternoon I recrossed the river to the north shore, 
saw the ' scow ' hauled up for the last time that year, and with 
old Dreever, a cousin of the man who had been my guide in the 
early part of the night, thirteen years ago, when we eluded the 
search of Riel and Company at old Fort Garry, I turned my 
head westward for Edmonton. We had an American buck- 
board and three horses, all Dreever's property. 

We camped that night by some large willows between two 
frozen ponds. Wlien twilight came, and the wind blew in 
gusts through the willows from far off, and I saw the horses 
feeding on the ridge against the afterglow, I felt a silent joy 
such as I had not known this time in its fulness. Here at last 
was the lonely land still untouched. ' When we drew up the 
scow,' I wrote that night, ' we cut the painter of " civilisation," 
but the savagery lies at the south side of the river.' 

For ten or twelve days we drove at a trot through a rolling 
land of mixed wood and grass, the latter now yellow like ripe 
corn, and growing in places three and four feet high. The 

1 Mr. Clarke, Hudson Bay Company. 



CAMPING OUT 257 

camping-places were good, with ample store of dry timber 
for fuel. ' What a delight it is to be making a camp once more 
with an honest man/ I find myself writing on the second even- 
ing out. On the 3rd and 4th November there were beautiful 
displays of the aurora before daybreak : veils of radiance 
flung across the stars ; great showers of red and yellow light 
pulsating and quivering from the northern horizon to the 
zenith. The dawn would sometimes break in the east in 
strange, deceptive mixings of earth and clouds. I would have 
forgotten where earth and sky had met in the east when day 
closed on the previous evening, and throwing back the blankets 
next morning, I would see what seemed to be an immense lake 
stretching far south-east to north-east, having its farther shore 
clearly defined with bays, inlets, and islands in it, the nearer 
shore only a short distance from our camp. The distant shore 
seemed to rise mto mountains, with snow on their summits, 
and stars above them. As dawn brightened the reflections 
in the lake began to change in colour from grey silver to molten 
copper, and then as the sun drew nearer the horizon the 
whole phantasm of lake, mountain, and stars melted into the 
realities of the daylight. 

Dreever, the driver, like all the good men of mixed parentage 
in the North- West, had in his nature the best instincts of the 
wilderness. He possessed the power also of telling its stories 
with a quaint choice of words which, though few and simple, 
showed his genius for reproducing the scene he wished to 
describe, with great and touching fidelity. One morning we 
sighted the ' Swan Lake,' a sheet of blue open water lying to 
the right. In the previous summer a French priest had come 
there with six or seven Cree Indians to hunt moulting geese 
and ducks, for the lake was a great haunt of wild birds. They 
made a small ' dug-out ' bateau, and went out into the lake ; 
a gale came on, the bateau overturned. The priest swam well, 
and, one by one, he brought the Indians to the overturned boat, 
to which they clung ; but they were not able to retain their 
holds, and, one after the other, they were washed off by the 
high-running waves. A child, his especial favourite, was thus 
washed away three times, and was as often rescued and brought 
to the drifting boat again. At last he too was swept off and 
lost. Then the priest said, ' Why should I live 1 ' All those 

R 



258 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

who had come out with him in the boat were gone, and he it 
was who had made them come, so he went too. There, where 
the white strip of sand showed between the two lakes, the 
boat and the bodies were drifted in by the winds, and the 
priest and the Indians were buried there. 

We reached Fort Pitt long after dark on the evening of the 
6th, We found here a strange mixture of the old and the 
new peoples ; the new represented by a Canadian police officer 
who was a son of Charles Dickens, and the old having as its 
champion the chief. Big Bear, who was supposed to be kept 
in awe by some ten or twelve of Mr. Dickens's police stationed 
at Fort Pitt. Mr. Dickens bore a striking resemblance to his 
illustrious father. He struck me as having a keen sense of 
humour. He had a habit of laughing, a soft, musical, thought- 
inspired laughter, which was quite peculiar to him, and which 
I think he may have contracted from the Indians, in whom 
I had occasionally noticed it, the result, perhaps, of long- 
continued silent watching and thinking upon animals, birds, 
and the ways of men and women in the wilderness. 

Ruskin has somewhere said that he didn't want to hear 
theological discussions or sermons about the possibihty of 
miracles as long as he could see the sun rise and set. The 
Red Indian and the white sick man represent, perhaps, the two 
classes of men who most frequently see the sun rise, and the 
other world is not far off to many of these people. 

Big Bear, who was supposed to be under the peculiar 
supervision of Mr. Dickens's poUce, had persistently refused 
to go upon a reservation. ' Why should I go into one place ? ' 
he used to ask the Hudson Bay officer and Mr. Dickens. ' Do 
I not see all the Indians who go into one place die off faster 
than ever they died by the guns and knives of the Blackfeet ! 
Are they not all starving ? ' They would tell him then that he 
was old, and that that was the reason why the Canadian 
Government wished him to be easy and comfortable on a 
reserve. To which Big Bear would reply, ' It is true that I 
am old, but I have fed myself for seventy j^ears. I can stUl 
hunt and feed myself, and I will stay in the open country tiU 
I die ; then, when I am dead, you can put me into some one 
place if you like.' I heard here the same story I had been told 
aU along the trail from the Touchwood Hills to Fort Pitt, a 



THE END OF THE OLD LIFE 259 

distance of seven hundred miles as I had travelled. ' The 
Canadian newcomers were so rude and overbearing in their 
attitude to the older people of those regions that there was 
every prospect the latter would rise in rebellion and try to 
clear the new people out.' Hudson Bay men and old residents 
were unanimous in holding this opinion. 

They were right. Within two years from that time the 
rebellion occurred. It was easily suppressed. It was the last 
flicker of the old life. Henceforth there would be no prairies, 
no Indians, no moccasins, no old stories told by camp fires ; 
only barbed wire, the grain ' elevator,' the machine-made boot, 
and the two-cent newspaper. 

We reached Edmonton late on the night of the 12th Novem- 
ber in a driving snow-storm. The winter was now well in, 
and for the last three mornings the thermometer had been 
below zero at daybreak. 



CHAPTER XVI 

The Hudson Bay forts. Winnipeg. Back to London. Trouble on the Upper 
Nile. Revolt of the Mahdi. Destruction of the forces of Hicks Pasha and 
Baker Pasha. General Gordon sent to the Soudan. Gordon and the 
garrisons in danger. Delay and vacillation at home. Building of Nile 
'whalers.' Ascent of the Nile. 

Throughout the five hundred miles covered since I had crossed 
to the north shore of the Saskatchewan at Carlton, the land, 
with the exception of the establishment of Mr. Dickens's small 
police party at Fort Pitt, was exactly as I had left it thirteen 
years before. 

At the Hudson Bay forts some ' old-timers ' had gathered — 
old French Canadian or Scottish servants of the Company, who 
had lived all their lives in the great wilderness, and now wished 
to die in it. These old people had their memories for company, 
and wonderful memories they were. Most, if not all of them, 
had seen ghosts at some time in their lives. It might have been 
when they were lying in camp, storm-bound, by the shores of 
the distant Lake Athabasca ; it might have been during some 
awful tramp of forty days and nights from Engewa to Esqui- 
maux Bay in Labrador ; it might have been during a stay, all 
alone, of a month in midwinter at La Pierre House on the 
Upper Yukon, when the other white man had died, and there 
had been no means of communicating the news of his death to 
the next nearest white man, who lived three hundred miles 
away on the Mackenzie River ; but ghosts the old men had 
seen some time or other m those long years. If the younger 
men hadn't themselves seen ghosts, they had heard their fathers 
or grandfathers talk of them often enough over the log fire in 
the winter evening. Years before in Red River I had heard 
a quaint story of old Prudens and the wild goose — a goose story, 
not a ghost story. One day in early spring, when the wild geese 
were passing high over the prairies to their breeding grounds in 
the Arctic, old Prudens in his farmyard on the Red River saw 



THE OLD AND THE NEW 261 

a ' wavy ' detach itself from the flock overhead, and, flying 
downwards, ahght in the middle of his own domestic geese in 
the yard. Orders were given that the newcomer was not to be 
disturbed in any way. The ' wavy ' dwelt with his domestic 
brethren in plenty aU that summer ; but when autumn came 
the wail of the wild geese was heard again descending from the 
V-shaped flocks that now were passing south to the swamp- 
lands of the Mississippi. The call was more than the visitor 
could resist ; for one morning he spread his wings and, soaring 
aloft, rejoined his wild friends flying southwards. But, when 
spring returned, so too came the ' wavy ' to take up his summer 
station once more with the domestic cousins in the farmyard. 
For half a dozen autumns and springs this curious visit was 
repeated, until at last a springtime came but no ' wavy ' came 
with it to gladden the eyes of old Prudens. When the last 
flock had passed over, the old man said sorrowfully : ' He hasn't 
come back : I shall die this winter.' And die he did, said the 
story. 

At Fort Victoria on this journey I met a young Mr. Prudens. 
I asked him about his grandfather and the wild goose. Yes, 
he had heard the story often told by the old people, he said, 
perhaps it was only foolish talk ; but Dreever, my driver, didn't 
think so. He liked these old stories better than the new ones 
which had already come into the Saskatchewan in the form of 
the ten-cent American novel — the Dime Illustrated. ' These 
novels,' he once said to me, ' they don't do a man any good ; 
he only loses his sleep by them.' I didn't know about that, but 
I do know that I have learned more of the secret of life from 
the stories of the Red Man, the old French fur-hunter, and the 
old soldier, than ever I gathered from the pages of all the 
up-to-date and sitting-up-at-night novels that were ever 
written. 

Despite the snowstorm and a temperature below zero at 
Edmonton, I found that ' a boom ' had just passed over that 
old Indian trading station ; and in this boom my recent 
acquaintance, Johnny Prudens, had had a part. Prudens had 
a farm near the fort. The Edmonton ' boom ' had been 
started several hundreds of miles away, at Winnipeg, and 
Edmonton knew nothing about it. Suddenly a telegram 
arrived offering thirty thousand dollars for Prudens' farm. 



262 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Prudens was away fur-trading at Lac La Biche. What is to 
be done ? A messenger cannot be got at less than two hundred 
dollars who will go in search of Prudens. Meanwhile, the 
telegraph operator sees his way to a deal on his own account. 
He and another partner start out to meet Prudens, and offer 
him six thousand doUars for his farm. Prudens sells, knowing 
nothing of the thirty thousand dollar limit. Then there is a 
long delay before the deeds of sale can be prepared and the 
money raised. At last this is effected, and all the parties 
concerned go to Winnipeg to settle matters and pay the pur- 
chase money. But by this time spring has come, and the boom 
has subsided, the necessary dollars cannot be obtained ; the 
operator has to put his recently acquired farm up for sale by 
auction — the reserve price being fifteen thousand dollars ; 
the audience burst into guffaws of laughter. Then twelve 
thousand dollars are tried ; no answer. Finally a purchaser 
is found at eight thousand dollars, less expenses. Wliat Prudens 
eventually got out of the transaction was not stated ; but the 
operator was glad to get back to his telegraph station the owner 
of a new buckboard. At Edmonton I was on the borderland 
again. Calgary, my rail destination, was only two hundred 
miles to the south ; and boom and counter boom would hence- 
forth form the staples of all conversation. How often I was to 
hear the boom story repeated ; the first fixing of the new city 
site ; the plans made out of square, corner lots, and market- 
places ; the names given : ' Rapid City," ' Humboldt City,' 
' Manchester City,' ' White Mud City,' etc., etc. Then I would 
hear the story of the man who went in a buckboard to see for 
himself the destined centre of civiHsation and progress which had 
already arisen, it was said, in the wilderness ; how this man got 
on the stump of a tree in the centre of ' Manchester City,' and 
by springing on the stump had shaken the ' muskeg ' and quag- 
mire swamp for two hundred yards all round his footing ; how 
another man had taken his old German wife with him to 
prospect ' Rapid City,' a site somewhere on the South Sas- 
katchewan ; and how, when daylight had revealed the whole 
sad spectacle to the old lady, she had burst into a torrent of 
reproaches against her spouse, finishing up with imprecations 
upon the head of Horace Greely, whose well-known advice to 
the young men to ' go West ' had been the origin of aU her losses 



SOUTHWARD 263 

and disappointments. ' If I meet that old , I '11 give him 

hell/ she would say. 

I left Edmonton on the 14th November, travelling by horse- 
sled due south. The snow was about eight inches deep, and we 
sped along at a good pace over the same traU as that which I 
had followed when going to the Rocky Mountain House in 1870. 
Curiously enough, I had as driver the same excellent half-breed 
who had been then my companion — Johnny Rowland — and, 
to make the coincidence stranger, we met on the trail Paul 
Foyale, who had also been with me on that occasion. On the 
night of the 15th we reached the crossing place at Battle River, 
where a Cree Indian, responding to the incoming civihsation, 
had built himself a tiny hut of wood and mud on the bank above 
the river. Coyote, the owner of the hut, was away hunting, 
but his famUy, represented by a very old grandmother, a wife 
and some children, were present. There was also a baby, four 
days old, who, the old lady informed me, was her sixtieth 
descendant then living. Except in the Egyptian Mummy 
Museum at Boulak I had not seen a human face so deeply 
wrinkled, nor hands so scraggy, nor nose so prominent ; yet 
the hair was still jet black as it hung down in wisps on either 
side of the gaunt cheeks. The baby's mother was at household 
work ; and the old grandmother was alternately engaged in 
holding the baby, and expelling a small black puppy dog, 
whose work in the world was to roll over everji^hing on the floor 
— threatening even to precipitate himself into the frying-pan 
wherein our supper was being prepared. 

We started from Coyote's at dayUght,and soon ran into lighter 
snow, for a ' Chinnook wind ' was blowing, and when we reached 
the Wolf creek the ground was so bare that the sleigh made bad 
progress. Next morning, the snow being quite gone, we packed 
our things on a loose horse, hid the sleigh in a thicket, himg up 
the harness in a tree, and set out riding the other two horses 
for the Red Deer River. Rowland rode bareback ; I had a 
saddle borrowed from the Coyote family. It proved an 
instrument of surpassing discomfort. Of Mexican origin, it 
had undergone many changes at the Coyotes' hands. What- 
ever had been capable of decay in it had gone, and only the hard 
bone framework remained. It was so small that one had to 
sit as much on the cantle as in the saddle. It was only a 



264 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

question of time as to how long the agony could be borne. 
After three hours of inexpressible pain, we reached the banks 
of the Blindman's River, found a cart there, and with its aid 
got on to the Red Deer River at dusk. ' I have found a new 
instrument of human torture,' I wrote that night in my diary, 
' in case civilisation reverts to the ancient practice — the 
Coyote saddle.' Two days later I reached the railway at 
Calgary, having passed on the second day from the mixed 
wooded and plain country into a region entirely devoid of tree 
or bush — a region which was one vast sea of short gray grass. 
These last two daj^s were of easy locomotion, thanks to the 
kindness of a Canadian gentleman named Beattie, who had 
recently settled within the wooded region lying north of the 
treeless waste. 

Crossmg the Bow River at sunset, Mr, Beattie's waggon 
narrowly escaped an accident. Ice was running in the river, 
making it difficult for the four horses to keep their footing in 
the strong current. One of the leaders fell and could not get 
his legs again ; so it was necessary to cut him clear of the 
harness. This was done by a smart J^oung fellow going out 
over the backs of the wheelers, but he too had to get into the 
water, and he was chilled to the marrow when we hauled him 
again into the waggon. 

It was dusk by the time we got across the Bow River, and 
drew up at the Calgary House in what was then a small village. 
The first thing was to get a drink of spirits for the half-drowned 
man ; but, unfortunately, in Calgary the sale of aU intoxicants 
was a crime punishable with heavy penalties. I took the hotel- 
keeper aside and told him the case was an extreme one, and 
the youth might easily die of cold and wet. We arranged a 
compromise ; the hotel man would serve up tea all round for 
our party, but in one cup he would put surreptitiously a glass 
of the forbidden liquor. Not a word was to be said, for there 
were police spies about, and discovery would be fatal to the 
hotel. Half a dozen cups of tea soon came in on a tray. No 
one said anything ; there was a profound silence as the tray 
went round. I never knew exactly what happened, but the 
only certain thing about the transaction was that the slip 
between the cup that held the whisky and the lip for which it 
was intended was complete. The half -drowned youth got only 



' WITHIN SIGHT OF THE ROCKIES 265 

the drink that cheered ; but who among our party received the 
inebriating part of the beverage never transpired. 

I left Calgary next morning by train for Winnipeg. For three 
hours before sunset on the previous evening the Rocky Moim- 
tains had been in sight to the west, and to the south one 
could see over the level waste the smoke of railway locomotives 
rising in tall, black columns above the clear prairie horizon. 

That the difficulty in the case of the stimulant for the half- 
frozen youth the previous evening had not been imaginary, a 
look into the next carriage in our train showed. Two men of 
the mounted police were there in irons on their way to prison. 
Except for the irons, no one could have imagined that they were 
prisoners ; the freest and easiest famiharity prevailed between 
them, their escort, and the other passengers. They were ' in ' 
for having given information to certain liquor-sellers that a 
police raid was being organised against them, and that fact 
may have been accountable for the exhilarating effect which 
the handcuffs appeared to exercise upon them. Anyway they 
were jollity itself, and it was only the escorting constables who 
looked sad and depressed. 

At midnight the train reached Medicine Hat. While da}"- 
light lasted not a tree or twig had broken the long monotony of 
the waste ; even the grass had disappeared, and great dunes of 
sand showed at intervals along the railway line, wind-blown 
ridges mixed with patches of snow. But all day long the 
wonderful snowy peaks showed weU above the prairie rim, and 
when I looked my last towards the west over a vast expanse of 
snow-covered plain, they still rose in an orange gloammg as 
grand and lonely as when I had first set eyes upon them in the 
days when the red man and the buffalo were almost the sole 
denizens of this mightj^ waste. 

As there was a delay of a couple of hours at Medicine Hat, 
I entered a small wooden saloon oyster bar in search of food and 
warmth, for it was miserably cold. A man came in shortly 
after. I have heard a good deal of hard swearing in my day, 
but never anything that approached the prodigious blasphemy'' 
of that Medicine Hat man. He particularly swore against 
some place near Medicine Hat which he had left that day, 
where the temperature was, he averred, with many impreca- 
tions directed against anj^thing from a thermometer to an 



266 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

oyster tin, exactly one hundred and ten degrees below zero. 
If you were disposed to doubt or question the accuracy of that 
reading of the thermometer, the alternative was like that 
which Cromwell gave his Irish prisoners, only that Connaught 
was left out. 

I got to Winnipeg on 22nd November, and left it on the 
25th. Our passage from a prohibition country into one of 
free drinks was curiously coincident with what at first appeared 
to me to betoken a tendency towards tooth-washing in the 
travelling community such as I had not before met with in the 
west. The tumbler on the washstand of the sleeping car was 
in constant requisition. After a time, when at last I found it 
in its proper place in the dressing-room, there was a strong 
spirituous aroma about it which suggested the possibility of 
its having been put to other uses than tooth-washing. 

At Milwaukee I took advantage of a halt to look up my 
good friend Bill Macauley at the station depot. I soon found 
engine 218. Bill was burnishing his steed. I introduced 
myself to him. ' Was you the man," he said, ' that telegraphed 
the superintendent to ask my name ? ' ' Yes. What hap- 
pened ? ' ' Wall, he came along one morning, and ses he : 
" Bill, what game have you been up to ? " " Why, Boss ? " 
ses I. " Cause," ses he, " there 's a chap up in St. Paul's 
wiring down to know the name of the driver of your engine, 
and saying he 's mightily obliged to you. What for ? " I 
told him it must be the man I found lame on the track, and 
that I just picked him up on my engine and caught the express 
for him. " Well, Bill," ses he, " you mustn't do that again, 
Bill." ' Then Bill told me that he was from Belfast ; came out 
as a boy, was doing well, liked to give a hand to anybody that 
needed it, and never gave a thought to it again. So we parted. 

I reached London shortly before Christmas. Serious news 
had been received from the Soudan. The profound stupor 
which had fallen upon the peoples of the Nile valley one year 
earlier had suddenly been broken by an ominous occurrence. 
Hicks Pasha, an Anglo-Indian ofiicer, with some six or eight 
English officers and ten thousand native soldiers and followers 
(chiefly men of Arabi's old army, who had been sent in chains 
to the Soudan in the winter of 1882) had been destroyed on 
the march from the Upper Nile to Kordofan by a Nubian 



SURPRISING NEWS FROM THE SOUDAN 267 

Mohammedan Mahdi at the head of revolting tribes who had 
flocked to his standard from all parts of the Soudan. This was 
probably the last portion of the Empire from which news of 
trouble was anticipated. Everybody had been talking so much 
of the love borne to us by the peoples of the Nile valley that 
we reaUy had come to think that Tel-el-Kebir had closed the 
Egyptian question once and for all, and there was nothing more 
to be done but to send half a dozen Englishmen into the heart 
of the Soudan to ensure its easy occupation. The conquest of 
Arabi had given the god Jingo a new start, and some among 
his votaries were even disposed to regard John BuU as his 
prophet — a profitable prophet, grateful and comforting to 
everybody ; London, a modern Memphis, erecting statues to 
its specially selected BuUs, and setting up the Golden Calf for 
universal worship. Nevertheless, at this particular moment, 
Christmas 1883, the inner councils of London presented a 
strange picture of weakness and indecision. 

The question of what had to be done in the Soudan could 
have been decided in six hours by the same number of experi- 
enced officers assembled at a round table. Whether the Soudan 
was to be abandoned or retained required action in either case. 
If the garrisons were to be withdrawn, the roads for retreat 
must be kept open at any cost. If the revolt of the Mahdi 
was to be suppressed, an army must be sent to do it, and which- 
ever course was to be followed, no time must be lost. The 
tide of revolt was rapidly rising in the Soudan, and the main 
lines of retreat or of advance were certain to have their com- 
munications interrupted by the increasing volume of the 
revolt. 

But if there was indecision in the governing mind in London, 
the perplexity and weakness of the administrative powers in 
Cairo were ten times more pronounced. At this very moment, 
the 19th December, they were sending from Cairo to Suakim 
on the Red Sea a wretched force of three thousand six hundred 
nondescript men with six guns, under Baker Pasha (whom we 
last met at the tombs of the Bulls). The composition of this 
absurd expedition, and the commission given to its commander, 
are to-day accurate measures by which judgment can be formed 
upon the foresight and ability of the English administration 
then in power in Cairo. 



268 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Baker Pasha was ' to have supreme civil and mihtary com- 
mand in all parts of the Soudan which might be reached by 
his forces/ He was commissioned ' to pacify the country 
between Suakim and Berber (two hundred and forty miles) ; 
but was only to resort to force after all other means of con- 
ciliation had failed/ It wiU be sufficient to say that, three 
days after landing, he advanced three miles from the shore 
with his three thousand men ; met a body of ' about twelve 
hundred ' Arabs, armed with swords and spears ; his forces 
were almost entirely annihilated in a few minutes, leavmg in 
the hands of the Henandoa Arabs three thousand rifles, six 
cannon, all their baggage, ammunition, and clothing. An eye- 
witness thus described the scene : ' Cavalry, infantry, mules, 
camels, falling baggage and dying men, crushed into astruggling, 
surging mass. The Egyptians were shrieking madly, hardly 
attempting to run away, but trying to shelter themselves one 
behind another.' Baker Pasha and his officers did what 
they could to stay the rout ; then they galloped for the 
shore. 

Even this disaster does not appear to have awakened the 
governing minds in Cairo and London to a sense of the real 
situation in the Soudan. That is the curse which invariably 
attends upon the fool's paradise of ' Make-believe.' I went 
frequently to London in these days, but saw nowhere any sign 
of preparation nor heard any rumours showing that there was 
the shghtest realisation of the true state of matters existing 
in the Soudan. On 18th January 1884, General Gordon, as 
everybody knows, was despatched at one day's notice to 
Khartoum, with one other officer, his mission being to bring 
away the garrisons and to establish settled government in the 
Soudan. Seven weeks had then passed since the news of Hicks' 
disaster had been received. Could human fatuity have reached 
a deeper point ? A week after Gordon's departure, I received 
at Devonport a summons to attend the War Office. I made 
sure the order meant something for the Nile, and I was never 
more disappointed than when I found it was only a confidential 
civU mission to the Government of Canada, the land I had just 
returned from. I made it a rule of life to take any service 
that was offered, and never to ask for anything except active 
service. In the present instance, it happened that the mission 



CONFUSION AT HEADQUARTERS 269 

to Canada which I was now asked to undertake had been 
accepted by Colonel Stewart of the 11th Hussars, but his sudden 
departure with General Gordon for Khartoum made it neces- 
sary to get another officer for Canada, and I had been selected 
for the service. I sailed from Liverpool the first week in 
February, had a fifteen day voj^age of exceptional severity 
even for that season of the year, and in the course of the 
following six weeks saw a good deal of the Canadian administra- 
tion. Lord Lansdowne was then the governor-general, newly 
arrived, and the veteran Sir John Macdonald the premier 
of the Dominion. Early in April I was back in London, and 
it was possible to take up Soudan affairs again. 

There was little change in the situation. Unparalleled 
vacillation of purpose had continued to mark the whole conduct 
of affairs ; telegrams were flying between Cairo and London ; 
expeditions were sent to the Red Sea littoral, only to be recalled 
after a lot of useless slaughter had occurred. It is difficult to 
go back now after these twenty-five long years are gone, and 
to read again the official records and diaries of that time, the 
real truth of which still remains untold and unacknowledged. 
What was the meaning of all this beating of the air, these masses 
of useless verbiage, these opinions and counter-opinions, these 
short marchings out and marchings back again, in which eight 
long months were wholly wasted at a time when every hour 
of every day was precious to us ? Let us see whether now, 
with the experience of the intervening years, and the recollec- 
tions of my personal share in the work of the months following 
my return from Canada, I can put together some tangible 
theory of that fatal interval. Three salient factors have to 
be dealt with in the matter — the man Gordon, the men who 
held in their hands his fate, and the physical, military, and 
economic situation of Khartoum at the time. 

Readers of General Gordon's life will remember that he 
spent the greater part of the year 1883 in Palestine, where he 
was engaged in visiting the sites identified with the history 
of the Old and New Testaments. How Httle his mind con- 
cerned itself with the affairs of Egypt those who have read 
the voluminous letters written by him from Palestme, and pub- 
lished by his sister. Miss Gordon, will not need to be reminded ; 
but to the agents and servants of the Egyptian bondholders 



270 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the presence in Palestine of their great antagonist could only 
appear as a menace to their designs upon Egypt. 

So far for the man Gordon. Let us turn to the actual position 
at Khartoum immediately after Gordon arrived there. From 
the first day of his arrival, the strategic position was almost a 
hopeless one. From one end of the Soudan to the other the 
Mahdi was triumphant. All the garrisons, which it was the 
particular mission of Gordon to relieve and withdraw, were 
sealed up within their dozen towns, hundreds of miles apart, 
unable to hold any communication with each other or with 
Khartoum : even this place was menaced. Weeks before 
Gordon reached Khartoum, despairing messages had been 
received from it in Cairo along the thin thread of the telegraph, 
which was now the sole frail link that remained between Egypt 
and the Soudan, Dongola was doubtful ; Suakim on the Red 
Sea was menaced. The line Khartoum — Berber — Abu Hamad 
— Korosko — Assouan formed the only route by which com- 
munication was possible, and formed a route, too, along which 
it was easy to maintain communication. It would not have 
cost England or Egypt twenty thousand pounds to make that 
road as secure against the Mahdi as was the remainder of the 
line from Assouan to Cairo. Only two places on the six 
hundred miles between Korosko and Khartoum required looking 
to : Berber, two hundred miles north of Khartoum, and Abu 
Hamad, three hundred and thirty-seven miles from it. From 
Abu Hamad to Korosko the desert was Egypt's. I do not 
think that in the whole range of modern military history another 
such example of stupidity can be found to equal the omission 
on the part of the governing authorities in Cairo to secure the 
route Korosko to Khartoum after General Gordon had passed 
along it to his destination. At whose door that responsibility 
should rest I have still no means of deciding ; but when I read 
again, after the lapse of more than twenty years, the voluminous 
despatches and telegrams which cover the momentous months 
between January and May 1884, all the old wonder I used to 
experience at that terrible omission comes back, and I ask 
myself afresh what were all these ministers, agents, generals, 
sirdars, and high functionaries in Cairo dreaming of when they 
allowed that single door of relief and communication to be 
closed upon the man we had sent so glibly to his fate ? It 



CONFLICTING COUNSELS 271 

was so easy to keep the door open ; two thousand men 
sent to Berber via Korosko and Abu Hamad would have 
sufficed. Berber was only a three- weeks' journey from Cairo 
via Korosko ; it would have cost twenty thousand pounds. 
From the day Gordon passed Abu Hamad on his way to 
Khartoum, until the fall of Berber sealed his fate, there elapsed 
a period of about sixty days. During that interval the 
various military and civil authorities in Cairo were exercising 
their minds in planning costly expeditions to Suakim, which 
were as remote from the possibility of reaching Berber, under 
the conditions then existing between that place and Suakim, 
as they were from effecting the occupation of Timbuctoo. 
Nay, they were even rendering the problem of communicating 
with Khartoum by any road increasingly difficult on every side. 
Writing in his celebrated Khartoum journal on 22nd Sep- 
tember 1884, Gordon has entered remarkable words. He quotes 
the Mudir of Dongola's observation to him in March that the 
authorities in Cairo seemed desirous of ' riveting the tomb- 
stone over Khartoum." And again, four days later, he writes 
on 26th September : ' It is a curious fact that any effort to 
relieve the garrisons is contemporaneous with the expiration 
of the period stated in March regarding the time they could 
hold out, viz. six months. There are some ugly suspicious 
circumstances all the way through.' Undoubtedly there were, 
but I have never been able, then or now, when five-and-twenty 
years have gone, to say where the ugly suspicious circumstances 
ended, and the dense stupidities began. My own personal 
reading now of the events of the time is, that there was only 
one man then in authority to whom the fate of Charles Gordon 
in Khartoum was a real, tangible, ever-present anxiety — that 
man was Lord Wolseley, With him I had many interviews 
after my return in April 1884 from my second visit to Canada, 
and we discussed at length the various routes by which Khar- 
toum could be reached by troops. By men who knew what 
had been done on the Red River Expedition in 1870, the 
practicability of ascending the Nile in boats such as those used 
to reach Fort Garry could not be doubted ; but we were only 
a small band against the many military competitors in Cairo 
who now came forward with proposals for expeditions on their 
own account to the Soudan. 



272 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

What struck one most about these proposals was the fact 
that the mam point in the problem was almost invariably left 
out of the calculation — time. It would have been possible to 
get into the Soudan from any part of the coast of Africa if 
time had been of no importance ; but how was the relief 
of Gordon to be accomplished by an English force in the 
interval of the few months still remaining to the garrison of 
Khartoum before starvation would compel it to surrender ? 
The cruel part of the proceeding was that this war of the 
ways enabled the Government of the day to postpone the 
means by which alone relief could be effected. Through May, 
June, and July the talk of relief went on, but not one effort 
was made to give money. 

At last, late on the 4th August, I received a telegram from 
Lord Wolseley, who was then the adjutant-general of the War 
Office. It merely said : ' I want to see you here to-morrow.' 
Of course, I guessed what it meant. The Nile route had been 
selected for the attempt to reach Khartoum. Next morning 
I was in PaU Mall, but only to find that the final word had not 
been spoken by the Government. Even at this eleventh hour 
aU that could be said was : ' We have it in contemplation to 
despatch a strong brigade of British troops to or towards 
Dongola by the Nile route. Proceed at once to find four 
hundred boats similar to those used in the Red River Expedi- 
tion. If you cannot find such boats, you will have to build 
them.' 

Another officer, a comrade of the Red River, Colonel AUej-ne, 
R.A., was joined with me in this belated search. A bundle of 
papers was handed to us, but the purport of these we knew only 
too well, and a hansom cab was more to our purpose than aU 
the tons of writing at the moment on the tables of the War 
Office. We laid our plans on the 5th, and by the evening of 
the 6th August two things were clear : not in England could 
be found four hundred new, sound boats fit for the work they 
would have to do ; build them we must. In the bundle of 
War Office papers handed to us was one in which the Admiralty 
had declared that the construction of four hundred boats 
would take from two to three months. I had been too long 
as a fly on the great wheel of English officiaUsm not to know 
something about the limits of time or cost given by our great 



A TRIAL NILE BOAT 273 

spending departments in cases such as this. The difference 
between private and public enterprise in England in all these 
matters can be measured by the difference between an express 
train and a parliamentary one. With only the aid of a hansom 
cab, we found that some Lambeth boatbuilders would build 
boats for us within four weeks from the date on which they got 
the order. If there was one boatbuilder on the Lambeth 
wharves who would give us five boats in four weeks, surely aU 
England could supply the remaining three hundred and ninety- 
five in the same period. 

The next things to decide were the shape, size, and weight 
of the boat. This we did at Portsmouth on the 7th August. 
We got together in the dockyard the load the boat would have 
to carry — biscuit, preserved meat, groceries, tent, arms, 
ammunition sufficient for twelve men during one hundred days. 
We put the load with twelve men into a man-of-war gig in the 
basin, found that load was too heavy for the boat, and the 
boat too heavy for the work we wanted ; and then and there 
we laid the luies of our new, ideal Nile ' whaler.' She was to 
be thirty feet in length, six feet six inches in beam, two feet 
three inches in depth ; to weigh, with fittings complete, about 
one thousand pounds. I have told the story of these boats in 
the Campaign of the Cataracts, and must now press on to the 
long road we have before us. It will be enough to saj^ that, 
before any official sanction could be given to spend a five- 
pound note on this work, we had designs, specifications, 
dimensions, all finished ; a trial boat actually being built at 
Portsmouth in one week ; cargo ' found,' as the Official History 
of the Soudan Caynpaign says, ' to answer admirabl}' ' ; and, 
by the evening of the 11th August, we were satisfied that, 
once the Government sanction was given, we could, by ' touch- 
ing the button,' set forty-seven boatbuilding firms at work 
from Peterhead round the English coast to Liverpool. 

At last, late in the afternoon of 12th August, a war official 
came to the temporary office in which I was working to summon 
me to the office of a high parliamentary Government official. 
I found there several heads of the contract and finance depart- 
ments. 

The parliamentary official began by observing that he under- 
stood I had been charged with inquiries and arrangements as 

s 



274 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

to boatbuilding on an extensive scale. I answered that that 
was so ; that our work of design, preparation, and inquiries 
had for some days been finished ; and that we only awaited 
the word ' go ' to proceed to immediate action. Then there 
came a shght pause, broken by the high ofl&cial asking in a 
doubtful tone if I really thought those four hundred boats 
could be buUt and shipped from England in the time he had 
seen stated in a paper of mine — one month ? I answered that 
I had not much doubt of the general correctness of that esti- 
mate. Then came another Uttle pause, followed by the 
official's writing a few words upon a half-sheet of notepaper, 
which he handed to me. I read, ' Colonel Butler, you may 
proceed with the construction of four hundred boats.' That 
was good, but his next spoken words were better : * Gentle- 
men,' he said, turning to the representatives of the depart- 
ments of finance, contracts, and control, ' I have assembled 
you here to tell you that Colonel Butler has a blank cheque 
for the building and equipment of these boats, and his decisions 
as to expenditure are not to be questioned.' 

I bowed and retired. That evening forty-seven telegrams 
to forty-seven boatbuilders went out. The Nile Expedition 
had begun. But what a cloud hung over it ! Turn it in one's 
mind in any way, the problem came back to the same point — 
the 12th of August ! How easy it would all have been had 
this decision been given two months earlier ! 

The whole tone and temper of the Government came out 
in the despatch which was sent at this time to Egypt by the 
Secretary of State for War. There are passages in that docu- 
ment which literally take one's breath away when we read 
them to-day. This : 

' Her Majesty's Government are not at present convinced that it 
will be impossible for General Gordon, acting on the instructions he 
has received, to secure the withdrawal from Khartoum, either by 
the employment of force or of pacific means, of the Egyptian 
garrison, and of such of the inhabitants as may desire to leave.' 

And this : 

' Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that the time has 
arrived when some further measures for obtaining accurate informa- 
tion as to his (Gordon's) position, and, if necessary, for rendering 
him assistance, should be adopted.' 



OBSTRUCTION 275 

And this : 

' Her Majesty's Government have therefore come to the con- 
clusion that the best mode in which they can place themselves in a 
position to undertake the relief of General Gordon, should the 
necessity arise, would be by the provision of means by which such 
an expedition could be despatched to Dongola, and, as circumstances 
at the time may render expedient, to Berber and Khartoum.' 

And this : 

' This movement could, in the opinion of the Government, scarcely 
fail in the first instance to afford the means of obtaining full and 
accurate information as to the position and intentions of General 
Gordon, and it is probable that such a demonstration would in itself 
be sufiicient to strengthen his position, and to secure the co-operation 
of the tribes which have not joined the movement of the Mahdi, 
to such an extent as to enable General Gordon to secure the principal 
object of his mission.' 

I think the despatch from which these passages are taken 
stands absolutely without a parallel in history ; the force of 
fiction, make-believe, and pretence could go no further. One 
can realise, too, from this despatch the forces that were against 
us in the expedition now beginning. The permanent Govern- 
ment, that is to say, the vast army of under-secretaries, 
assistant imder-secretaries, chief clerks and their assistants, 
were opposed to us. The temporary Government, i.e. the 
ministers of the time, were at best lukewarm in support of this 
half still-bom child of theirs. Perhaps of both it might have 
been said that they were more passive than active in their 
attitude towards us, but even that means much where the 
balance between failure and success is in even pause of poise. 
The London press were strongly against us, but, worse than 
all, British Cairo, civil and military, were to a man against 
us. Every general who had his own pet plan for going to 
Khartoum had the same reasons for not liking our methods 
of going there as the French marshals in Spain had for look- 
ing with no friendly eye upon each other's operations in the 
Peninsula. 

As for the attitude of the civil Government, the point need 
not be laboured ; the telegrams exchanged between Khartoum 
and Cairo tell their own story. 



276 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

From the 12th August, when official sanction was given, 
the work of boat preparation went on night and day ; and so 
well did the contractors keep their appointed times that, 
within the time specified in my original promise, the whole 
four hundred boats were dehvered, put on board of eleven ships, 
and the ships had actually sailed for Egypt. Nearly one 
hundred boats were clear out of England twenty-seven days 
after the orders to build them had gone out. Four thousand 
tons of food had gone forward to Egypt in the same time. 

I reached Cairo early on 25th September, and went straight 
to the Boulak railway station to see some sixty of our boats 
pass by on the railway waggons to Assiout. That morning 
one hundred of them passed the station, not a boat damaged 
or a plank stirred. They were due to arrive at Assiout next 
night. So far we were a full week ahead of our estimate of 
time, but now came a check from a quarter least expected. 
On the 'preceding night the Egyptian army officials had sent eighty 
waggons loaded with beans, lentils, and butter from Cairo along 
this route to Assiout, thereby blocking all access of our boats to the 
Nile for three whole days. When I reached Assiout on 1st October 
the_..;block had just ceased. I had been hoarding the days 
gained as a miser hoards gold, and now half my gains had 
gone through this action of the Egyptian army. I went to 
the telegraph office and wired the chief of the staff at Wady 
Haifa :— 

' Three days lost through action of E.A. officials. Would it not be 
better to send the Egyptian army back to the beans and lentils, 
than to send the beans and lentils forward to the Egyptian army ? ' 

I got to Assouan at daylight on 7th October. At noon 
thirty-two of our boats arrived there ; that evening we 
anchored them at the foot of the First Cataract, and next 
morning the ascent of the cataract began. It was to be the 
first important test of the planks of the boats to overcome a 
Nile rapid. The prophecies of failure had been many. It 
will suffice to say that, when evening came, thirty-two boats 
were at the head of the cataract anchored opposite Philae, 
not one having suffered the smallest injury m the ascent. Then 
on to Wadi Haifa. The boats were now arriving hand over 
hand, and on 18th October one hundred and thirty of them 



WASTE OF PRECIOUS TIME 277 

were at the foot of the Second Cataract. Here, again, the plan 
was marred by that worst of all combinations — the men who 
won't see and the men who don't see. They were in high 
place, and I was powerless against their ruling. At this 
point that ruling was destined eventually to kiU the expedi- 
tion. The order was given that the EngUsh boats, now 
numbering one hundred and thirty, were to remain idly 
at anchor at the foot of the Second Cataract, while some 
sixty or seventy heavy native craft were to have the 
right-of-way through the Bab-el-Kebir (the Big Gate of 
the Cataract). This decision cost us a loss of ten darjs. We 
had, in fact, been doing too well up to this point. It was 
but seven weeks since these boats had their keels laid in Ensr- 
land, and here we had over one hundred of them one thousand 
miles up the Nile, and the remainder were coming on in quick 
succession. The Second Cataract of the Xile has lived in my 
memorj' since October 1884 as a spot in the world where I 
suffered mental torture of the acutest kind — that which results 
from seeing terrible disaster ahead and being powerless to 
prevent it. The essence of the problem which this expedition 
had to solve was a simple one. We cannot afford to lose one 
hour ; we are two months too late at this work ; it is a race 
against famine ; there is still a certain margin of time left ; 
in what manner can that narrow balance be best used ? What 
is the earliest date at which a brigade of British infantrj- can be 
assembled at Korti on the Nile, readj^ to march across the two 
hundred miles of Bayuda desert to the Nile again at Metemmeh, 
a place within one hundred miles of Khartoum ? Korti was 
distant from the Second Cataract three hundred and thirty 
miles. The first hundred of these miles held eight cataracts 
or rapids, aU of them combined forming, in the opinion of 
Commander Hamill, the same amount of obstruction to naviga- 
tion as the Second Cataract offered in its total of nine miles. 
There were thus three hundred and ten to three hundred and 
twenty miles of good water, and nearly twenty of cataract 
and rapid between the two places. Now there was no difficulty 
whatever in taking our boats, light, in fifteen days from the 
head of the Second Cataract to Korti. I did the journey myself 
in that time travelling light. If we allowed double time, or, 
say, even thirty -five days, for boats carrying their full loads 



278 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of one hundred days' food for the men, it was quite possible 
to have placed at Korti a daily average of two hundred British 
soldiers in twenty boats, each boat having on arrival at Korti 
sixty-five days' food and three hundred rounds of ammunition 
per man. To replace at Korti the thirty-five days' food eaten 
out on the upward journey, it was only necessary to have added 
four extra boats to every unit of twenty boats. These four 
extras would have returned empty from Korti, their surplus 
cargoes enabling the two hundred men to have their food com- 
pleted for one himdred days onward. This simple plan would 
have resulted in assembling at Korti, by a date which I shall 
presently deal with, five thousand men ready to march across 
the one hundred and eight miles to Metemmeh. 

Now, remember that we had one hundred and thirty of our 
' whalers ' at Wady Haifa, below the Second Cataract, on 
18th October, fifty of them on 14th October. It took three 
days to pass boats to the head of the Cataract. Had we been 
allowed to begin passing them up on the 18th October at the 
rate of even thirty a day (we did fifty a day easily later), we 
should undoubtedly have been able to have the first batch of 
twenty-four ready to embark their crews and supplies on the 
23rd October. Thirty-five days later, viz, on the 27th Novem- 
ber, this unit of twenty-four boats would have been at Korti ; 
every day after the 27th November would have seen two 
hundred men landed there, with one hundred days' food, 
ammunition, tents, etc., etc., complete. To collect five 
thousand men at Korti would have required twenty-five days 
from the 27th November, so that on the 22nd December the 
last of the force could have started from Korti to Metemmeh, the 
advanced portion of it, say three thousand men, having left 
that place fourteen days earlier, on the 8th December. 

Fifteen days later, viz. on the 23rd December, these three 
thousand men could have been at Metemmeh, within one 
hundred miles of Khartoum ; they would have met at Met- 
emmeh Gordon's four steamers ; and the same journey which 
Sir Charles Wilson made one month later would have been 
accomplished with the advantages of a higher Nile level, 
Khartoum still held by Gordon, and the fact that another 
two thousand troops were marching from Korti to their aid. 

Let us turn now to what this march across the desert would 



A LOST OPPORTUNITY 279 

have needed. That too was a simple matter. It would have 
required five thousand camels carrying the kits, food, water, 
blankets and ammunition for these five thousand men. Water 
for seven days only need have been carried, as at Gakdul the 
tanks and water-skins would have been refilled. Water, 
100 lbs. ; food for thirty days, 90 lbs. ; ammunition (200 
rounds), 10 lbs. ; kit, 20 lbs., leaving a good 150 lbs. available 
on each camel for reserves of food, hospital comforts, ammuni- 
tion, etc. One camel-driver to every three camels. 

This plan would have enabled some six hundred thousand 
pounds of food-stuffs to have been carried across with the 
infantry to the Nile at Metemmeh ; more than half the camels 
would have then been available to return to Gakdul and Korti 
to assist the carrying over of other supplies and the accumula- 
tion of reserves of all kinds at Metemmeh, which would be the 
new base for the forward movement on Khartoum by the left 
bank of the Nile. 

This final advance would have had Gordon's four steamers 
to accompany it on the Nile. Omdurman was held by Gordon 
until the 15th January. Allowing ten days for this final 
advance upon Kiiartoum, and a halt of three to five days at 
Metemmeh for the arrival of the two thousand infantry there, 
the united column of five thousand men would have been 
before Omdurman on or about the 6th of January. 

Of course it can never be known if the arrival of that force 
would have stiU saved Khartoum on that date. It fell to 
the Mahdi twenty days later, as we know ; but famine was 
then the chief if not the only cause of the disaster, and it had 
only become acute during the week previous to the faU. 

A word as to this march across the desert. The Bayuda 
is not a desert in the sense of the deserts of Nubia and Egypt ; 
it has vegetation, and its surface is hard and, generally speaking, 
good for marching. The season of the year was most favour- 
able, and, above all, in physique and strength the men were 
perfect ; the six weeks' pulHng at the oar, tugging at the 
track-lmes, and ' portaging ' had made them hard as nails 
and fit for any work. The passage of the Bayuda, with kits 
and baggage, etc., carried on camels, would have been child's 
play to such men. If the papers of that anxious time, between 
the 18th October and the 20th December 1884, are still preserved 



280 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

in the records of the War Office, there will be found in them 
many telegrams and memos from me urging those who had then 
the executive management of the expedition in their hands 
to the adoption of methods of loading, movement, and progress 
of our boats very different from those which had then been 
ordained and accepted. 

Nevertheless, although we had lost by the end of October a 
full fortnight out of these precious days hitherto saved in 
the estimate of time given in London on 10th August, there 
was still time, as subsequent events proved, to have reached 
the Nile at Metemmeh as sketched above, if even on this 
first day of November other counsels had prevailed at Wady 
Haifa, and our boats had not had imposed upon them a load 
of over half a ton in weight more than that which they had been 
designed to carry. These extra twelve hundred pounds were 
destined to lose us another ten or a dozen days on the passage 
to Korti. 

I must pass on from the thought of that horrible time. It 
was one long, unbroken nightmare to me. 



CHAPTER XVII 

Delays on the Nile. Success of the ' whalers.' Letters. Korti. The Desert 
column. Fall of Khartoum. The River column. Kirbekan. News of 
Gordon's death. 

Lord Wolseley left Wady Haifa for Dongola in the end of 
October, in the hope, I think, that the confusion existing at 
the former place would tend to diminish, through its com- 
ponent parts being drawn off up the river after him, but this 
result did not follow. Things became more congested and 
confused at Wady Haifa. No dominant mind, no far-seeing 
eye remained there. The rival interests and ambitions in 
staff and in command which had done so much harm in Cairo 
during the six preceding months had now again an opportunity 
of showing themselves, and I think that I am well within the 
truth when I say that to this cause must be ascribed the loss 
of another week, or perhaps ten days, in the steady and con- 
tinuous flow of the troops up the river. Our boats came on 
up the Second Cataract in ever-increasing numbers ; by the 
middle of November we had despatched one hundred and thirty 
of them with thirteen hundred troops, and seventy more with 
food and ammunition, for Dongola, and we had another two 
hundred boats, fitted and made ready to the last pin, waiting 
to embark at Gemai, at the head of the Second Cataract, 
their two thousand more men. But these two thousand men 
were still far down the river at and below Assouan. During 
the seventeen days following the 6th November, only fifteen 
weak companies of infantry were ready for embarkation at 
Gemai. 

On 16th November Lord Wolseley came tearing down from 
Dongola, doing his fifty miles a day on a camel. I met him at 
two in the 'morning at Gemai. What had happened ? Why 
were not the troops moving up in greater numbers ? Whj;' 
were the companies that had already embarked not doing 

281 



282 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

quicker work in the ascent of the river ? These and other 
questions he asked me while the train at Gemai was halting, 
taking water. I could only speak of my own part in this great 
work. He was bound for Wady Haifa and would there see 
for himself. We had sent off two hundred boats ; we had 
two hundred more lying idle waiting for troops sixty yards from 
where we were talking. As for their progress, it was no wonder 
their work had been slow in the rapids ; they were carrying 
twenty-one days* more food than the load they had been 
designed and buUt to carry. I had protested that this load 
was excessi-ve, but I could do no more. I found at Haifa I had 
ceased to stand where I did from the first inception of the 
enterprise in London up to the day — the fatal day — that Lord 
Wolseley had left Haifa for Dongola. 

Next morning, the 17th November, I started up river to 
hasten the boats in their ascent. In five days, working from 
dawn to dark, I reached Sarkamatto, at the head of the great 
Dal Cataract, over ninety miles of the worst water on the Nile, 
including the cataracts of Semneh, Ambigole, Tanjour, Akasha 
and Dal. These five days had revealed to me the physical 
causes of the slow ascent of our boats over these river obstacles, 
and in addition had laid bare a good deal of the moral obstruc- 
tions to our progress. At all the stations on the banks where 
garrisons of the Egyptian army had been placed, with the ex- 
ception of Semneh, the favourable or friendly mind was con- 
spicuous by its absence. In the ranks of the Egyptian army 
our boat expedition had few friends, nor was this matter for 
much wonder when the history of the previous six months 
was taken into account. The Egyptian army of that time 
was, in its English officers, as strong in ambition as its rank 
and file were weak in striking power. From Sirdar to junior 
English subaltern, its officers were as the dogs of war straining 
on the leash. In the conflict of routes, the one by the Nile 
had been the peculiar perquisite of the Egyptian army, and 
portions of that force had been gradually moving up the Nile 
since December 1883. These units were now — November 
1884 — echeloned along the river at various points between 
the Second and Third Cataracts to the number of about three 
thousand men, and they had to be fed, camped, and generally 
supplied by the river route. It was for this supply service 



MORE OBSTRUCTION 283 

that the heavy native craft had been passed through the 
Second Cataract in the end of October, keeping back our 
English boats, and losing us, as I have said, a full fortnight 
of our precious time ; and all for nothing, as the event proved, 
for almost the whole of this native craft to which right-of-way 
had been given became wrecks, either in the Second Cataract 
or in the succeeding rapids through which I had just passed. 
The shores of the Nile below Semneh were literally lined with 
these wrecks. The course that was pursued with regard to 
the Egyptian army seemed to me to be the worst of three 
possible alternatives : first, they might have been withdrawn 
altogether to Lower Egypt, thereby relieving the strain of 
transport by thirty per cent, and leaving our road clear ; second, 
they might have been pushed on to Dongola, marching by the 
right bank of the Nile, and at Dongola they could have lived 
on that province ; and, third, they might be left, as they were 
left, between the Second and Third Cataracts, to lessen our 
supplies, block our way, and be all but useless to us in any way. 
The first course would have left the Egyptian army officers 
with a grievance, but it would have meant for us a clear road 
to our destination. The second course would have had the 
great advantage of making the Egyptian officers willing rivals 
in this enterprise ; the third and adopted course not only 
kept the grievance intact, but it added fully twenty per cent. 
to the innumerable difficulties which we had to face and over- 
come. There was yet another alternative possible : it was 
to have sent the Egj'ptian army to Suakim, and with three 
or four battahons of British troops from India, let it hammer 
away at the Dervishes under Osman Digna from that side, 
and endeavour to open the road to Berber, If it failed, no 
great harm would have been done ; if it succeeded, the gain 
to the general stock of the effort to save Gordon and Khartoum 
would have been very great. 

At Dal on the 21st November I had realised that, under the 
existing conditions of affairs, the prospects of reaching Gordon 
in time had already become terribly doubtful. I wired back 
to Haifa a list of the things that seemed to me to demand the 
quickest measures of reform, and then I pushed on for the 
head of the Third Cataract, with the intention of getting into 
direct touch with Lord Wolseley, and laying my accumulated 



284 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

knowledge before him. Working, as before, from early light 
to dusk, I reached the head of the Third Cataract on the 27th 
November, having averaged twenty miles a day, cataracts, 
rapids, and aU included. But the telegraph had beaten me, 
notwithstanding all my haste. I was about to experience at 
the head of the Third Cataract what was perhaps the cruellest 
check of all my life. I knew the whole thing now. It was the 
last hour in the chances still left to us of saving Gordon. This 
was the 28th November. No boat save mine had yet passed 
this Third Cataract. Why ? Because three weeks had been 
thrown away in the starting of the boats ; because, even at 
this eleventh hour, our boats were loaded up to their gunwales 
and down to the water's edge with cargo largely in excess of 
their rightful loads ; because, as yet, the work was being done 
under the benumbing influence of aU the doubt and distrust 
in the possibility of our EngHsh boats overcoming the diffi- 
culties of this long river ascent, which the six months' fight 
between the Army Councillors in Cairo had long since made 
the common property of the officers and men of the rival 
armies in Egy]pt. 

Instead of being taken at once as the sole means of reaching 
in time, and with sufficient force, the destination for which we 
were bound, our boats had been grudgingly accepted by the 
various chiefs, staffs, and departments as things which had to 
prove their fitness for the task before any one would believe 
in them. Hence there had grown up the thousand queries 
and the querulousness which, in an enterprise such as this 
we were engaged upon, meant a lot of lost power in every 
day's work and in most men's individual efforts ; the horrible 
' What is the use ? ' and * Why is this last hour asked of us ? ' 
which knock off from every hour some moments and from the 
day's work a few miles. Oh, how I gnashed my teeth at this 
apathy, as in that upward journey of ten days, through cataract, 
whirlpool, and rapid, I saw it, heard it, and felt it in heart 
and soul ; at military station, on sandbank ; in the lifting of 
a biscuit-box ; in the halt or the start ; until at last, by the 
sheer dumb proof which the boats were themselves giving of 
their capacity to their captains and their crews, belief in them 
grew stronger, and many ceased at length to doubt, ' crab,' 
and grumble. But the moment of their admitted triumph 



A REBUFF AT HAFIR 285 

had not yet arrived, and already the sands in the hour-glass 
of possible success were running very, very low. I have said 
that I was beaten by the telegraph. It was in this way. I 
firmly believed that if I could get to Lord Wolseley for even 
one hour, I should have little difficulty m showing him the 
exact state of matters over all the two hundred and twentj'' 
miles between Dongola and Wady Haifa. I was not at that 
moment aware of the contents of the letter he had received 
at Wady Haifa on the 18th November from Gordon, dated 
Khartoum, 4th November, but I knew that Khartoum was 
hard pressed by foes without and want of food within, and I 
was as certain as man can be that with our boats, and in the 
food they carried, lay the only chance we had of arriving in 
time to save the town. There was no use ui deploring the 
time already lost, but to get the last mile of distance for our 
boats out of every remaining day, and save the first and last 
glint of daylight for our work m the time that yet remained 
to us, did seem to me an object worth every risk that could be 
run to win it. It was in this effort that the telegraph beat me. 
It had been at work from Wady Haifa to Dongola. It was 
decreed that I was not to pass beyond the head of the Third 
Cataract ! I was not to see the commander-in-chief ! I must 
go back to Dal ! What I wrote that afternoon in m}^ boat in 
the middle of the Nile, somewhere in the broad water below 
the isle of Argo, I could not now recall, but I remember that my 
pencil flew over the blank backs of some nine or ten large 
Egj^tian telegraph forms, as no pen or pencil of mine ever 
went before or since. I handed the packet of tissue sheets 
to the messenger to give to Lord Wolseley in Dongola, and 
then turned down-stream with, I think, the heaviest heart and 
saddest brain I had ever known in my life. 

When evening came, I put into the village of Mochi and 
began to write again : — 

' You have knc^Ti me long enough to know that disregard of 
orders, much less disregard of your orders, is not my line of conduct, 
but I would have thought that there was enough in the past to show 
that when you set me a task it was best to let me work it in my own 
way. Had you tied me do^vn six years ago on the Red River you 
would not have known at Fort Francis that the Winnipeg River 
was only a week's work for the expedition, and the men would 



286 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

have been committed to the swamps of the north-west angle of the 
Lake of the Woods as all the experts and others, save myself, 
counselled and advised. Again, if 3'^ou had not given me my own 
head in Ashanti eleven years ago, you would have had ten thousand 
more fighting men arrayed against you at a very critical moment 
in the battle of Amoaful ; and, coming down to our work of yester- 
day and to-day, was it not through your letting me work this boat 
idea from the beginning on my own lines that you have at the 
present moment six hundred boats ready above the Second Cataract, 
that I have one above the Third Cataract, and that there might 
have been fifty above it to-day had the old order of time and despatch 
of troops been adhered to ? and that all this had been done within 
the hmit of time, please remember, which the highest naval authori- 
ties in England had declared would be required for only building 
the boats in England. I go back over the past and speak of the 
present work now only because your words and actions to-day 
have forced these recollections upon me. It had never entered 
my head for a moment to remain more than a few hours in Dongola. 
I should have gone down the river again in a very diflPerent position 
and armed with a very different authority from that which I shall 
now do ; not that I shall not use every effort, sparing myself in no 
way to effect the more rapid movement up river ; but my words 
will not be heard in the noise of the slap in the face I have been given 
to-day, the sound of which will be grateful to many to whom I am 
distasteful because I have been identified with this expedition by 
ceaselessly furthering its interests. I freely admit that the ortho- 
dox EngHsh staff officer would have stopped at Hafir to-day, to- 
morrow, and the day after, eyeglass in eye and cigarette in mouth ; 
but, on the other hand, he would have taken sixteen to eighteen 
days to ascend the river from Sarras to Hafir, and when acting on 
your orders to go back on the seventeenth or nineteenth day to 
try and galvanise the slow moving mass of boats into quicker 
work, his words would have had about as much effect upon Tommy 
Atkins as his cigarette smoke would have had in dulling the 
Egyptian sky. Unfortunately perhaps for me, these were not my 
methods of work ; and I fear they never a\ ill be. I realised from 
the first that w^e were dealing with a lot of unwilliug horses at these 
Nile fences, and that the only chance of getting them quickly over 
the water-jumps was to give them a lead over.' 

Then I set down again the many things that had tended 
and were tending to delay us — the loads, greater than those 
first intended, and double those carried on the Red River ; 



Ul^VILLING HANDS 287 

the mistake of having increased the boat-loads and decreased 
the number of men per boat, thereby reducing the Hve motive- 
power and adding to the dead weight in every boat, and all 
this following upon a clear loss of ten to fifteen days in starting 
from the Second Cataract. But above all these things com- 
bined I put the moral factor, the impression engendered 
originally in the minds of the men by the long-continued abuse 
of the boat scheme, that they (the boats) were not able for the 
work. The men of these earlier days of boat- work were not 
keen at it. My notebooks of the time were full of instances 
of laziness : — 

' The work,' I wrote, ' at its best was mechanically done : in its 
normal state it was lethargic ; at its worst it was unwilling, careless, 
and even worse. Heart there was none in it. There was neither 
insolence nor refusal, no positive insubordination ; simply a clogged, 
lethargic " hands-down " attitude that was even more hopeless than 
the most iasubordiaate refusal ; the word " alacrity " had no place 
in the day's business.' 

I might multiply that extract by many others of a similar kind. 
This enterprise of ours was the grandest and the noblest work 
in war tried in my time. I felt all the enthusiasm of its splendid 
purpose, its colossal difficulties, its grand theatre, this wondrous 
old river, in every fibre of my being ; and in all the length of 
the chain at which we tugged from Cairo to Dongola, I knew 
there was only one man to whom I could appeal with the hope 
of being listened to at this last moment possible to our success. 
Well, it is all long buried in the dead past now. But for the 
last few days as I write I have been looking again into the old 
notebooks, wherein I find some of the letters and telegraph 
messages and orders blurred and blotted with the sweat and 
dust of many a bygone bivouac, and it comes back again with 
something of the sweet and the bitter which I then knew — 
for, despite failure and dashed hope, that old wonderful river, 
in the various phases of its own mysterious Ufe, had become 
to me a strange solace, despite the savagery of its wild rocks 
and the whirling waters of its cataracts. 

During the thirty days following the rebuff at Hafir, I went 
up and down the cataracts, hustling lagging boats, giving a 
lead through a rapid, getting an extra half-hour out of a bevy 



288 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of boats, distributing copies of a general order to commanding 
officers, and often taking a hand on the tug-line to shame some 
loitering boat's-crew into better work. 

In the dangerous reaches above the Second Cataract I had 
a few quiet spots selected, on island or mainland, into which 
we steered at dusk, tied up, lighted a fire of driftwood, had 
supper, and laid down blankets for the night. These are the 
memories of the Nile that still live with me, and it was these 
scenes that soon made me see, through the foredoom of our 
failure, how smaU it all was in comparison with this mighty 
desert of death and the stream of life that flowed through it. 
Mixed up with messages to Wady Haifa, boat orders, and 
letters to Dongola, I find bits such as this : — 

' 14ih Dec. Kaibar. — Sent camel with letters to Dongola. Got 
away 8.30. Three hours' writing. Late sleepers and starters, the 
modern soldier and officer. The breed is falling off. Another 

rasping letter from . Fine breeze up long reach of river to the 

two big rocks. Freshness of wind off desert and fragrance of 
aromatic sand plants. Officers lose touch of their men as they 
rise in rank. It is the penalty they pay for promotion. Napoleon 
in 1815 was not the General Bonaparte of 1796. Camped near 
" sent " trees, beside old graves. Petrffied wood. Granite boulders. 
Sadness of these Nubian Nile evenings — the waihng sounds of the 
water-wheel all through the night, the low moan of the wind through 
ragged thorn bushes and dry grass stalks. There is more true 
philosophy, as it is called, in the Lord's Prayer than in all the books 
ever written by man ; take it slowly word by word and weigh the 

words. With regard to this expedition, ask M , or any other 

independent man who has worked this line of communications, as 
to what the feeling of the Naval and Egyptian (Army) officers is. 
Ambigol, Dal, latterly Absaret, Kaibar — aU alike. Shot a wild 
goose. Camped on island in middle of Third Cataract. Stars. 
Roar of river. 

' \4ih Dec. — Up to top of Cataract. Hard pulling in rapids, but 
did it all by oars and sails. No tracking. To Abu Fatmeh at 
8.30 A.M. Earle there. Here all the swells are passing up to Korti. 
All going by camel, too precious to trust themselves in boats, 
apparently. I am to be the Moses of the expedition, not to enter 
the promised land. 

' 15^^ Dec. — Off down the Third Cataract again. These rapids are 
my treadmill. Big fish killed in shallow water ; Krooboys forced 
him on rock and Tom Williams stunned him with blow of axe on 



NOTEBOOK JOTTINGS 289 

head — five feet in length and a hundred and twelve pounda in 
weight. Good eating to-night. Camped island below Cataract. 
Found my camel and Farag the driver on mainland. He had been 
up to Dongola, down to Dal, and up again here in last ten days. 
Splendid fellow, black as night. Cold night. Crew tired. 

' 16th Dec. — Off to Kaibar on camel. Farag finds a donkey and 
comes as guide across desert. Donkey collapses, shutting up hke 
a closing telescope. Go on alone, through desert of rocks, four 
hours, then sight Nile and two big rocks. Three hours more to 
Kaibar. Many sails of boats visible on reach below Cataract. 
Thirty have passed Kaibar in last four days. Camel tired. Sleep 
on ground very soundly after long ride. Wallets for pillow. Camel 
near me, 

' llth Dec. — In steam pinnace No. 102 from Kaibar towards 
Hanneck through twenty or more boats all doing well. Poor 
boats ! Some of them look worn, pitched, patched, and tin-plated, 
yet going gaily in light wind and able to do more in the long run 

than any steam pinnace. Passed poor old Colonel , wounded 

at Tel-el-Kebir, full of pluck, teeth all gone, and helmet too. Got 
wood for pinnace on Isle Adwin. What work ! Recalls West 
Coast days eleven years ago. Ran aground on sandbank going up 
west channel, in water up to middles, trying to shove her off. No 
go, sand silts up round us in strong current. After an hour boat still 
fast in mid-river. Natives come out. Watching play of sand in 
current, I see only chance is to get head of pinnace up-stream ; 
sand has then no lee side to silt up on. We get head up-stream. 
I take helm, crew in water stamping on sand. Go ahead full speed. 
Shove bow, keep sand shifting with feet. Scrape over bank into 
deep water. All jump in. Away up river to Zimmet Island, 
which we reach after dark. My boat comes down to meet me at 
Wood Station, and I get to Gibbs' Camp lat«. Gibbs wrecked five 
times in thirty-nine days in nuggers between Sarras and Fatineh. 
Greeks at Dongola buy Hicks Pasha's treasure from Dervishes at 
four shillings the sovereign ! This Greek is the man we are really 
fighting for. He will outstay us aU. 

' 2&h Dec. — Down river again to Kaibar. Struck rock in Shaban 
rapid, damaged, repair. Passed seventy-five boats going well, 
good wind. Foimd two Colonels on portage. 

' 22n^ Dec. — Passed forty-six boats over Cataract. All day on 
portagt: Arrived, Colonel of Gordon Highlanders and two boats ; 
seventeen days from Gemai. That is what should be ! 

' 23rd Dec. — Passed twenty boats over Cataract. Hot day. Old 
sheik of Cataract and his men and boys on rocks. Sheik gives them 



290 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

one piastre a day. I keep his pay in arrear. He says he will strike. 
I tell the interpreter to sa.y to him my stick -will do the same : three 
shillings a boat too much to give the old rascal. Gesticulations, 
shoutings, rocks. Work weU done. 

' 24:th. — Writing telegrams. Peel, Wortley pass to Korti. All 
the others gone there. I am out in the cold with a vengeance. 
Wrote letter in reply to BuUer, who has gone on to Korti a week ago 
on camel. Curious Christmas Eve. 

' 25th. — And stranger Christmas Hay. Naval Brigade passes 
Kaibar fifteen days out from Sarras. At 2.30 I start up river again, 
get a goose with a long-shot bullet at dusk, and have him for dinner 
— a welcome change from Chicago " bully " beef. MoonUght in 
the desert rocks. Stars, intense silence, no sound to-night of water- 
wheel, man or beast, from the surrounding desert. Are the shep- 
herds keeping "heir night-watches, as of old, on the Judean hills ? 
Outlines of those hills the same as these. Stars, Canopus, Sirius 
all here too. How the scene is brought before one ! ' 

' It was at this time that an express reached me from Kaibar 
reporting that a box of treasure, carried in a cartridge-box, 
had been missed from a camel ammunition convoy four days 
earlier farther down the river — eleven thousand pounds in 
gold. The convoy was then at Kaibar. I sent back an order 
directing the convoj'', about one hundred and forty camels, 
to proceed on its march next day across the desert to Abu 
Fatmeh as usual, and I wrote privately to the officer in charge 
telling him to halt his convoy some four miles out in the open 
desert and to await my arrival ; then I rode out to the spot 
indicated. I found the convoy halted as directed. I formed 
the men, soldiers and natives, in two lots, and told them that 
a box of treasure was missing ; that it could not have been lost ; 
that it must either have been stolen or be still with the column ; 
and I offered twenty -five pounds reward to any man who would 
step out and say where the box was. I told them further that 
if no one would reveal the whereabouts of the treasure, I would 
be obliged to institute a close search in saddles, bags, etc., 
and even to strip everybody to their skins. I gave five minutes 
for reflection, and then began the search. Everything was 
opened out ; the place was as bare as the palm of one's hand ; 
the sun was brilliant above ; nothing was found — ^not^'one 
golden sovereign could be seen in package, pocket, or saddle. 
There was nothing more to be done, and after an hour spent 



THE HAZARDS OF THE RTVER 291 

in this fruitless examination, I ordered the convoy to load up 
and proceed south. I reported the loss, the box of golden 
sovereigns was ' written off ' in the official phraseology, and in 
due time the convoy reached Dongola, and proceeded with 
the other camel transport across the Bayuda towards Metem- 
meh. The day of Abu Klea came ; the square, inside of which 
were the baggage and riding camels, was broken by the wild 
rush of the Arab spearmen, and a desperate fight ensued within 
the broken square itself, a fight in which the wedged mass 
of camels alone saved the day. In the midst of the fiercest 
fighting a cry arose for more cartridges ; boxes were hastily 
opened, and out from one of these boxes rolled a mass of golden 
sovereigns. The fighting was forgotten by the men who were 
nearest to the scene, a wild scramble ensued, and in half a 
minute the last piece of gold had been fobbed up. \Vhat had 
originally happened was that the cartridge-box containing the 
gold had got mixed up with the cases of ammunition, and as 
the boxes had only some small private mark to indicate them, 
the mistake was onlj^ discovered in the square at Abu Klea. 

I spent the 26th December forcing up the rapids which 
extend for several miles below the Third Cataract, and giving 
help to the many boats T^hich were now labouring over a 
particularly difficult piece of water called Shaban. This 
cataract was not marked upon our maps, but it had proved the 
most dangerous of any in the whole river. Of the dozen 
soldiers and voyageurs lost in the length of the five hundred 
miles from Wady Haifa to Hebbeh, Shabah cost us three lives. 
I had no^^■ run it up and down half a dozen times without 
accident, but in this last trip on 26th December it aU but 
caught us, and in a way most unexpected. 

We were forcing up a very bad ' gate ' between rocks, and 
were doing well in very swift and apparently deep water, 
when the stem-post suddenly touched a sunken rock, stopping 
the way on the boat. Instantly the bow feU off to one side, 
and the boat swung roiuid at a tremendous pace, pivoting upon 
the held steni-post. The passage was extremeh^ narrow be- 
tween the rocks ; if the bows touched the rock ever so shghtly, 
we were over in water running faster than any mill-race. The 
bows whirled round clear, I don't think there were four 
inches to spare. A week earlier we had run this passage, but 



292 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the river had fallen a foot in the interval, and that sunken tooth 
had got within biting distance of our kelson. It is such an 
incident as this which makes the cataract reaches of the Nile 
so difficult and dangerous. 

I got to my island haven in the Third Cataract early on the 
27th, and found there the following note from Colonel Frederick 
Maurice of Abu Fatmeh, addressed to me ' At top of Shaban 
Gate,' 25th December : — 

' Received last night following telegram from Genl. Buller, Korti : 
" If you can get at Butler, ask him to come here as soon as can." 
I have your camel ready for you, and if you decide to go by camel 
will make up a party for you somehow, but wait for you to decide 
numbers, etc. Christmas and New Year best wishes.' 

I rode the camel to Fatmeh, the boat arrived later ; we 
filled in with a hundred days' rations, and at 9.30 next morning 
we were off for Korti. By the evening of the 30th we had 
covered eighty miles of river ; then the north wind fell, and 
the oar and track-line had to be used. On New Year's Day 
Debbeh was passed, and at sunrise on 4th January I reached 
Korti. 

I have already told in detail the story of the Nile Expedition 
as it had impressed me as a subordinate actor in its strangely 
varied scenes.^ I regarded it then, and I still think of it, 
as the most remarkable attempt made in modern times to 
conquer in four months the difficulties of great distance, the 
absence of food supplies, and the opposition of a very brave 
and determined enemy, flushed by a long career of victory, 
and filled with a fanaticism as fierce as that which had carried 
the Arabian soldiers of the Prophet over half the Eastern and 
Western world twelve centuries earlier. 

The Nubian village of Korti was a strange place in the first 
half of January 1885. One saw there on the high bank of the 
Nile an extraordinary mixture of the masses and the classes 
of EngHsh social life. The English boats were arriving in 
crowds daily, all carrying their five months' food supplies — 
three months for their own crews, and two months for the 
camel column which was to cross the Bayuda desert to 
Metemmeh. Truly had these wonderful little ' whalers ' 

^ The Campaign oftht Cataracts. 



LETTERS HOME 293 

brought their own revenges along with them. Here, in the 
face of guardsmen and journahsts, and officers and men of 
twenty different regimental corps, was written large in the 
vast verity of victuals — the only truth that appeals to all 
classes and creeds — ^the fact that by the means of these long- 
derided and abused boats, and by them alone, had this 
concentration of men, horses, and camels been possible at this 
Bayuda village fourteen hundred miles from Alexandria — all 
done within four and a half months from the date on which 
the long-delayed permission to build and equip these same 
boats had been grudgingly given to me in London. 

I shall enter here extracts from two letters I had written 
from London to my wife in August 1884 : — 

'9<A August. 

' Here I am after four days of intense heat. I do think I have 
aone in these four days four weeks of ordinary War Office work. But 
such vacillation you cannot imagine I They are veering about like 
weathercocks. It is terrible to have to serve such idiots. The 
heat is Egyptian : eighty-four degrees in the coolest room.' 

And again : — 

'12<A Auguat. 

' A hasty line to report progress. It would take long hours to tell 
you of the struggles of the past week. One day we won, the next 
we lost, but to-day the opponents of my plan have caved in, and our 
four hundred boats are to be ordered. We have got two hundred 
already fixed, and hope to have the other two hundred settled in 
two days from now. I am to go out in charge of them ia the end 

of September. This morning I got a letter from Lord by 

mounted messenger to go to breakfast vn\h him at nine o'clock. 
We had a long fight all day with the " Fuzboi " (i.e. the Authorities), 
and at 4 p.m. we won. In a week from this day the whole four 
hundred boats will be out.' 

Just two months later, on the 17th October, I wrote thus 
from Korosko : — 

' Here I am on my way to Wady Haifa, all going well so far as my 
particular business is concerned, but the outside work of transport 
and supply is by no means so flourishing. I do not hesitate to say 
that in the long seven hundred miles from here to Cairo, eight out 
of every ten of our own people are either actively or passively 



294 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

opposed to our expedition, ready to make the most instead of the 
least of difficulties, and to " crab " the project as much as they can. 
It is a most unfortunate state of things, but, in spite of all diffi- 
culties, I feel pretty certain of getting one hundred of our boats 
away from the Second Cataract by the 1st of November or sooner.' 

Another snapshot letter, ten days later : — 

' Bal-el-Kebir, 2nu Cataract, 2Qth October, 

' During the last three or four days my work has at times been 
more than exacting. I have had a hard battle, but as I write I 
am a winner all along the line. Briefly the position was this. The 
railway from Haifa to Sarras had quite broken down. In London 
it had been counted on for the carriage of our boats round the great 
Second Cataract. We were, therefore, face to face with the necessity 
of taking the boats through this Second Cataract, the worst obstacle 
on the river. I examined the cataract on the day following my arrival 
at Haifa, and saw the manner in which the naval people proposed 
to take our " whalers " up. I saw at once that they must smash 
the precious craft to atoms. They really did not know the first 
principles of rope-work in rapids. I protested, but to no avail ; 
they were to have their way. Then I came out here, fifteen miles 
from Haifa, and determined to stop them when they had smashed 
the first boats. On the way out I heard of the loss of one, 
and the dangerous escapes of a few others. I wrote most strongly 
to Lord W. and to Buller, protesting. The camp of the sailors is 
six miles from here, and I found that they did not arrive at their 
work here until 9 a.m. No boat had yet passed the " Great Gate " ; 
the one lost had been lost lower down the river. I determined to 
take a boat through the " Great Gate " with natives, on my own 
plan, before any of the sailors appeared on the scene. The telegram 
will probably have told you of my success. The boat was through 
by 7.45 A.M. safe and sound, and when the nav^al people arrived, 
they found the problem solved. Lord W. and Buller appeared later : 
then the navy tried their plan. We waited four hours on the rocks. 
At last the ponderous gear was set going, the boat narrowly escaped 
destruction three or four times, and nothing but her wonderful 
strength and buoyancy saved her. Then all were convinced, and 
I was allowed to have my own way. But what a fight it has been ! 
I was deserted by all. Buller was dead against me. It was not a 
pleasant thing for them to be obliged to eat their own words with their 
oum eyes. (Allow me the bull.) This is a wild spot. I am camped 
on a point with rapids all around, the heat is a hundred degrees in 
my tent ; but I am very well, thank God, and yesterday was a 



MORE LETTERS 295 

bright day in my life. What I prized most was the success of the 
boats ; the one tried by the navy was put by their methods into the 
worst whirlpool in the " Great Gate," and rode it through in 
triumph. . . .' 

One more snapshot letter from that distant time and I have 
done : — 

' KoRTi, I2th January 1885. 

' I sent you a few words of cheer at Christmas by wire, but my 
letters have been getting fewer. I really had not the heart to write 
bad news. I had suffered so much from what I must always regard 
as unjust treatment at the hands of my " best friends " that I could 
only go on day after day working, and lying down each night with 
the hope, which work done gives, that it would all come right in 
the end. Well, it has come, if not right, certainly better than it was. 
The past cannot now be undone — those long weeks when I was denied 
the most pressing wants. That is over, thank God, but the harm it 
all caused to the boats cannot be set right. It^is too long and too 
painful a story to tell you now ; but sometime 'perhaps you will 
hear it all. I had gone over my weary river reach between Kaibar 
and the Third Cataract for the eighth time, when I got a telegram 
calling me up here. I came like the wind, completing the straight 
run from Sarras to Korti in eighteen days — the quickest passage 
made by any boat. No. 387 had covered above one thousand miles 
of the Nile since I quitted Gemai on the 17th November. The 
papers will have told you long ago what is being done here, but they 
will not have told you that three-quarters and more of the supplies 
for the Desert Camel Column has come from our " whalers." . . . 
I have indeed had ample recompense for the thought and labour 
given to these boats and to this expedition in the unspoken approval 
of the officers and me^i. The latter know well enough who works 
for them. ... I have sent to Cox & Co. my pay and allowances 
for last three months, only £160 or thereabouts. It is less pay, all 
counted, than I got in Devonport, and I have a lower position on 
the staff here than I had there. So much for what you thought 
" my sincere friends " would do for me in the way of " local rank." 
Still, I say to myself that " it is all right." War is the sum of all 
human wrongdoing, and it also holds every other possible injustice 
in it. Never mind, " cheer up." It will be all for the best in the 
long run.' 

At Korti, in that first week of 1885, there was only one thing 



296 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

wanting — camels. Had two or three thousand additional 
camels been collected at Korti by Christmas Day 1884, a 
brigade of British troops might have easily reached Metemmeh 
on the 10th January, even as things then stood as regards men 
and supplies ; and a second brigade have been following closely 
in their wake. But there is little to be gained out of ' might 
have beens ' by people who are fed and nurtured upon the 
false facts of doctored history. 

AVhen I reached Korti on 4th January, the advanced portion 
of the Desert Column had already left that place for Gakdul, 
a watering-place half-way on the road to Metemmeh, but the 
number of camels to mount and carry supplies, even for a 
force of two thousand fighting-men, was totally insufficient, 
and it was necessary to unload the camels at Gakdul, form a 
depot there, and bring the animals back agam to Korti for 
another load of supplies. Thus the leading portion of the force 
left Korti on the 30th December, arrived at Gakdul after a 
forced march on the morning of the 2nd January, started again 
for Korti on the same evening, and reached that place at noon 
on the 5th January, having covered a total distance of one 
hundred and ninety-six miles in five days and twenty-one 
hours. This march sealed the fate of the Desert Column. The 
camel is a much enduring beast of burden, but one hundred 
and ninety-six miles in one hundred and forty-one consecutive 
hours was more than even he could bear. It was pitiable 
to see these poor beasts dragging themselves to the river on 
the 5th, 6th, and 7th, many of them falling dead at the water's 
edge as they tried to drink. The main body of the Desert 
Column finally left Korti on 8th January, reached Gakdul on 
the morning of the 12th, and at 2 p.m. on the 14th January 
started on the remaining ninety miles to Metemmeh. The 
camels were now completely done. As the Official History says, 
' They had been marching for sixteen days almost without a 
rest on a short allowance of food, and with little water." Every 
single camel had been doing, or trying to do, the work of two, 
perhaps of three animals. I need not delay over the remaining 
history of that unfortunate column. It fought splendidly at 
Abu Klea and Abu Cru, and reached the Nile on the night of 
19th January. Gordon's four steamers, which had been lying 
there since September, came into touch with the column on the 



AT KORTI 297 

afternoon of the 21st. The 22nd was spent in making a naval 
reconnaissance down the river to Shendy, which town was 
heavily shelled. The 23rd was taken up with the naval business 
of carrying out repairs to the steamers, and at 3 p.m. on that 
day, Captain Lord C. Beresford, R.N., reported to Sir Charles 
Wilson that the vessels were ready to proceed. At 8 a.m. the 
next day, the 24th January, two steamers, Bordein and Tela- 
liawiyah, left Gubat for Khartoum. All the rest is too well 
known. On the 28th the steamers came into sight of Khartoum 
at 11 A.M., and, steaming slowly forward under a heavy fire 
from several points, realised about 2 p.m. that the city was in 
the hands of the Mahdi. As they were returning down-stream 
the news of the faU of Khartoum two days earlier reached them. 
Our great Nile Expedition had ended in failure. 

Meanwhile, at Korti, the despatch of the infantry column 
destined to proceed to Berber in boats by the river had gone 
forward unceasingly, and on the 16th January I left Korti, 
having by that date seen two hundred and seventeen boats 
repaired, stored with a hundred days' supplies, and sent for- 
ward to Hamdab at the foot of the Fourth Cataract, about 
fifty miles up-stream from Korti. In the dozen days spent on 
the river shore at Korti many people came to look at our work, 
and exchange a word with me, too many of them a last word — 
Herbert Stewart, Primrose, Bumaby, Wilson, Piggott and 
De Lisle, Dickson, Swaine, Grove, Talbot, Pirie, Peel, Brockle- 
hurst, Wardrop, Rhodes, M'Cahnont, Barrow, Alleyne, Adye, 
Stuart -Wortley, Fitzgerald, Colbome, Martin, Sandwith, 
BlundeU, W^auchope, Boyd, O'Neal ; and there would also 
come along this high bank to have a word about the boats 
the special correspondents attached to the Expedition : 
WiUiams, Cameron, St. Leger, Herbert, Colbome, Bennett- 
Burleigh, Melton Prior, and another who was something of many 
things, one of the most dauntless mortals I ever met in life. 
Many of these men left their bones in the Soudan ; some rose 
to high place in their profession ; but the story of the end of 
the one whom I have last mentioned, is so strange that I must 
teU it here. 

I first met him in CaUfornia in 1873, on my way from 
British Columbia to the West Coast of Africa. We next met 
in the Cataract of Dal, where I found him attempting to work 



298 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

up the Nile in a tiny steam launch which held himself, a stoker, 
and one other person. He was wrecked shortly after, but got 
up with the Naval Brigade, made the desert march, and was 
present with Lord Charles Beresford in his action at Wad 
Habeshi above Metemmeh on the 3rd February. On his way 
up the Nile he had indulged in the then, and now, fashionable 
tourist pursuit of tomb-rifling and mummy-lifting ; and he 
had become possessed of a really first-class mummy, which, 
still wrapped in its cerecloths, had been duly packed and sent 
to ^England. When the Nile Expedition closed, he went to 
Somaliland, and, somewhere in the foothills of Abyssinia, was 
finally killed b}'^ an elephant, and was buried on a small island 
in a river flowing from Abyssinia southwards. The mummy 
got at Luxor eventually reached London. The correspondent's 
friends, anxious to get their brother's remains to England, 
sent out a man with orders to proceed to the spot where he 
had been buried and bring the remains home. This man 
reached the river, together with the Somali himters who had 
accompanied the deceased on his hunting expedition the 
previous year, but no trace could be found of the little island 
on which the grave was made ; a great flood had descended 
from the Abyssinian mountains, and the torrent had swept 
the island before it, leaving no trace of grave or island. Now 
comes the moral. The mummy was in due time unwound in 
London, and the experts in Egyptology set to work to decipher 
the writings on the wrappings. Truly were they spirit rappings ! 
There, in characters about which there was no cavilling on the 
part of the experts, were written a varied series of curses upon 
the man who would attempt to disturb the long repose of the 
mummified dead. ' May he,' ran the invocations, ' be aban- 
doned by the gods. May wild beasts destroy his life on earth, 
and after his death may the floods of the avenging rivers root 
up his bones, and scatter his dust to the winds of heaven.' 

The only other verification of the curse of a mummy that I 
have met with is one still more striking. It wiU be found 
recorded in a well-known work on Syria and Palestine, The 
Land and the Book, by Thomson, an American missionary in 
Syria. He tells us that some time in the 'fifties of the last 
century, the hidden tomb of an old Phoenician king was dis- 
covered at Sidon. The lid of the sarcophagus bore a long 



THE FORTUNES OF THE RIVER COLUMN 299 

inscription lq Phoenician characters. It was found to be a 
continuous adjuration to ' Every royal person and to every 
man not to open my sepulchre . . . nor to take away the 
sarcophagus of my funeral couch, nor to transfer me with my 
funeral couch upon the couch of another.' Then comes the 
sentence : for ' the holy gods . . . shall cut off that royal 
person and that man who has opened my couch or who has 
abstracted this sarcophagus, and so also the posterity of that 
royal person . . . whoever he be, nor shall his root be planted 
downward nor his fruit spring upward . . . because I am to 
be pitied, snatched away before my time like a flowing river.' 
The missionary Thomson (he is writing in the late 'fifties) then 
goes on to say : * These imprecations will scarcely be visited 
upon Louis Napoleon, or the officers of the French corvette, 
La Serieicse, on board of which the sarcophagus was carried 
to France.' Had he waited another dozen years or so he might 
perhaps have omitted that final sentence. 

I make this digression because I have always objected to 
the ghouhsh desire on the part of so many of our people to rifle 
tombs in Egj'pt, a practice which, in spite of regulations, has 
obtained extensively in recent years. I have myself been the 
recipient of an official order to embark eighteen large cases of 
tomb ' finds ' as ' regimental baggage ' at Alexandria. 

I can tell only in brief the fortunes of the River Column, 
which left the foot of the Fourth Cataract on the 24th January 
1885, in two hundred and seventeen of our boats, carrying 
twenty-four thousand men, fully provisioned for three months. 
Of the river and the country before us nothing was known 
beyond the fact that the former, for a distance of over one 
hundred miles, was regarded as bemg hopelessly impracticable 
for boats of any description, and that the shores consisted of 
rocks piled together in such confused masses as to render 
the passage of horses and camels along them impossible for 
long distances. * You wiU get your boats over the cataracts 
between Wady Haifa and Dongola,' a traveller in these regions 
said to me in London in September, ' but you will never get 
them over the cataracts of the Monassir country.' It was 
this country of the Monassir that now lay in our front, and, to 
add to its natural embarrassments of land and water, the whole 
of the Monassir tribe and that of the Robatab, with Arabs 



300 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

from Berber, had elected to try their strength against us in 
the worst part of the route, a long defile known as the Shukook 
Pass. 

From the 24th January to the 10th February we worked 
away at these rocks and cataracts harder than ever, but with 
the difference that the Toilers of the River had to be protected 
from hostile attack along the shores. To me feU this duty, 
and I was now riding the rocks on an Arab pony, as before I 
had been breasting the rapids in a boat. But, though moving 
on the shore, I had still charge of the boat advance, the official 
phrase being, ' to command the advanced guard both by land 
and water." The double duty involved in these orders was 
arduous but interesting. One had to keep an eye all round the 
compass ; in front and on the right flank for the enemy, on 
the river to the left, and to the rear upon our own people. By 
this time I had come to know the various values of the Nile 
waters pretty accurately, what our boats could do against 
the Nile, and what the Nile could do at its worst against our 
boats. Thus I was able by noon each day to form an estimate 
of the spot on the river shore which a force of four companies 
of infantry would be able to reach by evening. I then looked 
about for the best camping-place on the shore, waited until 
the first boat had arrived there, gave orders for the thorn 
bushes to be cut, laid out the ground for the zereba, and then 
went forward again with the forty hussars and the score of 
camel-men to explore the rocks in front for six or eight miles, 
getting back at nightfall to find the advanced guard of four 
or six companies assembled there, and all made ready for the 
night. The main body of the River Column would be camped 
from two to six miles behind, according to the difficulties their 
boats had met in the day's ascent through the cataracts. 
These latter were even more formidable than any we had 
encountered below Dongola, but our men were now thoroughly 
seasoned ; they had become exceedingly expert in all kinds of 
bad water, and, but for the necessities imposed by the presence 
of an active enemy always only a few miles in our front, 
it would have been possible for the column to make an 
average distance of perhaps eight oi' ten miles daily. With 
an enemy, however, in proximity, it became necessary to 
keep the battahons concentrated at night, excepting the 



THE MAHDI IN KHARTOUM 301 

advanced guard under my command, which had its separate 
camp some miles in front of the main body. 

On the 5th and 6th February some strange things happened. 
I reached, early on the 5th, a high ridge of black rocks with a 
line of white quartz rock at top running at a right angle from 
the shore, and having an ugly pass choked with large boulders 
between its western end and the river. A slave-boy, who had 
come to us from the Arabs, declared that his late owners were 
behind this ridge. We, therefore, threaded the tumbled rocks 
with caution, passed the end of the ridge, and found clearer 
ground at its further side. The pass between ridge and river 
had breastworks of loose stones in it, and a rude hut of the 
same construction stood in its centre. I climbed the rock 
ridge to the right and had a lengthened survey of the rugged 
land in front. It was all a tossed and tumbled region of black 
and lighter coloured rocks, and the river, where it could be seen, 
deep sunken between its iron shores, was a tossing, tumbling 
torrent of water. This ridge, Kirbekan, which rose about 
four hundred feet above the river, had been occupied by the 
Mahdists two days earlier ; they had left it for the real Shukook 
Pass, the entrance to which we could see two miles forward, 
marked by a particularly black and forbidding mass of rocks. 
I did not get back to the bivouac till after dark, and I found 
there an unusual order awaiting me. It was to halt horses 
and boats next morning, and await orders in camp. These 
came early. They were of strange and fatal import. The end 
had come suddenly. The Desert Column had reached the 
NUe at Metemmeh ; Wilson had found Khartoum in the hands 
of the Mahdi. He had returned to Metemmeh with the greatest 
difficulty. Our column was to stand fast untU further orders 
were received. Earle joined me next morning. I took him 
to a high hill in the neighbourhood of the zereba, from the 
summit of which he could see Kerbekan and many other hills 
ahead. Seated there alone we talked of the future. We 
were old friends, dating back to the days of the Red River and 
Montreal in 1870. Earle was a man of very fine character. 
He had seen service in the Crimea, at Alma, Inkermann, and 
the Siege. It was curious that now, when we had talked over 
all our present prospects and chances, his mind seemed prone 
to revert to these old scenes of Crimean service. He described, 



302 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

as we walked back to the zereba, the day of the Alma, thirty 
years earlier, ' the last of the old style of battles,' he called it, 
before the rifle in the hands of the mfantry soldier had put an 
end to the pomp and circumstance of war for ever. 

Two days later, on the 9th, I was ordered forward again, 
this time to find the black ridge of Kirbekan bristling with the 
Mahdi's spearmen. It didn't matter now. I had seen the 
land beyond the ridge on the 5th, had climbed the ridge itself, 
exammed the pass between ridge and river ; there was nothing 
more to learn about it ; and when General Earle arrived with 
his staff at midda}'- on the 9th, I had the plan of attack ready for 
him, the troops in position twelve hundred yards in front of 
the enemy's ridge. 

Things had fallen out most fortunately for me. Had I been 
two days earlier at Kirbekan I should have found the Arabs 
there, and could not have examined the length and depth of 
the formidable position which they held. A day later it would 
have been the same, but on the 5th I had just hit off one of 
the two daj^s in which the ridge was clear of the enemy. I had, 
in fact, eaten my midday biscuit and cheese on the very 
spot which, five days later, formed the key of the enemy's 
position. 

But Earle and Brackenbury had a plan of their own for a 
front attack, and, of course, I said nothing about my plan 
until they asked me what I thought of theirs. Then I said my 
say. It was not to attack in front, for I laiew every inch of 
the ground, having spent half an hour on foot stumbling over 
its maze of boulders four days before. ' What then ? ' they 
asked. ' March round the left flank of the ridge,' I said, ' and 
attack from the rear ; the ground is open on that side.' This 
plan was finally agreed to, provided I would run a line that 
evening round the flank I proposed to turn, and make assurance 
doubly sure that the ground was as feasible to the foot in 
practice as my eye, looking at it from the top of the ridge on 
the 5th, had deemed it to be. A couple of hours before sunset 
I took a small patrol out, and working round through the desert 
unobserved by the Arabs, got well in rear of their line on 
Kerbekan, so near to them that, lookmg over a lower spur on 
the reverse side of their position, I could see their movements 
on and behind the ridge, and count their numbers. I had got 



THE ACTION OF KIRBEKAN 303 

to within five hundred yards of their supper fires. I got back 
after sunset to the bivouac. Earle was alone, sitting on an 
old sakeyeh wheel. I told him that m an hour and a quarter 
his force could be in rear of the Arab position, marching over 
easy ground. He sent for Brackenbury. ' The account is so 
favourable,' he said when the latter officer appeared, ' that I 
think we must give up the idea of a front attack, move round 
the left flank of the ridge, and assault from the rear.' This 
manoeuvre was done early the following morning with com- 
plete success. We turned the position on its left, got behind 
the ridge and the boulder kopjes near the river, cut the Arab 
force in two, isolated its vanguard, holding the rocks, from its 
main body and its reserves in the Shukook. 

The moment the head of our column appeared round the 
enemy's left flank, a precipitate retreat of the main body began 
from behind the position to their camp, at the entrance of the 
Shukook Pass. Our little body of hussars pounded along 
as best their tired horses could go. Of the Dervishes, some 
jumped into the river on their left ; others hid in the clumps of 
boulders, and had a shot at us as we appeared. A few were 
killed, but by far the larger number reached the Shukook 
and got away into its labyrinths. Meanwhile the vanguard 
on the ridge and in the kopjes, about three hundred in number, 
abandoned to their fate, met their death bravely, and only 
succumbed to volleys of the infantry after they had inflicted a 
loss upon us very serious in its nature, although not great in 
number. Three officers and four men were killed, and four 
officers and forty-three men were wounded ; the officers lost 
were Greneral Earle and Colonels Eyre and Coveney. At the 
mouth of the Shukook Pass we came upon the Dervish camp 
abandoned. We found in, it eight or ten Arab standards, a 
lot of donkeys, and a few camels ; but, as we had only about 
twenty hussars present, most of the animals could not be 
secured, and many of them got away, like their masters, into 
the rocks at the entrance of the Shukook Pass. I had here 
the closest shave of getting a bullet in the head I ever experi- 
enced. I had got to the top of a cluster of high rocks to have 
a better survey of the masses of rocks surrounding our little 
party, and I was leaning against a big one for a steadier sweej) 
with the glass of the hUls around when a bullet, fired from across 



304 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the gorge within a hundred yards' range, flattened itself on the 
rock six inches above my head. The man was so near that the 
hit was simultaneous with the smoke and the report of the 
rifle. I was down from my perch in a jiffy, and got three 
men from below ; then we went up again to the rocks. I had 
marked the exact spot on the opposite rock from which my 
friend had fired ; the three carbines were laid upon it ; I put 
my helmet where I had first stood ; my friend fired again, and 
at the same instant three shots went off from our side. He 
fired no more. 

We buried our dead in the evening near the zereba from 
which we had marched in the morning. 

The command of the River Column now fell to Brigadier- 
General Henry Brackenbury as next senior officer to Earle. 
On the morning of the 11th February we were going forward 
once more on the old familiar road. During the halt on this 
day's march I rode back over the scene of the fight on the 
previous day. ' Dead men,' they say, ' tell no tales ' ; but on 
a battlefield no more eloquent spokesman can call to him who 
wiU listen. Here the enemy's unburied dead told the story of 
their revolt — these old grey-bearded veterans, these mere boys, 
these strong men in the flov/er of their age, as they lay in every 
attitude of painful death. They had fought to the last cart- 
ridge for the homeland. Their ' punishment ' at our hands 
had been severe. The rocks glistened with the leaden splashes 
of our rifle bullets, where continuous volleys had searched 
every nook and crevice. 

But here I come to an incident which gave the acutest point 
to the drama of this time. By merest chance, as the crew 
of one of the boats were at their old work of towing along the 
shore, a soldier of the Corn walls noticed a small native saddle 
lying amongst the tumbled rocks, evidently dropped there by 
a fugitive from the fight of the day before. A black goatskin 
bag was fastened to the saddle, and in the bag the man found 
a scrap of soiled paper. He might well have thrown the 
crumpled scrap away, but his intelligence prompted him to 
bring it to his captain. From the captain it passed to the 
colonel of the battalion (Richardson). On my return to camp 
before sunset, I learnt that the Arabic writmg on the bit of 
paper had been deciphered sufficiently to let us know it con- 



ALL OVER 305 

tained * bad news.' Later on, the whole was made clear. This 
is what it said : — 

' On the night of the 26th January the army of the Mahdi entered 
Khartoum and took the forts, city, and vessels in the river : the 
traitor Gordon was killed. Inform your troops of this signal 
triumph which God has given to the arms of the Prophet of His 
Prophet.' 

This was a copy of an original letter sent from Berber by 
Mohammed el Khier, the Emir of the Mahdi, to Abdul Wad 
el Kailik, the head Emir opposed to us here. I took the letter 
to the lower camp. It was the first news we had had of the 
fate of Gordon. We knew, six days previously, that Khartoum 
had fallen ; now we knew Gordon was dead. He had written 
a few months before : — 

' Earle does not come to extricate me ; he comes to extricate the 
garrisons, which affects our national honour. I hope he may 
succeed, and that the national honour will reward him ; but I am 
not the rescued lamb, and will not be.' 

A strange chance had brought the first intimation of his death 
to us almost on the very spot where Earle had faUen, and both 
men had now passed beyond the reach of rescue and reward. 

The receipt of this news had brought the Arabs out of the 
Shukook fastness to fight us at Kerbekan in the very worst 
position they could have selected for that purpose. 

I must finish the record of the River Column. We passed 
another group of cataracts above the Shukook Pass, and found 
good water beyond them. We passed also the place where the 
steamer Abbas lay wrecked on the rocks of Hebbeh, the scene 
of the murder of Stewart, Power, and Herbin, and on 24th 
February reached Huella, a few miles below Mograt Island. All 
the worst water on the Nile lay behind us ; we had started from 
Hamdab with two hundred and seventeen boats ; two hundred 
and fifteen had arrived at the top of the long-supposed im- 
passable cataracts of Monassir, carrying still sixty days' food 
supplies for the entire force. The men were in magnificent 
condition ; the boats were as sound and fit for further work 
as the day they had left England five months earlier. I was 
taking the mounted troops forward for another day's work 

u 



306 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

when an express messenger arrived from Korti carrj^^ing urgent 
orders for the return to that place of the whole flotilla. The 
Desert Column had collapsed as an effective force. It was 
returning on foot to Korti. The boats turned back to Hebbeh, 
and the mounted troops went forward for the last time towards 
Abu Hamed. This, the last day of our reconnaissance work, 
was the longest 3^et done. Between the forward march to 
within sight of Mograt Island and the return to El Kab we 
must have covered twenty-four miles, the greater part of which 
was in soft sand. One horse and four camels died of exhaustion. 
Nine days later we reached Meroe. I found an order there 
to take command of the force which was to hold the place during 
the summer. We were to tent the troops and prepare for 
six months of blinding heat. The Home Government had 
decided upon a campaign in the autumn, and ' to smash the 
Mahdi.^ 

I have sometimes thought that, for some inscrutable reason, 
the Almighty had given the English people a marvellous faculty 
of acquhing wealth in peace, only equalled by their wonderful 
power of wasting wealth in war — ' muddling through,' I think 
they call it. I remember the Greeks in Cj^prus used to exclaim 
as they watched our ways, ' Is it not a pity that God, who 
has given these people so much money, should not have also 
bestowed upon them some brains ? ' Or is it only 

' A way we have in the Anny ? 
A way we have in the Navy ? ' 

And if this be the case, could not the man}^ Varsities which 
we now possess trj^- their hands at mending that particular 
* way,' lest it should end all our other ways ? 



CHAPTER XVIII 

MeroiJ. Wady Haifa. Kosheh. Advance of the Dervishes, Ginniss, 

Here, then, at Meroe, or Abu Dom, I found mj-self on the 
8th March, in command of another advance-guard — ' the 
farthest position up the river which we are to hold for the 
summer.' I write thence : — 

' I have a battahon of the Royal Highlanders, two guns, a troop 
of cavalry, one hundred camel corps (Egjrptian), a section of 
Engineers, fifty boats, and one hundred transport camels. We have 
to hut the men, put the place in a state of defence, and reduce 
what is now chaos to something like order. I shall, however, have 
some sort of a rest in other ways : shall be able to take off my boots 
at night, get clean things, and lie down on something besides sand. 
We are on the left bank of the Nile, nearly opj)osite Gebel Barkal, 
the site of the old capital of Queen Candace's kingdom, which is still 
a perfect mine of relics, columns and capitals, broken pedestals, 
overturned tombs, stone lions, and strange sheep-faced animals, all 
lying in confused ruin, half or wholly buried in mounds of masonry 
and rubbish. The rock face to the east of the flat-topped mountain 
is hollowed into a temple, covered with hieroglyphics. The place is 
a mine of Egyptian art and antiquities as yet untouched ; it is 
fifteen hundred miles from the sea, and is, nevertheless, by no means 
the last remnant of that once mighty Empire. A group of eight 
pyramids lies a little way to the south of the hill ; some of them 
are very perfect, scarcely a stone being out of place ; they are small, 
only about forty feet in height, but beautifully built. If the Mahdi 
or his myrmidons give me time during the summer, I would like 
to clear away some of these piles of rubbish, and examine the ruins.' 

A week later I wrote : — 

' A week of hut building, cleaning, scraping, entrenching. . . . 
We are here about one thousand Robinson Crusoes, building mud 
cabins, biscuit box lean-to's, and shelters of palm leaves and straw, 
the advanced sentinels in this great Soudan desert. Every one is 

307 



308 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

bent upon making the best of it, and many an old trick of camp or 
lodgment learnt long ago in the North- West comes in handy now. 
... So far, the heat is not trying, the nights are pleasant, the 
thermometer ninety-three degrees to ninety-seven degrees in the 
afternoons. ... If I were to let my pen run as to the twists and 
turns that led to the loss of Khartoum and the death of poor Gordon 
I would be writing for a month. Khartoum was lost in London, 
in Cairo, in Assouan, in Haifa, in Dongola . . . but there would be 
no use in speaking about it now. . . . How often I used to speculate 
upon the effect the news from the Soudan would have in England ; 
hopes raised to the highest pitch by partial successes — for they were 
only partial — of the march across the desert, and then, total 
collapse. Ah ! you may well say the " wasted precious days of 
October and November," flung away through sheer stupidity, 
selfishness, and narrow-mindedness. Poor W. frantic, but unable 
to move a gigantic machine, the wheels of which had got clogged in 
the hands of men who sought only their own conceits, and saw only 
through the glass of their own vanities. Is it not strange that the 
very first war during the Victorian Era in which the object was 
entirely noble and -uorthy should have proved an utter and com- 
plete failure, beaten at the finish by forty-eight hours ? These 
things are not chances, they are meant, and the men and nations who 
realise that fact are fortunate, for then they can learn. What a 
lesson does the whole story of this Expedition teach ! Up to the 
last they were saying there would be httle or no fighting. Poor 
T. thought the same. " I will believe in the Mahdi fighting when 
I hear the whistle of his soldiers' bullets," he said a day or two 
before leaving Korti. " It 's a windbag," another remarked to 
me.' 

Three weeks later, 28th March, I find the following : — 

' I have been up half the night, owing to a violent sand-storm 
having made the sentries think the Arabs were coming on. . . . 
Even now the temperature goes up some days to a hundred and ten 
degrees. A telegram last evening brings news of the Reserves being 
called out, and fifteen thousand men ordered to India. The close 
of this nineteenth century seems likely to be as bad for England as 
that of the eighteenth was. I cannot think that, A;\'ith war with 
Russia all but declared, the flower of our fighting force and the 
best of our thinking power will be left in the Soudan. If we are to 
fight Russia there must be no humbug this time. A defeat would 
mean National death. In the event of m ar between Russia and 
the Afghans we must either knuckle down or withdraw from the 



LETTERS HOME 309 

Soudan. We can't keep half the army and all the staff up in this 
wilderness. 

' 1st May. — During the past week our mud roosts have been 
fluttered by news of sudden movement down-stream. Renter gives 
us daily the heads of pohtical and other news, and the first intima- 
tion of probable evacuation came in that way. \Vhat an extra- 
ordinary people we are ! For eight weeks we have been busy all 
day and every day building huts, and making ready for the hot 
season : now, when the huts are built and the hot season is upon 
us, we up anchors and away. The Arabs regard us as people pos- 
sessed by '■ jins " or devils, and this change of front will not tend 
to lessen the idea. The Nile is now at its lowest stage of water, 
but our poor old boats will again do the work. All our camels are 
gone, the English boats alone remain. . . . My huts are real beauties. 
... So the Suakim bubble has burst and this railway is given up. 
It was sheer madness. These poor guides of ours are hopeless : 
they differ from the Bourbons inasmuch as they forget everything 
and learn nothing. 

' 22nd May. — This should be my last letter from Meroe. We 
march on the 26th for Dongola and Egypt. They have given me 
the hot job. I command the rearguard to Dongola, picking up 
as we go the various lots of horses, camels, guns, and men at the 
different stations. The weather has become excessively hot, one 
hundred and ten and one hundred and fifteen degrees in the shade, 
with a wind that seems to come from a furnace mouth. To-day we 
have the chmax : first stifling heat, then a vast sand-storm ; and 
behind the storm came some most welcome rain, but not enough 
even to sprinkle the hard, hot lips of the fevered desert. All prepara- 
tions are complete, and at daylight on Tuesday I blow up the fort 
and move off for Dongola.' 

So on the 26th May we blew up our little fort with gun- 
cotton and marched off from Abu Dom (' the father of Dom 
palms '). I was sorry to leave the place ; no spot of greater 
interest and possessing more of what makes for real Nile 
beauty exists along the fifteen hundred miles from there to the 
sea. 

' You cannot Uve much with the Arabs,' I wrote, ' without learning 
to hke them. They are quick, courteous, very brave, good-looking. 
As to their deceit, etc., of which we hear so much, I don't think they 
are a bit worse than the average acquaintance, I might even say 
" friend," one finds in clubs and professions in the daily intercourse 
of hfe in England. We call them " rebels," but right is wholly on 



310 STR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

their side. The abominations of the Egyptian rule were beyond 
words to express their atrocity.' 

There is such a delightful paragraph in the Official History of 
the Soudan Cam^mign, dealing with our retreat at this time, 
that I cannot omit quoting it : — 

' As it was certain that anarchy would immediately follow our 
withdrawal, and probable that a retreat on our part would allow the 
dormant hostility of the natives to find vent, it was necessary that 
the retreat, especially of the advanced portion of the force, should 
be conducted as rapidly and unexpectedly as possible. Jandet 
Effendi, the Vakil of Dongola, who had taken the place of the deposed 
Mudir, was at once informed of the intended retreat. He begged 
for fifteen days' start, before our policy was made generally known, 
in order that he might take what steps he could to mitigate the 
murder and the rapine for which he believed our retirement would 
be the signal. This was granted him and he at once started down 
the river.' 

Unfortunately for the truth of the picture here given, it hap- 
pened to be mj?- duty to follow the excellent Vakil Jandet 
Effendi a few days after he had descended the river in his self- 
imposed mission of mercy and mitigation of suffering. Jandet, 
who was a Circassian of the well-known tj'pe, had literally 
swept both banks of the Nile of everything that he and his 
bashi-bazouks could laj' hands on. The silver which these un- 
fortunate peasants had gathered by selling us their provisions 
and their labour during the past six months, their camels 
and donkeys, had been carried clean ofif. Jandet travelled 
in a large house-boat on the river. His mj-rmidons scoured 
the palm patches and the dhourra plots on both banks. When 
Jandet reached Dongola his house-boat was loaded with chests 
of silver piastre coin thus gathered. Such is history ' as she 
is wrote.' 

The march from Meroe to Dongola, two hundred miles, in 
end of Maj'^ and early June, was the hottest work that had ever 
fallen to vay lot. I had to pick up at each summer station in 
succession — Korti, Tani, Kurot, Abu Gus, and Handak — the 
horses, guns, camels, and transport of the whole force, all the 
remnants of the Desert Column that could not be put into our 
old boats. I can never forget the last day's march from 
Handak to Dongola. A desert blizzard blew straight in our 



THE REARGUARD 311 

faces, hot, strong, and bitterly biting with the grit, sand, and 
small stones that it hurled in our teeth. Camels and horses 
often turned aside, unable to face it. We had orders to leave 
no camels behind us. The wretched animals that had been 
in the Desert Column were spectres, mere bones and sores. 
As they fell they had to be shot by the rearguard. 

Two-thirds of the camels collected at Tani and Kurot thus 
perished. I had taken the precaution of feeding up my camels 
at Meroe for weeks before the move, giving them the large 
stores of grain laid in in anticipation of the autumn campaign, 
and ordered to be destroyed on evacuation, and although the 
camels had a double distance to travel to reach Dongola, I 
lost only one or two on the march down. But the strangest 
part of the proceeding was that the general officer in command 
of the force thought fit to report me to the commander-in-chief 
for not having obeyed the orders to destroy the grain by fire. 
Called on for an explanation, I replied that, although I had 
departed from the letter, I had still observed the spirit of the 
order, inasmuch as I had used the grain as extra fuel to keep 
the ebbing fire of life m my unfortunate camels, and while 
expressing regret at even the seeming departure from the letter 
of the regulation, I added that my penitential feelings were 
somewhat mitigated and consoled by the reflection that while 
the camels of the censorious commander had lost some eighty 
per cent, of their numbers on the short march, mme on the 
longer route had not lost above two per cent. My temporary 
commander at the time was an excellent but choleric little 
man, and I learnt afterwards from one of the staff that, as the 
thermometer was that da}^ about one hundred and twenty 
degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, he was able to relieve his over- 
burdened feeUngs when perusing mj^ letter, written on a sake- 
yeh wheel at Debbali in the middle of the night and left at his 
liut when I passed it at daybreak three hours later, only by 
making several short leaps into the air as he ejaculated, ' Con- 
soled ! — consoled ! — mitigated ! — mitigated ! — d d ! " 

At Dongola my rearguard duties ended, and I got once agam 
into my old boat. I shall never forget the change from shore 
to river. The heat was terrific, but it felt as nothmg on the 
water. As we sped down the shrunken but still lordly Nile, 
now changed in colour from the old muddy tint to a bright 



312 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

green hue — ^the true ' eau du Nil ' of the Parisian fashion-plates 
— our boats 'were stiU able to run the Third. Cataract, Shaban, 
Kaibar, and Amara down to Dal. 

How strange these old scenes appeared ! It was only six 
months since I had left them, but it seemed like as many years. 

Finally, I reached Wady Haifa in mid-June, to find a tele- 
gram there from Lord Wolseley offering me the command of the 
new frontier, henceforth to be fixed at Wady Haifa. I ac- 
cepted the offer, with two months' leave of absence to England, 
and was in London on the 30th June. In two months' time I 
was back in Egypt again. On 9th September I reached Wady 
Haifa. Things had changed all round. The Nile was at its 
topmost flood. The Dervishes were at Dongola. They had 
followed our retreat closely ; their outposts were at the head 
of the Third Cataract. 

•You can imagine,' I wrote on the 11th September, ' how different 
were the feelings with which I came to this place two days ago to 
those of the 18th October 1884. Then everything was hopeful ; 
no check had taken place ; I had caught up ten days of the time 
estimate given to Lord Wolseley for the Secretary of State in 
August, and I had every faith that, if left to myself, I could continue 
to gain time on the long road still before us to Khartoum ; but from 
that day forward began our delays and misfortunes. Little by little 
the precious moments were allowed to drop, until the terrible words 
" Too late " were stamped for ever upon our effort. But we must 
not look back ; there is plenty of work to be done forward. I go 
to Dal to-morrow to fix on a site for a small fort, which will be our 
advanced station towards Dongola. . . . The Dervishes are at 
Abu Fatmeh. All the wretched kinglets set up by us have fled : 
our Intelligence officers now assert that the Mahdi is not dead, 
but that he has retired into a cave, from which at the end of 
three months he will come forth again. What is certain is that 
Mahdiism is not dead but is gaining ground daily. ... So the 
Gazette (for the Soudan) is out. I feel sure that my absence from 
it is all for the best, and I have so many things to be thankful for 
that I can truly rejoice in the good fortune of those who have been 
given honours and rewards. 

' \2th of October. — The Dervishes are becoming demonstrative 
at the Third Cataract, and I think that we shall shortly have them 
this side of Kaibar. Think of the row there would have been last 
year in the English papers if they had been even half so close ! 



FORT BUILDING AT AKASHA 313 

Biit now the papers don't even notice the fact. They '11 goon be 
playing another tune, I 'm thinking.' 

Meanwhile the problem before me was not an easy one to 
meet. The railway from Wady Haifa had been completed 
to Akasha, ninety miles. My orders were that this line was 
to be protected from attack. To hold these ninety mOes and 
the base at Haifa I had one weak battalion of British infantry ; 
no cavalry, no guns, no mounted infantry ; one weak battalion 
of black troops, one ditto Egyptian battalion, and about eighty 
Egyptian camel corps. The Dervish gathering at Dongola 
was reported in numbers varying from eight to fifteen thousand 
men ; they had many guns and plenty of ammimition ; the 
capture of Khartoum had put aU the resources of the arsenal 
there at their disposal. From Kaibar the rail-head at Akasha 
was, by desert route, not more than seventy miles. The 
advanced portion of the Dervish army was, therefore, within 
easy striking distance of our communications : it could cut 
the railway by a thirty-hour march on camels. The Nile was 
an exceptionally high one this j'ear ; the desert wells were full. 

I took in these main conditions and possibihties in the four 
days' visit to Dal. The first thing to do was to build a fort 
on the Nile twenty miles beyond the end of the railway at 
Akasha. This fort I counted upon to stop the first oncoming 
of the Dervishes when they came down from Kaibar. If they 
' sat down ' before my fort I should have time to gather 
reinforcements in the ground between the fort, the head of the 
railway, and the angle made by the Nile in its course from 
Amara to Akasha, a rough and very broken piece of desert 
measuring some thirty-three miles along the Nile shore and 
about twenty-four across the desert. If thej'^ did not sit down 
before it, but left it and passed on into the Batn-el-Hager 
(* the womb of rocks '), through which our line of railway ran 
for sixty miles, then undoubtedly they would do a lot of damage 
to the line, give us plenty of hard work, and perhaps get even 
as far as Sarras. But they would never get back again. They 
might isolate my angle of ground between rail-head at Akasha 
and the advanced post at Kosheh, but if I could only get my 
fort buUt, garrisoned, and supplied in time, put a couple of 
hundred mounted men into the angle, and put another garrison 
at rail-head, I thought I would be able to play a fairly good 



314 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

game with the ten thousand Dervishes now in our front at 
Kaibar. Unfortunately, time and men were the chief factors 
in the problem, and both were against me. The men were far 
down the Nile — at Assouan, three hundred miles, and at Cairo, 
six hundred miles farther. The Nile was against me in the 
matter of time : you could float down the river to Cairo on a 
log of wood in nine days ; you could not come up in a steamer 
from Cairo to Wady Haifa in twenty days. Nor was that the 
only difficulty. My masters were all down-stream too. I might 
propose, they disposed. I might ask for men, guns, horses, 
and supplies, in ten minutes by telegraph ; they would decide 
in due time, and time paid man}^ dues on the Nile. Egypt has 
always been the taxman's paradise. It is the same to-day. 
We shall see presentlj^ how it all worked out. 

I set to work at once building the advance post at a place 
called Kosheh on the west shore of the Nile, six miles south 
of the Dal Cataract, where the river, making a sharp bend to 
the west, gave views up and down two reaches for six miles to 
north and west. The spot also marked the debouch of the 
desert road to ilbsarat and Kaibar, and it had the further 
advantage of having tolerably level and open ground around 
it. The jDlan of the fort was almost identical with that of the 
work at Meroe, which I had blown up three months earlier. 
It was built entirely of Nile mud, sun-dried into bricks of a 
very durable nature, exactly similar to those which the Israel- 
ites had declared to be the last straw (or absent straw) m the 
burden of their bondage some three thousand years earlier. 
On the present occasion, my Nile-mud brickmakers were 
Soudanese blacks, excellent fellows, who made mud pies by 
the thousand, and piled them one upon another at such a rapid 
rate that by the end of October the fort was already in a for- 
ward state, and early in November I had half a battalion of 
the Cameron Highlanders encamped there, followed a fortnight 
later by the remainder of the battalion. 

The fort being finished, the black battalion (9th Soudanese) 
were moved across to the west bank of the river, where they 
soon built themselves another mud-pie fortification at that 
side. These works were only completed and garrisoned in the 
nick of time, for on the 28th November some eight or ten 
thousand Dervishes were on the river at Amara, six miles from 



MOVES AND COUNTERMOVES 315 

Kosheh. They had played their game very nicely, holding 
back at Kaibar until the last moment, and then coming on 
with a rush, covering fifty miles in two days. My railway 
was only a feeble thing : it was just capable of carrying one 
hundred and eighty men from Haifa to Akasha in one day ; 
then there was a two-days' march to Kosheh, so that to get a 
battalion to the point at which I hoped to stop the Dervishes 
from Wady Haifa would take ten days. 

On 30th November I had in position at Kosheh two batta- 
lions of British infantry, fifty British cavalry, two battalions 
Egyptian infantry, twelve artillerymen, and one Krupp gun ; 
one company mounted mfantrj^ and eighty men of the camel 
corps, with sixt}' days' food, and four hundred rounds per man. 
Two small steamers, one of which was the Lotus, lay in the river 
off the fort. Two miles in rear of Kosheh I had an old ruined 
Nubian castle, Mograka, put into a state of defence — a zereba 
in front, walls loopholed, etc. Into this resuscitated ruin I 
put a weak battalion (the 3rd) of the Egyptian army.^ It had 
been neck and neck the whole way between my old enemy of 
six months earlier in the Shukook Pass, Abd el Majid Wad el 
Kailik, and myself. He knew a good deal more of my disposi- 
tions and numbers than I knew of his. Every native Nubian 
along the Nile was friendly to him, and his spies were among 
us everywhere. Nevertheless, although I received a good deal 
of false information as to the Dervish plans, I also gathered 
sufficient accurate intelligence to make out their general pur- 
pose and intentions. The enemy meant to cut our railwaj^ 
and then attack Kosheh and Akasha. They would hold us at 
Kosheh with their main body, while a flying column would 
SAving round through the desert and cut the railway behind 
us. My game was exactly the reverse of this. It was to hold 
them before Kosheh, and hit their raiders along the railway in 
the Batn-el-Hager. 

The ball opened on the 3rd of December, A raiding party 
of one thousand men, with one brass gun on a camel, suddenly 
appeared at Ambigol Wells on the railway at midnight, and 
tore up the line for more than a mile. At daybreak on the 4th 
they surrounded a smaU post which I had established at 

1 The British commanding officers were St. Leger, Everett, Barrow, Lloyd, 
Hunter, Bessant, Legge, and de Lisle. 



316 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Ambigol, and brought their brass gun to bear agamst it. 
Tliere was an incident connected with, this attack which 
deserves record. The officer in command, Lieutenant Anneslej', 
West Kent Regiment, had kept his thirty-five men camped out- 
side the little redoubt. It was his habit to go out every 
morning into the surrounding khor shooting sand grouse. 
On the morning of the 1st December he noticed that the birds 
killed had no food in their crops, whilst on other days it was 
the rule to find the bird well filled with, the seeds of desert 
plants. Aiinesley, a bit of a naturalist, asked himself why 
the birds had not fed this morning — there mUst have been 
something to disturb them. He had been warned to be ready 
for a Dervish raid. There was a weU at Haumagh, eight miles 
out in the desert. Were there Dervishes about to account 
for the empty stomachs of the grouse ? Anyway, he would 
get his men into the redoubt. A day earher I had ordered a 
reinforcement of thirty rifles to Ambigol ; they arrived by 
train almost at the moment that the Dervishes began their 
attack. The train was a good target, and was repeatedly 
struck. Engine-drivers and men made for the fort, and got 
into it with trifling loss. The Dervishes now tore up the rail- 
way line in the rear of the train, as they had already torn up 
the rails a mile in front of it. Here, then, was the begimiing 
of the test match I had been preparing for smce September. 
So far the Dervishes had done weU : they had demonstrated 
with five or six thousand men at Kosheh, and had struck my 
railway twenty-six miles from Akasha and fifty from Kosheh 
almost at the same time. It was now my turn to play. Had 
I even one hundred more mounted men the game was an easy 
one. All through October and November I had urgently 
asked for cavalry, but to no purpose. Macaulay wrote of the 
siege of Derrj- that ' even horse beans were doled out with a 
parsimonious hand ' ; in my case it was horsemen that were 
so treated. Almost from the day of my arrival at Wady Haifa 
I had howled for cavalry. In my diary I find : — 

' Representations made to General Commanding that in order effec 
tively to patrol roads, Kosheh should be held by five hundred men, 
half of them mounted, and that the railway and river transports 
should be made as effective as possible.' 



A WEAK FORCE TO RESIST DERVISHES 317 

I added that an adyance of the Dervishes in force from Dongola 
appeared to be certain. 

We had now reached 1st December. The Arabs had come 
down m force, but the only horsemen I had received in the 
two months' interval had been one hundred mounted infantry 
from Cairo, who arrived in November, and whose proficiency 
as horsemen was such that six of their number parted company 
with their steeds in marching half a mile to their camp. 

On 3rd December, when the ball opened, I had then but a 
small force to hold back an army of Mahdists flushed by their 
recent victories at Khartoum, well armed, and having seven 
guns ; I had also to protect a line of railway ninety miles in 
length through the Batn-el-Hager, the most broken bit of 
desert, save the Shukook, in all the Nile-land, and in the midst 
of an Arab population entirely hostile to us. But for that 
elbow or angle made by the Nile between Kosheh and Akasha, 
giving literally elbow-room beliind the advanced post at the 
former place and before the rail-head at the latter, the job 
must have been an entirely impossible one. Cairo, even for 
a reinforcement of one battalion, was eighteen days distant ; 
Assouan, for the same strength, was seven daj's away. As 
things turned out, the little fort at Kosheh alone saved the 
situation. It kept the Arabs far enough away from the rail- 
way to give the little movable column which I had scraped 
together, in the elbow behind it, room to hit the separated, long- 
distance attacks which the enemy could only make on that most 
vulnerable tail to our military position. It was curious to me 
to be obliged for two months to fight this fact with my mihtary 
chiefs in Assouan and Cairo. 

Neither of these excellent general ofiicers had had any 
previous knowledge of Arab strategy, and I owed it altogether 
to the experience, gained six months earHer, of Arab methods 
in the Shukook region that my present Uttle plan of campaign 
was based upon sound principles. The wilder the bird, the less 
he likes going behind even a mock barrier. Kosheh was not 
quite that, but it had some laths painted to look like iron. 

Our Intelligence Department was at Assouan, and the Arab 
leaders in Khartoum had been careful to keep that place 
supplied with a thousand rumours of what they meant to do 
by marching direct upon Assouan from Berber and Abu Hamad. 



318 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

These reports, coming from many directions, no doubt in- 
fluenced tlie decision to keep back tlie bulk of the troops in 
Egypt, and hence the poMcy of ' doling out ' supports to me 
on the exposed frontier. I think also it was calculated that 
if the worst came, and I was cut off from my base, a reHef could 
be effected in due course. Nothing in our modern wars had 
sounded so well in tlie newspapers as the word ' Relief.' It 
is a most valuable journalistic asset ; but at the time of which 
I am writing, to be cut off from one's base in war had something 
at least of the aspect of defeat, if not of disgrace ; and I was 
in no mood to accept the position if it could possibly be helped. 
To return to Ambigol Wells, After breaking the railway 
and burnmg a lot of the sleepers on the 3rd December the 
Arabs fell back agam into the desert, and we were beginning 
to repair the damage when suddenly, on the 4th December, 
they came on us again in force, attacked the post, and brought 
their brass gun to bear upon it from a hill six hundred j^ards 
distant. At half -past four o'clock news of this attack was 
brought to me at x4.kasha by Lieutenant de Lisle of the mounted 
infantry, who had pluckily ridden out from the beleaguered 
post with two men under a very heavj'' fire. I had already 
drawn from my angle fifty mounted infantry, seventy camel 
corps, and fifty hussars to Akasha, and with these and two 
hundred and fifty infantry we started, on the evening of the 
5th December, from Akasha, bringmg also a camel gun, and a 
convoy of ninety camels with water, of which de Lisle said 
the garrison was running short. My telegraph wires were, of 
course, cut on the east side, but I had already laid a second line 
to Wady Haifa along the west shore of the Nile, and that was 
intact. By midnight we had collected at Tanjour road three 
hundred and fifty infantry, two hundred camel and horse men, 
and one gun ; provisions, water, and ammunition on camels ; 
and with these we started for Ambigol at 1 a.m. Four hours' 
steady marching brought us to the khor or defile leading into 
Ambigol Wells, and as day broke we were at the fort. The 
Dervishes had fled. A few deserters came in, and from them 
we heard the details of the attack. The Dervish force, about 
nine hundred strong, of whom four hundred had rifles, under 
Es Zain, an old enemy of ours on the Shukook, had left Amara 
on the 29th, half of them mounted. On the evening of the 



BRISK WORK 319 

1st December they were east of Ambigol. The nights of 
the 2nd and 3rd were spent tearing up the railway. When 
dayhght came they retired into the desert. On the 4th they 
attacked the fort from all sides, hauled their gun on to a high 
hill five hundred yards away, and got off some dozen shots, 
fired with difficulty because of the continuous volleys directed 
at it from the fort. We had one man killed and one wounded : 
the Arabs lost about twenty all told. I left a gun and a com- 
pany of the Berks Regiment at Ambigol, and we marched back 
to Akasha, where we arrived at sunset, having covered over 
fifty miles in twenty-four hours, thirty miles of it on foot. 

In less than a week we had the railway' repaired, and trains 
running through from Haifa to Akasha again. The work of 
that week never found outside record or acknowledgment, but 
I owe it to the brave fellows who freely gave me their toil and 
sweat to say something about it even now at this distance of 
time. We had literaUj'- to do the work of one hundred men witli 
less than fifty. Watched from every side, and with seven or 
eight thousand Arabs in front and on our flanks for fifty miles, 
we held our own from Kosheh to Ambigol, repaired every 
damage as it occurred, and gave back shot for shot on both 
sides of the Nile ; for the Dervishes had now put two thousand 
men on the west bank, and reinforcements were daily arriving 
to them from Dongola east and west. Es Zain was soon astir 
again : this time he swooped round Kosheh with three thousand 
men at night through the hills, and struck at Mograka and 
Firket, where I had some Egj-ptian troops, I got word at 
Akasha late in the evening that he was on the swoop at Firket, 
and marched at sunrise next morning with five hundred men, 
half West Kent and half Berkshire Regiments, mounted men, 
and three guns, by the desert road to Firket ; but Es Zain and 
his merry men again vanished into the hills. 

I left the column at Firket and rode on to Kosheh — aU was 
right there. The Arabs were gettmg more active every day. 
I ran another gun and nine camel-loads of gun ammunition 
into the fort, got the wires going again, reinforced Mograka 
with a company of the West Kent and one gun, and rejoined 
the flying column at midnight at Firket — another long day. 

As more troops were now coming up the Nile from Egypt I 
made my headquarters at Firket. It was a good point at which 



320 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

to concentrate the force now moving slowly up from Cairo, 
and meanwhile I could keep an eye on Kosheh and Mograka, 
and another on the desert route to Akasha and rail-head. 
Of course, the reports of alarms and excursions were incessant. 
Some of them were very funny. One evening a strong patrol 
of moimted mfantry returned to Firket after dark reporting 
that they had found the fort of Mograka surrounded by 
Dervishes, whose banners were planted across the track leading 
from Firket to that post. They had engaged the Dervishes 
at close range ; the fire was hotly returned ; then the Arabs 
retreated, and the patrol had fallen back on Firket without 
loss. That of the enemy must have been very heavy. I 
marched at daybreak next morning for Mograka. There was 
no trace of any enemy ; but the commandant met me in front 
of his fort to report that he had been heavily attacked on the 
preceding evening by a large force of Arabs, that he had 
repulsed the attack with heavy loss to the assailants, and that 
his garrison had not suffered. I had many doubts the evening 
before about this mysterious Arab attack on Mograka, the 
banners, and the rest of the patrol story ; the commandant's 
account did not dispel them. What had really happened was 
that the mounted infantry had volleyed at the Egjrptian soldiers 
outside their fort while engaged in the dusk upon certain evening 
duties and ablutions, and the Egyptians in the fort had volleyed 
back at the patrol, each defeating the other, happily without 
wound or graze on either side. 

Ten more days of firing, scouting, marching, moving convoys 
of stores from Akasha forward, sending sick and wounded down, 
and passing small reinforcements up, now went on ; and at last 
there seemed a prospect of bringing matters to a conclusion 
before Kosheh. That little post did its work splendidly. On 
16th December two companies of the Camerons made a sortie 
at daybreak against the Arabs, who were daily creeping nearer 
the fort, finding cover along the shore as the waters of the Nile 
fell. Fourteen Dervishes were surprised and bayoneted in 
the rocks. 

The village of Absari, to the south of Kosheh, was found loop- 
holed and garrisoned. The Arabs came out from camp at 
Giimiss in large numbers, and the Camerons fell back upon the 
guns of the fort, which got many shots into the Arab groups. 



A RECONNAISSANCE 321 

This reconnaissance was to prove of great value to us later on, 
for it revealed the Arab strength and position and intentions 
in case of attack along the river. Unfortunately, it was 
attended with loss. Major Chalmers and Lieutenant Cameron 
and four rank and file were wounded — Lieutenant Cameron 
mortally. Major Hunter of the 9th Battalion was also danger- 
ously wounded. A few days later I tried another reconnais- 
sance to discover what the Arabs would do if we attacked them 
from the broken and high ground lying a mile back from the 
river. About one hundred mounted men were to circle round 
behind the hills from Mograka and endeavour to approach 
Ginniss from the east. It was intensely interesting to watch 
the effect this movement had upon the Dervish camps for three 
miles south of Kosheh. First I saw an Arab rushing madly 
out of the broken ground towards Ginniss ; he had evidently 
caught sight of the cavalry movement in the hills, and was 
racing to give the alarm. I stood with watch in hand noting 
the exact time taken. First fifty mounted men rode out at 
full gallop from the shore near Ginniss ; then band after band 
of Dervishes passed streaming into the khors leading up to 
the higher ridges. Wliat I wanted to find out was the exact 
time it would take the Arabs to gain a high dominating ridge 
which rose round the tangle of broken ground about three or 
four miles from Kosheh, and one or two from Ginniss. I got 
the time to a second : twenty minutes after the Arab vidette 
had given the first alarm I saw the heads and spears of many 
Dervishes on the skyline of the high ridge. Another body of 
mounted men, followed by footmen, moved obliquely as 
though to intercept our men, who were not visible to us, but 
whose general line of movement through the hills we could tell 
by the gallopings and racings of the Arabs. 

Colonel Barrow's orders were not to commit the reconnais- 
sance to close quarters, but to fall back on Mograka, passing 
the front of Kosheh, and retiring fighting. I sent out two 
companies of Camerons to threaten the Dervish flank. The 
Arab mounted men, followed by a couple of hundred of their 
foot, came on weU. Barrow fell back across the front face 
of the fort. A wide khor opened into the hills directly in 
front of the fort, and across this our men passed, closely 
followed by the Arabs. One chief in particular pressed the 

X 



322 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

pursuit very closely. He was shot near the khor. His horse 
galloped among our cavalry and was taken. This man proved 
to be the celebrated Kordofan Emir, Osman el Azreck, the best 
fighting leader in the Dervish army. The firing ceased sud- 
denly, and presently we saw a party of Dervishes passing back 
over the khor, bearing the body of El Azreck on their shoulders. 

A few days later the last of the reinforcements from Cairo 
reached Firket, and with them came Sir Frederick Stevenson, 
the commander-in-chief. General Grenfell, and large staffs. I 
had everything ready for them — food, ammunition, and plan 
of attack upon the Arabs at Ginniss. The fort at Kosheh had 
done its work. We were all tired of the long-drawn-out task 
which the delays and the lack of transport on the Nile had 
imposed upon us. For thirtj'' days our little garrison in the 
angle had held some eight thousand Arabs, and preserved the 
railway to Wady Haifa. 

On the 29th December a force of four thousand men was 
concentrated in the palm groves between Kosheh and Mograka, 
ready to move against the Arabs next morning. I suppose I 
ought to have been satisfied, but somehow I wasn't. As old 
people may live too long for younger men, so yoimger men 
may do too weU for older people. That, at least, was what 
I thought ; but it doesn't matter now. One most unlooked- 
for message of indirect approval of our work came to me about 
Christmas Day, when I bivouacked on the platform of an old 
sakeyeh wheel at Firket. It was a letter from our military 
attache at Berlin telling of an interview he had just had with 
the great Von Moltke, who sent for him to discuss the situation 
on the Nile to the south of Wady Haifa. 

' I do not see how it will be possible for your small force at and 
south of Wady Haifa to prevent the Arabs enveloping your positions, 
completely destroying the railway, and coming in force to Wady 
Haifa. Your line is far too long and your force much too small.' 

General Stevenson held a meeting of officers that day near 
Mograka, and I was asked to state my idea of the next day's 
movements. I gave it, based altogether upon the Arab moves 
on the 22nd. If my brigade started from Kosheh one hour and 
a half before daybreak, I thought that it would be possible to 
gain the high ridge east of Ginniss at or near dawn. If that 



GINNISS— THE PRELIMINARIES 323 

point was reached before the Arabs got to it from Ginniss, we 
held them in the hoUow of our hands ; if not, they had every 
chance of holding us. The ground between us and the ridge 
was extremely broken and intersected with sudden ravines, 
but I thought I could take my three battalions there before 
daylight revealed our march to the Dervishes. I was told to 
do as I liked. 

That evening I went out to the desert clear of Kosheh, and 
put two biggish stones to mark the front of an infantry battalion 
standing in quarter column. Thirty or forty yards behind 
the left-hand one of the two stones I placed a third and fourth 
stone, laid very carefully in a line bearing over the centre of 
the saw-back ridge, and full on the flat top of Gebel Abri, 
a mountain about eight miles distant to the south. I said 
nothing to anybody, but ordered my three battalions and six 
camel guns to parade next morning. When night had quite 
fallen I went out to my stones again, and saw that the top 
of G«bel Abri was quite discernible over the centre of the saw- 
back ridge in the desert, east of Ginniss. 

Before dawn I ' dressed ' the Berkshire Battalion in 
quarter column squarely upon these stones. Two battalions, 
the West Kent and Durhams, fell in with their leadmg com- 
panies in line, on the rear company of the Berks, one to right 
and the other to left of that battahon. This formation 
gave three sides of a hollow square. Into that hollow I put 
the six Egyptian camel guns, ambulance stretchers, spare 
ammunition, water camels, etc., and I closed the rear face of 
the hollow with a scratch battalion of six companies, made up 
of two companies from the three battalions. This compact 
force was led by a sergeant of the Berks Regiment. On the 
left of the leading company, and behind this sergeant, I mj^self 
rode, to see that he led straight upon Gebel Abri. When 
everything was ready it was fifteen minutes to five ; no moon ; 
a misty, grey gloom was over the desert, but the dark top of 
Gebel Abri showed distinctly above the horizon nearly due 
south. I sent back to the general, who, with his second brigade 
of British and Egyptian troops, was about six liundred yards 
in rear, that I was quite ready to advance. A message was 
returned asking me to wait, as the second brigade was not yet 
ready ; but as I had very closely timed the march to be done 



324 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

with the hour of dawn, I sent back again to say that it was 
imperatively necessary that my brigade should start at 5 a.m. ; 
and when that hour came, we moved forward. The line of 
march laid on Gebel Abri soon began to ascend from the lower 
levels near the river into the rocky ridges lying south of Ginniss 
and Amara. We were passing obliquely along the flank posi- 
tions held by the Dervishes on the river south of Kosheh, 
diverging farther awaj^ from the Nile as we proceeded. We 
could see the enemy's fires in the palm groves and scattered 
mud houses by the shore, but beyond the barking of dogs 
to the right as we proceeded there was nothing as yet to indi- 
cate that the Arabs were aware of our movements. For quite 
an hour the march went on through very rough and broken 
ground. At times a ravine or khor of unusual steepness had 
to be crossed, in passing which the guiding cone of Gebel Abri 
disappeared from view ; but in these cases I took a star in the 
southern heavens in the line of the hill-top, and as we ascended 
on an opposite side of the ravine Gebel Abri was again in sight. 
After about an hour's marching Hght began to show in the 
east, and one was able to see something of the surrounding 
desert, and the line of palms and houses along the river to our 
right. We were now abreast of Ginniss, about three-quarters 
of a mile from it. In our front, five or six hundred yards 
ahead, the razor-back ridge, to gam which was the entire object 
of the movement, was becoming more plainly visible in the 
increasing light. So far no shot, sound, or sign of movement 
had come from the Arabs. During the next quarter of a mile 
I made the battahons on the right and left of the Berkshires 
incline outwards from that battahon, which still kept its even 
pace to the front. When the flank battahons reached deploy- 
ing distance they resumed the old direction again. The 
brigade was then in line of battalion columns at deploying 
distance, the guns, camels, etc., being in rear of the centre 
and guiding battahon, and behind them came the reserve 
battahon. The hght grew rapidly, and by the time we reached 
the foot of the razor-back all the surrounding black and grey 
rocks and ravines were fully visible. Still no enemy showed 
anywhere, and the silence was still unbroken except by our 
footsteps on the rocky surface. I rode on to the top of the 
centre of the razor-back. 



THE ACTION OF GINNISS 325 

There the scene changed in an instant. The whole desert 
at the farther side of the ridge was outlaid before us : the long 
slopes leading down to the wide river, which stretched west- 
ward, dotted with the dark isles of the Amara rapids ; the 
endless Libyan desert at the farther side ; the line of scattered 
palm groves and houses on the nearer shore, from which many 
groups of Arab horsemen and foot spearmen were streaming 
into the rocks and khors that lay immediately in our front. 

For a moment I thought that we had won the race for the 
ridge by a mile ; but it was not so — we had only won it by a 
few hundred yards ; for as soon as some more figures of our 
people showed over the top, fire opened along a front of eight 
hundred or a thousand yards from numerous concealed enemies, 
some of whom were within two hundred paces of the height 
on which we stood. These riflemen were the leading scouts 
of the advancing Arab army, making for the ridge. I ordered 
the three battalions to line the ridge, for the sun was now rising 
at our backs, making things very visible to people on the 
lower ground to the west. The lower khors in our front were 
quickly filling with Arabs from the palm groves. The Berk- 
shires got first into position on the crest, and while the two 
flank battalions were coming up I had time to look round and 
see where our supporting brigade was. 

It was a long way behind, quite two miles, and it appeared 
to be halted, facing the village of Absari. The regiment of 
cavalry, which had orders to move on the left of my brigade, 
well out in the desert, was also visible about a mile to the south- 
east. It was quite evident that in a few minutes more I should 
have the entire Arab force on this bank of the river in our 
immediate front. The whole scene, as the sun came up, 
presented a very striking spectacle. For a few minutes the 
fire in our front went on, and the bullets came flying across the 
top of the ridge fast and thick, so far without reply. But it was 
now our turn to begin. The Berkshires opened the baU, and a 
hail of bullets soon swept the edges of the ravines in our front. 
The Durhams next took up the fire, and the West Kent followed, 
but before the infantry were all in line I called up the Egyptian 
camel Kxupp battery under Colonel Woodhouse. Above the 
edges of a khor about a thousand yards in our front a large 
force of Arabs was gathering : we could see spear heads and 



326 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

banners showing. One flag, particularly noticeable by its wide 
folds, was carried by a man on horseback. Colonel Woodhouse 
laid his first gun on this figure with aim so good that man, 
horse, and flag disappeared from sight almost simultaneously 
with the report of the Httle gun. For a quarter of an hour 
the fire was hammer and tongs on both sides. When the 
Berkshires first reached the hill crest they were met by so 
strong a sweep of bullets that three or four men fell at once. 
I therefore ordered the battalion to lie down on the inner slope 
and fire over the ridge. The other battalions did the same 
as they came up to the crest, and in a few moments a hail of 
bullets was sweeping down the outer slopes and across the 
khors and ravines, into which the spearmen and their leaders 
were now rapidly gathering from the lower ground. Our 
officers, mounted and on foot, did not dismount nor take cover, 
for at that date it had not become the order or the habit to 
do so. 

One could now judge what the result would have been to us 
had the Arabs got possession of this ridge before us — and we 
had only saved it by a few minutes. It had been neck and 
neck. If Gebel Abri had not been where it was, I don't think 
it could have been done. Finding that they could not face a 
front attack upon the ridge, the spearmen now began to move 
towards our left, keeping within the shelter of several khors, 
whose existence we could only tell by the spear heads and 
banners showing at intervals above the edges. To check this 
movement to the flank I sent the Egyptian camel corps out 
beyond the left of our line, and moved the reserve battalion 
to reinforce that flank. 

I have already mentioned the name of Said Redwan of 
Kordofan, a lieutenant in the camel corps. No bolder or finer 
man ever carried sword than that officer. He had now dis- 
mounted his men, tied down the camels, and the men were 
firing away down the khors in their front. Suddenly a group 
of Dervishes rushed from some rocks nearer to our line and 
began stabbing the camels. We could not fire at them, because 
the men of the camel corps were in the line of fire just beyond 
their camels. I shouted to the camel-men to clear off to the 
left and leave us a clear field of fire ; they did so, all except 
Said, who, seeing the Dervishes hacking at his camels, charged 



CT.OSE OF THE BATTLE 327 

singly into their midst, and began to hew and hack at them 
right and left. It was a strange sight, such a one as must 
have been frequently seen in Crusader times ; and to make it 
still more of mediaeval fashion, the Dervish swords were of 
the old straight, double-edged blade and two-handed type, 
precisely such as Sir Walter Scott's Nubian soldiers in the 
Talisman might have carried. On the present occasion the 
Dervish swords had the best of it, and Said Redwan got cut 
in several places, and went down among his camels ; but this 
temporary fall saved his life, for his assailants were picked off 
by our men once the ground was clear. A few other fanatics 
now appeared from the rocks, hopping in the strangest fashion 
as they made straight for our men. One or two of them got 
so close to the line before they fell that one could see every 
feature of their faces distorted with the delirium of fanatical 
enthusiasm, the lips moving in prayer, the eyes rolling, their 
swords raised in both hands, twirling in a ceaseless circle above 
their heads. I could not discern any sign of rage in the ex- 
pression of their faces ; it seemed to be the ecstasy of self- 
martyrdom. The battle was soon over ; we had had it all 
to ourselves. 

I would now change front to the right and move down the 
slopes upon the Arab camps in and behind Ginniss. So, 
sending word to the generals and the Second Brigade, who were 
still more than a mile behind us, and sending an officer also to 
inform the cavalry on our left, another mile to the east, that I 
was about to move upon the river, I wheeled the line the 
eighth of a circle on its right, and, picking up our wounded 
men, began our march on Ginniss. I added to my message 
to the colonel of the cavalry that, so far as I could see, the 
Arabs were retreating along the Nile shore towards Atab ; that 
he should conform to my movement, and thus place his regi- 
ment upon the Une of the retreating enemy. Then we went 
straight for Ginniss. In half an hour we were there. The 
Arabs had fled along the palm patches and river shore beyond 
Atab, leaving two guns, fourteen standards, some wounded, 
and about two thousand medgideah dollars in our hands. The 
cavalry missed their chance. Although they were full on the 
flank of the retreating Dervishes, their commanding officer 
drew up his men at Atab and began firing at the fugitives. 



328 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Twenty minutes after we reached Ginniss, the Second Brigade 
came up, with the generals and their respective staffs. I loaded 
two Dervish donkeys with the Arab standards, took them to 
the generals, and presented them. That was the end of the 
battle of Ginniss. We lost only one officer killed — Lieutenant 
Soltau ot the Berkshire Regiment. He was shot through the 
head a minute or two after we gained the razor-back ridge. 
He was a splendid specimen of youthful manhood as he stood 
behind the men of his company, who were lying against the 
top of the ridge ; nor did he look one whit less splendid when, 
a moment later, he lay stretched on his back on the rocky 
desert with his sword still held firm in his hand. We buried 
him in the desert outside Ginniss. A touching thmg happened 
at that simple funeral. Soltau had a pet dog, which he took 
with him wherever he went. It was a tiny thing, of the toy 
spaniel type, but, smaU as that animal was, it had the biggest 
heart of any dog I had ever seen. This was what happened. 
The body of the dead officer was carried on a stretcher behind 
the Berkshire Regiment as we marched from the ridge, and 
the stretcher, covered by a Union Jack, was put in a tent 
for a couple of hours while a grave was being dug in the desert. 
When all was ready, we followed the body to its last rest. 
The stretcher was laid on the ground a few feet from the grave, 
and the Union Jack Hfted. The body, still in uniform, was 
then raised by four men and lowered into the grave ; but, 
cowering on one side of the blood-stained stretcher, in smaller 
shape than ever before, was the tiny dog. I have never 
forgotten the way in which that black atom dragged itself, 
crouching, from the stretcher along the few feet of sand to 
the edge of the pit, and lay there with its head hanging 
down into the grave. When some one Hfted it away, it hung 
like a Httle dead thing, a sight sufficient to make strong men 
turn aside. 



CHAPTER XIX 

Back to Wady Haifa. Letters. Sickness among the troops. Leaving the 
Soudan. Assouan. Home on sick leave. Half-pay in Brittany. K.C.B. 

The failure of the cavalry in pursuit, following the fight at 
Ginniss, imposed extra work upon the infantry brigade. We 
marched to Amara in the afternoon, and bivouacked in a palm- 
grove by the river. In the middle of the night the sound of 
heavy firing came from the direction of Kosheh, and was con- 
tinued at short intervals until daybreak. Of course I could not 
suppose that it arose from any real Dervish attack, and could 
only attribute it to one of those night alarms or panics of which 
the Zulu War of 1879 had given so many examples. The 
volleys of musketry were undoubtedly fired by trained troops ; 
but, as the men of my two battalions had had a very heavy 
day's work, I did not disturb their bivouac. 

A few minutes later, a mounted officer appeared from the 
cavalry commander, who was camped with his regiment at 
Atab, two miles nearer Kosheh. I had left one infantry 
battalion at the same place the previous evenmg. The officer 
brought an urgent demand for assistance : the firing, he said, 
proceeded from Kosheh, four miles farther to the rear, I sent 
back answer that it was quite impossible that there could be 
any valid reason for this musketry outbreak at Kosheh ; that 
the colonel should send an officer's patrol there to discover 
what the firing meant. An hour or two later the same officer, 
this time on a camel, appeared ; and again I had to get up from 
my blankets. It was the same appUcation for assistance 
repeated. Kosheh was firing volleys at mtervals. This time 
I felt annoyed ; but the humour of the situation was too much 
for other feelings, so I got some writing materials, and wrote 
to the officer commanding cavalry : — 

' There can be no cause at Kosheh for this firing. A few stragglers 
may still be near that place. Your own position at Atab is abso- 

329 



330 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

lutely secure. You have an infantry battalion immediately on your 
right, two other infantry battaUons are on your left at Ginniss ; 
two batteries of artillery, two battalions of the Egyptian army, 
and the whole of the headquarter staffs are also there ; while there 
is an unfordable river behind you and an impassable desert in your 
front. You should let your men lie down and rest.' 

I was not disturbed again, and shortly after daybreak news 
came that the firing had been caused by the presence of a few 
Dervishes in a mud hut near Kosheh, which the Second Brigade 
was supposed to have captured the previous morning, after a 
heavy bombardment, when they first advanced from Kosheh. 
The volleys were fired by an Egyptian battalion to prevent 
these six Dervishes getting out ! Meanwhile the Dervishes 
had fled south as fast as Arab legs could go. All their Nuggers 
had hoisted sail, and were already past the bend of the Nile at 
Sakt-el-Abd. I got a report from the cavalry commander 
after dark on the 31st that they had reconnoitred to Quake, 
which was found deserted ; that the Arab Nuggers, with arms, 
wounded, etc., on board, were reported to be thirty miles south 
of Quake, and that he had not deemed it advisable to pursue 
them. I knew that part of the Nile well, for I had been over 
it frequently a year earlier. The currents ran swift in many 
places. There had been little wind that day, and I believed 
it was still possible, notwithstanding lost opportunities, to 
capture some, if not all, of the Dervish fleet. 

Accordingly, at daylight on New Year's Day, having been 
supplied with two days' rations, a couple of hundred mounted 
men, horses, and camels, under Major Smith-Dorrien of the 
Egyptian army, started from Abri, the old Lotus, stem-wheeler, 
steaming up-stream with them. 

I rode from Abri to the south, through Mahass and Sukkote. 
At Loarda I found the cavalry halted, and the Lotus beached, 
repairing damage from a sunken rock. At 2 p.m. she was 
under weigh again : at sunset I came up with the cavalry, 
halted near Kurtingo. One Nugger had a Iready been captured, 
and others were only ten miles ahead. There was little wind : 
the Arabs were tracking. The capture of the boats was now 
assured. I sent the cavalry on to Kosheh. When night fell I 
found myself, with a single Egyptian orderly, no food, forage, 
or blankets, my little Arab pony dead-tired, at a spot some miles 



MESSAGE FROM THE LIEUTENANT-GENERAL 331 

to the south of Eroe, where dwelt Ab-der-Rahman, the leadmg 
Arab sheikh in Sukkote. I had known this man before ; of 
course, he had played fast and loose with us, as he was bound 
to do, living between the upper and the lower mill-stones on the 
frontier ; but the sun was now on our side of the palm-trees, 
and Ab-der-Rahman professed warm friendship for us. I sent 
the orderly to ask a night's hospitality from this sheikh. 

Ab-der-Rahman was profuse in his hospitaUty. His guest- 
house was at my service, and I had good food and excellent 
tea in a silver teapot for my supper. The Dervishes had passed 
his house on the 30th at one o'clock in full flight for Dongola. 
There were many wounded put into Nuggers, some of the 
leadmg Emirs being among them. 

Next morning (the 2nd) I was able to report the capture 
of nine Nuggers, arms, clothing, and grain. I got back to 
Quake on the 3rd, remained there until all the captured boats 
arrived, and then marched to Kosheh. Here I received the 
following message from the lieutenant-general commanding : — 

' The Lieu tenant-General desires to express to Br. -General 
Butler the satisfaction with which he has read the report of his 
proceeding since the action of the 30th ulto., and of his activity 
and energy in following up the enemy, which has resulted in the 
important capture of nine laden Nuggers, which it is believed are 
the remainder of the enemy's river transport north of Kaibar. 
The Lieutenant-General wishes General Butler to convey to Major 
Smith-Dorrien, Major Lloyd, and Captain Page of the Lotus the 
expression of his satisfaction at the able and successful manner in 
which they have carried out his orders, as well as to Sergeant 
Sullivan, C. and T. Corps, for the efficient manner in which, 
under circumstances of some difficulty, he forwarded supplies to 
the moimted troops in advance. The Lieutenant-General has 
forwarded General Butler's report to the Secretary of State for 
War.' 

I got back to Wady Haifa in mid-January, and was glad to 
get a rest. It had been two months of continuous going. I 
must pass over the next couple of months, and come to the 
month of March. 

The best thing about war is that it opens eyes in a mental 
sense, even as it closes them in a bodily one. It was now clear, 
even to the Enghsh official in Cairo, that we had not a friend 



332 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

among the indigenous peoples of the Nile from Khartoum to 
the sea. The Greek, the Syrian, the outlander generally, the 
Jewish ' Shrofi/ the semi-Christian inhabitants might wish 
to see us in a land which was no more theirs than it was ours, 
but the Mohammedan, whether Arab rover or Egyptian vil- 
lager, regarded us as the children of sin and the accursed of 
God. The sole thing they Hked about us was what the inhabi- 
tants of Cj^prus used to call the ' English livre sterling.' It was 
this internal weakness in our position on the Nile, no matter 
what point we might choose for our frontier, that was the 
real difficulty. It resembled a bad sea-waU built to keep the 
tides in check, liable always to have the sea breaking through. 

As soon as the little campaign at Kosheh was over, the 
generals and their staffs departed for Cairo, where the winter 
season was at its height. Four British battalions were now left 
in my command, when there was no enemy in mj'' front. Three 
months earher, with ten thousand active enemies before me, 
I had to face the situation with a single battalion, slowly rein- 
forced by a second one. But although I had no enemy in 
front, I had a very pressing and active one in my midst — 
sickness. I knew the Nile pretty well by this time. Keep the 
men moving, give them something to prevent their minds 
from rusting, and you get on fairly weU in these Nubian deserts. 
Stop, form camps, remove the interests of active life, and 
immediately fevers in their worst form would show, increasing 
with the rising temperature of the summer months, until they 
decimated the ranks and sapped the strength of entire 
battahons. The usual drift of indecision was apparently now 
setting in in London. 

A reoccupation of Dongola after Ginniss would have been a 
fortnight's work, but, in the then state of affairs in the Soudan 
and in Egypt, that occupation would have made our position 
only more costly, more difficult, and more insecure. Our 
soldiers would only have died in Dongola, when the hot weather 
came, instead of in Wady Haifa or at Assouan. For English 
troops and English gold this Soudan was only a bag without a 
bottom. 

These, however, were the larger and more general aspects 
of the situation I had now to deal with. The particular thing 
in front of me was the rapid approach of the hot season, and 



WARNING WORDS 333 

the certainty, to my mind, of having in a few weeks to deal 
with a great outbreak of sickness among the three thousand 
troops at and south of Wady Haifa. At this distance of time 
I should not have written the word ' certainty,' if I had not 
had before me now some of the least among the warning "words 
I then sent hy telegraph and letter to my official superiors 
in Cairo and London. They may perhaps be of use to men 
in the future who are in positions similar to mine then. As 
earl}^ as 12th Februar}^ I telegraphed the general in Assouan : — 

' We are now approaching a very trying season for English 
troops : we are occupying camping grounds which have been much 
fouled by previous occupation, and from which it is impossible to 
change. Our sick-list is exceptionally high, nearly ten per cent, 
being in hospital ; our barrack equipment is nil. We have neither 
bedsteads, mattresses, tables, nor forms. Three out of my four 
battalions are in tents, and to build huts for men will be a work 
of much time, since the district is almost destitute of timber and 
straw for roofs. I have now inspected the four battalions in this 
command in their new dispositions, and I beg the favour of the 
transmission of this telegram to Cairo, and if necessary to England, 
so that the fullest effort may be made, while there is time, for the 
provision of the requisites which will make life endurable during 
the hot season. There have been fourteen deaths in the last four 
weeks, which are the coolest and healthiest in the year.' 

These urgent messages only brought fresh queries, and 
demands for further reports. I had to show cause. I did so. 

' I stated in my No. 199 that Kosheh hospital was being adminis- 
tered from Assouan, and hence there was delay in receiving medi- 
cines, which was detrimental to the sick. Now for facts. I found 
many men (there) lying on the ground, and the reason given by 
medical officer was that he could not get a decision from Assouan 
as to the number of beds he was to keep up. He also said that he 
had asked Assouan on the 18th January for important medicines, 
but had not yet received them on the 7th February. Not a day 
passes that I do not find proof of the error of trying to administer 
these distant stations from Assouan instead of from the hospital 
here. I represented this months ago. All I asked was that the 
Medical Department should have the same measure of local adminis- 
tration given to it as was accorded to the Ordnance and Commis- 
sariat. I have no personal interest in the matter. I strive to do 
the best for the good of those under my command. I can point 



334 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

through five months to a long series of recommendations and pro- 
posals, many of which, opposed at first, are now admitted to have 
been right. Camerons and Durhams have over ten per cent. sick. 
Staffords and Berks are more healthy ; but the sick-rate is increasing, 
not diminishing.' 

On 19th February I wired : — 

' I have again most urgently to call attention to the state of the 
sick in this command. We have now two hundred and eight sick 
here. When I had only one battalion in brigade the evacuation 
of the sick down the river was continuous ; now, with a heavy sick- 
roll in four battalions, none are sent away, and more than two 
hundred sick men are kept crowded in narrow spaces, amid the 
noises of a camp ; even the woimded of Ginniss are kept here, losing 
spirits daily amid the sad surroundings of numerous sick people. 
Two deaths yesterday. The hospital is so overcrowded that even 
'post mortem dissections were carried on in sight of the sick men. 
While this state of things has been going on, the principal medical 
officer is content to sit afar off (at Assouan) writing verbose objec- 
tions to a better system, and opposing my repeated protests. If we 
had a single newspaper correspondent here, the system would not 
last a day.' 

It has been my misfortune in life to see a few things a long 
way off, and to make some enemies by that foresight. This 
was one of these occasions. AU I got in reply was a demand to 
put my opinions and requirements into the usual official form 
of a letter, and to submit it for the consideration of my 
superiors. As we were already on the threshold of the hot 
season, this altogether unnecessary delay made me feel angry, 
but I sat down at once and wrote : — 

'5th March 1886. 

' Sm, — On many occasions during the past month I have put 
forward by telegraph the requirements of the troops under my 
conmiand for the ensuing summer, as regards hutting, fuller pro- 
vision of barrack equipment, protection from the sun, means of 
supplying ice, solar hats, fuel (for boiling water), etc., etc. These 
demands were made in such ample form, and with such full recogni- 
tion of the necessities of the Soudan summer, that a further report 
upon them must, so far as the requirements are concerned, take the 
form of recapitulation and of a progress report so far as it relates 
to the work already accomplished. 



STATE OF THE SICK 335 

* As the urgency of various matters involved appeared to me to 
override all other considerations, I deviated from the instructions 
contained in the adjutant-general's minute of the 25th January, 
which directed me to cause projects and estimates to be prepared. 
As I had had but too ample an experience, in eighteen months' 
service on the upper Nile, of the delays which are inseparable from 
ihe conditions of the transport service on the river, I took immedi- 
ate st«ps to construct huts at Kosheh, Akasha, and Wady Haifa, 
and in order to induce rapid building, I fixed the scale of remunera- 
tion for troops and natives at so much per hut, if completed in a 
given time. 

' This plan has resulted in the huts of the Durham Battalion at 
Kosheh being raised to an average elevation of nine feet in only a 
fortnight's labour, a result which presents a striking contrast to 
the erection of huts last year at Assouan, Korosko, and Haifa, at 
some of which places the troops were not hutted until the hot 
season was near its close.' 

After treating in succession all the subjects already raised 
in my telegrams, and giving a list of our most pressing wants — 
' three thousand bedsteads and paillasses, tables, forms, four 
thousand sun hats, burning glasses for boiling water, with proper 
kettles to suit them, similar to those used by the French troops 
in the Sahara ' — I pointed out that as we were at that moment 
sending fuel by rail to Akasha, thence by boat to Dal, thence 
by camels to Sarkamotto, and finally by boat to Kosheh, at 
great cost and labour, these glasses would soon repay their 
cost. I alluded too to the sense of isolation which was felt by 
the soldiers of the brigade, who now regarded themselves as 
being ' almost beyond the outside edge of the Empire. They 
look in vain for any reference to them in the home newspapers, 
and the very existence of this distant frontier appears to be 
lost sight of at home.' No doubt there were reasons, political 
or other, for this state of seclusion, but soldiers could not 
be expected to imderstand these causes ; and the sense of being 
forgotten or ignored, when men are engaged in very arduous 
work under trjing conditions of climate upon a distant and 
exposed frontier, is not conducive to their health or \ con- 
tentment. I ended thus : — 

' In conclusion, I would desire to impress upon the authorities 
the gravity of the sense which I entertained of the medical and 



336 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

sanitary situation as it now presents itself here. Camping-plaoes 
have been fouled by long-continued occupation, English and native. 
Chained as we are by the river and to particular situations on its 
banks by strategic, railway, and store considerations, it is impossible 
to abandon these sites or to move to ground free from contamination. 
Our sick-list is steadily on the increase, and is undoubtedly high 
in some battalions, being as much as twelve per cent. ; but what 
I regard as being far more serious is the fact that enteric fever, 
so far the British soldier's worst enemy in the Soudan, is showing 
marked tendency towards development. At Akasha the type of 
this disease has been peculiarly virulent, and, as already mentioned, 
five deaths have taken place in one day at that small station. There 
are some sixty cases of enteric fever now in the four battalions, yet 
the season has been the coolest and healthiest period of the year. 
Finally, I consider that, grave as the outlook for the summ.er must 
be, the only means of meeting it will be found in a full recognition 
of the fact that, whUe geographical isolation has raised insuperable 
obstacles in the way of distant centralised administration, it has also 
imposed upon the line of communications, upon Assouan and upon 
Cairo, very urgent necessities of supply.' 

That letter brought matters to a climax. It must have 
reached Cairo about the 4th, and England, in some form, not 
later than the 20tli March. On the 23rd March I received a 
telegram announcing that all the British troops at Haifa and 
to the south of it were to be immediately withdrawn. I had 
probably saved the lives of several hundred soldiers. The order 
for immediate withdrawal had come, but too late to save the 
lives of many poor fellows. The heat came early in April, 
and during the withdrawal the men began to sicken and die 
rapidly. Extracts from my private letters will best teU the 
tale : — 

' Halfa, ISth April 

' I am still here, and at work removing stores and men. Another 
week should see this station (Haifa) closed. Only one battalion is 
now left, and the place begins to look very lonely. Yesterday we 
sent off seven hundred animals and about one thousand men. It 
is full time, as the heat is killing the poor sick men fast. We have 
lost eight in the last few days. What a dreary prospect it would 
have been had Ave been condemned to remain on here during the 
whole hot season seven months from now.' 



HOME LETTERS CONTINUED 337 

' Half A, 25th April. 
' The weather has become frightfully hot. Thermometer one 
hundred and four degrees in the coolest part of the " Fostat " 
(dahabiyeh), and one hundred and twenty- two degrees in tents with 
a furnace wind blowing and clouds of dust. It has killed twenty- 
two of our poor fellows in fourteen days here. There are, besides, 
some four hundred sick men sent down the river of whose losses I 
don't yet know. How accurately I foretold what was coming, 

when and thought that I was exaggerating the prospects 

before us ! The last battalion leaves here to-morrow, but I am to 
stay behind. I shall be a general without any soldiers on a frontier 
which is supposed to be hostile ! ' 

* Halfa, 3rd May. 

' This should be my last letter to you from Wady Haifa, but I 
cannot yet say for certain, as I can get no orders from Cairo. They 
are, I fear, treating me after their old manner, and they now want 
to detain me here without troops, commissariat, or occupation. 
The weather is as hot as it can be. It is an awful-looking place, 
glaring, burning, and baking. The station grew more and more 
unhealthy, and I am glad that the poor fellows are out of it ; twenty- 
five died of heat and fever last month (AprO).' 

All the Egyptian troops had now arrived, and the forts, stores, 
etc., had been handed over to them. 

• Wady Halfa, 10th May. 
' When I last wrote I thought my letter was to be a final one to 
you from this place. It looks now as though I should be detained 
here for perhaps a long while. I do not know why ; there is no 
work for me to do, no troops to command. It is a week now since 
the last ton of stores and the last " detail " of men left here, yet I 
still remain all alone, and apparently for a long period. Up to the 
removal of the last battalion, I was allowed to think that I should 
go with the last of my troops, so I reduced my servants, sold my 
horse, and prepared to leave ; then at the last moment I am told 
that I must stay here. So here I am still. You cannot imagine 
the desolation and loneliness of the place now. Where " Biscuit 
Box Town " and " Bully Beef Tin City " once stood, all is vacant, 
wind-swept space. We have had a month of terribly hot weather. 
In a fortnight our loss at Assouan, Korosko, and here has been forty 
men. Not a word of this is allowed to get out from Cairo, and 
while you can read telegrams from Burmah announcing the death of 
Private Jones from heat or fever, here there is profound silence 
over the deaths of forty poor Jones's from the same causes. As for 

Y 



338 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

a Ginniss gazette, I shall believe in it when I see it. However, with 
the help of God I hope to live through spites and flings as, with His 
help, I have survived a few others before. Poor Martin, " the big 
man," died at Assouan of sunstroke two days ago.' 

'23rd May. 

' Unless my health breaks I must stay until August. It is possible 
that, alarmed at the great mortality among the troops, the Govern- 
ment will order the removal of the EngUsh garrison from Assouan ; 
but there are no newspaper men to let truth out or in, and the usual 
silence is maintained as to what goes on here.' 

« 30th May. 

' I must write you a short letter. . . . They are too many for 
me ; they are one thousand miles nearer home ; they have the 
advantages of " interior lines," and they can warp words and twist 
thoughts and actions as they like. But what does it all matter ? ' 

' Ith June. 

' Do not expect a long letter this time. I am wearing out the 
summer. . . . The Nile has risen, but it may only be a temporary- 
rise ; the real one is not due for ten days. When the afternoon 
comes, with its long hot hours, I pace up and down in the dahabiyeh. 
I fancy I have walked scores of miles now over those creaking 
boards. About four o'clock the woodwork becomes so hot that I 
have to go up to the hut. I read Na'poleon at St. Helena by the 
hour. Two days ago a very large crocodile put his head suddenly 
up close to the stern of the dahabiyeh ; this could not be permitted, 
so I gave him a bullet in his head when he came up again, and I 
have not seen him since.' 

'Wady Halfa, 14<A June. 

' In face of the intense heat now prevailing, you must only expect 
short letters from me. The last two nights have been nearly as 
bad as the days, and last night sleep was not possible. It was the 
hottest night I ever remember. It was literally stifling. One gasped 
and struggled for breath. I could not lie down. I got at last into 
the dinghy that was tied alongside the dahabiyeh, and dipping a 
sponge into the Nile, kept pouring the water at intervals over my 
head and body, sitting for hours on the boat thwarts in wet night- 
clothes. Nevertheless, I am keeping well, thank God, but our 
poor officers and men are suffering terribly at Assouan. In the 
twenty-four hours ending at 3 p.m. yesterday, eleven officers and 
men died there. More than three months ago I told the authorities 
what they might expect, but I wasn't listened to. Not a word about 
this mortality gets to England, and yet we have not had in this 



HOME LETTERS CONTIJSTUED 339 

generation such a rate of mortality as this among British soldiers. 
More than a hundred and thirty have died in two months, and six 
hundred sick men have been sent away ; still the sick-rate goes up. 
I hope to leave here for Assouan to-morrow. [The prohibition had 
now been withdrawn.] I have urged the Cairo people to remove 
the remainder of the troops from Assouan while there is any re- 
mainder remaining. The temperature yesterday was one hundred 
and seventeen degrees in the shade.' i 

The next glimpse of affairs is from Assouan : — 

' 24:ih June 18S6. 
' I got down from Wady Haifa a week ago. How long they 
intend to leave me here I don't know. I have been down with 
fever for the last three days, and writing is an effort. It has been a 
bilious fever like those on the West Coast of Africa I suffered so 
much from twelve years ago. I am better to-day, but with the 
shade temperature at one hundred and seven degrees it is not easy 
to pick up. Our losses have been very severe. Things are now 
better ; six hundred weakly men have been sent down river, in 
addition to six hundred sick. What criminal folly it is keeping 
Enghsh soldiers here in the hot season ! ' 

That letter was to be my last from the Soudan. I had 

' From the previous raouth of October, as soou as I had thoroughly examined 
the Hue of the railway thiougli the Batu-el-Hager and the country lying to the 
south of its terniinus at Akasha, I had decided against the possibility of main- 
taining our present position south of Wady Haifa. We were bound either to 
advance or to retire. To advance would mean the reconquest of the Soudau, a 
feat of arms which neither England nor Egypt was then prepared to undertake 
either with men or money. To retire to Wady Haifa, giving up the line of 
railway, promised several advantages — first, the withdrawal of troops from a 
climate in which they could not live in the summer, except with immense loss 
of life and physical enfeeblement, and the substitution in their place at Assouan 
and Wady Haifa of the Egyptian army. Second, an enormous saving in the 
cost of tlie frontier garrisons. Third, having the cataracts and the wilderness 
of the Batn-el-Hager in front of our troops instead of behind them, thus giving 
the Dervishes, if they still wished to attack us, a present of those obstacles to 
transport, maintenance, and movement, which had proved so formidable to our- 
selves. The experience gained in the four following months had strengthened 
these conclusions, all of which I had already communicated to the authorities in 
England. With the approach of the liot season and our rapidly increasing sick- 
list, I saw that the question would not admit of further delay or postponement. 
I saw too, that the Egyptian army was no longer to be regarded as a nursling and 
unfit to be trusted with frontier work. Its English officers were of the best in 
our army. The macliine which Sir Evelyn Wood had designed and established 
four years earlier had now reached a very high degree of efficiencj% and it 
seemed to be the most ordinary common sense that it should take its proper 
place on the frontier, and that, if I'^nglish troops were still to be maintained in 
Egypt, they should be kept within the triangle Suez — Cairo — Alexandria, where 
at least the climate would allow them to live in summer. 



340 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

managed, the day following my arrival, to get to the camp 
and the hospitals on Tagool heights, above the First Cataract. 
The heat was blinding, varying one day to another between 
one hundred and twelve and one hundred and twenty-two 
degrees in the shade. On the 13th June it reached the latter 
figure, and, as I have said, caused the deaths of eleven officers 
and men out of a garrison of about one thousand. The poor 
fellows were pitiable objects, lying like gasping, stranded fish 
in this killing heat ; a few degrees of higher temperature, 
and the whole must have perished. They were very patient, 
lying in a state of exhaustion, helpless and hopeless. The 
Dorset Regiment, recently arrived, and composed of very 
young soldiers, were the heaviest sufferers ; they were losing 
three and four men daily. A curious idea had got into the 
soldiers' mmds. An old Coptic burying cavern of great size 
had been discovered in the hills above Assouan, and a vast 
number of wooden coffins were found in it. The usual tomb- 
rifling had taken place. It was said that the old dusty coffins 
had been utihsed by the contractor who supplied the bread 
to the army for heating his ovens, and the epidemic was sup- 
posed to have had its source in this unhallowed fuel. But 
there was no need to seek for causes such as these : one hundred 
and twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit in the shade needs no 
occult help from dead men's dust or Coptic coffins to fill a new 
graveyard. The military cemetery at Assouan, begim a j^ear and 
a half before this time, had now to shut its gates ; it was full. 
When I was on the West Coast of Africa, twelve years before 
this time, a story used to be told of an Irish captain in some 
West Indian regiment stationed on the L^'pper Gambia, who 
had sent a despatch to our old friends the Authorities to the 
effect that he could not advise them to send any more white 
troops to his station, Bathurst, as the last man had died, and 
there was not room in the graveyard for any more. Such un- 
wonted words, when they reached home, quickened the languid 
senses of the officials who had to deal with this particular part 
of the Empire, and orders were issued to send a despatch boat 
to Bathurst for mquirj' and report. It came in due time. The 
circumstances relative to the late garrison and the graveyard 
were as stated. Captain O'FiUigan was found in his bungalow, 
seated in a ' Borneo ' chair ; at his right hand there was 



A SLAVE CONVOY 341 

a three-Btoried wooden tripod, holding three chatties placed 
on© above the other. A strong-smelling liquid was dropping 
slowly from the uppermost chatty to the middle one, and 
again from that vessel mto the one underneath. Under this 
last chatty a large wmeglass received the final drips from the 
third earthenware cooler. When this glass was full the captain 
drank its contents, replacing the full glass by one already 
emptied. After breakfast every morning the top chatty had 
three bottles of brandy poured into it. Bj^ sunset all the 
chatties were empty, and it was time for dinner. The story 
went on to say that the O'Filligan was left at his post, and that 
no more white troops were sent there. I relate this old West 
Coast yarn, because it exemplifies a certain phase of human 
nature which invariably comes out in crises of this nature. 
Life will go on just the same as usual whether you bury ten 
men or one in a day. Is not the bottle nose of the ' mute ' 
his red flag of no surrender ? 

Neither at Assouan nor at Wady Haifa did we, so far as I 
know, hoist this flag, but I find in my notebooks many proofs 
that the daily work knew no change of method ; and even in 
Wady Haifa, after all the EngUsh troops were withdrawn, and I 
was the last man of my brigade left, things of the most comical 
nature occurred. In the last week in May news was brought 
in from the desert of the approach of a party of Kabbabish 
Arabs, with a large convoy of slaves m charge. The messenger 
came to ask if they might bring the slaves, some eighty in 
number, in to the station. I rephed that if thej^ brought the 
convoy in, they must do so subject to my decision as to what 
was to be done with the slaves after their arrival. This they 
agreed to, and the next day saw the convoy arrived. It con- 
sisted of about sixtj" women and girls, and twenty j'ouths and 
men. All were from Central Africa. I had quarters and food 
ready, and black soldiers for guards. The excitement in Wady 
Haifa was intense. All the Arab and Greek traders, the owners 
of whisky-shops, and the Bazaar people generally, had one 
common bond of interest and sympathy uniting their otherwise 
separate interests — slaves. The slave is to Africa what coin, 
sport, capital, and labour are to other people in the world. 
They are more than these things, for, where polygamy exists, 
the marriage market and the slave market are one. 



342 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

I think it was the celebrated De Leeseps who, as a boy with 
his father in Aleppo, was the abetter in a practical joke played 
upon a rich old Turk who had discarded one of his wives. The 
lady's sons, with the aid of De Lesseps, painted the discarded 
spouse a rich jet-black, and sent an emissary to the old Turk 
to ssbj that a new slave negress had just arrived and was to be 
seen at a dealer's house in Aleppo. The Turk went at once 
to see the new arrival, and ended by paying a large sum for his 
former helpmeet under the belief that she was a new slave. I 
can believe this story from what I saw at Wady Haifa. Wlien 
the slave convoy arrived there I had already decided what the 
procedure was to be, and had obtained from the general in 
Cairo his approval. The slaves were taken from the Arabs 
and declared free, but as the poor things had to get food into 
their bodies, and raiment outside them before they were fit 
to be seen by an expectant public, I had them carefully housed 
in a large Government building, where they were washed and 
fed, and clothed in Hght and inexpensive d^ape^3^ Now came 
the question what was to be done with them. I proposed to 
Cairo that a present of three hundred pounds should be given 
to the chief of the Kabbabish, whose party would then be dis- 
missed to their deserts : that the male slaves should be set 
free, but that the women, who had declared that they were 
helpless, should be given the offer of marrymg each a man of 
the Black Battalion formerly stationed at Kosheh. The Black 
Battalion and the black ladies readily accepted this proposed 
solution. In order to carry it out with the fullest solemnity 
of the Mohammedan marriage rites, the Cadi and the Mamour 
of the district were summoned to attend and perform their 
several functions, rehgious and civil. The eventful daj^ came. 
The Cadi, the Mamour, and an oflScer representing the Egyptian 
Government were present, seated at a table. The method of 
selection presented the chief difficulty. It was determined 
as follows : A black lady stood in front of the Cadi's table ; 
three black soldiers from a list of specially selected men were 
marched in, halted by a word of command, and turned, facing 
the black lady, who was told to take her choice. She looked 
at them and they at her, the three black men showing much 
more confusion oi mind and manners than the one black 
woman. It was explained to her that she was not obliged 



THE HEAT TELLS MORE AND MORE 343 

to select any of the three put forward, and that there were 
several other threes in waiting ; but, in almost every case, she 
took her choice easily and without restraint. Then the Cadi 
and the Mamour performed their respective functions, and 
again and again the same process went on, with military 
precision. A piece of paper was handed to the sable couple, 
who usually disappeared through the doorway at the back, 
hand in hand. It took two or three hours to marry the whole 
female contingent, and when the proceedings terminated, it 
may safely be said that in all the long sad history of African 
slavery there had never been a happier ending to a slave 
convoy. But the most amusing incident in the proceedings 
immediately followed. All the married men vied with each 
other in decking their brides in the best European finery which 
the Bazaar in Wady Haifa could furnish, and within an hour 
or two of the conclusion of the marriage contracts the sable 
brides were resplendent in the brightest-coloured muslins and 
calicoes, many of them in high-heeled boots, and nearly all 
displaying, as they strutted about the Bazaar, parasols, scarves, 
and feathered hats in great variety. The process of civilisa- 
tion in its most modern and advanced form had taken a matter 
of two hours. The pose of the parasol over the left or right 
ear was what pleased me most — it was perfect. Who knows ? 
perhaps the French fashion-plate in the halfpenny papers is 
destined to do more for African civilisation than all the human- 
ising efforts of minister, soldier, sailor, marine, and ordinary 
European trader in the past five hundred years. 

As the month of June went on, the heat at Assouan, now 
unceasing, told more and more upon me. The old adage of the 
fish out of water was apphcable for seven hours in every 
twenty-four, only that the fish was frying in a hot pan at the 
same time that he gasped for breath. It was curious to notice 
how the scorched brain, whenever it dozed off in a haK-conscious 
state, began to see green fields and hear cool sounds and 
imagine rushes and brooks. The brain had its mirages as weU 
as the desert. One's thoughts reverted to distant scenes in 
North America, snow-sheeted lakes, and nights of long ago 
when the Aurora flickered over great pine woods. 

What strange extremes of heat and cold my life had seen ! 
Fifty-three degrees below zero on the North Saskatchewan, 



344 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

and here on the Nile one hundred and twenty-two degrees in 
the shade, above, or a range equal to that between the freezing 
point of water and its boihng point. Of the two extremes, 
I verj^ much preferred the freezing stage. One might roast or 
boil oneself when freezing, but there was no possibility of 
freezing the boiling blood. I have known nothing sadder, in 
the course of my service, than the feeling that all those deaths 
and invalidings had been absolutely unnecessary — as much so, 
indeed, as though every one of these three hundred young 
soldiers had been pitched from the cliffs above the First 
Cataract into the Nile with a stone tied to his neck. To me it 
was in an especial degree irritating, because I had foreseen it 
in ample time to have it avoided. 

Young man, if you would be happy in life, if you would die 
rich and respected, do not see too far ahead ! The rock, the 
wreck, the lighthouse are aU steps in the same ladder, suc- 
cessive numbers in the catalogue ; but nobody wiU ever thank . 
you for having discovered the rock before the ship wa s wrecked 
upon it, and you may be quite sure that when the Trinity 
Board erect the hghthouse, they will not put your name upon 
it. On the whole, summing it all up now, I should be disposed 
to think that the man fares best who does his best and leaves 
the rest. He is then like the man who is dealt two aces in 
* vingt-et-un.' He stands to win on either card. If his pro- 
phecy has come true, he has made no enemies. If it has 
proved false, it is only his friends who will remind him 
of it. 

For myself, the end of my work in the Soudan had now 
come. I had been losing strength for weeks, and the low fever 
which made food nauseous ran one down stiU quicker. I find 
no letter and no entry in a notebook from the 24th June to 
the 5th July, and I have only the haziest recollection of that 
interval. I must have reached the condition of lethargic 
acceptation which I had noticed so often in the sick cases in 
hospital. 

One day in the end of June at Assouan the senior army 
doctor came to see me. ' You must go down the river to a 
cooler climate,' he said ; ' you wiU not get better here.' ' But 
I can't go,' I said ; ' they have ordered me to remain here, 
and I won't ask them for leave.' ' Then I '11 send you down,' 



END OF THE SOIJDAN CHAPTER 345 

he Bald. The next morning I was moved mto a steamboat, 
and sent down river. 

On the 5th July I wrote from Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo : — 

' Here I am, thanks to the doctor, on my way home on four 
months' leave. In Assouan I had no chance, ^\'ith the thermometer 
at one hundred and ten degrees, so they sent me down, and, a board 
having sat upon me here, I have been given four months' sick-leave 
to England, I am only weak, and have now no fever ; all I want 
is rest. I am " played out," that is all. . . . Don't say anything 
to anybody. . . . 

' A week in Glencar would do more for me than all the doctors 
in Europe. It feels quite cool here after Assouan and Haifa. Don't 
expect a longer letter. Writing is troublesome.' 

And so ended the Soudan chapter in my life which, notwith- 
standing all its hard and rugged daj's and its disappointments, 
has remained a memor}- of lasting interest with me. All the 
books ever written about the Arab could not have taught me 
the tenth part of what I now knew of that oldest and yoimgest 
man on earth. I had come to be fond of this Arab, and of the 
deserts, and the river where he lived. We had been calling 
him all sorts of bad names for two years past, killing him 
whenever we got the chance, but, all the same, he was the 
better man of the two. Had the weapons been steel he would 
have licked us, one to our three. And this great river — what 
an endless lesson it was ! A whole Bible in its palms and its 
reeds shaking in the desert winds. Cradle and grave of aU 
things ; beginning and end of empires, builder and leveller of 
human pride ; life in death and death in life ; earliest civiliser 
and latest destroyer ; old in the oldest daj's of which there is 
record, and young and vigorous to-dajT- as when the Pj^amids 
were bom out of its ' womb of rocks.' I am not a believer in 
the success of any attempt to change the nature and alter the 
habits of life of the true Arabian race. Living side by side 
with the Arab, you are seeing the Old Testament as j'ou never 
before saw it. Things are there still as they were. You imagiue 
in England that you are the true inheritors, the rightful suc- 
cessors, of these old patriarchs and prophets and kings and 
people generally. You are in reality further removed even in 
your little Bethels and big conventicles from all sense and spirit 
of the old life of Jordan and Galilee, of Samaria and Judea, 



346 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

than are the inhabitants of Greenland from those of Peru. 
Arab Mohammedanism is a thousand times closer akin to the 
•wa,ya and days of David than you are ; I am not quite sure 
that it is not even nearer to the early Christian idea of life 
than are the present ideals and thoughts of the so-caUed 
Christian states of Western Europe ; but this is too big a matter 
to talk of here. 

One little bit of experience of Arab or Arab-Nubian 
ways comes to mind in this connection. In 1884 I was 
given as interpreter, one Gamaul Ghindi by name, the most 
Europeanised Eastern I have ever come into contact with. 
His histor}'' was a strange one. Twenty years earlier a rich 
English lady, travelling on the Nile, had seen Gamaul on the 
river shore near Korosko, a naked brat of five or six years. 
The brother of Gamaul, a year older, had just been devoured 
by a crocodile ; and his mother, thinking, perhaps, that a 
similar fate might be in store for other members of her famUy, 
was willing to surrender this surviving imp for a consideration 
to the rich English ' sit.' Brought to England, and educated 
with the greatest care, Gamaul soon blossomed into a page- 
boy of exceptional sharpness. Then, growmg older, \iq became 
valet ; was taken to travel over Europe, and rapidly acquired 
a practical knowledge of French, German, and Itahan. He 
soon came to be looked upon as a marvel of civilised progress. 
Here was a real Ethiopian who, if his skiu stiU retained 
its original colour, had at least shown himself amenable to 
the most advanced habits of Western civilisation. He was 
presented in turn to the Pope and to the Emperor of Austria. 
^Vhen this man joined me at Korti I was delighted with him ; 
he seemed to be all things at once. He rode everything from 
a camel to a donkey ; he was a fijst-rate shot. Shot-gun 
cartridges were precious things on the Upper Nile, and Ghindi 
could manoeuvre a flight of doves so ably that he could secure 
with a single shot a bag sufficient to give three persons a change 
of food at dinner from the everlasting tinned beef rations of 
Chicago. 

One day I asked him how it was that, with such a record of 
triumphant career through the courts and capitals of Europe, 
he had come back again to this dreary desert world. He 
answered that he had come for the sake of the sport which he 



A GLIIVIPSE OF ARAB-NUBIAN WAYS 347 

had beard was to be had on the Upper Nile, and be added that 
he was returning to Austria when the war was over to rejoin 
a Viennese wife who was connected with a circus and travelling 
menagerie business in that capital, which he was wont to 
describe as bj^ far the most enjoyable centre of civilised life in 
Europe. 

When we returned to Wady Haifa, I took a short leave of 
absence to England ; and, before starting, I confided a horse, 
a camel, and a large donkey to the care of Ghindi. After two 
months I was back again at Haifa, but no trace of either 
Gamaul, the camel, the horse, or the donkey could be found. 
An escaped slave, whom Ghindi had taken under his especial 
care and protection at Meroe, had also disappeared. About 
the manumission of this negro Gamaul had professed the most 
enlightened and philanthropic views ; so much so, indeed, that 
it had more than once occurred to me to say that if he could 
proceed to England and deliver a course of lectures before a 
series of audiences, with the slave as a platform example, I 
believed that highly remunerative results would follow. 

After a month or two a rumour reached me as to the where- 
abouts of the missing Gamaul. He had not gone to Vienna, 
nor was he lecturing in England. He was Hving quietly at 
his old village near Korosko. I wrote to this village, but could 
obtain no answer. Then I communicated with the command- 
ant at Korosko. A pohce patrol was sent to the village, there 
to arrest one Gamaul Ghindi, former interpreter to the River 
Column. A week later, escort and prisoner arrived at Wady 
Haifa, but whom had they brought as prisoner ? Not my well- 
known guide, philosopher, and interpreter, whom I had last 
seen in neat European dress, but a mean-looking native in blile 
gallaheah, large white turban, with shaven face and head, and 
shuffling gait. What stupid mistake had been made ? Then, 
as I looked longer and closer, I saw that this Nubian native 
was none other than my late traveller, valet, sportsman, and 
guide, the incomparable Ghindi. He had gone back at one 
fell swoop to his original native village ; he had flung off his 
suit of English clothes, put on aU the tokens and garb of 
Ethiopic Islamism, sold my large Egyptian donkey, treated the 
escaped slave in similar fashion, and he was now the proprietor 
of a small sakeyeh and a growing harem in the place from 



348 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

which he had been taken as an infant five-and-twenty years 
earlier. I suppose I should have had Ghindi prosecuted and 
incarcerated, and the rest of it. I did nothing of the kind. 
He went back to his village, and it is quite possible, if he is 
still alive, that he may be leading a life not much more repre- 
hensible there than he would have led with the circus lady in 
Vienna. 

I arrived home in the end of Juty. My friends at the War 
Office were cold but cautious. These two hundred poor fellows 
lying in the graveyard at Assouan, and the hundreds invalided 
and broken in health, whose cause I had written so strongly 
about while it was stiU possible to have saved them — these 
had now to be taken into account. So I was merelj^ told that 
my letters had been too strong and too many ; to which I 
replied that, whatever might be their strength or their number, 
they had at least done some good, and might have done more 
if they had been listened to sooner. Later, I find a short 
mention of a visit paid to one in authority at headquarters, 
in order to find out if there was any probability of a gazette 

for Ginniss. There was none. I heard that N had gone 

back to Egypt quite in despair of getting anything, so I wrote 

to to say that what with N in despair, and poor 

Huyshe ^ dead, I felt that I should apologise to somebody for 
my tenacity of existence, after the manner of the Second 
Charles. Instead of a gazette I received a letter informing 
me that on the expiration of my sick-leave I would be placed 
on half-paj'. The prospect was not too brilliant — ^less than 
two hundred pounds a year after close upon thirty years' 
service, hot and cold, in aU parts of the Empire. The adage 
says that fools build houses for other men to five in. Certainly 
the men who buUd the big house of Empire for England usually 
get the attic or the underground story in it for their own 
lodgment. 

A young man entering the Army, particularly if he should 
be blessed, or cursed, with that indefinable thing called ambi- 
tion, should early in his life begin to build himself a mental 
citadel into which, when fortune goes counter to him, as m 

^ Colonel Huyshe was made an acting Brigadier-General for the action of 
Ginniss on 30th December. He died on his arrival in England from the efifects 
of the heat in Korosko, in April 1886. 



AMONG THE APPLE OPvCHARDS OF BRITTANY 349 

ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it will go, he can retire. 
It is in the lives of bygone great soldiers that he wiU find 
the material from which this citadel, this safe place against 
the ' slings and arrows/ can best be built. I am not speaking 
at random. I have often in life found doubts disappear, 
clouds lighten, and relaxing energies tighten again for the 
struggle, by turning to a chapter in the wonderful memoirs in 
which the captive of St. Helena has told in undying language 
the story of his early campaigns. And you need never be 
afraid of placing your heroes too high in this mental citadel, 
nor your villains too low. You may not be able to scale the 
heights, but neither will you so easOy fall into the depths. It 
is a misfortune of the first magnitude in the Uves of soldiers 
to-day that the majority of our recent wars should have had 
their origins in purely financial interests or sordid Stock 
Exchange ambitions. 

With a few books and a very young family we took up a quiet 
life in France, where I read and wrote for the next eighteen 
months in a humble home among Breton orchards. Here I 
received the K.C.B. 

In spite of blank professional outlooks, and a constantly 
lowering balance at the mihtary banker's, there is a good deal 
of sunshine to-day in the look back upon these eighteen months : 
the sunshine that was on a big magnolia-tree upon a house 
wall looking south ; in an apple orchard beyond ; in a little 
garden, and in the bell-towers and tree-grown ramparts of an 
old city that was spick-and-span when Anne of Brittany was 
a girl ; and even the lessening balance at the banker's did 
not lessen the sunshine beaming from the eyes of the growing 
group of children who used to romp and play in the terrain 
between the old house and the railway, where the train to 
Dinard crossed a deep valley, through which a tmy rivulet 
sauntered leisurely on its way from the woods of La Garaye 
to the neighbouring Ranee. Here again one lived among people 
not of the city : Serot, menuisier, old Pierre, the orchard- 
owner, with his two old sisters, Marie and Pelagic, who milked 
the two cows, and knitted stockings as they led the animals 
to their daily pasturage ; Simon, the rival farmer, whom we 
called Jules, who was wont to pay us sudden visits, generally 
to denounce the quality of the milk supplied to us by the cows 



350 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of Marie and Pelagie ; and a wild sort of backwoodsman, 
name unknown, who used to come in the autumn or winter 
season, often at church hours on a Sunday morning, when 
he would haul out from baggy blouse or breeches pockets a 
brace of woodcock, a red-legged partridge, or a hare, going 
away as furtively as he had come. 



CHAPTER XX 

In Delgany, Ireland. Parnell. Army Ordnance Enquiry : Report. Proposed 
fortifications for London. Command at Alexandria. Death of Khedive 
Tewlik. Palestine. 

In the spring of 1888 we moved, family, bag and baggage, 
from Brittany to Ireland, wbere, in a little nook among the 
beautiful Wicklow hills, called Delgany, the home was again 
established. The times were interesting. Mr. Gladstone's 
first attempt, m 1885, to introduce Home Rule had resulted 
in placing the Conservative Unionist party in power. The 
twenty years of ' strong government ' in Ireland had begun, 
and coercion had again become the order of the day. Of 
course it was all make-beheve. Martial law, or its equivalent 
in coercion, is bound to become ridiculous when lawyers and 
philosophers attempt it. ' Don't hesitate to shoot,' spoken by 
a tremulous pohce-officer, has almost invariably resulted in 
sending a spluttering volley into a crowd of old men and 
women and some small children. 

Parnell was at this time at the summit of liis power. His 
mountam home at Aughavanagh lay some twenty miles distant 
from us at Delgany. When the grouse-shooting began in 
August I got a letter from the Irish leader in London askmg 
me to join him at Aughavanagh. I accepted with delight. 
I looked upon Parnell as one of the most remarkable men then 
living in the Empire. To-day, twenty-two years later, I regard 
him as the greatest leader of his time. 

The Parhamentary session was late. The Government had 
in the end of the session made up its mind to strike below the 
belt at its great Irish antagonist. A wretched forger named 
Pigott, for months before this date, had been hawking a 
carpet-bag fuU of forged letters about London. Many fish had 
nibbled at the bait ; the Times swallowed it wholesale. It 



352 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

published some of the concoctions in its columns ; actions at law 
followed, and finally the Government, thinking it had found an 
easy way of crushing Mr. Parnell, started a special commission 
of three English judges to investigate the allegations against 
the leader of his party. 

These matters had kept ]\Ir. Parnell in London for a few days 
after the 12th August, and it was on the 16th that he arrived 
at Aughavanagh. Parnell was quite unlike any other man 
that I had ever met. Tall and strikingly handsome, there was 
m him something beyond definition or description. It was 
power utterly careless of its possession, seemingly unconscious 
of its own strength, unaggressive in its mastery, unstudied, 
impassive, without one touch of haughtiness. He was usually 
silent, but saying what he wanted to say in the straightest 
words ; never offensive, always fair ; always thinking, but 
never absorbed in his thoughts ; thoughtful of others ; alive 
to everything around him ; entirely without pose or pretence ; 
even in temper ; showing breeding to his finger-tips. You 
say aU these things, and you might say fifty other things about 
him, and yet j^ou are conscious that you have said nothing ; 
and the reason is this, that you might just as well attempt 
to describe the flight or passage of a Marconi telegram through 
space as to set down in words the secrets of this man's pre- 
eminence. 

When he arrived at Aughavanagh no outward manifestation 
was visible that the master and owner of the place and shooting 
had come. Things went on as usual among the five or six 
guests — all political members of his party, except myself. No 
part of the large mountain area which was his property had been 
reserved for him. We had shot over it in detached parties on 
the two previous days. The weather was glorious. 

The building in which we lived was an old three-company 
barrack, built in 1798 at a cross-roads in the lower part of 
the vaUey, which was then a raUying-point for the insurgents, 
Holt and Dwyer, and their daring bands. It was a gaunt, 
bare, stone structure, half-ruined, its central portion, the 
quarters for the officers, being stiU habitable. It stood about 
nine hundred feet above sea-level ; and, although not much 
of a view was obtainable from the old square limestone windows 
of the house, the moment one quitted the door great sweeps 



GROUSE SHOOTING WITH PARNELL 353 

of heathery hiU could be seen curvmg upward to Lugnaquilla 
to the west, or mixing themselves with lower mountains to the 
north and east. 

From the shoulders of Lugnaquilla the eye was able to 
reach into great distances to the south-west. The air was of 
indescribable freshness. The day following his arrival, PameU 
asked me to shoot with him on a mountain to the south of 
the old barrack. We rode to the ground ; the walking was 
exceedingly rough, the ground being full of tussocks in which 
grouse lay well but men fell easily. ParneU, who at this time 
was on a special regimen of food and liquid, and looked far 
from strong, nevertheless crossed these hummocky uplands 
with a light and easy step ; shot surely and quickly, and 
seemed thoroughly to enjoy the sport. At halts he talked 
freely, sometimes of a parish priest in a neighbouring county 
who seemed to imagine that political support in the constituency 
carried some collateral right of poaching his (Parnell's) bog. 

' As I knew that he would be out on the 12th, I sent (one 

of my friends) down to join him, a year ago, so that I might 
get a few of my own birds ; but the result of that attempt 
was that the reverend sportsman lodged a good deal of the 
shot of one of his barrels in my friend's knee, laying him up 
for six months.' 

In the evenings we had pleasant conversation. He spoke 
little of poUtics ; said no ill about anybody ; and I can remem- 
ber his giving unquahfied praise to the manner in which the 
Governor of Kilmainham had carried out his duties towards 
him and his friends when he was a detenu in that gloomy 
prison. The quality in Parnell that most impressed me was 
the entire absence of sense or thought of superiority. Even 
in the most trifling details of life this was apparent. When 
he opened his gun-case the gun was found rusty ; but he 
would take no help in the cleaning of it ; he did it himself. 
He did not seem to be self-conscious in anything. 

When we were riding to the shooting-ground, he drew my 
attention to an occasional movement of one ear of the animal 
on which he was mounted, an oldish white horse. That 
peculiar droop of that particular ear in the animal, he said, 
indicated incipient lameness, and he went on at length to 
explain from the anatomy of the horse why this was so. Both 

z 



354 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

horses and mechanism of all kmds seemed to be favourite 
studies with him. We passed small groups of people on the 
road who had come out from neighbouring cottages to see him 
go by, and they were curtsying and cap-lifting to ' the Chief ' ; 
but it seemed as though they were not there, and when one of 
our party said that one of the most effusive cap-wavers had 
not paid any rent for five years, Parnell paid no more heed 
to the remark than he had to the waving. But if anything 
occurred to call for the exercise of his courtesy as host and 
master, it was given instantly. I was obliged to leave the 
party in the afternoon, and the car which was to take me home 
was on the road some distance away from the ground we were 
shooting over. When I had to say good-bye, he stopped 
shooting, took three or four brace of grouse from the bag, and, 
carrying them himself to the car, put the birds in the ' well ' of 
the vehicle with a courteous message to my wife. When Mr. 
Gladstone, ten years after this time, was asked by the bio- 
grapher of Mr. Parnell ^ to what causes he would ascribe the 
Irish leader's extraordinary ascendancy, the old man eloquently 
answered, ' To strength of will, self-reliance and self-command, 
clear knowledge of his own mind, no waste in word or act, 
and advantage of birth and education.' He covered completely 
the ground upon which this strange man's character was built. 
Despite the clamour of the modern Firbolg in Irish politics, 
the Irish people possess an instinctive knowledge of the attri- 
butes which go to make a great leader of men, and they will 
no more eliminate the factor of birth from this catalogue, when 
they can get it, than they would strike it from the pedigrees of 
their racehorses. 

A month after this time I was summoned to London and 
asked to take up an inquiry into the administration, store- 
houses, organisation and personnel of the Army Ordnance 
Department in the United Kingdom. A Colonel Macgregor 
was associated with me in this attempt to probe a wound in 
the Army system which had been open ever since the Crimean 
War. Piles of Blue Books and Reports were supplied to us, 
sufficient to have given occupation to a Hfetime ; but the Nile 
and Natal had given me a practical acquaintance with Ordnance 
matters of far more use to me than the dead liturgies of the 

^ Mr. Barry O'Brien. 



A SUPPRESSED REPORT 355 

preceding fifty years ; and by the aid of that experience I was 
able to run a line of suggested practical reform through the 
vast catalogue of congested compilations. 

Our Report was ready within four months. It bore date 17th 
December 1888. It was all my own work, and I confess that 
I was rather proud of it. But alas for the vanity of human 
wishes ! I have dug it up now out of a mass of old papers, 
and I re-read it with mingled feelings. \A^at buoyancy of 
hope, what heedlessness of personal profit there is in it ! But, 
all the same, there are passages in it that make my old heart 
rejoice, and make me bless my stars that I was able out of the 
destruction of the Report, which followed immediately upon 
its pubhcation, to save just one smgle copy, 

I received a peremptory order from the Secretary of State, 
Mr. Stanhope, to withdraw my report, all the printed copies 
of which were recalled and ordered in for immediate destruc- 
tion. I spent a very uncomfortable Christmas holiday. The 
Civil side of the War Office was furious, the mihtary officers 
silently rejoiced ; but quietlj', slowly, and imperceptibly our 
recommendations were eventually adopted. How much one's 
fortune turns upon the captain of the ship ! Mr. Stanhope 
knew very httle about the army, or its stores, or its wants, 
and yet at this moment there was a Tory ex-Minister in London 
who, had he then been Secretary of State, would have had the 
' Report of the Select Committee appointed by the Secretary 
of State for War to inquire into, and advise upon. Ordnance 
Store Department Questions ' crowned in PaU Mall. Only a 
few nights ago I was reading again with ever-increasing admira- 
tion the thoughts of Lord Randolph Churchill, as they are told 
in Mr. Winston Churchill's work, and I came upon a bit about 
the snapping swords and the bending bayonets of that time. 
But ' other men,' etc. 

My unfortunate report having been given to the flames of the 
official furnaces in Pall Mall, the wrath of the authorities 
seemed to slacken, and early in January 1889 I was offered 
another odd job. 

It had been decided to erect on the south and east sides of 
London, and at a general distance of twenty miles from the 
suburbs, a line of forts which would command the main routes 
from the sea to the capital on those sides. The sites for those 



356 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

works had still to be approved and purchased : this last business 
was my work. It opened up many new and, in some cases, 
interesting glimpses of English life to me. I dealt directly 
with the landlords and site-owners for the purchase of the six 
to ten particular acres selected at each place for Government 
acquisition. 

The legal experts of the War Office had drawn up an ex- 
haustive document which recited in detail the powers given 
by several Acts of Parliament, made in the reigns of the Third 
and Fourth Georges, under which it was possible for the War 
Department to obtain land, whether the owner desired to sell 
it or not. The rules of these proceedings were elaborately 
laid down in particular by an Act under George iv. The 
officer accredited by the War Secretary (myself, in this 
instance) was to advance into the lands required, with lines 
of white tape and bundles of white wooden pegs, and with 
these he was to lay out and peg down the lines which 
marked the limits of the ground wanted. He was then to 
retire, having, of course, notified all the parties concerned. 
The next step to be taken was the summoning of a jury com- 
posed of the local yeomen, villagers, etc., etc., twenty-seven 
in number, whose impartial and intelligent verdict would decide 
the sum of money to be paid by the War Office to the owner. 
The erection of the defensive work could then be proceeded 
with. The whole thing appeared to be simplicity itself so 
far as the law was concerned ; but the lawyers had still to be 
reckoned with. My plan was to write to the different landlords 
informing them of the sites selected on their estates, and asking 
for an interview. The law of George the Fourth was necessarily 
alluded to, but in almost every instance my letters were met 
in a most courteous spirit by the owners, whose legal advisers 
soon entered the arena, and with these gentlemen I had many 
interesting interviews. I soon found that there was nothing 
they would have liked better than the enforcement of the 
enactment of George the Fourth. ' Only tr}^ it. Colonel,' one 
old and experienced city solicitor said to me, ' please try that 
Act of George the Fourth. Go in with your white pegs and 
tape into my client's land, mark out all you want, the more 
the better ; and then declare in the presence of accredited 
witnesses that in the name of the War Department you hereby 



FOR THE DEFENCE OF LONDON 357 

annex and attach this particular plot, and that 's all I ask. 
Then we 11 begin to play ; that jury of twenty-seven local men 
will be our big drum ; then will follow placards, leaflets, para- 
graphs in the local journal — " Arbitrary and Tj^rannical Pro- 
ceedings on the part of the Military Authorities," etc., etc. But 
no ! it would probably end m the Government losing a dozen 
seats in the Home Counties at the next General Election. 
Colonel, take the advice of an old London sohcitor. I must 
know something of my trade, because I have represented the 

Daily since it was started, and I don't want to lead j^ou 

and j^our people into anj^ trouble, but I will ask you to go to Mr. 
Stanhope — I 'm a Tory and I wish well to this Government — 
and tell him from me that the less they say about that law 
of George the Fourth the better it will be for them. If they 
want the land, they can get it in the usual way by paying a good 
price for it. You can't go mto a man's field and take six or 
eight acres in the centre of it and expect to get them for their 
agricultural or even park value ; you must be prepared to pay 
for a building site.' I soon found that my old friend was 
right. We had to pay from £200 to £300 the acre for land 
the agricultural annual value of which might have been seven 
shillings the acre. 

One of our stations was on the top of Box Hill over Dorking. 
The owner lived in the valley beneath, in an historic mansion. 
He first drove me over the site required, and then we went to 
lunch in his beautiful house. There were six or eight Gains- 
boroughs and Joshua Reynoldses on the walls, and an adjoining 
room was lined from ceiling to floor with shelves holding 
Etruscan vases of immense value. The owner was a charming 
young man. I was to write to him about the War Office offer. 
' Shall I address you here ? ' I asked. ' Oh no,' he answered, 
' I can't live here : it is too awfully dull ; I should die. The 

Club, London, please.' Strange ! Here was London 

killing the old EngHsh country, and now we were expecting 
this same English country to save London from the foreign 
enemy ! 

Nearlj' a year passed in this work ; the sites were acquired, 
but it was then found that only a few of them could be built 
upon, as there was no money available for the erection of the 
works. There were many pleasant days during that time 



358 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

spent in company with Lord Wolseley, Sir Redvers Buller, 
General Nicholson, the Inspector-General of Fortifications, and 
Colonel Fraser. We used to go by train to Dorking and 
Reigate, Westerham, Merstham, or Dunton Green, and then 
drive ten or twenty miles over that beautiful down and valley 
country, lunching at some old village inn on the road. What 
delightful excursions these were ! I had just written a life of 
Gordon, and I was engaged upon a short biography of Sir 
Charles Napier. What stories of Crimean and Mutiny days, 
early memories of Burmah and Canada, anecdotes of the great 
Siege, used to enliven the drives along those lovely roads by 
leafy copse-woods that no motor's dust had then defiled ! When 
this came to an end, early in 1890, I was offered by Lord 
Wolseley choice between the commands at Singapore and 
Alexandria. There could be no hesitation in the matter. I 
loved Egypt, despite the tricks of fortune she had played me. 
Late in February I started for Alexandria, and travelling to 
Brindisi through an Italy lying for the most part in snow, got 
to Alexandria on March the 7th. 

Although this was my fourth turn of service in Egypt, it 
was the first time that I had any leisure to look into the home 
life of the Delta. Hitherto it had always been a rush with me. 
One had met Arabs and Copts, Nubians and Dongolese, Greek 
and Syrian interpreters, but always under conditions where 
the enemy was more or less at the other side of the hill. Now 
there would be time, one hoped, for a quieter study of all 
that had grown up out of the silt of Nile, that mighty 
earth-breast between the river's arms which had nourished 
human beings longer than any other world-bosom known to us, 
and given to man the seeds, plants, trees and flowers of his 
oldest and best civilisation. 

That freshest of the Egyptian seasons, I wiU caU it the 
* Berseem ' time, was now beginning. All the level land is 
a vast sheet of waving green. The animals are literally in 
clover, for berseem is the best of clovers ; and youngest kid 
and oldest camel are revellers in it. It is their easy, pleasant 
time ; the old blue buffalo munches berseem ; the Arab 
pony tosses and champs it ; the goat goes quietly to sleep in 
the shade of the standing camel nibbling a sprig of it ; even the 
pigeon has a puU at it from under the donkey's nose. If the 



TPIE LIFE OF THE DELTA 369 

villagers want to turn the sakeyeh wheel while berseem is in, % 
they put the bullock's head in a bag to hide from him the 
sight and perfume of so much sweetness and succulence. What 
I like best about this berseem clover is that it has outlived 
most of the other things Egyptian. It is reaUy the blood 
rectifier of Egypt, and modern chemical research has discovered 
what the ancient people of Egypt knew six thousand years 
ago, viz. that this plant restores to the soU the properties 
which the other innumerable crops of the Delta take from 
it, so that we may truly say it holds Egypt together. It is 
the elixir of Egyptian life, human and animal. Go on, old 
berseem ! WhUe you sprout, all the rest may wither. The 
Jew, the GentUe, the Greek, the Levantine, the inhabitant 
of Britain, the Stock Exchange bounder, the Circassian and 
Turkish Pashas, will disappear from Egypt, unless they choose 
the better part ; and the eternal fellah, he alone wiU survive, 
he and the Arab — one softened to his Delta home life by the 
sweet succulence of this wonderful clover, the other hardened 
to the asperities of the wilderness by the salts of the desert. 
AU the animals in Egypt have to go through a regular spring 
course of berseem. It might be a good thing to start a human 
rest-cure based upon it. 

Alexandria itself was everything except Egyptian ; but, once 
you were clear of the old mounds of broken bricks and the 
dust-heaps that surrounded it on the land side, you saw the 
fellah's life unchanged. You must get to Nile mud to find the 
fellah. You mount upon a ridge of sand with a palm-tree growing 
out of it : there you find the Arab. Both come in to the very 
outskirts of Alexandria, but each keeps intact his particular 
calling. The fellah is living in a low mud cabin with a plastered 
floor, and is dabbling in a bit of garden tillage, fed by a shadouf. 
The Arab is in his Bedouin tent of goat and camel hair ; he 
has a camel, ten goats, and two donkeys, and he sleeps upon 
the sand. He is ready to do a bit of garden work too, but it 
is like the popular song, ' Over the garden waU,' when the fruit 
is ripe. 

There are many things to see inland from Alexandria. First, 
a series of immense shallow lakes of brackish water, the shores* 
of which are very sparsely inhabited by a curious mixed race 
of fisher-folk — mud- waders and wildfowl-trappers. Where 



360 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

• the waters of these great lakes, merge into endless levels of 
chocolate-coloured mud, no drearier winter prospect could be 
imagined. But the scene is redeemed by the presence of 
enormous flights of aquatic birds : wild ducks in endless varieties, 
fisher birds of all kinds, long-legged ' waders ' who can stand 
on one foot for hours, pelicans and flamingoes, kingfishers in 
great numbers ; in fact, a whole world of fish, flesh, and fowl. 
It would all be of endless interest to the naturalist if he could 
only get a bit of water that wasn't mud, or of mud upon which 
he could stand steadj^ for an hour in order to study these queer 
fellows. 

These lakes are all that remain of the old, famous Nile mouths, 
long since closed up. I have read somewhere that they owe 
their origin to the Crusades. The Saracens cut the banks and 
flooded this coast district of the Delta to prevent their enemy's 
advance. A Norman baron in armour would have made worse 
time over this region than I did with a fellah on either side 
of me, my arms round their necks, and their shoulders under 
my arm-pits, doing about a quarter of a mile an hour, with at 
least five pounds of red mud on each boot. AU the birds had 
their heads up, apparently screaming with laughter at this 
approach of their enemy, until, when he had arrived to within 
one or two hundred yards of them, they rose with great flappings 
from the water, and flew away into remoter regions of this vast 
Serbonian bog. Farther inland, behind these swamps, began 
the lands where the snipe dwelt ; and these, when the autumn 
season arrived, I soon came to know well. 

At Atfeh, on the Rosetta branch of the Nile, there was a 
little inn kept by an excellent Frenchman named Favre. His 
wife managed and cooked, and, like all her countrywomen, 
did both well. Here, in company with my Engineer officer, 
Major Hare, I spent many pleasant days. Out all day, we 
tramped in swamps, cotton patches, rice fields ; on the brinks 
of old canals and choked watercourses ; in reeds and rushes ; 
along great dry banks of clay, where the acacia and the tama- 
risk flowers loaded the soft Egyptian air with indescribable fra- 
grance ; in villages where the men and women dwelt in beehive 
Structures, and the naked children ran hke little black rabbits 
in a coney hutch ; through fields where the wooden plough 
(only a big forked stick) was dragged through the mud by a 



FINANCIAL MYSTERIES 361 

m 
pair of buffaloes exactly as you can see it represented on the 

walls of some great Egyptian temple four thousand years old. 

All this was real Egypt, the land that ever lives. Rameses, 

Thothmes, Sethi, Ptolemy, Amenhotep ; Pinotem, Cambyses, 

Alexander, Caesar, Amru, Soliman ; Persian, Greek, Roman, 

Arab, Mameluke, they are as clouds that passed the sky 

thousands of years ago ; but here, in this brown-skinned mud- 

puddler, in that pitcher-carrying wife of his, and in these 

naked little pot-beUied children. Old Egypt and Middle Egypt 

and Young Egypt Hve, move, and have one continuous being. 

In no other country does the woman of the land work harder 
than in Egypt, and in no other land does she win in the end 
such a complete victory. 

Often, when we sat to rest for a while on a bank by one of 
those little mud warrens in the lower Delta called villages, my 
friend and I would laugh over the last report of the English 
consul-general and president upon the prosperity of Egypt, 
presented to both Houses of Parhament. And he would say 
to me, ' I wish we could take him just for one day with us. 
He might learn more of Egypt in a day's snipe shooting than 
if he sat for twenty years in his office chair in Cairo.' 

When I had spent more than a year at Alexandria, the death 
of the Khedive Tewfik occurred, after a very short illness, in 
Cairo. 



* 



362 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 



The death of the Khedive caused a political and financial 
panic, but there was not the slightest reason why it should 
have done so. The troops in Cairo were confined to barracks. 
I received urgent telegrams asking if I wanted troops ; our 
consul, a kindly old gentleman who had suffered in the Arab 
riots of 1882 in Alexandria, came to me in a state of nervous 
excitement urging the necessity of getting reinforcements. 
I decluied to ask for them, seeing no reason whatever to 
apprehend any demonstration in the city or elsewhere ; so he 
appealed to his chief in Cairo, and I soon received a wire 
offeriug a squadron of cavalry. I rephed : — 

' Cavalry would be entirely useless iq Alexandria streets, wnich 
are all paved with large blocks of smooth lava stone from Naples, 
and upon ^^•hich the horses would slip and fall as upon ice. I have 
more troops than I want, and can spare you three companies of 
infantry if you want them.' 

But the Cairene fears were not to be allayed ; agents and 
spies were sent out into the Arab quarters of the city to sound 
the people. The report brought back by the emissaries was 
dehghtfully Syrio-Egyptian, ' All the people were saying 
that the late Tewfik Pasha must have been a very good man, 
because the English said so.' 

When the warm weather came I paid several visits to Rosetta, 
the favourite residence of Haroun al Raschid, whose name it 
bore, and the Garden City so famed in Saracenic story. 

Decayed, sand-heaped, and tumble-down, ' Raschid ' was, 
nevertheless, a spot always of dehght to me. The breaking of 
Egypt and the building of her can be studied without let or 
hindrance at this place. At one end of the old town, the south, 
the sand drifts are piling higher year by year ; on the north 



TIME FOR STUDY 363 

side the growth of Egypt seawards can be read as one rides. 
Fifty years age the hghthouse marked the end of the left shore 
of the Nile — the mouth of the river ; now the end is nearly 
three miles farther north. The low swamp-land is growing 
northwards at the rate of about a mile in ten or twelve years. 
The palm-trees end seven miles from the sea, and Fort 
St. Julian is still farther back in a dense grove of palms. I 
have read that St. JuUan, when it was built, was not far 
from the Mediterranean ; it is now about ten miles from it. 

It was in the building of this fort that the celebrated Rosetta- 
stone was found by the French in 1798. In the centre of the 
fort there is an old Arab tomb of Tait Bey. I don't know who 
or what he was, but it would seem, from the study of the 
massive waUs of his tomb, that its builders, having no stone 
quarries near them, chopped up any old stones they found, 
for m the walls of the mausoleum you can trace squares cut 
out of an obelisk with the cartouches of Rameses or Sethi upon 
them. That they did not chop up the Rosetta-stone was 
perhaps owing to its bemg of the hardest black syenite, an 
almost unchoppable material. WiU the Nile go on extending 
its banks farther into the Mediterranean ? Why not ? It 
poui-s down to the sea every year fifty miUion tons of solids, 
and holds another fifteen milhon tons in suspension. 

In these years at Alexandria I had also time to carry out a 
far closer study of the hfe and thoughts of Napoleon than I 
had before been able to do. I got out all my Napoleonic 
books from home ; was in constant communication with that 
excellent man, or firm, Georges Sons, of Bristol, and got from 
him every work which my purse could compass. Egypt, 
taken aU the year round, lends itself in an especial manner to 
reading and study. That, I suppose, is the reason why it was 
the centre of so much literature and culture in the world for 
so many thousand years. When the warm weather comes in 
Alexandria there are six or seven hours of the daylight in 
which one can sit in the sea breeze near an open window and 
read, read, read. The thermometer varies in the room from 
seventy-eight to eighty-two degrees ; the air is saturated with 
the moisture of the sea ; and the sea is ever breaking in a low 
monotone of memory on a shore which is still haunted by 
half the great figures of the ancient world. We occupied a 



364 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

large flat in the Boulevard Ramleh, the back of which looked 
upon the old harbour of Alexandria. The site of the famous 
Pharos was just a mile distant across the water ; there, too, 
was the so-called ' Tomb of Cleopatra," at the other end of the 
ledge of rocks forming the eastern side of the harbour. As for 
the city itself, the European portion of it was only a base, 
new-born Italian copy of a town, surrounded by a rambling 
Arab quarter, outside of which vast mounds of desolation 
spread for miles. Upon the map of this tangle of town and 
graveyard I used to lay a plan of the ancient Alexandria 
made by a French savant, and thus it was possible to get 
approximate ideas of where the grand edifices of the Ptolemies 
and the Caesars had stood. Of course, there was one lone and 
majestic monolith, Pompey's Pillar, still on its original site ; 
but, as though it was left only to make the contrast between 
past and present more terribly telling, this glorious soli- 
tary column of Roman grandeur rises amid surroundings of 
indescribable filth and human wretchedness. 

Alexandria and its neighbourhood was rich, however, in 
associations that have connected it with Napoleon, and to 
these I often went. It was near Point Marabout, on the west 
of the city, that he landed in July 1798. It was from the rock 
of the Phallarion, to the east of the old harbour, that he em- 
barked for France in August 1799. Twelve miles away to the 
east was the battlefield of Aboukir, where he had, by one of 
the most splendid combinations ever made by him, swept into 
the sea a Turkish army three times more numerous than his 
own, and backed by an English fleet, in a couple of hours. 

I caused inquiries to be made in Aboukir as to whether there 
were any very old people living there or in the neighbourhood 
who might at least have heard in their early days stories of 
the great Napoleon Bonaparte, or of the battle which had 
taken place in the bay nearly ninety years ago. There was 
one old sheik, I was told, who could speak about these times ; 
he lived in a palm grove on the shore of Aboukir Bay some five 
miles nearer Rosetta. One evening I rode to this group of 
palms ; I found there a very old Arab sufficiently aged in 
aspect to have reckoned a century. He was sitting outside 
his tent on a stool placed in the sand. Two, if not three, 
generations seemed to be about through the palms. The 



'BUT 'TWAS A FAMOUS VICTORY' 365 

interpreter opened the proceedings ; a rough chair with goat's- 
hair seat was brought out and placed for me ; and the talk 
began. It came to this, that the old man had not seen the 
French at that time, for his mother afterwards had told him 
that when the French came to Aboukir she had taken him from 
the cradle and run away with all the family belongings towards 
the other side of the Lake Edku. But I said to the interpreter, 
* Later on, as he grew to be a boy, this old man must often 
have heard his father and mother speak about these war times, 
and perhaps of Napoleon Bonaparte/ Wlien this was duly 
rendered into Arabic the old sheik laughed an old toothless 
laugh, such as I once heard old Widdicombe the actor in 
Buckstone's Haymarket company laugh in the graveyard scene 
in Hamlet in the 'fifties. ' What does he say ? ' I inquired. 
'He says, 'answered the interpreter, 'that no doubt he must have 
heard his father and mother often speak of those times ; but he 
says that he paid no attention to what they said, and he laughed 
at the idea of any child having ever listened to anything that 
his father and mother had said.' I then caused him to be 
asked about the great naval battle in the bay, when so many 
ships were destroyed ; something about that he might perhaps 
have heard in his youth ? Alas ! this attempt to elicit the 
lore of bygone battle was even still more unfortunate, even 
though it began with much apparent promise. After thinking, 
or trying to think, for some time, he replied that he had heard 
of that business. It took place just off the shore where we 
were then talking. He remembered it, because ' a boat full of 
oranges went down in the bay in that storm ' ! I think this 
beats Southey's ' But 'twas a famous victory.' I afterwards 
found that the legend of there being an old Arab sheik in this 
part of the world who had seen Napoleon in his j^outh was 
founded upon the fact that there was a sheik at Ramanhich, 
some ten or twenty years earlier, to whom the Great Captain 
had given an aigrette for his turban for some service rendered 
by him to the French, and this relic he had kept to the last. 

One other little bit about the battle of the Nile before I quit 
Aboukir. A project was started in London at this time to 
recover the treasure which was supposed to have gone down 
in Admiral Brueys' flagship, U Orient, in the battle. There 
was a company, shares, and the rest of it ; a considerable sum 



366 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

was collected, chiefly contributed by that large constituency 
of the public who are supposed to have more money than 
brains. Diving operations began at Aboukir ; several rusted 
skeletons of anchors, old chains, and bolts were dragged up, 
but not even a sea-eaten coin was found. Suddenly an extra- 
ordinary thmg happened : a silver tankard appeared. The 
money for the diving operations was running short ; the news 
was wired to London, and more contributions came in. There 
was, however, considerable mystery about the tankard ; nobody 
was permitted to inspect it. The Alexandrian Greeks laughed 
a good deal. Nothing else was ever found. When I visited 
the treasure ' house ' in the village of Aboukir the scrap-heap 
was still there. 

The despatch which Napoleon sent to the Directory an- 
nouncing the result of the battle of the Nile, while it made the 
most ample acknowledgment of Brueys' bravery in the action, 
contained a paragraph expressing regret that he had not 
obeyed the orders given him by Napoleon after landing : to 
take his fleet into the harbour of Alexandria, where it would, 
from the nature of the anchorage, be perfectly secure from 
any attack by the British fleet. The vessel carrying this de- 
spatch was captured by the English, and the captured papers, 
even to the private letter, were made public in London. The 
publications of the time are full of denunciations against 
Bonaparte for the positive falsehood, as it was said, with 
which he had tried to screen his responsibility at the expense 
of Brueys for the loss of the fleet at Aboukir. It was said 
that no such passage for a ship of war as that stated by 
Napoleon existed leading into the Alexandrian harbour ; but 
truth will out, even m spite of politicians, statesmen, or history 
makers. 

Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm had an interview with Mehemet 
Ali at Alexandria in the 'twenties, and the Egyptian ruler then 
told Malcolm that Bonaparte was right in giving Brueys the 
order to take his fleet into the harbour ; that there was a safe 
and practicable passage through which large ships of war could 
be brought into the harbour. 

Palestine, the nearest to Alexandria of the centres of interest, 
had become the earliest object of a visit. When my wife had 
come to Wady Haifa in 1886 we had planned this visit to 



EN ROUTE FOR PALESTINE *67 

Palestine ; but the hot season that followed, and all that 
followed it, had removed the project to an indefinite future : 
now it was near at hand. We reached Jaffa early in April, 
Jaffa, fitting gateway to that unequalled Land, fitting because 
so unspoilt, so Eastern, so opposite to the spic-and-span — I shall 
even say so Mohammedan, for it is to Mohammedan dominion 
that we owe it that the Holy Land to-day is a holy land at all. 
Had any European nation possessed this precious heritage 
it would long ago have ceased to be itself : it must have 
become English, German, or French — I will not say Russian, 
for I beheve that in Russian hands Palestine would probably 
have been safe from at least the worst forms of Western out- 
rage, that most fatal of all the devastations. 

You leave Port Said at dusk in the evening, and at dawn 
next day you are at Jaffa. At Port Said you have seen all 
that West and East and North and South could do to deface, 
defile, and blotch. It is ' hideosity ' in a cocoa-nut shell. 
It is brutality boiled down, ugliness smoked and hung up to 
dry in the sun. The quaintest-looking passengers have em- 
barked on board your steamer from Cairo, Brindisi, or Mar- 
seilles, franked through by Cook or Gaze. They are pilgrims, 
mostly grim pilgrims — man-eyed English and Scottish women 
in helmets and great puggarees, with husbands of a more 
feminine type ; clergymen of many persuasions ; hopeless- 
nosed men. You ask yourself what would you take to be 
tied by the link of a Gaze or Cook ' pilgrimage ticket ' to these 
people ? And no matter what the necessities of jout pocket 
might counsel, your whole inner conscience would go into stark, 
raging rebellion at the proposal. They are doubtless a thousand 
times better than you are, more charitable, more kind, more 
Christian ; but oh ! give me Arabians, Saracens, inhabitants 
of Libya and Pamphylia, Pontus and Mesopotamia, the remoter 
parts of Asia for company, ere you condemn me to go the round 
of the Holy Land with these excellent unimaginative Western 
peoples ! 

Well, as I have said, you are anchored off Jaffa. You look 
out and see a small, round, mmareted, walled town, perched 
up on a turtle-backed rock. Between you and the shore a 
raging sea is breaking on a ridge of rocks ; around the town 
there are gardens ; and beyond these again the old yellow 



368 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

sand of the desert stretches south towards Ascalon and north 
to Csesarea. We all got on shore somehow. It was a wonder- 
ful triumph for the Arab boatmen. Two or three of them 
stood on the ship's gangway ; three or four stood in the 
boat alongside ; the steamer rolled heavily to her anchor ; the 
boat rose and fell with the great waves as they came surging 
shorewards. WTien the ship rolled towards the boat, and the 
boat was tossed up towards the deck of the ship, that was the 
psychological moment never missed by the Arabs. Whether 
the rigid man or woman liked it or not, out he or she went 
into apparent space, propelled by the strong men on the 
gangway, to be deftly caught in the naked arms of the Arabs 
in the boat and placed safely in the stern. Helmets and 
puggarees were flymg, Arabs laughing and chattering, sea 
spray flying over everything. 

Jaffa was even better on shore than it looked from the sea 
— steep, winding, narrow streets ; nooks, arches, lattices, and 
broken stairways ; camels, donkeys, and crowds of people. 
Arabs, Jews, Christians, Turks, men with turbans and men with 
curls, women with yellow and white gauze veils ; the Latin 
convent, the Armenian convent, many small mosques — all 
seemed struggling to find a footing on this steep little hill. 
Wherever an orange-tree can get root space, there the golden 
fruit hangs ripe over the white walls, and its blossom fiUs the 
air with wonderful odours, until Jaffa dwells in the memory 
as a city of sweet scents. The Armenian convent was one of 
the French hospitals when Napoleon was here in 1798, and it 
has been made the scene of the supposed poisonmg by Napoleon 
of the plague-stricken soldiers during the retreat of the army 
from before St. Jean d'Acre. Over and over again that most 
absurd of historical lies has been denied and refuted by un- 
impeachable testimony, but it is too good a bit of stage drapery 
to be allowed to be altogether removed from the theatre. 
And then history loves its lies, and carries them into a green 
old age ; they sell better than truth. 

Leaving Jaffa for Jerusalem, the road lies through a suc- 
cession of orange gardens. The earth smells of the East at 
its best ; it yields olives, figs, pomegranates, almonds, mul- 
berries, vines. In April everything is in blossom, and many 
things are in fruit. The road ascends gradually, and at Ramleh, 



THE PLAIN OF SHARON 369 

ten miles out, we are in an open country. The most beautiful 
of all the scenes in Palestine is now before us — the plain of 
Sharon backed by all the mountains, from Carmel on the 
north to the hills of Hebron on the south-east. There is a 
very old and lofty square tower on the outskirts of Ramleh 
from the top of which a magnificent view, embracing the 
valleys and the summits of this mountain range, is outspread 
over Sharon. What names are written on these blue hill-tops 
and hidden in these purple vallej'S ! The site hunter may be 
satisfied once for aU in this prospect. It holds in that wide 
embrace from the hills of Nablous, southward to Ohvet, and 
southward again to Hebron and Adoraim, enough to laj' at rest 
the longings of all who * come to see.' 

From the top of this old Crusader tower, fully a hundred feet 
above the plain, you can trace, bit by bit, scene after scene, 
the little Land whose name and fame have fiiUed the earth for 
two thousand j^ears. It is a thing of wondrous beauty in itself, 
beauty of colour, space, light, and depth ; beaut}'' far and near ; 
beauty of sound and silence ; beauty of the hour when ' the 
sun shifts the shadows of the mountains and takes the yokes 
from the tired oxen." It was at this time we saw it. The sun 
was falling lower upon the western sea beyond the vale of 
Sorek, and the gold of his level beams was deepening upon 
the white villages that dot the vallej-s eastward where the 
waters of Sharon and Ajalon have their sources. 

I forget now whether the tower of Ramleh sees into the 
vale of Ajalon, but I find in my notebook the following 
entry : — 

' Valley of Ajalon. The wonder is that the sun and moon do 
not often stand still to have a longer look at it.' 

And so, through these valle3's and rocks, 5-ou come at last 
upon Jerusalem. AU grandeur gone from it, and nearly all 
verdure ; but the age of the place written everywhere over it — 
in the stones, in the caves, in the face of the earth, washed as 
it might be with cjxles of the tears of men and women, and 
furrowed by the footsteps of human beings for aeons of j-ears* 
Ashes upon ashes, graves upon graves, ruins over ruins, all 
in so small a compass that a circle described from the centre 
with a radius of a thousand j-ards will enclose everj-thing — 

2 a 



37d SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Tomb, Temple, Tower, Gate, Pool, and Wall. There on the 
east is the Mount of Olives ; there on the west the tower of 
Hippicus ; on the south the valle}'^ of Hinnom ; between Ohvet 
and the city the vaUey of the brook Kedron. As to the verity 
of the sites, there is probably nothmg more certain on earth 
than that the places shown are the true ones. AU the churches 
and schisms are in agreement on this point ; there was, in fact, 
no room for disagreement. The presence of tombs in the rocks 
proves that the traditional Calvary was outside the old walls, 
in an angle between the tower of David and that of Antonia, 
on the north face of the city. It was unintelligent of the latter- 
day non-Catholics to endeavour to discredit the authenticity 
of this site. The Moslems have been in Jerusalem since 630 a.d. 
They have never cast a doubt upon the sites ; these are as 
true to them as they are to the Christians. Is it probable 
that English or American Protestantism, now, when nmeteen 
hundred j^ears have gone, should fuid out more likely sites 
than these to which the East, that land of long memories, 
has given its unanimous assent in a continuous succession 
since the days of the Apostles ? Lightnings have struck those 
old scenes ; earthquakes have riven them ; wars and devasta- 
tions have swept over them, as they have over Corinth and 
Athens, Rome and Palmyra. No one doubts the authenticity 
of these cities and their sites ; why, then, introduce doubt here, 
where the margin over which a human footstep could stray is 
incomparably more limited ? 

Calvary was not a hill m the sense that we applj'" to that 
term ; it was a group of those same rough, rounded limestone 
boulders, with holes, crannies, and crevices in them, such as 
you can see everywhere around Jerusalem, and, indeed, in all 
parts of the Holy Land. The holes or crevices gave easy means 
of placing a rough piece of a tree upright in the ground, and the 
larger blocks of rock made the work of the tomb hewer more 
facile to his hammer and chisel. 

Since the time of our visit they have made a railway to 
Jerusalem, and no doubt other railway's will follow. These 
railways in the East always recall to my mind a delightful 
experience I once had of Western ideas applied to Eastern 
civilisation. A friend asked me to meet at dinner a Scottish 
acquaintance of his who was much interested in the pro- 



'A LEETLE ANECDOTE' 371 

gress of the East in general, and of civilisation in Asia 
Minor in particular. He was in outward semblance austerity 
itself. It occurred to some one in the party that it would 
be a good thing to relate m the hearing of this stern old 
progressive some of the lighter anecdotes and incidents of 
European Ufe in the East, where practical jokes were played 
by young subalterns in India upon their native servants. 
These stories, it was thought, would tend to ' draw ' the Scottish 
elder, and would perhaps call from him severe terms of con- 
demnation or reproof. The stories did not lack the element 
of exaggeration. By this time the wine had circulated, and 
to our surprise, and I think to our regret, an expression 
of benevolent conviviality seemed to be overspreading the 
countenance of our companion. At last it was his turn to say 
something. ' Weel, noo,' he began, ' when we mad the reelway 

from to , our dirrectors asked me to go out and see to 

the ruining of it, for it wasn't paying its expenses, much less 
a deevadend ; so I went to Smearna, and then on to the end 
of the line. I soon found what was wrang. When the Arabs 
cam doon on thar caa-mels to the coast with goats' hair or 
wool, they just passed alang by our reelwaj', as though it hadna 
been there at all. Weel, after a bit I just went to the Pashaw, 
and I tauld him that the reelway was doiu' nae bisness, and that 
if he could mak it do a gude bisness my dirrectors wouldna 
see him at ony loss. The next day he caught ten or a dozen 
of these Arab men as the}'' war goin' doun wi' their caa-mels, 
and he had them all flogged in the Roonak. And when they 
asked what for they war whippit, the Pashaw's seecretary said, 
" For not using the reelway which the sublime Porte Sultan 
had specially made and given them for their wool and goats' 
hair." The next day he had another dozen Arabs of the same 
sort whippit, and the day after that sax more. An' that 
was enough. Thar was never ony mair trooble. The warking 
expenses war covered that year, and the reelwa}' is now paying 
a handsome deevadend.' 

We were silent. We felt awed by this unabashed avowal of 
progressive ' reelway ' civilisation as applied to the East by 
our severe Calvmist friend. Nothmg that we had ever done 
in the heedless days of youth, nothing that we had ever thought 
of doing, could match the guilt and atrocity of this old sane- 



372 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

timonious Scotsman. business! business! what crimes have 
been committed in thj'' name ! 

We traversed the usual route to Bethlehem, to Hebron, to 
the Dead Sea, and then northwards from Jerusalem to Nablous, 
Samaria, and Gahlee, and we had throughout the supreme 
satisfaction of horses, mules, tents, bag and baggage, being all 
our own. These four or five weeks' travel now lie in memory 
shot with sunshine. A golden haze is over hiU and valley ; 
over lonelj^, rocky tracks that traversed lonelier, rockier hills ; 
over noonday halting-places under solitary karoub-trees, 
where little lizards, open-mouthed on bare brown rocks, drank 
in the sunshine ; over desolate wildernesses in Judea, where 
the track led round the ledge of steep white cli£fs where some 
of the earliest monks built themselves homes. Here in the 
fissured hills that look down upon the Dead Sea they lived, 
protests against the riches and corruptions of the Roman 
Emi)ire ; and here, still, the foxes and jackals are the monks' 
friends ; and the white paddy birds from the Dead Sea and 
the blue rock pigeons from the surrounding precipices still 
come in flights when the monks sound an evening horn to gather 
them to supper. This old Christian religion of the East has a 
charm about it that modern Christianity cannot rival. The 
question, ' What went ye out into the wilderness to see ? ' they 
answered thus, ' So that we might not see the city.' That 
was all. It was a revolt against Rome, and all that Rome 
meant. 

At last an evenmg towards the end of April found us camped 
on a hill at Ain Jemim, lookmg out over the plam of Esdraelon. 
A great green level is this plain, eighteen miles across from 
these hills of Samaria to those other hills of Galilee which 
begin at Nazareth and run north until they lose themselves 
in the loftier altitudes of the Great Hermon. Almost in the 
centre of the green plain the Little Hermon rises, brown and 
bare, out of the sea of corn ; and, farther to the right, Gilboa 
divides Jezreel from Esdraelon, and marks the divide in the 
plain between the waters flowing east into the Jordan, and those 
which flow west into the Mediterranean. 

A wonderful field of battle^is aU this green level land in the 
settmg of these bare mountains. From Saul to Napoleon — 
what a catalogue ! I sat long looking at it from among the 



A WONDERFUL FIELD OF BATTLE 373 

oleanders that grow above the springs of Jennin until I had 
the points clear for the morrow's ride. Jezreel lay two hours' 
ride to the north, then Fuleh one hour more. The latter is 
the central point from which the eye can sweep the entire 
plain. 

Our midday halt next da}^ was near the half-ruined village 
of El Fuleh. Eight miles of green corn, red hyacinths, purple 
thistles, and innumerable \^41d flowers spread north to Nazareth, 
west to Carmel, south to Jennin, and east to Gilboa, the Little 
Hermon, and the dip in the plain where the waters of Hermon 
lead eastwards to the Jordan Valley. 

From Saul to Napoleon ! TVTiat a battle picture this plain 
has been for three thousand known years, and perhaps as long 
a time again of which we know nothing ! Here, too, is to be 
fought the final fight. The western half of the plain is still 
called Mageddon, and there is a village up in the Carmel Hills 
of the same name. Here the King of the South is some day, 
they say, to form his line of battle against the King of the 
North on Nazareth, Tabor, and the lower ridges of the Greater 
Hermon. It is almost ninety-two years to a day since 
Napoleon's army came down from the heights of Nazareth in 
three columns of attack, the centre bearing straight upon 
Fuleh, the right column heading for Jennin, the left bearing 
away to the foot of Tabor. ]Murat is behind Mount Tabor, 
waiting by the Sea of Gahlee ; Junot lies nearer to Tiberias ; 
Kleber is fighting hard at Fuleh, beset by ten times his ovm 
force in the centre of the great plain ; Rampon is making for 
Jennin. It is a mighty net, the circumference of which is 
nearly thirty miles ; and in the centre, at and around Fuleh, 
all the armed Arab and Turkish cavalry and infantry from 
Damascus to Jerusalem are gathered, intent onlj' upon crushing 
Kleber and his small division. 

It must have been a glorious sight on that April morning 
1799 when Napoleon, at the head of his little army from Acre, 
reached the last hiU overlooking Esdraelon, between Mount 
Tabor and Nazareth, and saw in the centre of the great plain 
the small squares of KHeber's division ' surrounded and pressed 
by an enormous mass of cavalry and infantry.' They were 
the drops of honey put out to draw into the net all the float- 
ing swarms of Nablousian, Turkish, and Arab horse and foot. 



374 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Napoleon marched straight upon Fuleh with his main body, 
giving the signal to all his scattered columns by firing a cannon 
shot as he debouched into the plain. All was now confusion 
in the Turkish masses ; on every side they found the Franks 
were in the gorges through which only retreat was possible. 
The masses broke on every side and fled towards the Jordan 
along the spurs of Hermon, Tabor, and Gilboa ; but Murat 
met this headlong flight at the bridges of the Jordan north 
and south of the Sea of Galilee, and hundreds perished ere 
they could cross the river. All the Turkish magazines, stores, 
and arms were abandoned ; and never in all its long history 
of battle — Canaanite, Philistine, Egj^ptian, Chaldean, Jewish, 
Persian, Roman, or Crusader — ^had the plain of Esdraelon 
witnessed a victory more complete. It is not forgotten yet. 
As, later in the day, our little party, on its way from Fuleh 
to the foot of Mount Tabor, turned aside at the base of the 
Lesser Hermon and began to ascend to the little hamlet which 
is now all that remains of Naim, we met an old Arab sheik 
with his long gun balanced on his shoulder. I made the 
interpreter ask him about Napoleon Bonaparte and the battle. 
He knew all about it, and with many gestures expressive of 
attack and defence he pointed out the main sites of that 
memorable fight, and showed the lines by which the scattered 
host got finally to the Jordan, leaving five thousand of their 
own men dead on Esdraelon. 

But to Esdraelon belongs a glory of another kind — its own 
peculiar property, shared by no other plain in the wide world. 

Standing at Fuleh, and looking due north, you can see, some 
six or seven miles away, the green hills that embosom the 
village of Nazareth. How often from the hidden village, 
when the sun was sinking westwards over Carmel, must there 
have come to the top of the green hill overlooking the great 
plain the lone figure of a Young Man to look out over that great 
sea of beauty, and watch the slowly darkening plain, while 
Tabor, Hermon, Gilboa, Ebal, and the hills of Samaria still 
glowed in the sunset. 

Skylarks to-day sing their sweetest over green Galilee ; a 
thousand wild herbs load the evening airs with perfumes ; the 
golden honeysuckles add their scent to that of the myrtle 
bushes along the pathways; and a sky of surpassing blue domes 



A GLORY OF ANOTHER KIND 375 

the whole wondrous scene. This village of the Nazarene is not 
even mentioned in the Old Testament. Strange fact ! Yet 
from it was to go forth one still small Voice which was to 
shake the temples, waken the tombs, and bring the pillars of 
empire to the gromid. 

It was here, on these grassy hills, that those wonderful Ej^es 
drank in, through three-and-twenty years, all that imagery of 
fruit and flower, of seed and harvest time, all the secrets of 
the trees, which afterwards became the theme of similitudes 
and parables. It was here the Master prepared to manifest 
all that infinite knowledge of soul and sense, the pale reflec- 
tion of which, as it is found in the Evangelists, has come as a 
moonbeam over the troubled river of the lives of men, silvering 
the turbid stream, lighting the gloomy headlands, and shedding 
its benign raj's far out ujDon the endless ocean in which the 
fevered flood is at last to rest. 

Looking south from the hills of Galilee over Esdraelon one 
sees in a long line the blue mountains of Samaria, and at the 
extreme range of vision — perhaps fifty miles distant — the hill- 
tops of Ephraim. How much of human destiny has lain 
between these two points — Nazareth and Bethel ! It was at 
the southernmost end of that long view that the mysterious 
promise was given to the sleeper at the foot of his dream- 
ladder, ' Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou 
shalt spread abroad to the west and to the east, and to the 
north and to the south : and in thee and in thy seed shall all 
the famihes of the earth be blessed." But stranger still was 
it that here at Nazareth, fifteen hundred years later, the 
' Son of the Carpenter,Mooking out over Esdraelon, should be 
silently awaiting the appointed time for the mighty mission 
which was to be the final fulfilment of that promise of 
benediction. 



CHAPTER XXI 

End of Alexandria command. Aldershot. The Jameson Raid. Command of 
the South-Eastern District, Dover. Offer of command at the Cape. 
Arrival in South Africa, Acting High Commissioner. Initial difficulties. 
Mr. Cecil Rhodes. Graharastown. ' Cape Boys.' The ' Edgar Case.' 

Not the least of the advantages possessed by Alexandria was 
the variety of the routes that led to it from England. One 
could take many lines of travel going on, or returning from, 
leave of absence. The isles of Greece, Athens, Constantinople, 
the Crimea, Odessa, the Adriatic ports, Naples, and the Gulf 
of Genoa were all highways for the homeward or the outward 
bound. It was easy, moreover, for those that wished it to 
diverge from the beaten tracks to look at and study, history- 
book in hand, many of those fields of battle which the Great 
Captain had made for ever famous in the wars of the Revolu- 
tion and the Empire. Thus, during the three years spent in 
Alexandria, I was able to visit the fields of Arcole, Marengo, 
Austerhtz, Aspern, Wagram. Of these, nearly all remain as 
they were one hundred years ago. One can stand on the ridge 
of the Pratzen and see at a glance how easily tactical genius 
laid the trap into which the Russian and Austrian columns 
precipitated themselves on that December morning, when 
from the low ground by Kobelnitz the central column of the 
French army scaled at sunrise the steep western face of the 
Pratzenberg and cut in two the Russian army on the plateau 
of Austerlitz. Of all the incidents in Napoleon's wonderful 
life there is not one which, to my thinking, shows so completely 
the supreme military instinct of the man as his repeated 
exclamations of anger at the ignorance shown by the Russian 
general when, before daybreak on the 2nd December, news 
was brought to his bivouac that two-fifths of the Russian army 
were actually moving into the trap he had set. They were 
abandoning the ridge of the Pratzen and descending into the 



THE ALDERSHOT SCHOOL OF TACTICS 377 

low ground of Soll^onitz and Satscban, where they were utterly 
destroyed four hours later. Even the joy at seeing his enemy 
delivered into his hands could not quiet the instinctive rage 
that burned within him at the tactical ignorance and imbecibty 
of bis Russian antagonist. He was disgracing the great game ! 

How quiet they are now, these old scenes of bygone battle ! 
These landscapes comprise vast stretches of stubble, potatoes, 
mangel-wurzle, ploughed lands and pasture, whitewashed 
village, meandering brook and little graveyard. Moravia is 
such a tj-pical land of the village commune, with great open, 
tilled expanses ; vast flocks of geese, herded like sheep outward 
from the great village green by the children in the mornmg, 
and homeward again at sunset, to sit all night in a white pack 
upon the same green ground. A very happy-looking land it 
is, sloping south towards the sun and the Danube, set in the 
centre of Europe, and caring not one mangel-wurzle to-day 
for the ' Day of the Three Emperors ' up there on the Pratzen 
ridge. 

My command at Alexandria ended in the autumn of 1893, 
and I went home to take command of a brigade of infantry at 
Aldershot. 

At this time and for four j-ears later, and for many years 
before, Aldershot was preparing the British army for the 
disasters of the South African War. I do not wish to be mis- 
understood. It was the fault of the sj^stem and not of a man. 
Aldershot was the child of the Crimean War, that war of the 
massed divisions, shoulder-to-shoulder tactics, parade, plumes, 
drums beating, and colours flying. It could not help itself. 
Never was the child more absolutely father to the man than 
was the Aldershot school of tactics the parent of Magersfontein, 
Stormberg, Nicholson's Nek, and Spion Kop. The Basing- 
stoke Canal was the true source of the Tugela River, and 
batteries were lost in the Long Valley years before Long's guns 
fell an easy prey to the Boers at Colenso. Yet, when every- 
thing is said, it was the civil government of the army that must 
be held mainly responsible for the dismal failure of Aldershot 
to teach modern tactics to our army, ^^^len the site of the 
camp was first chosen, the land for miles and miles in every 
direction around Aldershot might have been had for the 
traditional song. But after a little while the vacant wastes 



378 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

lying contiguous to the military ground grew in value, towns 
and villa settlements sprang up, and land that could have 
been acquired at nominal rates in the late 'fifties or early 
'sixties would have had to be bought at the rate of building 
sites twenty years later. 

I remained at Aldershot two and a half years. We drilled 
and ' dressed,' marched and manceuvred, inspected and 
reported. ' The march past ' was still the supreme test of 
tactical fitness for war, just as it had been nearly forty years 
earlier when I joined the army at Fermoy. When the summer 
season came militia and volunteer brigades were poured into 
the already too limited ground, making congestion more con- 
gested. At those times the inner springs of our military 
system came visibly to the surface. One could see both cause 
and effect, the strength as well as the weakness. Inspections, 
whether one had to make them or be made their object, were 
the most fruitful sources of knowledge. I have seldom 
known keener amusement than when I have had, either as a 
general followed by his staff, or as one of a staff following a 
general, to wallc slowly up and down long lines of officers and 
men standing stiff as the old ramrods, and looking straight 
out at an imaginary horizon of infinite remoteness, I think 
that in my regimental and staff days generals were more iras- 
cible and far more faddish than they are at the present time. 
I remember an inspection once in the Nilgherry Hills, when the 
general, an old Indian officer, was particularly irate with 
everything he saw, and many things he didn't see. We had 
reached the hospital, and were passing by a low, mournful- 
looking building, the door of which appeared to have been 
recently battered in or out by some powerful agency. ' What 
is that ? ' he asked. ' That, sir,' replied the medical officer, 
' is the pathological institution.' ' The pathological devil, 
sir ! ' rej)lied the angry inspector ; ' why, I can see from here 
that it is the hospital dead-house. What broke the door 
panels ? ' At this point the hospital sergeant intervened. 
' Please, sir. Hospital Orderly Murphy came in drunk and 
riotous the night before last, and there being no place in which 
to confine him, he was put, lying on his back, for safety and 
security, into the dead-house. When he found where he was, 
sir, he kicked the lower panels of the door clean out, and 



ARMY ANECDOTES 379 

had finally to be taken on a stretcher to the main guard/ 
Tableau ! 

On another occasion, also in Madras, it happened that this 
same general, whose name was the lugubrious one of Coffin, 
was, in all the pomp and circumstance of feathers and un- 
necessary anger, inspecting the men of a battery of artillery 
drawn up in open formation. Suddenly stopping before a 
gunner who, to the eye of the ordinary observer, did not 
appear to differ in any marked degree from his fellow-men, 
the general turned to the company officer and snorted out, 
' Look at that man, sir ! ' The officer, who always wore a 
large eyeglass firmly set in the triple environment of cheek, 
nose, and eyebrow, at once directed his glassy stare full upon 
the man to whom his attention was called, and then slowly 
turned the same inscrutable glance upon the face of the in- 
specting general ; but he carefully refrained from making an^^ 
observation whatever. The vacuous stare through the glass 
and the silence that accompanied it were more than the general 
could stand. ' Is it possible, sir,' he exclaimed, ' that j^ou can 
find nothing to call for observation in the appearance of that 
man ? ' The major turned his stony stare again upon the 
soldier, surveyed him with even a closer scrutiny than before, 
and then quietly observed, ' Well, sir, now that j'ou have 
particularly called my attention to this man, I do see that he 
bears rather a strong resemblance to an old maiden aunt of 
mine who lived at Cheltenham when I was a boy.' 

There were certainly terrible old dotterers going about in 
those days as inspecting officers, and even in much later times. 
One of the best regimental colonels I ever met nearly lost his 
command through an unfavourable confidential report because 
he failed to answer correctly the inspecting general's question, 
put in the regimental coffee shop, as to the precise number of 
currants which should be found in a penny bun. It was the 
old man's favourite catch question, and it generally brought 
down the colonel to his proper level. ' Thirteen, sir,' the dear 
old dotterer would thunder ; ' there should be thirteen com- 
plete currants in every properly made penny bun.' 

A year or two of my command at Aldershot went by, and 
suddenly, in the midst of all this routine and red tape, a strange 
thing happened. The incursion known as the Jameson Raid 



380 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

occurred in South Africa in the very end of 1895. But before 
alluding further to this fruitful mother of so many disasters, 
I must relate one or two preliminary facts connected with the 
incursion which came under my personal notice. About a 
j^ear before the Raid took place, an officer on the staff at 
Aldershot asked me one day if I could find time to see in 
London, at some office connected with the Chartered Company 
of South Africa, a new set of equipment for mounted infantry 
which had recently been completed, and of which the company 
were about to forward to South Africa some hundreds of sets. 
' For what are they wanted ? ' was my first question, * For 
some expedition which it is intended to make against a native 
chief,' was the reply. I did not go to see this equipment, 
but it struck me as somewhat strange that a matter of the kind 
should have been in preparation when one had not heard or 
read anything about it. 

Some months passed, and Christmas 1895 came. The 
day after Christmas Day I told my brigade major to turn 
the brigade out for a route march, a useful exercise at 
that season of pudding and plenty. During the march, 
which was made on the 27th or 28th December, an officer 
who was riding with me said that he had been in London 
on the previous day and had heard that an event of the very 
highest importance was on the eve of taking place in the 
Transvaal — nothing less than an invasion across the border 
by a body of some six hundred mounted men, with guns and 
machine guns, moving on the Boer seat of government in 
Pretoria. ' The success of this flying column was assured : 
the Boers were unprepared. Great speculations were going 
on. All the knowing ones were confident of success.' More 
he said which I have forgotten. My answer was short 
and decided. ' You may go to London this afternoon or 
to-morrow,' I said, ' and you may tell all those fine fellows 
from me that their friends who are about to invade the 
Transvaal will get the most infernal dusting they ever had 
in their lives.' That was all. Three or four days later I was 
in London. Like a bolt from the blue came the news of the 
Jameson Raid. I had for some years past been following the 
course of South African affairs with a good deal of interest. 
A few years earlier, in 1889, I was approached by a general 



COLLAPSE OF THE JAMESON RAID 381 

officer in high position and asked if I would go out to the then 
unnamed region lying to the north of the Transvaal, and take 
military and civil charge of the new colony which Mr. Rhodes 
was then about to estabhsh to the south of the Zambesi River. 
The terms were simple and, to my mind, sufficient : twenty 
thousand pounds a year for five years, and unhmited scope of 
unchecked action. The proposal did not come to anything. 
The Alexandrian command was offered a little later, and I 
knew enough of the seamy side of South African native wars 
to make me unwilliug to become their pioneer. 

The news of the Raid and its collapse came to London 
almost at the same moment. I went to" the War Office ; it 
was vibrant with mingled emotions. The Stock Exchange 
was still doing its best to maiataLn the fiction of the success 
of the filibusters. One officer showed me a telegram just 
received from that source which averred that Dr. Jameson had 
just entered Johannesburg in triumph. WhUe I was reading 
it an official from the Secretary of State's office came in with 
a copy of the official despatch : Dr. Jameson and his officers, 
named one by one, and all his men, were prisoners in the hands 
of the Boers. The only thmg remaining to be done was to pay 
the bill. That process is still gomg on even to this day. 

A couple of months later I was offered, and I accepted, the 
command of the South-Eastern District, with residence in 
Dover Castle. I was sorry to leave Aldershot, notwithstanding 
inconveniences incidental to life in a small, old, wooden hut, 
very cold in whiter and very hot in summer, of the era of the 
Crimean War — almost the last of its kmd then standing in the 
camp. Like the Irishman, with his method of alternately starv- 
ing and cramming his pig so as to produce ' streaky ' bacon, 
the War Department seemed to adopt a treatment of successive 
layers of hot and cold chmates for their officers — I suppose 
with the object of fittmg them for service either in Greenland 
or India as occasion might require. But, notwithstanding these 
little drawbacks, service at Aldershot under the command of His 
Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught was very pleasant. 

Near to our North Camp was Farnborough Hill, where dwelt 
for half the year perhaps the most memorable, and certainly 
the most interesting, personage then living, the Empress 
Eugenie. In that house, and in the church and mausoleum. 



382 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

» 
where stood the tombs of Napoleon the Third and his gloriously 

brave son, the Prince Imperial, I seemed to live again in the 

atmosphere of the Great Captain. I had been at continuous 

work at this time, and for some years previously, upon chapters 

dealing with the Captivity at St. Helena and the recollections 

of the Captive spoken and written there ; and it now seemed 

something more than the mere accident of chance that I should 

have found, near Aldershot, a centre of so many gathered 

Napoleonic interests, such a mass of memorials of that vanished 

time — portraits, paintings, busts, names, and recollections of 

an unmatched epoch. 

One day, m the summer of 1895, I had the honour of wel- 
coming to my camp and hut three representatives of the 
greatest names on the roll of the marshal princes of the First 
Empire — Prince Murat ; Ney, Prince of the Moskowa ; and 
Massena, Prince of Essling. Another day Prince Louis 
Napoleon, then a colonel of cavalry in the Russian army, did 
me the honour of attending a field practice of my brigade on 
the Fox Hills. My orderly on that occasion was a man of the 
Scots Greys in the undress uniform of his regiment. With a 
single exception the prince declared the man's dress perfect : 
the exception was the small round forage cap which was worn 
altogether over one ear — held on the head, in fact, solely by 
the chin strap. The day was a grilling hot one, and the sun 
was beating full upon the oiled head of the trooper. ' Why 
does he wear his cap only on one side of his head ? ' Prince Louis 
asked, after a long survey of the man and his horse. ' Has he 
not got as much brain on the left side as on the right ? ' 

In March 1896 we moved to Dover, and took up our residence 
in the Constable's Tower, beneath which was the main entrance 
to the castle. It was an ideal summer spot, but in winter and 
spring the winds howled about it often in furious fashion, 
making shrieks and whistles and various sounds which were 
probabty the sources of the old stories of royal ghosts and 
other departed spirits said to perambulate the older portions 
of the pile. King Stephen in particular was supposed to walk 
there ; John was also said to have a lingering fondness for 
the spot. Queen Mary's Tower was our garden house. 
There were walls of twelve and sixteen feet in thickness, secret 
circular stone staircases, and little octagonal wainscoted rooms, 



WRITING ^HE LIFE OF COLLEY 383 

from the windows of which one could follow the line of the 
French coast for many miles, and see at night the flashing lights 
across the Straits. It was a delightful home. 

During the j-ears 1896 and 1897 I was induced to make a 
lengthened study of the life of General George Pomeroy CoUey. 
I had known him intimately at times on and off service, and 
I had formed a high opinion of his knowledge, his immense 
en^-gy, and powers of application, I consented to write his 
biography, the materials for which were voluminous. I had 
been twice m South Africa with Colley, on the first occasion in 
very close relations with him. It was, therefore, with deep 
interest that I perused that inner story of a man's thoughts 
which his private correspondence, even more than his spoken 
words, often reveals. But long before I first met CoUey he 
had been familiar with South African life and history : he had 
served in Kaiiraria and the Cape Colony in the 'fifties and 
'sixties. A study of his papers and letters formed, therefore, 
what was little short of a continuous field of South African 
history, to which I was able to add my own experiences m 1875 
and 1879, while it was possible also to see in many instances 
the final results of particular lines of action and polic}'', civil 
and military, in their relation to the races and peoples of the 
southern continent. The total trend of things — that is the 
difficult matter to grasp in life : where is this thing going ? 
If you once know that you will know much ; if you don't 
know it, or can't correctly guess at it, you are more or less 
in a balloon or in a rudderless ship, drifting where the wind 
listeth. 

While my spare time was thus employed on the South African 
past, the present was of course doubly interesting to me. The 
inquiry into the Raid had ended abortively'' ; but enough of 
the waters had been stirred to show that financial intrigue 
and sordid speculation and unblushing falsehood had played 
their parts m introducing the final fiasco. Out of all the mess 
of pretence, simulated motive, and positive untruth that 
marked the course of the inquiry, the unfortunate army man 
had come off, as usual, second best. The civilian conspirator 
in high and low place had, conformably to custom, escaped. 
It was poor Captam ' Bobby Black,' or equally simple Major 
' Freddy Green,' who was doing time in gaol. 



384 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

Although, for the moment, things looked tranquil in South 
Africa during 1896-97 and early 1898, and although many 
pubhc utterances were made in those years by distinguished 
statesmen and others of a highly pacific character, there were 
at times curious indications that other forces and authorities 
were at work below the surface, as they had been at work previous 
to the Raid. In April 1897 considerable reinforcements of 
cavahy, infantry, and artillery were sent to South Africa — the 
very much larger portion of them being sent to Natal, where 
a camp of the three arms was fixed at Ladysmith, a place in 
sight of the Orange Free State and within a day's march of the 
Transvaal. At the same time officers were sent to South 
America to purchase horses for cavalry and artillery use. 
Two opposite forces seemed to be at work at home : the one, 
the Government, whole and entire, talking of peace and pro- 
gress ; the other, a small section of two of the great public 
departments in London, in whose eyes the episode of the Raid 
seemed to be a meritorious and patriotic performance which 
had been marred only by the iU-natured freaks of fortune. 
An ' apple-cart had been upset,' that was aU ; a few good 
and true men would soon set it on its wheels again. The 
optimism of these people appeared even then to be the most 
stupendous factor of folly I had ever known. It would not be 
reasoned with. One might as well try to influence the most 
pronomiced lunatic in Cohiey Hatch as attempt to argue upon 
the basis of the Zulu War of 1879, the Boer War of 1880-81, 
the Basuto War of 1883-86, or the latest fiasco of the Jameson 
Raid. When the question arose in 1897 as to the place to be 
selected for the new military station in Natal to which the 
cavalry, artillery, and infantry reinforcements were to be sent 
from India and England, I was asked my opinion, privately 
and unofficiallj^ upon a recommendation which I was told 
was made by a very high officer then at the War Office, that the 
new garrison should be placed at Laing's Nek. ' If you want 
immediate war with the Dutch,' I replied, ' put the garrison 
there.' That incident will suffice to show the wisdom of the 
wise two years before the war, and from that day forward up 
to the outbreak of hostilities the departmental heads continued 
to swell. The smallest word of doubt spoken made the mental 
congestion of the official brain only more manifest. 



AN ONEROUS UNDERTAKING 385 

My labours upon the Life of- Colley had reached their 
close, and the manuscript, revised many times, was at length 
ready for the publisher, when, late in October 1898, I received 
a cipher telegram at Dover from the War Office, asking if I 
would accept the command at the Cape rendered vacant by, 
the sudden death of General Goodenough. I went to London, 
had interviews with the leading mihtary authorities, and was 
informed that it would be necessary for the new general to 
proceed to South Africa with the least possible delay. I 
accepted the offer, not without reluctance. There were many 
difficulties inherent to the military position by itself, but in 
the present case it would be complicated by the new man's 
having to assume at once upon his arrival the entire civil duties 
of Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner of 
South Africa, as Sir Alfred Milner had already left Cape Town 
for England upon leave of absence. These onerous civil duties 
had not even the monetary advantages attached to their per- 
formance which belong to them when held by civiHans. On 
the principle which seems to have existed in England since the 
death of Oliver Cromwell, that the mihtary labourer was 
wholly unworthy of his hire, a third only of the civil stipend 
was paid to the military locum tenens. I knew the move from 
Dover to South Africa would be a source of heavy personal 
expense, and it meant a disruption, at least for a time, of 
family ties. However, I followed my rule of mihtary Ufe, 
which is, * Go where you are asked to go.' As I had not heard 
before that Sir A. Milner was coming to England, I asked the 
high official upon whom I called the not unnatural question, 
' What is he coming home for ? ' The vague reply struck me 
at the moment as strange ; it seemed, m the tone and manner 
in which it was given, ambiguous, if not unreal. 

I interviewed other high officials that day, but nowhere 
was any hint given me that war with the Dutch Republic was 
a probable contingency. Yet I have full reason to think now 
that even at that time a section of people, including several 
prominent persons in the War Office, were at work to bring 
that war about at an early date. A day or two later I received 
an intimation from the War Office that it was necessary I 
should see the Secretary of State for the Colonies before sailing. 
I wrote to Mr. Chamberlain's private secretar}', putting myself 

2b . 



386 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

at his chief's disposal. The 7th November was fixed for the 
interview ; it lasted less than half an hour ; and a gentleman 
whose name I did not catch — a permanent official — was also 
present. The Secretarj'' of State passed in review many 
South African subjects — Basutoland ; the war then going on 
between a Kaffir chief in the north of the Transvaal and the 
Boer Government ; the balance of parties in the Cape ; the 
general character of the leading men there. The Dutch 
Republics were once mentioned. ' If they should force us 
to attack them/ said the Secretary, * then the blow would 
have to be a crushing one.' 

I said little or nothing : I was there to listen. Once or twice 
in the course of his rapid resume of South African topics the 
name of some Basuto or Kaffir chief, with whom trouble had 
been or might be anticipated, came up for mention, and the 
Secretary had to ask the other gentleman present for the 
precise pronunciation. While the Secretary was speaking I 
continued to look steadily at the eager, white, sharp, anxious, 
tight-drawn face which was leaning towards me over the office 
table. One had seen it so frequently in prints and newspapers 
that one seemed to be lookmg at some old-remembered friend 
from whom one had been long separated. While thus my eyes 
were fixed on that interesting face, I was conscious that the 
eyes of the third gentleman were as steadily fixed upon me. 
Indeed, so barren was the short interview of any expression of 
pohcy or plan, so negative in any indication of intention, any 
warning of possible trouble, any necessity for preparation or 
caution — the home-coming of Sir Alfred Mihier not even men- 
tioned, so far as its cause, objects, or duration were concerned — 
that when I came to think over it aU afterwards I could only 
conclude that the object of the interview was solely for the 
purpose of inspecting and taking stock of the new Acting 
Governor and High Commissioner. 

As the Secretary rose, signifying the conclusion of the visit, 
he said that it was only on civil matters he had desired to speak, 
adding that upon the military side of my work he, of course, 
would not presume to enter. As we shook hands, I asked him 
whether, if occasion should occur, he would wish me to write 
privately to him. He at once answered ' Yes,' and I left 
the room, the third party seeing me to the door. 



SETTING TO WORK 387 

AccoLipanied by a single staff-officer, I sailed from South- 
ampton on 12th November in the Hawarden Castle. On the 
15th we passed the Scot, after dark, homeward bound, with 
Sir Alfred Mihier on board. Next morning we reached 
Madeira, and I found there a long and very interesting letter 
from the home-going Governor. In this letter, as in the 
London interviews already recorded, the mention of a likeli- 
hood of any trouble arising in South Africa durmg my 
temporary tenure of office was conspicuous by its absence. 
Everj'thing in South Africa was ' fairly calm.' ' There was 
nothing that should cause me serious embarrassment.' I 
should probably jSnd the work before me ' rather interesting.' 

We reached Cape Town on 30th November. At noon I took 
the oaths of office and began the work of admmistration 
immediately. My two first duties were typical in many 
respects of the South Africa then existing : I had to sign the 
extradition papers of an absconding fraudulent secretary of a 
London company, and I was called upon to approve a death 
sentence passed upon a Kaffir for a murder committed up 
country. Both incidents had the strangeness of things African 
attached to them. The absconding secretary had been a 
prominent personage among the passengers on board the 
Hawarden Castle, foremost in promoting all games and recrea- 
tions on board. I often discussed with my military secretary 
this individual. We thought at first that he was a traveller 
in stockings from the richness and variety of colour of these 
articles displayed by him daily ; but gramophones were 
really his speciahty. He had scores of them on board, intended 
for up-country markets, and one evening he gave us a perform- 
ance in the saloon upon these excruciatmg mstruments of 
torture. An evening or two before our arrival at Cape Town 
he gave a dinner party, to which he was pleased to invite my 
military secretary and myself. We did not accept the invita- 
tion. The night preceding our arrival, I said to my staff- 
officer, ' It is worth getting up at daj^ight to-morrow to see 
Table Mountam at sunrise.' We did so. The ship had 
anchored in the outer harbour ; the great mountain was in all 
its superb glory flushed with rose pink. A solitary boat had 
already approached the ship, carrymg a couple of police-officers. 
While my staff-officer was regarding with admiration the glory 



388 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of the Cape peninsula, he saw the poHce-officers leading out 
between them the gentleman of the gramophones, in handcuffs, 
over the ship's side. I signed his extradition papers next 
morning. Poor man ! those stockings had probably been the 
cause of his ruin. 

The sentence of death upon the Kaffir was still more pecuHar. 
My acting predecessor in the Government had already signed 
the man's death-warrant on the day of my arrival. This pro- 
ceeding was declared by the highest legal authorities to be so 
utterly illegal that it would, had it been carried into execution, 
have subjected my unfortunate representative to a charge of 
murder. The case was brought up by the Attorney-General 
at the j&rst Council meeting. The first warrant was quashed. 
Then ni}' turn came. I was determined that I would not in- 
augurate my term of government by a death sentence ; besides, 
the Kaffir had escaped his first execution by a fluke. To record 
a second sentence against him seemed to me to be unfair. 
Anyway, I refused to do it. I remembered the civil power in 
Burmah hanging an unfortunate Burmese dacoit twenty miles 
out from Tonghoo forty years earlier. The rope had broken 
in their first attempt, and the unfortunate man fell upon the 
ground dazed ; after a while he revived, and while they were 
preparing, under the orders of the Civil Commissioner, to tie 
him up again, he asked that he might be allowed to chew 
some betel-nut. They hanged him the second time, and then 
it was found that he wasn't the dacoit whom they were after 
at all, but another man of the same name. Our soldiers were 
indignant, thinking that the law had had its chance and that 
now ' the poor beggar should get his.' This Kaffir mcident, I 
thought, was such another case, and I was determined the man 
should have his chance. His sentence was commuted. 

I must pause a moment at this point m my narrative. I am 
conscious of the gravitj^ of the issues with which I have now 
to deal. Although twelve years have passed since I assumed 
the acting offices of Governor and High Commissioner in South 
Africa, aU the momentous events which, so far as the public 
were concerned, had then their beginning, are still in being. 
The Boer War is still with us in the sense that our economic, 
financial, and political systems are to-day as directly affected 
by it as the constitution of a man who has suffered from a severe 



WITHOUT A CHART 389 

malarial fever is subject to oft-recurring fits of ague, weakness 
and depression for years after his illness. Indeed, it may be 
quite possible that future historians will have to record many 
calamitous incidents in our history, the source of which could 
be directly traced to that war. The alliance with Japan, the 
tremendous new factors introduced into the larger spheres of 
international policies and politics by the issue of the Russo- 
Japanese War, the terrible alternatives of war or national bank- 
ruptcj" with which nations are now confronted — these are only 
some of the effects originating in that small cloud of conflict 
which appeared above the political horizon in South Africa in 
the last year of the last century. 

The last few pages of my story will have shown my readers 
how rapid was the transition of my life-work from the ordinary 
routine of military charge in England to what was undoubtedly 
at that time the central storm-spot of the world. I was sent 
upon that momentous errand at the shortest notice, without 
any warning, without any orders, without even the most casual 
indication of the possibihty of my having to deal with un- 
expected events, still less with the developments of plans and 
purposes which I now know to have been then matured and 
arranged ; and it is now certain that there were persons high 
in the administrative and executive business of the Empire 
at the time who were cognisant of these plans and purposes. 
I may say at once that I have now no cause of complaint 
because I was then sent out without storm-chart, or direction 
of any kind. Not even was the traditional finger of warning 
held up in any of the offices which I visited in the short interval 
previous to my departure from England. Indeed, when I re- 
read now the correspondence and the notes made at that time, 
I am struck by the fact that any indications of possible diffi- 
culties that might be before me were exactly opposite in their 
nature to those which were already awaiting me in South 
Africa. I would furthermore desire to state that, although I 
felt very keenly, as will be hereafter seen, the attitude adopted 
towards me in the end of 1899, and all through 1900, by my 
official superiors, civil and military, in relation to the charges 
so freely laid against me in the press and in other places — 
charges that I had acted contrary to my orders, that I had 
neglected warnings, and that I was, in fact, the cause of the 



390 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

very mishaps and evils I had myself foretold — although, I say, 
I felt the conduct of those superiors to have been eminently 
time-serving and even cowardly, I can now make fuller allow- 
ance for their silences, their evasions, and even for their false 
statements. Time has brought me some measure of atonement. 

The question arises as to what documents I am now at 
liberty to publish in this book ? Strictly speaking, I believe 
I am free to take from letters written to me in 1898-99 extracts 
dealing with statements of fact which I shall have to make, 
for I am aware that my own private correspondence was, on 
one occasion at least, used by a Cabmet Minister speaking in 
the House of Lords, and in a sense which was unfair both in 
time and in context to what I really had written in that letter. 
But I shall confine my references as much as possible to what 
I said and wrote myself. The sun, as Wamba said to Gurth, 
is on my side of the hedge now, and he has been there for some 
years. I can see little prospect that he will revert to the now 
shad}^ side in a hurry again : it is more likely that side may 
become even more shady in the future. 

I went out blindfold to South Africa in 1898 ; the bandages 
soon fell off ; and with these few preliminary words I will con- 
tinue my narrative. 

Heavy weather at the Cape did not at once set in after my 
arrival. It was the southern summer, and beyond certain 
inconvenience occasioned by my supposed three official resi- 
dences — Government House, Newlands, and my own military 
home at Rondebosch — being all in the contractors' hands for 
repairs, I had little to complain of for a fortnight or three weeks 
after my arrival. I pitched a tent at Rondebosch, had a room 
in an old bungalow in which Sir Harry Smith had lived with 
his Spanish wife in the 'thirties, and spent aU my days in the 
Governor's office in Cape Town. Within a couple of weeks 
following my arrival I began to perceive some strange signs of 
a state of things quite different from what I had anticipated. 
There seemed to be a positive rancour of expression against 
the Dutch in the Cape press as well as in the letters and 
despatches which came to me from our officials in the Transvaal. 
My acting predecessor had spoken on the day of my arrival 
of these strange ebullitions of temper : he had never seen 
anything resembling it in his experience of military correspond- 



FIRST INDICATIONS OF ILL-FEELING 391 

ence. It was altogether new to me also. ' These scoundrels,' 
* that blackguard, Blank,' was a frequent form of noun or 
adjective used to designate some Boer official in the Republics. 
I find among my papers the draft of a memo, which I wrote 
on this subject bearing date 10th December 1898. It runs 
thus : — 

* Since taking over the duties of Acting High Commissioner 
in South Africa, Sir William Butler has had occasion to notice in 

some of the cipher despatches from certaia forms of forcible 

language in the expression of that officer's opinions which do not 
appear to Sir William to be quite desirable either in relation to 
the matters to which they officially refer, or to the formation, by 
those to whom they are addressed, of a calm and deliberate 
judgment of the particular questions under discussion. These 
questions affect important political interests in South Africa, and 
they might possibly become of great national and international 
concern in the future. 

' Sir William feels assured that he has only to indicate this 
expression of his opinion to secure the cessation of what is 
probably only due to the exuberant nature of the existing political 
life in the Transvaal.' 

I am almost certain that I did not send this memo. : probably 
my attention was called away to other matters ; but the draft 
serves to show certain phases in the condition of affairs with 
which I had to deal within a fortnight of my arrival in South 
Africa. 

I have not yet spoken of ' my ministers ' — that delightful 
phrase in the make-believe of our Colonial system. I found 
them all excellent men. I had made the acquaintance of Mr. 
Schreiner, the Prime IVIinister, on board the steamer previous 
to landing, and in the next day or two all the other members 
of the ministry were introduced — Messrs. Merriman, Sauer, 
Herault, Tewater, and Solomon, the Attorney-General. I may 
say here, in regard to my acquainta^ice with these gentlemen 
that, from first to last, I had never come into official contact 
with men with whom it was easier to transact business, whose 
minds were fairer set to carry out the duties of their several 
offices, and who were less disposed to push any question 
that came before them to an unfair or one-sided issue. 
This ministry was what was called a Bond Ministrj-, 



392 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

although, so far as I can remember, the majority of its 
members were not members of the Bond. Mr. Schreiner, 
Mr. Merriman, and, I think, two others of the six, had 
been colleagues of Mr. Rhodes prior to the era of the Raid. 
That event was really the point of cleavage, social and 
political, in the entire fabric of life and politics m South Africa. 
It was this fact that was the principal revelation to me, newly 
arriving from England, where it was more or less assumed 
that matters had been patched over, or healed, in the two or 
three years following the Raid. But that was entirely erron- 
eous. The fires were only slacked for the limit of three years, 
to which the chief actors in the rebellion, or the ' reform 
movement,' as it was called in Johannesburg, had been bound 
over to keep the peace towards the Government they had 
sought to destroy. 

Among the officers of Sir Alfred MiLner's staff who had 
remained in South Africa, and of whose knowledge, experience, 

and reliability I had been especially advised, was a Mr. W . 

A day or two after my arrival this gentleman called to see me. 
I had a long and very interesting conversation with him as 
we drove together in a Cape cart through the beautiful oak 
and pine woods that fringe the eastern base of Table Moun- 
tain from Rondebosch to Newlands. We touched upon many 
topics connected with the political history of the last few years 
in South Africa — its parties, policies, and prospects. Alluding 
to the agents who had been and were still at active work 
in South Africa under the direction of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, 

Mr. W used words which were at once a revelation and a 

warning to me. ' The actions of these men,' he said, when at 
last we stood in the open grounds of the cricket club at New- 
lands, * have made the government of the country on many 
occasions almost impossible to Sir Alfred Milner.' 

Each passing day now developed some new aspect of these 
difficulties. There was an acerbity in political and journalistic 
life, a seeking for causes of offence, a girding and goading at 
the Dutch in and beyond the Cape Colony, that foreboded to 
me the development of very serious consequences. I found 
the English newspapers in Cape Town wholly mider the influence 
of Mr. Rhodes. The English journals in the Transvaal were 
outrageous in their language of insult and annoyance. Threats 




Photogravure by Annaix cst ;>Gi^.Ci.ao9ow frciL. d pLc^ograpii b>' Lanibei ^ i.'.Vei 






SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES 393 

and menaces were being used every day against the govern- 
ments of the RepubHc and the people of Dutch race. The 
visit of Sir Alfred Mihier to England was spoken of as having 
for its chief object the preparation and pickhng of rods for 
the Republic, and I soon had no difficulty in tracing connections 
more or less close between the thoughts expressed in the letters 
which I received from the Transvaal, and the language used 
by the journals in Cape Town which were being worked in 
Mr. Rhodes's interest. 

Things soon went farther. The editor of the leading journal 
at the Cape was a young and very able journahst and man of 
letters, who was also a member of the Cape legislature in strong 
opposition to the existing government of the Colony, and a 
devoted follower of Mr. Rhodes. One day there appeared on 
the Parliamentary notice paper a notice in this editor's name 
to ask the Prime Minister questions dealing with the alleged 
ill-treatment of Cape coloured people in Johannesburg by the 
police there ; and ' whether he has ascertained that the facts 
are substantially as stated, viz., that the British agent has 
made more than one representation ; whether he can inform 
the House if such representation had effected its purpose ; and 
if nof, whether the Prime Minister can see his way to strengthen 
the hands of the imperial officials on behalf of these Cape 
Colonists, by an attitude of sympathetic interest on the part 
of this government ? ' If this notice had stood alone, there 
was nothing in it to take exception to, but it did not stand 
alone. The inquirer must have obtained the information 
upon which he based his question of the previous day in my 
office, where he had been for some time in a room next to that 
in which I sat. 

It seemed to my politically unsophisticated mind that this 
procedure was scarcely fair either to me or to ' my ministers.' 
The fact of the editor of the leading journal in Mr. Rhodes's 
interest, and a promment member of the Opposition, using my 
office as a base for the embarrassment of ' my ministers ' might 
be progressive policy, but it did not strike me as being precisely 
the game according to the military ' cocker.' I could not accept 
such a position, and I gave orders that the offender was to be 
informed in writing that he was not to enter my office again. 
This produced a fresh revelation. I was asked that the 



394 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

message might be delivered to him by word of mouth, other- 
wise, as wielding editorial powers, he would not fail to ' have 
his knife into me ' during the remaining portion of my time in 
South Africa. However, any harm that the newspaper could 
do to me seemed to be small compared to the humiUation of 
being the servant of Mr. Rhodes (for he was the real master 
of the position) in my own office. I was not then aware that 
it was this same journalist who had telegraphed, on the 
issue of proclamation by the High Commissioner on the 
31st December 1895, the following message to the 'Reform Com- 
mittee ' in Johannesburg, then in arms against their Govern- 
ment : * You must expect and not misunderstand a proclama- 
tion putting Jameson formally in the wrong. Imperial 
authorities have no other course. Don't let this weaken or 
divide you.' And he had sent this message, according to his 
own admission upon oath, after he had visited the same office 
of the High Commissioner in Government House and read a 
draft of the proclamation there. 

So far I have scarcely mentioned the man who, despite the 
partial exposures of the Raid, was at this moment, perhaps, 
as much as ever the mover of the destinies of South Africa. 

Mr. Cecil Rhodes was a very remarkable man. A younger 
son in a family not blessed with an abundance of affluence, he 
had joined in the early 'seventies in the rush to Kimberley 
which the discovery of diamonds in that part of the Orange 
Free State had called forth. Constitutionally he was ill-fitted 
to take a merely physical part in the rough and tumble of a 
digger's life. But the white digger was from the first an anomaly 
in the pit at Kimberley : the black man was the real miner. 
Mind, not muscle, was the white man's motor, and the peculiar 
mental nature of young Rhodes soon marked him for success 
among that strange conglomeration of Jew and Gentile which 
the diamond pit at Kimberley had rapidl}^ formed. 

When the name of Cecil Rhodes began to be used by the 
public tongue, a friend of mine asked the late Colonel Frank 
Rhodes to tell him something about this brother of his of 
whom the financial world was talking. ' My brother is a 
strange man,' Frank replied. ' We were young chaps together, 
and there wasn't too much money or too many things among 
us. One day Cecil came and asked me to let him have one of 



MR. CECIL RHODES 395 

my shirts, as he wanted to go to an evening party in London. 
Well, I wanted the shirt myself that evening, and I told him 
he couldn't have it. He said notlimg, but I knew he didn't 
like losing a chance, so I watched him. I saw him off to the 
train. He had neither the shirt on him nor had he bag and 
baggage with him ; but I thought that I 'd go to the drawer 
and just make sure of my shirt. It was gone ! Cecil came 
back that night. " Well, Cecil," I said, " you won over that 
shirt of mine ; but just tell me how you did it, for it wasn't on 
you when you left here, and you had no parcel with you. Wliat 
did you do with it ? " He chuckled a httle, and said dril}', 
" I put it on imder the old one." Xow, that 's Cecil.' 

He was a man of vast energy and long foresight. He soon 
had the diamond business at his finger ends. He speculated, 
bought and sold. One of his earliest ventures was in a small 
steam engine of six horse-power which he had brought by wag- 
gon from Port Elizabeth. He used it for making ice-creams, a 
delicacy in prodigious demand among the diggers and thirsty 
denizens of Kimberley. He was in partnership with two 
other men, one of whom carried the water, and the other 
distributed the ice-creams to the community. Money came 
in. AH at once a thunderstorm broke over Kimberley, and the 
diamond pit was flooded. The demand for ices ceased, but the 
pit had to be pumped out, and there was only one engine to 
do it. Rhodes took the contract. It was for some thousands 
of pounds. A friend came and said, ' Take care about that 
water ; if you have not a secure place into which to pump it, 
it will all run back again into the mine.' A clause was inserted 
in the contract, stipulating that the mine management was to 
be responsible for storing the water when it was pumped out. 
Just as the last buckets were up, the dam of the temporary 
reservoir burst, and the whole volume ra*i back into the pit 
again. Another contract to pump followed, at twice the 
amount of the first. That was the beginning of Mr. Rhodes's 
fortune ; the rest is known. With wealth came the wish to 
win more than wealth. One by one obstacles were bought 
off, or beaten off. He was a bitter enemy and a generous 
friend. Every man had his price, he thought, and if he was 
worth buying, he was bought. The history of the Rhodesian 
concession will probably never be accurately known. Strange 



396 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

stories were told about it, and about the wars that followed 
it. At the time that I was approached by the general officer 
in London about taking charge of the new colony on the 
Zambesi, my visitor said : ' This Rhodes is an extraordinary 
man. He said quite quietly to me the other day, " All the 
fellows that go in there to settle as farmers will be massacred 
b}^ the natives." ' 

When Rhodesia proved a failure, the Transvaal became the 
next necessary acquisition to save the market. Millions had 
been lost by the outer public in Chartered stock ; they might 
be won again in the Rand mmes ; so the Raid was organised 
and looked upon as a certainty, for was not the Transvaal a 
nut between the nutcrackers of De Beers and Rhodesia ? To 
get the cracker into working order the railway to Bulawayo 
had to be built. In these things you must have a cry ready 
to catch the public ear. ' The Cape to Cairo ' gave the neces- 
sary key for turning on the money-taps. One great obstacle 
stood in Mr. Rhodes's path — an old, rugged lion-hunter, a stout 
Boer fighter named Paul Kruger, a man of seventy 3^ears or 
thereabouts when the Raid was planned and carried out. 
Mr. Rhodes was a most astute calculator ; he knew the buying 
price of a great many men and women. A cheque for ten 
thousand pounds, a thousand shares in a gold mine or a new 
company, a diamond tiara — ^these things were as tickets given 
for the honour people pawned in the shop of his success. But 
that old Boer of seventy beat him in the end, and when that 
end came the master of gold and diamonds could only repeat 
the mournful words of the poet, ' So much to do, so little 
done.' 

At the time of my arrival in South Africa, Mr. Rhodes was 
at his magnificent residence at the foot of the Devil's Peak 
above Rondebosch^ but as he did not call upon the Acting 
Governor and High Commissioner, I never had the pleasure 
of making his personal acquaintance. 

I had to leave Cape Town on 12th December to open a large 
South African Exhibition in Grahamstown. The occasion was 
of some importance. All the South African states and terri- 
tories were to be represented there. There were public dinners, 
many speeches, and the rest of it. Wliat would ] speak about ? 
I thought over it during the railway journey, and decided upon 



OPE^^ING OF GRAHAMSTOWN EXHIBITION 397 

my line. I would preach peace to these unfortunate people 
who were being now lashed towards war by so many hands. 
A special train carried me, together with a stafiE of ten persons, 
on our route. It was a long journey, some forty-four hours, 
but I would have had it even longer. In old days I had never 
tired of South Africa outside its towns and cities. It was the 
same with me still. I saw again with pleasure the hot blazing 
wastes of the karroo, the great plains of the upper plateaux, 
the far-apart river valleys with their yellow streams, the green 
mimosa frmgings, the huge table-topped hills, with glimpses 
beyond those hills of blue mountain ranges, and over aU that 
wondrous sky, with its atmosphere of arm-stretching and lung- 
expanding freedom, the glory of space everywhere visible. 
Well, it was worth coming aU those miles of ocean, and finding 
oneself condemned to the desk of a thankless office, just to see 
it all once again. The special tram reached Grahamstown on 
the evenmg of 14th December, and on the following day the 
formal opening of the Exhibition took place. There were man}^ 
addresses, much speechifying, walking round, and the rest of 
it. The heat was intense. On the 16th there were various 
functions of an official nature, and on the 17th a public luncheon 
was given in the drill-shed to about two hundred and fifty 
persons. 

I had no set speech prepared, but my mind was full 
of a few salient matters. Here was this vast land, stiU but 
half-occupied by man. How lavish had Nature been to it ! 
What plains, forests, fertile valleys, and mimosa-covered glens 
she had given it ! What gold and diamonds she had stowed 
away in it in kloof and ridge ! How she had mixed her favours 
of pastoral and mineral riches, so that aU whose home it was 
could take their share ! That was the South Africa as it lay 
under the incomparable sky — a land worth working for, worth 
thinkmg for, worth loving. ^Vhat were its people doing with 
it ? How could aU these gifts of Nature be best turned to bene- 
fit and increase the happiness of the people ? I saw the rivers 
flowing out to the sea, their waters lost to the enrichment of 
the soil ; I saw the gold and precious stones passing to the 
coast for shipment to another hemisphere for the profit of the 
alien. 

This was my third visit to South -\frica. Years had come 



398 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

and gone since I was last here. \^Tiat changes were those 
which I saw on everj^ side ? Extended railwaj^s, new streets, 
large public buildings, great docks at the seaports ; these were 
evidences of progress. But there was another change that I 
could not account for. I turn to the public prints, and there, 
side by side with this increased progress, so tangibly displayed, 
I discern a strange alteration. The old amity of life, the 
social harmony between race and race, seems largely to have 
disappeared ; suspicion and distrust seem to have taken the 
place of former confidence and assurance. Is there any reason 
-why this should be ? Is not the land wide enough for aU ? 
Are populations jostling agamst each other in these vast empty 
uplands ? Why should the flag be narrowed down to cover 
a single interest ? It is elsewhere a broad and far-spreading 
ensign ; it is not a narrow emblem ; its folds cover and shield 
varied races over the earth. I could find no reason why its 
character should change upon this continent. Was it not 
possible to get back again to the friendship of old times, to 
the union of hearts, to a confederation which would be natural, 
spontaneous, unforced ? 
I concluded by saying : — 

' South Africa, in my opinion, does not need a surgical operation ; 
she needs peace, progress, and the development which is only pos- 
sible through the union of many hearts and the labour of many 
hands. Perhaps, Mr. Mayor, I ought to offer you an apology for 
what may be deemed this short excursion into the borderland of 
politics. But I venture to regard this question from another, and 
I hope a higher, standpoint ; and I do not think it is inconsistent 
with the season ^-e are now approaching, which for more than 
eighteen hundred years has repeated to men its first message of good- 
will, or incongruous to this city which, prominent beyond all other 
cities in the land, has identified itself with education and civilisa- 
tion, if now I lift my glass and ch'ink with all my heart to the peace, 
the brotherhood, as well as to the progress and prosperity of this 
country.' 

I had received that day a letter from a British resident in 
the Transvaal which appeared to be so important that I deter- 
mined not to lose an hour in sending it to England. I take the 
subjomed extracts from that letter, but must preface them by 
saying that the question of the treatment of the persons of 



THE TREATME^sT OF 'CAPE BOYS' 399 

colour known in South Africa as ' Cape Boys ' had for months 
past been a prominent subject of correspondence with the 
Colonial Office. There had been a vast amount of reference 
to it in the Cape and Transvaal newspapers, and Parliamentary 
questions asked, as we have seen. The Secretary for the 
Colonies had desired that he should be kept closely informed 
on all matters connected with the subject, and all the reports 
received from our agent in the Transvaal were forwarded to 
him, many of them by cable. It was in connection with these 
' Cape Boys ' that the opprobrious epithets in correspondence, 
which I have alread}^ spoken of as having been applied to the 
Transvaal officials, had occurred ; and it was also in relation 
to it that the editor of the leading Cape Town paper had taken 
his strange line of action a week prior to this time. I now give 
my letter containing the extracts above mentioned : — 

• Gkahamstowx, \8th December 1898. 

' Deae, JMr. , — I think it right to send you a private letter 

which will go home with the despatch dealing with the position of 
Cape coloured persons and British Indians in the South African 
Repubhc, because I cannot put into official form the real facts 
which have come to my knowledge upon this subject. That the 
whole question has been worked by what might be justly termed 
a syndicate of systematic misrepresentation I have not the slightest 
doubt. Upon receipt of your telegram asking for full particulars 
of these alleged outrages, I called upon to furnish all informa- 
tion. After much delay, I have received from him a private letter ; 
but I cannot admit the privacy from you of any knowledge coming 
to me in any form, when the subject-matter is of such importance 
as that now imder consideration. I therefore send you two extracts 

from Mr. 's letter, in the shape of communications received by 

him from the Vice-Consul in Johannesburg. The latter Avrote 

as follows : — 

' " Mr. Dodd (secretary of the South African League of Johannes- 
burg) has not yet brought more affidavits nor the details he promised 
to supply from the Landdrost's Court Rolls as to the number of Boys 
fined or discharged. I saw Daniels (a leader of the Cape Boys) 
and urged him to bring as many ' Boys ' to me as he could who had 
been fined for not wearing the badge, in order that they might 
make the necessary affidavits* before me. But these people are 
indififerent, and are slow to assist us, although they are perpetually 
askim: for assistance." 



400 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

' Again : " The South African League have not yet sent me the 
promised details, and I cannot understand the delay, for, as a rule, 
they are only too glad to fish out any information that may be used 
against the Transvaal Government." 

' This, then, is the result of all the telegrams and despatches, the 
questions asked in the Cape Parliament, and the newspaper 
" leaders " on the subject. I have no doubt that cases of rough 
usage by police have occurred in Johannesburg ; but we must bear 
in mind that that towTi is probably the most corrupt, immoral, and 
untruthful assemblage of beings at present in the world. All 
political questions in South Africa, and nearly all the information 
sent from Cape Town to England, are now being worked by what I 
have already termed a colossal syndicate for the spread of systematic 
misrepresentation, and I am therefore very careful to insist upon 
the verification of intelligence before transmitting it to you. The 
bane of South Africa in the last twenty-four years has been the 
false information sent home. There has never been a time in that 
long period when that disease reached greater depth than now. 
The bitterness of political feeling in this colony is extreme, and 
there can be little doubt that at least a section of one party, and a 
powerful section too, is doing its utmost to push matters to a 
conflagration, I do not think these people will succeed in their 
aim, but they have immense means at their disposal ; and the 
naturally inflammable nature of political thought, the absence of 
habits of steady industrial life, and the loose social customs pre- 
vailing, give additional power to their efforts. I take advantage 
of a quiet hour to \ATite this note. I am here opening a Colonial 
Exhibition, and my time is very fully occupied. 

(Signed) ' W. F. Butler.' 

I had written strongly in describing at that moment what 
seemed to me to be the true condition of affairs in South x^frica. 
Nearly twelve years have passed since I penned that hurried 
letter in the midst of a dozen functions. I see no reason to be 
ashamed of it to-day. 

I left Grahamstown very early the next morning, travelling 
by Cape cart to King Williamstown, and, after further visits 
and functions there, took the special train again, and passing 
by Queenstown, Naaupoort, Stormberg, and De Aar, reached 
Cape Town on 23rd December. The year was not destined to 
close without further complications. A man of British nation- 
ality had been shot by a policeman in a midnight brawl in a 
low quarter of Johannesburg. The man's name was Edgar ; 



WHAT BECAME AN INTERNATIONAL QUESTION 401 

the man who fired the shot which killed him was named Jones. 
Edgar had already knocked another EngUshman to pieces, 
maltreating him to such an extent that he soon after died of 
his wounds. Had this drunken brawl occurred in any other 
city in the world out of the Transvaal it would have occasioned 
no excitement outside of the people immediately concerned in 
it. The time, after midnight ; a drunken brawl ; a man left 
dead, or mortally hurt, in the street ; his assailant is a fugitive 
in a house. The pohce are called for ; the fugitive is pursued ; 
a door is broken open ; the fugitive shows fight ; a shot is fired ; 
the man is killed. The policeman is arrested, and charged 
next morning with culpable homicide. On this foundation the 
South African League seized with avidity, and built upon it a 
huge international question. Indignation meetings were im- 
mediatelj' organised ; a petition to the Queen was prepared ; 
all the wires were pulled at once. Telegrams, cablegrams, 
letters, and despatches flew like leaves in a November storm. 
All the newspapers in Mr. Rhodes 's interest in South Africa 
double leaded their types. So well had the organisation 
been arranged, that the so-called petition to the Queen had 

already appeared in sensational tj^e in Mr. G 's newspaper, 

and the London journals were in receipt of sensational cable- 
grams from South Africa before the meeting had been even held 
which was to denounce the slaying of an unoffending citizen. 

As early as Christmas Day I wrote a warning note to London. 
I said : — 

' The state of unrest which men, far more than events, had suc- 
ceeded in producing in South Africa has been notably exemplified 
this week in the case of the shooting of a man in Johannesburg by 
a policeman. I am yet without details of the occurrence, and I 
am therefore unable to speak fully upon it ; but already the affair 
has been seized upon with the usual avidity by the press to make 
political capital, and further to inflame passions already sufficiently 
excited, and to raise suspicions among the Dutch. You will see 
by the headlines of the newspaper paragraph attached how un- 
scrupulous are the means used. The usual military drafts for 
Cape Colony and Natal, the constitution and members of which 
have been arranged more than a year ago, are made to appear as 
special reioforcements to be sent out in connection with some new 
development of the pohtical situation, and they are quoted as fresh 

2c 



402 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

proofs of increased tension between England and the South African 
RepubUc. I cannot tell you of the difficulties which I daily experi- 
ence in obtaining really accurate information upon the true state 
of affairs here. The press is almost wholly in the hands of men 
who are bent upon one persistent policy, that which is vulgarly 
known as " getting the fat in the fire." ' 

Again, on the day following Christmas, I find myself writing 
to another very high Government official in London in the 
following terms : — 

' I take advantage of a quiet day to write you something about 
affairs here as they strike my mind, coming back to this country 
after the lapse of years. . . . The ship of State appears to me to be 
sailing through a sea in which the steering would be easy enough 
but for the ever-present pressure of a side current, set in force, 
controlled, and continued by the will of one man, acting through a 
number of subordinate agencies. In times past this force has been 
moved in various directions, sometimes favourable to imperial 
interests, oftentimes opposed to them, but at all times based upon 
self-interested considerations. This game, for it is, I believe, a 
game, and not a policy, still less a lofty purpose, is now directed 
solely to one end — a constant effort to bring the Government ship 
into stormy weather by embittering the relations between races, 
and taking advantage of every passing incident to produce, main- 
tain, and increase unrest, suspicion, and discontent. Everywhere 
around the High Commissioner's horizon I find the evidences of 
this set purpose and intention. I find every passing event magni- 
fied and distorted, and men so influenced and surrounded that it 
is almost impossible to look for a calm or dispassionate opinion 
from them. I can trace curious links of connection between the 
inner currents of official reports which I receive and the outer agencies 
of so-called popular opinion. . . . The Transvaal continues to send 
out its usual crop of reported Cape Boy grievances. An unfortunate 
incident has recently occurred in Johannesburg : a man named 
Edgar was shot by a policeman in a night scuffle. The matter is 
in the hands of justice, and must take its course. ... So far I have 
no reason to think that the ^^hooting of Edgar had anything in it 
of a political or premeditated nature, but, of course, the case must 
be closely watched, and full justice insisted upon. . . .' 

The end of the year came. During the past thirty days I had 
travelled a couple of thousand miles through the Cape Colony, 
seen a great many of its people, and conversed with numbers 



THE EVILS OF FALSE INFORMATION 403 

of its politicians, clergymen, and public men. Situated, as I 
was, at the inner circle of authority, seeing, as forty years of 
army life had accustomed me to see, both sides of the South 
African hill, I was in a position to compare reports, weigh 
facts, measure quantities, and estimate values as few others 
could have done. No man knew better than I did all that we 
had suffered from false information during the preceding 
quarter century. It had been the root of all our past trouble. 
Now, all at once, I was brought face to face with this old evil, 
multiplied to a degree I could not have imagined possible ; 
no longer sporadic, but systematised, gigantic, unscrupulous ; 
powerful in means of execution ; directed to one end, that end 
fraught with possibilities of the gravest kind. 

If I had been sent out, or had come out myself, blindfolded 
to South Africa, I was determined that those persons at home 
to whom I was responsible should at least know what I was now 
looking at with the bandage off. 

Almost on the last day of the old year, I went to the Docks 
to see some friends away by the outgoing mail steamer to 
England. Mr. Rhodes and many of his intimate friends were 
passengers by this steamer. As I was leaving the vessel I 
passed Mr. Rhodes near the gangway. Our eyes met for an 
instant. He was speaking to somebody in what seemed to me 
a sharp falsetto tone of voice. The expression of his face struck 
me as one of peculiar mental pain. I seemed to have seen it 
once before. 

That evening there was a remarkable eclipse of the moon. 
We stood outside of the verandah at ' Charlie's Hope ' at 
Rondebosch watchmg the shadow slowly creeping over the 
great disc of the moon until the eclipse became total. There 
were two or three officers with me, and we all agreed that never 
before had we witnessed such an extraordinary colour as that 
which suffused the moon at the moment of totality, or the 
equally strange, shadowy, and spectral light which fell upon 
the earth at the same moment. The face of the moon seemed 
to have been washed over with a blood-stained cloth, and the 
old garden round ' Charlie's Hope,' with its lofty cypress-trees, 
looked in the sombre hght like a nocturnal graveyard. 



CHAPTER XXII 

The South African League. The true life of the land. Apparent public 
opinion. Waruins^s to the Government of real position. Return of Sir 
Alfred Milner. Tour of inspection. Scheme of defence. Uncertainty at 
Headquarters in London. Interviews and correspondence with the High 
Commissioner. Absence of instructions from England. 

The beginning of tlie year 1899 found me engaged in keeping 
the Colonial Office informed by cable of the events develop- 
ing in Johannesburg in connection with the Edgar affair. It 
became increasingly evident that the South African League 
and the agitation in Johannesburg were one and the same 
thing, and that the efforts of the combined forces were directed 
not upon South Africa, but upon England. A stream of mis- 
leading cablegrams were being sent to the London press. The 
editor of the Ca'pe Times was also the special correspondent 
at Cape Town ot two important London daily papers. The 
editors of the leading Johannesburg journals had been specially 
imported from England after the close of the abortive inquiry 
into the Raid, to carry out the ' Constitutional methods ' 
which Mr. Rhodes had declared at that mquiry to be his future 
purpose. It would have been difficult to determine which of 
these journals now played higher, with words as counters, in 
the game of insult to the Government under which they lived, 
and against the people of the land out of which they and their 
backers were at that moment makmg their fortunes. Calumnies, 
contempt, taunts, and insults were the everyday comments 
upon all things Dutch in the land. Persistent efforts were 
made to induce or compel the acting High Commissioner to 
add his inner quota of misrepresentation to the general outside 
flow of constitutional cable-current which was going on. I 
was constantly receiving copies of resolutions said to have 
been passed by corporations in the eastern provinces, with 
requests that I would cable them at once to the Secretary of 
State. To these I invariably replied that the resolutions did 

404 



WIREPULLING 405 

not appear to me to warrant the cost of cabling, but that they 
would be duly transmitted by the first outgoing mail steamer. 
One of these cases wiU suffice to illustrate the worth of all. 
The Cape journals had noticed one morning m their usual 
style that the mayor and municipal council of Cape Town 
had carried without opposition a strongly-worded resolution 
condemnatory of the Government in the Transvaal, but a day 
or two later it transpired that the resolution had not even 
been presented to the council ; and when it was presented, 
the presenter was found to be the only member in its favour — 
all the others were opposed to it. This absurd instance was 
only one among many others of a similar kind ; the end sought 
was to get the falsehood once on its way to England, and trust 
to the twenty days' start the cables would have in misleading 
public opinion at home before any refutation could overtake 
it. I had got an ea,v\y hint about the manner in which the 
preparation of the telegraphic information was manufactured 
for transmission on Sunday?' evenings to London for the Monday 
morning papers by the inner circle of the ' Constitutionalists ' 
in their mansion near Cape Town. One of the leading spirits 
assembled at the supper board held the pen on these occasions ; 
the guests added their varying sparks of imaginative composi- 
tion ; and from these there would be compiled some bits of 
sensational news, the final reading of which would be the signal 
for uproarious applause from the other members present. As 
this information came to me from one who was himself often 
a guest on these occasions, I was not too readily disposed to 
take seriously all the resolutions that came to me, nor to send 
them by cable to the Colonial Office. 

At first it had seemed to me that I occupied almost an 
intolerable position in being the administrative chief of Govern- 
ment, working my office under conditions such as I have already 
described as existing between my ofiice and the editor of the 
leading Cape journal. But a httle further reflection showed 
me that the worst conditions of life will be found to possess 
some compensations. It seemed to me that this strange state 
of things could be turned to account. If Mr. Rhodes's agents 
and partisans were within my doors, might it not be possible 
for me to know something, at least, of what Mr. Rhodes and 
his friends were doing ? 



406 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

South Africa is a land of strange contradictions. Under its 
gorgeous sunshine and the alternately depressing and exhila- 
rating influence of its atmosphere, the European mind seems to 
be subject to sudden outbursts of confidential communicative- 
ness. I had about me some officers upon whose loyalty and 
good service I could entirely rely. It was not long before they 
were approached by the Constitutionalists, who were anxious 
to find out what I was doing. 

My Grahamstown speech had been received throughout South 
Africa with marked approval, except in one quarter. To the 
inner circle of the party working for war it had come like a 
sheU ; but while their journals could not openly denounce the 
policy I had outlined in that address, they were, nevertheless, 
bitterly opposed to me. When one of my staff was approached 
by an old English college acquaintance who was now acting 
as an imported Constitutionalist in South Africa, he came to 
ask me what he might say to this former school chum. ' Say 
an3^thing you like,' was my reply, ' but bear in mind that it 
is more essential for me to know what they are doing than for 
them to know what I am doing. So, give me away, provided 
j'-ou get an equivalent for the gift.' Thus it came to pass that 
I knew a good deal more of the umier springs and workings of 
the South African League, its ramifications and intentions 
than they knew about me, for in truth there was nothing to 
know about me that I was not perfectly content they should 
know. The cards were altogether new to me ; but that was 
the stronger reason why I played them as they came — without 
combination or contrivance. 

Writing on 11th January to the Colonial Office on the Cape 
Boy question, I closed my despatch thus : — 

' I am convinced by the knowledge of facts (in relation to this 
matter) that it is necessary to receive with caution, and even with 
a large measure of suspicion, statements emanating from the 
officials of the South African League.' 

On the same date I wrote privately to a high Government 
official : — 

' The despatches going by this mail will tell you what has been 
happening here during the past couple of weeks. More and more 
the conviction grows upon me that the small and noisy group of 



THE FALSE AND THE TRUE 407 

men w ho have got all the telegraphic and most of the press power 
into their hands are steadily intent upon the production of friction, 
and nothing but friction, in this country. It is not the situation that 
is difficult in South Africa, it is the men who are doing their utmost 
to make the situation impossible who have to be reckoned with. 
WTiat we want are honest men. If you could induce a few of that 
class to emigrate here, we might have hope in the future ; but I 
fear that neither Houndsditch nor even the Stock Exchange will 
help us much in that line.' 

In this month of January I received many visitors, from the 
Transvaal, Natal, Rhodesia, Kaffraria, and different parts of 
the Cape Colony. I also visited the old Dutch settlements 
of the Paarl and Stellenbosch to open stock, agricultural, and 
fruit shows ; and I was able to see with my own ej'es and hear 
with my own ears the real condition of things in the Cape 
Colony, and to gather the true opinions of the people. And 
what a world of difference there was between the South Africa 
of one's senses and that other South Africa of the ' Constitutional ' 
press ! The latter was a pandemonium of hatred, imrest, and 
contention, which that press never tired of presenting as the 
natural outcome of every grievance, real or imaginary, under 
which any portion of the community was supposed to suffer 
in any part of the sub-continent. 

One saw in these old settlements the true life of the land : 
the vineyard, the fruit orchard, the garden, the stock farm ; 
aU the simple surroundings of the village ; the church every- 
where the centre round which the community had grown up ; 
the old thatched or tiled houses ; the tree-lined streets ; the 
cool ' spruits ' running along the roadsides ; the ' stoops ' ; the 
white gables shadowed by the bright green oak-trees ; the 
flocks of white geese on the village common. Beyond these 
circles of shade, verdure, and cultivation, which man has made 
in the wilderness by turnmg the waters of the Berg river over 
the level spaces of the valleys, the ej-e rested on the great 
steep mountains, purple, opal-coloured, and red-brown, accord- 
ing as nearness or distance showed their ridges through the 
parched midsummer atmosphere. One saw at those gather- 
ings the Dutch people of South Africa at their best — big 
broad-shouldered men, matrons fat and fair, youths and girls 
healthy, fresh, and rosy. A sober, steady, peaceable people 



408 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

were they, utterly destitute of swagger or pretension, yet 
having plenty of resolution ; at home in every work of horse, 
cart, saddle, and harness ; knowing the secrets of the beasts, 
the fowls of the air, and the fruits of the earth, and experts 
in the things of food and raiment that could be made from 
them. 

These outings were only chance days in the otherwise un- 
broken record of office life, a life to which the cable had now 
added its daily obligations of cipher message, receipt and 
despatch, making the High Commissioner a kind of pointsman 
on the railway of thought and action between two stations. 
One station was a centralised office six thousand miles away 
in London, which knew nothing of the truth about South 
Africa, has never known it, and apparently will never know 
it ; the other station was a district lying between two circum- 
ferences, one a hundred yards, and the other a thousand miles 
distant from my office, where most of the sources of information 
and the springs of action were already set and arranged, with 
the intention of manipulating intelligence so as to mislead 
public opinion in England, and inflame passion throughout the 
empire. 

I did not flatter myself into the belief that I could change 
this state of things, which had all the power of great wealth 
and deep persistent purpose behind it. All I could hope to do 
was to try to make a few of the men who were my chiefs see 
South Africa as I then saw it. Nearly forty years earlier I 
had been given a practical lesson in what might be called the 
art of moving a crowd. It was a very simple matter. My 
regiment, then stationed at Aldershot, had attached to it a 
medical officer of great natural physical strength. He pro- 
posed to some half-dozen of us that we should go to London 
on the evening of Derby Day and take part in the festivities 
which were then a common feature in the celebration of that 
great racing event. He had a sort of undress rehearsal at 
Aldershot. He placed four of us to mark the corners of an 
imaginary square, the sides of which were eight or ten feet in 
length. He himself stood in the centre, and at a signal from 
him we were to sway together in one particular direction, to the 
right or to the left, according as he might indicate by his raised 
arm. By eleven o'clock at night there was a dense crowd at 



THE MOVERS OF THE CROWD 409 

the top of Waterloo Place or the Haymarket — I forget which, 
for the locality is now so altered that it is not easy to identify 
its old boundaries. Under the leadership of our medical 
brother officer we had socn wedged our way into the centre 
of the thickest crowd, and taken up, more or less accurately, 
the positions practised earlier. After a bit our fugleman gave 
his signal, and we quietly pressed in the direction indicated by 
him. At first the effect was scarcely perceptible, but after a 
little time one saw the pack of people moving in obedience to 
our impulse. Then our leader swayed in another direction, 
and again the crowd seemed to respond without apparently 
being aware of the force to which they were conforming. A 
sort of rocking undulatory movement began in the pack, and 
it increased so rapidly that in a very few minutes the crowd 
was trooping whither it scarcely knew, carrying everything, 
including poUcemen, before it. These guardians of the public 
order were apparently as ignorant of the source from which 
the motion had originated as were the members of the crowd 
themselves. So it was in relation to the action of public 
opinion which I was now beholding in South Africa. A few 
men, a very few men, were setting in motion waves of apparent 
opinion — resolutions, protests, proclamations, and petitions — 
which had their sole origin and inwardness among the agents 
of Mr. Rhodes's league. 

To me who, seeing the machinery by which this apparently 
big business was being worked, had only in view the enhghten- 
ment of my chiefs in England, the task was a simple one in 
principle, though arduous enough and costly enough to me in 
details. I put aside the ideas of possible personal interest, 
professional advancement, the opinions of friends, the certainty 
of creating powerful enemies, in my desire to do this service 
by the men whose advanced sentinel I was. 

The root question in my mind was, how shall I make these 
responsible people at home understand the hollowness of all 
these intrigues which are everj^where working to bring about 
what I am convinced will be a vast national calamity ? 

' It is easy enough to see,' I cabled on the 14th or 15th January, 
' that the present agitation in Johannesburg is a prepared business. 
The machinery is fully visible here, and the immediate movers are 



410 SIR WILLIMI BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

only clumsily concealed. The objects sought are, first, political 
and financial effect in London ; second, to make government in 
Johannesburg impossible ; third, to cast discredit upon the ministry 
now in office here. It is needless,' I added, ' to indicate the original 
train layers : they are nearer to you than to me.' 

Mr. Rhodes and his henchmen had left Cape Town on 28th 
December ; they were reported at Madeira on 10th January, 
and they would be due to reach England about the day 
this telegram was sent by me. A general shaking of the 
scenery had been arranged to take place in South Africa to 
synchronise with the arrival of the war envoys in England. 
It was even proposed to send two of the Rhodes members of 
the Cape Parliament to Johannesburg to make incendiary 
speeches there, in order that the Transvaal Government would 
feel itself compelled to arrest and put these gentlemen over 
the frontiers. ' That would bring matters to a crisis.' 

While I was thus working to keep my chiefs informed of the 
state of affairs, I received, towards the end of January, a most 
satisfactory assurance from a very high Government authority 
that my efforts were fully appreciated by him ; and he 
added a remarkable expression of opinion, that he had ' long 
felt that the difficulties in South Africa were greatly increased 
by the untrustworthiness of the information furnished," and 
that he ' approved of my decision to insist on reliable evidence 
of grievances reported.' 

I did not receive this most gratifying expression of approval 
until the end of January, but previous to the receipt of that 
approval, on the 22nd January, there arrived a long cipher 
message couched in very different language and of a totally 
different character. I am not in possession of a copy of this 
message, but I remember only too weU its substance. It asked 
in almost rude language for proofs of what I had stated in my 
telegrams as to the action of the South African League and 
their agents with reference to the Edgar case and to other 
matters. It called for detailed despatches on this question, 
which was described as an outrage of the grossest character, 
as well as upon the other questions dwelt upon in my telegrams 
for some weeks past. It was not difficult to discern, I thought, 
in the faces of one or two among my official entourage an ex- 
pression which seemed to indicate that the message, when it 



EXPLANATIONS DEMANDED FROM ENGLAND 411 

stood at last in its deciphered nudity, was not altogether 
displeasing to them. 

Perhaps the most noteworthy document which I find among 
my papers of that time is the copy of a communication I 
made in that month of January 1899 to our agents in the 
Transvaal. It runs thus : — 

' I regret to be obliged to record the fact that I find it extremely 
difficult to arrive at accurate information in relation to events hap- 
pening within the limits of the S. A. Republic. I cannot avoid 
drawing comparisons between the first accounts which I receive of 
these occurrences, and the subsequent details which come to hand 
later on. It should be steadily borne in mind that it is not a coloured 
version of events which I require, nor one in which the story is but 
partly told ; the adjuncts of communication by steam and electricity 
become only more fatal instruments of misinformation and of subse- 
quent disaster if the news sent through them from the circumference 
to the centre be not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the 
truth. This has been the lesson of the past history of our relations 
with the Transvaal, and it is a lesson which has every chance of 
repeating itself in still more deplorable characters, if the necessity 
of the fullest, the most unbiassed, and the most accurate informa- 
tion, uncontrolled by any outside agency, and unprompted by any 
organisation, be not absolutely adhered to.' 

The 22nd January was a Sunday, and the mail steamer was 
to leave for England on the following Wednesday ; I had 
therefore three days in which to write the explanatory despatch 
which the cipher message had called for in angry haste. I 
sat down at once to repl}', and three days later the despatch, 
a very long one, left for London. I will not now inflict it in 
extenso upon the reader : it can be found at page 204, Appendix 
to the Report of the Royal Commission upon the War in 
South Africa, published in 1903. After tracing the history of 
the Edgar case, and the political agitation which arose out of 
it, I summarised the situation as it then appeared to me as 
follows : — 

' 1. The (Edgar) case, so far as I have been able to trace it, pre- 
sented no features which removed it from the catalogue of un- 
fortunate night conflicts, too often ending in homicide or murder, 
which occur in cities such as Johannesburg, where the presence of 
gold in immense quantities has collected so many representatives 



412 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

of the greed and the need of human society ; and above all, that the 
case itself, whatever might be its form of demerit, was still sub 
judice. 

' 2. That although the state of feeling in Johannesburg had 
doubtless many elements in it of natural and spontaneous origin, 
those elements had, at least for the moment, been allayed by the 
action of the State Prosecutor of the South African Republic in 
re-committing the prisoner Jones on a charge of murder instead of 
one of culpable homicide ; and that the agitation which produced 
the meetings of the 24th December and the 14th January was 
largely, if not wholly, of exterior origin, held under the auspices 
of the South African League, and therefore to be regarded as being 
artificially engineered, and to be misleading in the sense that they 
represented the full body of public opinion ; though by no means 
misleading or unreal in the sense that they were liable to occasion 
scenes of riot, disturbance, and possible loss of life in Johannesburg, 
where there already existed so many elements of danger, both in the 
population and its outside environments. 

' Of the larger question of the factor dominating all other sub- 
jects in Johannesburg, and now largely entering into this Edgar 
question, I would now speak. 

' I do not think I err when I say that it is easy to discern in many 
quarters of this country traces of influences which are being steadily 
directed, I will not say to the promotion of racial antagonism, 
but certainly to the evolution of aims wliich cannot fail to evolve 
that end. This policy, in my opinion, can only terminate, if it is 
persisted in, in producing a war of races, the ultimate consequences 
of which no one could adequately estimate. 

' I do not believe that such a conflict is necessary to our interests 
here. On the contrary, I believe that these interests can be best 
advanced by the steadily applied forces of peace and progress acting 
upon two races wliich are not in their institutions or beliefs naturally 
antagonistic to each other. I believe that education, the spread of 
enlightenment and social well-being will bring about closer interests 
between the states and peoples of South Africa, producing either 
the desire or the necessity for a confederated form of government, 
and gradually leading to union on a closer basis, such as exists in 
Canada. 

' I believe that this union would ere now have taken place, but 
for mistakes in the past, which are mainly traceable to wrong 
information and to the precipitate action of influences similar to 
those I have been dealing with. 

' In my estimate of the forces bearing upon the Edgar afifair, and 
matters cognate to it in Johannesburg, I found it impossible to 



MEETING SIR ALFRED MILNER 413 

shut out from consideration the fact that the South African League 
was to a large extent the direct descendant and at least the part- 
inheritor of the traditions and aspirations of the combination of 
persons and principles which had so nearly led the Government of 
this colony into grave trouble only three years ago ; that the 
passions of that unfortunate period were still existing beneath the 
surface here ; and that the same influences were to-day at work for 
the futherance of the same objects then contemplated. 

' It is quite possible that I am mistaken in these behefs and 
opinions. I do not claim to possess any special insight into the 
deep and comphcated problem of the South African difficulty ; I 
regard it from the point of view of a soldier who has known the 
country for nearly a quarter of a century, and who has seen the rise 
and results of many attempts towards the solution of the problem. 

' As a soldier, too, I have looked upon my duty in relation to the 
information, or expression of opinion, I have sent by telegram ; 
I felt as one who, placed in some sense at the outposts, was bound 
to give his chief the full and free expression of his opinion upon the 
situation confronting him. 

' I regret that the short interval at my disposal between the receipt 
of your telegram asking for further information and reasons for 
statements, and the departure of the outgoing mail should have left 
me no time for the revision or correction of this despatch ; but I 
deem it necessary to send it in this incomplete and crude state in 
preference to losing a mail. 

(Signed) ' W. F. Butler, 
' Administrator and Acting High Commissioner.' 

Three weeks after this despatch left Cape Town, Sir Alfred 
Mihier arrived there from England. I met him at the steamer, 
followed him to Government House, and we went through the 
papers which dealt with matters occurring during his voyage 
out. I submitted a full copy of the document above quoted. 
I was disappointed to observe that he perused it with un- 
disguised impatience. I rose to take my leave, saying, ' I 
envy you only the books in your library.' 

I have alreadj" spoken of the entire absence of anj^ instruc- 
tions regarding the military position in South Africa previous 
to my departure from England ; and during the two months 
which followed it the subject received no mention, either 
official or private. The surprise with which I found, within a 
fortnight of my arrival, that the party of the Raid were actually 



414 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

engaged in fanning into flame the embers of racial ill-feeling was 
therefore all the greater ; and hence it was that I dwelt so 
strongly in my letters and despatches upon this dangerous 
aspect of the agitation. Could it be possible, I asked myself, 
that this extraordinary supineness on the part of the governing 
people at home was existing together with a policy of active 
aggression on the part of the old raiders and their new associa- 
tion, the South African League — the one side six thousand miles 
away, and apparently blind to the possibility of war ; the other 
actively engaged under my eyes in preparing the way for civil 
conflict of the worst type ? Two things were clear to me in 
this strange dualism of contradiction : first, I would do every- 
thing that lay in my power to put my chief in possession of the 
exact position in South Africa ; and secondly, I would guaran- 
tee, as I alone was in a position to guarantee, that neither act 
nor word of mine would enable the party of the Raid to claim 
me as a sympathiser with their aims or objects, or, on the other 
hand, would give the Dutch people in the Cape Colony any 
reason to apprehend I was not perfectly fair and open in my 
action towards them. As commander of the troops in the 
Cape Colony and Natal, I held the balance. There would be 
no war while I was there. If the Raiders raided I would in- 
exorably run them in ; if the Boers raided, I would as inevitably 
run them out ; but I knew that the chances were a thousand 
to one that the Boers would not do anything of the sort while 
I held the helm, and I was equally confident that the Raiders 
would hesitate to shoot while there was a chance of their finding 
themselves between two fires. 

But how about the future ? How long could the situation 
continue ? Supposing that the unexpected happened, and the 
war party broke bounds, how did I, the officer commanding 
the troops, stand ? To answer this question I was now free. 
The return of the High Commissioner relegated me to my own 
job, and I set off at once to study it where it could alone be 
studied — on the frontier. 

I took a single staff-officer with me, and I made a severe 
outbreak of enteric fever in the garrison at Ladysmith the 
ostensible reason of my visit to Natal. We went direct to 
Johannesburg. I need not say with what interest I saw the 
place the ethics and politics of which had been the cause of so 



JOHANNESBURG 415 

much of my official labours for nearly two months. The scene 
was a revelation to me. I had known in old days in Western 
America many mining centres, but Johannesburg, or Jewburg, 
as its denizens preferred to name it, was wholly different from 
any of these. Outward order was admirably maintained by 
the ' zarps,' ^ of whom one saw only a few about. One did 
not observe outward rowdyism or intemperance, but the more 
fashionable forms of gambling and immorality were every- 
where to be seen. Liquor bars served by cosmopolitan ladies 
with straw-coloured hair were to be seen at every corner ; 
the Stock Exchange had four of these establishments con- 
tiguous to it. There were clubs, betting dens, brokers' offices 
everywhere. * It is Monte Carlo superimposed upon Sodom 
and Gomorrah,' a weU-known Cape politician had recently 
described it to me. ' It is the central sin spot of civilisation,' 
another man had defined it. Such was the city ; but outside 
one saw stretching, far beyond the mounds of ashen grey silt 
and crushed reef slag, and the long lines of black iron chimneys 
vomiting blacker smoke into the clear, bright atmosphere, 
the great sky-bordered plains of the Transvaal, lost in space. 
What strange freak of demon or destiny was it that had dumped 
down here a great gold mine to draw together in the interior 
of a land, so far peopled by a race of primitive Christian farmers, 
all these human products of greed and gambhng ? ' Hounds- 
ditch and the Stock Exchange,' I had written to a distinguished 
statesman a few weeks earlier, ' are not the sources from which 
the redemption of South Africa is to be looked for.' Here 
in Johannesburg these two places, or their equivalents in 
the world, seemed to have pre-empted the right of human 
settlement. 

After a day or two I passed on to Natal. This was all old 
ground to me. Majuba, the Ingogo, Newcastle, Ladj^smith, 
the Tugela, the high ground at Mooi River and Estcourt ; 
twenty-three years earlier I had ridden, driven, and I might 
say thriven, over them all, for to their splendid upland air in 
the winter season of the southern hemisphere I had owed a 
rapid recovery to health and strength after the tropical fevers 
of the West Coast. 

Ladysmith, and the country north and south of it, became 

^ Boer police. 



416 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

the chief object of my study. The new feature in the landscape 
was the railway from the sea at Durban to Johannesburg. 
This line crossed the River Tugela at Colenso ; twelve miles 
north of that river it touched Ladysmith ; some twenty miles 
farther north it passed through the ridge of the Biggarsberg ; 
thence it traversed a fairly open country to Newcastle ; and, 
still following a northern course, it climbed, in a series of curves 
and deep loops, the high grounds at the base of the lofty Majuba 
table mountain ; until, passing through a tunnel at Laiag's 
Nek, it emerged upon the plateaux of the Transvaal, at an 
average elevation of some five thousand feet above the level 
of the sea. 

From its point of crossing the Tugela at Colenso to the 
tunnel at Laing's Nek this single line of meandering railway 
traversed the north angle of Natal. It had to its right and left 
the Orange Free State on one side, and the territory of the 
Transvaal Republic on the other — both states drawing in 
to a point just north of Laing's Nek, where they met the 
apex of the diamond-shaped figure which Natal forms. In 
the centre stood Ladysmith, set in a hoUow between the 
Biggarsberg mountain and the Tugela River. Perhaps, in the 
whole history of modern strategic selection, no more unfor- 
tunate choice had been made than when, two or three years 
before this time, the town of Ladysmith was selected by the 
military authorities in the War Office for the new body of troops 
which it had suddenly determined to send to Natal. 

As early as February 1896, that is, withm two months of 
the Jameson Raid, the formation of a garrison in Northern 
Natal was urged by the mihtary authorities in London. This 
force, it was said, ' Would always enable us, in case of need, to 
take up a strong forward position near Ladysmith (in Natal), 
or on Transvaal territory beyond Newcastle, on what is locally 
known as " the Berg," or at Harrismith m the Orange Free 
State.' This memo, was virtually the beginning of the Anglo- 
Boer War. 

After visiting Ladysmith, and mspecting the troops there, 
I passed south over the Tugela, saw Estcourt and Notting- 
ham Road (to which last-named place I had moved half the 
troops from the fever-stricken hole at Ladysmith), and then 
went north again to examine the Biggarsberg, Laing's Nek, and 



SUGGESTIONS FOR A DEFENCE SCHEME 417 

Majuba. The visit to the last-named place was oq^ of the 
most interesting events in my life. My memoir of Sir George 
Colley had just appeared in London, and I had an advance 
copy of the book with me. It was from this great vantage 
point of Majuba, and because I had in my mind a fixed picture 
of everything that had produced the disaster there — the faith 
Colley had in the man in the ranks, who had long left the ranks ; 
the belief in a destiny which was based on the exploits and 
genius of a wholly different race of men and women from that 
which now existed in our social system ; above aU, the extra- 
ordinary lengths to which the teaching of false history had 
been carried in our schools, our press, and on our public plat- 
forms, that I was able to judge of a possible war between us 
and the Boers with a power of forecast of a quite exceptional 
character. These things were driven deeper into my mind by 
a document which I had received from the War Office before 
my departure from Cape Town. 

The document in question was a letter, dated 21st December 
1898, asking me to take up the question of the defence scheme 
for Cape Colony and Natal, and to formulate a detailed 
plan for the disposition of the troops then stationed 
in the two colonies in the event of a sudden outbreak of 
hostilities in South Africa. Had the letter ended there, 
all would have been easy work for me ; but it had a widely 
different purport as it went on. It recommended to me 
the initial occupation, both in Natal and in the Cape Colonj-, 
before an outbreak of hostilities, of advanced positions upon, 
and even over, the frontiers, the adoption of which must, to 
my mind, have led to the earliest and most complete initial 
disasters. It pressed upon me the necessity of at once seizing, 
in my plan of campaign, all the bridges over the Orange River 
between Cape Colony and the Orange Free State ; and, with 
regard to Natal, it also impressed upon me the necessity of 
seizing Van Reenans Pass in the Drakensberg, and of pushing 
my weak forces in both colonies at once to, and over, the 
frontiers, where, of course, their capture or annihilation by even 
small bodies of active mounted riflemen must have been the 
work of a few hours. There were to be no supports behind 
these troops, which were thus, as it were, shot into hostile 
space, having behind them military voids many hundreds of 

2d 



418 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

miles in length, peopled bj^ a strong and active population of 
Dutch farmers, the cousins and brothers of the men who lived 
beyond these frontiers. Here, then, had suddenly come upon 
me, from the point least expected, by far the most formidable 
force I had yet met in South Africa, The party of the Raid, 
the intrigues of the South African League, the Boer enemy — 
these I could all reckon and cope with in my plan of defence. 
But the War Office friend, the latest staff college strategist, 
fed to his eyebrows on false military history, with his plan of 
campaign cut and dried, signed, sealed, and delivered in that 
terrible congeries of confused opinion and congested clerkship 
which I had so long known in Pall Mall — that was something 
whoUy unexpected by me. 

As I sat on the summit of Majuba, while memory went back 
into times of bygone disaster to our arms, and my eyes ran 
over the far-stretching panorama of Northern Natal, with all 
its traps and dangers to an army moving from the south, I 
realised that there was one way, and one way only, by which 
I might hope to save the land committed to my charge from 
the enemies that were within its borders and from the friends 
at headquarters in England. That way was to make in my 
own mind my own plan of defence, say nothing to the War 
Office about it as yet, and await events. 

' It was comparatively easy,' I wrote later, ' to frame in my own 
mind my own scheme of defence for Natal and the Cape Colony ; 
but it was another matter to formulate reasons for my dissent — to 
show cause for not pushing forward my weak force into the Drakens- 
berg passes on one side, or to within a half rifle-shot distance of the 
Orange Free State on the other.' 

I have spoken of Ladysmith and its new garrison planted 
there early in 1897. It was said in the correspondence deaUng 
with the establishment of this increased garrison that its cavalry 
and artillery arms ' would have a steadying effect upon the Boers.' 
It certainly had that effect, although in a sense not quite the 
one expected. One incident in connection with that ' steadying 
effect ' comes to my mind as I write. 

The new garrison was strong in one arm — artillery. It had 
an entire brigade division of eighteen field guns of the most 
recent pattern. It was, of course, expected that this strong 



I 



A PRACTICAL DEMONSTRATION 419 

unit would impress the minds of the Boer farmers around 
Ladysmith, as well as those in the Orange Free State, from the 
frontiers of which Ladysmith was in sight twenty miles away. 
The British officer and the Boer farmer have always been by 
nature and inclination good friends. Both were open-air 
sportsmen, neither belonged to what is known as the shop- 
keeping class. Within a few weeks of the establishment of 
Ladysmith as a military garrison at the door of the Free State 
friendly feelings were established between the farmers and the 
officers ; the latter were asked to shoot bucks on the surround- 
ing farms, the farmer came freelj^ to see the officer. It was 
thought a good idea that the Boer visitors should see the power 
of the new weapon — the destructive nature of its projectiles at 
long ranges — for they would thus be impressed by the hope- 
lessness of trying conclusions with their rifles against such 
powerful artillery weapons. 

The day came. The eighteen breechloading guns were drawn 
up outside the camp at Ladysmith facing a weU-known ridge 
called Waggon Hill, from which the firing point was distant 
about three thousand yards. Some one had conceived a bright 
idea : it was to buy a number of Kaffir goats from a neighbour- 
ing kraal and picket these animals on Waggon Hill. The 
annihilation of these goats under shrapnel fire at this long 
range would no doubt add immensely to the lesson which the 
Boer farmers were about to learn. All this had been arranged 
to everybody's satisfaction. Goats and guns were in position, 
the guests and the gunners were assembled, everything was 
ready. Fire began. Men with binoculars averred that they 
could see signs of perturbation among the goats ; all the 
shrapnel burst at or over the hill. After twenty minutes the 
' cease fire ' sounded. The visitors and their hosts mounted 
and rode to Waggon Hill. As they neared it some goats 
could be discerned still in being ; a few, perhaps, were alive ; 
twenty had been bought for the trial. The order was given 
to count the dead. Lo ! a miracle had occurred : there were 
no dead ; twentj'-two goats were found alive on the hill ! 
Two newly born kids were among them ; one old nanny-goat 
was still showing signs of maternal excitement, but even she 
and her premature twins were doing well. 

This was aU very funny, but for me it had another aspect. 



420 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

To whatever side I turned I found elements of future trouble. 
Here was an instance : a blind belief amongst our own people, 
alike at Lady smith and in London, that these guns, together 
with their infantry and cavalry adjuncts of two regiments, 
could be shot forward at any given moment to Laing's Nek, 
to Van Reenan's Pass, perhaps to end at one blow the Boer 
resistance. 

Taking ever\i:hing I saw and heard into consideration, I 
determined, as I have said, to hang back from the frontier 
in case of war, instead of advancmg forward to it or over it. 
But this plan had to be carefull}" hidden from possible enemies 
over the Berg as well as from all my own people. For various 
reasons I must pretend to go forward. In this narrowing angle 
of North Natal there were nearlj^ one hundred and twenty 
miles of railway ; that line could not be abandoned all at once 
to the enemy. There were three courses open to him. He 
would (1) either raid into Natal and destroy the line ; or 
(2) he would remain entirely on the defensive within his own 
territory'' ; or (3) he would invade North Natal in force. In 
either of the two first alternatives it would be necessary to 
hold the line of railwaJ^ and even m the event of an invasion 
in force it would be necessary for us to hold it long enough 
to efiPect the destruction of its most vuhierable points by the 
rearguard of a retreating force. 

I had, therefore, arranged to push the garrison at Ladysmith 
to the gorge through the Biggarsberg which had the railway 
running through it to Glencoe ; to entrench that naturally 
splendid position ; to send light troops forward to the Ingagane, 
and possibly to Newcastle, and to use my two regiments of 
cavalry and the Natal Mounted Police for scouting widely to 
the east and west of the railway, watching the passes of the 
Drakensberg on the west and the drifts over the Buffalo 
River on the east, getting instant news of all Boer movements, 
and standing ready to face back from Glencoe to Ladysmith 
if seriously threatened upon either flank, and to retire entirely 
from Ladysmith over the Tugela to Estcourt, and even to 
Nottingham Road, if the forces of the two Repubhcs crossed 
the Berg and the Buffalo, and descended from Lamg's Nek 
along the railway upon Glencoe in strength. The essence of 
my plan of campaign was defensive : an easy retirement in 



t 



DEFENCE SCHEME COMPLETED 421 

face of superior numbers ; blowing up of culverts ; breaking 
of bridges ; carrying along by means of the railway, which was 
the centre of the movement, my stores, supplies, and ammuni- 
tion. Later on an entirely fatuous use was made of this simple 
scheme, changing its whole nature, essence, and design. 

So much for Natal. In the Cape Colony the nature of my 
plan was nearly the same. The three railway junctions of 
De Aar, Naaupoort, and Stormberg were to have garrisons ; 
in the first instance only one river bridge was to be held, that 
known as Orange River Bridge, on the main railway route to 
Kimberle}" and Rhodesia. 

All these plans and purposes, however, I put away in my 
own mind, quite as fearful of my friends in the War Office, 
with their plans for seizing the very ends of the sub-continent 
by spreading out my poor little force of five or six thousand 
men over fifteen hundred miles of frontier, as I was of the 
Boers beyond the Bergs and rivers and the great plateaux of 
the central continent. 

I went back to Natal, stopping again for a day or two in 
Johannesburg. Everything in that great gold centre was 
humming of peace and prosperity. A great ' boom ' in stocks 
and shares was in full swmg. The Stock Exchange howled 
with excitement. ' A man was poor in the morning and rich 
in the evening,' they told me — they did not say what happened 
to him the da}^ after. I was taken to see one of the largest 
of the racing stables belonging to one of the many cosmo- 
politan milHonaires on the Rand. Among the animals pro- 
duced some had cost prices running well into four figures. 
That horse was for the Kimberley Derby in the following 
August or September ; this animal was entered for the 
Kroonstadt Newmarket : this agam for the Johannesburg 
Oaks in November. 

When I got back to Cape Town I found the same serenity 
of life and prospect everywhere prevailing. Indeed, I found 
something more. Here is the picture of the British army as 
it stood at that moment in England in the eyes of the best 
judge of the soldier I had found in the course of my service. 
The letter awaiting me bore date 8th February 1899 : — 

' We are doing little here (the War Office). I struggle to get the 



422 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

army into fighting efficiency ; but it is no easy work under present 
conditions ; more and more the W. O. clerk is becoming the real 
ruler of the army, and views and objects are paid less and less 
attention to. We offer only boys' wages, and consequently we 
only obtain boy recruits, and of those we accept, over one-third are 
below even the low physical standard laid down for recruits. In 
fact, at this moment over one-half of the Home, army are unfit to 
carry a pack or do a week's, I might perhaps say a day's, hard work 
in the field ! ' 

This expose of our military weakness was given at the end 
of a letter in which the life of the late General CoUey was dealt 
with by the writer. Its significance was the more impressive 
taken in that context ; and it certainly did not tend to lead 
one to think that a policy of diplomatic aggression against the 
Dutch Republics could have been then even remoteh- possible. 
All the more, however, did it confirm me in the necessity of 
framing my scheme of defence in South Africa upon the lines 
I have already indicated. March and April ran out without 
anything occurring in the apparent situation. It was only 
later, when things assumed other aspects, that, looking back 
upon these months, one was able to see beneath their outward 
calm signs that had a subsequent significance. Individual 
members of the most advanced section of the old Raider group 
began to arrive from England. Some of these persons went 
to Rhodesia, others to Johannesburg. Some of the ladies 
whose husbands filled prominent positions in the Chartered 
Company in Rhodesia departed for England. Mr. Rhodes 
was still in England. But the movements of individuals 
above mentioned had reference solely to the financial groups 
known as the Chartered Company, ' De Beers Co.,' and the 
largest of Anglo-German syndicates in Johannesburg. Not one 
word of warning, official or private, was coming from the War 
Office. Indeed, things were running quite in the other direc- 
tion. We received orders to reduce expenditure ; to give up 
ordnance and other storehouse accommodation. The proposi- 
tions to complete the field transport for the troops in Natal 
and the Cape Colony, sanctioned two years earlier, were 
negatived. Our estimates for repeating the small field train- 
ings and marchings which had been given in other j'^ears were 
reduced. Our proposals to purchase land for military practice 



THE HOME AUTHORITIES • 423 

and for remount establishments were refused. And, so far 
as the mind of the military advisers of the Home Government 
could be reaxi in the despatches, letters, and decisions coming 
to us from London, the outlook was one of profound peace. 

When, within a year of the time I am now dealing with, 
the mendacities of the political and financial world were let 
loose against me in London, and I was charged with having 
wilfully neglected my duty of warning the Home authorities 
of the condition of affairs in South Africa, I went back among 
my old papers and letters to seek for any traces, in these early 
months of 1899,'showing that I had received intimations from 
my superiors of a disposition on their part to bring matters 
to a climax in South Africa. It is almost absurd to read now 
the items which I then exhumed from this correspondence. 

' I am afraid,' wrote one headquarters staff-ofl&cer in high position, 
' that you will find a good deal of work in front of you in connection 
with defence matters — this has been caused partly by a certain 
amount of misunderstanding at headquarters.' 

Again, as late as the month of May 1899, I find the problem 
of South African defence thus referred to : — 

' It is difficult to unravel the various directions sent to you from 
the different branches here, each without the knowledge of the other 
branches concerned ! ' 

Again, another high authority at the War Office wrote : — 

' There has been a good deal of confusion at headquarters from 
various branches having taken action without reference to the 

Commander-in-Chief's department. Neither nor knew 

what was going on.' 

The official document which I had received about the time 
of Sir Alfred ^lilner's return to the Cape, on the subject of the 
usual defence scheme for my command, had in its earlier 
paragraphs this sentence : — 

' Her Majesty's Government has no special reason to apprehend 
any hostihties with the Republics in the immediate future.' 

A grandiloquent statement of opinion which was reiterated 
to me five months later, viz. in June 1899, in the following 
enlightening sentiment : — 



424 SIR WILLIAM BUTLER : AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

' Without entering into any close consideration of the poHtical 
situation, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the possibiUty 
of war in South Africa has not yet been eliminated.' 

It would not be easy, I think, to beat that ' yet/ written from 
the source and centre of all military authority three months 
before the actual outbreak of war — an outbreakwhich was solely 
caused by our determination to press the diplomatic initiative 
during that and the two following months, leaving the case 
of the military initiative to be entirely unconsidered. It will 
scarcely be credited that a Secretary for War three years after 
this time had the temerity (I shall not use a stronger term) to say 
that the orders sent to me at the Cape relative to a defence 
scheme had been of a clear and helpful nature. This, too, was 
despite Sir Redvers BuUer's statement before the War Commis- 
sion when he gave that body the inner, or War Office, account 
of what was happening at that moment in the War Office. This 
is what he said, ' What really happened was this : I came up 
from Aldershot early in July (1899) and I told the Under 
Secretary for War that if the War Office telegrams were pub- 
lished hereafter he would be hanged. I said every head of 
every department of the War Office is sending out telegrams 
on the same subject, but in a different sense, to that poor un- 
fortunate general at the Cape, and you wiU drive him mad.' 
Well, though the telegrams and letters were even more muddling 
than poor BuUer had any idea of (because, although he was 
at that moment secretly designated to succeed me in the 
command of South Africa, he had only a partial knowledge 
of the confusion), the conflicting orders did not drive me mad. 
They only drove me into a silent resolution to form mj'' own 
scheme of defence quite independent of what I called ' the 
tangled thread of former plans and orders.' 

AH at once, early in the month of May, the scene changed. 
I think it wiU be desirable that I should treat this change 
not as I can see it with so much clearer vision now, but as 
my letters and memoranda of the time show, as in a series of 
* snapshots,' the effect produced on my mind by each fresh 
development of the situation, 

' Brd May 1899. — We are getting our South African news from 
London as we get much of our meat and all our drink from it. But 



NOTES MADE AT THE MOMENT f 426 

there is a difference between the mental and bodily sustenance thus 
received. The news is first made up here by the syndicate for the 
transmission of false information, which has such enormous resources 
at its disposal, and is then cabled to London to produce alarm on 
the Stock Exchange or unrest in the Cabinet. Here nothing is 
known about this alarming state of things, and in Johannesburg 
it is even less apparent. Our Johannesburg has more prosperity 
in it, as that word is understood in modem life, than any place in 
the world. Nowhere is there so much betting, gambling, drinking ; 
so much eating of good things ; in no other place are wages so high ; 
nowhere does the lady with the straw-coloured hair reap larger 
harvests, the publican sell so many drinks, or the Jew^ find so many 
avenues open to him. But your London Johannesburg is quite 
another place.' 

' XOth May. — Saw Governor to-day. He spoke at some length 
upon state of affairs here. Having held reins of civil government 
for nearly three months in his absence, I resolved, on giving up my 
seat, not to speak of civil affairs unless he spoke first to me. He 
said the situation had considerable amount of danger in it, although 
not the danger the newspapers appeared desirous of giving it ; 
that out of, say, ten chances, there were nine that matters would not 
reach the stage of armed intervention, but that remaining one should 
be considered. " Supposing," he said, " it was necessary by and 
by to bring pressure to bear upon the Transvaal Government in a 
matter such as the franchise, could anything be done in that line 
by moving the troops in Natal forward to the frontier ? " I laughed 
openly at the idea. The existing force, I said, could only be relied 
on to hold certain positions in Natal and the Cape Colony which I 
had already fixed upon in my own mind, but for obvious reasons 
kept to myself. To bring pressure on the Dutch Republics would 
require forty thousand men (that was a sudden offhand answer to 
a question put offhandedly ; later on, as events developed, I put 
the numbers very much higher). We then touched upon many 
matters of controversy then going on between Colonial Office and 
Transvaal. I said that in my opinion " the real danger lay in the 
suspicions entertained by the Boers and by all the Dutch in South 
Africa about our real intentions ; that since the Raid they sus- 
pected everything we did