HL Deb 31 March 1884 vol 286 cc1122-4

, in rising to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Government have any information leading them to believe that the Mahdi is disposed to accept the offers made to him relative to Kordofan; whether such acceptance would imply the abandonment of all temporal or spiritual pretensions outside that province; and, whether the forces lately in conflict with British troops in the Eastern Soudan were not avowedly in arms for the purpose of establishing the authority of the Mahdi in that region? said, the Question he wished to put to Her Majesty's Ministers bore on a point which had never been distinctly made clear in any of the explanations given, either in that House or "elsewhere." The revolt, headed by the Mahdi, before Her Majesty's Government entered on their recent policy, was one the objects of which could not be limited to any one Province or even to the Soudan itself, being directed to establish a supremacy for a Leader who claimed to bear the commission of a Prophet over all Mussulman lands which it could overrun. Her Majesty's Government, however, had considered that, by recognizing the independence of the Soudan, they would stop the tide of that movement. They relied, apparently, on the language of Colonel Stewart, pointing out that, but for the oppression of the country, the Mahdi would not have been able to light that conflagration, a statement by no means necessarily implying that now that numbers of followers had accepted the Mahdi's mission, and that victories like those over Hicks and Baker had led them to believe his cause irresistible in its power, they would be ready to set bounds to their progress, till, as had partly occurred, their strength had been broken. The first thing they had heard after General Gordon's mission was that he recommended no direct dealing with the Mahdi. The next thing was that he proclaimed him Prince of Kordofan. This, they had been told, was recognizing an established fact. But recognizing such a power as that of the Mahdi was making the fact more significant, which, if it was unconnected with any conditions, tended only to make him more confident in his pretensions. They did not know the terms of that offer, or how it had been received. He had seen that one of the organs of the Liberal Party in the Press stated, as a fact, that the Mahdi was favourably disposed to England, which, no doubt, made it appear more strange to many that we should be engaged in a struggle with his lieutenant, Osman Digna. The same report stated that El Obeid was in complete anarchy, the Mahdi having performed no administrative acts beyond certain executions, a state of things which, if true, did not augur well for the success of the policy which recognized him as a Sultan. He (Lord Colchester) did not wish to express any particular censure of the operations lately undertaken in the vicinity of Suakin, though it was natural enough that those who did believe in the policy of the Government, those who did think that a solution of the question was to be obtained by leaving the Soudan to itself, might have been bitterly disappointed at such a result, and disposed to denounce, as useless slaughter, that warfare against those they had been told only desired to be rid of Egyptian oppression. It might seem repugnant that men of determined valour should be slain by thousands by the mere mechanical superiority of the arms of European troops; but it was clear that the followers of Osman Digna were desperate and dangerous fanatics, neither giving nor accepting mercy, and whose triumph meant the extermination or slavery of all who, whether Christian or Mussulman, did not accept their Prophet's mission. If the views of Her Majesty's Government were, that it was necessary to allow no troops professing allegiance to the Mahdi to approach the Red Sea shore, he did not dispute that it might have been a right policy. But their satisfaction must be diminished by finding that all their victories resulted only in driving the enemy into a country a few marches inland, where they could not he followed. Since the Notice of the Question had been given there had been still graver news from Khartoum. It appeared that the policy of withdrawal from a liberated Soudan had ended by involving us in a war with the Mahdi, a war alike by the Nile and the Red Sea, the practical purpose of which must be to compel him to take the step he could hardly do without ruining his cause—that of abdicating the position of a quasi-Caliph to accept that of a local Prince. He would conclude by asking the Question of which he had given Notice.


, in reply, said, that the answer to the first part of the Question must be in the negative. Her Majesty's Government had no information of the kind the noble Lord asked for; and, that being the case, he was unable to give any answer to the second part, which was dependent on the first. In reply to the third part, he believed there was no doubt whatever that the Natives, who fought against Her Majesty's troops near Suakin, professed to do it for the purpose of establishing the authority of the Mahdi in that part of the country.