Brief History
The Egyptians had long desired to deal with the troublesome tribes to the south of their country. Ismail wished to extend his sway along the Nile valley to the equatorial lakes, and conceived the idea of annexing all the country between the Nile and the Indian Ocean. An expedition was sent (1875) to the Juba River with that object, but it was withdrawn at the request of the British government, as it infringed the rights of the sultan of Zanzibar. The control of all territories south of Gondokoro had been given (April I, 1869) to Sir Samuel Baker, who, however, only left Khartoum to take up his governorship in February 1870. Reaching Gondokoro onthe 26th of May following, he formally annexed that station, which he named Ismailia, to the khedival Darlur domains. Baker remained as governor of these Provinces until August 1873, and in March 1874 Colonel C. G. Gordon took up the same post.

The Juba was quite unsuitable as a means of communication between the Indian Ocean and the Nile. The proposal made to lsmail by Gordon was to send an expedition to Mombasa and thence up the Tana River, but for some unexplained reason, or perhaps by mistake, the expedition was ordered to the Juba. Gordon made strenuous efforts towards crushing the slave trade, but their endeavours were largely thwarted by the inaction of the authorities at Khartoum. Under Gordon the Upper Nile region as far as the borders of Uganda came effectively under Egyptian control, though the power of the government extended on the east little beyond the banks of the rivers. On the west the Bahr-el-Ghazal had been overrun by Arab or semi-Arab slave-dealers. Nominally subjects of the khedive, they acted as free agents, reducing the country over which they terrorized to a state of abject misery. The most powerful of the slave traders was Zobeir Pasha, who, having defeated a force sent from Khartoum to reduce him to obedience invaded Darfur (1874). The khedive, fearing the power of Zobeir, also sent an expedition to Darfur, and that country, after a stout resistance, was conquered. Zobeir claimed to be made governor general of the new province; his request being refused, he went to Cairo to urge his claim. At Cairo he was detained by the Egyptian authorities.

Though spasmodic efforts were made to promote agriculture and open up communications the Sudan continued to be a constant drain on the Egyptian exchequer. The khedive Ismail revived Said's project of a railway, and a survey for a line from Wadi Halfa to Khartoum was made (1871), while a branch line to Massawa was also contemplated. As with Said's project these schemes came to naught.

In October 1876 Gordon left the Equatorial Provinces and gave up his appointment In February 1877. Under pressure from the British General and Egyptian governments, he went to Cairo, where Gordon was given the governorship of the whole of the Egyptian territories outside Egypt; namely, the general Sudan provinces proper, the Equatorial Provinces, Darfur, and the Red Sea and Somali coasts. Gordon remained in the Sudan until August 1879. In 1877 Gordon suppressed a revolt in Darfur and received the submission of Suliman Zobeir, who was at the head of a gang of slave traders on the Bahr-el-Ghazal frontier. In 1878 there was further trouble in Darfur and also in Kordofan, and Gordon. visited both these provinces, breaking up many companies of slave-hunters. Meantime Suliman (acting on the instructions of his father, who was still at Cairo) had broken out into open revolt against the Egyptians in the Bahr el Ghazal. The crushing of Suliman was entrusted by Gordon to Romolo Gessi (1831-1881), an Italian who had previously served under Gordon on the Upper Nile. Gessi, after a most arduous campaign (I878 - 79), in which he displayed great military skill, defeated and captured Suliman, whom, with other ring leaders, he executed. The slave-raiders were completely broken up and over 10,000 captives released. A remnant of Zobeir's troops under a chief named Rabah succeeded in escaping westward. Having conquered the province Gessi was made governor of the Bahr-el-Ghazal and given the rank of pasha.

When Gordon left the Sudan he was succeeded at Khartoum by Raouf Pasha, under whom may of the old abuses of the Egyptian administration were revived. At this time the high European officials in the Sudan, besides Gessi, included Emin Pasha, then a bey of the Equatorral Province since 1878, and Slatin Pasha then also a bey of Darfur. Gessi, who had most successfully governed his province, found his position under Raouf intolerable, resigned his post in September 1880 and was succeeded by Frank Lupton, an Englishman, and formerly captain of a Red Sea merchant steamer, who was given the rank of bey. At this period (1880-1882) schemes for the reorganization and better administration of the Sudan were elaborated on paper, but the revolt in Egypt under Arabi and the appearance in the Sudan of a Mahdi prevented these schemes from being put into execution.

The Mahdist movement, which was utterly to overthrow Egyptian rule, derived its strength from two different causes: the oppression under which the people suffered, and the measures taken to prevent the Baggara (cattle-owning Arabs) from slave trading. Venality and the extortion of the tax gatherer flourished anew after the departure of Gordon, while the feebleness of his successors inspired in the Baggara a contempt for the authority which prohibited them pursuing their most lucrative traffic. When Mahommed Ahmed, a Dongolese, proclaimed himself the long-looked-for Mahdi (guide) of Islam, he found most of his original followers among the grossly superstitious villagers of Kordofan, to whom he preached universal equality and a community of goods, while denouncing the Turks as unworthy Moslems on whom God would execute judgment. The Baggara perceived in this Mahdi one who could be used to shake off Egyptian rule, and their adhesion to him first gave importance to his mission. Mahommed Ahmed became at once the leader and the agent of the Baggara. He married the daughters of their sheikhs and found in Abdullah, a member of the Taaisha section of the tribe, his chief supporter. The first armed conflict between the Egyptian troops and the Mahdis followers occurred in August 1881. The Mahdi suffered his most glorious victory with the annihilation of an army of over 10,000 men commanded by Hicks Pasha (Colonel William Hicks formerly of the Bombay army). This made the Mahdi the undisputed master of Kordofan and Sennar. The next month, December 1883, saw the surrender of Slatin in Darfur, whilst in February 2884 Osman Digna, his amir in the Red Sea regions, inflicted a crushing defeat on some 4,000 Egyptians at El Teb near Suakin. In April following Lupton Bey, governor of Bahr-el-Ghazal, whose troops and officials had embraced the Mahdist cause, surrendered and was sent captive to Omdurman, where he died on the 8th of May 1888.

On learning of the disaster to Hicks Pasha's army, the British government (Great Britain having been since 1882 in military occupation of Egypt) insisted that the Egyptian government should evacuate such parts of the Sudan as they still held, and General Gordon was despatched, with Lt-Colonel Donald H. Stewart, to Khartoum to arrange the withdrawal of the Egyptian civil and military population. Gordons instructions, based largely on his own suggestions, were not wholly consistent; they contemplated vaguely the establishment of some form of stable government on the surrender of Egyptian authority, and among the documents with which he was furnished was an order creating him governor- general of the Sudan. Gordon reached Khartoum on the 18th of February 1884 and at first his mission, which had aroused great enthusiasm in England, promised success. To smooth the way for the retreat of the Egyptian garrisons and civilians he issued proclamations announcing that the suppression of the slave trade was abandoned, that the Mahdi was sultan of Kordofan, and that the Sudan was independent of Egypt. He enabled some thousands of refugees to make their escape from Darfur.

The Sudanese spoke of all foreigners as Turks. This arose from the fact that most of the higher Egyptian officials were of Turkish descent and that the army was officered mainly by Turks, Albanians, Circassians, etc, and included in the ranks many Bashi-Bazuks (irregulars) of non-Sudanese origin.

Bu the time of the evacuation the situation had altered for the worse and Mahdism was gaining strength among tribes in the Nile valley.. As the only means of preserving authority at Khartoum (and thus securing the peaceful withdrawal of the garrison) Gordon repeatedly telegraphed to Cairo asking that Zobeir Pasha might be sent to him, his intention being to hand over to Zobeir the government of the country. Zobeir, a Sudanese Arab, was probably the one man who could have withstood successfully the Mahdi. Owing to Zobeir's notoriety as a slave-raider Gordon's request was refused. All hope of a peaceful retreat of the Egyptians was thus rendered impossible. The Mahdist movement now swept northward and on the 20th of May Berber was captured by the dervishes and Khartoum isolated. From this time the energies of Gordon were devoted to the defence of that town. After months of delay due to the vacillation of the British government a relief expedition was sent up the Nile under the command of Lord Wolseley. It started too late to achieve its object, and on the 25th of January 1885 Khartoum was captured by the Mahdi and Gordon killed. Colonel Stewart, Frank Power (British consul at Khartoum) and M. Herbin (French consul), who (accompanied by nineteen Greeks) had been sent down the Nile by Gordon in the previous September to give news to the relief force, had been decoyed ashore and murdered (Sept. 18, 1884). The fall of Khartoum was followed by the withdrawal of the British expedition, Dongola being evacuated in June 1885. In the same month Kassala capitulated, but just as the Mahdi had practically completed the destruction of the Egyptian power he died, in this same month of June 1885. He was at once succeeded by the khalifa Abdullah, whose rule continued until the 2nd of September 1898, when his army was completely overthrown by an Anglo-Egyptian force under Sir H Kitchener.

The Mahdi had been regarded by his adherents as the only true commander of the faithful. Blessed with divine power to conquer the whole world. He had at first styled his followers dervishes (i.e. religious mendicants) and given them the jibba as their characteristic garment or uniform. Later on he commanded the faithful to call themselves ansar (helpers), a reference to the part they were to play in his career of conquest, and at the time of his death he was planning an invasion of Egypt. He had liberated the Sudanese from the extortions of the Egyptians, but the people soon found that the Mahdi's rule was as oppressive than had been that of their former masters, and after the Mahdi's death the situation of the peasantry in particular grew rapidly worse, neither life nor property being safe. Abdullah set himself steadily to crush all opposition to his own power. Mahommed Ahmed had, in accordance with the traditions which required the Mahdi to have four khalifas, nominated, besides Abdullah, Ali wad Helu, a sheikh of the Degheim and Kenana Arabs, and Mahommed esh Sherif, his son-in-law, as khalifas. (The other khalifaship was vacant having been declined by the sheikh es Senussi). Wad Helu and Sherif were stripped of their power and gradually all chiefs and amirs not of the Baggara tribe were got rid of except Osman Digna, whose sphere of operations was on the Red Sea coast. Abdullah's rule was a military despotism which brought the country to a state of almost complete agricultural and commercial ruin. He was also almost constantly in conflict either with the Shilluks, Nuers and other tribes of the south; with the peoples of Darfur, where at one time an anti-Mahdi gained a great following; with the Abyssinians; with the Kabbabish and other Arab tribes who Sea ports of Suakin and Massawa never fell into the harass of the Mahdists. The garrisons of some other towns were rescued by the Abyssinians. This period in the history of the Sudan is known as the Mahdia.

The khalifa maintained devoted adherents and successfully kept his position. The attempt to conquer Egypt ended in the total defeat of the dervish army at Toski. The attempts to subdue the Equatorial Provinces were but partly successful. Emin Pasha, to whose relief H. M. Stanley had gone, evacuated Wadelai in April 1889. The greater part of the region and also most of the Bahr-el-Ghazal relapsed into a state of complete anarchy.

In the country under his dominion the khalifa's government was carried on after the manner of other Mahommedan states, but pilgrimages to the Mahdis tomb at Omdurman were substituted for pilgrimages to Mecca. The arsenal and dockyard and the printing press at Khartoum were kept busy (the workmen being Egyptians who had escaped massacre). Otherwise Khartoum was deserted, the khalifa making Omdurman his capital and compelling disaffected tribes to dwell in it so as to be under better control. While Omdurman grew to a huge size the population of the country generally dwindled enormously from constant warfare and the ravages of disease, small-pox being endemic. The Europeans in the country were kept prisoners at Omdurman. Besides ex-officials like Slatin and Lupton, they included several Roman Catholic priests and sisters, and numbers of Greek merchants established at Khartoum. Although several were closely imprisoned, loaded with chains and repeatedly flogged, it is a noteworthy fact that none was put to death. From time to time a prisoner made his escape.

The fanaticism with which the Mahdi had inspired his followers remained almost unbroken to the end. The khalifa after the fatal day of Omdurman fled to Kordofan where he was killed in battle in November 1899. In January 1900 Osman Digna, a wandering fugitive for months, was captured. In 1902 the last surviving dervish amir of importance surrendered to the sultan of Darfur. Mahdism as a vital force in the old Egyptian Sudan ceased, however, with the Anglo-Egyptian victory at Omdurman. An Anglo-Egyptian Condominium was established. At the time the Sudan was reconquered (1896 - 98) France was endeavouring to establish her authority on the river between Khartoum and Gondokoro, as the Marchand expedition from the Congo to Fashoda demonstrated. The Nile constituted, in the words of Lord Cromer, the true justification of the policy of re-occupation, and made the Sudan a priceless possession for Egypt.

The Sudan having been reconquered by the joint military and financial efforts of Great Britain and Egypt, the British government claimed by right of conquest to share in the settlement of the administration and legislation of the country. To meet these claims an agreement (which has been called the constitutional charter of the Sudan) between Great Britain and Egypt, was signed on the 19th of January 1899, establishing the joint sovereignty of the two states.

In the autumn of 1903 Mahommed-el-Amin, a native of Tunis, proclaimed himself the Mahdi and got together a following in Kordofan. He was captured by the governor of Kordofan and publicly executed at El Obeid. In April 1908 Abdul-Kader, a Halowin Arab and ex-dervish, rebelled in the Blue Nile province, claiming to be the prophet Issa (Jesus). On the 29th of that month he murdered Scott-Moncrieff, deputy inspector of the province, and the Egyptian mamur. The rising was promptly suppressed, Abdul Kader was captured and was hanged on the 17th of May.

The reorganization of the country had already begun, supreme power being centred in one official termed the governor-general of the Sudan. To this post was appointed Lord Kitchener, the sirdar (commander-in-chief) of the Egyptian army, under whom the Sudan had been reconquered. On Lord Kitchener going to South Africa at the close of 1899 he was succeeded as sirdar and governor-general by Major-General SIr F. R. Wingate, who had served with the Egyptian army since 1883. At the head of every mudiria (province) was placed a British official, though many of the subordinate posts were filled by Egyptians. An exception was made in the case of Darfur, which before the battle of Omdurman had thrown off the khalifa's rule and was again under a native sovereign. This potentate, the sultan All Dinar, was recognized by the Sudan government, on condition of the payment of an annual tribute.

The first duty of the new administration, the restoration of public order, met with comparatively little opposition, though tribes such as the Nuba mountaineers, accustomed from time immemorial to raid their weaker neighbors, gave some trouble. In 1906, in 1908, and again in 1910 expeditions had to be sent against the Nubas. In the Bahr-el-Ghazal the Niam-Niams at first disputed the authority of the government, but Sultan Yambio, the recalcitrant chief, was mortally wounded in a fight in February 1905 and no further disturbance occurred. The delimitation (1903-1904) of the frontier between the Sudan and Abyssinia enabled order to be restored in a particularly lawless region, and slave raiding on a large scale ended in that quarter with the capture and execution of a notorious offender in 1904. In Kordofan, Darfur and the Bahr-el-Ghazal the slave trade continued however for some years later.

It became independent in 1956.

Imperial Flag of Sudan
map of Sudan
1921 map of Sudan
1925 German Map of East Africa
Dongola and Berber map, 1945
Khartoum map, 1945
Historical sudan
Images of Sudan
National Archive Sudan Images
1898 - 1956
The Story of General Gordon
Full (abridged) history written by Jeannie Lang
The Crescent and the Cross
A BBC audio program about the Mahdi

Sudanese Slit Drum
A History of the World In 100 Objects program from the BBC

How to Kill Locusts
Arthur Staniforth recounts how he attempted to control locusts from swarming in remarkable surroundings in Sudan in 1945.
Further Reading
Personal and Historical Memoirs of an East African Administrator
by Sir Geoffrey Archer

The Red Pelican by Jon Arensen

Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure
by Michael Asher

Blood-Red Desert Sand: The British Invasions of Egypt and the Sudan 1882-98 (Cassell Military Trade Books)
by Michael Barthrop

Shadows on the Sand: The Memoirs of Sir Gawain Bell
by Sir Gawain Bell

Civilizing Women: British Crusades in Colonial Sudan
by Janice Boddy

The Wind of Morning
by Sir Hugh Boustead

Last Guardians: Crown Service in Sudan, Northern Rhodesia and Britain
by Philip Bowcock

Fraser Darling in Africa: A Rhino in the Whistling Thorn
by John Morton Boyd

The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan
by Winston Churchill

The British in the Sudan: 1898-1956. The Sweetness and the Sorrow.
by Robert Collins

Land Beyond the Rivers: The Southern Sudan 1898-1918
by Robert Collins

Empire on the Nile: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898-1934
by M Daly

Imperial Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium 1934-1956
by M Daly

Gordon: Victorian Hero (Military Profiles)
by C. Brad Faught

Letters To Her Mother: War-Time In The Sudan 1938-1945
by Helen Foley

JIHAD: The Mahdi Rebellion in the Sudan
by Murray Fraddin

Three Empires on the Nile: The Victorian Jihad, 1869-1899
by Dominic Green

Britain's Foreign Policy in Egypt and Sudan, 1947-56
by J.A. Hall

Sudan Canterbury Tales
edited by Hawley, Sir Donald

Set Under Authority
by K.D.D. Henderson

Thomas Hodgkin: Letters from Africa, 1947-56
Edited by Elizabeth Hodgkin

Tropical Africa, 1908-1944,: Memoirs of a period
by Eric Hussey

Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure
by Tim Jeal

Pasha of Jerusalem: Memoirs of a District Commissioner Under the British Mandate
by Edward Keith-Roach

Sudan Tales: Reminiscences of Wives in the Sudan Political Service, 1926-56
by Rosemary Kenrick

It might Have Been You
by Collie Knox

Ilemi Triangle: Unfixed Bandit Frontier claimed by Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia
by Dr Nene Mburu

Trek into Nuba by Ian Mackie

Omdurman Diaries: 1898
by John Meredith

Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya 1877-1880
by Alice Moore-Harell

The Mahdi of Sudan and the Death of General Gordon
by Fergus Nicoll

Sudan Days
by Richard Owen

British Military Operations in Egypt and the Sudan: A Selected Bibliography
by Harold Raugh No Weariness: The Memoir of a Generalist in Public Service in Four Continents 1919-2000
by am Scruton Richardson

Transition in Africa: from Direct Rule to Independence: A Memoir
by Sir James Robertson

Bare Feet and Bandoliers: Wingate, Sandford, the Patriots and the Liberation of Ethiopia
by David Shirreff

Imperial Echoes: the Sudan-People, History and Agriculture
by Arthur Staniforth

Tour of Duty
by George Symes

Far from the Valleys
by Graham Thomas

The Last of the Proconsuls: Letters of Sir James Robertson
by Graham Thomas

Sudan Under Wingate: Administration in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1899-1916)
by Gabriel Warburg

Wheels and Paddles in the Sudan, 1923-46
by C.R. William

Battle Story Omdurman 1898
by William Wright

Omdurman (Pen & Sword Military Classics)
by Philip Ziegler

Four Feathers (1939)
Four Feathers (2002)
For Sudan Items