The British Empire Library

Power And Passion In Egypt: A Life Of Sir Eldon Gorst

by Archie Hunter

Courtesy of OSPA

D V Mountain (N Nigeria 1947-62)
I begin with an admission. Before reading this book I knew little enough about Lords Cromer and Kitchener, and the role of the British in Egypt and the Sudan a hundred years ago. Of Eldon Gorst I knew nothing. It is a pleasure, therefore, to be introduced to his world by means of such an open and well-researched book. It is a great credit to Archie Hunter that he has remained so impartial in writing a biography of his distinguished relative.

Gorst comes out of this account as an able, ambitious, and driven man - he would be called a workaholic nowadays. No doubt the expenditure of so much energy in the end contributed to his early death. Although it is clear he was difficult to get close to, it is easy to sympathise with him once he had been appointed Agent and Consul-General in 1907, and the reader realises the Herculean task he was given of liberalising so many aspects of the Egyptian Government and administration. The vested interests with which he had to contend give rise to a sense of foreboding that what he had been directed to do could not, in reality, be completely achieved. That he achieved so much is remarkable.

As if Egypt was not enough, Gorst was burdened with responsibilities for the Sudan after the defeat of Mahdism; first of all with its financial affairs when he was serving under Cromer and then for the whole country when he was Consul-General. He wisely delegated many of his duties to Wingate, the Governor-General of the Sudan. However, he retained a watchful eye on its finances and questions of law and order, and carried out two major tours of the country to satisfy himself about progress.

Many of the problems Gorst faced would resonate with those generations of British administrators who served in the Sudan in the first half of the 20th century. In particular, the huge distances and their effect on communications made enterprises such as the building of railways, the telegraph system and the development of the Gezira cotton scheme in such a harsh climate a near miracle.

Apart from the historical interest in the book, there is much to interest the student of humanity. Not least Gorst's love affairs, the courses of which did not always run true. His searches for a suitable wife were pursued with a precision one comes to expect of him. One of the most poignant aspects of his career is his friendship with Abbas Hilmi, Khedive of Egypt. The Khedive attended Jack Gorst's deathbed and later laid a wreath on his grave whenever he visited England.

The historical background is fascinating. This period of pervasive British influence in Egypt straddles the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. This influence was maintained both in Egypt and the Sudan largely through the strength of character of the three proconsuls: Cromer, Gorst and Kitchener. Gorst deserves to be better remembered and the author has done a welcome service in making this possible.

British Empire Book
Archie Hunter
I B Tauris
978 1 84511 364 3


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