Freeing Slaves

When Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand emerged from the Sudan's fever-ridden swamps at Fashoda in March, 1898, to claim the Upper Nile for France, the British government recoiled in self-righteous indignation.

Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, ordered the British reserve fleet to prepare for action. His tough attitude was commemorated in the cartoon (above) which shows Salisbury, flanked by the ghost of Wellington, reminding an overbearing France of her defeat at the battle of Waterloo. France and Britain had been rivals for the Nile Valley since Napoleon's Egyptian campaign 80 years before, and the idea of a French triumph after so much time was intolerable.

Mass-circulation British papers, like the Daily Mail, labelled Marchand's forces "mere tourists" and the "scum of the deserts." Even more poker-faced, The Times accused France of "pretensions which are altogether inadmissible." France seemed equally immovable.

Delcasse, the French Prime Minister, said he "would accept war rather than submit." France's popular papers, too, responded in kind to the chauvinistic outpourings across the Channel. They accused the British of "insulting attitudes" and described Captain Marchand's arrival at Fashoda as one of France's most glorious achievements.

But neither side was as set on war as the sensationalist popular Press indicated. The storm died as quickly as it arose. France, now torn by the controversy surrounding Captain Dreyfus's unjust conviction for spying, renounced all her claims to the Nile Valley. She had, in the end, little choice: as Delcasse unhappily remarked : "We have nothing but arguments, and they have the troops." In 1904, when Anglo-French relations had startlingly improved, Fashoda was renamed Kodok to remove a word of national humiliation to the French.



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by Stephen Luscombe