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Two .455 Colt 1878 revolvers

Purchased for the relief column to save Gordon of Khartoum


From the records that have survived the two .455 Colt 1878 revolvers displayed below were purchased from Colt’s agency at 14 Pall Mall, London in 1884 almost certainly for use with the relief column.

In 1881 a self-appointed Muslim leader rose to power in the Sudan he called himself El Mahdi or in English ‘The Messiah’.  He started to unite the Sudanese tribes and formed a great army that sought to gain independence from Egypt and reinstate the slave trade - a major source of business and rid the Sudan of non-Muslims.

Muhammad Ahmad the self-proclaimed Mahdi

Britain had an interest in Egypt and protecting its trade route to India via the Suez Canal.

Egypt was in control of the Sudan and the stability of the region was of great importance to Britain although it had no wish to get involved in a war and persuaded Egypt to evacuate all the Europeans and its garrisons. General Gordon, who had previously been the Governor-General in the Sudan, was a popular figure in Britain and seemed a good choice to help with the task.

Major-General Charles George Gordon

Gordon, a devout Christian, accepted the job but had other ideas about the Mahdists and believed he could persuade the Sudanese tribes to fight and stop the Mahdi and the spread of Islam. He initially asked for troops to support him, all requests were refused and he was again told to evacuate and leave the Sudanese to their fate.

The Egyptian army by now had failed to stop the Mardi’s rebellion, on 20th March, 1884 Gordon became besieged at Khartoum.  He now sought rescue from the British army.

There was a great reluctance from the British Government to get involved as they didn’t want to be drawn into a costly war that was seen as an Egyptian problem.  As outrage occurred in Britain at Gordon’s plight, a relief column was eventually raised but it took 10 months for the relief to arrive.

On 25-26th January 1885, with two relief columns being within days of reaching Khartoum, one coming across the desert led by General Sir Garnet Wolseley and another column coming by river along the Nile, the Mahdists attacked the city killing all the Egyptian soldiers and its 4000 inhabitants.  Despite orders from the Mahdi that Gordon was to be taken alive, General Gordon was speared on the steps of the palace and the Mahdi was presented with his head.   In Britain, Gordon was seen as a Christian martyr and hero.  The Mahdi died a few months later of typhus and was succeeded by the Khalifi.

General Gordon's Last Stand 1885 by George William Joy

An Arabic speaking Major in the Royal Engineers had been working undercover as an Arab spy and acting as liaison with Gordon and the intelligence department, nearly 14 years later this man was to return to the Sudan as a General to avenge Gordon and Khartoum.  His name was Horatio Herbert Kitchener.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener

After Kitchener’s return and virtual annihilation of the Mahdist army at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 the Mahdist war was over.  Ten thousand Dervishes and Fuzzy Wuzzies had been killed for the loss of very few men of Kitchener’s army. A service was held after the battle across the river Nile at Khartoum, where Gordon had been killed.

Kitchener was a national hero for avenging the death of Gordon; he was given the title Kitchener of Khartoum.  Kitchener’s next campaign was fighting the Boers.

The Mahdi’s tomb at Omdurman was destroyed and the body disposed of so as not to become a shrine and cause further rebellion.  His skull however was presented to Kitchener as a trophy with the suggestion of possibly having it silver mounted and used as an inkwell, drinking cup or even an ashtray.  This caused great uproar in the press and it was eventually buried in a Muslim cemetery.


Several other soldiers of later WW1 fame also fought in the Battle of Omdurman; Winston Churchill became first Sea Lord, Douglas Haig and Henry Rawlinson both became Field Marshals and David Beatty who had commanded a gunboat on the Nile later became an Admiral.


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