Author: Samuel White Baker


An interval of five years has elapsed since the termination of my engagement in the service of His Highness the Khedive of Egypt, "to suppress the slave-hunters of Central Africa, and to annex the countries constituting the Nile Basin, with the object of opening those savage regions to legitimate commerce and establishing a permanent government."

This volume—"Ismailia"—gives an accurate description of the salient points of the expedition. My thanks are due to the public for the kind reception of the work, and for the general appreciation of the spirit which prompted me to undertake a mission so utterly opposed to the Egyptian ideas of 1869-1873; at a time when no Englishman had held a high command, when rival consulates were struggling for paramount influence, when the native officials were jealous of foreign interference, and it appeared that slavery and the slave trade of the White Nile were institutions almost necessary to the existence of Egyptian society.

It was obvious to all observers that an attack upon the slave-dealing and slave-hunting establishments of Egypt by a foreigner—an Englishman—would be equal to a raid upon a hornets’ nest, that all efforts to suppress the old-established traffic in negro slaves would be encountered with a determined opposition, and that the prime agent and leader of such an expedition must be regarded "with hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness." At that period (1869) the highest authorities were adverse to the attempt. An official notice was despatched from the British Foreign Office to the Consul-General of Egypt that British subjects belonging to Sir Samuel Baker’s expedition must not expect the support of their government in the event of complications. The enterprise was generally regarded as chimerical in Europe, with hostility in Egypt, but with sympathy in America.

Those who have read "Ismailia" may have felt some despondency. Although the slave-hunters were driven out of the territory under my command, there were nevertheless vast tracts of country through which new routes could be opened for the slave caravans to avoid the cruising steamers on the White Nile, and thus defeat the government. The Sultan of Darfur offered an asylum and a secure passage for all slaves and their captors who could no longer venture within the new boundaries of Egypt. It was evident that the result of the expedition under my command was a death-blow to the slave trade, if the Khedive was determined to persist in its destruction. I had simply achieved the success of a foundation for a radical reform in the so-called commerce of the White Nile. The government had been established throughout the newly-acquired territories, which were occupied by military positions garrisoned with regular troops, and all those districts were absolutely purged from the slave-hunters. In this condition I resigned my command, as the first act was accomplished. The future would depend upon the sincerity of the Khedive, and upon the ability and integrity of my successor.

It pleased many people and some members of the press in England to disbelieve the sincerity of the Khedive. He was accused of annexation under the pretext of suppressing the vast organization of the White Nile slave-trade. It was freely stated that an Englishman was placed in command because an Egyptian could not be relied upon to succeed, but that the greed of new territory was the actual and sole object of the expedition, and that the slave-trade would reappear in stupendous activity when the English personal influence should be withdrawn. Such unsympathetic expressions must have been a poor reward to the Khedive for his efforts to win the esteem of the civilized world by the destruction of the slave-trade in his own dominions.

Few persons have considered the position of the Egyptian ruler when attacking the institution most cherished by his people. The employment of an European to overthrow the slave-trade in deference to the opinion of the civilized world was a direct challenge and attack upon the assumed rights and necessities of his own subjects. The magnitude of the operation cannot be understood by the general public in Europe. Every household in Upper Egypt and in the Delta was dependent upon slave service; the fields in the Soudan were cultivated by slaves; the women in the harems of both rich and middle class were attended by slaves; the poorer Arab woman’s ambition was to possess a slave; in fact, Egyptian society without slaves would be like a carriage devoid of wheels—it could not proceed.

The slaves were generally well treated by their owners; the brutality lay in their capture, with the attendant lawlessness and murders; but that was far away, and the slave proprietors of Egypt had not witnessed the miseries of the weary marches of the distant caravans. They purchased slaves, taught them their duties, fed and clothed them—they were happy; why should the Khedive of Egypt prohibit the traffic and thus disturb every household in his territory?

There is no Hyde Park or Trafalgar Square in Egypt, there are no agitators nor open-air meetings, fortunately for the modern ruler, or he would have had an unpleasant expression of the popular sentiment at the close of my administration. The break-up of the White Nile slave-trade involved the depression of trade in Khartoum, as the market had supplied the large bands of slave-hunters. The ivory of the numerous adventurers still remained in the White Nile stations, as they feared confiscation should their vessels be captured with the ever accompanying slave cargo. Thus little ivory arrived at Khartoum to meet the debts of the traders to the merchants in Cairo and Alexandria. These owed Manchester and Liverpool for calicoes supplied, which had been forwarded to the Soudan.

The direct blow at the White Nile slave-trade was an indirect attack upon the commerce of the country, which was inseparably connected with the demand of the Soudan employers of brigands.

This slight outline of the situation will exhibit the difficulties of the Khedive in his thankless and Herculean task of cleansing the Augean stables. He incurred the wrath of general discontent; his own officials accused him of deserting the Mahommedan cause for the sake of European Kudos, and while he sacrificed his popularity in Egypt, his policy was misconstrued by the powers he had sought to gratify. He was accused of civilizing "through the medium of fire and sword" by the same English journals which are now extolling the prowess of the British arms in Caffraria and the newly-annexed Transvaal!

In this equivocal position it would have been natural either to have abandoned the enterprise at the termination of my own engagement, or to have placed a Mahommedan officer in charge of the new provinces. Instead of this, His Highness adhered most strictly to his original determination, and to prove his sincerity he entrusted the command to an English officer of high reputation, not only for military capacity, but for a peculiar attribute of self-sacrifice and devotion. Colonel C. E. Gordon, R.E., C.B., was appointed Governor-General of the Soudan and equatorial districts, with supreme power.

This appointment extinguished the delusions which had been nourished by the Soudan authorities, "that at the expiration of Baker Pacha’s rule the good old times of slavery and lawlessness would return." There was no longer any hope; the slave-trade was suppressed, and the foundation was laid for the introduction of European ideas and civilization. It will now be interesting to trace an outline of the advance of Egypt during the last five years.

The main difficulty in my original enterprise was the obstruction of the White Nile by the accumulation of matted vegetation, which impeded navigation, and actually closed the river. Upon arrival at Gondokoro, after the tedious process of cutting through 50 miles of swamp and vegetable matter, via the Bahr Giraffe, I had requested the Khedive to issue an order that the Governor of Khartoum should immediately commence the great work of re-opening the White Nile.

His Highness without delay forwarded the necessary instructions, and in two years the work was completed by Ismail Ayoob Pacha, with the loss of several vessels which had been overwhelmed by the sudden bursting of vast masses of floating swamps and entangled reeds. It had been necessary to commence operations below stream, to enable the blocks of vegetation to escape when detached by cutting from the main body.

The White Nile was restored to navigation a few months after my return to England, and was clear for large vessels by the time that Colonel Gordon arrived in Khartoum.

I had originally sent up six steamers from Cairo to ply between Khartoum and Gondokoro; these had been simply employed as far as Fashoda station, but as the Nile was now open, they at once established a rapid and regular communication with the equatorial provinces. The terrible difficulty had vanished, and Gondokoro was linked with the outer world from which it had been excluded. The appliances which had been prepared with much care could now be utilized. With the river open, supplies and reinforcements could be immediately forwarded, and the ivory which had accumulated in the government stations could be brought to market. In addition to the physical advantages of restored communication, a great moral change was effected throughout the officers and troops; they felt no longer banished from the world, but accepted their position as garrisons in Egyptian territory.

At Gondokoro I had constructed a steel steamer of 108 tons, and I had left ready packed for land transport a steamer of the same metal 38 tons, in addition to two steel life-boats of each 10 tons, for conveyance to the Albert N’yanza. At Khartoum I had left in sections a steamer of 251 tons. All these vessels had been brought from England and conveyed with incredible trouble upon camels across the deserts to Khartoum.

Before my arrival in the Soudan the entire river force of steamers upon the Blue and White Niles was represented by four very inferior vessels. I had added six from Cairo, and built a seventh; thus I left a force of eleven steamers working on the river, exclusive of two in sections.

The stations garrisoned by regular troops were—
1. Gondokoro, N. lat. 4 degrees 54 minutes.
2. Fatiko, N. lat. 3 degrees 2 minutes.
3. Foweera, N. lat. 2 degrees 6 minutes.
4. Fabbo, N. lat. 3 degrees 8 minutes.

By the newly-raised irregulars—
5. Farragenia.
6. Faloro.

In this position of affairs Colonel Gordon succeeded to the command in the spring of 1874. Although the Bari tribe, which had been subdued, was nominally at peace, it was hardly safe to travel through the country without an armed escort.

Colonel Gordon’s first effort was in favour of conciliation, with the hope of inspiring a friendly spirit among the chiefs. At the same time he resolved to offer a chance for reform to the slave-hunter Abou Saood, who he considered might amend his ways, and from his knowledge of the people become a useful officer to the government. Unfortunately, the leopard could not change his spots, and the man, to whom every opportunity had been given, was dismissed and punished. It was impossible to have discovered an officer more thoroughly qualified for the command than Colonel Gordon. By profession a military engineer, he combined the knowledge especially required for carrying on the enterprise. He had extended the hand of friendship to the natives, but when rejected with contempt and opposed by hostility, he was prompt in chastisement. The wet seasons and attendant high flood of two years were employed in dragging the 108-ton steel steamer up the various cataracts which intervened between Gondokoro and Duflli (N. lat. 3 degrees 34 minutes). This portion of the river formed a series of steps caused by a succession of cataracts at intervals of about 25 miles; between the obstacles the stream was navigable. The natives of Moogi treacherously attacked and killed the whole of a detachment, including the French officer in command, during the absence of Colonel Gordon, who was engaged in the operation of towing the steamer through the rapids only a few miles distant. This open hostility necessitated the subjugation of the tribe, and the establishment of a line of military posts along the course of the river.

After much trouble, at the expiration of two years the steamer was dragged to an utterly impassable series of cataracts south of Lobore. This line of obstruction extended for the short distance of about twelve miles, beyond which the river was navigable into the Albert N’yanza.

Several vessels had been towed up together with the steamer from Gondokoro, and the 38-ton steel steamer and two life-boats which had been thus conveyed, were now carried in sections to the spot above the last cataracts at Duffli, where they could be permanently reconstructed.

Signor Gessi was entrusted with the command of the two life-boats upon their completion, and had the honour of first entering the Albert N’yanza from the north by the river Nile.

The 38-ton steamer was put together, and the 108-ton (Khedive), which had been left a few miles distant from Duffli, below the cataracts, was taken to pieces and reconstructed on the navigable portion of the Nile in N. lat. 3 degrees 34 minutes.

The plan of connecting the equatorial Lake Albert with Khartoum by steam communication which I had originated, was now completed by the untiring energy and patience of my successor. The large steamer of 251 tons was put together at Khartoum, to add to the river flotilla, thus increasing the steam power from four vessels, when I had arrived in 1870, to THIRTEEN, which in 1877 were plying between the capital of the Soudan and the equator. The names of Messrs. Samuda Brothers and Messrs. Penn and Co. upon the three steel steamers and engines which they had constructed for the expedition are now evidences of the civilizing power of the naval and mechanical engineers of Great Britain, which has linked with the great world countries that were hitherto excluded from all intercourse.

There is still some mystery attached to the Albert N’yanza. It has been circumnavigated by Signor Gessi, in the steel life-boats, and subsequently by Colonel Mason of the American army, who was employed under Colonel Gordon. Both of these officers agree that the southern end of the lake is closed by a mass of "ambatch," and that a large river reported as 400 yards in width flows INTO the Albert N’yanza. On the other hand, the well-known African explorer Mr. Stanley visited the lake SOUTH of the ambatch limit, to which he was guided by orders of the King M’tese;. At that spot it was called the "M’woota N’zige;," the same name which the lake bears throughout Unyoro, therefore there can be no reasonable doubt that it is the same water. The description of the ambatch block and the river flowing into the lake explains the information that was given to me by native traders, who declared they had come by canoe from Karagwe;, via the Albert N’yanza, but that it would be difficult without a guide to discover the passage where the lake was extremely narrow and the channel tortuous into the next broad water.

Colonel Gordon has continued the amicable relations established by myself with the Unyoro chief Rionga, and with M’tese;, King of Uganda.

The commercial aspect of the equatorial provinces is improving, but our recent experience in South Africa must teach the most sanguine that very many years must elapse before the negro tribes become amenable to the customs and improvements of civilized communities.

The expedition of 1869 which His Highness the Khedive entrusted to my command laid the foundation for reforms which at that time would have appeared incredible in Egypt. The slave-trade has been suppressed through the agency of British influence, persistently supported by the Khedive; Darfur, the hot-bed of slave-hunting, has been conquered and annexed; Colonel Gordon has the supreme command of the entire Soudan; Malcolm Pacha is commissioned to sweep the slave traffic from the Red Sea.

With this determination to adopt the ideas of Europe, the Khedive has passed through the trying ordeal of unpopularity in his own country, but, by a cool disregard for the hostility of the ignorant, he has adhered to a policy which has gained him the esteem of all civilized communities. He has witnessed the bloody struggle between Russia and Turkey, and though compelled as a vassal state to render military assistance to the Sultan, he has profited by the lesson, and has determined by a wise reform to avoid the errors which have resulted in anarchy and desolation throughout the Ottoman Empire.

In the year 1870 the slave-hunting of Central Africa was condemned. Since that time Englishmen have been honoured with the special attention of the Khedive, and have been appointed to posts of the highest confidence. European tribunals were established in the place of consular jurisdiction, British government officials have been invited to reform the financial administration, and Mr. Rivers Wilson has been induced to accept the responsible office of Minister of Finance. Nubar Pacha has been recalled to office, and he must regard with pride the general confidence occasioned throughout Europe by his reappointment. The absolute despotism hitherto inseparable from Oriental ideas of government has been spontaneously abrogated by the Khedive, who has publicly announced his determination that the future administration shall be conducted by a council of responsible ministers.

England has become the great shareholder in the Suez Canal, which is the important link with our Indian Empire. At the alarm of war we have already seen the fleet of steam transports hurrying through the isthmus, and carrying native troops to join the British forces in the Mediterranean. We have learnt to know, and the Khedive has wisdom to understand, that the bonds between Egypt and Great Britain are inseparable. At the same time we have been aided by the cordial alliance of France in promoting the advance of free institutions and the growth of European influence in the administration of the country. England and France, who struggled in hostile rivalry upon the sands and seas of Egypt, are now joined in the firm determination to uphold the integrity of the great canal of Suez, and these powers and leaders of civilization will become the guides and guardians of Egyptian interests. The reforms already sanctioned with a new era of justice and economy will insure the confidence of British capitalists; the resources of Egypt will be developed by engineering skill that will control the impetuosity of the Nile and protect the Delta alike from the scarcity of drought, and from the risk of inundation. The Nile sources, which from the earliest times had remained a mystery, have been discovered by the patience and industry of Englishmen; the Nile will at no distant period be rendered navigable throughout its course, and Egypt, which for actual existence depends alone upon that mighty river, will be restored by British enterprise, supported by the intelligence and good-will of its ruler, to the position which it held in the pages of Eastern history.


S. W. B.


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Chicago: Samuel White Baker, "Preface," Ismailia in Ismailia Original Sources, accessed December 7, 2022,

MLA: Baker, Samuel White. "Preface." Ismailia, in Ismailia, Original Sources. 7 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Baker, SW, 'Preface' in Ismailia. cited in , Ismailia. Original Sources, retrieved 7 December 2022, from