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Colonel Wolseley & Canadians on the Nile in 1885

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flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure Heroes of the Sudan: The Sudan Campaign of the 1880s gave the Staffordshire potters a boost, what with the public hunger for figures of its heroic men-in-arms winning glory for Britain in far distant climes.

Right are a duo of late Victorian military heroes, General Stewart, left, and Colonel Burnaby, right, done up in the famous white clay style for which Staffordshire became famous.

Both men would die on the battlefield, in 1885, in the Sudan, when they fought as part of Lord Wolseley's expedition to rescue General Gordon of Khartoum.

Dying heroically, within two days of each other, guaranteed them memorabilia status together in a matched set of Staffordshire figures.

Sometimes - in a hundred years - only one statue survived. Perhaps that is why the figure of Colonel Burnaby was incorporated into a lamp, far left.

Colonel Frederick Gustavus Burnaby (1842-1885): Early in life, Captain Burnaby had secured a commission in the British Army, but alas, in a regiment which promised no military action. So he became a correspondent and sought out adventure where others were fighting, in Spain, Asia, and Africa.

He travelled with General Gordon in the Sudan in 1875, then undertook a hazardous journey through the steppes of Russia writing Ride to Kiva, which made him famous. He travelled through Armenia and Asia Minor, writing Horseback Through Asia Minor in 1878. He then turned to adventure ballooning, becoming, in 1882, the first balloonist to cross the English Channel alone, landing in Normandy.

In 1883, the famous Captain, now a Colonel, joined General Wolseley's right expedition which was attempting to relieve General Gordon, who was trapped at Khartoum, in the Sudan, by thousands of encircling Muslim tribesmen. Burnaby, serving as an intelligence officer, was an enthusiastic soldier, and was wounded at El Teb.

 

Colonel Burnaby Lamp c 1885 & 1950

Orig. ceramic figure - Size - 25"
Found - Hudson, NY
Staffordshire figure lamp, Prov. Anthony Quinn Estate

 

 

 

 

 

When a statue is 120 years old, and a lamp perhaps sixty, it passes through the hands of some interesting owners. This lamp recently belonged to the late actor Anthony Quinn, of Zorba the Greek fame, until it was sold off by his estate.

flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure

Riel on the Red River 1870: In 1870, General Wolseley (above left) had been a colonel, leading the Red River Expedition into the wilds of the Canadian West, to put down the Métis resistance that was spreading around Fort Garry (today's downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba).

The hardest part of the wilderness trek, by far, was the overland crossing from the western end of Lake Superior to the Red River. To transport his army across this rugged and wild terrain Wolseley hired French-Canadian voyageurs.

With hundreds of years of wilderness canoeing experience coursing through their veins, he know there were no better boat handlers in the world.

He expressed undying respect for the way these Canadian boatmen could transport impossible loads over impassable rapids, and formidable water falls, and still have boundless energy left for laughing, singing, dancing and smoking all the way...

Left astonished Indians watch the passing cavalcade enjoy the last free ride before the voyageurs had to earn their keep, man-handling the heavy boats over rapids and up cliffs which the British officers considered impossible. This fabulous picture was painted by famous Canadian painter William Armstrong who had accompanied the expedition.

 

The Wolseley Expedition, Kaministiqua River, 1870 - William Armstrong
Orig. water colour - Size - 9.5" x 13.5"
Found - Toronto, ON

Gordon on the Nile 1884: Fourteen years later, when Wolseley was given the task of ascending the Nile to rescue General Gordon left, he immediately thought of the Canadians again, and decided 400 Canadian boatmen was just what he needed to take his army upriver, over the rapids and falls along the Nile.

The Canadians were mostly recruited in Trois Rivières and Caughnawaga, Quebec, and in the Ottawa area, resulting in a robust mix of French-Canadians, Métis, Indians, and Anglo-Saxon freighter canoemen and lumber jacks.

Here the men are assembled on the steps of the old Parliament Buildings in Ottawa before heading off to Africa.

Below the men at work rowing the expedition up the Nile.

flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure
General Gordon Jug, 1885
Orig. ceramic pitcher - Size - 7.5"
Found - Salisbury, UK

Jugs like this were bought in Canada in the 1880s and 90s, because many hundreds of Canadians served with the Anglo-Egyptian expedition to rescue General Gordon.

He was in danger of being trapped by a frenzy of Muslims who, for some reason, did not seem to take kindly to foreigners, from far away, coming in with guns, to shoot up their homeland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Wolseley had taken a route so long to get to Gordon - he came from Cairo, and followed the twisting Nile River south, instead of coming in from Suakin to Berber - that the six month contract of the Canadians ran out, at Korti, before he could reach and save Gordon at Khartoum. Most Canadians returned home, though about 100 kept on... All qualified for the British Army's Sudan Medal and the Khedive of Egypt's star below.

As the army travelled south, at the Battle of Abu Klea, thousands of frantic tribesmen crushed in the British square. In a wild melee of ferocious hand-to-hand fighting, they were finally pushed back, leaving over 1,100 dead behind. The British lost 65 men and nine officers, one of whom was Colonel Burnaby, killed with a spear through the throat.

The celebrated Victorian/Edwardian diarist Arthur Harris claimed Burnaby had actually committed suicide! Harris, so the gossip went, said that in his book, Ride to Kiva, Burnaby had breached a British officer's code of honour by reporting an indiscretion by a fellow officer. As a result he reputedly received a cold shoulder from his brother officers. Finding the snub an affront no gentleman could endure, to redeem his honour, Burnaby took the only way out for a proud British officer, charging recklessly forward into a horde of attacking tribesmen, and a certain, and expected, death. His honour was avenged!

Boer War officers Col. Hannay at Paardeberg, and General Macdonald, several years later, both took this way out when their abilities or character was impugned by their superiors.

Two days later, at Metemmeh, General Stewart was fatally wounded - and Staffordshire had a match!

Wolseley said he wouldn't cut and run even though this was all taking a lot longer than he figured the counterinsurgency would take. In the end, the Muslims got to Gordon first and he paid the fatal price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for Wolseley's bad tactical plan and tardiness.

The expedition failed in its primary objective - saving Gordon. Probably because most of the Canadians went home instead of renewing their contracts...

A Victorian Hero: Left is Captain Burnaby in his Vanity Fair print, showing that he was every bit at home in silk top hat, vest and suit, as in his working uniform when fighting off angry tribesmen.

But Burnaby would probably most love the lavish portrait painted of him by famed French society painter James Tissot in 1870. Tissot, working in London and Paris, was the pre-eminent chronicler of the fashionable set of the Victorian age. His witty, and brilliantly colourful canvasses were in high demand in spite of the oblique social comment they often contained. It was Tissot's way of squaring his conscience, as a democrat, forced to make his living by painting the opulent and often idle, nouveaux riche.

Elegantly brandishing a cigarette, as he reclines on a daybed, Burnaby is shown holding forth on some adventure or other, his dress uniform cavalierly shunted aside, on a nearby sofa. Perhaps this soldier is at his best in the drawing room, not as a working officer!

 

 

(In Victorian Britain military commissions were routinely bought by the rich, a system of promotion that gave advantage to the wealthy over the merely meritorious.)

In fact when Tissot painted this portrait the Franco-Prussian War had started. Paris was full of soldiers heading off to the front to put their lives on the line.

Within months the streets would be full of thousands of dead Communards - democrats with whom Tissot sympathized - killed by the royalist government.

And here was Burnaby, relaxing, as ordinary people were under attack and dying, killed by enemies within and without.

Right for thirty or forty years this Staffordshire statue of Burnaby stood alone on the mantel - probably of a Sudan veteran - to remind him of a British officer with whom he once had his fifteen minutes of glory.

Then sometime after World War II, someone decided to give the statue a new lease on life by mounting it on a mid-20th century base.

Pro Patria Mori: At his death Colonel Burnaby was widely mourned. His desk at his school, where he had carved "F. Burnaby 1857," became a cherished memento of an exuberant British school boy everyone remembered with pride and affection.

In his memory his community erected a fabulous stained glass window in the Bedford Church of St. Peter de Merton, so that his name would never die, and his life, and death, would inspire others to follow his example.

"The Queen had no more loyal subject, the army no finer officer, the country no truer patriot than Frederick Gustavus Burnaby - mort sur le champ d'honneur. His name will live in the annals of the empire and in the memories of his compatriots as long as valour, devotion to duty, and faithfulness unto death shall remain the watchwords of the sons of the Island Queen." - London newspaper, 1885.

This lamp says it all, which is why collectors of memorabilia - as opposed to gatherers of the merely pretty - are so passionate about their antiques, which were made to celebrate real people, places, and events, that once really mattered in the flow of history...