No. 781.
Mr. Beardsley to Mr. Fish.

No. 92.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch No. 50, of the 5th ultimo, acknowledging the receipt of my dispatch No. 72, and referring to the expedition of Sir Samuel Baker, about which you remark there is more or less mystery which the dispatches from this consulate do not enable the Department to solve.

The mystery which surrounds the expedition of Sir Samuel Baker is as great in Egypt as in Europe or America, and it not only attaches to and involves the fate of the expedition but its objects.

Baker’s original instructions will probably never be known unless he lives to tell them himself, but it is beyond question that the chief object of the expedition was to bring within the pale of Egyptian rule and authority the country bordering on the White Nile and the great lakes, to establish a regular and safe line of communication between those regions and Egypt proper, to encourage agriculture and commerce, and to destroy the slave trade. From what the Khedive has informed me at different times, I am satisfied that he expected Baker to regard the destruction of the slave trade as a matter of secondary importance which would follow from the subjugation of the country. His mission was to conciliate the tribes, and to disturb the commerce and trade with the Lower Nile as little as possible. He was to be cautious and diplomatic in all things, bearing in mind that his mission was to advance the interests of Egypt in Central Africa, and do nothing which might retard the progress southward of the Egyptian flag.

[Page 1165]

Undoubtedly, Baker, attaching more importance to the destruction of the slave-trade than to the aggrandizement of Egyptian interests, showed but little consideration to the slave-dealing tribes and none at all to the professional slave-traders. He perhaps counted too much on the Egyptian troops with him, and hoped for too much from the Khedive’s promises of support. At all events he was soon in trouble, and as his force diminished, the natives manifested more and more opposition to his advance. The slave-traders were his deadly enemies from the beginning, a strong proof of his open hostility to the slave-trade. He marched and fought, when necessary, under the Egyptian flag, in the capacity of an Egyptian pasha, and his deeds were credited to the Egyptian government. The trade of the country was interrupted, fewer slaves came down the river, and almost no ivory or ostrich feathers. The Khedive, as you may imagine, was disappointed, not that the slave trade was interfered with, but because commerce was checked, and principally because the natives had become incensed against the Egyptian flag.

In my dispatch No. 45 of the 11th of December, in which I had the honor to report a conversation with the Khedive, I represented the Khedive as saying that he did not know what Sir Samuel’s object was in making the disastrous expedition into the interior of the country, the reports of which had just reached his highness. In making this remark his highness referred to this particular warlike expedition, and not to the general nature of Bakers expedition; and when he afterward intimated that Sir Samuel had disobeyed his orders, I understood him to mean that those orders were to conciliate the natives by peaceful and paternal measures, if possible, or to reduce them by force of arms to submission to Egyptian authority, if necessary, but to leave the suppression of the slave-trade in the background as a question to be settled when the country was thoroughly occupied, and in any event not to wage war against it.

I think I represent the Khedive’s views with regard to Baker’s expedition correctly; and I think it must be admitted that those views, however selfish may be their inspiration, are, under the circumstances, sound and practical, provided always the suppression of the slave-trade is to be accomplished by an invasion of the country which furnishes the slaves. That the only true way to destroy the traffic in slaves is first to destroy the demand for slaves is, however, so self-evident that one is compelled to believe that the suppression of the slave-trade was only a secondary and minor object of the mission of Sir Samuel Baker.

The Khedive has become convinced, whether rightly or wrongly is not certain, owing to the lack of official information from the expedition, that Baker, by waging active war against the slave-trade, has defeated the chief object of his mission, which was to subject the country to the Egyptian flag.

In my dispatch No. 72 of March 5, I had the honor to contradict a report that Baker had reached Khartoum on his way down the river.

Shortly after the date of that dispatch a startling report reached Egypt from Europe that Sir Samuel and Lady Baker had been assassinated at Gondokoro. As the report was almost immediately contradicted in the public prints, I did not consider it necessary to refer to it in my dispatches. Our agent at Khartoum has instructions to report to me by telegraph any reliable news he may obtain concerning Baker and his expedition. In a letter from the agent, lately received but written more than a month ago, he reports that an expedition for the relief of Baker, consisting of two steamers, eight barges, and several hundred soldiers, had left Khartoom about the middle of February, under the command of [Page 1166] the governor of the province. In a later letter just received he says that no news had, at that writing, been received from the relief expedition or from Sir Samuel Baker. I inclose herewith a translation of a dispatch from Khartoum which has recently been received here, stating that a native merchant had just reached that place from Gondokoro with the news that Baker and his party were safe and well at Fatoukra at the date of his departure. I also inclose an extract from a letter from M. O. Higginbotham, which appeared in the Times of the 21st of April, and which you may have already seen.

At an interview with the Khedive, on the 4th instant, his highness informed me that he had no further news from Baker than that contained in the dispatch which I have the honor to inclose herewith, but he expressed his entire belief in the safety of Baker, and said he hoped to have favorable news from his relief force at an early day. He assured me that he had received no communication from Baker for at least a year. This statement seems almost incredible in view of the fact that Gondokoro is garrisoned by Egyptian soldiers, who, of course, send down to the government reports occasionally, and yet they profess to know nothing at Gondokoro of Baker’s movements, although he is supposed to be but thirty miles south of that place.

It is known that Baker left a considerable force at Gondokoro, with some of his English assistants, and it can hardly be supposed that they would not have received tidings had any great disaster overtaken their chief, or that they would lie still while he was in danger for want of re-enforcements.

Altogether, there is a painful uncertainty and inexplicable mystery about the entire affair, and I await news from Khartoom with interest.

Colonel Stanton, Her Britannic Majesty’s agent in Egypt, informs me that he has received no communication from Baker for fully eighteen months, but that he does not despair of his safety.

The Colonel Purdy mentioned in my dispatch, as having been placed in command of the expedition ostensibly for the relief of Baker, is the same as mentioned in Mr. Butler’s dispatch No. 4, of the 4th of June, 1870, and who is there called E. Sparrow Purdy, and rated as lieutenant-colonel of topographical engineers. He has since been promoted to the rank of colonel of the same corps.

I had the honor, in referring to this expedition in my dispatch No. 47, of December 15, 1872, to state that Cherif Pasha had assured me that it would be composed of about 100 men, and was intended for the relief of Baker, going by the way of Zanzibar, to escape the difficulties of the Upper Nile. Again, in my dispatch No. 72, of the 5th of March, 1873, I referred to the same expedition, stating that it was about to take the field, and observing that it was difficult to believe that its object was the relief of Baker, as its proposed route was by Zanzibar, and as His Highness had informed me that it would not leave the coast for the interior until next autumn. There has been great delay in the preparation of this expedition and entire uncertainty as to its object, and I have now to report that it is understood by the officers attached to it that its movement is indefinitely postponed.

Reports are rife here of an understanding between the Khedive and the Sultan of Zanzibar to defeat the mission of Sir Bartle Frere, and Purdy’s expedition is associated with that object. It is needless to say, however, that such reports, however probable, can be traced to no reliable source.

I am, &c,

[Page 1167]
[Inclosure 1 in No. 92.—Translation.]

Recent and trustworthy news received here relative to the expedition of Sir Samuel Baker informs us that his excellency is at Fatoukra in good health.

A native merchant, named Bokour, has arrived at Khartoom from Gondokoro and the Upper Nile, bringing direct and personal news of the expedition of Sir Samuel Baker. He reports that Baker and all his party were, at the date of his departure from Gondokoro, safe and well at the station of Fatoukra, (supposed to be about fifty miles south of Gondokoro.) He says that while he was at Gondokoro a messenger arrived in that village from Baker Pasha, and that he heard the messenger give an order o the son of the King, ordering him to send two hundred additional soldiers to Fatoukra.

(Query: Were the soldiers sent?)

[Inclosure 2 in No. 92.]

Copy of an extract from a letter from M. O. Higginbotham, published in the Times of April 21, 1873, (translated from the French.)

I have received a letter from my brother, chief engineer of the expedition of Sir Samuel Baker, dated at Gondokoro, September, 1872, which I would have sent to you if my brother had not made me promise that his letters should not be made public.

The entire expedition was at Gondokoro on the 23d January, 1872. Sir Samuel, with two hundred men, left immediately afterward, directing his course toward Lake Nyanza. The natives created difficulties, and, judging by the letter in question, you had reasons for fearing that Baker had been killed. I think, however, that had he run such great danger he would have called to his aid the balance of his forces, (eight hundred men,) which he left in charge of my brother Edwin.