Map of the Nile Provinces from the Railway Terminus at Siût to Berber. Compiled in the Intelligence Branch, War Office, from the Most Recent Manuscripts. 1884.
London: W. Brider for The Intelligence Branch, The War Office, [Late] 1884.
Chromolithograph (black and brown) with original additional hand colour, contemporarily mounted upon linen, green cloth edging renewed to style, inked manuscript title to verso (Very Good, some areas of toning, light stains and creasing, but overall quite pleasing), 61 x 85 cm (24 x 33.5 inches).
Map of the Nile Provinces from the Third Cataract (Hannek) to Khartum.
London: Harrison & Son for The Intelligence Branch, The War Office, December 1884.
Chromolithograph (black and brown) with original additional hand colour, contemporarily mounted upon linen, green cloth edging renewed to style, inked manuscript title to verso (Very Good, some areas and lines of toning, some creasing, closed tear with no loss extending into map on left side, but still quite pleasing), 105 x 67 cm (41.5 x 26.5 inches).
This pair of large separately issued maps represents the first broadly accurate general maps of Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. They were made by the Intelligence Branch of the War Office (the British military’s spy and reconnaissance service) during the early days of the Mahdist War (1881-99), an epic 18-year long struggle between Anglo-Egyptian forces and the indigenous Mahdist movement for control of Sudan. Notably, the maps appeared during the most dramatic event of the conflict, the Siege of Khartoum (March 12, 1884 – January 26, 1885), which resulted in the shocking defeat and massacre of the Anglo-Egyptian garrison, including its famous commander, General Charles Gordon. The present works were the authoritative maps used by the Anglo-Egyptian forces during numerous campaigns for the remainder of the war.
The maps are unusually fine works of frontier military cartography, being finely edited composites of formal trigonometrical surveys and military reconnaissance mapping. The stellar overall accuracy of the maps is especially impressive as the surveyors responsible for the antecedent manuscripts operated within what was arguably the most dangerous theatre in the entire world!
On both maps the River Nile snakes though the desert, while the fertile alluvial valleys that exist along some parts of its course are coloured green, as points of elevation are expressed though finely executed lithographic shading. All cities, towns and villages of any consequence are marked, as roads (in the few places where they exist), while the ancient caravan routes are traced across the desert. All major topographical features are noted, including oases (with ‘wells’, critical for survival in such a climate), while some areas feature comments such as ‘Good Pasture Land’. Also noted are the various cataracts and rapids along the Nile, which posed impediments to steamship travel. The routes of telegraph lines (many of which were newly erected) are delineated, as are the routes of proposed railways. Interestingly, the maps note numerous archaeological sites (ex. the ‘Site of Thebes’ near Luxor). All considered, the maps provide every imaginable feature required by an Anglo-Egyptian Army on the move through a merciless desert landscape, inhabited by fierce enemy warriors.
While the present maps overlap somewhat (with both showing the stretch of territory between Hannek and Berber), they were intended to be complimentary, and together they provided the authoritative cartographic depiction of the key military theatre of the Mahdist War. Both maps were, as will be discussed later, issued in several revised editions; however, all examples of the maps are scarce, while both maps of the pair are seldom found together, as here.
Both present maps were carefully compiled from the best manuscripts at the Intelligence Branch, a special advisory division of the War Office that was established in 1873. The Branch’s mandate was to provide military strategists at Whitehall, as well as commanders operating in the field, with the most accurate information on both the opposing forces as well as the theatre of war. Under its hard-charging director, Henry Brackenbury, a disciple of General Sir Garnet Wolseley (who was later to play key role on the Mahdist War), the Branch assembled an elaborate network of informants /spies, as well as corps of skilled reconnaissance officers who were responsible for a making maps and descriptions of war zones. While the Quartermaster Generals’ Office of the British Army had carried out similar functions for generations as part of its larger mandate, the specialized focus and professionalism of the Intelligence Branch brought the collection and targeted dissemination of topographical intelligence to a dramatically higher standard. In 1888, the Branch become the Directorate of Military Intelligence, which existed until 1964, when it became known simply as Defence Intelligence (DI), the name under which it operates to the present day.
The present maps were made under the close supervision of Major (later Coronel) William R. Fox. Fox had previously served for many years in South Africa, distinguishing himself in combat during both the Anglo-Zulu War (1879) and the First Anglo-Boer War (1880-1). As a member of the Royal Artillery attached to the Quartermaster General’s Office, he became an expert at frontier reconnaissance and surveying. In 1882, he was appointed as the supervisor of cartography at the Intelligence Branch in London. There, Fox carefully sifted through the hundreds of field manuscript surveys that were arriving fast and furious at the War Office. From these sources, he did a stellar job of selecting only the most accurate mapping for the preparation of the Branch’s printed maps that were to be used by British officers during ongoing military operations. In addition to the present works Fox oversaw the creation of important maps related to the 1882 Egypt Campaign, whereby Britain made that country a protectorate; several route maps and plans of specific regions of Sudan, such as the Sketch Map of Country between Suakin and Berber with notes on the Principal Routes (1884), much of the information of which were integrated into the present works; maps of lands bordering Sudan, such as a Map of Abyssinia and adjacent Red Sea Coast (1886) and General Map of the Italian Colony of Eritrea and Adjoining Countries (1886); and works related to his old stomping ground, such as the Map of the South-western Frontier of the South African Republic including the adjacent portions of Bechuanaland, Griqualand West and the Orange Free State (1885). His maps of Sudan also became the basis of a popular commercial publication, Bacons’ Large-Print Map of Egyptian Sudan (1884), albeit featuring a simplified rendering of the topography. Although Fox retired from the Intelligence Branch in 1888, many of his maps were reissued for some years thereafter, ensuring that his work had an enduring legacy.
The Maps in Focus
The first map of the pair, Map of the Nile Provinces from the Railway Terminus at Siût to Berber, covers a lengthy part of the Nile in Upper Egypt and Northern Sudan, from just above the 27th down to the 18th Parallel. At the very top, the map commences at ‘Siut’ (today Asyut), which since 1874 had been the terminus of the main Nile line of the Egyptian National Railway. This marked the furthest point to where British and Egyptian troops could travel from Cairo in relative speed and comfort; past Asyut, they would have to move by mixture of boat and horse, the latter being arduous and very dangerous (given the high frequency of Mahdist ambushes). Continuing up the Nile, here lined with verdant fields, one passes Luxor, until reaching ‘Assuan’ (Aswan), were boat travel is interrupted by the 1st Cataract (today Aswan is home to the High Aswan Dam, that barrages the river, creating the massive Lake Nasser). Travelling further still up the river, one passes numerous references to ‘temples’ and ‘ruins’, indicative of the region’s profound archaeological richness. Numerous caravan routes leave the river, some headed for the oases located to the west. Upon arriving at ‘Wady Halfa’ (Wadi Halfa), which today is just below the Egypt-Sudan Boundary, one encounters the 2nd Cataract of the Nile, which is shown to be bypassed by a short railway. Traveling further, one passes the 3rd Cataract at Hannek, before reaching Dongola, a town which was a major forward base for the Anglo-Egyptian forces early in the war. Finally, the map leads one further up the Nile, as it curves twice, before coming to Berber, an important regional centre. Elsewhere on the map, in the upper right corner, is the Red Sea and the port of ‘Kosseir’.
The composition includes two inset maps; on the right side is a ‘Sketch Map of Egypt Proper, Nubia and the Egyptian Sudan’, which shows the entire region from Cairo, in the north all the way south past Khartoum, including a piece of Abyssinia. In the lower left corner is a ‘Sketch of Kasr Dongola and Neighbourhood. (By Lt. Co. Colville Gren: Guards Sept. 22nd 1884).’, which provides a detailed, very recent plan of this critical town, noting several key features (labelled) A-M, including the ‘buildings occupied for the use of [the British] troops thus’, highlighted in pink.
The map was first issued in April 1884, with the present example being an early version revised up to the end of 1884. The map remained the authoritative cartographic record of the region for the remained of the Mahdist War, with further updated editions produced in 1887, 1890 and 1896.
The second map, Map of the Nile Provinces from the Third Cataract (Hannek) to Khartum, overlaps the first map in its coverage from Hannek to Berber, but continues southward up the Nile beyond the confluence of the White and Blue Nile Rivers. This map showcases the nucleus of the Mahdist War theatre, including both Khartoum (the traditional capital of Egyptian Sudan, seized by the Mahdists in January 1885) and nearby Omdurman, the Mahdist capital (final taken by the British in 1898). Here the desert is criss-crossed with caravan routes, traversed by a few major telegraph lines, as well as the route of the proposed railway that was to run from ‘Ambukol’ to ‘Metammah’, providing a ‘short cut’ past one of the great bends of the Nile. The caravan routes that cut way from the Nile led through dangerous country and were the scene of constant skirmishes between the Anglo-Egyptian forces and Mahdist-backed tribesmen. Beyond the Nile Valley, the map reaches north-eastwards to take in Suakin, the port on the Red Sea (the landing place of a major British expedition in 1885), while in the far southeast is Kassala, a hotly contested city near the border with Abyssinia.
The composition includes an important inset, on the right, ‘Khartum and Environs’, providing a detailed view of the Khartoum-Omdurman area. Khartoum, a large city located on the south bank of the Blue Nile, is labelled with several key sites, including: 1. Palace; 2. Government House; 3. Old Mosque; 4. New Mosque; and 5. Market, as well as the ‘Powder Magazine’. Importantly, in December 1884, as the present map was being printed, the Anglo-Egyptian garrison at Khartoum was under siege by the Mahdist forces, and would fall on January 26, 1885. Meanwhile, the Mahdist base at Omdurman was protected by the great ‘Laager’ fortress.
The present map was first issued in September 1884, with the present example being an early version revised to December 1884. The map remained the authoritative cartographic record of the region for the remainder of the Mahdist War, with further updated editions produced in 1885, 1888, 1895 and 1898.
The Mahdist War: Epic Contest for the Control of Sudan
The Mahdist War (1881–99) was one of the longest and most brutal colonial wars ever fought by Britain. At its essence, Britain and her protectorate Egypt, sought to wrest control of Sudan from the Mahdist Islamist rebels who had rapidly conquered much of the country. The 18-year long conflict resulted in many stunning defeats and victories for both sides, as well as involving the other regional players, such as Ethiopia, Italian Eritrea and the Belgian Congo. The war was extensively covered in real time (via telegraph) by the major European newspapers, ensuring that the conflict was one of the earliest modern worldwide media spectacles. Winston Churchill, who fought for a time in Sudan, wrote The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan (1899), a bestseller which dramatically raised his profile on the eve of his first election to Parliament. Britain and Egypt eventually prevailed, ruling Sudan in a de jure condominium for the two generations.
Sudan had been occupied by Egypt since 1819; however, large segments of the Sudanese population had actively resisted the foreign presence, mounting innumerable insurrections over the years. In 1873, General Charles Gordon, a British general who had achieved international great fame due to his super-human exploits in China during the Second Opium War, was recruited by the Egyptians to serve as the Governor of the Equatorial Provinces of Sudan, with mandate to quell the insurgencies. Gordon, while a Christian religious fanatic, with a somewhat reckless streak, could, at times, prove a skilled operator. He achieved some measure of success in Sudan, but grew exhausted by what was a thankless task, resigning in 1877. After that point, the political situation in Sudan became increasingly unstable, opening the door to momentous events.
Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah(1844-85), was a regional Nubian leader and Islamic mystic, who through his great charisma and bold strategic cunning suddenly rose to become the most prominent insurgent leader in Sudan. Proclaiming himself the ‘Mahdi’ of Islam (the ‘Guided One’), he formed a movement of hundreds of thousands of loyal followers. In 1881, the Mahdists broke out into open rebellion against the Egyptian administration.
The Egyptian Army gradually lost control of the Sudanese countryside, although they managed to hold Khartoum and were able to maintain their lifeline down the Nile to Egypt (albeit with great difficulty). By 1883, the Egyptians had 7,000 troops garrisoned at Khartoum, under the command of William Hicks, a retired British officer contracted by Cairo. Churchill described Hicks’ rag-tag force as “perhaps the worst army that has ever marched to war”. At the Battle of Shaykan (November 3-5, 1883), in Kordofan, Central Sudan, Hicks’ force was annihilated by the Mahdist warriors; from that point on the Egyptians completely lost control of the situation.
Britain, who had made Egypt a protectorate in 1882, was reluctant to get involved in Sudan. Even the best-case scenario would still be a monstrously bloody and expensive debacle. However, the situation down south was becoming so alarming that it threatened the security of Egypt proper; dramatic action was deemed necessary.
It was decided that maintaining Egypt’s rule over Sudan was not viable, such that the best course would be to mount a staged, orderly withdrawal of all Egyptian garrisons in the country. Unfortunately, forging a retreat agreement with the rebels was not possible; the Mahdi rejected all requests to parley or compromise.
General Gordon was pressed back into service to oversee what would be a difficult and dangerous mission to withdraw the Egyptian forces from Sudan. There was tremendous opposition to this appointment in British official circles, as many considered Gordon to be borderline-insane (with good reason); however, Queen Victoria was his greatest fan and her intervention secured his service.
Gordon, accompanied by a modest British force, arrived to command the Egyptian garrison at Khartoum in February 1884. However, beginning on March 13, the Mahdi, at the head of 50,000 warriors, speedily moved in to besiege Khartoum. Gordon, who was caught off guard by this turn, managed to send a mayday cable to London.
British Prime Minister William Gladstone, whop personally despised Gordon and was known to have privately opposed Britain’s involvement in in Sudan, was reluctant to send a relief force; he procrastinated as much as possible. Eventually, pressure from Queen Victoria, as well as public opinion fanned by the yellow press, forced him to send a relief force to Sudan, led by the legendary General Sir Garnet Wolseley (with had achieved great fame for his missions in Canada and the Gold Coast).
The Nile Expedition, or ‘Gordon Relief Force’, was marshalled a Wadi Halfa on October 26, 1884. Aided by examples of the represent maps, the expedition took three months to fight its way up the Nile to reach the environs of Khartoum. However, on January 28, 1885, when they first sighted the city, learned that Gordon, and almost all his 7,000 troops, as well as 4,000 civilians had been slaughtered on January 26, when the Mahdists stormed Khartoum. Wolseley carefully withdrew his force from Sudan, leaving almost the entire country under Mahdist control. The British public were furious with both Gladstone and Wolseley for not rescuing their hero. Gladstone was voted out of office, while Wolseley’s career took a temporary hit.
Britain proceeded to mount a series of expeditions into Sudan, the earliest of which were unsuccessful. During the Suakin Expedition of March 1885, a force led by Lieutenant-General Sir Gerald Graham, proceeded inland from the Red Sea coast, and while initially successful, it was forced to withdraw upon being bogged down by guerrilla attacks in the interior.
The Mahdi, Muhammed Ahmad, died of natural causes on June 22, 1885 and was succeeded by the Khalifa (‘the Successor’), Abdullah ibn Muhammed, who provided the Mahdist cause with continued competent leadership.
In 1886 to 1889, the British sent a force into Sudan to rescue the besieged Egyptian Governor of Equatoria (the far south of Sudan), Emin Pasha. While successful in its prime objective, the mission suffered many costly misadventures and failed to wrest any part of Sudan from Mahdist control.
In 1895, new political circumstances supported a more robust British position with respect to the Sudan, which remained entirely in Mahdist hands. The British government, headed by the hawkish Lord Salisbury, used rumours of French designs upon the Nile and the Mahdist’s on-going war with Britain’s ally, Italy, in Eritrea, as a pretence to enforce Egypt’s claim upon Sudan. It also helped that Egypt’s economy had improved dramatically over the last decade, while its army had become much better trained and equipped.
In 1896, General Herbert Kitchener, an esteemed soldier with impressive experience in the Middle East, was appointed Sirdar, or Commander-in-Chief of the Anglo-Egyptian Army. Vast resources were given to Kitchener’s expeditions, including the best artillery and armoured boats, while the railway system was extended southwards to assist its progress. Kitchener’s 9,000-man strong force scored a quick and resounding victory, annihilating a major Mahdist garrison at Ferkeh, near Dongola, on June 7, 1896.
In 1898, Kitchener, after redoubling his preparations, led a force of 8,200 British regulars and 17,600 Egyptian troops on a mission to wipe out the Mahdists once and for all. While the Khalifa could count on 60,000 warriors, his force was dramatically outmatched in terms of weapons and technology.
Kitchener made short work of the job. He defeated the Mahdists at the Battle of Arbara (April 1898) and captured Omdurman, the Khalifa’s capital, on September 2, 1898.
Later that month, as the main Mahdist force fled southwards, with the Anglo-Egyptians in hot pursuit, Kitchener’s party was stunned to encounter a small French force, under the command of Jean-Baptist Marchand, at the fort of Fashoda (today Kotok), on the White Nile. While the two parties greeted each other cordially, the so called ‘Fashoda Incident’ sent shock waves throughout the global diplomatic community, as it opened the possibility of a Franco-British conflict in Africa (France was seen to have boldly interfered in Britain’s zone of influence). Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and instead of pursuing such a foolhardy collision course, set the stage for the Entente Cordiale (1904), the enduring Anglo-French alliance.
Turing back to the Mahdist conflict, the British gradually assumed control over the majority of Sudan, while hunting down the reaming Mahdist detachments. The final action occurred at the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat on November 25, 1899, when an Anglo-Egyptian force under General Francis Reginald Wingate crushed the main Mahdist army, killing the Khalifa. Britain and Egypt then proceed to rule the country as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, in a de jure condominium, until 1956, whereupon Sudan attained its independence.
References: Map #1: British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 64365.(7.); National Archives U.K.: FO 925/2985; OCLC: 658448303 (ed. noted as ‘Rev. Dec. 1884’); Prince Ibrahim-Hilmy, The Literature of Egypt and the Soudan from the Earliest Times to the Year 1885 Inclusive, vol. II (London: Trübner, 1887), p. 69. Map #2: British Library: Cartographic Items Maps 64365.(8.); OCLC: 556817444; Hannek: Terje Tvedt, The Nile: An Annotated Bibliography (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), p. 386; Prince Ibrahim-Hilmy, The Literature of Egypt and the Soudan from the Earliest Times to the Year 1885 Inclusive, vol. II (London: Trübner, 1887), p. 69.