CHAPTER VI. THE START.
December 11. - The first division of the fleet, composed of eight vessels, had started, according to my previous arrangement, on 1st inst. Every third or fourth day another division followed the advance, until on the 11th I brought up the rear, and completed the departure with twenty-six vessels, including the No. 10 steamer and my diahbeeah. The wind was fair from the north.
The extensive and neat station of Tewfikeeyah was completely dismantled. The iron magazines and their contents were now safely stowed in the various ships, and were already on their voyage towards Gondokoro. The horses were shipped and the stables had been pulled down, and the wood cut up for fuel. The long rows of white tents had vanished, and little remained of the station except a few rows of deserted huts. It seemed extraordinary that so large a place could be packed up and stowed away among the fifty-nine vessels of the fleet.
The English shipwrights had constructed three very useful boats, each exactly the same size, about 16 ft. x 5 ft.; thus we had a total of seven small boats to assist in the explorations of the obstructed river.
I left the Shillook country at peace. Djiaffer Pacha had paid much attention to the sons of Quat Kare at Khartoum, and the Khedive, in reply to my representations, had appointed him chief of the country in place of the pretender Jangy. The governor of Fashoda had been condemned to disgrace. I left a handsome present for the old king Quat Kare, and we departed excellent friends. The English party had been reduced by the departure of Mr. Wood, Dr. Gedge, and two servants.
We had been deeply grieved by the sad news of the death of Dr. Gedge, at Khartoum, a few days before we broke up the station of Tewfikeeyah. This unfortunate gentleman was a great loss to the expedition, as he was not only my chief medical officer, but combined the scientific attainments of a botanist and naturalist.
I had made every preparation for cutting through the sudd, and we were well prepared with many hundred sharp bill-hooks, switching-hooks, bean-hooks, sabres, I had also some hundred miners' spades, shovels, in case it might be necessary to deepen the shallows. While the whole English party were full of spirit and determined to succeed, I regret to say there was a general feeling of disappointment among the Egyptian troops (including officers) that the expedition was once again in full sail towards the south. Their hearts were either at Khartoum, or sighing for the flesh-pots of Egypt. I had lost many men from sickness during our sojourn at Tewfikeeyah, and the men were disheartened and depressed. This feeling was increased by the unfortunate recurrence of the fast of Ramadan, during which month the Mohammedans will neither eat, drink, nor smoke from sunrise till sunset. The Koran exempts them from the observance of this pernicious fast when on a long journey, but my people preferred to keep it religiously, as it would be a plausible excuse for neglecting work.
The Nile was full and unusually high; this was in favour of the voyage, as success depended upon our crossing the shallows during the flood; it was, therefore, necessary to push on with all speed so as to reach the shallows which had been impassable last April, before the river should fall.
It will now be necessary to refer to my original journal, as it would be difficult to convey an idea of the voyage by a general description. A few hours after starting, on 11th December 1870, I find this entry: - "Thank goodness, we are off, and in good time, as the river is exceedingly high, although it has already fallen about five inches from its maximum. Mr. Higginbotham has been ill for a long time. Lieutenant-Colonel Abd-el-Kader, my first aide-de-camp, although an excellent officer, is almost useless from ill-health; thus the whole work falls on myself and Julian (Lieutenant Baker) personally, and had I not driven the officers forward from sunrise to sunset, we should not have been off for another two months. These miserable people do not understand energy, and the Ramadan increases their incapacity.
"December 12. - At 2.30 A.M., we were hailed when ten minutes within the Bahr Giraffe, by two noggurs (vessels) in distress. Stopped the steamer immediately, and then heard that the No. 15 noggur, their consort, had sunk in deep water, close to this spot.
"At day-break I searched the river, and discovered the wreck in eighteen feet depth of water. Two good divers worked for about two hours, and recovered three muskets and several copper cooking pots belonging to the soldiers. The story of the reis (captain) is, that she sprang a plank at about 4 A.M., six days ago, while under sail with a light wind, and she filled and sank immediately, the men having barely time to save themselves. Unfortunately, she had on board, in addition to one hundred urdeps of corn (450 bushels), a section of one of Samuda's steel lifeboats; this was placed upon the corn, before the mast, but having an air-tight compartment, it must have floated away in the dark without being noticed.