It happened today - January 26, 2016

January 26 was a bad day for General Charles George “Chinese” Gordon. The Mahdi’s forces cut off his head as a trophy and threw his desecrated corpse into a well in 1885.

It happened in Sudan, where Gordon had served as a civilian administrator and made himself very unpopular by the culturally imperialist practice of suppressing the slave trade. He also managed to defuse a serious revolt through negotiations. (Before that, he had earned one of his nicknames by leading the “Ever Victorious Army” of mostly Chinese soldiers with European officers that helped put down the Taiping Rebellion and earned him the Imperial Yellow Jacket as well as the Order of the Bath.)

Exhausted by his long efforts to impose peace, order and liberty, Gordon had returned to England, though he found time to travel to Palestine and argue that Golgotha was not situated where generally claimed. But with another revolt in Sudan, led by one Mohammed Ahmed who claimed to be the “Mahdi” (the chap Iran’s former president hourly expected to emerge from a well and smite the infidels) Gordon was persuaded to go back and assume the governor-generalship.

After evacuating women, children and the sick, Gordon fortified Khartoum against the Mahdi’s forces, rather annoying the British government which wanted the whole business to go away. The siege began on March 18, and as the defenders held out heroically month after month the British government finally had to do something less inglorious than abandon the Sudanese to Islamism. So they sent a relief column with rather feeble instructions not to rescue or resupply Gordon. It arrived on January 28 to find the city had fallen two days earlier and so had Gordon. And about 10,000 civilians and members of the garrison slaughtered by the Mahdi’s forces.

The would-be Mahdi died soon afterward without redeeming anyone or anything visibly, and the British eventually reconquered Sudan in 1898.

It didn’t help very much, as slavery still exists there. But at least they tried. And for all his faults, Gordon embodied much that was best about the spirit of Victorian England including a strong benevolent as well as courageous and effective streak even in its imperialism

The self-proclaimed Mahdi can make no such claim.