The man from the Nile
In July, 1878, when serving as lieutenant in H. I. H. the Crown Prince Rudolph’s regiment, the 19th Foot, on the Bosnian frontier, I received a letter from General Gordon, inviting me to come to the Sudan and take service with the Egyptian Government, under his direction.
Rudolf Carl von Slatin, later known as Slatin Pasha, was born near Vienna in 1857. In 1873, while attending a commercial school, he heard about a German bookseller in Cairo that needed an assistant, and he left for Egypt.
He ended up in Karthoum, and he traveled extensively before he had to return to Austria to fulfill his conscription in the army.
While in the Austrian army, he was contacted by Gemneral Gordon, ad mentioned in the opening of his 1896 best-seller Fire and Sword in the Sudan.
Because when he finally accepted Gordon’s invitation, things got interesting: appointed governor of Dara, and when rebellion erupted in 1882, Slating tried to face the music, but without much success. According to Wikipedia
At Om Waragat he lost 8,000 of his men in the first 20 minutes of the battle and was himself wounded three times but he managed to fight his way back to Dara.
Things got worst after the Battle of Shaykan, when Slatin found himself isolated and decided to surrender. He was held captive by the Mahdi, and was presented with the head of Gordon Pasha after the fall of Karthoum. He then served in the retinue of Khalifa Abdullahi, as a body guard and a translator.
Not that he liked the situation – but it was obviously better than the alternmative…
One could fill a volume with descriptions of the horrors and cruelties enacted in the terrible Saier; but it is useless to weary the reader with further accounts of the atrocities committed by order of that merciless tyrant, the Khalifa.
In 1895 Slatin managed to escape, thanks to external help, and covered 1000 kms in three weeks to reach Aswan, literally killing the camels in the rush, and finally going back to Europe.
The book about his adventures in Africa was published both in German and English, and as already mentioned became a best seller. The book is a strange beast, full of adventure and lively dialogue, but punctuated by long, highly detailed descriptions of Sudanese logistics and organization – an intelligence report rolled into a heck of an adventure story.
Slatin received various honors and awards in England, Austria and Egypt, where he was awarded the title of Slatin Pasha by the Khedive.
Slatin would later go back to Sudan as Inspector General, worked with the Red Cross during WWI and, as a friend of Baden-Powell was involved with the Boy Scouts organization in Austria.
Curiously enough, Italian kids of my generation became well acquainted with the adventures of Slatin Pasha and his escape from the clutches of the Khalifa, thanks to a graphic novel (but back then they were just called comic albums) called L’Uomo del Nilo, and featuring the artwork of the great lamented Sergio Toppi.
Another proof that my generation was somehow primed for adventure and exploration, at least culturally, before being redirected to clerical jobs in banks and real estate agencies.
I sometimes wonder at the waste of potential, but it’s just because I’m getting old in a small village in the middle of nowhere, I guess.
I stumbled on a photo of the man today, and I checked out his book, that can be found in the Project Gutenberg archives, or in print on Amazon, with a little luck.
It was like a flash from the past.