Museum

The Nile Expedition – British Force Relied Upon Nubian Swimmers

Nile Expidition

In 1884, an Islamic revolt against British rule in the Sudan had laid siege to the garrison at Khartoum, under the command of General Charles Gordon. The British organized a relief expedition to travel up the Nile River by small boats to break the siege and rescue Gordon. 

At Dongola, the 3,000 strong British military force employed 1500 Nubians to assist them on their journey. During the course of the expedition several cataracts or rapids had to be crossed.  This image and a written record of the crossing were provided to the Graphic by a British officer.

There are two fascinating points about these images and the expedition.  First, all of the Nubians were all excellent swimmers while most of the British were non, or poor swimmers, except for an 84 member contingent of native-American Indians from Canada who were specifically recruited to navigate the small boats through the rapids.  Second, the stroke used by the Dongola men demonstrates perfect high elbow, double-over-arm crawl stroke technique prior to either the Trudgeon or Australian crawl being used by Europeans. 

 The image at the bottom shows some of the several hundred Nubians who swam across the cataract. Some of the swimmers carried ropes that stretched a hawser fastened to the shore at a wider part of the river on each side. The boats were attached to the hawser by a pulley and several hundred Nubians pulled the boats across.  When one of the boats spilled the British soldiers into the water, the Nubians raced into the water to their rescue, losing only one man.

This journey turned out to be for naught. Two days before the relief force arrived the entire garrison was slaughtered, including General Gordon. His head was cut off and delivered to the leader of the revolt.    

 

 



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