The Red Sea Grain Market and British Strategy in Eastern Sudan and the Red Sea Hills, 1883–1888

  • Steven Serels
Part of the Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies book series (IOWS)


In early October 1884, Commander Molyneaux of the H.M.S. Sphinx traveled down the Sudanese Red Sea coast to inspect the remaining Turko-Egyptian government posts and to meet with allied shaykhs. The Mahdist Rebellion had spread to the region over a year earlier and rebellious local shaykhs, under the leadership of the Mahdist amīr Uthman Abu Bakr Diqna, had already won a number of decisive victories against the Egyptian Army. During this trip, Molyneaux met with ‘Ali Birkit, the nāẓir of the Bani Amar, many of whose followers were, at the time, inside the rebel-besieged Egyptian Army garrison at Kassala. ‘Ali Birkit told Molyneaux that the only way to end the rebellion in the arid Eastern Sudan and Red Sea Hills was for the Egyptian Army to take and hold the fertile inland deltas of Tawkar and Qash and for the British Navy to blockade the coast. Doing so would deny the rebels access to both local and foreign sources of grain, without which, as Molyneaux subsequently wrote, they “could not live.”1 Molyneaux relayed this suggestion to Lord John Hay, the Commander-in-Chief of the British fleet in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, who rejected this tactic as “a very questionable policy.” Hay believed that this strategy would increase British liabilities because, as he subsequently told the Secretary of the Admiralty: “Should any of the tribes, through starvation, cease hostilities with us, we shall, I presume, have to feed them.”2


Slave Trade Governor General Egyptian Government British Official Naval Officer 
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© Steven Serels 2013

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