In January 1884, General Gordon was the man of the moment. He was poised to take the lead role in a great drama of empire which would not conclude — so far as the newspapers were concerned — until after the battle of Omdurman in September 1898. William Thomas Stead, pioneering journalist and the influential editor of the Pall Mall Gazette from 1883 to 1889, had set in motion a newspaper campaign which would push the government into sending Gordon to the Sudan and, ultimately, to his death at Khartoum in February 1885. Stead’s campaign was the beginning of a step change in Britain’s involvement in Africa and also in popular culture. The years 1884–1898 saw not only entanglement in the Sudan but also an unprecedented integration of imperial activity, popular journalism and fiction. In January 1884, the Illustrated London News went so far as to compare Gordon’s exploits to the popular romance fiction of imperial Britain:

The expectation of General Gordon’s success in this desperate enterprise is amply justified by his past career. His achievements as Governor of the Equatorial Provinces from 1874 to 1879 were more wonderful than are to be found in the wildest Oriental romance.1


British Reader Daily Mail Reading Public Daily Telegraph Imperial Expansion 
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© Andrew Griffiths 2015

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  • Andrew Griffiths

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