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London : Samuel Bagster & Sons

General Gordon's Bible. 1831-32

17.0 x 4.0 cm (book measurement (inventory)) | RCIN 1053441

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  • 1831/2 octavo edition of The English Version of the Polyglot Bible, published by Samuel Bagster (first printed 1816).

    This Bible was owned by the British army officer and colonial administrator General Charles George Gordon. It was given to him on the day of his birth, 28 January 1833, by Amelia Enderby, a relative of his mother.
    In 1854, while stationed in Pembroke Dock, he came under the influence of an Irish officer, Francis Drew. Under Drew, Gordon became a devout Christian, an attribute which came to define much of his later career, particularly after his recovery from smallpox in 1862.
    In the 1860s, Gordon pursued a successful military career in China, serving as one of the European officers leading the ‘Ever Victorious Army’, a Chinese regiment responsible for putting down the Taiping Rebellion in 1864. He was also recognised for his achievements in defining the border between the Ottoman Empire and Russia following the Crimean War (1853-1856).
    From 1872, he began a career in Africa, first working for the Khedive of Egypt, Isma'il Pasha, assisting him in his imperial ambitions in Sudan (then a part of Egypt) and central Africa, before undertaking various roles in colonial administration in the British central African colony of Equatoria (now South Sudan and part of northern Uganda). In 1877, Following Isma'il's removal from power by an Anglo-French consortium responsible for managing Egyptian finances, Gordon was given the General-Governorship of Sudan. In this post, he was given the responsibility of putting down Sudanese resistance to British rule and led an unsuccessful diplomatic mission to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).
    The failure to achieve diplomatic or military success during his three years in Sudan, as well as the failure of his own personal goals in introducing what he believed were superior Christian values to the region proved to be traumatic for Gordon's mental health. He resigned the post in 1880 and experienced a nervous breakdown, which further intensified his faith.
    On the flyleaf of his Bible, Gordon had written the names and dates of each of his postings. His time in Sudan over this period was the last entry marked. According to a footnote in the correspondence published by his sister Mary Augusta Gordon in 1885, the Bible was given to her after his return from Africa as ‘it was then so worn out’. Indeed, the book was heavily used Gordon, he annotated it with copious notes and appears even to have resewn the spine to prolong its life.
    In 1884 ,Gordon was again dispatched to Sudan, this time to report on the situation and to evacuate British soldiers and civilians following the outbreak of the Mahdist War. Disobeying his orders, Gordon remained in Sudan with a band of soldiers and attempted to defend Khartoum, corresponding with the Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad (see RCIN 1000509). Due to his refusal to accept the Mahdi's terms, Gordon became a popular public figure among the British public, despite the government's reluctance to send a force to help lift the siege. Public pressure resulted in a small force being sent and it arrived at Khartoum in January 1885, two days after Gordon's death and the city's capture by Mahdist forces. Once news reached Britain of the events, Gordon's reputation was further increased and soon his achievements were being exaggerated to the point of his being declared a martyr to the imperial cause. 
    Following Gordon’s death, his sister presented the Bible to Queen Victoria in conjunction with "the last and best" photograph taken of him and other memorabilia. The Queen had followed Gordon's actions in Sudan closely, recording almost daily in her Journal whenever a telegram was received. On its arrival at Windsor Castle on 25 March 1885, the Queen proceeded to place the Bible inside an ornate rock crystal display case on the Grand Corridor (RCIN 30037). 
    Among the memorabilia accompanying the Bible are draft passages, written in March 1881, on religious matters including the significance of light and its relationship with God, and justification for the punishment of crimes. These notes provide a clear indication of the personality and religious conviction of Gordon and his behaviour in the later years of his life.


    Given to Charles Gordon on the day of his birth, 28 January 1833, by Amelia Enderby. Later given by Gordon to his sister, Mary Augusta Gordon, c. 1881. Presented by her to Queen Victoria, March 1885.

  • Measurements

    17.0 x 4.0 cm (book measurement (inventory))

    33.5 x 5.0 cm (book in slip case)

  • Other number(s)
    Alternative title(s)

    The English version of the Polyglot Bible...

    Bible. English.

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