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Chinese Gordon’s Gravesend days

PUBLISHED: 09:47 21 January 2013 | UPDATED: 11:32 21 January 2013

General Gordon Memorial

General Gordon Memorial

Archant

‘Chinese Gordon’ travelled far and wide, but in Gravesend he found his greatest fulfilment, Anna Dubuis discovers.

Details for the memorial service

The memorial service will take place at the Gordon Memorial Gardens at the Riverside Leisure Area on Friday January 25 at 11am.

It will be led by Revd Graham Herbert from St Peter & St Paul at Milton-next-Gravesend and attended by the Mayor of Gravesham Cllr Lyn Milner.

Also in attendance will be pupils from Chantry School, the Royal Engineers Association, Merchant Navy, the president of Gravesham Rotary, Gads Hill School Combined Cadet Force and the Salvation Army and Borough Band.

Every year a memorial service is held in Gravesend to pay tribute to Major General Charles George Gordon, also known as Chinese Gordon, who was one of the town’s greatest benefactors.

It is 128 years since Major General Gordon was murdered in Khartoum while evacuating British and Egyptian troops threatened by Sudanese rebels.

It was a far cry from his days in Gravesend, where he spent six years devoted to social work, looking after the sick, giving money to the poor and helping educate the young.

Gordon was born in Woolwich in 1833 and was the son of a senior army officer.

He spent his twenties serving in the Royal Engineers during which he was posted to The Crimea and to China.

On return to England, in 1865, his successes abroad gained him the nickname ‘Chinese Gordon’ from the public, and he was sent to Gravesend with his mission to renovate the forts in the town and across the river at Tilbury.

It was in Gravesend that he spent his happiest years, historians say.

Turning his mind away from war he focused on alleviating poverty in the area.

He helped run a night school for poor boys, paid visits to the poor house, and turned two rooms at his own home into classrooms.

Later Gordon became involved with the soup kitchens, visited the sick at the local infirmary and was a regular face at the workhouses.

It is said he became completely absorbed in his welfare work in Gravesend, shunning other socialising.

Many elderly people received a pension directly from Gordon – it is estimated he gave away 90 percent of his Colonel’s £3,000 annual pay.

In 1871 Gordon left the town and he was soon appointed Governor General of the Sudan and he spent his following years crushing rebellion forces along the Nile and attempting to suppress the slave trade and bring peace to the region.

In 1880, ill health meant Gordon returned to England before setting off again for India, China and South Africa.

But the seasoned traveller met his grizzly end back in Sudan.

Khartoum had come under siege by rebels led by Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi, a fundamentalist religious leader.

Gordon’s role was to coordinate the withdrawal of British and Egyptian forces from the region, but they were captured and Gordon was beheaded.

Back in England there was uproar at the news of his death.

Regarded a national hero, Queen Victoria led the outpouring of grief and he earned another pseudonym – Gordon of Khartoum.

Still after his death, payments and pensions were sent to local families in and around Gravesend – he had never forgotten the town – and in memory of what he had done for them the council created an extensive memorial to the benefactor.

Statues were carved – as can be seen in Gravesend’s Gordon Memorial Gardens, Gordon’s Promenade was named, and the Fort Gardens were also created in his memory.

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