“ I first met him on the top of a kopje, when he handed me his card in the middle of a battle. He impressed me much. He suggests his name— a big, strong, keen fellow, with a powerful voice, a man who looks in perfect health. He seemed to have great habits and to know everybody. He never hesitated to look through Lord Roberts’s telescope, or to share a camp-stool with General Pole-Carew.”
— Mortimer Menpes.
“ Bennet Burleigh, who had fought for the independence of the South during the Civil War in America, bluff and kindly, with a heart too big for his body, bursting with kindness and good nature, endowed with remarkable energy and pluck, and with as much knowledge of soldiering as most generals, was a striking figure.”
In the early part of the war between the States, there appeared one day at Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy, a young Scotchman in whose pockets were the plans for a submarine battery and the sketches for a torpedo boat. The brown-haired, blue-eyed, fair-faced adventurer was regarded with suspicion by the authorities, and had to spend several weeks in the city’s Bastile, Castle Thunder. After a time, however, this soldier of fortune helped to fasten one of his torpedoes to the side of a Union vessel, but the fuse failed to ignite, and later the captured device was exhibited in New York. He then put on the butternut uniform and fought in several of the important actions of the war, engaging with John Yates Beall, a graduate of the University of Virginia, in privateering enterprises, and twice having the sentence of death pronounced upon him. In Chesapeake Bay he planned and executed the capture of a Federal steamer, whose flag is now in the public library of Richmond. For some time he was ill with malarial fever in the Virginia city, and there he undertook his first literary work by writing for The Southern Illustrated News, and made an appearance upon the stage in D’Orsay Ogden’s play called “The Guerilla.” Having undertaken a raid within the Union lines, he was surprised while tearing down telegraph wires to prevent the transmission of Northern messages. The attacking force was the Thirty-sixth United States Colored Infantry, and when but three of the raiders were left standing their leader was forced to surrender. He was wounded, and the papers upon his person exposed him to the charge of being a spy. With the penalty of the spy overhanging him he was imprisoned in a dreary locality at Fort Delaware, forty miles below Philadelphia.
To this day there are Confederate soldiers who remember “Captain Bennet G. Burley.” The famous correspondent of the Daily Telegraph got his first experience of war in the conflict fifty years ago in America. He is known everywhere now as the special who would have been awarded the Victoria Cross for his exploits in the Soudan, had it been possible for a “camp follower” to win that coveted distinction; as the reporter who scored the great “ scoop ” after Tel el Kebir; as the “civilian” to whom the Black Watch gave much of the credit for the saving of the broken square at Tamai; as the audacious correspondent who flagged a South African train to get an interview, and the clever strategist who “put over a beat” by the use of the Prayer Book; and no one really knows how many other feats are to be placed to his account, nor, to vary the inventory of his exploits a little, just how many times he delighted himself and his comrades by his ability to cook a good meat pie in a tin wash basin when on the firing line.
He had some difficulty inducing his family to permit him to leave the home in Glasgow for the States. His father was a master mechanic, and the devices which the adventurous youth carried across the ocean were his father’s inventions. At Fort Delaware the prisoner found there was a sewer under his cell, and that the water came up to the sleepers on which the floor rested. He managed to pry up several planks and with five others to wriggle through the opening. For a hundred and twenty-five yards they crawled in the sewer, diving under the sleepers as they came to them, their situation made almost desperate by the river’s tide. At the mouth of the sewer two of his companions were captured; two others were drowned in the river; Burleigh himself swam five hours in the darkness and finally was picked up by a vessel whose commander professed to believe his tale of an upset while fishing. Making his way to Canada he again fell in with Beall and they plotted one of the most audacious enterprises of the war.
In the midst of the Russo-Japanese war Justice Brown of the United States Supreme Court declared himself to be watching the news from Manchuria for some “wild adventure” of Bennet Burleigh, in whom he was interested because forty years before he had secured his extradition from Canada. This was after the failure of the attempt of Beall and Burleigh, to liberate the Southern soldiers held at Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, in Lake Erie, as prisoners of war. The 2000 Confederates were quartered in a stockade of fifteen acres, guarded by block houses. The plotters intended to enter Sandusky Bay and attack there the only Union war vessel in the neighborhood which they knew to be well provisioned. They took passage in a small steamer out of Detroit, bringing with them an old trunk bound with ropes which contained their armament of hatchets and revolvers. Burleigh on the bridge chatted affably with the captain until the right moment came for him to hold a revolver to the officer’s head and demand the surrender of the ship. At Middle Bass Island a larger steamer came alongside them with twenty-five unarmed Union soldiers on her decks. A dozen shots and they were masters of that vessel also. Passengers and crews were put ashore, the two boats were lashed abreast, and five miles out the larger was scuttled and cast adrift. But now, just at the crisis of their venture, a messenger from Canada failed them, and all in the party weakened but Beall, Burleigh and two others. Even before they started on their dangerous enterprise their plans had been betrayed by a professed Confederate refugee in Canada.
It was necessary to abandon their boat on the Canadian shore and discreetly disappear. Rewards were placed upon their heads; their crime was held to be piracy. Beall was apprehended and hanged on Governor’s Island in New York Bay. The reward for Burleigh’s capture was large and eventually he was taken in Canada. On a technical charge of robbery his extradition was ordered, but the United States did not then venture on the more serious charge because it was a question if piracy could be committed on Lake Erie. In the standard works upon the legal issues of extradition there is much space given to the case of young Burleigh. He was taken to Detroit, where hewas imprisoned for six months, and then to Port Clinton, Ohio, where he was held for three months. During this period a question of international law was under discussion. The father in Glasgow had sought British intervention. Several times the young man’s life was in jeopardy. Finally there was a trial and the jury disagreed. At last Burleigh settled matters in his own way — he became friends with the sheriff; his company was agreeable to the people of the town; his mail was handed to him through a jail window, saving the sheriff the possible embarrassment of examining the letters of his rather compromising friend. One day a file came through the window in a pie. Helped from the outside, this British subject escaped to Detroit and across the river to Canada. Everybody was glad he got off, and when before long the war ended, no one pushed to a conclusion the adjudication of the legal points in his case, which, as a result, is still open. Justice Brown related the story in detail a few years ago, and said that Burleigh remembered the sheriff and sent him money after a time, and that other residents of the neighborhood were recipients of tokens of the appreciation of the bold young Scotchman.
The war was over, and Burleigh made his way to Texas, where he is supposed to have done his first real journalistic work as one of the editors of the Houston Telegraph. Then for some years he did newspaper work in Brooklyn, and at least one celebrated trial was assigned to him. But his love of war was ingrained. His massive figure, remarkable powers of endurance, and zest for dangerous adventure, all indicated the kind of life which would make the strongest appeal to him. He also had remarkable facility for picking up dialects and languages. About 1878, he returned
to England, and in 1881, he found his real vocation in Egypt, beginning his work as a war correspondent when he must have been nearly forty years old, although he was never willing to make very definite statements as to his age. At the bombardment of Alexandria he was the correspondent of the Central News. The managing editor of the Daily Telegraph, Mr. John M. Le Sage, was sent to Egypt to arrange for the strengthening of the paper’s staff there, and upon his representations of the character and work of Burleigh the paper acquired the famous correspondent. Burleigh was connected continuously with the paper from early in 1882 until his retirement from active duty at the end of 1913.
In 1898, Bennet Burleigh was able to say: “ I have been an eye-witness during the course of all the campaigns in the Soudan in which British troops have been employed. . . . From the beginning to the death of Mahdism I have followed British and Egyptian troops into action against the dervishes. I knew General Hicks, but had the good-fortune to miss accompanying his ill-fated expedition.”
In the memorable night march and the surprise which terminated the power of Arabi Pasha, Burleigh had a share and the despatches which he sent to his paper gave London the first news of those events.
That night of September 12 was moonless and the desert was wrapped in a grey gloom which the eye could not pierce. Due west from the camp of Sir Garnet Wolseley a line of engineer telegraph posts had been erected for a half-mile or more. As the advance, or guiding column, moved away from the camp, these posts would start them in the right direction. At the end they would swing clear and march by the stars. The total distance to Arabi’s entenchments was six miles. At one-thirty in the morning the column started and moved forward for less than an hour, as a sort of experimental march. The plan worked marvellously well. The stars were brilliant. A naval officer steered the army in close formation with accuracy; there was no confusion. After a brief rest the march was resumed. The night now was very dark and the stars which had been used for guidance a few hours before were below the horizon. But the pole star was always visible and furnished a fixed point upon the celestial chart. For an hour absolute silence reigned. During that final hour the tension became very severe; guiding stars dropped below the horizon one by one and others higher in the heavens had to be selected. These at times were covered by clouds, but the pole star over the right shoulder and the star in front for which the column was aimed, were never blotted from sight at the same time.
What might easily have been an awful catastrophe was averted by the good discipline of the force. An order for a few minutes halt was issued. At once the centre companies stopped, but the order required a little time to reach the outermost companies on the flanks, and they continued to advance, always keeping in touch with the men next in toward the centre. When all were halted, therefore, the force lay on the desert almost in a half-circle, and as the word to start was given again the companies on the flanks moved forward and found themselves face to face. In the dim light a single false move might have preprecipitated terrible consequences. At precisely the instant desired the camp of the unsuspecting Egyptians was reached. A single shot broke the dead silence.
Five minutes after the firing of that shot, the dawn had begun and after five more minutes the entire landscape was revealed, for the desert dawn is very short.
The instant the battle was over Burleigh began a rapid survey of the trenches, and in a short time acquired a comprehensive notion of the disposition of the troops and the nature of the ground over which they had fought. Without losing a minute he began a hard ride to Kassassin across the desert, where he knew he could command a telegraph wire. Over this he sent the first intimation of the battle which London received, following it up with a long account of the action. The message off, he remounted and made all speed back to the battleground, where he learned that the cavalry brigade had been ordered to Cairo. He rode on alone with such speed that he reached the city even before the advanced guard, finding Arabi a prisoner and the war at an end.
He hurried to the wire, but it was impossible to send a despatch by the native operators. He therefore borrowed a horse and started again for Kassassin. Through the night he rode, Egyptian soldiers occasionally firing upon him, and Arabian robbers once or twice attempting his capture, and when at length with ten miles of desert between him and the end of the wire his horse broke down, he tramped the balance of the distance on foot, and wrote and sent away another important despatch.
Thus in the course of two days he had ridden one hundred and forty miles, most of the time through hostile and desert country, and during this period he had gone entirely without sleep. It was an exploit entirely worthy of Archibald Forbes and it scored thegreatest beat of the time. Bennet Burleigh had “ broken into the game ” with a vengeance.
Within a few years Burleigh revisited the land of the Nile several times. He was with the small army commanded by General Sir Gerald Graham intended to relieve the Egyptian garrison beleaguered by Osman Digna at Tokar. The enemy had gained three successive victories and Graham had to face bold and confident men. On February 15, 1883, the special left London with a party of British officers and hurried at desperate speed to overtake Sir Redvers Buller, who had started three days before to aid Graham.
The train from Calais brought Burleigh to Brindisi on the night of the second day from London. He wired Port Said for a steam launch to meet him on the arrival of his steamer and take him through the Suez Canal. In the early evening of the fourth day the little launch came alongside the ship before she lost way entirely, and with four officers, who were equally anxious, Burleigh hurried aboard, bag and baggage. At midnight on Lake Timsah they were struck by a terrific squall and the Maltese crew fastened their launch to one of the beacon boats. After a time they were forced to start ahead in the thick darkness, and, although they went aground twice, they finally found the entrance to the canal on the opposite side of the lake. They dreaded lest the Egyptian mail steamer for Suakin should leave Suez before their arrival in the morning. From each of two way- stations they wired for the boat to be held, but they arrived in time and found that a large number of refugees from the army of Baker Pasha had been brought by the vessel from Suakin and that the departure had been delayed for a couple of days. Luckily * however.
Buller had also been retarded and his boat had only left the previous evening. They waited not upon ceremony but without any invitation piled aboard a hired transport which was to sail that night. The skipper looked unutterable things until he learned that his unexpected passengers were up to anything, even to sleeping on deck, when he smiled once more. The decks were loaded with stores and the hold was packed with mules. As they made their way inside the reef at Suakin a steam launch came out and a naval lieutenant told them that Buller’s vessel was not in yet and that no battle had been fought. With the lieutenant for a pilot they headed full steam inside the reefs for Trinikat, where they arrived in five hours at two on the afternoon of February 26, eleven days from London, and in good time for “the fun.”
Burleigh procured the first requisite of the correspondent, a pass properly signed and authenticated. Next he investigated the telegraphic facilities and found that they were very unsatisfactory; all despatches had to go to Suakin, the nearest station, and there was but one steamer a day to that port, leaving always on or before two in the afternoon. Then he was off with the troops for Fort Baker. That was a march in the mud, and Burleigh describes the droll spectacle of the men wading through water and slush with not only their shoes and stockings dangling about their necks but their kilts or trousers as well.
At eleven that night Burleigh stretched out booted and spurred and covered with a blanket, ready for the bugle call for the battle of El Teb. In the square were the Gordon Highlanders and the Black Watch, with two other regiments, and a naval brigade with cannon at the corners, making more than 3000 men in all. Thusformed they began their march at five in the morning. The fighting was severe, at times “almost a melee of bayonets against spears.” A few of the Arabs got within five yards of the square, but they were forced back toward the ten mud-holes known as the wells of Teb, where they made their last stand that day.
Again Burleigh was first with the news. He was driven almost to distraction by the slowness of a censor who was cutting down his estimates of the wounded and slain, which the special had already understated. At last he got his vise and was off on the gallop for Trinikat, eight miles away, coming in with the first news of the action. But the man on whom he depended for the forwarding of despatches failed him and there were anxious hours of waiting. At length he devised a new scheme, scribbled his despatch once more in long hand, intending by duplication to lessen the chances of miscarriage, and hired a hardy and trusty Arab runner to make the trip to Suakin. No steamer would sail from Trinikat for Suakin until the official despatches were ready, which would be early the following morning. At eight in the evening the runner was off, with plenty of hard money and a supply of passports, and the promise of additional rewards if he was in Suakin by the following dawn. Burleigh rode some distance with him, and he was chased by Egyptians during the night, but before seven he was at the telegraph offices at Suakin. There the senior naval officer read the message and forwarded to London a brief abstract of its contents, beginning with the statement that a “native messenger had arrived with news of the army from the correspondent of the Daily Telegr.aph,” and ending with the explanation that “official confirmation is expected by steamer.” Thus Burleigh’s paper was able to give the news to the world in advance of all others.
Two natives hired as runners, and a servant employed as a special express, went with Burleigh when the advance against the enemy was resumed. From time to time the press man rode away by himself in the desert, and he has described his outfit for such ventures. He wore a dark blue suit, crammed his pockets with biscuits, took care to be provided with the inevitable tooth-brush and carbolic soap, jammed a towel into his holster, and carried as a matter of course a water bottle, a pair of field glasses and an army revolver. When servants were with him he would scoop a hole in the loose earth, lay his waterproof sheet therein, and get his regular bath in the water poured into the sheet from the skins carried by his men.
Now came the battle of Tamai, in which this special rendered a real service to the arms of England. The troops slept on a waterless plain, within an enclosure made of mimosa bushes. These were cut before all the four faces of the square, leaving an open space of almost a hundred yards across which the enemy would be in full view if they undertook to rush the camp. Within the square of thickly-piled bushes the men lay down two deep with the officers in the rear, and sentinels patrolling between the hedge and the sleepers. It was a bright moonlighted night and Burleigh was able to write descriptive passages without recourse to artificial light.
This was the battle of the broken square of Kipling’s stirring stanzas. In moving terms the correspondent, who also was one of the historians of that campaign, told how the enemy crept up under the cover ofthe smoke and the sloping ground, how hundreds of Arabs came bounding over the rocks spear and sword in hand, how half their number were shot down but forty or more were able to throw themselves on the British bayonets, when quick as lightning the rush increased and in an instant as it seemed the Sixty- fifth gave way and began to fall back. He related how the marines were thrown into disorder and back everybody was borne in a confused mass, how the general and his staff tried to rally the troops, how “even the Forty-second” was thrown into confusion by the general disarrangement of formations, and how the machine guns had to be abandoned, although the Bluejackets managed to remove the sights and temporarily disable the pieces. The forces were borne back about eight hundred yards.
I have talked at length about this battle with one of the men of the Black Watch, the Forty-second Royal Highlanders, and he, expressing, he declares, the sentiments of the entire regiment, says that Burleigh was one of the real heroes of the day. The correspondent was with the commander of the Black Watch when the Arabs were charging to within five yards of their line. He glanced to the right and “ejaculated in language more forcible than choice” that the Sixty-fifth were giving way. At once he galloped to their side of the square. The Arabs were bounding like deer through the thick smoke, “with hair on end, eyes gleaming, white teeth shining,” looking like “infuriated demons bounding upon the soldiers like figures in a shadow pantomime.” They were all over that side and corner of the square, and in an instant were “at the guns and among the men, thrusting, cutting, stabbing, with desperate energy.”
They had found a small opening where the square was not perfectly joined, and the men “recoiled before that avalanche of fierce savages.” Let the story be told in Burleigh’s own language and at length. He said:
“It was a time when one’s country was of far greater importance than his professional calling, so I did what I could for the former during the surging five minutes that ensued. I rode'about in the broken line of the Sixty-fifth, where General Graham and other officers were, striving to get the soldiers to close up and fire steadily.
“At the moment we were hardest pushed, I saw an old acquaintance. Captain Rutherford of the Sixty-fifth, left almost without his company, erect, bare-headed, sword in hand, facing the shouting, jubilant Arabs, and hoarsely calling, ‘Men of the Sixty-fifth, close up.’ I shouted to him, and even in that roar and rush found time to exchange a word or two with him as to what was best to be done, ere turning again to invite the soldiers, who were showing a bold front to the foe, to aim and fire carefully. . . .
“Still, on the enemy came, yelling and screaming with diabolic ferocity. The gaping wounds made by our almost explosive Martini-Henry bullets scarcely checked the savages in their wild career. It was only when the lead shattered the bone of a leg, or pierced heart or brain, that their mad onrush was stopped. I saw Arab after Arab, through whose bodies our bullets had ploughed their way, charging down on the square, with the blood spouting in pulsating streams from them at every heart throb. . . .
“Others there were whose life-blood ebbed ere they reached our men, who fell within a pace or two of the soldiers. The last act of these warriors was invariably a despairing effort to hurl the weapon they carried at the moment in their hand — stick, spear or sword — at their English foe- men. A savage gleam shown in their faces, defiant, unrelenting, hating, as they gathered all strength to thus make their last blow at us. Who could but admire and applaud such dauntless bravery? Those of us privileged to witness it, and the awful spectacle of those five minutes, can neverforget it, or cease to remember the grand, self-sacrificing courage of the brave Hadendowas.
“As backward the right face and comer of the Sixty- fifth were borne from the nullah’s edge, and the indent or little gully, the right wing of the Forty-second was left exposed, and the savages were among the Highlanders on their flank and rear in a twinkling, cutting and spearing in every direction. Still falling back, in a line to the east of that taken on our advance from the zareba, the Marines who were in the rear of the square were wheeled up to the support of the Sixty-fifth and to close the gaps in our formation. It was too late for the movement to be executed successfully, and they too were thrown into disorder, and were borne away from the nullah on the line of retreat.
“As that fine body of men were being swept away, Major Colwell roared in stentorian tones:
“‘Men of the Portsmouth division, rally!’ Rally they did, about one hundred and fifty of them closing together in a compact body, forming a little square. These were the last to retire and take their positions in the reformed line.
“In the right corner of the square, or what once was a square, were now inextricably mixed men of the Sixty-fifth, Blue-jackets, Marines and a few Highlanders. It was not a rout, but a retreat; for our soldiers kept loading and firing, although there was no semblance at the time of an orderly military line; but in place thereof, facing and fighting the enemy, were an irregular body of men in rather open order on what was the west face of the square. Numerous melees occurred, where with fist and foot the soldiers mauled the savages. The Arabs threw themselves on our men, grasping their rifles, and in one instance actually tearing off a Highlander’s kilt in the tussle. . . .
“For a brief interval it was the innings of Osman Digna’s followers, and they rioted in cutting and slashing. Every soldier who stumbled or fell was done for, the enemy darting in squads for these unlucky ones, thrusting their spears into them. As they followed us closely up, they never missed an opportunity to drive their weapons into the body of any soldier lying on the ground who exhibited the slightest signs of life. . . .”
Through all that struggle the voice of Burleigh was heard when other voices could not be distinguished. He did some fighting, but his chief concern was to assist in the preventing of a panic and to hold the men and aid in getting them reformed. “I was an eyewitness to scores of instances of heroism,” he says. When the advance was begun again he attached himself to the right of the line and he rode with the colonel in command of the Marines, who had but one mounted officer left. Thereupon the special felt warranted in offering his own services.
A few minutes before noon the battle was over. The foe had run amuck, but they had been beaten; the camp of Osman was in the hands of General Graham and there he prepared to rest and bivouac. The instant the operations were over for the day the correspondent was again the newspaper man. He dismounted and picked his way about among the dead, roughly estimating numbers, and making notes of the names of officers.
This done, and a rapid survey of the field having been taken, he was for the wire. General Graham did him the honor of asking that he carry his own messages. From the khor to the sea Burleigh galloped at top speed, and by two that afternoon his Arab horse had brought him to the telegraph station. But alas! there was no help for it, he had to yield the right of priority; the official despatches went off first. Before his arrival there were all sorts of rumors floating about Suakin. Fragments of news had been heliographed from the zarebas, and, founding their judgments as well as the mirage would permit upon the retreat of the troops, it had been supposed that the British were routed. Admiral Hewett had found it necessary tostop messages for England based on these rumors. Not until the arrival of the correspondent with the despatch of General Graham did the truth become known.
Burleigh got off his first message at one-forty-five on March 13; the second went at two-thirty; the third at five-thirty; the fourth at dawn the following morning; the fifth at eight-ten that morning; and at six-fifty in the evening he began a final despatch with the words: “I have just returned the second time from Tamai.”
For his services upon the Gordon Relief Expedition, Burleigh won the honor coveted of all soldiers, a mention in the official despatches, and it is said that if the conditions under which it is granted would have permitted he would have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Through all the night hours before the Battle of Abu Klea the droning of the tomtoms and the wild cadences of the Moslem chant, with the intermittent firing of their Remington rifles, came from the low hills in front of the camp of General Stewart, where 1400 men, wearing their overcoats and wrapped in blankets, were sleeping with guns under their hands and bayonets fixed. Before dawn there were four separate alarms which brought the whole force to their feet. In the battle of the following day the correspondent was very near Colonel Burnaby when that officer fell, fighting valiantly, and Burleigh’s despatch contains the most complete account of his death.
In the next battle Burleigh was twice hit. The troops had marched all night and built their zareba right in the lair of the enemy, about four miles from the Nile. Shortly after the fighting began, as the British were replying with machine guns to the fire of the
foe, Melton Prior heard a loud thud, and immediately Burleigh was yelling to the artist: “Pick it out. Prior, pick it out!” and at the same time clawing at his neck. He had been struck by a ricochetted ball just under the ear and soon there appeared a big black lump half the size of a chicken’s egg. The pain and shock were so great that Burleigh could hardly believe there was nothing in his head to “pick out.” A wound in the foot proved to be rather more serious.
In the square at Abu Kru there are said to have been less than a thousand men against ten times that number. But the square held, the foe were thrown back three times and finally stampeded. In one episode of that bitter struggle forty officers and men took their orders from “Mr. Burleigh” by direction of their superior. This was when upon the advice of the correspondent, the little detachment sallied forth under a galling fire with bores and spades to construct some detached fortifications. A soldier who fought there has told me that when volunteers were asked for a task which seemingly meant certain death, the first to offer, with possibly an exception or two, was Burleigh. As a part of their fortification they constructed a breastwork of biscuit boxes. The loss was very heavy in that battle. John Cameron of The Standard was shot while sitting between two camels at his lunch; St. Leger Herbert of the Morning Post was killed also, and the correspondents were among those who wept silently over the wounded General Sir Herbert Stewart. The foe once routed. Prior and Burleigh went to work to help carry the wounded to the new camp on the Nile.
The desperate advance was all in vain. Those were the days when, to quote the Daily Telegraph, “ all Christendom turned its eyes to that lonely Englishman, Gordon, at Khartoum.” The telegraph wires north of Khartoum were cut, of course, and communication between the sentinel of the Soudan and the force fighting its way to his rescue was precarious. Through the entire period the despatches sent by Burleigh were read with intense interest. When Gordon managed to get a steamer through to Metemmah the special succeeded in communicating with her before all others.
Alas! just a week after the battle of Gubat the news came that the gates of Khartoum had been opened to the Mahdi and that Gordon had been slain. Now the anxiety of the British public was focussed upon the little Desert Column and the chances of their making a safe retreat from a position made trebly perilous by the fall of Khartoum. The Mahdi’s men were planning to cut off their retreat, and Sir Redvers Buffer, who had succeeded to the command, was putting forth strenuous exertions to extricate them. On Saturday, February 21, 1885, there appeared in the Daily Telegraph a statement of the dire straits of the force away up the Nile. That day the British people were almost in a state of panic. After midnight on Sunday, February 22, a message reached the newspaper office stating that the column had reached a place of safety. Thereupon it was determined to do an unheard of thing,— issue a Sunday edition. On their way to worship that morning congregations learned the good news from the Daily Telegraph’s extra, and their report anticipated the official despatches by thirty-six hours.
This announcement was made possible by the enterprise of Bennet Burleigh. He had noted the successful consummation of the early arrangements for the withdrawal of the column, and then had galloped with a small party across the desert, reaching the quarters of Lord Wolseley at Korti on February 20. But he had taken the precaution to send a telegram from Gakdul in the late afternoon of the preceding day, while the Commander-in-Chief did not wire from Korti until mid-afternoon of Friday, the twentieth. Thus Burleigh was able to place to his credit another of the exploits which earned for him his fame.
He was back in Egypt in 1897, having meantime reported several campaigns for his paper, in order to be on hand if a sudden dash should be made for Khartoum by the army of the Sirdar because of some unexpected lapse in the power of the Mahdi’s successor, the Khalifa. The best chance for good news stories just at the time seemed to be indicated by the known intention of the Khedival troops to occupy Kassala, about three hundred miles to the east of Khartoum. Burleigh set out for that place, intending to make a trip which no European had adventured for fourteen years. But the Sirdar refused the requisite permission and donkeys and camels were not to be had of the natives, who were unwilling to displease the Commander-in-Chief. He must, therefore, go by sea to Massowah and pass through the Italian colony of Eritrea.
There would be no steamboat leaving for that port for months, so he hired a sambuk, a large open native boat, to make the voyage of three hundred miles, and “a raggedy-higgledy-piggledy craft” it was, “fitted up with what might have been the sweepings of a junk shop,” with an aged sheikh as a pilot and a crew of seven Arabs and negroes. It was blowing great guns when they started and the skipper was undergoing “as many changes of colour as a chameleon.” But they landed on the third day and set out the same evening through dense darkness and rain, upon the first stage of the overland journey. Through the night they clambered among the rocks, the mules scrambling along like cats, the correspondent on foot and falling three times in as many minutes, finally entering Gindah, twenty-five miles inland, at five in the morning, entirely exhausted. They scaled the great mountain plateau of Abyssinia, and after a week of adventurous journeyings settled down in tented comfort upon the plain of Kassala. Burleigh enjoyed a deal of sport through his stay and slept with Hons and leopards sniffing about his campfires. But the Egyptian troops were sent to Wady Haifa for the Dongola campaign, and Burleigh returned to Suakin and thence to Cairo and London, expecting to spend several months at home.
It turned out that he was to spend but a few days in England, for important events were impending. The Daily Telegraph’s special hastened back to the Nile and went forward with all possible speed a thousand miles up the river to rail head. The train service was overtaxed by the demands of the army, and the correspondents had to march and ride the last two hundred and thirty miles. The troops were on open trucks on the railway, “grilled by the sun by day and pinched by the cold at night.” Burleigh was forbidden to hire camels from the natives, and had a hard time finding a donkey that was up to his weight. Several small adventures befell him in the desert and he had his turn with the sand devils, which he thus describes:
“The devils are indigenous to the Soudan. The devil, small or large, is a whirlwind, that spins and skips across the desert, marking his course with a column of sand, dust and pebbles. He is a brother to the ocean waterspout and often as mischievous and dangerous. Three of them waltzed in close connection through the British and Egyptian lines. They came to us across the desert, in appearance mighty, inverted, black cones, their points from forty to eighty feet in diameter. When they struck the camp it was with a roar as of many rushing trains in a tunnel. As they furiously spun, coats, blankets, helmets, papers, bully-beef tins, in sooth, all the flotsam and jetsam of the camp within reach, were caught up in the ascending vortex and borne as bubbles to the clouds. Tents and tukels went as they sidled by, and the brave Camerons and Seaforths had great work with their kilts. When the devils were gone, we all were as black as sweeps, and almost blinded and choked with grit and sand.”
On April 8 was fought the battle of the Atbara. It was “after the fatigues of the inarch and the excitement of the action,” and when Burleigh “had finished his long but hastily written telegrams, which were scrawled out while sitting upon the pebbles under a blazing desert sun, half blinded and wholly wearied, and terribly thirsty and hungry,” that he managed to get some refreshment and then wrote his long description of the action. The attacking force had taken the usual square formation, and a little after six the preceding evening had silently quit their camp and marched into the desert. “The glint of pipe or cigarette could be seen here and there in the squares, but beyond that and the heavy trampling of the troops upon sand and gravel, there was nothing to give warning that an army was engaged in that most difficult and risky enterprise, a night march.” Prowling dervish scouts were to be deceived by the stillburning campfires which friendly natives kept alive through the night. “When darkness had quite fallen all that could be seen was the dim outline of the square one was with or the cold shimmer of the bayonets of the next,” and “even when the moon rose her light disclosed little more of the movement of the brigades, for there was a fresh breeze stirring and the sand and dust drove by as thick as a Newfoundland fog.”
A halt was made at nine and the bivouac continued for four hours. Burleigh spent the time visiting the various troops and observing the Sirdar and his staff in Maxwell’s square. And of his observations he made this amusing record, among others of a different sort:
“It was whilst walking softly, so as not to disturb light sleepers, that I overheard a sentimental Seaforth Highlander say to his comrade,
‘“Ah, Tam, how many thousands there are at hame across the sea thinking o’ us the nicht!’
‘“Right, Sandy,’ replied the chum, ‘And how many millions there are that don’t care a damn. Go to sleep, you fool!’
“And silence again fell upon that comer of the square.”
Shortly after one in the morning — it was the morning of Good Friday — the men silently fell into line again. Now there was no smoking and no talking, but the sheen of arms could not be hidden and the rumble of the gun carriages could not be stilled. Commands were given by the use of signs, as the moon now flooded the desert with light. The watchword of the marchers was “Remember Gordon and Khartoum.” Just as the sun was rising they were seen by the dervishes. For some time a cannonade followed; then came the bugled call for a general advance. The Khedival bands began playing and the pipers skirled. There was wild work with rifles, pistols and bayonets. The Camerons, their hands gloved, pulled apart the thorny bushes of which the zareba was made. The work, said Burleigh, “was furious and ticklish, as of clearing out by hand a hive of hornets.” The correspondent himself entered the zareba and palisade a little to the left of the centre of the Camerons, and as the ground was rough and he needed a wide view, he at once mounted his horse. “I know the sound of bullets hitting in close proximity all around,” he wrote, “and I several times caught myself wondering when I was going to get the first one. But not even my clothing was cut, although it had more than once been formerly.”
Soon the final series of events in the long struggle for the possession of the Soudan was at hand. Burleigh spent a short time in England, and was back in Cairo in July for the march to Khartoum.
Reaching the neighborhood of the Khalifa’s stronghold, Burleigh traveled with the cavalry on the left front and from the tip of a granite hill he had his first glimpse of Omdurman. “As in a daisy-pied field there were dervish battleflags everywhere among the thick, swart lines that in rows barred the way. The banners were in all colors, shapes and sizes, but only the Khalifa’s was black.” The correspondent made careful computation and reckoned the number of the enemy at 35,000.
He had his full share in the battle of Omdurman, one of the most picturesque conflicts of the century. Before four in the morning of September 2, 1898, the bugles called the army from slumber; at five the Lancers rode out on their daily task of scouting and covering the advance. Burleigh joined them on the signal hill and as he led his horse up its rugged slopes he “heard a mighty rumbling as of tempestuous rollers and surf bearing down upon a rock-bound shore.” And his description continues thus:
“When I had gone but a few strides farther there burst upon my sight a moving, undulating plain of men, flecked with banners and glistening steel. Who should count them? They were compact, not to be numbered. Their front from east to west extended over three miles, a dense mass flowing towards us. It was a great deep-bodied flood rather than an avalanche, advancing without flurry, solidly, with presage of power. The sound of their coming grew each instant louder, and became articulate. It was not alone the reverberation of the tread of horses and men I heard and seemed to feel as well as hear, but a voiced continuous shouting and chanting — the dervish invocation and battle challenge, ‘Allah el Allah! Rasool Allah el Mahdi!’ they reiterated in vociferous rhymed, rising measure, as they swept over the intervening ground. Their ranks were well kept, the serried lines marching with military regularity, with swaying of flags and brandishing of big-bladed, cruel spears and two-edged swords. Emirs and chiefs on horseback rode in front and along the lines, gesticulating and marshalling their columns.”
At five-thirty the fighting began. The fierce body of savage warriors faced a fire that smashed big gaps in their ranks, but came on clearly expecting to close with the British and Egyptian forces. The range of cannon fire shifted rapidly from 1700 yards down to less than a thousand. Rifles were fired so fast that they became too hot to hold and front-rank men in some cases changed weapons with rear-rankers. The first phase of the action closed when the dervish columns faced to the left and moved behind the western hills. Soon they spouted from shallow ravines and dashed forward at breakneck speed. The black flag reached a point within nine hundred yards of Maxwell’s men and there it was stuck in a pile of stones and around it were piled the dead. Dervish after dervish sprang to uphold the banner, which was riddled with bullets. “Then the dense columns shrunk to companies, the companies to driblets, which finally fled westward to the hills, leaving the field white with jibbeh-clad corpses, like a landscape dotted with snowdrifts.” Now the troops of the Sirdar swung clear of their zareba while thousands of the enemy watched from the hills. The nature of the ground forced some of the troops out of their true positions. The dervishes were quick to see and swift to seize their opportunity. They “sprang from unsuspected lairs,” and dashed for the exposed brigade of Colonel MacDonald. Nearly every person in the army saw the peril of the little force with 12,000 dervishes coming at them pell mell. Burleigh rode at a gallop, disregarding the venomous dervishes hanging about, up the slopes of the signal hill, where, spread like a picture, the scene lay below him. Aid was sent MacDonald instantly, but no aid could reach him in time. His troops were in part Soudanese and Egyptians. Indecision on his part would have surely lost all. No movement to the rear could be attempted in the face of so fleet and daring a foe; there were columns converging upon him on three sides. It was “a magnificent, struggle.”
One of the important services rendered by Burleigh was his telling the story of the courage of MacDonald and bringing home to the public the facts of his tough and protracted fight. Of the entire battle the special wrote: “Neither in my experience nor in my reading can I recall so strange and picturesque a series of incidents happening within the period of twelve hours.”That night he helped to knock from the limbs of Charles Neufeld the chains he had carried for eleven years. Then he lay down and fell asleep on the bare desert, “hoping to wake and find that servants and baggage had turned up.” Two days later he attended the Gordon memorial service “ and wept with the attaches of European countries and the English officers and men.” Incidentally it may be recorded that in the battle one British officer is said to have earned the medal with clasp “for saving the life of a camp follower,” to use the terms employed by the Sirdar in making the recommendation. The “camp follower” was Burleigh.
Immediately after the occupation of Khartoum it was ordered by the Sirdar that all newspaper men should leave the Soudan. The Press was angry and the Press made exceeding haste to get away from Omdurman. Yet there were tokens of great impending events. From the French Congo, Captain Marchand had been sent to the Upper Nile, and there were rumors that he was at Fashoda. Not a syllable about Marchand was permitted by the censor to go over the wires to the London papers, however, and the correspondents had to wait until they reached Lower Egypt before they could send on the meagre facts in their possession. Burleigh also was very anxious to get his long account of the battle and the occupation to Fleet Street in advance of his competitors. He plotted a scheme, in which but a single confidante was required, and carried it through right cleverly.
The group of specials had reached Brindisi on their homeward journey, and just as the train across Europe was moving out of the station there, Burleigh, apparently yielding to a freakish impulse, leaped to the ground, saying: “Good-bye, fellows; I’m going to stay behind.” The rest of the story is told in these terms in the columns of the Daily Telegraph:
“His colleagues had no time to inquire the meaning of this manoeuvre. They consoled themselves with the thought that, at all events, their own despatches would reach London first. They did not know that Burleigh immediately returned to Cairo, in order to deal with the Fashoda affair, in such a way that, although everybody engaged in the expedition was repeatedly warned not to disclose anything about it, he was enabled very shortly after the event to tell the whole story day by day. And he did so with the more satisfaction because he knew that when he stepped out of the train at Brindisi a trusted messenger proceeding post haste to Downing Street was also bearing in three large red envelopes addressed to the Daily Telegraph his own MSS., together with a map of the battle. At Calais the bearer of the despatches was met; on board the boat a member of the staff of the Daily Telegraph prepared the ‘copy’ for the printers; the map was corrected by an officer who had been on the spot, and immediately the Continental train arrived in London the MSS. was rushed into the hands of the compositors, the map into those of the engravers, and the result was that the whole story of Omdurman was in type before the official despatches of Lieut.-General Sir Francis Grenfell, who commanded the British troops in Egypt, and of the Sirdar, General Sir H. Kitchener, were in the hands of the Queen’s printers.”
In addition to this feat, Bennet Burleigh’s account of the battle appeared in the columns of The Times, and his ability as a forecaster of events enabled his own paper to publish the fact of the “smashing of Mahdism,” as he called it, on the very day the battle was fought. He telegraphed the forecast in advance of the event, which was a genuine coup in the realm of calculation, but of course was laden also with grave risks of disaster. The Times lost both its correspondents at Omdurman: Colonel Frank Rhodes, the brother of Cecil Rhodes, was seriously wounded in the zareba early in the battle, and the Hon. Hubert Howard, who represented also the New York Herald, was killed near the tomb of the Mahdi by a stray shot after the fighting was over. By an arrangement with the Daily Telegraph, Burleigh’s long account of the battle was printed simultaneously in The Times, with an explanatory note stating that as it could not get its own despatches it used by courtesy the report of the correspondent of the rival newspaper.
Almost at the end of the year 1894, Burleigh sailed by way of the Cape of Good Hope for Madagascar. The French had practically declared war against the Malagasy, and for some unknown reason, had decided that no press men should be permitted to march with their troops. Therefore the special was commissioned “to write about the natives, their country, and the impending conflict.”
As in the case of the other correspondent of that campaign, E. F. Knight, Burleigh shipped upon a vessel whose captain proposed to land his passenger in spite of the prohibitions of the French. But this correspondent made a port but one hundred and fifty miles from the capital rather than the eight hundred miles which Knight had to cover. There was no French gunboat in sight, and Burleigh went ashore from the ship, swaying easily with the waves a mile and a half out, in a craft manned by natives with roughly hewn paddles. At the best possible moment the dash over the reef was made, and, although a ducking was inevitable, the thews and muscles of the paddlers held the boat bow on and saved the special from capsizing.
For some cause there existed a deadly prejudice against Bennet Burleigh in the French War Office and the hostile spirit was shown upon every occasion by the officers of the expedition of conquest. They searched steamships without full warrant of authority upon the chance of apprehending him. When the capital of the Hovas fell they drew a cordon around the city and inquired at once where Burleigh could be found. It was stated formally to him that the French meant not to shoot but to hang him, that they meant to make an example of him. Nevertheless he started for the capital, with an American as a traveling comrade, immediately after his landing through the surf, and he regarded the whole of his stay in the island as merely a pleasant jaunt, affording no perils and no pictures of real war.
Over astonishing distances his carriers, “muscled as models for sculptors,” bore him in the hand palanquin, which is “the stage coach of Madagascar,” trudging through swamps and marshes, rice fields and forests, with black parrots screaming overhead, and splendid scenery on every hand. He found the capital an irregular jumble of houses of brick, mortar, wood and leaf fibre. The Prime Minister assured him in a formal interview that no French protectorate would ever be accepted by the Hovas, and the spirits of the special rose at the prospect after all of some genuine fighting, especially when the red flag of war was hoisted upon the twelve sacred hills of the great continental island.
Burleigh witnessed the swaying and heard the shouting of 50,000 Hovas who answered the summons for a monster mass meeting which was hoisted upon the Royal Palace crowning the hill of Antananarivo.The blaring of trumpets, the blowing of horns and the firing of artillery announced the coming of the Queen, who was borne in a velvet and gold palanquin, with a gold sceptre in her right hand and the crown resting upon a cushion near to be placed upon her head when she made her speech. It was a brave address, and the people cheered her wildly, yet “there was not a single efficiently trained soldier in the country.”
The experienced war special witnessed also, and with real chagrin and disappointment, how bungled and destitute of energy and skill was the defence. No advice was regarded by the government and therefore the foreign military advisers felt constrained to hand in their resignations. The Hovas talked large; they would burn their capital and make it another Moscow; every man would go out and face death with sword and spear when the invaders drew near the city; yet positions almost impregnable for defence were surrendered without a blow. Burleigh made some quiet explorations on his own account and once was in some danger from robbers, but the Hovas would not allow him to see their men in action. Finally the French were in sight, and the tens of thousands of Hova “warriors” stared in astonishment at the search-light which was flashed upon them at night, and when a melinite shell burst in the royal courtyard the Queen ordered a flag of truce hoisted, and it was all over.
Next came another campaign which “yielded not even a whiff of gunpowder smoke,” but it was one in which the soldiers endured hardships far beyond those of ordinary warfare. This was the Ashanti campaign, in which the real enemy was the insidious malarial climate. Burleigh declares that he broke all the hygienic rules by undertaking long and tiring marches, sleeping out-of-doors and taking no quinine, but his Madagascar seasoning helped him and he escaped all unfortunate consequences.
The steamship left an English winter in November, 1895, and reached June weather in a week. In three days after sailing overcoats became a burden, and then lawn tennis clothes were warm enough for comfort. On board were some Royal Artillerymen, medical officers and doctors, engineers. Sierra Leone and Gold Coast officials and traders, a missionary or two, the governor of Sierra Leone and the private secretary of the commander-in-chief. Most of them had plenty of leisure for pleasure during the voyage, and every night there was a “sing-song.”
On December 19, scores of surf-boats, manned by semi-nude stalwart Fantees, who dipped their trifurcated paddles with lightning speed and machine-like regularity and marked the rhythm with a weird chant, were swarming about the just-arrived ship. And on Christmas they managed to have a jolly celebration in spite of all the drawbacks of the situation. All joined in, “Fantee, Ashanti, Kroo-boy, Sierra Leone boy, Mohammedan Houssa, West African negro and fetish workers.”
On this campaign Burleigh rode a bicycle, a pneumatic, which he found scarcely up to his weight, and of his wheel he has written a page which must be cited:
“The Headquarters had left and I was in duty bound to catch up with them. Riding slowly through the rough streets of the town, I took the military road — the only one — for the Prah. My fighting weight, with repeating carbine, pistols and accessories — nice vague term — waseighteen stone. Enough on a macadam, rather too much on an eight to fifteen feet wide, roughly graded, earth and natural rock highway. Pedalling was necessary to move at quite a moderate speed, ‘scorching’ was out of the question — the sun had the monopoly of that, whilst as for ‘coasting’ down hill, an idling tree-trunk lying across the road, a terraced ledge of rocks or other obstacle, played havoc with any race against time. I trundled on at eight to ten miles an hour, contented with that speed and enveloped with a cloud of hot steam and dust. The swart natives who turned at the screech of my ‘ siren,’ and saw me on my ‘bike,’ went white with fear, dropped their loads, and leaping the road scampered like deer into the bush. I saw them peering after me as if I were a ghost or stalking fetish. There was a long downhill on a fairly good bit of road, where, the path being tortuous, my ‘bike’ took charge before I was well aware of the fact. I had no brake, so ‘coasting’ furiously, shouting and pumping the siren till it roared, with my legs afloat in the air, I let ‘her’ go. Those unhappy carriers, with whom the road was thronged, when they heard the uproar and saw me sailing down the wind on a cloud upon them, tossed their loads instantly aside, and they dived, scrambled and disappeared from sight in a twinkling. And down that half-mile odd of hill their calls to their countrymen ran, as if I had bestrode a fire-engine careering madly through the streets of a city.”
Thus Burleigh outpaced his carriers by hours and miles. The last march was made on January 17. Burleigh beheld the king seated upon a chair, placed upon the topmost bank of a circular series of clay platforms; over his head were held huge plush umbrellas. Swarming below and around the court were perhaps five thousand retainers, jabbering, shrieking and gesticulating, while an army of drummers and horn- blowers kept up a terrific din. Three days later the great fetish village was burned and razed to the ground and the place of human sacrifices and barbarous rites was destroyed. When the return march to the coast began, Burleigh turned back to Coomassie to see what might happen when the troops retired, and he then saw the Union Jack at half-mast on the governor’s staff and learned that the news had been withheld of the death on the way home to England of the Queen’s son-in-law, Prince Henry of Battenburg.
One other incident in the expedition deserves mention. The correspondent had before this time slept stretched out on a box of gun-cotton, but in one little village of a dozen houses he found four hundred pounds of the explosive piled in the central roadway with the cases connected up with detonators, so that it could be instantly used. Over this pile was placed “a wretched, tobacco-smoking, drum-whacking native guard, whilst we laid our heads down and slept a dozen yards or so from the spot,”
The story of Burleigh’s experiences in the South African War has been told in detail in one of his books, yet several of his exploits are not of formal record. He was in the field again for the Daily Telegraph; he spent a month before Ladysmith with General Buffer, and was perhaps the only correspondent who left the place while the army was streaming in hour after hour, the men dropping on the sidewalks with fatigue as they entered. Burleigh rushed to the telegraph office and wired: “We are beaten and it means investment. We shall all be locked up in Ladysmith.” He made up his mind to leave, and he tried to induce Melton Prior to go with him. A score of specials decided to stay in the town, and Prior chose to remain with them. Burleigh got his cart and horses ready and left. And in three days Ladysmith was out ofall communication with the outside world. He made desperate efforts to learn what was going on in the town while it was beleaguered, trying Kaffir runners and sending fire balloons aloft with messages. But he had little success and every day the difficulties of penetrating the Boer fines increased. Again by “the intelligent anticipation of events” he forecast the relief of the town, and, by arrangement with the proprietors of his paper, he packed his cart with good things and had it sent into the place, where it was welcomed with an outburst of joy. And no wonder, for it contained tobaccos, champagne and tinned delicacies.
But Burleigh meantime was on his way to join Lord Roberts, and he later heard with glee how the men who had been penned up in Ladysmith for one hundred and nineteen days appreciated his thoughtfulness. With Lord Roberts he made the western campaign, remaining with his army until the surrender of Pretoria. His two big exploits in this war were the interview with General Joubert and his eluding the censor with the news of peace.
Almost at the beginning of the war he had undertaken a venturesome journey through the Boer army. When it became apparent that he must manage to get away from Pretoria he somehow got a pass and a place in the commando train, in which were three hundred men, with horses and fodder, stores and reserve ammunition, but with only one engine to pull the thirty-five coaches. After sixty hours, in which a comparatively short distance was covered, the train was stopped. The fines were blocked and news came that the English were planting dynamite to blow up the bridges on the road. When Joubert arrived Burleighwent to him and begged to be taken on with him next day, but the Boer leader refused to promise. There was nothing to be done that night, but bright and early next morning the special was at the station. He saw the train steaming out to Sands-spruit, and, feeling sure that Joubert was aboard, he actually flagged the train, which stopped forthwith. Burleigh climbed aboard and made his way to the coach in which was the general. The Boer was amazed and delighted with the audacity of the correspondent, and gave him an interview, which made one of the important despatches of the campaign for his paper.
While the negotiations were proceeding for peace the most emphatic orders were issued by Lord Kitchener that the news should not be hinted in any despatches. The censorship was very strict, and extreme precautions were taken to insure that the official despatches should carry the first intelligence to London of the termination of hostilities, tidings for which the English people were eagerly waiting. Burleigh made sure that the Pretoria negotiations were succeeding, and then hit upon the device of wiring two messages so very innocent and so far removed from the peace conference that no official would dream of stopping them unless he were gifted with astuteness in most uncanny degree. The account of the Daily Telegraph was printed subsequently thus:
“On Whit Monday, Mr. Burleigh telegraphed us from Pretoria the following message: ‘Whitsuntide greetings!’ When his despatch reached us without any official delay our first idea was that its transmission at full rate from the seat of war was a somewhat superfluous demonstration of politeness. A little reflection, however, served to indicate the significance of the particular season at which the sociablesentiment was expressed; and we fortunately remembered that in the Eastern Churches the symbol of Whitsuntide was the dove of Peace. But on this surmise we did not feel justified in making any comment. We turned, however, to > the Prayer Book — knowing Mr. Burleigh to be well acquainted with Holy Writ — and, reading over the Gospel for Whit Sunday, we came upon the following sentence:
“‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.’
“Even then we did not feel justified in coming to a fixed conclusion. But when we received Mr. Burleigh’s message to his brother in Glasgow — ‘Returning. Tell Lawson’—we felt that the moment had arrived when we might fairly take the public into our confidence.”
Thus the official statement. But as a matter of fact the paper very nearly missed the significance of the rather cryptic messages. The peace negotiations had been in progress but a few days when he wired, and it was on Whit Sunday itself that the Boer leaders met Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner. The telegrams were sent on May 18; the terms of peace were finally signed on May 31. It was really another case of the prescience of the shrewd special.
The great conflict in the Far East was very unsatisfactory from the point of view of this veteran. He went into the field on a Korean pony, “somewhat larger than a St. Bernard dog and somewhat smaller than an Egyptian donkey,” and before very long found “the leashed life of a war correspondent with the Japanese” insupportable. There was small comfort in looking at puffs of smoke and listening to the reports of cannon from a hill four miles from the firing line. Finally, in desperation, like many another special, Burleigh surrendered to the inevitable and left Manchuria. He was in the Balkan Peninsula through
the crisis which followed the overthrow of Sultan Abdul Hamid by the Young Turks, and his sympathy with Servian aspirations gained for him the enduring affection of that people. In 1911, he went to Tripoli, and in 1912 in the Balkans, at the age, perhaps, of seventy-three, he saw his last shot fired in war. Less than seven months after his retirement from active connection with his paper, on June 17, 1914, he died in London.
It must be noted that Bennet Burleigh was a most ingenious and strenuous reporter in the intervals between the wars that he covered. As an illustrative example, there is the story of the time when public excitement was running very high over the efforts of Mr. Charles Bradlaugh to enter the House of Commons. It was known that he would make an attempt to force his way into the chamber, and that there was bound to be a scene in the lobby of the House. No reporters could hope to gain access to the lobby. Burleigh, at that time in the employ of an agency, procured the clothing, the ladders and the tools of a gas fitter, and went to work upon the lamps in the lobby. Bradlaugh came on schedule time, there was a struggle at the door of the chamber, and the reporter, from an excellent position at the top of his ladder, watched the whole scene, and filed mental notes for future use. As soon as seemed discreet, the “gas fitter” disappeared, and, to the perplexity of the members, the papers had some very interesting articles the following day.
Not until 1909 did disease discover the age of Bennet Burleigh. He had an abnormally robust constitution, and his first serious illness came in that year. Moreover his was the rather unusual habit among men of the cosmopolitan and newspaper type of letting tobacco alone altogether and of drinking nothing more exhilarating than soda water. He had “great habits,” indeed, as Mortimer Menpes said, and he was rather prone to assertiveness upon military matters, as if his judgment was authoritative. However, he was seldom wrong, and his cheery optimism, his ready smile, his big voice and his deeply tender nature endeared him to very many men. His favorite quotation from Milton suggests much, “What though the field be lost. All is not lost.” His supreme aim was never to be beaten with the news, always to keep his paper in the lead, and his power of organization, mated with the qualities which have been noted, enabled him to achieve remarkable things. He was a Socialist, and a lover of argument, so that his friends used to say laughingly that he “never was at peace except when he was at war.” It must have been a rare type of man who received this tribute from Field- Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood:
“I much regret to learn of the death of Mr. Bennet Burleigh, of whose accuracy, ability, courage, endurance, discretion, integrity, military judgment, and knowledge, patriotism, and tact, I have, from much personal observation extending over a quarter of a century, a very high opinion.”