Desaix's visit to CairoFresh
expedition to Upper Egypt in pursuit of Mourad BeyM. DenonThe King
of Darfour's sonHistory of Mourad Bey and of Hassan Bey.
THE season was advancing: the whole country presented a
verdant scenery, and afforded relief to our eyes, which had become much
affected by the aridity of the desert. We had, for the first time in our lives,
passed a winter of intolerable and continued heat. The month of January in
Egypt bad appeared to us like the month of June in Europe. Our spirits had
returned ; and the moral character of the soldier was completely restored.
General Bonaparte bad ordered General Desaix to withdraw
from Faioum, and to move his division to Benisouef, on the left bank of the
Nile, and twenty-five leagues from Cairo. After accomplishing this movement.
General Desaix proceeded to Cairo, on a visit to General Bonaparte. I
accompanied him in the excursion, which lasted only a few days, and was
performed on the Nile.
General Bonaparte had not yet received any intelligence from
France: his mind was wholly engaged in the formation of every kind of
establishment. His constitution was not in the least affected by the climate;
and he never fell into a state of drowsiness towards evening, as was the case
with every one else. He was always dressed the same as in Paris, with his coat
close buttoned, and yet he seldom perspired; whilst we were all insuch high
perspiration, that the dye ran from our clothes. None but those who have
experienced it can imagine the effect produced by such excessive heat.
General Bonaparte, after retaining General Desaix with him
for a few days, and showing that officer every mark of friendship, sent him
back to Benisouef in a handsome djerme, which he had caused to be prepared for
his own use : it was called L'ltalie, and had a very splendid appearance.
He sent off from Cairo, to join General Desaix's division,
the whole of the mounted cavalry, to the number of eight hundred horsemen,
together with the artillery of the division, which had been left behind on its
departure for Upper Egypt.
The campaign by land was about to be resumed, for the
purpose of completing the destruction of the mamelukes. We ascended, from
Benisouef, along the left bank of the river. On this occasion, however, we no
longer marched in a square body, as we had done on the road from Alexandria to
Cairo: we were no longer in dread of our enemies, who were terror-struck on our
approach. Our march, however painful on account of the heat, was in other
respects a military promenade.
Several members of the Institute of Cairo had overtaken our
division, in order to visit Upper Egypt.
M. Denon, amongst others, had formed the closest intimacy
with General Desaix, and never left him during the campaign. He pleased every
one by his gentle and obliging disposition; and his instructive and witty
conversation proved a great relaxation to us.
The zeal he displayed in examining monuments, and in
searching after medals and other articles of antiquity, was a constant subject
of astonishment to our soldiers; especially when they beheld him braving
fatigue, the heat of the sun, and occasionally dangers, in order to sketch
hieroglyphics or remains of architecture; for I do not believe that a single
stone escaped his vigilant eye. I often accompanied him in his excursions. He
carried across his shoulders a portfolio full of papers and pencils; and had a
bag suspended to his neck, containing an inkstand and some provisions.
He kept us all at work, measuring the distances and
dimensions of monuments, whilst he was sketching them off. In drawings of every
kind, he had wherewith to load a camel, at the time of his return to Cairo,
whence he accompanied General Bonaparte back to France.
Finding us so eager after things to which they paid no
attention, the inhabitants brought us some medals, picked up by them here and
there, whilst tilling their grounds, or building their habitations amidst the
ruins of ancient cities. They brought them in greater quantities on perceiving
that we set some value upon them. M. Denon returned loaded with these medals,
from each of his excursions to examine the relics of antiquity. They were
nothing more than Roman copper coins, which had remained in immense quantities
in a country unexplored by any one until our arrival.
The gold medals had disappeared; the copper ones alone had
been preserved, and were found in some places to such an extent, that they
might almost have been put again into circulation.
We ascended, at first, as far as Siout, a distance of
seventy-five leagues above Cairo, afterwards to Girgeh, which is twenty-five
leagues still higher up. We had marched a hundred leagues without meeting any
of Mourad Bey's parties, who resigned to us every night the place they occupied
in the morning.
We stopped some time at Girgeh, in order to recruit our
strength, and take some rest, after the fatigues of so long and so painful a
A caravan had just arrived in this small town from Darfour;
it was commanded by one of the king's sons, who came to solicit General
Desaix's protection. He was about thirty years of age, of a mild disposition,
and had very strange notions upon the most trivial matters.
Thunder was heard, for the first time perhaps for a century,
on the very day of our arrival; and on seeing a few drops of rain, the
inhabitants considered the event as a favourable omen.
We asked the king of Darfour to explain to us what thunder
was, and if it was ever heard in his country. He replied in the affirmative,
and that God appointed a little angel to direct the clouds; that He grew angry
when the latter would not obey His orders, and that the late drops of rain were
disobedient subjects whom He had hurled from heaven.
We asked him of what country were the slaves composing his
caravan, and the merchandise which it conveyed.
He replied that his country was very poor, and was not
sufficiently cultivated to subsist its population; added to which, the people
of Sennaar, a neighbouring country, often came to plunder their harvests for
their own support: this occasioned wars between them; and the prisoners made on
either side were brought by them to Egypt for sale. He further told us, that
the merchants took advantage of the departure of these caravans, to bring their
own merchandise, consisting of gums, ostrich feathers, tigers' skins, some
elephants' teeth, and gold dust, which latter he exhibited to us. It resembled
the sand in use for writing paper, and appeared to contain many earthy
particles. He said that the people of his country gathered it, after the rains,
out of the streams that came down from the mountains into the plains.
In this caravan were many children, also destined for sale.
He informed us that their parents, being unable to support them, kept the
strongest for their work, and sent the rest to Egypt, whence they expected the
value to be brought back in grain, rice, and other kinds of provisions; and
that the returns of the caravans were generally confined to articles of
provisions and clothing, money being of very little use in his country.
Our conversation with this prince of Darfour suggested
reflections to us in regard to the slave-trade, and left us almost unanimous in
opinion, that there was greater philanthropy in permitting than in forbidding
it, or at least that governments should take the trade into their own hands, by
purchasing the negroes, and transporting them to the colonies of the torrid
zone, where they might be collected under the protection of a magistracy
appointed for the purpose, instead of being sold as private property,
These caravans leave Darfour in the rainy seasons, in order
to procure water in the desert: they have to march through it for the space of
a hundred days before they can reach the Oases, which are islands of cultivated
ground in the middle of the desert; the journey thence to Egypt occupies three
They lose many people on the road, when they have the
misfortune to be without rain; and at all times they arrive in a wretched state
General Desaix gave this prince of Darfour a friendly
reception, and made him presents of grain, rice, sugar, and coffee, which he
appeared to receive with much eagerness; but what seemed to delight him most
was a pelisse,, which, with an air of self-importance, he hastened to throw
over his shoulders.
We found at Girgeh a Capuchin friar, who bad been sent
thither as a missionary from Rome. He could hardly read Italian, and had only
made one proselyte: this was a little orphan boy, twelve or fourteen years old,
who acted as his servant. They both seemed pleased at our arrival, and would no
longer leave us.
Previously to undertaking the present campaign by land,
General Desaix had provided himself with a surgeon-in-chief, whose society and
conversation were a source of satisfaction to him, and for whom he felt great
friendship.wtjThis was Dr.Renoult, whose general
knowledge and spirit of investigation on all subjects rendered his society
highly agreeable and instructive to all.
General Desaix was very partial to the Turks, and often
requested Dr. Renoult to give his professional attendance to such of them whose
influence and consideration were useful to him.
We were recruiting our strength when we were overtaken by a
fleet of armed boats, conveying the ammunition we expected, in order to enable
us to resume our march.
We moved forward, still proceeding up the Nile, for the
purpose of fighting Mourad Bey, of whom we had just obtained some intelligence.
He had at first retreated as far as Esne, and solicited the hospitality of his
rival, the celebrated Hassan Bey.
Hassan had, at one time, been a mameluke of Ali Bey, who
held sway over the country previously to Ibrahim and Mourad, and who was put to
death by the latter, after having been dangerously wounded in one of the
affrays so common amongst those petty tyrants.
Ali Bey was, in reality; a man possessed of humane feelings,
and of natural talents; he is the only Bey whose memory appeared to be
cherished by the Egyptians. Mourad Bey seized upon the sovereignty vacated by
his death. Hassan, who had been created a Bey by Ali his master, was a
formidable warrior: true to his benefactor, he swore to avenge him..
Having been defeated by Mourad in an engagement near Cairo,
he was so hotly pursued that he was driven to the necessity of seeking refuge
in Mourad's seraglio, and soliciting an asylum from his favourite sultana. In
eastern countries, the laws of hospitality are held sacred : the sultana
received the fugitive, wrote to apprise Mourad of what she had done, and to
forbid his approaching the seraglio until he had promised to spare Hassan's
life. Mourad Bey instantly replied that he could only allow Hassan a delay of
two days to provide for his safety, after which he would infallibly attack the
Hassan was wholly unmoved upon receiving this notice, though
well aware that his death was inevitable. Already, through the blinds of the
seraglio, he could distinguish Mourad's mamelukes on the watch. One of them was
stationed at a wicket gate looking upon a narrow by-street; over this gate was
a small wooden balcony, surrounded with blinds in the oriental style, and below
the balcony was seen the head of the mameluke who was on guard at this gate.
Hassan removed the blinds of the balcony, and, armed from head to foot, he
gently crept into it, and watched his opportunity so well, that by a single
effort he forced his way through this slight balcony, and fell, dagger in hand,
upon the mameluke, whom he instantly dispatched, whose horse he then mounted,
and fled in full speed to the desert .by the road leading to Suez, taking some
Arabs on his way as his guides, who escorted him to that port. He was no sooner
arrived than he went on board a caravel belonging to Mourad Bey, wrote from
thence to inform him of his being at Suez, and requested to be allowed this
caravel to convey him to Mecca, to which place he alleged his intention of
Mourad in reply consented to his having the use of the
caravel, though for that occasion only, and wished him success ; but he gave,
at the same time, secret orders to the master of the caravel, a native of
Greece, to strangle Hassan at a certain distance from the land, and throw the
Hassan, though suspecting the treachery, assumed a calm
countenance. On the morning after his departure from Suez he summoned the
master of the caravel to his cabin , and desired him to produce the secret
order which had been received by him. Thus taken by surprise, the latter
fancied himself betrayed, confessed every thing, and, on his knees, begged hard
for his life. " I would have pardoned thee," replied Hassan unmoved, " if thou
hadst immediately confessed Mourad's perfidy; but thou hast kept the secret for
two days, and it was thy intention to have obeyed the order ;" so saying, he
dispatched him as well as his mate. The pilot, seeing what kind of man he had
to deal with, hastened to convey him to the sacred city.
The intrepid Hassan levied a heavy contribution upon the
scherif and merchants of Mecca, by means of which he secured to himself a few
followers, embarked on board the same caravel, and landed at Cosseir. From this
place he sent word to such of his mamelukes as had effected their escape to
come and join him : he also desired the merchants with whom he was in
correspondence to send him a fresh supply of mamelukes ready armed and
equipped. He repaired in person to Esne on the banks of the Nile, for the
purpose of meeting them, and was shortly at the head of two hundred mamelukes
:he then wrote to Mourad, reproaching him with his perfidy, challenging him to
fight, and demanding at the same time the restitution of the patrimony which
had been wrested from him..
Mourad, taken by surprise, was glad to enter into a
compromise with him; and as, in reality, Hassan was not over-anxious to
approach Cairo, he accepted Mourad Bey's proposal to acknowledge him as the
rightful owner of all Upper Egypt, from the cataracts of the Nile to a little
above Esne, where he resided at the period of our coming to Egypt.
Such was the rival whose protection Mourad Bey
unhesitatingly hastened to solicit; and from the impulse of a generous feeling,
of which the history of European monarchs affords perhaps no example, Hassan
welcomed his guest to his dominions, and forbearing to raise the voice of
reproach, condoled with him on his misfortunes, and cheered him with the
promise of taking part in his affliction. It was in his power to have gratified
his revenge, and claimed credit with the French for so doing; but the thought
never dwelt, for a moment, on the mind of that extraordinary man: he
immediately united his mamelukes to the few still remaining under Mourad's
orders, and they advanced together to meet us. The encounter took place near
the small town of Samanhout, on the day after our departure from Girgeh.
Hassan Bey brought also to Samanhout ten or twelve hundred
men which the scherif of Mecca had sent to him from a motive of religious zeal.