Charles George Gordon, Gordon of Khartoum, was born in Woolwich on January 28, 1833, one of eleven children.

In 1843, aged 10, Gordon was devastated when his sister Emily died of tuberculosis, writing: “humanly speaking it changed my life, it was never the same since.”

The men of the family had served as officers in the British Army for four generations, and Gordon became an army cadet. Both then, and as an officer, he was known for disregarding authority.

In June 1852 he was commissioned in the Royal Engineers - an elite who performed reconnaissance work, led storming parties and undertook other hazardous tasks.

Gordon was assigned to construct fortifications at Milford Haven where he was befriended by evangelical Protestants Francis and Anne Drew.

They placed great emphasis on living life as simply as possible and doing as much as you could for your fellow man. From that time, he gave away about 90 per cent of his annual income to charity.

General Gordon, 1856.

General Gordon, 1856.

In January 1855, aged 22, Gordon was sent to the Russian Empire at Balaklava. He wrote at the time that he had, “gone to the Crimea, hoping to be killed”.

At the Siege of Sevastopol, he was wounded for the first time.

In 1857 his father retired to Southampton and lived at 5 Rockstone Place where there is a plaque. Gordon, now 24, regarded Southampton as his home, and stayed there when on leave, attending services at St Luke’s Church.

.Rockstone Road.

Gordon's home in Rockstone Place.

In 1860 he volunteered to serve in China and in May 1862 was assigned to strengthen the defences of the European trading centre of Shanghai, threatened by the insurgents of the Taiping Rebellion.

He was placed in command of the Ever Victorious Army, a force of Chinese soldiers led by European officers which was instrumental in putting down the Rebellion, and he was given the nickname “Chinese Gordon”.

He returned to England in January 1865. His father died that same year.

Inscription on the Gordon Monument.

Inscription on the Gordon Monument.

For the next five years, he was commander of the Royal Engineers at Gravesend.

He developed his own unorthodox, mystical brand of Christianity and engaged in philanthropic activity among poor youths.

He was promoted to Colonel in February 1872, and sent to inspect the British military cemeteries in the Crimea.

In Constantinople he met the Prime Minister of Egypt, Raghib Pasha. This led to him entering the service of the Khedive of Egypt in 1873.

He later became the Governor-General of the Sudan, doing much to suppress revolts and the local slave trade.

The Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad.

The Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad.

Exhausted, he resigned and returned to Europe in 1880.

A serious revolt then broke out in the Sudan, led by the Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad.

In early 1884, Gordon was sent to Khartoum with instructions to evacuate soldiers and civilians and depart with them. But after evacuating 2,500 civilians, he remained, deliberately against orders, with a small group of soldiers.

Besieged by the Mahdi’s forces, he organised a defence that lasted for almost a year.

Incensed by his insubordination, Gladstone’s Government sent a relief force only when public pressure became irresistible. It arrived on January 28, 1885, two days after the city had fallen and Gordon had been killed.

Gladstone was blamed for not sending reinforcements earlier and his Government fell later that year.

Gordon family tomb.

Gordon family tomb.

The Gordon Boys’ Brigade in Southampton was founded in his memory to support orphans and street children who were employed to do odd jobs, gardening and take messages.

The organisation’s first headquarters was in the High Street.

The brigade’s success meant that it quickly outgrew those premises and a new headquarters in Ogle Road was opened in March 1890.

For nearly 50 years, the boys in their distinctive uniforms and pill-box hats were a familiar sight until the brigade finally closed down in 1937.

He is commemorated by Gordon Avenue and the Gordon Arms, and by Gordon Terrace. There is also a memorial erected in Queen’s Park in 1885, and a panel which refers to him on the Gordon family tomb at the Old Cemetery.

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Jack Wilson is a tour guide with .