Four hundred Canadians traveled halfway across the world to beat back anti-colonial resistance in the Sudan in 1884. Tens of thousands of Sudanese laid siege to British/Egyptian controlled Khartoum from March 13, 1884, to January 26, 1885. After cutting the 60,000-person city off from its supplies, the indigenous forces wrested control of Khartoum from famed English General Charles Gordon.
385 Canadian boatmen were recruited to transport soldiers and supplies to rescue Gordon and defend Britain’s position on the upper Nile. The Voyageurs were deployed to Sudan under the British flag, but Canadian officials helped recruit the men, got some of them leave, organized a farewell for the expedition and celebrated the expedition on its return.
Revealing their racist sentiment, some Voyageurs told the Toronto Globe that Egyptians were “filthy”, “detestable” and “dirty”. Another more sympathetic Voyageur described the impact of the expedition on communities along the Nile. “We unavoidably did more or less damage to the crops, which must’ve caused serious loss to these poor people by whom... every inch of the spare soil is utilized.”
Despite failing to save Gordon or maintain control of Khartoum, British forces left a great many dead. In one battle 300 to 400 Sudanese died with 14 killed on the Egyptian/British side. In another confrontation 1,100 Sudanese lost their lives in contrast to the 74 British/Egyptian fighters who died.