In early 1884 British General Charles Gordon went to the Sudan to rescue Egyptian garrisons cut off by a Muslim uprising led by the Mahdi; but he allowed himself to become trapped in the capital, Khartoum. In March 1884 Britain organized a rescue expedition under Garnet WOLSELEY, who had commanded the Anglo-Canadian force sent in 1870 to put down the RED RIVER REBELLION. Wolseley believed the Nile River offered the only reliable route to Khartoum and that Canadian VOYAGEURS could help ensure passage of a large expedition.
On the clear understanding that the 386 "voyageurs" (most of them in fact lumbermen) were volunteers in British pay, PM Macdonald's government did not obstruct recruitment by Governor General Marquess LANSDOWNE. For 6 months the recruits helped row, paddle, pole and drag the expedition's boats up the Nile, but in vain. Two days before the expedition sighted Khartoum on 26 January 1885, the city had fallen to Mahdists. Gordon had been killed. The expedition failed in its main purpose, but for Canadians it was an exotic opportunity to prove themselves against others from all over the growing British Empire.