Power, Frank le Poer (1858–84), war correspondent, was born in Dublin, one of two sons and four daughters of F. J. Power, a bank manager. His surnames suggest a connection with the Powers (originally Le Poers) of Waterford and he was also connected to Patrick Lalor (qv) of Tennakill, Queen's Co. (Laois), tithe activist and MP. Frank was educated at Clongowes Wood College and was the flighty member of a respectable family. Briefly a foreign correspondent, soldier, artist, British consul, and war hero, he had a short, chequered career marked by serendipity and ending in tragedy. In 1877, aged 19, he was correspondent for the Freeman's Journal on the Bulgarian frontier in the Russo–Turkish war, and around this time seems also to have held a commission in the Austro-Hungarian army. Returning to Dublin he took up art, exhibited in the RHA for three years from 1880, and produced ‘potboilers in watercolours’ (O'Shea, 29) on demand. His last RHA exhibit was a scene from Dickens’ Tale of two cities in 1882. By this date his father was dead, the family was living in 50 Merrion Square East, and Power was working for Saunders' Newsletter.
In 1883 he was taken on as assistant to the famous war correspondent Edmund O'Donovan (qv) who was covering for the Daily News the Sudanese revolt led by the messianic Mohammed Ahmed, known as ‘the Mahdi’. After being arrested at Constantinople for allegedly insulting a sultan, O'Donovan and Power were released on the intervention of the British ambassador and arrived in Khartoum on 1 August, where they were welcomed by Gen. Hicks and departed with his army. Power soon fell ill from dysentery and had to return to Khartoum, thus escaping O'Donovan's fate at the massacre at El Obeid in November. Power was one of the few Europeans left in Khartoum; after breaking the news of the El Obeid massacre to The Times, he opportunistically offered his services as correspondent to the paper and was accepted. The Times was then the only paper to receive first-hand reports from the area, which gave it influence over public opinion.
In December Power's stock rose still higher when he was appointed (14 December 1883) acting consul in Khartoum by Sir Evelyn Baring, consul general in Egypt. On 18 February 1884 he welcomed Gen. Charles George Gordon (1833–85) to Khartoum as the newly appointed governor general of the Sudan. Correspondent and general both lived in the governor's palace and became friendly. Gordon used Power to call (in The Times) for troops to be sent to Khartoum, and for Zobehr Pasha to be appointed ruler. The popular agitation in support of Gordon was great, but the government's policy was to abandon Sudan and it refused to appoint Zobehr, a notorious slaver. Power's last wire calling for troops was sent 10 March. Two days later the siege of Khartoum by the Mahdi's rebels began and the telegraph lines were cut. In the next few weeks Power managed to smuggle out three more dispatches, probably by messenger to Berber. The third, dated 1 April, was an SOS calling for troops. His were the only British reports coming from the war zone and were much quoted in parliament, but Gladstone declared it farcical to treat his reports as equivalent to a mature declaration of policy from Gordon. After 1 April there were no more messages from Power for five months. In late June the news came (from a different source) that Berber, the gateway to Khartoum, had fallen. Gladstone still temporised, but in August yielded to pressure to send in a relief expedition for Gordon, though troops were not actually dispatched until November. On 29 September The Times triumphantly published three letters from Power (dated 28 April, 30 July, and 31 July) which spoke of a rapidly deteriorating situation and increased privations, but ended: ‘Gen. Gordon is quite well . . . and I am quite well and happy’. These were among the last words Power ever wrote. On 28 October 1884 The Times announced that they feared him dead.
The story subsequently pieced together was that Power and a British officer, Lt-col. J. D. H. Stewart (1844–84), were sent by steamer in late September to carry news of Khartoum's desperate situation. The steamer struck on a rock near Berber; the occupants landed and were killed by Monasir Arabs, c.27 September 1884. The Mahdi's rebels finally stormed Khartoum on 26 January 1885 and Gordon was killed. The British relief exhibition arrived two days later. Gordon's assassination made him a martyr, with Power sharing in some of the glory. A brass tablet was erected in St Paul's cathedral, London, commemorating the seven war correspondents who died on service in the Sudan campaign, including Power and Edmund O'Donovan. Power's Letters from Khartoum, written to his mother, were published by his brother Arnold in 1885. The MPs David Plunket (qv) and William Redmond (qv) (d. 1917) petitioned the war office for an annuity for Power's sisters, which was fixed at £50 each in July 1885, though they suffered no financial loss through his death and were apparently not even on speaking terms with him.
The journalist John Augustus O'Shea (qv) described Power as ‘handsome, well-built, had an offhanded address, sported a monocle, was clever with the pencil and was not devoid of humour . . . not much of a writer’ (O'Shea, 29). An amusing contrast is provided by Power's reputations in Britain and Ireland. In Britain he was celebrated in Gordon's phrase in his diaries as ‘chivalrous and honest’ and The Times's official biographer, Stanley Morison, wrote ‘In the history of journalism, Power's telegrams, above all his last dispatches, created a political situation comparable in kind only with those of [W. H.] Russell [qv] from the Crimea’ (History of The Times, iii, 35). However, in Ireland such accounts were treated with scepticism because of his reputation for exaggeration and self-aggrandising. His Bulgarian dispatches were signed ‘The Ghazi’; after his brief (and unconfirmed) period in the Austro-Hungarian army he autographed his paintings ‘Franz Power’ and he signed off his Times telegrams ‘Pacha [sic] Power’ – all of which helped make him a figure of ridicule. Tim Healy (qv) wrote that his pluck was undoubted but not his accuracy, and remembered his telling C. S. Parnell (qv) in 1881 that he had been wounded in a skirmish with Fenians in Clontarf – and then displaying a boil as that wound. O'Shea recalled: ‘A ripple of good-natured laughter used to run brightly across the faces of Irishmen in the house of commons when his dispatches were gravely read from the government benches’, but concluded that ‘Frank Power redeemed a harum-scarum career by a gallant ending’ (O'Shea, 27).