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sought to be resolved is this: whether it is not possible to cut a navigable ship-canal directly across the Isthmus in its narrowest part from the Bay of Tyneh to Suez on the Red Sea, avoiding the Delta and the Nile altogether; or, if insurmountable obstacles should be found to oppose themselves to so direct a transit, to follow the basin of the lakes as far as Serapeum only, and thence diverge in a straight, direct course to the Bay of Tyneh. The first line named would be much the shortest, but the length of the artificial cutting would be considerably less by the lastnamed plan, and still less than by that if the natural cavity were followed farther on by the wadi, and thence struck from to the Mediterranean; inasmuch as those points of departure for the straight cutting would be very much nearer to Tyneh than is Suez. The reader has now a sufficiently clear, general conception of the work to be done, and the differing tracks by which the junction of the two seas must be, if at all, effected. It remains, therefore, only to trace them in fuller detail.
The first in priority of date is the once much-lauded scheme proposed by M. Lepère and other French engineers of the Ponts et Chaussées service of France, who surveyed the Isthmus carefully for the purpose, during the occupation of Egypt by the French army under Bonaparte at the close of the eighteenth century. In none of the projects for the aggrandisement of himself and France, and for writing his name in giant and indelible characters on the earth, did Napoleon display more eagerness than in the design he formed for uniting the Mediterranean, the Arabian, and Indian Seas. The extrusion of the French from Egypt of course forbade the execution of M. Lepère's plan; and even if accomplished, it would hardly, one would think, have realised Bonaparte's wishes and anticipations. It was mainly a renewal of the old canal, with changes and improvements, such as locks-contrivances unknown to the ancients-which modern ingenuity has placed at the disposal of engineers; and it may fairly be discussed under the head of
RESTORATION OF THE CANAL OF THE KINGS.
It was to be sure reported that there might be a subsidiary canal from about Serapeum to Tyneh, which would increase the length of the works to nearly 120 miles, but the mainly elaborated feature of the plan was the water- communication of Suez with the Nile on the Pelusiac branch, which was of course to be cleared out: its bed was also to be deepened, and connecting canals at Cairo and Alexandria were to be restored and enlarged. There were to be seven locks constructed, and an immense reservoir formed near the centre of the work where the canal to Tyneh would depart from. By these means an average depth, it was thought, of about eighteen feet might be obtained when the Nile was at its full; but the admitted fact that the communication could not be kept open at all for vessels of any the lightest draught during four months in the year must damage this project irretrievably in the estimation of a great commercial nation whose relations with India are so great and varied as those of Great Britain. The masonry of M. Lepère's canal was to be carried four feet above its highest level, as some protection against its being blocked up by the mobile sands of the desert. The cost of the work from Suez to the
Pelusiac branch of the Nile, it was estimated, would not exceed £691,000— a very small amount, it seems to us, judging by the expense of similar works, for a locked and reservoired canal, upwards of ninety miles in length, without the subsidiary branch to the Bay of Tyneh, which it was calculated would raise the cost to upwards of £2,000,000 sterling. This latter part of the plan was, however, very imperfectly elaborated. One reason for this at the time probably was, that the embouchure on the open shore at Tyneh must have been at the mercy of the strongest maritime power; and the recent destructive fight at Aboukir, to the west of the Isthmus, had settled which that was to be, for some time to come at all events.
This is our opinion. It may, however, be more satisfactory to give the reasons as published by the French engineers for their preference of a long, tortuous, inland navigation to a direct sea-transit across the Isthmus. 'It has been seen,' they say, 'in the accounts of ancient authors, that the different princes who attempted the junction of the two seas only had recourse to the Nile to effect their object after having encountered obstacles almost insurmountable in the extreme mobility of the sands of the desert, in the direction of Pelusium from Suez, between the Bitter Lake and the Lake Menzaleh—which distance cut through would have effected the desired communication. But there existed a more facile means of accomplishing this object, which was the establishment of an interior navigation. On another hand the Egyptians would not have the canal debouch into the Mediterranean, which they called "a stormy sea," lest they should expose themselves to the attacks of the Greeks, whom they appear to have looked upon with dread for a great length of time. The present state of things would no doubt better permit a direct and exclusive opening of the Isthmus; but other considerations militate in favour of the ancient direction: the more so, for where, in the event of such a direct cutting of the Isthmus, could a convenient port be formed on the low shore of Pelusium-a work which, nevertheless, could not be dispensed with? It is only too certain that it could only be with the greatest difficulty that a permanent position could be formed on the maritime front of the Delta, because the soil is entirely alluvial, constantly raised and increased by new deposits of mud which the Nile brings down during its rise, and that access to the shore will be always dangerous. The frequent shipwrecks which take place further establish the danger of such a landing-place, which is not less formidable for navigators than the boghas of the Nile. It is also certain that the ports of Alexandria and the road of Aboukir would soon be blocked up if they were situated to the east of the mouths of the Nile, and exposed to the action of the prevalent north-west winds; for if the port of Alexandria, once so magnificent, still presents some of its pristine advantages, it is less because of works of art provided by the influence of a careless government, than of the bearings and rocky nature of the coast. And as the communication of the two seas by means of the Nile ought to be in the direction best fitted to establish an active correspondence between the different commercial places of Egypt, we think it would be best to adopt the primitive direction of the Canal of the Kings-leaving the Nile from about Bubastis.'
The first north-western section of this restored Canal of the Kings, as modified by M. Lepère, would have commenced from about the ancient
Bubastis, and been carried to the basin of the Lake Abaceh, a distance of twelve miles. The bottom was to be made level with the Nile at low water, which at Cairo is about ten feet above the mean level of the Mediterranean. It was to be walled up with solid masonry, which, as before intimated, was to be carried at least four French feet above the highest level to keep out the sand. This portion of the work was to be cleaned or scoured by a current from Cairo. The second section, by the line of the wadi to Serapeum, was to be on the same level as the first, and was destined to receive eighteen feet of inundation. This part of the line, it was calculated, would be opened when the Nile had risen six feet, and continue open from about August to March. The third section, through the basin of the Bitter Lake, would be filled alternately by the Nile and the Red Sea. Its waters were to be kept to the level of the low tides at Suez, which would be two or three feet below the level of the second section, by the wadi to Serapeum, during the extreme height of the Nile, and from one to nine feet above the second section at other times. The fourth and concluding section was from the south extremity of the basin of the Bitter Lake to Suez-a cutting of about thirteen miles in length. Six or seven powerful locks, and an immense reservoir, would, it was estimated, secure the partial efficiency of this very insufficient and halting water-way between the two seas. There could have been no lack of a constant supply of water for the fourth or last portion of the canal, as it would have been at all times fed by the Arabian Gulf. The chief difficulty appears to have been at the junction of the third and second sections, from the necessity of barring back the waters of the Red Sea, which would else contaminate and overflow the bed of the Nile. The paramount objection to a more direct communication with the Mediterranean than through the Delta and by Alexandria, which might have been strongly fortified, was no doubt that we have already glanced at; and as war appears to have been looked upon by Napoleon as the normal condition of the world-of the world of England and France, at all events-it is not surprising that the report of the French engineers as to the feasibility of a more direct communication between Suez and Tyneh should have been expressed with so little confidence, and their undoubted skill and ingenuity have been so slightly taxed to devise modes of overcoming the many hinderances which there can be no question interpose between the anxious wish for an efficient ship-canal through the Isthmus of Suez and its fruition. Napoleon who, it will be remembered, in his anxiety to stimulate the exertions of the French engineers, but for the admirable presence of mind he displayed, would have lost his life by the tides of the Red Sea, something after the manner of death which overtook the pursuing host of PharaohThothmes III., as historical antiquaries assert-was vehemently desirous of giving his name to the contemplated work. This was one of the many visions dissipated by the Nile-the battle thereof, that is, not its waters; and, consequently, among other broken hopes and schemes whispered by, in some respects, eagle, sure-eyed ambition to the ex-emperor, must be assuredly reckoned that of the Egyptian Bonaparte Canal. To execute works of such importance,' said his adulating engineers in concluding their report, 'a wise and enlightened, a reconstructive and stable government, such as France, has at last endeavoured to give it, and which is the object
of this memorable expedition, is necessary for Egypt. This memorial, recorded in the work of the commission, a durable monument of the glory of the chief of the Egyptian expedition, will be for our age and posterity an authentic gage of the grand and beneficent views which, in the midst of his most rapid conquests, have always characterised the creative genius of Bonaparte.'
This vaunted, but in many respects discouraging report or memorial, ought not to dismay or influence us. We have loftier, more exigent motives than those of a vulgar, however skilful, aggressive ambition, to spur us on to the great work. We have also for it is well to look in these very material times to the rough, working, seamy side of human nature—more paying considerations to prick us forward. True, we cannot just now, whilst the reaction still pursues us consequent upon the railway mania of 1844–5–6, when it was madly thought to accomplish at a bound—in a year or so— what would task any other country in Europe besides Great Britain a couple of hundred years to effect, and which even she will not accomplish in less than a quarter of a century—we cannot, we say, just now hope to see the breaking through of the Isthmus of Suez either exciting the energies of the British people in a high or sufficient degree, or pressed with enough of earnestness upon the government. The wretched falling off of railway dividends has caused a large portion of the speculative and stirring world to turn away with disgust from projects for improved modes of intercommunication; but this depression cannot very long endure, and amongst the first objects to which the renewed and rebraced energies of the country will, we are very sanguine, be directed, is that of a direct and rapid intercourse with India. Does not cotton promise to be speedily one of the staples of that country? And what barrier, removable at any cost, let us ask, can be long permitted to delay its transmission hither, and so enhance its price to the manufacturer and consumer?
One difficulty adverted to by French engineers in their report is no doubt a formidable one, and will require a great and wisely-directed outlay to overcome-namely, the shallowness of the water on the Mediterranean and Red Sea shores. It would be necessary, it is apparent, to throw out long piers, excavate artificial harbours, build large locked docks at either end of the proposed canal, if not merely light-draughted steamers, but heavy merchant-ships, are to be tugged through the channel. The cost of such works, in addition to the cutting through of the Isthmus, must neces-. sarily be enormous, and we therefore always thought that the order of progression in the improvement of the transit between the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas will be-first, by railway; next, as the passenger and other traffic increases of which increase there can be no question-the construction of a canal for light craft; and finally, the completion of a sea passage, which, with the aid of an artificial harbour on the Mediterranean shore, and the deepening and improving of that at Suez, will admit of the passage of the merchant navies of Europe and the world. This course of progression has already commenced on the western or Panama route, and will no doubt be followed on this, the Suez and eastern one.
A more recent writer upon the subject than either M. Lepère or Mr Maclaren, is Captain James Vetch, R.E., F.R.S., of unmistakable country and parentage, he being decidedly of opinion that British capital and
British labour can alone execute the work in a useful and permanent style.' This is certainly a very bold proposition, patriotic as it may be. One does not quite see why the capital and labour of any other great nation might not accomplish the task in 'a useful and permanent style,' had that other nation the same powerful incentives to undertake such a work as the British government and people have. Therein truly lies the main difference; and it is precisely because a swift ship-transit across the Isthmus of Suez to the Indian Ocean will erelong become a matter of prime necessity for Great Britain, that we have, spite of the pressure of many discouraging circumstances, a firm faith in its accomplishment. All nations, all communities, would immensely benefit by that success; and one reason that has been gravely put forth why England should not encourage, or at all events make sacrifices, to forward such a project is, that other European nations, lying nearer to the Isthmus than ourselves, would be greater gainers by the opening of the route than we should. This is merely one of the rags of that old, worn-out, wretched tissue of delusion which taught, and yet stammeringly teaches, that one nation is only rich and prosperous proportionally as its neighbours and customers are poor and miserable: that you must measure your own height, not by its positive altitude, but by the dwarfish stature of your companions in the world! The countries about the Levant would, we have not the slightest doubt, gain considerably by the opening of the Isthmus, and it is a matter of even selfish rejoicing on our parts that they should do so; for we have yet to learn that the richest and most active commercial capitalist of the world will not be, in the necessary course of things, the largest gainer by increased development of commerce, by whatever means brought about or attained. For these reasons we think the proposition of Captain James Vetch, slightly modified, is perfectly correct. It should be read thus: 'that British capital and British labour will alone execute the work in a useful and permanent style.' This unquestionably useful, and we doubt not, when concluded, permanent work, Captain James Vetch opines can only be properly effected by
A CANAL DIRECT FROM SUEZ TO TYNEH,
the space to be traversed not being at the utmost more than seventy-five miles. Besides the grand objection to the plan of the French engineers, that their canal would only be open during two-thirds of the year, Captain Vetch urges that the still-water of the canal, as well as the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, would speedily, as heretofore, get blocked up with sand, and that the construction and repair of locks is exceedingly and constantly onerous and expensive. He is also strongly of opinion that the basin of lakes or lagoons lying between Suez and Lake Menzaleh, by offering apparent facilities, has drawn attention from the only mode of constructing a truly permanent and effective ship-canal,' which, according to him, can only be accomplished by a straight, controllable channel.' This straight, controllable channel he asserts to be much preferable to a tortuous winding one amongst shifting sands, and exposed to unequal influences of various kinds. One of these disturbing influences he considers to be this: that the extremely large surface of the lakes or lagoons, were the waters led through them, would dissipate, or at all events greatly