THIS greatest of modem Egyptian public works not merely transcends all the rest in magnitude and cost, but differs from the whole in that, while the others are or will be reprodu tive and profitable to the country, it represents a distinct and more or less permanent loss. Not only has it cost the Treasury, in all, more than 17,000,000l. in money outlay, but it has diverted from the Egyptian ports and railways a large and in-creasing transit traffic of great revenue value, against which nothing but some trivial Customs dues will be received until the net earnings of the enterprise, after payment of debenture charges and statutory interest on shares, leave a surplus of profit, out of which, only, the Government is entitled to a fractional royalty of 15 per cent. It has, indeed, some political compensations in the closer rapport with Europe into which it has brought the country and its ruler, and as an enterprise of cosmopolitan importance and value, it will historically illustrate the reign of the Prince to whose munificence its success is mainly due ; but so far as Egypt itself is concerned it may be doubted if these acknowledged advantages have not been dearly bought.
The idea of the great scheme which has thus benefited the trade of the world at the expense of Egypt is as old as the Pharaohs. According to Strabo, water communication between the two seas was first opened by Sethi, a king of the nineteenth dynasty (circa. B. C. 1400), who cut a canal fifty-seven miles long from Bubastis, near the modern Zagazig, on the Pelusiac branch of the Nile, to Heröopolis, at the head of the Bitter Lakes, which then formed the northern extremity of the Gulf of Suez. Herodotus, on the other hand, post-dates the attempt by nearly eight centuries, and credits it to Necho II., whose channel followed the same line, which is also nearly that of the modern fresh-water canal. Fears, however, that the higher level of the Red Sea would result in a general inundation, led to the abandonment of this work afterif the historian does not exaggerate120,000 men had perished in its construction. A century later, Darius, the son of Hystaspes, completed what Necho had begun, and added a further link of ten miles, by clearing a navigable passage through the low sandy isthmus which had in the interval formed between the Herdopolite Gulf and the Red. Sea. Traces of this latter section are still distinguishable in the neighbourhood of Shaloof, near the southern end of the Bitter Lakes, and the fresh-water canal follows its course for some distance between that point and Suez. But the communication thus established involved the transhipment of cargo at Heröopolis, and to remedy this inconvenience Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C 285) joined the Nile canal with the Herôopolite Gulf by means of a lock and sluices, and where the short canal from the latter entered the Red Sea, founded Arisnôe, near the site of the modern Suez. History is silent as to the fortunes of the channel during the next two centuries ; but the failure of Cleopatra’ s ships to escape through it into the Red Sea (B. c. 31), shows that it had then again become unnavigable, and it is doubtful whether Trajan or Adrian (A. D. 98-138) was the next who endeavoured to restore the line of communication. In the long historic interval thus spanned, the Nile had almost deserted its Pelusiac branch, and the Roman engineers therefore tapped the river above the Delta at Babylon (Old Cairo), and carried a new cutting thence down into the old Bubastite canal, which they also cleared out and restored. But the extent of what may be called the Upper Nile trade with the Red Sea through Berenice and Myos Horcoos seems to prove that this canal transit was never very efficient during the Roman occupation ; and the inference is supported by the unnavigable state in which Amrou, the Arab conqueror, found the Babylon section in A. D. 622. This he re-opened, and for a time he managed to maintain communication with the Red Sea ; but in less than a century and a half the unconquerable sand had reasserted its dominion, and thence on, for more than a thousand years, water-way between the two seas was closed.
Next in the historic order of its promoters comes Bonaparte, who during the French occupation of 17981801 ordered a survey of the Isthmus, with a view to the construction of a direct ship-canal from sea to sea. His engineers, however, declared the Mediterranean to be thirty feet below the level of the Red Sea, and recommended instead a complicated fresh-and-salt-water scheme which the forced evacuation of the country, shortly after, happily prevented any attempt to carry out. During the next thirty years the question continued to be agitated at intervals ; but nothing definite was done till 1830, when Lieut. Waghorn, then engaged in the establishment of his overland route, again surveyed the Isthmus and found the level of the two seas to be very nearly identical. The announcement of this fact called the attention of Mehemet All to an enterprise pregnant with such political advantages to Egypt, and he accordingly commissioned Linant Bey, the French engineer of the Barrage, to pre-pare the plan of a great ship-canal across the Isthmus at its narrowest point, from Tilreh (Pelusium) to Suez. This was done, but as M. Linant accepted the survey of Bonaparte’s engineers in preference to that of Lient. Waghorn, his scheme failed to secure the confidence of the Viceroy, and nothing further, was done till 1846, when at the re-quest of his Highness, England, France, and Austria appointed a Commission to solve, once for all, the problem of the sea levels. This CommissionCn which Mr. Robert Stephenson represented our own Governmentconfirmed Waghorn’s report, with the sole variance of finding a difference of five feet in the tidal levels of the two seas at the proposed termini of the canal. Another examination leading to similar results was made five years later; but Mr. Stephenson nevertheless pronounced against the feasibility of the canal, and his opinionthough at variance with that of M. Talabot, the French member of the Commission being accepted by the Government and public of England, the railway from Cairo to Suez, which he recommended instead, was the result.
In the meantime, another mind had been occupied with the scheme for nearly a quarter of a century. When Waghorn was advocating his own peculiar enterprise of an overland route, young Ferdinand de Lesseps was an élève in the French Consulate at Cairo, and, interested in our country men’ a settlement of the sea levels, he conceived the idea of accomplishing the great work which Napoleon had abandoned. For four-and-twenty years of active official life the idea kept firm hold of his imagination, until, being again in Egypt in 1854, he developed his plan to the then Viceroy, Said Pasha, and obtained from him a preliminary concession for a ship-canal across the Isthmus from a point near Pelusium to Suez. In the following year this project was submitted to another international Commission, which advised that, instead of striking the Mediterranean at Pelusium, the Canal should be carried through Lake Menzaleh, and enter the sea some seventeen miles farther west, where a deeper approach would be available. This and some other modifications having been accepted,. the final concession for the work was signed by the Viceroy on January 5, 1856. Of the opposition which had already begun on the part of Lord Palmerston and the English press it is needless to speak, for is it not all written in Blue Books and journals innumerable ? This, however, rather stimulated than discouraged M. de Lesseps, while it also stirred up the national feeling of France, and with its help enabled him, in 1858, to launch his ” Compagnie Universelle du Canal Mari-time de Suez,” with a capital of 8,000,000l. in 201. shares, on nearly every Bourse in Europe. Rather more than half this amount was subscribed for :the greater part in Franceand eventually, in 1860, Said Pasha was induced to take up the remainder, amounting to 3,500,0001. Thus encouraged, and disregarding the withheld consent of the Porte-which was not finally given till 1866M. de Lesseps and his little band commenced their historic work on April 25, 1859, by cutting a small trench in the narrow belt of sand on the northern shore between Lake Menzaleh and the sea, where now stands Port Said. This was fol lowed soon after by the establishment of working encampments at various points across the Isthmus, and by the restoration of the Wady canal from Zagazig to Lake Timsah, to provide a fresh-water supply for the thousands who were to be employed on the work. The initial difficulties were, however, so great, that by the end of 1862 only a narrow channel had been made from the Mediterranean to Lake Timsahless than half-way acrossand the fresh-water canal extended from Ras-el-Wady to the same point, whence it was carried, closely parallel to the ship-canal, on to Suez in the following year, when the Government also began the canal from Boulak, which, by joining the Wady canal at Ter-el-Kibeer, now completes the fresh-water communication between Cairo and Suez.
At this point arose a difficulty which for a time threatened to suspend, if not altogether to stop, the works. By the terms of the concession Said Pasha had engaged to furnish by corvee four-fifths of the workmen required, the Company agreeing to pay them at the rate of about two-thirds the price of such labour in Europe, besides providing them with rations and shelter. The objectionableness of this stipulation had from the first been urged on the Porte by the English Government, and soon after the death of Said Pasha, in January, 1863, Sir Henry Bulwer, then ambassador to the Porte, during a visit to Egypt, pressed it strongly on the present Khedive. The impolicy of thus drafting off 20,000 fellahs monthly from their proper work at home was made clear to Ismail Pasha, and accordingly, in the beginning of 1864, this large contingent of forced labour was refused. The political inexpediency of a foreign Company being allowed to hold; with almost sovereign rights, the wide belt of land along the Canal conceded by Said to Lesseps, and of its owning absolutely the fresh-water canal, was at the same time recognized by his Highness. By consent of the parties, the difficulties arising on these various points were û. length, in 1864, submitted to the arbitration of the Emperor Napoleon, whose award in July of that year gave the Company the enormous indemnity of 3,360,0001.being 1,520,0001. for the withdrawal of the fellah labour. 1,200,0001. for the resumption of the land along the Canal, except two hundred metres on each bank, and 640,0001. for the fresh-water canal from Ras-el-Wady to Suezthe whole to be paid in sixteen instalments of 12 per cent. Treasury bonds falling due between 1864 and 1879. To this was added, in 1866, a cash payment of 400,0001. for the re-purchase of the Wady domain, which the Company had bought five years before from Said Pasha for 74,0001. By a subsequent convention, the term for the payment of the indemnity awarded by the Emperor Napoleon was shortened by ten years, and it was agreed that the whole sum should be paid by 1869, which has since been done.
Thus financially reinforced, the Company was enabled to replace by machinery the hand labour taken from it by the stoppage of the corvée. Powerful steam dredges excavated more quickly, and in the end more cheaply, than the previous army of fellahs ; and with the help of a still large force of European labourers and such native volunteers as could be procured, the work proceeded without interruption till the end of 1864, when financial difficulties again for a while checked its progress These were, how-ever, got over by a debenture loan fox 6,666, 6601., issued at 60 per cent., and redeemable at par in fifty years by lottery drawings, with prizes amounting to 40,0001. a year. To this was added another issue for 1,200,0001. in 1869secured on twenty-five years’ coupons of the Government shares, from January, 1870when an arrangement was come to with the Government by which, for the further sums of 800,0001. and 400,0001., the Company surrendered its remaining rights and privileges in connection with the fresh-water canal, and the riverain desert still belonging to it, and sold to the Government all its establishments on the Isthmus, its quarry and harbour at Mex, near Alexandria, and its workshops at Damietta and Boulak. The Government being unable at the time to pay this amount, it renounced for twenty-five years the coupons of its shares,* and on the security of these the money was raised by a loan which is now being redeemed by the interest accruing upon them. The net capital of the Company had thus swelled from its original amount of 8,000,000. to, in round figures, 17,000,0001., which other various payments received during the progress of the work further raised to a total of nearly 19,000,0001., the approximate final cost of the works, including payment of interest during construction. A glance at the details of the scheme will show that its difficulty and magnitude were fully commensurate with this great expenditure.
The total length of the Canal from sea to sea is eighty-six miles, with a varying width at the water-line of 328 feet where the banks are low, and of 190 feet in deep cuttings where they are high, depth twenty-six feet, width at the bottom seventy-two feet, with a slope of bank near the water-line of one in five, and near the base of one in two. With reference to the width of water-line and nature of the soil traversed, the whole channel may be divided into nine sections(1) The low marshy plain extending for ten miles from the roadstead of Suez to the plateau of Shaloof ; in this section the water-line is of the full width, and much of the soil towards the bottom of the channel is of a mixed stiff clay and half-formed stone, which proved very difficult of excavation when worked through in 1868 and 1869. (2) The deep Shaloof cutting of five miles, in which the water-line is of the reduced width, and the soil sandy at top, but like that of the previous section strong and tenacious below ; a deep layer of rock was encountered here in 1866, of which no less than 52,000 cubic yards had to be blasted and cleared away. (3) The Bitter Lakes, sup-posed to have anciently formed the Herôopolite Gulf, the waters of which, after being gradually cut off from the Red Sea, evaporated and left two large depressions of varying depth, but both much below the old sea-level. It is hereabouts that modern criticism places the scene of Pharaoh’s overthrow during his pursuit of the Israelites. The only excavation done in this long section of twenty-five miles was a cutting through the narrow neck of soil between the two basins, and short entrances north and south ; but the work of filling the vast expanse with water was one of considerable time and labour. This was begun in March, 1869, by letting in the waters of the Mediterranean, which had already filled Lake Timsah, eight miles north, and advanced through the Canal to the foot of the enormous weir destined to regulate their flow in these southern basins. A stream of nearly 5,000,000 cubic metres was then poured in daily, and three months later a still larger weir near Shaloof admitted the waters of the Red Sea into the southern portion of the lake at the rate of more than 10,000, 000 cubic metres a day. Altogether, about 1,900 million cubic metres of water from the two seas were required to fill these Bitter Lakes. The course of the Canal through this great sheet of water is marked by a double lino of buoys, forming an avenue 130 feet wide, and lighthouses at each end of the larger lake further assist navigation. (4) This short section of two miles runs through the lower ground between the last and the heights of the Serapeumso named from some supposed remains of a temple of Serapis found about the centre of the plateau. The water-line of the Canal is here full width, and the soil cut through is similar to that south of the Bitter Lakes. (5) This includes the Serapeum and Toussoum cuttings, six miles long, and in which the water-line is of the reduced width throughout. The soil here again is sandy on the surface and mixed clay and rock at the bottom. It was at the southern end of the Serapeum cutting that the dredges at the last moment encountered the ledge of hard rock which nearly compelled postponement of the opening of the Canal in November, 1869. (6) About half a mile north of the Toussoum cutting Lake Timsah is reached, through which the channel next runs for five miles. This, though supposed to have been originally an extension of the Herôopolite Gulf, has in all historic times been a fresh-water lake fed from the Nile ; but owing to the abandonment of the easternmost branches of the river, it had long ago dried up into a mere morass, the bottom of which was some twenty-two feet below the sea-level. In December, 1866, a weir similar to that after-wards employed for the Bitter Lakes was used to fill it with water from the Mediterranean, and the operation-, involving the in-flow of nearly 100,000, 000 cubic metres of waterwas completed in little more than four months. Dredging then deepened the channel required for the Canal, as also a large area in the centre, to serve as a harbour. The flourishing town of Ismaïlieh, forming the half-way station on the Canal, has since grown. up on its western bank. (7) The heights of El-Guisr, through which this section is carried for six miles, from the highest point of the Isthmus, being about sixty feet above the sea-level, but as the soil throughout was for the most part sandy, the work was comparatively light. (8) This first runs a short way through an offshoot of Lake Ballahone of a series of shallow lagoonsand then enters the cutting of Ferdaneh, beyond which it passes through Lake Ballah itself, and next traverses the low sand-hills of Kantarah, over which and a ferry at this point runs the route into Palestine. (9) About a mile beyond Kantarah the Canal enters the great swamp into which Lake Menzaleh shallows eastwards, and runs through it in a straight line of twenty-three miles to Port Said. The soil throughout this final section is mostly light clay, and the work was mainly done by dredging. The water-line is here full width, and the banks are but slightly above the level of the lake and the Canal. Shortly before reaching Port Said the channel opens out to a width of nearly 100 feet, and passing the port and town on its western bank, debouches into the Mediterranean between two enormous moles of concrete masonry respectively 2,726 and 1,962 yards longa fitting terminus for this colossal work.
After more than ten years’ labour, the expenditure of a capital which then considerably exceeded twice the whole annual revenue of Egypt, and the display of an energy and perseverance on the part of its chief promoter that formed not the least heroic feature of the undertaking, this new Bosphorus between Asia and Africa was opened for traffic on November 17, 1869, amid a series of splendid fêtes given by the Khedive, at which all nations may be said to have assisted. The presence of the Empress of the French and the Emperor of Austria, of half a dozen royal princes, statesmen, ambassadors, savants, and other celebrities beyond count, besides thousands of less distinguished visitors, and representative squadrons from every navy in Europe, rendered the occasion a veritable “triumph” to the great Frenchman whose name history will indissolubly connect with the work, and to the sovereign whose generous co-operation contributed so largely to its success. In all, forty-eight ships took part in the procession, which halted on the first evening at Ismaïlieh, and completed the voyage to Suez on the following day. The channel still required deepening at a few points, but was immediately available for vessels drawing 18 feet ; and, as another illustration of the irony of history, the first ship that passed through and paid dues after the formal opening flew the English flag.
As the central depth of the Canal is too narrow to allow large vessels to pass abreast, a series of gares or sidings, at intervals of five or six miles, temporarily meets the difficulty, and affords a clear fair-way to the first comer. Later, as the traffic develops, it will probably be necessary to increase these, if not to widen the whole channel of the Canal.
The value of this great work to the commerce of the world will be sufficiently indicated by the saving of time and distance effected by it as compared with the route round the Cape. Thus, by the latter, the distance between England and Bombay is 10,860 nautical miles, while by the Canal it is only 6,020 miles, representing a saving of 4,840 miles ; from Marseilles to Bombay the distance by the Cape is 10,460 miles, by the Canal 4,620 miles, or a saving of 5,940 miles ; from St. Petersburg to Bombay is by the Cape 11, 610 miles, by the Canal 6,770 miles, a saving of 4,840 miles ; and from New York to Bombay, Via the Cape, 11,520 miles, by the Canal 7,920 miles, a saving of 3,600 miles. How rapidly the traffic attracted by the economy of distance thus effected has developed is shown by the following tabular return of the shipping which has passed through the Canal, and of the Company’ s receipts, during the seven working years since its opening.
The comparatively small ratio of increase in the figures of last year over those of 1875 in no way indicates that the limit of development has been nearly reached, but is explained by the general depression of trade during 1876, and especially by the fall in the price of silver, which disturbed the European exchanges and severely affected commercial intercourse with India during the year. Of the whole 7,522 vessels which have passed through the Canal since its opening, 74.16 per cent. have been British, 9.21 French, 4.36 Dutch, 3.47 Austrian, 2.63 Italian, 2 9 Spanish, and 1.64 German, the remainder being divided among eleven other nationalities. Thus, roundly, three-fourths of the whole tonnage passing through the Canal sails under the British flag.
While the growth of traffic evidenced by these figures has nt as yet quite realised the hopes of the promoters of this great work, there is no reason to doubt that it will still further greatly develop ; and that, over and above all debenture charges, the net earnings of the Company will henceforth not merely pay the full statutory interest of 5 per cent. on its shares, but leave an annually increasing margin of profit to be divided under the terms of its con-cession.* Already, therefore, this once discredited property may be pronounced nearly as great a financial as it is an industrial success.
By the terms of the original concession the transit charge was fixed at a maximum of 10 francs “par tonneau de capacité,” and 10 francs per passenger, in addition to pilotage, anchorage, and some other minor dues, and from the opening of the Canal, in November, 1869, till the summer of 1872, this tariff was levied on the net registered tonnage of all vessels, as settled by their respective national systems of measurement. As, however, the revenue thus realised was insufficient to pay a dividend, in the spring of 1872 the Company gave notice that, from and after July 1st of that year, all dues should be charged on gross, and not registered tonnage. The change, which involved an increase of nearly 55 per cent. on the old rate, was at once challenged by the Messageries Impériales, but, after considerable litigation in the French courts, the action of the Company was upheld, and the new tariff continued to be enforced. At the instance of the British shipowners engaged in the trade, the matter was then taken up by our Foreign Office, and after some diplomatic negotiation an International Commission, composed of delegates from twelve maritime Governments, was appointed and met in Constantinople in October, 1874, to consider the question, the increased dues being in the meantime paid under protest. Three months later the Commission reportednegativing the right of the Company to substitute gross for net tonnage ; but in consideration of the sacrifices incurred by its shareholders, it recommended a temporary surtax of four francs per net ton register on vessels measured otherwise than on the English system, and of three francs per ton on those whose net tonnage was settled by this method. The basis thus agreed on was formally approved by the Porte as suzerain of the Canal, and the Company was notified to apply the new scale from and after April 28, 1874. M. de Lesseps protested, and threatened to close the Canal, but on warning from the Khedive that in the event of any such attempt the works would be forcibly occupied and administered by the Egyptian Government, he yielded ; and thence, until February, 1876, the dues were levied according to the scale fixed by the Commission, except in the case of men-of-war and troop-ships of all nations, which pay only the original rate of ten francs per net ton register. In the latter month, however, it was farther arranged that this reduction should, instead, be effected as follows :Half a franc during the present year, a second half franc in 1879, and a similar amount yearly till 1884, when the surtax will wholly cease. The Company at the same time undertook to spend 40,0001. a year in the maintenance and improvement of the Canal.
The next and most important incident in the history of this great work was the purchase by the British Government, in November, 1875, of the Khedive’s 176,602 shares for 4,000,0001. This stroke of policy at once recouped to Egypt a considerable instalment of her outlay in the enterprise, and added political advantages worth to the Khedive and his dynasty at least the balance of its cost. The operation represented, in effect, a loan to his Highness at the low rate of 5 per cent. for nineteen years, ou the security of an asset of no immediate money value, and committed our Government to an interest in Egypt from which only the most profitable results can accrue to the country and its ruler, while for the Canal the transfer implies a future grand and assured beyond the hopes even of M. de Lesseps.
This large total, however, represents only about 12,000,0001. of net money received by the Company, while the actual cost of the Canal was about 17,518,729l. ; but the balance of nearly 6,000,0001. having been derived chiefly from indemnities paid by the Egyptian Government, forms no charge upon revenue. The actual interest and sinking-fund annuities amount, therefore, to only 818,400l., which will be reduced as the loans are redeemed.
Of this large total nearly 5,500,0001., it will be seen, was disbursed in various payments beyond the share capital ; or, if we add the interestaveraging 10 per cent.on the whole, it may be roundly said that while the Government paid in cash to the Company nearly two-thirds of all the money spent on the Canal, its gross outlay in connection with it amounted to within a trifle of the entire cost of the work. Nor is even this the full measure of its heavy cost to the country. As already remarked, it has diverted. from the native harbours and railroads a large and profitable transit traffic from which, for years to come, the Treasury will derive little beyond some trifling Custom dues. Still, heavy as have been the financial sacrifices it has entailed, the political gains from it have been great, and material compensation is only deferred. Its importance to the trade of the world has given Egypt a definite place in the European concert, andunless otherwise disposed of in the meantimeseventy-six years hence the whole property will lapse to the Government, a splendid reversion which, it may safely be predicted, will then be worth many times its present market value. Even already, too, the elasticity of Egyptian trade and industry has recouped to the Treasury most of the loss occasioned by the diversion of the overland traffic ; and although this latter can for the future be of little direct revenue benefit, its effect will in time be to create a vigorous commercial activity throughout the Isthmus, which, with the aid of the existing railway and fresh-water communications, cannot fail to spread inwards and contribute to the general wealth of the country.
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