Slike strani
[ocr errors]

54 miles, at an estimated cost of 630,000l. Further east, the Isthmus of Corinth has almost been pierced by a canal which connects the Mediterranean and the Adriatic with the Archipelago and the Black Sea, thus shortening the distance between the Piræus and Marseilles by 11 per cent., while Genoa is brought nearer by 12, Venice and Trieste by 18, and Brindisi by 32 per cent. The length of this canal is, however, only 4 miles, the greatest depth of cutting being 285 feet, and the total amount of excavation being estimated at 13,000,000 cubic yards. Russia, again, has recently completed a maritime canal between Cronstadt and St. Petersburg, 18 miles in length, and 22 feet in depth, over a floor 276 feet in width. This canal, however, was a comparatively easy undertaking. It was cut through the submerged delta of the Neva, in a depth of water varying from 8 feet near St. Petersburg to 20 feet near Cronstadt.

In the United States, and in Canada, a really magnificent system of canals is in operation, some of them being of large extent and importance. The Erie, for example, between Buffalo and Albany, is 360 miles in length, and cost, with its ultimate enlargement, $46,000,000. The Miami Canal, in Ohio, connects Cincinnati and Toledo, a distance of 291 miles, and cost $7,500,000. In the same state, another canal, 332 miles in length, runs from Cleveland to Portsmouth, and cost some $5,000,000. Pennsylvania has fifteen different canals, the most important being that known as the Schuylkill Coal and Navigation, which runs from Mill Creek to Philadelphia, 108 miles, and involved an outlay of $13,250,000. In Maryland, again, there is the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, connecting Georgetown with Cumberland, Md., 184} miles in length, on which $11,500,000 were expended ; and in Virginia there is that important undertaking, the James River and Kanawha Canal, 196 miles long, which is set down as having cost $6,500,000—about the same cost, by the way, as that of the Wabash and Erie Canal in Indiana, which, however, is 374 miles in length, or nearly double the extent. Altogether, the United States can boast of rather over the canal mileage of the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the magnificent lake and river resources with which nature has so bountifully endowed the whole continent, and to which, indeed, the capals are in every respect subordinate. On the system, as a whole, the United States have expended over $160,000,000, besides having made grants of land to the extent of 4,500,000 acres.

But the United States have not hitherto given practical expression to the importance of ship canals op a large scale, as they seem to have been appreciated in other countries, and especially do they appear to have come short in their appreciation of the vast importance to their trade and commerce of obtaining a water-way between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, which would enable their shipping to avoid the infinitely long and tedious journey round Cape

Horn. This, however, has often been put forward, both in the United States and in Europe, as a desideratum of the first importance.

Since the date when Paterson was beguiled by the buccaneers into the confident belief that the Isthmus of Darien was an Eldorado, fertile and arable, abounding in gold, silver, and precious stones, and marked out by nature for the highway of the commerce of the world, the comparatively narrow strip of land which connects the two oceans at this point has been regarded by states, potentates, projectors, engineers, and navigators alike, as the key to the future intercourse of the nations on either side.

The Isthmus of Panama is only about 114 miles wide from sea to sea at its widest part. In some parts, however, and following the line of the Panama Railway, it is only about 45 miles wide. When it is recollected that the Suez Canal is 100 miles in length, that many of the canals in the United States are over 200 miles in length, that the proposed ship canal from Manchester to the Mersey will be 60 miles long, and that some very important canals in continental Europe and India are from 50 to 100 miles in extent, it would not appear, on the face of it, as if there were any insuperable obstacles in the way of crossing the isthmus at Panama by a water-way adapted for the passage of ships. But unfortunately there are natural barriers opposed to the Panama project that do not apply in any of the other cases quoted. The isthmus is traversed by a chain of mountains, the highest peak of which—that of Picacho, in the Department of Chiriqui—is 7,200 ft. above sea-level, while no fewer than 149 streams fall into the Atlantic from the dividing ridges of the isthmus, and 326 into the Pacific. These interpose formidable obstacles in the way of a canal, which, until the problem was tackled by M. de Lesseps, were deemed to be practically insurmountable.

The climate is another obstacle that bas hitherto acted as an effectual deterrent to so important a work. Paterson's idea was that the range of mountains which traverse the isthmus would elevate it from the midst of tropical heats into a temperature healthy and habitable to northern constitutions, and when the colony of Darien was established in the year 1698 this was the prevailing opinion. Even now there are medical men who pronounce the climate to be comparatively healthy, and who assert that the miasmatic fever of the isthmus is a mild form of febrile disease, perfectly controllable by quinine. But the experience of 200 years does not confirm this judgment. Paterson's expedition was struck down and decimated by the fever and ague. Every attempt made since his time to import outsiders into the locality, whether for railway, canal, or other purposes, has equally failed from the same cause. Since the canal now being constructed by M. de Lesseps was commenced, the most doleful accounts have been published of the mortality that has occurred among the employés on the works. These accounts have from time to time been either flatly contradicted or described as gross exaggerations. But, however this may be, there is every reason to believe that a torrid climate, in which rain falls for eight months of the year, can hardly be the best suited to human constitutions.

In face of all the difficulties and obstacles, natural and otherwise, it appears to be little more than problematical whether within the next three or four years the Panama Canal will become a fait accompli. It is remarkable that the French, who scarcely appear to have any business in this part of the world, have always cast longing eyes upon the isthmus. In 1847 a charter was granted by the Government of New Granada to a French company for a railway from ocean to ocean. This railway was, however, ultimately carried to completion by an American syndicate. Again, in 1843, on the representations of Humboldt and M. Alphonse Morel, the French Government sent out two engineers, Messrs. Garella and Coustines, to make an examination and report, with a view to a canal across the isthmus. On their return they made a favourable report, not only declaring a canal feasible, but recommending that it should pass under the dividing ridge of Ahogayegua by a tunnel 120 feet in height and 17,390 feet in length. Nothing came of the matter for a time, although in subsequent years it was one that greatly interested the late Emperor of the French. In 1876 another French

company was organised for the purpose of reviving the canal scheme, and, under the command of Lieutenant Wyse, an expedition was sent out to make a further examination and report. This expedition was the stepping-stone to the ultimate formation of the Civil International Interoceanic Canal Society,' which, formed in 1878, secured the services of M. de Lesseps as their engineer in the following year, and commenced the actual construction of the canal in 1881.

Of the engineering and structural features of the canal, it is hardly necessary to say much. Its length will be under fifty miles, or just about one half the length of the Suez Canal. A remarkable feature of the work is that the canai will be about twenty-eight feet below the mean ocean level, throughout its entire length. The width of the canal will be 72 feet at the bottom and 160 feet at the top. This is much the same design as that which was adopted by M. de Lesseps for the Suez Canal, despite the advice of the English members of the International Commission, who favoured the idea of having the canal twenty-five feet above sea-level, and connected, with the Bay of Pelusium at one end and the Red Sea at the other, by means of locks, similar to the sea entrances to the Caledonian Canal. The two works, however, can hardly be compared in any other point of detail. The Suez Canal passed almost entirely through lakes, marshes, and swamps,

| The Panama Railway has been acquired by, and now belongs to, the Canal Company,

while the Panama Canal has to be cut through the Cordilleras, and has to cross several times the bed of the river Chagres, the flood waters of which present most serious obstacles. Again, the total quantity of excavation in the construction of the Suez Canal was 130,000,000 cubic metres, while the quantity of excavation required in the case of the Panama Canal is estimated at nearer 200,000,000 cubic metres, of which more than 130,000,000 were still to be excavated at the commencement of the past year. The necessary capital for the Suez Canal was about 20,000,0001. When the Panama Canal was commenced, it was calculated that an outlay of 32,000,0001. would see it completed. It is now admitted that this sum will be largely exceeded. In a recent report by the United States Consul at the Canal it was stated that the 100,000,000 cubic metres still to be excavated would involve an average outlay of a dollar per metre, and this, of course, would mean a prospective outlay of about 20,000,0001. for excavations alone, in addition to the sum already expended, which is variously put at 25,000,0001. to 30,000,0001. It may, perhaps, be safe to say that the canal will not be fully completed under an outlay of 50,000,0001. to 60,000,0001., which is more than double the cost of the Suez Canal for only one half the length. If the major figure should be reached, the average cost per mile will be a million and a quarter sterling, a figure quite unexampled in the history of canal construction, although not more than that which has been incurred in some railway works.3

As far as ways and means are concerned, the prospects of the Panama Canal are generally regarded as far from favourable. The intrepid engineer, in a letter which he addressed, on the 15th of November 1887, to the Premier of the French Republic, stated that the sum at the disposal of the Canal Company, on the 18th of January 1888, would be 110,000,000 francs, or 4,400,0001., after the payment of all expenses to that date. He asked, at the same time, for the payment of the sum of 265,000,000 francs, or 10,600,0001., which had then to be issued out of the 600,000,000 francs, or 24 millions sterling, authorised by the shareholders, and for other financial assistance. By way of guaranteeing the execution of the programme in respect of which this sum was required, M. de Lesseps offered to place at the disposal of the French Parliament all the contracts and documents in the possession of the company. The modified plans of M. de Lesseps, as they are now proposed to be carried out by M. Eiffel, of Eiffel tower celebrity, at his own risk, provide for the extraction of only forty millions of cubic metres addi

2 In a report which he has recently presented to the Colombian Government, Señor Armero states that the ultimate cost of the canal will exceed 153 millions sterling, but this appears to be a very high estimate indeed. He also estimates that 120 mil. lions sterling will be required to complete the work.

• In the case of the Metropolitan Railway, the line from Aldgate to South Ken. sington cost 772,0001., while the City lines extensions cost 1,264,000l. per mile. VOL. XXIII.-No. 132.


tional to what has already been done. This appears, on the face of it, to bring us within 'measurable distance' of practical results.

In making the Suez Canal, the chief difficulty encountered was the formation of the channel through Lake Menzaleh, which extended twenty-one miles from Port Said to Kantara. In this necessary operation, thousands of natives had to be employed to form a dyke, by throwing up, with their bare hands alone, banks of

black slush,' until clear water began to flow in. In crossing the Isthmus of Panama, the most serious work to be undertaken is the construction of a huge dam or reservoir, near the influx of the river Obispo, which will be 960 metres long at the bottom and 1,960 at the top, with a height of 45 metres. This, which will be the largest dyke in the world, has been found necessary in order to meet the inequalities of the rise and fall of the tides at each end of the canal. Again, there has been nothing in the Suez Canal works, or indeed anywhere else, corresponding to the cutting through the Culebra Col, in the Cordilleras, an excavation 350 feet in depth.

There are many other striking features of difference between these two great works, which are such as to suggest a contrast rather than a comparison. In the case of the Suez Canal, the whole of the Powers of Western Europe were interested in obtaining a short cut to the East, and thus avoiding the previously unavoidable voyage by the Cape. The enterprise had a great deal of direct encouragement, and not a little support, from the Emperor of the French and the Khedive of Egypt; and although it involved engineering and other problems difficult of solution, these were neither complicated by climatic drawbacks nor affected by the supply and cost of labour. In the case of the Panama Canal, however, the circumstances are entirely different. The States most directly interested in the undertaking give no direct help to it, and their encouragement is limited to the provision contained in the treaty made in 1846, by which the Governments of New Granada and the United States undertook to guarantee the perfect neutrality of the isthmus, with a view that the free travel from one sea to the other may not be embarrassed or interrupted in any future time. America, indeed, looks coldly on the enterprise. The United States have “their own axes to grind.' Not only are they directly promoting the Nicaraguan Ship Canal, which, it is reported, is to be the joint property of the United States and the republic of Nicaragua—and of which we shall have more to say by-and-bybut they have been partial to the project of the Tehuantepec Ship Railway, which is designed to convey ships bodily from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans. If one of these rival and competitive

• On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that Señor Armero, in his report made last October, estimated that 129 millions of cubic metres of excavation had still to be done, which is more than three times the quantity provided for by M. de Lesseps.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »