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view, of the great work of connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in such a way as to avoid the very protracted and expensive voyage round Cape Horn. They have often enough discussed the subject; commissions and special reporters have been sent out again and again to inquire into the inerits of different schemes projected for the purpose of bridging over this splendid obstacle to international intercourse, concessions have been granted, plans have been prepared, presidents, senators, secretaries of state, aye, and even emperors, have sat in council on the scheme, but all in vain. For thirty or forty years the Anglo-Saxon race have been content to look on, and France has againbelled the cat,' and 'made the running.'
There is, however, in the minds of many people who are entitled to weight a serious doubt whether the vast sum of money that seems to be necessary to the completion of the canal will ever be raised. Already the prospect in view appears to be that the cost will largely exceed that originally contemplated, and the immediate outlook, in reference to dividends, is probably not of the best. But this is not the worst of it. If the United States should proceed with their Nicaraguan project, or if the now dormant ship railway should be revived, the outlook would become much darker, unless, indeed, there were to be quite a phenomenal development of commerce. On the other hand, we must not forget that M. de Lesseps carries the French people with him. They make it a matter of amour propre to stand by their darling engineer, for has he not enabled them to obtain la gloire in the eyes of the world, and has he not also triumphed over the unbelieving and boastful English, who scoffed at his scheme for crossing the Isthmus of Suez? The remarkable success of the Suez Canal is alone sufficient to draw forth from the bourgeoisie of France the hoards of a million stockings, for they believe in M. de Lesseps as firmly as he believes in himself. Under these circumstances, the canal will most probably be carried to completion. This is the view even of those who do not otherwise say much for the project. Señor Armero, whose recent report has already been quoted, says that too much work has been done, and too much money expended, to permit of the abandonment of the canal, not to mention the fact that the honour of France is at stake.
It is, nevertheless, a matter for regret that the Panama Canal scheme is likely to be hampered at the outset for want of adequate resources. This will probably compel the adoption of measures which, although tending to economise in the meantime, will ultimately be costly, and possibly ruinous. The experience of the Suez Canal should
point a moral' in this regard. The great pressure entailed upon that undertaking by a traffic many times in excess of what was originally calculated, has compelled the enlargement of the canal, at an estimated cost of over 8,000,0001. This work, which has been recommended by the Commission appointed in 1884 to determine what
1888 THE PANAMA CANAL AND ITS PROSPECTS. 201
measures should be undertaken to enable the canal to meet fully the exigencies of a traffic exceeding 10,000,000 tons per annum, will enable ships to increase the present average speed of 5) knots to 8 knots per hour, will facilitate steering, and will enable vessels to avoid stranding on the canal banks, besides offering some collateral advantages. But it is probable that much expense would have been saved, and it is certain that much delay, danger, and inconvenience would have been avoided, if the canal had originally been constructed on a sufficiently large scale. A similar danger now threatens the Panama undertaking. Within the last few weeks, M. de Lesseps has proposed to emasculate his great project by providing in the meantime for a traffic of 7,500,000 tons——the present anticipated limit and reserving for the future the completion of the works, as originally or recently planned, by means of small levies raised on the profits of the enterprise.
It is not an easy matter to frame anything like a correct estimate of the actual position of the undertaking at the present time. According to the best information we can command, the financial history of the canal is set forth in the following statement :
According to this showing the total sum raised up to the present time has been over 40,000,0001. sterling, or more than twice the total cost of the Suez Canal. Of this amount, about 33,000,0001. sterling had been expended to September last.
The most conflicting statements are in circulation, and have for the last year or more been appearing from day to day, as to the amount of work which this vast expenditure represents. The work is, of course, chiefly excavation, and the recent report of Señor Armero, already mentioned, states that in September last-since which coin paratively little has been done-only 40,000,000 of cubic metres, or about 21 per cent. of the excavations necessary, had been accomplished. The same reporter states that the remaining four-fifths of the work will be much more troublesome and expensive than that already done, being nearer the water-level and below it. Of the sum still to be expended, it is estimated that about 19,000,000l. sterling will be required to control the waters of the Chagres river. The works on this river have hardly been begun. As these works involve turning the river from its channel, and constructing a dam, 1,200 metres in length, 430 in width, and 45 in height, behind which there will be 3,000,000 cubic metres of water backed up, it is probable that no equally remarkable work has ever been attempted. The construction of this dam alone is estimated by competent engineers at 471,000,000 francs, or nearly 19,000,0001. sterling-in other words, if this estimate is anywhere near the mark, a single dam on the Panama Canal is to cost practically as much as the Suez Canal did from first to last, and a great deal more than some of our great railways. In view of these considerations, we are told that the Panama Canal will still involve an expenditure of 2,541,000,000 francs or over 100,000,0001. sterling, not to speak of interest on capital, which has been put at another 1,000,000,000 francs or 40,000,0001. sterling. These figures seem to be little short of fabulous. They are probably verging on the extreme limit of the actual cost required. Nor is this remarkable, when we remember how very much under the actual results all previous estimates have been. It appears, indeed, as if engineers were incapable of providing reliable estimates in regard to works of this description. The Suez Canal was originally estimated to cost 6,480,0001. Its actual cost, as we have already seen, was about 20,000,0001. In the early stages of the Panama Canal project, its probable cost was estimated by M. Wyse, the surveyor of the Company, at 30,000,0001. sterling, and M. Lesseps himself subsequently put it at the much higher sum of 48,000,0001. The most experienced of our English engineers have apparently been content to accept these estimates, and it appears to have been assumed by more than one President of the Institution of Civil Engineers that the larger sum named would see the canal completed. The results accomplished up to the present time have been so very greatly in excess of all responsible estimates that if the work is to be carried out it would probably be well to have a commission of experts from the countries chiefly interested ----say, England, France, and the United States-appointed to examine and report upon the project, with a view to giving reliable information as to whether it is feasible, how far the work has proceeded, what sum is really required to complete it, and the financial prospects of the undertaking.
6 This is rather more than the gross tonnage of the vessels using the Suez Canal over the last three or four years.
The Panama Canal is chiefly interesting from an engineering and a commercial standpoint; but its completion is also likely to involve some curious, and possibly rather troublesome, political problems. If France should undertake the construction of the canal as a national work, and should expend upon it anything like the sum of 153,000,0001. sterling-its estimated cost, according to Señor Armero—the French people would not unnaturally look to the acquisition of a preponderating influence in the isthmus. This would be likely to lead to complications. There are those who believe that the ultimate result of the Panama Canal project will be the transformation of Colombia into a French dependency. In any such event, the United States would be likely to interfere. In the case of the Suez Canal, which was by no means so serious or so costly an undertaking, the preponderating interest acquired by France induced in many minds the idea that French interests in Egypt generally should be paramount, and the probability is that they would have become so but for Arabi's rebellion and the action of England. France will neither construct nor hold the Panama Canal for the sake of her own commerce. Her shipping and commercial interests in that part of the world are "a mere flea-bite' compared with those of England and the United States. The canal will be built and carried on as a commercial undertaking pure and simple; and it is inevitable that its vast importance should give to its owners and managers a powerful, if not a controlling, voice in the affairs of the State through which it runs.
In this emergency it might be worth the while of the United States to come to the rescue. Their interest in the completion of the Panama Canal is infinitely greater than that of France, as measured by the use that they are likely to make of it when completed; and they seem to be at their wits' ends at the present time to know how to dispose of their surplus revenue. The surpluses of two such financial years as 1887–88 would enable the United States to finish the canal, even if its ultimate cost were to exceed the highest figure at which it has hitherto been officially estimated.
There is still another eventuality that is not only possible, but even highly probable. The concession granted by the Colombian Government for the construction of the canal will expire in 1892 --that is to say, the existing company have only four more years within which to complete their great work. Should the terms of the concession not be complied with, the concession would, of course, lapse. It would then presumably be for the Colombian Government to withdraw the concession from M. de Lesseps and his friends, and transfer it either to a new company or to another country. In either event the sum expended on the canal by the existing company would be a subject for negotiations of a difficult and delicate character. If the Colombian Government were disposed to behave in a high-handed manner, they might simply clear the French out “bag and baggage,' which would certainly be resented by France, and not unlikely made the occasion of a war, in which the United States of North America would find neutrality difficult. Nor is this quite a remote possibility. M. de Lesseps is in dire straits for
funds. His last loan is said to be little more than half taken, although issued at a discount of 56 per cent., and if the lottery scheme should fail he may become hopelessly involved. If, on the other hand, the French Government, as a government, countenance the canal project by a State lottery, they will give an official sanction to it which, while it will probably ensure the provision of the necessary ways and means, will impose upon the State the obligation of seeing that the enterprise is carried to a successful issue at whatever cost. These and other issues involved in the undertaking invest it with an interest for the jurist, as well as for the engineer and financier; and it may very well happen, after all, that knotty points of international law will have much to do with the ultimate fate of the contemplated water-way.
The construction of a ship canal across the American isthmus has been described as the mightiest event, probably, in favour of the peaceful intercourse of nations which the physical circumstances of the globe present to the enterprise of man. The economic advantages, and the ultimate political and commercial results, of such a conquest over matter are certain to be important and farreaching. The work will tend to the quicker and more substantial development of both the continents of America and Asia, by abridging the distance that now divides them. There is a very considerable trade springing up between the United States, British India, China, and Australia. Between New York—the greatest port and entrepôt of the United States-and Calcutta the distance is 17,500 miles viâ the Cape of Good Hope, and 23,000 miles viâ Cape Horn. By the Panama Canal, however, the voyage viâ the Cape of Good Hope would be shortened by 4,100 miles, and by Cape Horn by 9,600 miles. Again, the distance between New York and Canton is 19,500 miles by the Cape of Good Hope, and 21,500 miles by Cape Horn, whereas the proposed canal would reduce the former voyage by 8,900 miles, and the latter by 10,900 miles. In the case of the voyage from New York to Shanghai the saving is still more considerable, being 9,600 miles over the Cape of Good Hope route, and 11,600 over that of Cape Horn.
· It is probably not generally known that Napoleon the Third took a very lively interest in the various schemes proposed for bridging the American isthmus, and in 1846 wrote a pamphlet on the subject, which, however, was never published. While the Emperor(then Prince Louis Napoleon) was a prisoner in the fortress of Ham, he received overtures from some persons of influence in Central America, proposing that he should proceed thither for the purpose of promoting the construction of a canal riâ the Lake of Nicaragua. The refusal of the French Government to liberate him prevented the realisation of this project, although it went so far that the then Minister of the Central American States in Paris notified that the Government of Nicaragua had conferred on the Prince full powers to carry out the enterprise. These negotiations do not appear to have been renewed after the Prince made his escape, although the pamphlet which he wrote shows that he thought very favourably of the project. Fate had other ends in view for this remarkable man. The author of the coup d'état, and the man of Sedan, was not destined to become a canal promoter, although he seems to have come very near it.