We find in LippincoLfs Magazine, a paper fn)m the pen of Edward B. Grubb, relating “ what he saw of the Suez Canal during a trip from Timsah to Port Said last winter. In this article we find set' forth some of the difficulties to be surmounted in the navigationof this canal, which though possibly not insuperable, must more or less obstruct trade for some time to come. We make some extracts from this interesting narrative particularly bearing upon this subject: ” Where the canal enters Timsah from the north the cuttings are deep, and the great heaps of sand lie on either side sixty or seventy feet high. The channel through which the water runs is not one hundred feet wide and the depth not over twelve feet. Hydraulic engines of enormous power were at work dredging up and pouring out immense volumes of mud and sand. Hundreds of men, mostly Arabs, with barrow, pick, and shovel, were moving the huge heaps, or waist- deep in the water, turning from our path their uncouth boats; for much traffic is even now done upon the canal, and besides the boat-loads of stores and provisions belonging to the company, we saw many a cargo that reminded us of the sutlers' stores in the 'Army of the Potomac.' ” The Timsah cutting extends for perhaps half a mile, and then the desert is scarcely above the level of the water, and in fact in many places it is below it, so that the water covers many hundreds of acres, and the course of the canal is buoyed out sometimes for nearly a mile. As we left the hills of Timsah the wind struck us sharply, and ever and anon a quantity of the light sand of the desert would be caught up by it and sent whirling into the water; and looking closely, we could see where it had drifted little capes and promontories into the canal. Let us repeat wha; our captain said upon this subject, being asked : ” 'Yes, monsieur, this drifting in of the sand certainly seems to be one of our greatest difficulties, for the wind blows across the canal all the year round—six months one way, six months back. One ounce of sand per square yard amounts to five hundred tuns for the whole canal. If it came in at that rate, it would be a long time before the company would pay any dividend. But we do not intend to let it come in ; and this is how we prevent it. This sand only extends to the depth of from nine to twelve feet; below this is a stratum of blue mud, mixed with a sort of clay, in which, by the way, we find great quantities of beautiful shells and fossil fish. Well, then, do you see those two huge engines which we are approaching—one an hydraulic dredger in the middle of the canal, the other an iron shute (it looked like tne walking beam of an immense steamer), near the edge ? Do you see how the vast masses of sand, mud, and water, come up from the dredger, are poured out into the “shute,” and. thence on the ground sixty or eighty feet from the edge of the canal ? Do you see how quickly the great heaps rise, and how they extend, almost without a break, all along ? Well, monsieur, you would find these heaps almost immediately baked hard by the sun, and as they are firm enough to bear the railroad we intend putting upon thr;m the better to expedite the mails from India, so we hope they will be high enough to keep out the sand drifts from the canal. ” And what are your other great difficulties, mon cap- taine ?" ” Well, monsieur, at Chalouf, near Serapeum, we have struck a peculiar hard ston.,. at the depth of twelve feet, and arc obliged to blast to clear it out (it is axolite). Then the deposit of the Nile mud near Port Said will always keep us dredging. But what we fear most is the Red Sea. For a long distance from Suez it is extremely shallow ; then, lower down, it is very rocky; and while this is nothil1.g to steamers, which can easily keep the narrow channel, yet with the wind blowing six months one way and six months the other, it will not be easy for a heavily-laden clipper to keep off the ground. Yet these things will all be set right, for trade will take the shortest route, and the Suez Canal will be a success, although no nation now believes it except France, and (with a bow) America.' ” A few words now upon the canal in general. Whether or not the idea originated with l.Pharaoh, Napoleon I. acted upon it, and actually' had a survey made, when it was reported that there was a difference of thirty feet in the level of the two seas; and for that and other reasons the project was abandoned, and lay dormant until about 1854 ; upon the 30th of November of which year the contract between the Egyptian government and “ Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez “ was signed. Its duration” is ninety-nine years from the day of the opening of the canal for traffic. - The Egyptian government is to receive fifteen per cent of the net profits, and holds a large proportion of the company's bonds. Egypt conceded to the company all the lands which might be irrigated by the fresh-water canal, and in 1868 bought back its own concession for a sum equal to ten millions of dollars. "Kantara is thirty-one miles from Port Said, and the car.a1 is almost perfected thus far; that is to say, although the dredges are still at work, yet for this distance the canal is one hundred yards wide and of an average depth of twenty-six feet; and these are to be the dimensions for its entire length. A curious feature, which is visible along the narrow parts of the canal, is a current flowing in from the north at the rate of one and a half knots per hour. Although it is many months since the water attained its level, yet this current still continues. Our captain attributed it to evaporation and absorption. It must be . remembered that all the cuttings have been from the Mediterranean towards Suez, and that the main body of the men employed, numbering eighty-five hundred, are working at the head of the canal, which is now advanced as far as Serapeum. Here .it is necessary to cut through a number of sand hills to the Bitter Lakes, whi^ are a series' of depressions in the desert, in the lowest parts of which a re marshy ponds. They are twenty-five miles in extent, and it is expected that, when the water is let in, an area of one hundred and forty thousand acres will be covered. (This has since been done). Then comes the Chalouf cutting to Suez, sixteen miles, and the seas meet. ” On the 1st of January, 1869, there were at work eighty- five hundred men. These men are obliged by the Egyptian government to work on the canal, but are paid by the company at the rate of two francs per day. The engines for dredging are sixty in number. Each cost two hundred thousand dollars in gold. The expenses amount to one million dollars in gold per month, and the work has already absorbed forty millions of dollars. It is said that the rates of toll are to be ten francs per tun. The company is a private one, and has not been publicly recognized or assisted by the French government. ” With regard to the rocks, the calms, and the tortuous channels of the Red Sea, mentioned before as the chief obstacle to the use of the canal by the larger class of merchantmen, plans have already been elaborated in England, with a view to the building of a class of vessels suited to this trade, and carrying each sufficient steam power to assist her through the canal and down the Red Sea. For the dispatch of mails and the transport of troops, this route will be immediately available ; and although it will take time to conquer English prejudices and predilections, yet in time the bulk of the India trade must come this way."
This article was originally published with the title "Difficulties to be Surmounted in Working the Suez Canal" in Scientific American 21, 17, 260 (October 1869)