The Suez Canal Company, by taking part in the Universal Exhibition of 1867, proposed to give a representation, in a way palpable, of the works it is carrying out and of the country where these works are accomplished. It is the complement of many publications. They spoke to the mind. The Exhibition speaks to the eyes. It has the advantage of making it possible to understand quickly and easily what the clearest writings allow to appreciate only with a certain effort of imagination.
With this in mind, the Company has concentrated the research and studies to be carried out in order to achieve its aim into three different classes of objects.
Firstly: Representation of the country where the work is being carried out, by means of a relief plan;
Secondly: An exposition of the work being carried out, by means of models of the principal instruments employed in digging the canal;
Thirdly: Samples of the soil of the isthmus on the route of the Suez Canal, and various natural products.
First of all, an important issue had to be resolved. The objects contained in the three preceding categories indicated the nature and aspect of the terrain, as well as the means adopted for the construction of the canal, but they did not give sufficient information on the present state of progress of the undertaking. Now, it was necessary to prevent an objection which would have arisen in the mind of the spectator, who would not have failed to say: "I can see the ground you are digging, I can see the means you are employing for this work, but it remains to show me the progress you have made, so that I can calculate the time when the work will be completed. "
The Company anticipated this question and responded by exhibiting a Panorama of the Suez Canal as it stood in April 1867. In order to convince everyone of the accuracy of this painting, it exhibited the photographs from which it was made in the workshops of Messrs Rubé and Chaperon, decorators of the opera. To the three classes of objects already mentioned, and comprising the whole of the works by which the enterprise of piercing the Suez isthmus will be completed, we must add: A Panorama, with supporting documents, which represents the results already obtained and the present state of the canal.
In our explanations, we will follow the classification we have just indicated.
Plan in relief.
This plan has been laid out like a geography map, which is hung on the wall. As you approach it through the front door, you see the Mediterranean at the top of the picture; and it seems as if you are coming from India and are about to enter the canal through the Red Sea and the city of Suez. But as we are in Europe, let us enter the canal by Port Said, by the Mediterranean, and let us turn around the balustrade, to place ourselves to the north, at the risk of reading the inscriptions written on the plan upside down, which will initiate us into an art that typographers possess and exercise with particular dexterity.
So first of all, here is a double dyke whose purpose is to provide ships with shelter and 10-metre depths between its two walls. The western breakwater will be three thousand metres long and has already reached more than half of this length; the eastern breakwater will not extend so far, as its protective function is less important, since the winds rarely blow from the east on this beach. An extension of eighteen hundred metres will therefore suffice. It is being built at the moment, and the work is being pushed forward with the necessary activity so that this double defence will be completed by the end of next year. A whole fleet of merchant ships will fit comfortably between these two gigantic arms.
Stones are scarce in the isthmus. The foundations of these dikes were therefore started with the products of a quarry located beyond Alexandria. The exploitation of this quarry gave insufficient results; the transport costs were enormous. The construction progressed little and was very expensive. The use of natural stone was therefore abandoned. Several very important hydraulic works in our French ports having been successfully carried out using artificial blocks, the Suez Company turned to the contractors of these works and they took charge of the dykes of Port Said. The blocks are made of sand and lime from Theil. The sand and lime are kneaded. The mixture is left to dry in moulds. Two months under the Egyptian sunshine is enough to harden the blocks, which are given a new consistency by immersion in the sea. Each block weighs 25,000 kilograms. Steam cranes, with their large wooden and iron levers, remove them and place them on one of the embankment slopes with the same ease as a mason places a hollow brick on a wall. The gap between the artificial blocks is filled with rubble and, under the action of the sea, the whole thing soon forms a compact and solid mass.
The piers, at their root on the beach, have a space of 1400 metres between them, which narrows to 400 metres of opening between the muzzles at the sea end. The triangle covers a huge area of calm sea where ships can be stored by the hundreds while waiting for their turn to pass through the isthmus.
The construction of the piers involves the use of 250,000 cubic metres of blocks. More than 110,000 metres had been sunk by the end of March. There were still 140,000 to be thrown into the sea. The work is therefore progressing steadily and leaves the Company in complete safety.
Along the western pier, a 100-metre wide channel has been dug to a depth of 6 to 7 metres, and from now on the large ships of the Imperial Shipping Company can anchor there. Also, at the end of May, these ships on their way to and from Syria call at Port Said.
Let us enter the port. It is a vast parallelogram of land framing a water surface of 36 hectares. To the west, this large basin has four deep indentations which form as many secondary basins. There is the Commerce basin of 4 hectares; the Arsenal basin of 3 hectares; the Four-à-Chaux basin of 5 hectares; the Navy basin of 3 hectares. Shall we say that it is not finished and that the dredges cross each other, digging deep furrows which widen successively until the bottom of all the basins is completely levelled? We can, I believe, save ourselves this trouble, by representing by two figures the amount of work done and the quantity remaining to be done. There are still 2,732,000 metres of spoil to be removed in order to excavate the port and the basins of Port Said to any depth. Eight dredgers are used for this operation. The output of each of these machines, at a rate of 1200 cubic metres per day, is such that the work will be completed within ten to eleven months.
Is it necessary to speak about the city that the Company has named Port-Saïd? It is the first stage of civilisation in this country. Not many years ago, when M. de Lesseps and his first companions made a voyage of exploration in the Suez desert, where no human being lived, where the Bedouin alone launched his horse into the pathless space, following the trail of the caravans, the land which Port Said occupies at the moment, with its ten thousand inhabitants, was covered by the waters of Lake Menzaleh. A simple bulge of earth, a ribbon of sand, 200 metres wide, indicated the contours of the beach. It was a weak rampart, beaten and invaded sometimes by the waves of the Mediterranean, sometimes by the waters of the lake. There was not a single tree stalk, not a tuft of grass, and it was hardly conceivable that this narrow strip of land could offer a refuge to sea birds.
It was here, however, that the first blow of the pickaxe was made to dig a passage for navigation across the isthmus.
Around this boldly opened trench, dwellings sprang up, modest at first and lacking all the comforts of home, but full of courage, faith and hope. Gradually the strip of land widened. The product of the excavations of the canal was used to found the city's land in the marshes. The spoil was used for embankments; the ground gradually rose above the water. The lake was pushed back. Then pretty wooden cottages were built, shipped in from France. A few masonry buildings were erected especially to serve as workshops and to house the tools that seemed, at that time, more precious than the men themselves. For their courage did not wear out, and they tempered the steel of their hearts in hardships and trials of all kinds. But it was difficult to replace inert matter, so they thought of it first. They sheltered it, they spared it, they looked after it with the greatest solicitude. It had the best enclosures, the driest grounds, the most impenetrable cover. But already a line of picturesque buildings stretched out in front of the sea. The chiefs' cottages, the employees' houses, the travellers' hotel, and a few neatly decorated stalls lined the shore to the west of the western dike, behind a lighthouse raised to light the ships' way and to reveal, in the night, the existence of the new city, which had risen from the waters. Finally, a building, humble no doubt, but consoling to see, took its place in the middle of the houses and factories: chapel, school, hospital, this construction was the soul of the city, and confirmed the spirit of a Christian society on this land abandoned until then to fatalism.
The presence of employees and workers spurred native speculation. Fresh food was brought in from the interior, and there was a market, poorly supplied at first, and quite insufficient to supply the menus of the Paris newspapers, but where stomachs kept healthy by sobriety and work, already found a pleasant and hygienic variety of food. The gourbis of these suppliers, who were not very fussy about the quality, distribution, furniture and, it must be said, the cleanliness of the accommodation, stretched out in long streets, well aligned according to the engineers' plans, behind the facade of the aristocratic buildings on the beach. Then all this population spread out, occupied with a thousand different cares or indulging in slander, which flourishes in the desert among the Arabs, just as in the villages of our good France.
This is how the first city of the isthmus was founded. This is how it looked from the start. Today Port Said is a charming city, half industrial, half picturesque. The site is charming: for the aspect of the sea is always new and the view of the lake and the cottages is cheered by a multitude of green islands and by the large sails of the numerous fishing boats which exploit the lake, the product of which is leased at a price of half a million.
The history of Port Said is the history of all the cities and shipyards of the isthmus. A fair idea of the speed of their foundation and the conditions of their growth can be gained from the above description. In addition, the main centres of population in the isthmus, Port Said and Timsah, are faithfully represented on the special plans devoted to these two cities. We refer the reader to them.
The canal, at the exit of the port, crosses the Mensaleh lakes. In the past, these marshes were plains, cultivated and endowed with that Egyptian fertility, which antiquity celebrated and which made Rome live. A branch of the Nile, the Tanitique branch, contained in its bed, and its lateral canals to the sea, bathed the walls of royal cities, today disappeared under the waters. The river, which had become deadly in its overflows, carried life and fertility, while human industry maintained it between its banks. It watered what it drowned. Dynasties have been displaced by revolutions and conquests. War and civil strife have done their work of destruction in this beautiful part of Egypt. A few bricks, the debris of pottery, rare statues and statuettes which are carried to the Cairo museum at Boulac, are today the only vestiges of vanished races. The dull, dormant water covers their homes as if in a shroud. As far as the view extends to the east, west and south from Port Said, one sees only the liquid surface pierced here and there by cones of greenery, which were once mamelons on dry land and are now deserted islets.
The marsh extends to a great distance on the right towards the Rosetta branch and the city of Damietta, famous for the misfortunes of Louis IX, the holy and foolish leader of the seventh crusade. On the left it spreads into the desert and dies out in the middle of the sands. Finally, it occupies half the space between the two seas towards the south.
Embarked on the boat of the post office, an excellent steam boat, whose daily service is done with regularity, we can imagine the general configuration of the isthmus on the line of our navigation, i.e. between Port-Saïd and Suez. It is a depression in the land where the sea once advanced on both sides. The waters of the Mediterranean tended to join those of the Red Sea. It may be assumed that the former entered the Ballah Lakes, while the latter, as is generally accepted, reached the northern end of the Bitter Lakes.
A barrier prevented their meeting. It was a double elevation of land, containing a freshwater basin populated by crocodiles: Lake Timsah. These two heights, called El-Guisr and Serapium, were opened by the Suez Company and today allow the canal to pass through. The El Guisr plateau is the highest. It is twenty metres above the water and it is the one that closed the passage on the Mediterranean side. Serapium is only eight metres high, but its mass was impassable for the waters of the Red Sea. El Guisr was pierced, in large part, by the Egyptian Fellahs. Serapium is being excavated by dredgers; and the trenches which cross it will soon be lowered to the level of the canal.
In summary, the canal from Port-Saïd to the El-Guisr plateau, crosses the large Menzaleh lakes, then the Ballah lakes, now without water. It passes through El-Guisr, meets Lake Timsah, then the Serapium, another threshold which it crosses to arrive on the side facing the Red Sea in the large bitter lakes and the plain of Suez.
The main city, the seat of the Company's administration, is at the central point, in Timsah, between El-Guisr and the Serapium. It is called Ismailia after the name of the viceroy of Egypt, just as Port Said was placed under the patronage of the name of his predecessor, Mohamed Said-Pasha, who in agreement with M. Ferdinand de Lesseps, founded the Canal Company.
Ismailia is larger and more elegant than the maritime city in the Mediterranean at the entrance to the canal. Port Said is more specifically the centre of the Company's workshops. Dredges, transport boats and all kinds of equipment are assembled and repaired here. The cargoes of the ships are received there to be dispatched and distributed in the isthmus. It is the centre of operations for the transit of goods from the Mediterranean to the port of Suez for the Far East. The large steam companies: the Russian Odessa Company, the Imperial Messengers and the Marseille liners send their ships there.
Also one sees a movement of passengers, traders, sailors and workers which gives it a very original physiognomy. Ismailia is home to the aristocracy of the pen. The residence of the engineer, director general of works, can be seen there. All the offices are grouped around him. This is where the very modest chalet of the president of the Company is situated. It looks like his residence, if he was staying anywhere during the months he was in Egypt. He is everywhere and nowhere in the isthmus. When you want to meet him for sure, you have to go where there is danger; where there are failures to be remedied, sick people to be revived, devotion to be encouraged. His presence is invaluable in supporting the morale of workers in isolated building sites, where a few hundred men live grouped together like castaways on a rock in an ocean of sand. When you know this in Egypt, emulation is greater, the desire to distinguish yourself is stronger. One wants to do well to obtain his approval. He is popular and respected, familiar with dignity, and of a gentle firmness that commands and has never been refused obedience.
The contractors of the Suez Canal, men of proven merit, Messrs. Borel, and Lavalley had also placed the seat of their administration at Ismailia, which they have just moved in part for the convenience of the service.
The Viceroy's government is represented in Ismailia by an Egyptian official. He lives in the most beautiful building in the city, erected according to the plans of a former engineer of the Company, now director of bridges and roads in the Egyptian service, Mr. Sciama Bey.
A few years ago, I saw Lake Timsah. It was a basin without water, where a few tufts of sunburnt rushes were growing on a dried and cracked mud. Today, Lake Timsah looks like a vast sheet of water. I saw the site occupied by Ismailia. It was a sandy knoll, as bare and barren as one can imagine. Today, this hillock is covered with beautiful buildings and gardens. Fresh water circulates there, sent to Port-Saïd, i.e. eighty kilometres away, by a double penstock and a double steam engine equipped with elevator pumps. Two months ago, an Austrian ship - it was the first one to cross the canal from Port Said to Suez, and by chance it was called the Primo - called at Ismailia. The crew went ashore and was able to gather huge bouquets, so numerous are the flowers there today. Two days later, she entered Suez decorated with fresh garlands of natural flowers.
This is what the desert is becoming under the industrial hand of the Suez Company, and with the help of the two fertilizing principles of Egypt: water and sun.
Timsah is located at the meeting point of the maritime canal and the fresh water canal. See on the relief plan this green cape which, starting from the banks of the Nile, advances through the sands in the direction and towards the centre of the isthmus. This is the Gessen Valley of the Bible. Here Jacob and his sons, called by Joseph, were settled in the land of the "pastures." From there the great emigration of the Jews led by Moses began. Its route, recounted in the Scriptures, can still be followed today, step by step.
In this valley, the Company dug the bed of a river, which it branched off into one of the branches of the Nile, which still bears the name of Moses, in memory of the legislator of the Hebrews who was exposed there.
This is called the fresh water canal, which first runs in a straight line over Timsah and which, having reached this height, turns south and descends parallel to the sea canal to Suez, where it flows into the sea. As it passes, it waters and feeds Ismailia. It is about fifteen metres wide and two metres deep.
It is by this route that the Company has for a long time brought supplies, equipment and passengers to the isthmus. The water that it draws from it supplies the construction sites and the population. Finally, the canal is used for the transit of goods which are loaded either in Suez or in Port Said and which pass through locks from the freshwater canal into the maritime canal, or from the maritime canal into the freshwater canal, until the maritime route is open and free from one sea to the other.
The part of the maritime canal which extends from Ismailia to Suez is occupied for the most part by a basin of great extent and whose depth is up to 10 metres. It will be filled with water from both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea as soon as the access works are completed to the north and south. At these two ends, in fact, the ground is strewn with rocks whose extraction requires particular expenses and care.
It is all the more doubtful that the Red Sea penetrated these lakes at a remote period, as the bitter lakes, at a depth of several metres, are covered with saline deposits. A specimen of this substance, cut in the form of a column, was placed at the entrance to the Suez Exhibition. It only imperfectly represents the thickness of the salt layer. The latter is covered in several places by a half-dried mud, where it is dangerous to enter. Several agents of the Company were very close to being engulfed in it. One of them remained drowned up to mid-body for more than twenty-four hours, barely supporting himself on planks until he was rescued.
The bitter lakes, which are said to contain more than 900 million metres of water, will form an inland sea, where the ships would be exposed to the action of the winds and the agitation of the islands. The Company would, if necessary, do the necessary work to ensure the safety of navigation; but it is more than doubtful that such precautions could be avoided. In the meantime, it has been recognised that the great mass of water contained in these lakes would balance the tides of the Red Sea on one side, and the currents produced on the other side in the canal by the north-east winds which blow part of the year. This fortunate arrangement of nature made it possible to avoid the construction of locks which would have hampered navigation in the maritime canal. The Suez Canal, one hundred metres wide at the water line, will develop freely like a bosphorus, or if you like, according to Mr. Stephenson's comparison, like a ditch, a vast ditch for example, since its excavation will have required the removal of sixty to seventy million cubic metres of earth.
Models of Machines.
Never until now had one heard of such considerable earthworks being carried out five hundred leagues from Europe, in a completely deserted country. Recently, the whole of Paris remained in contemplation in front of the works which had for goal the extraction of four million meters of earth at the Trocadero, opposite the Champ de Mars. But what are these four million compared to the seventy million of the Suez Canal?
It is known that the Company had originally counted on the work of the natives to remove this enormous quantity of earth. The Egyptian digger is a fast worker. He hardly needs any tools. With his hands he digs the earth; he fills baskets with it, which are carried on his head to the place where the contents are to be dumped to form what is called the "rider," but what is more clearly called the "bench. "This method of extracting and transporting the spoil is only so rapid as the workmen are very numerous; and in any other country than Egypt the expense would be exorbitant. But in the ancient land of the Pharaohs, where it is an immemorial practice to make the people pay a part of the tax in labour, the employment of men in great public works has nothing to hurt sincere philanthropy. The Company, in agreement with Mohamed-Saïd-Pacha, had believed that it was doing a work of humanity and improving the lot of the Fellahs by applying them to salaried work, when they could legally be employed in free work.
The natives were therefore used in principle for the construction of the longitudinal earthen dykes of the canal in Lake Menzaleh; they were called upon to dig the freshwater canal, and then they were gathered in the number of twenty thousand on the El-Guisr plateau, where they made a passage for the maritime canal.
This was the point at which the Company, following a resounding debate and a high arbitration, was deprived, in return for a certain amount of compensation, of this element of work.
The operations begun were therefore immediately suspended: new means of execution had to be improvised; mechanics had to be substituted for man. The Company endeavoured to bear this new test with firmness and resolution. It was written that it would have to overcome all kinds of obstacles: natural obstacles, political rivalries, the jealousy of men, the hostility of the envious, the hatred of the impotent, the particular animosity of those outspoken men who are offended by everything that rises up and who are bothered by even the shadow of the most just popularity.
The Company hired contractors whose experience and skill had been established by previous work. Let us see what the main elements of the problem were!
The transformation required by the policy was to be carried out under the following conditions:
The Company had taken possession of the desert. It was installed there. The fresh water canal brought supplies, equipment and drinking water to the centre of the isthmus. The actual work on the maritime canal was limited to the earthworks, begun by hand by the Fellahs. A few dredgers of medium strength were, it is true, employed either to fill in the marshes around Port-Saïd, or to deepen the channel opened in Lake Menzaleh, but the number and strength of these machines were insufficient. Other more powerful dredgers had been ordered: but these measures taken by the Company, with a view to combining manpower with machinery, no longer met the needs created by the new order of things. A trench about two metres deep and of unequal width was opened from Port Said to Lake Timsah. It had been protected by banks which were beginning to take shape. On the Suez side, no vigorous impetus had yet been given to any work; the crest of the Serapium had barely been removed. It was in this part especially that the Company intended to employ the natives; and if it had continued to obtain the squads of labourers previously provided by the Egyptian Government, there can be no doubt that towards Suez especially the removal of earth with wheelbarrows and baskets would have been conducted with great activity.
In this situation, the first thing to do was obviously to order dredgers of great power and to order them in large numbers. But how to combine the organs!
It is not enough to turn, by means of steam, a string of buckets which dig the ground under water and remove the earth. The contents of these buckets have to be poured out and carried somewhere: a time-consuming task, which, depending on the means employed, can become so expensive as to make the operation itself impossible.
The ordinary removal of dredged soil is done in the simplest way:
The spoil is poured into crates placed on boats that dock with the dredger. When these boxes are full, the boat pulls away and carries them along the bank. There, cranes are installed that pick up the boxes, lift them up, turn on themselves and thus pour the spoil a few metres away into railway wagons.
This very simple procedure is impractical when it comes to working with very large quantities of excavated material. The transport costs become exorbitant. By a difference in price, which does not seem to be very important for each cubic metre of excavated material, the increase in total expenditure quickly reaches a hundred million, when this difference is applied to an undertaking which requires the removal of sixty million cubes of earth.
In addition, the duration of the operation would exceed all limits; and all the Companies, however rich they are supposed to be, would, in the long run, be exhausted by the general expenses. With this method, it would have been impossible to foresee the end of the canal works.
It was then understood that it was necessary to build new equipment, appropriate to a work of exceptional importance, the requirements of which had not been foreseen until then, and which required the use of unusual means.
A chute, which had been adapted in principle to the small dredgers, when they were dredging against the banks, gave the idea of a long chute which we are going to describe and of which a model can be seen on the end of the canal represented at the Company's exhibition.
In order to pour the spoil on the shore, especially in the basins of Port-Saïd, it was imagined to place a wooden or sheet metal gutter under the buckets of the dredgers, which, receiving the spoil, let it flow to the ground. The inclination of this channel was sufficient for the natural entrainment of the silt or sand removed by the dredgers. But this inclination could only be maintained if the dredges remained close to the shore where the product was thrown. By moving the dredgers back to dig the canal, for example to its centre, i.e. fifty metres from the water's edge, the corridor was rendered useless. It could indeed be lengthened, but then it no longer had a slope. The spoil that the dredger would have poured into it would have clogged the opening and would not have reached the shore. Now, supposing that the dredging was done in the middle of the canal, it was not only fifty metres, or half of the total width of the canal, that had to be given to the corridor, but ten or twenty metres of pine trees; for it was not enough to carry the spoil to the water's edge, it had to be thrown much further, in anticipation of future widenings and, above all, to avoid partial collapses of the bank in the canal itself.
The solution to this problem has been found. From the model, this solution looks quite simple. This only proves that it is good. But, like so many simple things, it took a long time to find.
The first step was to raise the dredge frame as high as possible, to the top of which the buckets rise and turn after they leave the water. To prevent this heavy frame, which shifted the centre of gravity, from dragging the hull of the dredger and causing it to capsize, it was reinforced with an iron frame on the sides.
At the height where the buckets pour the spoil they have brought from the bottom, the chute is placed. In some cases, it is up to 70 metres long. Imagine a huge column of iron and sheet metal cut from top to bottom, half of which is laid down to form a bridge from the dredger to the land.
This aqueduct bridge is supported between the dredger and the land by a solid support which rests on a barge, in other words a flat boat. But it does not touch the bank. On the contrary, it is kept three metres above the ground, so that the spoil can conveniently fall to the ground when it has rolled from the top of the channel to its mouth.
The main difficulty remained to be overcome: the lack of inclination of the corridor, the slope of which was necessarily insignificant because of its length and the low elevation of its point of attachment and departure. How could the excavated material be carried to the end of the channel?
More than one attempt had been made with shorter channels. For example, men with poles and rakes had been placed on the sides; they pushed the spoil which stopped on the way and cleared the channel. But when applied to huge machines, this method was as insignificant as it was expensive. The work was far beyond the strength of the arms, and the results were nil.
Someone noticed that the buckets, when overturned to empty the rubble into the corridors, let out a certain quantity of water which they had brought along, mixed with the solid debris. This water flowed down in thin streams that penetrated the mounds of earth and sand gathered in the corridor, washing them away, breaking them up and finally carrying some of them away. This was a stroke of light.
The remedy for the lack of inclination of the corridor was to keep the flow of water in the corridor neither too strong nor too weak, for too strong a flow would have gone over the edge, and too weak a flow would have been absorbed by the heaped up earth.
Pumps were placed on the dredges. The steam gave the movement, and the water flowed constantly in the aerial channel, carrying with it the solid products of the dredging by the action of its current and by its dissolving force.
The great corridor is the fundamental machine for the piercing of the isthmus. The canal has one hundred and sixty kilometres from Port Said to Suez. More than a hundred will be dug by means of the "long corridor" with an ease and economy that would have been impossible to foresee. The Company was able to oppose victoriously this invention to those of its detractors who had speculated on the retirement of the native workers, to prevent the construction of the canal.
In all the space between Port-Saïd and the El-Guisr plateau through the Menzaleh and Ballah lakes, and, if necessary, in the Suez plain; in all the places where the edges of the canal have no particular elevation, the long corridor works perfectly.
A large number of dredges along the canal are equipped with this instrument. It was necessary to make another one to pour the spoil on banks higher than the dredges themselves, in those parts of the canal where the slope of the long corridor would necessarily have been in the opposite direction to what it should be, i.e. sloping from the bank to the dredge.
Let us turn around the table showing the end of the canal and stop in front of an iron frame which is placed on this table near the doors of a Panorama.
It is nothing. It's a machine that looks like it's being viewed through a microscope. It is a model of the kind that is made to amuse children. Well, if it were possible, at the end of the Exhibition, to enter the workshops of the forges and shipyards of the Mediterranean, you would see one of these machines which are real monuments, which have the height and the size of a house in Paris.
These are called lifts, and we will briefly describe their mechanism.
But first let us explain why the Company, instead of exhibiting these small models, did not simply bring to the Champ de Mars the very devices which, by their mass, would perhaps have struck the spectator more keenly.
This is because these machines are all used in Egypt and it is not up to the Company to dispose of them, since their delivery to the contractors is a condition of their contract. It is because the assembly in Paris of a dredger equipped with its long corridor, a lift, a dry excavator and two carrier boats would involve the immobilisation of a capital of more than two million, without counting the transport expenses and the loss of the work of these instruments for one year. Finally, it is because in order to represent them in activity on a canal proportionate to their mass, it would have been necessary for the Imperial Commission to reserve for the Suez Canal a whole side of the Champ de Mars and for the Company to spend perhaps a million in installation costs.
Having given this explanation, let's move on to the lift apparatus.
It consists of two iron beams inclined upwards to an elevation of 14 metres. Between these two supports turns an endless chain, driven by steam, and on the chain a carriage which, when it reaches the top, tips over and spreads the spoil it is carrying.
This spoil is contained in boxes that are loaded onto the cart when it descends empty, following the movement of the endless chain. There are eighteen such lifts.
Thus, the earth being transported to the shore, sometimes by means of the long corridors, when the ground is lower than the dredger, sometimes by the lifts, when the ground is higher than the dredging apparatus, it only remained to provide for this same transport of the products of the dredging in the parts of the canal where they should not be deposited on the bank. Carriers were built for this purpose. Some of them go to the sea; they are built in such a way as to remain there. The two decks are placed one at the front and the other at the back of the vessel; they are used for the crew and for manoeuvring. The centre of the ship is entirely reserved for the reception of spoil. It is separated, by a partition, into two cavities which go down to the bottom of the carrier boat, and which are filled with the products of the dredging. When these receptacles are full, the carrier boat is driven out to sea, and the steam that drives the propeller is used at the same time to slacken a chain that holds the doors, hatches or bottom flaps, as the reader may wish to call them. When these doors open, the spoil contained in the cavities of the boat falls out, which fills with water by the same process, and returns by this ballast, which is easily disposed of, to take its place under the dredgers to receive a new load of earth, silt, sand and water.
Other boats of the same type and with the same purpose are intended to operate exclusively in the canals. Instead of bottom doors, they have side doors; they are wide and flat as befits a river boat, instead of tapering gradually to the keel, like sea boats.
These are the various models that the Company has assembled on the canal shown at the Exhibition. They include the various methods it has adopted for digging the canal and transporting the spoil. These mechanisms, which for the most part present important innovations, are ingenious, economical and above all practical, to use an expression that is readily employed in factories and plants. The science of dredging was still in its infancy when the Suez Canal was started. Never before had dredgers been used for such extensive earthworks. Necessity, the mother of industry - this ancient metaphor is especially applicable to the Exhibition - has inspired the Company and its contractors. From now on, we will no longer be afraid of extracting the greatest quantity of earth under water. We have before us one of the greatest examples of what the genius of man and the perseverance of character can do in this respect. The Company had been deprived of the assistance of workers; it substituted mechanical labour. There were no machines proportionate to the work it had to do, so it created them. It gave them an unknown strength, new organs. It raises the material to the level of the enterprise begun. At the same time it populates a desert. It builds cities; it introduces traffic and industry into the isthmus; it spreads education and morals; it distributes the bread of the word with the bread of each day to thousands of men. Will it be said that she has not deserved the country well, and in the face of her bitter enemies, on the day when her enterprise is completed, might she be justly accused of too much pride, if she replied like the Roman general on his way up to the Capitol?
But let us take a look at the part of the Exhibition which is devoted to the system of towing adopted for the temporary transport of goods from one sea to the other, by way of the fresh water canal.
Here is the toueur, which is called the Bouquié toueur, after the man who invented this system. Here are a few fragments of the submerged chain by which this tugboat hops along, dragging barges loaded with a thousand barrels of goods. Two words on this subject:
The state of progress of the works in the part of the canal which goes from Port Said to Ismailia and the complete construction of the fresh water canal which, coming from Zagazig, joins the maritime canal at Ismailia and then descends directly to Suez, has enabled the Company to set up a regular transit service for goods and passengers from one sea to the other.
Numerous barges designed to receive cargoes were shipped to Port Said and anchored in the canals.
A double traction system was adopted.
In the maritime canal, and provisionally, six steamers will tow the loaded barges from Port Said to Ismailia, and vice versa.
In the freshwater canal, a towing system has been installed. Six tugs provide this service.
The twin-screw tugs, built in the usual form, are 20 metres long and 4 metres wide. They are each equipped with two independent engines of over 100 horsepower.
The towing system which operates on the Saint-Martin canal in Paris and of which Mr. Bouquié is the inventor, was adopted as being both the simplest and the most appropriate to the conditions of transit in the isthmus.
These reels are 20 metres long and 3.5 metres wide and are each equipped with an 18 horsepower engine.
The chain on which the traction operates in the system adopted is driven on a pulley with impressions, each link fitting exactly into the impression of the driving wheel. This wheel is placed on one side of the reel, which enables the chain to be taken on or off with the greatest ease, either by removing it from the water and placing it on the pulley, or by throwing it back into the channel, or, when a second reel is abreast with the first, by taking the chain on its pulley or placing it there.
This system has the advantage over the ordinary towing system, which consists in the use of winches placed in the centre of the reels, of greater lightness, greater simplicity of components and finally of extreme ease of manoeuvre for starting and stopping or for crossing two reels running in opposite directions on the same chain.
The transit of goods and passengers from one sea to the other is already organised in such a way as to transport up to 1000 tons per day across the isthmus. The Suez Canal Company has thus inaugurated its period of operation, without the slightest hindrance to the completion of the work entrusted to its contractors.
Soil samples and natural products.
We have little to say on this subject. These samples, which M. Laurent Degoussée collected in Egypt; these specimens and natural products collected in the isthmus by Doctor Companyo and Captain Beaudoin, are interesting in more than one respect; but we would be straying from our subject, and we could be rightly accused of incompetence, if we attempted to dissertate on the natural sciences in which our ignorance is unfortunately great.
The collection of Doctor Companyo belongs to the museum of Perpignan, and the general opinion is very favourable to it. One finds there curiosities which deserve to be seen and whose explanation is given by the labels.
As for the geological collections of M. L. Degoussée, they have been made with great care. This study was certainly not indifferent to the engineers who had to become aware of the nature of the soil before combining the means of attacking it. It is, moreover, a new chapter added to the history of the constitution of the globe and, as such, it must have a great attraction for all those who aspire to the glory of the Humboldts and the Élie de Beaumont.
There is nothing to say about a Panorama, it must be seen. We saw it in the home of those who painted it according to the drawings of the company's architect, Mr. Chapon. As soon as it is installed, which will not be long, it will produce, we believe, all the more effect as the marvellous aspects that it presents are of undeniable accuracy. We can therefore see the canal and the isthmus without making the journey. Messrs Rubé and Chaperon have the intuition of the Eastern sun. It is impossible to paint a more marvellous and true picture.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée