The Palais de la Navigation de Commerce was the counterpart to the Palais des Forêts. It was the work of the same architects and the same general layout was found there, but with a different architecture, while remaining symmetrical. The effect recalled, with the bays of the base reflected in the water, was very much that of the palaces of Venice.
A lighthouse stood tall and elegantly dressed. The neighbouring end of the Jena Bridge ended in the shape of a galley. These happy reminders of its purpose were completed by the interior appearance, where the arrangement of the frames gave the illusion of a ship's hull.
Although this 160-metre hall was gigantic, it was less so than a real transatlantic ship today, since 220-metre-long ships are built. The increase in volume, multiplied by the increase in speed, produces resistances that increase enormously. For example, the Bretagne burns 160 tons of coal per day to make 18 knots; to make 22.5 knots, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-der-Grosse has to burn 550 tons. The storage of such a huge supply can only be done at the expense of the interior fittings, which are becoming more and more luxurious; as the machinery is also increasing in proportion, all the difficulties of the problem become apparent. The solution, however, lies in the large dimensions, since they are being increased every day. The Oceanic, currently under construction, will measure 216 metres, whereas the Great-Eastern did not exceed 208 metres. The precursor colossus did not have a happy existence and is now used as a pontoon, but the initial difficulties that it could not overcome have now been overcome.
This victory of the maritime genius is, however, obscured by the regular shipwrecks that occur in the Newfoundland waters during the fishing season. Through the fog, the transatlantic ships come upon the poor boats and swallow them up under their mass, with no salvation possible. It is a shame that the powers on which the competing lines depend, none of which wants to give way to its rival, have not yet been able to agree to deviate a few hours' journey from the common route.
Impeccable instruments, such as that of Mr. Charles Heit, which could be seen in the palace, direct and record in all its details the route followed. They certainly omit to record the number of men's lives thus sacrificed in a criminal match; their enumeration would arouse opinion against this crime of lèse-humanité.
In the same vein, the palace contained the results of the salvage contest recently held by the Pollock family, whose head had perished in the sinking of the Burgundy. They were not reassuring; nothing really practical had come of them. Besides, it is in composure and not in new devices that one must look for salvation. The devices exist, but panic always prevents them from being used.
These humanitarian considerations do not stop the development of navigation, which is growing among all peoples in unprecedented proportions.
Our maritime Chambers of Commerce are concerned about it. On the other side of the Seine, they had erected a special pavilion, where Bayonne, Bordeaux, Boulogne, Caen, Calais, Cette, Cherbourg, Dieppe, Dunkirk, Fécamp, Granville, Le Havre, Honfleur, La Rochelle, Marseilles, Nantes and Rouen exhibited charts, photographs, tables and plans in relief showing the completed or projected enlargements of their ports.
It would cost more than 200 million to carry out all the work estimated to be necessary. It will be argued that the ports of Boulogne, Calais and La Pallice remain almost deserted, despite the enormous sums they have already sunk. The answer will be to cite Dunkirk, which has gone from 500,000 to 3,500,000 tons of entry and exit between 1858 and 1898.
It will also be objected that our cautious and home-like morals keep us away from distant undertakings, but it can be answered that our shipowners were once at the head of the movement and that the economic future of France depends on its maritime trade, which must be provided with good equipment.
Without mentioning the English ports, Hamburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Genoa attract to their quays the goods of the whole world. We are outdistanced everywhere, even by a long way by Norway. If the statistics were not there, the foreign exhibitions in the Palais de la Navigation de Commerce would have provided sufficient proof. The situation is all the more critical, since its solution depends on general ideas whose propagation is not easy. A voter in the central provinces will hardly understand that he is interested in maritime navigation, and the necessary measures threaten to remain in abeyance. Everyone, however, takes his share in the public situation, and an inactive isolation in the midst of the great international movement can only lead to a weakening of France.
©L'Exposition du Siècle - 1900