In October, 1867, the ﬁrst steamer went from Port Said to Ismailia
Continuing The Suez Canal Opens,
our selection from an article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 18 by Gardiner Greene Hubbard published in 1905. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Suez Canal Opens.
Time: December 31, 1869
Place: Suez Canal, Egypt
The ancients opened a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, but were unable to open one to the Mediterranean, for want of a harbor. A harbor was essential to the success of the scheme. De Lesseps was therefore compelled to construct “a harbor against nature,” where there was no fresh water within thirty miles, neither port nor open roadstead, and only two or three feet of water, gradually deepening to twenty-five and thirty feet two miles from the shore. A sand-bank from three hundred to five hundred feet wide separated the sea from Lake Menzaleh — a vast salt-marsh. Over this bank the waves broke at every high sea. Land must be made, stone piers built to deep water, and, as there was no stone near, great blocks of artificial stone weighing twenty-two tons were made with cement brought from France and sand from the desert, and with these blocks piers two miles in length on the west and one mile on the east side were built out into the sea. The channel between these piers and in the harbor was dredged to a depth of twenty seven feet, and the material used for making land. Here now stands Port Said, with a population of ten thousand, having one of the best harbors in the Mediterranean; its pier lighted with electric lights; its fresh water brought from the Nile at Cairo, one hundred sixty miles distant.
There was no fresh water nearer than the Nile, as rain rarely falls on the Isthmus. A large supply of drinking-water was required for the laborers and inhabitants of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez and for the use of the vessels. To provide for this want, a canal eight feet deep and six feet wide was dug from the Nile at Cairo across the desert to a point near Ismailia, thence along the line of the Suez Canal to Suez, one hundred forty-nine miles, including the Ismailian branch. At Ismailia the water is pumped into reservoirs, and conducted in pipes to Port Said. It was finished to Ismailia, January, 1862, and to Suez, December, 1863. The canal between Cairo and Ismailia has since then been greatly enlarged by the Egyptian Government, and is a wide navigable canal with locks connecting the Nile at Cairo with the Red Sea. As all the rights in this canal were retroceded by De Lesseps to the Khedive, he was compelled to bear the cost of its construction, which was nominally $5,750,000, but in reality much greater, and probably $8,000,000.
In October, 1867, the ﬁrst steamer went from Port Said to Ismailia. In the summer of 1869 the work grew near its completion. August 6th the Khedive struck the blow which united the waters of the Red Sea with those of the Mediterranean. In September De Lesseps sailed through in a small steamer and telegraphed:
SUEZ, September 29, 1869.
“We left Port Said this morning, and, after an uninterrupted voyage by steamer, arrived here in ﬁfteen hours.”
The grand religious ceremonies of the inauguration took place at Port Said, November 16, 1869, beginning at about 2 P.M., in the presence of the Khedive, the Empress of the French, the Emperor of Austria, etc. During the night of the 16th, in order to be ready, the Khedive left Port Said in his yacht in advance of his royal guests, to receive them at the entrance of Lake Timsah.
The grand line of royal yachts left Port Said at 8 A.M., November 17th, the Aigle leading, with the Empress Eugenie and De Lesseps on board. That afternoon the ﬂeet arrived in Lake Timsah, and were there received by a salute from Egyptian war vessels which had come from Suez.
The evenings of November 17th and 18th were given up to festivities and excursions at Ismailia. At noon of the 19th the ﬂeet left Lake Timsah, and at 5 pm. anchored in the Bitter Lakes. During the night of the 19th the Khedive proceeded to Suez to await his guests in that harbor, and at 11:30 A.M. on the 20th the ﬂeet came out of the canal into the head of the Red Sea. The inaugurating ﬂeet was composed of sixty-nine vessels, bearing the ﬂags of France, Austria, North Germany, Holland, England, Egypt, Russia, Italy, Norway, and Portugal, and representatives from all the courts of Europe and from every great newspaper in the world.
The expenditures on the Suez Canal at the time of opening, December 31, 1869, were: For construction, $58,271,000; for interest, including sinking-fund, $16,582,000; for negotiations and commissions, $2,208,600; for management, $2,836,505; for sundries, $3,266,650; total, $83,164,755.
This amount was raised from various sources: Subscriptions to 400,000 shares, at $100 per share, $40,000,000; loans of 1867 and 1868, $19,755,500; indemnity paid by Egypt, $16, 800,000; sundries, $6,609,255; total, $83,164,755.
The banks of the canal were faced with stone for a portion of the distance, and this work was steadily carried on until all the banks were lined. The width at the surface of the canal varies from 190 feet, where the banks are above the general level of the desert, to 328 feet, where they are low. The width at the bottom is 72 feet; the depth in 1871 was 23 feet. It has been deepened from time to time, and is from 25 to 28 feet deep. Fourteen steamers drawing 24½ feet passed through the canal in 1883. The actual time required for steaming through the canal is about nineteen hours; on account of delays, principally from vessels passing one another and because vessels are not permitted to sail by night, the average time from entering Port Said to leaving Suez is forty-eight hours. Vessels sailing in the same direction are not allowed to pass, and are required to stop at gares (or passing-stations) that vessels sailing in the other direction may pass. These gares are the sidings in this single-track road, three times the usual width of the canal, so that ships may pass on either side; with one exception they are on the east side of the canal.
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