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THE SUEZ CANAL. — The Isthmus of Suez has been traversed from remote times by a canal following nearly upon the lines of the present one. The former may have perhaps been made in the time of the Pharaohs. After becoming silted up, it was re-opened by Trajan in the second century A.D. Napoleon I,, recognizing the commercial value and strategic importance of a permanent ship-canal at this point, was desirous of carrying out the project, and actually had the land surveyed for the purpose; but nothing was done until the famous
M. de Lesseps commenced, in 1859, the canal which now exists. The first vessel made the passage in 1865, and the work was finally completed in 1869.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 ships use the canal during the year, their combined tonnage approximating to 10,000,000 tons, of which rather over three-quarters are British, Germany and France following in the order named. Nearly all of these ships pass through the canal at night. the banks of which are brilliantly illuminated by the electric masthead lights of the steamers.
Distances along the
canal are marked by mile-posts set up on the banks from north to south.
The project Was approved in England by Lord Palmerston and by the Governments of France, Austria, Russia, Turkey, and Egypt. The official opening took place in November, 1869.
400,000 shares in the company are held by the British Government, of which 176,602 were bought of the Khedive in 1875 at a premium of 12½ per cent. Dividends have fluctuated yearly between 5 per cent. and 17 per cent.
The voyages of full-powered steamships via the Canal to the Far East are as 100 to every 60 via the Cape. The length of the canal is 87 miles, and the average depth 26 feet.
In 1898 nearly a quarter of a million passengers were carried by the ships making use of the canal — 142,110 soldiers, 79,825 civilians, and 17,609 emigrants of the steerage class.
THE PANAMA CANAL, the object of Which is to connect the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean, though even as yet but a project, in spite of the vast sums spent upon the enterprise, bids fair to be completed before long under the control of the U.S. Government. The scheme, inaugurated by M. de Lesseps in 1879, was set on foot and work commenced in 1881, When it was estimated that the canal would be in operation in 1888. It resulted in one of the most colossal financial fiascos that the world has known. The present scheme for the completion of the canal involves a change of plan, as various locks will now be made, whereas the original idea was to carry the canal through at sea level. Its projected length is 46½ miles, and it will be from 78 feet to 189 feet wide at the top, and from 29 feet to 72 feet wide at the bottom. The estimated time that will be required for transit is 14 hours.
THE NICARAGUA CANAL is another inter-oceanic project that has got rather beyond the initial stage. Lord Nelson himself not only foresaw the utility of the plan, but actually endorsed it in the following words: —
". . . Here it is that a canal between the two seas may most easily be formed — a work more important in its consequences than any that has been effected by human power."
Such a canal, were it brought to completion, would reduce the distance by water from New York to San Francisco from 15,660 miles to less than 5,000.
In 1887 a New York company obtained a concession from Nicaragua for an inter-oceanic canal. Beginning at Greytown, the Atlantic terminus, it was intended to follow the San Juan River through Lake Nicaragua and proceed thence to Brito, the Pacific terminus. Out of the entire length, which was estimated at about 169 miles, only about 28.9 were to be constructed by actual cutting; the lake and river, at the lake level, 110 feet above the sea, would have amounted to something over 150 miles. The western outlet was to be reached at sea level by means of three locks, while the eastern entrance was estimated to require 17 locks. The canal itself was to be from 80 to 120 feet wide at the bottom, and the time required for transit 46 hours. It was estimated that about 5,000,000 tons of shipping would annually pass either through this canal or that at Panama. As an effective illustration of the value and importance of these rival projects may be instanced the case of the U.S. battleship Oregon, which took 92 days to cover the 20,306 knots between New York and Manila, at a speed of 220,6 knots per day, with a consumption of 5,417 tons of coal. By way of Nicaragua she would have accomplished the voyage in 51 days, consuming but 3,021 tons of coal — a saving of 40 days and perhaps £3,400 in the cost of coal alone. Much labour has already been spent upon the project, and the capital invested is of no insignificant figure; but the scheme appears to be stagnating at the present writing, owing to the indecision of the U.S. authorities with regard to the development of the Panama route.
BALTIC AND BLACK SEA CANAL. — This is a Russian project which, starting at Riga and ending at Kherson, will be over 1,000 miles in length. It will not of course be a canal throughout, but will follow, as far as possible, the course of the rivers Dwina, Beresina, and Dnieper.
CALEDONIAN CANAL — This well-known waterway extends across North-west Scotland, from the Atlantic to the German Ocean, a distance of 60 miles, 37 miles of which are natural waterways. It has a depth of 17 feet.
CAPE COD CANAL (U.S.). — This project, if carried through as planned, will be of inestimable value to the immense coasting trade between New York and Southern ports and Boston and the East. Since colonial days the subject has continually been brought forward before the public. It is intended to cut through Cape Cod at its narrowest part — from Buzzard's Bay to Barnstable Bay, a distance of somewhat less than eight miles, and work was actually commenced in 1886. This canal will shorten the route to Boston by some 90 miles, besides offering the great advantages derived from escaping the dangerous navigation off the cape. The canal is to be 23 feet in depth at low water and 200 feet wide. The estimated tonnage of the ships that will use it when completed exceeds 15,000,000.
CORINTH CANAL. — This canal, which connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Piræus (the Port of Athens), shortens, by some 250 miles, the course from Sicily or the Adriatic to Constantinople and the Black Sea. Though it is less than 4 miles in length, the cutting has been carried in many places through rocks 250 feet high. Its width is 72 feet at the bottom and its depth 27 feet.
ERIE CANAL (U.S.) — This canal runs for 450 miles through New York State, from Lake Erie at Buffalo, via the Hudson River, to New York. Although, strictly speaking, it is not a ship canal, it has recently attained some prominence as an alternative to the Welland Canal mentioned below. As it is now, grain boats break bulk at Buffalo and load into canal boats, their cargo being rehandled at New York.
KIEL (NORTH SEA) CANAL. — This important work, connecting the Baltic with the North Sea, was completed by the German Government on April 1, 1896. Its strategic and commercial value to Germany is un questioned. In the second year of its operation there passed through its gates 23,180 vessels (including both steam and sailing vessels), of which 20,307 were German, 847 Danish, 747 Swedish, 486 Dutch, 344 British, 159 Norwegian, 137 Russian, and which aggregated 2,469,795 tons. The estimated cost of the canal was something over £7,000,000.
MANCHESTER SHIP CANAL. — This was formally opened in 1894. The length of the canal proper, from the Mersey to the City of Manchester, is something over 35 miles. It is 26 feet deep by 120 feet wide at the bottom, and is capable of admitting vessels of 6,000 tons to the docks at Manchester, 40 miles from the sea. The cost approximated to £16,000,000. Sea-going traffic amounts to something over 1,000,000 tons per year, and the barge traffic half as much more.
NORTH HOLLAND CANAL. — This canal, which runs from Amsterdam to the Helder, was completed in 1825. It is 51 miles in length, 125 feet wide at water level, 20 feet deep, and 31 feet wide at bottom.
WELLAND CANAL. — This waterway, which runs through Canadian territory around Niagara Falls, and connects the waters of Lake Erie with those of Lake Ontario, apart from its political value, is in the first rank of commercial importance. As already constructed it is available for sea-going vessels of moderate size carrying cargoes of grain from the ports of the great North-West Territory to Europe. A difficulty is experienced further down, at its junction with the St. Lawrence River, at which point it is necessary to lighten the ship before entering the Lachine Canal (which is of no great depth) in order to pass the rapids — a fault which ought not to be hard to remedy, if this great waterway Were made the most of.