Mr. Thayer to Mr. Seward

No 24.]

Sir: I am informed by an intelligent proprietor, who claims to have made a careful and accurate reckoning, that the yield of cotton in Egypt next year, if the command of the Viceroy to plant one-fourth of the cultivated land with that product is carried out, cannot be less than two-thirds greater than in any previous season, and that it will amount to three million cantars, or about six hundred thousand American bales. It is commonly asserted that Egypt could supply a million bales a year, if its capacity were fully tested, and that, too, without serious displacement of the grain and other [Page 1195] staple crops. The governor (mayor) of Alexandria, himself a large cotton-planter, tells me that a few Americans, experienced in the raising and preparation of cotton, would be of signal service in teaching the native cultivators here.

The telegraph news, which came on the 10th, of the President’s order to facilitate the export of cotton from New Orleans, caused an immediate fall in the Egyptian article of two cents on the pound. A few speculators on the exchange expressed themselves highly incensed at the order, as well as at the proclamation of emancipation. Both of these measures, though cordially approved by the less interested classes, they consider as tending towards the end of the war, which, however calamitous elsewhere, has not been without its compensations to them. There is scarcely one of them, it is believed, who has not doubled or tripled his capital during the past summer, and the sudden influx of wealth in the community is apparent, as it was at the time of the Crimean war, in the unusual number of new buildings, and in other signs of enterprise and prosperity.

The principal difficulty in fulfilling the Viceroy’s command is said to be the withdrawal, by the government’s direction, of labor to the works on the canal of the isthmus of Suez, which have lately required an average of from 20,000 to 30,000 hands. The places of those who are taken from the plantations may, it is true, be supplied by those who have served their time on the canal, but, unhappily, the latter are by no means so efficient on the cotton field as their more skilled predecessors.

This drain, however, on the already insufficient labor of the country is not likely to be long continued. The canal company are now importing from Europe twenty steam excavating machines of immense power, which it is expected will finish the great ship canal between the seas in three or four years, with the employment of but from one thousand to two thousand men. This estimate is derived from the surveys and measurements of engineers. The proposed canal will have a width of 65 metres (213½ feet,) and a depth of 8 metres, (about 26¼ feet.) The entire length from Port Said, on the Mediterranean, to Suez, on the Red sea, will be 931/5 miles.

Thus far, besides their ample canals of Nile water for the fertilization of their lands, the company have been engaged in digging a small canal, called la rigole de service, on the route of the proposed large one. It is now more than half finished, extending from the Mediterranean to Lake Tirasah, with a width of twelve metres (about 391/3 feet) and a depth of one metre and three-fifths, (about 5¼ feet.) The remainder will be built in ten months. The waters of the Mediterranean, to the completed portion of the canal of service, in a few days, and it is expected the occasion will be marked by a festive commemoration, in presence of the Viceroy, Mr. de Lesseps, (the energetic projector,) Sir Henry Bulwer, British ambassador at Constantinople, and other official guests.

One advantage of the small canal will consist in the facilities it will afford in bringing from the quarries on the isthmus the stone needed for building the pier at Port Said, a material heretofore brought from the distant and inferior quarries of Alexandria. Returning from Port Said the boats can be reloaded with coal for the steam-engines employed in excavation. When this small canal shall have been finished to Suez, it will be useful in supplying coals to the numerous steamers of the Peninsular and Oriental and French Messageries companies which ply between that port and India. At present these companies have all their coals brought from England, in sailing vessels, around the Cape of Good Hope, or else by railway across Egypt, at an expense of 27 shillings a ton. The estimated expense of transportation from the Mediterranean over the canal is but eleven shillings a ton, a very material saving.

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During the period of favorable winds, it is hoped by this route to ship cotton from India, thus avoiding the passage of the Cape of Good Hope, and saving at least 5,000 miles. But since, even at the best season, the rocky and narrow channel of the Red sea is a dangerous one for sailing vessels, Mr. de Lesseps relies greatly on the increased use of the screw as an adjunct to the sail in vessels designed for the India trade. With the existing demand for cotton, and at existing high prices; a practicable canal across the Isthmus would certainly be of vast utility in expediting the great staple to the markets of the world.

The practicability of building a sufficient harbor at Port Said, and of resisting the encroachments of the desert sands on the channel of the canal, appears to be generally conceded. Even the most unfriendly critics do not deny it so unhesitatingly as formerly. The panic of danger to British possessions in India, from the increased proximity of France, has subsided. The objection most often repeated is implied in the question, will it pay? The shareholders, it is stated, are the Viceroy and a multitude of small capitalists in Europe, principally French. With his Highness, who has been interested in the project from the beginning, it is a matter of personal pride that it should succeed, and it will not probably fail from any want of support on his part. The works on the isthmus have now almost become one of the regular and necessary sights for the tourist in Egypt.

The Viceroy is building three naval steamers in England; one of them is a large iron-clad frigate, intended as a present to the Sultan, who has ordered three more frigates of the same kind on his own account. I may mention here that the news of the achievments of the Monitor is alleged (I cannot say how truly) to have occasioned the breaking up of a business house which was founded here for the purpose of fulfilling orders for Sicilian oak for the dock-yards of the British navy; whether its contracts were cancelled in prospect of the new age of iron, I am not informed.

About two weeks ago the annual pilgrimage of foreign tourists in Egypt began. Five dahabeahs, or travellers’ boats, went up the Nile, the first of the season. But four Americans have as yet arrived.

I have neglected to mention that the oldest protégé of the United States in Egypt died at Cairo on the 9th of July of this year. His name was Mohammed Habbat. He was nephew of Hamet Caramalli, ex-Pacha of Tripoli, whom he accompanied on the famous joint expedition of Arabs and American marines under General Eaton, which, in 1805, marched from Egypt across the desert of Barca and captured Derna, (see American State Papers, vol. II, also Life of General Eaton.) In recognition of the services of Hamet Pacha, he and his family and suite, numbering about 50 persons, received at the time papers of American protection, but, notwithstanding his urgent petition, Congress was never induced to reward him in any other way; and 50 years later this Mohammed Habat, then an old man in great poverty, came from Cairo to Washington to supplicate in vain for what he considered our debt to the remnant of his uncle’s descendants. The venerable mussulman, though he left but little property, thought it necessary to leave a will, “in accordance,” (so says the concluding sentence) “with the word of the Prophet which declares, he who makes his will dies in the grace of God.” A wife and one child, a son of about forty, survive him.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.