Mr. Thayer to Mr. Seward

No. 25.]

Sir: The celebration of the entrance of the waters of the Mediterranean, through the provisional isthmus canal into Lake Timsah, (alluded to in my last despatch,) took place on the 18th instant, in presence of a very large concourse of people, including the Arab laborers on the canal. Mr. de Lesseps, at 10 o’clock in the morning, gave the word of admission, in the name and by the permission of his Highness, said Pacha, Viceroy of Egypt, and the stream from the sea at once poured itself in the basin of Lake Timsah, half way across the isthmus of Suez. A Te Deum was sung in the Catholic church, and thanksgiving services were held by the Arabs in the mosque. Dinner followed, at which 350 guests were present, and the evening was commemorated by fireworks, illuminations, and a ball. Excursions about the neighborhood were made by the company, some on horseback, and some in vehicles, each drawn by six dromedaries. The proceedings are believed to have been highly satisfactory to all parties.

Next month, it is expected, the new station line of steamers between Ancona and Alexandria will be in operation, so that we shall have by it an arrival and a departure every fortnight. The steamers, which are large and luxuriously appointed, are nearly finished in England. The passage between Egypt and Europe will in this way be reduced to three days and a half. When the railway shall be constructed from Ancona to Otranto, the Italian terminus of the line will be at the latter port, so that only three days will be required. As Ancona is by rail but eighteen hours from Turin, via Milan, this route promises to be the shortest and most popular of all between western Europe and Egypt.

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The French Messageries have, since the 20th of October, added to their line two steamers a month, making one a week. The boats of this company alternate, touching in the voyage between here and Marseilles, one week at Messina, and the next at Malta. This company last month started their monthly line between Suez and India. This is the commencement of a rivalry with the English P. & O. Company’s weekly line on the same route.

The other principal lines between here and Europe over the P. & O. Company’s weekly line, with a terminus at Southampton; its other weekly line, with a terminus at Marseilles, and the weekly Austrian Lloyds terminating at Trieste. The passage by this last requires but five days, and is the shortest at present existing.

Add to these the six lines of merchant steamers, intended primarily for freight, but accommodating passengers, viz: four between here and England, and two between here and France, and it may be said that we have at least an arrival from and a departure to Europe of a commercial steamer every day.

There are also three lines between here and Constantinople, the steamers of which come and go once a fortnight, touching at Smyrna and along the coast of Syria, namely, the Austrian Lloyds, the Russian Company’s, and the French Messageries. Besides these, is the more direct line (once a fortnight) of the Austrian, which touches at Smyrna, Athens, and the Ionian isles, without visiting Syria in the journey between here and Constantinople.

These facts, with others, such as the projected railway of 600 miles to Berenice, (mentioned in my despatch No. 23,) indicate the increasing commercial importance of Egypt.

The proposed re-establishment of the port of Berenice, on the Red sea, is worthy of remark. The city was anciently founded by Ptolemy Philadelphus, as the emporium of European trade with India, and continued such for centuries, until the diversion of commerce by the discovery of the passage by the Cape of Good Hope. The ruins of its past greatness still attract the notice of travellers. History tells us it was through Berenice that the Romans imported annually from India merchandise which cost them two millions of dollars, and which they sold in Europe for a hundred times that amount.

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


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