Mr. Thayer to Mr. Seward

No. 33.]

Sir: Two important conventions have lately been made between the Viceroy and the Suez Canal Company, insuring the continued support of the Egyptian government to the enterprise of establishing a navigable canal between the Mediterranean and the Red sea.

By one of them—that dated March 18, 1863—the Viceroy agrees to build, at his own expense, a portion of the company’s fresh-water canal, commencing on the Nile, at or near Cairo, and forming a junction with the rest of that canal at what is called Wady Toumilat, a distance of fifty miles. This canal will be twenty-five metres (over eighty-one feet) wide on the surface line, and even at the lowest mile, two metres (over six and a half feet) deep, so as to serve equally for alimentation and for purposes of irrigating and navigation. By the map which I send, (marked A,) the proposed line from Cairo is traced in ink. The remainder of this fresh-water canal, in the direction of Suez, is almost completed, and, it is expected, will be quite so by the coming June. I have referred to this subject in my despatches Nos. 24 and 31.

It was found that the ancient canal of Moses, of which the company’s fresh-water canal is at present a continuation, could not furnish an adequate supply for the company, hence the necessity of taking water from the highest level of Cairo.

By former conventions the company were entitled to all unoccupied lands and to such private estates as they might think necessary to purchase along the line of their works. To avoid possible difficulties in the expropriation of such lands bordering on the proposed section, the company has agreed to surrender this privilege from Cairo to the Wady, and, in return, the Viceroy undertakes to build it for them, following, in all respects, the plans of their engineers, and putting it, when finished, under their control. Such an arrangement also answers the objection said to be raised by the Porte, at the instigation of England, to the further concession of territory for French colonization.

The other convention—bearing date 20th March, 1863—recognizes, as obligatory, the debt to the company, contracted by the late Said Pacha, the balance of which, amounting to over $7,000,000, (35,150,977 francs,) the government agrees to discharge, commencing 1st January, 1864, by a regular monthly instalment of $300,000 (1,500,000 francs.)

This settlement is reported to have greatly surprised the English foreign office, whose spokesmen in Parliament and elsewhere have perseveringly asserted that the Suez company shares (177,642, of 300 francs each) taken by the late Viceroy were entirely personal, and not government liabilities, [Page 1208] and, therefore, that his successor could not consider himself bound by them. It is stated that two days after the conclusion of the two conventions a message came from the Porte, where English influence is paramount, asking that the negotiations should be suspended for further discussion; but it came too late, and the agreement cannot be broken without danger of complications with France, which has instructed its representatives here to sustain the interests of French subjects in the canal. The progress of the enterprise, therefore, may be regarded as assured.

The position of France is understood to be this: “We do not claim the right to cut a canal in the dominions of a foreign power; but the Suez canal is a work of the Egyptian government. Under the encouragement of that government French capitalists have largely invested in it; we therefore shall insist that their interests do not suffer, and that engagements made with them be fulfilled.” Of course, this being so, if the present Viceroy were to stop the work, the claims for indemnity which might be enforced by imperial authority would involve infinitely more of expense and vexation than would result from its continuance. He has, therefore, it is believed, adopted the wiser as well as the more economical policy.

It is probable that the Porte takes but little interest in the subject. The most plausible objection on its part seems to be the formidable barrier which a wide maritime canal interposes between Syria and Egypt, cutting off, in facts all land communication with its powerful dependency. This, in case of a revolt, would prove an inconvenience. But it might be answered that the ties which unite Egypt to Turkey can only be maintained by the acquiesence of the Viceroy, and by the compulsion of European governments.

Again, the establishment of an international canal ought rather to preserve than endanger the integrity of the Ottoman empire, by making it an object with the maritime powers that the control of such an important channel of commerce should not become the exclusive possession of any one of them.

* * * * * * * *

Another testimony to the practicability of the Suez maritime canal has lately been given by Mr. Hawkshaw, president of the London Society of Engineers. Towards the end of the last year this gentleman, who is, perhaps, the most eminent hydraulic engineer of Great Britain, was engaged by the late Viceroy to come from England and report impartially on the question of the canal. He accordingly made a long and laborious investigation along the line of the works on the isthmus, and has prepared a very elaborate report which will soon be published. In this report he arrives at two conclusions, viz:

1st. There is nothing in the work to be done which presents any extraordinary difficulty in execution, and no probability of any circumstance which will produce difficulties that an able engineer could not surmount.

2d. That no difficulties will be encountered to hinder the easy and effective maintenance of the work when it shall have been achieved; and that to keep it in good and working order, there will be no necessity of incurring any extraordinary or disproportionate annual expense. It is supposed that Mr. Hawkshaw’s report will dissipate the notion of the impracticability of the canal—a notion founded on the opinion of Mr. Robert Stephenson, who had never seen the isthmus, and who, though eminent in railway enterprises, was, unlike Mr. Hawkshaw, no authority in regard to canals and hydraulic engineering.

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


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