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Under the former head rank the descriptions of the country to be traversed; of the physical obstacles and facilities; of the distances and corresponding time to be occupied in transit; of the population; and of the actual traffic carried on either over or parallel to different portions of the several lines. Under the latter rank those considerations as to the value of a given acceleration in the communication between this country and India, as to which, although the views of Indian statesmen and soldiers will be received with due respect, everyone is able more or less distinctly to form some opinion of his own. It may be the case that it was the idea of the committee that, on this score, the country would form a tolerably unanimous opinion, and that their own functions would be best performed by merely recording the evidence brought before them.
As to matters of direct evidence the committee reported that the amount of time which might be saved in the transmission of mails from England to Bombay is estimated by different witnesses at from four to eight days; the difference, of course, being mainly dependent on the determination of the line for the railway. Further, they think that the sum of 10,000,000l. would be ample to cover the expense of the shortest route. They say the Euphrates route is considerably the shorter, and would be the cheaper to make,' and that, if the enterprise were to be regarded simply as one affecting 'British interests, one of the two routes by the way of the Euphrates should be preferred.' When these distinct points are brought together, it seems that a real unanimity on the part of the committee exists as to the main points in question. They leave it to the House of Commons or to the country to decide whether it is worth while to incur the risk of an expenditure of about 225,00Cl. per annum (allowing for comprehensive surveys) for the sake of accelerating the present mail passage to India by nearly one-third of the time actually occupied. They point out that if we regard our own interests alone-in fact, if we decide on this acceleration-we shall follow the course of the Euphrates. And while they are inclined_to_prefer the port of Grane,' or Koweit, on the Persian Gulf, as the eastern terminus of the railway, they suggest the desirableness of further surveys for the determination of the details of the route. The wisdom of this recommendation is not impeached by the fact, to which we shall presently call attention, that the completion of a thoroughly adequate survey is a much less difficult and costly affair than the committee were led to understand would be the case.
To one point, and that one of such general interest that the
exception is striking, neither the report of the committee nor the draft report of Sir G. Jenkinson has directed attention. That point relates to the fertility or fertilisable nature, and also to the sanitary conditions, of the country through which lies the shortest route. Of the unhealthy nature of Alexandretta, indeed, evidence of the most positive character is forthcoming. And with regard to the selection of the eastern terminus of the railway the evidence of Captain Felix Jones may be regarded as tolerably conclusive. This officer served 37 years in India. He was on the surveys of the Red Sea, the Maldive Islands, Ceylon, and the Gulf of Manaar, and afterwards surveyed Mesopotamia, ending with being political resident at Bushire. Between 1840 and 1855 he surveyed nearly every portion of Mesopotamia from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. It is clear that it is out of the question to put the opinions of non-professional men in the scales with the definite testimony of this well-informed surveyor. Captain Felix Jones says, with regard to Mohammara, one of the spots which the advocates of a Tigris line propose for a port:
'It is decidedly not suitable in any way as a port for a railway terminus. It lies in the centre of the delta of three vast rivers, so that it is generally a perfect swamp; or it is so cut up with watercourses and great rivers flowing in its immediate neighbourhood, that to build a railway there would be an absurd thing. The country is all alluvial, and even where there is no water on the surface, by, tapping it for a foot you would get water. . . . Bassora is extremely unhealthy; it lies in the midst of marshes, and in fact it has almost become depopulated from its unhealthiness. The same remark applies to all spots within the delta of the rivers.'
On the other hand Captain Jones says of Koweit, or Grane: It is capable of holding the whole British fleet. It is a very 'fine harbour indeed. Very healthy, comparatively speaking, ' with all the rest of the neighbourhood. . . I have no doubt that good water could be obtained by sinking for it. . . . I 'went to Grane myself, especially to report to Government on the subject.' Captain Jones' evidence is so fully in accordance with all that is known as to the impracticability of attempts to construct permanent ports in the deltas of great rivers that the committee might have been justified in somewhat decisively cutting the thread of much useless discussion by giving more prominence than they have done to points thus clearly established.
There remains, however, a question of no minor importance with regard to the admitted decline of population in the district on the banks of the Euphrates. There are parts of
'Asia Minor,' says the author of 'Man and Nature,' 'where 'the operation of causes set in motion by man has brought the face of the earth to a desolation almost as complete as that of the moon; and though, within that brief space of time ' which we call the historical period, they are known to have been covered with luxuriant woods, verdant pastures, and ' fertile meadows, they are now too far deteriorated to be re' claimable by man; nor can they become again fitted for human use except by great geological changes, or other mysterious influences or agencies of which we have no present knowledge.' Without going quite so far as Mr. Marsh in fixing the limits to the field of human industry, we must remember that a belt of utter desert does undoubtedly divide the valley of the Euphrates from the once regal metropolis of Palmyra. Along the old roads, Roman and yet older than Rome, traversing the plain of Bashan past Bosrah and Salcah, branching to Palmyra, to Basrah, and down the Wadi Sirhan, are the remains of numerous towns, and the traces of careful cultivation. How far the actual encroachment of the desert on these regions is or is not remediable, may be an open question. But along the line which edges the Euphrates valley just above the level of the floods, where the river in ancient times touched, before it made a bed for itself, the country is very cultivable if water is got to it. General Chesney and Captain Jones, after careful survey, speak unhesitatingly to this effect. We shall cite a few details from the narrative of the former. But in the meantime it should be borne in mind that we have this direct and positive testimony as to the ease with which lands now very sparsely inhabited may be regained to civilisation.
Recent events in the East have given new significance to the question: What is the natural line of intercourse that should connect England with India? Our old ocean highway by the Cape has been so far thrown into the background by the piercing of the Isthmus of Suez, that there is even a question how far it may be regarded, for military purposes, as an alternative route. The stoppage of the Suez Canal, if only a temporary inconvenience, is one of those events which cannot be regarded as impossible. Thus the question has come to the fore with considerable aptness: Is it advisable for Great Britain to provide herself with an alternative route to India, independent of the Canal and of the long sea voyage? and, if so, in what direction, and at what cost?' As the two latter questions must, to some extent, be solved before the first can be decided, it will now be our endeavour to ascertain how
much is really known as to the conditions of a railway line through Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia.
The difficulty in the way of a full investigation of the question is not so much the want of material as our wish to avoid fatiguing the reader by too much detail. One of the chief and most ancient highways of the world has undergone a change somewhat similar to that which was effected in the communications of this country, first by the introduction of canals, and secondly by that of railways. For a journey of a thousand miles the camel and the ass cannot compete with even the rudest and simplest mode of water carriage. The plains of Arabia are still traversed by the great Haj routes, and a passenger traffic, counted by hundreds of thousands, intersects at stated times what are otherwise pathless solitudes. But the steam navigation of the Tigris from Bagdad, and the sea communication so recently made possible from Scanderoon or Beirut to Bushire, and so into Mesopotamia, have reduced, within the memory of man, the number of camels that formerly plied along portions of the route in question by thousands. Under the withering blight of the misgovernment of a fatalistic race, the population has faded from the old cradle of mankind. Remains of ancient canals and derivations, in the rich soil between the two great rivers of Mesopotamia, are now veiled by pestilential swamps-water, the source of life and fertility when reduced to the service of man, becoming of animal life when allowed by neglect to assume the mastery. The causes which have led to the disuse and abandonment of the great Euphratean route are clear and palpable. They are such, in part, as have within the past halfcentury wrought such marvellous changes on the face of civilised Europe. They are such, again in part, as have been, since the Turanian race first obliterated the civilisation which Greek kings and Roman procurators introduced into Asia, steadily exterminating population, and reducing great cities and fertile districts to be the habitation of the dragon and the owl.
But with the advance made by mechanical science, and chiefly in consequence of that great invention which, while it has given us certitude and punctuality in navigation, has given us for land transport a fourfold velocity as compared with any yet conceived to be possible by water, one of the great causes of this diversion of traffic has ceased. And the fact has become evident that the main highway for the most rapid communication between England and India runs along that which, in the times of Alexander and of Cyrus, was the main high
road of the East-if, indeed, from the density of its population, it should not rather have been called the main high street of the world. As in every newly settled country the first want is that of roads, so is it now the case in Arabia. All that is needed is the construction of a road-not a track for a camel, which cannot compete with a beat, far less with a steamboatbut a track for the iron horse, which makes nothing of a load that would have crushed the elephants of the great king, and which laughs at the speed of the Parthian or the Arab horseman. This road has but to be made-as sooner or later there is no doubt that it will be made-to command not only a steadily augmenting passenger traffic, but also the transport of all such goods as, by reason of their small bulk and high value, pay rather for speed than for undisturbed continuity of transport.
The Czar of Russia is said to have prescribed the course which was to be followed by the engineers of a Russian railway by the simple method of laying down a ruler on a map, and drawing a straight line from point to point. In projecting a line of communication between London and Bombay, or any other Indian port, the idea of following the line in which the crow flies must meet with very serious modification. Whatever may be said as to the requirements of political geography, the main features of physical geography must, in the first instance, receive due and well-balanced attention. Any line which is worth practical notice must be either wholly or partially by sea. If the latter, the selection of ports and the cost and method of transhipment become matters of primary importance. In the comparisons which were made by the witnesses before the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1872 between the sums, in distance and in time, of the different routes proposed from London to Bombay, it was assumed that the Brindisi route would invariably be taken. By this assumption, however, an incomplete view of the question was laid before the committee. For the facility of despatch without the inconvenience of intermediate transhipment is abandoned by the use of the Brindisi route.
In enquiring as to the best mode of communication between Great Britain and India, it must be borne in mind that, both as regards expense and convenience, we must provide for two kinds of traffic. For mails and for light passenger traffic, the shortest route and the most rapid rate of travelling are far more important elements than the avoiding of repeated transhipments. But for the transport of heavy stores, guns, and military forces when no emergency is pressing, the method,