Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

6

ject before us. To benefit the Turkish Government, to open up the country, or to absorb existing traffic, may be very desirable. . But if all such objects are secondary, as in very truth must be the case, to the construction of the best mail route from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, we are at once limited to the investigation of the best line to be selected on the right bank of the Euphrates.

As to this, we fully endorse the language of the draft report prepared by Sir G. Jenkinson, to the following effect. * The great object to be sought in selecting the route for the

proposed railway, as far as the interests of England and India * are concerned, are, speed, the shortest distance, the easiest • and most level line of country, and especially the cheapest • line as to construction, with, of course, a due regard to effi'ciency. The evidence laid before the committee tends to show • beyond a doubt that the line of the right bank of the Euphrates 'combines all these points in the highest degree. The committee are less decided in the expression of their views, but they recommend that, if any steps are to be taken towards the construction of a line, the two governments (those of her Majesty and of the Sultan) should jointly undertake a survey for the ' purpose of deciding upon the precise route to be adopted.' There is something almost comic in the idea of a joint survey conducted by Englishmen and by Turks, nor is it at all probable that the association of the latter in this part of the task would have any other effect than that of causing vexatious and interminable delay. No council of practical men, or of men who know what surveying is, could propose such a scheme as a 'joint survey.

Sir Henry Tyler, whose acquaintance with English railways is unquestionable, was of opinion that it would be necessary to have detailed information as to all the routes which had been proposed, and that several trial lines must be run, and information obtained as to all the routes, before a satisfactory conclusion could be attained. The cost of this survey was estimated by Sir Henry Tyler at 50,0001., or 40 per cent. more than the cost of the expedition under Colonel Chesney, which not only surveyed the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, but carried two steamers overland from the Bay of Antioch to the Euphrates for a distance of 140 miles as the crow flies, and put them together on the latter river.

We trust, however, that we have shown that the information which it is now required to collect lies more compactly together than to require such a formidable survey. The route on the left bank of the Tigris is, according to Captain Felix Jones,

who surveyed, between 1846 and 1855, nearly every portion of Mesopotamia from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, 300 miles longer than that on the right bank of the Euphrates. For a line between the two rivers the engineering difficulties are of a very formidable character, including great bridges where no foundations are to be reached for a considerable depth, frequent inundations, and marshy land. Nor does there appear to be any single advantage offered by this difficult line. The distance from the Mediterranean to Koweit, which all the evidence denotes to be the proper terminus on the Persian Gulf, is 934 miles. It is out of the question to suggest that a line of 1,200 miles, the works of which would be at least twice as costly as those of the shorter one for the greater part of its length, can be seriously compared with the Euphrates right bank route.

The 934 miles thus indicated measure a line running from Seleucia, on the right bank of the Orontes, past Antioch, thence across the country to Aleppo, and on to the bank of the Euphrates at Balis or Beles, the spot where the expedition of Cyrus first struck upon the great river. The length of this portion of the line is 150 miles, and it is in this district that the most careful part of the survey would have to be effected, as the levels of the country are but partially known, and very great difference in expense would depend on the selection of the best route, as matter of detail. À line of levels was run across this country from Amelia Depot, on the Bay of Antioch, to Port William, on the Euphrates, by Lieutenant Murphy, R.E., and completed by Mr. Taylor Thompson. This line is indicated on Colonel Chesney's map as straight. It was 140 miles long, bearing in a north-easterly direction. It is not evident why a straight line was taken instead of an effort being made to seek practicable levels. On the line actually run a summit level of some 1,900 feet above the Mediterranean is attained about halfway, near Azaz, which is 24 miles north-east of Aleppo. The level of the Euphrates at Port William is 628 feet above the Mediterranean. Aleppo, according to M. Rolin, is 1,250 feet above the sea level, and situated on a table-land. The best access to this plain from

. that of the Amk, on the north of the Orontes, is the first problem for the solution of the surveyor. The survey of Mr. Telford Macneill, so far as indicated by the evidence, was for a line from Scanderoon to Aleppo. His data do not throw very much light on the features of a line from the mouth of the Orontes to that city, which, so far as maps go, would seem to be both somewhat shorter, and very far more practicable, than a line through the formidable Beilan Pass.

As to the cost of the necessary surveys, we are happy to be able to show, from actual experience, that a very careful and accurate survey of an eastern country, including not only such observations as are needful for selecting a district, but ample data for the production of a map on the Ordnance scale of an inch to a mile, has been recently completed by officers of the Royal Engineers. The field work of the Ordnance Survey of Palestine was arranged and carried through by Lieutenant Conder, R.E., at the low cost of one penny an acre, or 21. 133. 4d. per square mile. At this cost the whole line from Seleucia to Koweit might be surveyed, including a sketch of the country for a mile in width on each side of the line, for 5,0001. It is thus pretty clear that for some 6,0001. to 7,0001. the country may be put in possession not only of the engineering details on which the determination of the exact line of route must depend, but of sufficient information to contract for the execution of the entire line, including the necessary harbour work at Seleucia, and the jetties and warehouses at Koweit.

Even while awaiting this not very costly survey, however, it is possible to approach within a very reasonable margin of the engineering cost of the line. All the competent witnesses agree that the only difficulties, worth the name, occur between Aleppo and the Mediterranean. In fact the term engineering difficulty must disappear with the abandonment-as to which we hope that we have left no serious question possible-of Scanderoon Bay as a terminus. As to the final choice of Seleucia, or some other spot in the immediate vicinity, we may be content to wait for the exact details.

The experience attained on the construction of our Indian railways is here, to some extent, available. The construction of the Punjab line was attended by far more serious physical difficulties than appear likely to stand in the way of the Euphrates constructors. The gauge of the Indian line is 66 inches; that of the Euphrates line will be 56} inches. The river affords means of transport for the heavy materials required to within slight distance of the greater part of the Mesopotamian line. In the Punjab line no such facilities existed, and the cost of transport of the materials was very heavy. Yet the Punjab railway complete, including telegraph, stations, and rolling stock, and a magnificent terminus at Lahore, cost only 10,0001. per mile.

Over work executed with the solidity and excellence for which such a price as we have indicated would provide, there could be no engineering difficulty in carrying mails or even troops from Seleucia to Koweit in 24 hours. We might with confidence name a shorter period, but are keeping 25 per cent. under the fast passenger speed of several of our English trunk lines. Taking, then, Sir Henry Tyler's figures of 64 hours from London to Brindisi, of 108 hours (at 10 knots per hour) from Brindisi to Seleucia, of 24 hours thence to Koweit, and of 153 hours from Koweit to Bombay, we touch the latter port in 349 hours from London. If Kurrachee be taken as the Indian port, the time of transit is reduced to 307 hours, or 12 days 19 hours. This is to be compared, still making use of the Brindisi route, with a transport of 451 hours to Bombay, extended to at least 500 hours during the monsoon, or of 435 hours to Kurrachee; showing a gain of either 4 days 9 hours, or 6 days 10 hours, to the former port, and of 5 days 11 hours to the latter. The question then is: What is it worth the while of Great Britain to expend in order to reduce the length of the journey between England and India by five days, or by 35 per cent. of the interval, measured in time, that now separates them ?

It would be little short of an affront to the good sense of our readers to enter upon any formal argument as to the national importance of a gain of time of this nature in our communications with India. No one who knows what foreign travel, especially in the East, is; no one who knows what are the rules and the most pressing needs of war; no one who knows what are the means by which nations become powerful or remain rich, will feel either doubtful or indifferent as to the primary importance of the Euphrates line of railway. The more fully the witnesses who gave evidence before the committee of 1872 were personally familiar with the subject of the enquiry, the more direct and weighty, with but unimportant exceptions, was their testimony.

Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe stated that he concurred in the following opinion, which is given in the language of Consul-General Herbert :

"I was in command of a regiment of native troops during the whole time of that rebellion (of 1857), and well do I remember the intense interest with which was read the shipping list, to learn what vessels were bringing troops. Had the proposed railway through this country then existed, these troops could have been thrown into the country in a few weeks—I may almost say days. T insurrection would have been at once put down, and the vast expenditure of life and property would have been saved. The question now before the committee of

[ocr errors]

the House of Commons affords an opportunity of providing against future misfortunes of a similar nature, such as may arise from entries either within or without our Indian possessions, and it would be a mistake to suppose that we are altogether safe from both or from either of these. The Suez Canal is of great importance with reference to this contingency, but it can never supply to England and India the place of this railway.'

Lord Strathnairn, who not only held the high appointment of Commander-in-Chief in India, but had experience as Consul-General at Beirut, is not less decided in his testimony. As to the hypothesis that any future emergency in India was impossible, or that, in such case, the Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in India would have such means at their disposal that they need not seek for aid from home, he replied: That would be assigning a limit to human events • which I never heard of before. It was as judging by the past that this general expressed the opinion that a gain of six or seven days in the transit not only might be material as having reference to the maintenance of our empire, but as to the "saving an indefinite amount of human lives and treasure.' Of the strategical advantage in allowing a more rapid concentration of troops, Lord Strathnairn spoke as to both its military and its political importance. Attack by a foreign power, European or otherwise, would be deterred by the knowledge of the existence of that strategical line. “Every

foreign power has a section of a department allotted to obser

vation and to gaining information respecting all new lines of • railway, canal, or any means of transport whatever. One

of the first questions is to consider the means of communi“cation.'

Sir Bartle Frere, appealed to as an Indian statesman,' had * not the slightest hesitation’in saying that the construction of the Euphrates railway, connecting the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf, would have a most important influence on our trade and on the course of policy of the East. of opinion that if we wait till Russia has developed her rail

way system, as she is rapidly doing, we shall be caught ' napping if we do nothing in the counter direction to divert

the trade. As to the commercial advantages presented by the line we shall speak by-and-by. But as to the question of the supply of grain from the exhaustless grain-producing districts which would be opened and brought under cultivation by this line, on the recurrence of any Indian famine, Sir Bartle Frere gave the outcome of his own experience. The statements of these three public men are undervalued by being

6

[ocr errors]

He was

[ocr errors]

6

« AnteriorContinuar »