December 1869. The Suez canal opens

Man-made waterway provides super shortcut

this week in1869

140 years after its construction, the Suez remains one of the most impressive and important thoroughfares on the planet. And The Engineer announced its opening in a suitably triumphant tone. ‘The Suez Canal has been blessed; the Suez Canal has been opened; the Suez Canal is a constructive success.

‘I write now in quiet, that is to say comparative quiet,’ wrote our correspondent. ‘Notwithstanding the Babel around me, the shouting, the music, etc, I consider myself in perfect peace, compared with the uproar and excitement to which we have lately been subjected. I suppose more gunpowder has been burned within the last eight and 40 hours than was ever burned before in salute-firing.’

The hullabaloo soon gave way to nervousness as the first ships entered the canal. ‘The great day dawned anxiously,’ the article continued, ‘we
saw steamers, one after another, slowly enter the canal until far, far away to the horizon we could trace a long line of craft slowly wending their way…’

The opening of the canal was not without teething problems and a number of ships ran aground, but this didn’t dampen The Engineer’s enthusiasm for the project. ‘As I conclude this letter,’ wrote the magazine’s correspondent, ‘I am looking upon the waters of Lake Timseh, in the midst of the land of Goshen. A few months ago it was dry… now it forms a magnificent sheet of salt water — an inland sea. And on its calm bosom lies over 40 ships… 40 ships in the midst of the desert — in the barren and dry land where no water was! Verily engineers can work
wonders with this little earth of ours!’