Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/February 1888/Progress at Panama

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

declared, that such researches led to infidelity and atheism, and are "nothing less than to depose the Almighty Creator of the universe from his office." The poet Cowper, one of the mildest of men, was also roused by these dangers, and in his most elaborate poem wrote; "Some drill and bore

The solid earth, and from the strata there

Extract a register, by -which we learn

That he who made it, and revealed its date

To Moses, was mistaken in its age! "

Howard summoned England to oppose " those scientific systems which are calculated to tear up in the public mind every remaining attachment to Christianity." *

"While this great attack upon geological science by means of the dogma of Adam's fall was kept up, the more general attack by the literal interpretation of the text was continued. The legendary husks and rinds of our sacred books were insisted upon as equally precious and nutritious with the great moral and religious truths which they envelop. Especially precious were the six days—each "the evening and the morning"—and the exact statements as to the time when each part of creation came into being. To save these the struggle became more and more desperate.

Difficult as it is to realize it now, within the memory of many now living the battle was still raging most fiercely in England, and both kinds of artillery usually brought against a new science were in full play, and filling the civilized world with their roar.

About forty years ago, the Rev. J. Mellor Bro-svn, the Rev. Henry Cole, and others, were hurling at all geologists alike, and especially at such Christian divines as Dr. Buckland and Dean Conybeare and Pye Smith, and such religious scholars as Professor Sedgwick, the epithets of "infidel," "impugner of the sacred record," and "assailant of the volume of God." f

The favorite weapon of the orthodox party was the charge that the geologists were "attacking the truth of God." They declared geology "not a subject of lawful inquiry," denouncing it as "a dark art," as "dangerous and disreputable," as "a forbidden province," as "infernal artillery," and as "an awful evasion of the testimony of revelation." %

This attempt to scare men from the science having failed, various other means were taken. To say nothing about England, it is humili- ating to human nature to remember the annoyances, and even trials, to which the pettiest and narrowest of men subjected such Christian scholars in our own country as Benjamin Silliman and Edward Hitch- cock and Louis Agassiz.

But it is a duty and a pleasure to state here that one great Chris-

  • See Lyell, "Introduction."

f For these citations, see Lyell, "Principles of Geology," introduction.

X See Pye Smith, D. D., "Geology and Scripture," pp. 156, 157, 168, 169. tian scholar did honor to religion and to himself by quietly accepting the claims of science and making the best of them, despite all these clamors. That man was Nicholas Wiseman, better known afterward as Cardinal Wiseman. The conduct of this pillar of the Roman Catholic Church contrasts admirably with that of timid Protestants, who were filling England with shrieks and denunciations.*

And here let me note that one of the most interesting skirmishes in this war was made in New England. Professor Stuart, of Andover, justly honored as a Hebrew scholar, declared that to speak of six periods of time for the creation was flying in the face of Scripture; that Genesis expressly speaks of six days, each made up of "the even- ing and the morning," and not six periods of time.

To him replied a professor in Yale College, James Kingsley. In an article admirable for keen wit and kindly temper, he showed that Genesis speaks just as clearly of a solid firmament as of six ordinary days, and that, if Professor Stuart had got over one difiiculty and ac- cepted the Copernican theory, he might as well get over another and accept the revelations of geology. The encounter was quick and decisive, and the victory was with science and our own honored Yale.f

But perhaps the most singular attempt against geology was made by a fine specimen of the English Don—Dean Cockburn, of York—to scold its champions out of the field. Having no adequate knowledge of geology, he opened a battery of abuse. He gave it to the world at large by pulpit and press; he even inflcited it upon leading statesmen by private letters.^ From his pulpit in York Minster, Mary Somer- ville was denounced coarsely, by name, for those studies in physical geograjihy which have made her honored throughout the world.*

But these weapons did not succeed; they were like Chinese gongs and dragon-lanterns against rifled cannon, and we are now to look at a very different chapter in this war. This chapter will form the next subject of our study.

  • Wiseman, "Twelve Lectures on the Connection between Science and Revealed Re-

ligion," first American edition. New York, 1837. As to the comparative severity of the struggle regardifig astronomy, geology, etc., in Catholic and Protestant countries, see Lecky, "England in the Eighteenth Century," chap, ix, p. 525.

f See "Silliman's Journal," vol. xxx, p. 114.

X Professor Goldwin Smith informs me that the papers of Sir Robert Peel, yet unpub- lished, contain very curious specimens of these epistles.

  • See "Personal Recollections of Mary Somervillc," Boston, 18T4, pp. 139 and 3V5.

Compare with any statement of his rehgious views that Dean Cockburn was able to make, the following from Mrs. Somerville: "Xothing has aflForded me so convincing a proof of the Deity as these purely mental conceptions of numerical and mathematical science which have been, by slow degrees, vouchsafed to man—and are still granted in these lat- ter times by the differential calculus, now superseded by the higher algebra—all of which must have existed in that sublimely omniscient mind from eternity." (See "Personal

Recollections," pp. 140, 141.)

ON the 6th of last March the United States steamer Galena reached Aspinwall after a cruise in the Windward and the Leeward Islands. Before her departure from Norfolk in January, I was directed by the Navy Department to visit the works of the canal upon our arrival at Aspinwall. M. Charles de Lesseps, accompanied by M, Romaire, his secretary, M. Cottu, administrator of the canal, and by other officials from the general office in Paris, with M. Jacquier, director-general of the works, were then occupying the handsome residence in the French quarter of Aspinwall, that is usually assigned to the president of the company during his visits to the Isthmus. They had arrived from France five days before the Galena from the Spanish Main, and were to inspect the canal and arrange with the contractors for the future progress of the works. On the 9th I called upon M. de Lesseps and the director-general, stated my instructions from the Navy Department, and requested permission to visit the canal and to obtain from the contractors full information concerning their respective fields of work. My reception by these gentlemen was most cordial, and was appreciated particularly as an extension of hospitality and civility to an officer of the United States Navy. M. de Lesseps assented readily to my request, assuring me that there was nothing to conceal, and that it was the wish of the company that our Government should know the exact condition of the works and their prospects of completion. He also invited me to accompany him as his guest during his tour of inspection. On reporting the result of my visit to Commander Colby M. Chester, commanding the Galena, I was permitted to accept the invitation so kindly extended.

M. de Lesseps had inspected the 17 kilometres of canal open to water, and on the 10th I proceeded with him by special train to Bohio-Soldado, reserving my visit to the sections of Colon and Gatun for a later date. The inspection thus begun lasted nearly three weeks. I saw every foot of the canal, including the dam at Gamboa and the deflections of the Chagres and the Rio Grande.

Its length from Colon to the Isle of Naos, near Panama, will be 74 kilometres; its width at the surface will be 40 metres, and at the bottom 22 metres; its depth will be 9 metres. The line of works is separated into five divisions, the first of which is 26·35 kilometres in length, and comprises the sections of Colon, Gatun, and Bohio-Soldado. It is under the control of the American Contracting and Dredging Company, which owns a capital of $2,000,000. Mr. H. B. Slaven is president of the company, and Mr. M. A. Slaven general manager on the Isthmus. Messrs, Vignaud, Barbaud, Blanleuil & Co. have the second division, which includes the Tavernilla, San Pablo, Gorgona, and Matachin sections, and is 17*G5 kilometres long. They have built several railways in France, and are experienced in the construction of internal canals. The third falls to the Societe de Travaux Publics et Constructions, which has a capital of $600,000, and is known in France and Brazil for successful railway work; it consists of the sections of Obispo and Emperador, and is 9'6 kilometres long. The fourth, or sec- tion of Culebra, extends over 3*4 kilometres, and is controlled by the young and energetic firm of Artigue, Sonderegger & Co.; and Messrs. Baratoux, Letellier & Co. have agreed to open the last division to the waters of the Pacific within the next two years. It is IT kilometres long, and extends from the Culebra to Panama. The company has also established three j:,hysical divisions, each with reference to the en- gineering problems involved. The first is 44 kilometres long, and extends from Colon to the Gamboa hills at Matachin, the difficulty lying in the vicinity of the Chagres. The second lies between Gam- boa and the end of the Culebra; it contains the highest summits and the greatest quantity of rock, and it will be the line of deepest cuts. The third extends from the Culebra to the Pacific; here the earth will admit of dredging throughout, but the Rio Grande must be deflected from the line of the canal.

The first division begins at Colon with a terre-plein that was for- merly the site of a marsh, containing 230,000 cubic metres of earth, and surrounded by a sea-wall; the terre-plein protects the entrance of the canal from the waves that would enter otherwise from the Bay of Lirnon. It is the site also of the village of Christoval-Colon, where the offices and quarters of the section employes are found.

As the Bay of Limon is exposed to the sea and to the gales of this region, the company is making a new harbor, which is styled the port of Colon. It lies south of the terre-plein, and, when complete, will be formed by Fox River and the expansion of the first 3 kilometres of the canal into a basin. The width of the entrance will be 800 me- tres; thence to the six-hundredth metre of length, the breadth of the basin will decrease to 500 metres, and will remain uniform as far as the second kilometre, whence it will naiTow gradually to the third, where the normal surface width of 40 metres begins. A curved break- water of 1,500 metres length will prolong the right bank into the bay, and will further protect the port from winds and waves. The new port will afford security to vessels and every facility of wharfage for handling cargo.

The canal is open to water as far as the seventeenth kilometre from Colon, except at the Mindi hills, where a cut of 1,080 metres remains to be completed. Its width for the first 500 yards is 225 metres; throughout the remainder of the basin it varies from 175 to 80 metres, and finally narrows to the normal at the third kilometre. The delay in opening the Mindi cut is due to the wish to complete the excava- tion of rocks, and thus render submarine blasting unnecessary. Of the eleven dredges at work in this division, four are European, and vary from 60 to 180 horse-power; the remaining seven are American, of 240 horse-power, their maximum capacity of excavation being 6,000 cubic metres per day. But repairs to machinery, rains, stoppage dur- ing the extreme heat of the day and at night, and other delays that can not be remedied, have reduced the daily yield to 3,000 cubic metres.

The level of the remaining bed of the first division is from 4 to 10 metres above the sea. Part of a hill near Bohio remains at the eleva- tions of 20 and 28 metres.

The Chagres is both the upper and the lower limit of the second division, and crosses it seventeen times in its length of 17 kilome- tres. The average level is 12 metres above the sea, except in a sin- gle hill of 25 metres height and in a sudden rise to the same elevation at the end of the division. The excavators are moved on railway- tracks by an engine of 8 to 10 horse-power, and empty their buckets into cars on adjacent rails. Every facility for dredging is presented by the Chagres River, the depth of which is such that dredges can be put at each crossing.

Just within the third division is the Gamboa hill, where occurred the great explosion of 1886 in honor of M. Ferdinand de Lesseps. The charge was 8,250 pounds of dynamite and powder, and blew out 30,000 cubic metres of material. Farther on is the Corrosita, still 45 metres above the sea. But the most remai'kable feature of the division is the great barrage at Gamboa. Its central line will cross the Chagres be- tween the Cerro Obispo and the Cerro Santa Cruz. Its length at the base will be 300 metres, its height 35 metres, and, with a reveted slope of four to one, it will contain 10,000,000 cubic metres of rock and clay. No excavation is needed for the foundation; a bridge is now building across the valley, and from it trains will discharge into the valley below their loads of rock and earth excavated from the Cor- rosita and neighboring sections. The pressure of water in the basin will seal the dam by forcing the clay into the interstices of the rock- mass, and by deposits brought down by the river. The capacity of the basin will be one billion cubic metres, or double the accumulation of waters during the worst rainy season. Nature has furnished the other walls of this reservoir in the ridges on each side of the Chagres, and in the natural ascent of the valley toward Cruces. The outlet of the basin will be a derivation of the Chagres around the hills of Ba- rucco and Carga-Plata to the bend north of the forty-fourth kilometre; the outflow will depend upon the height of the water in the basin, but it will never be such that, when coupled even with the drainage of the remaining water-shed of the Upper Chagres, floods can occur in the lower course of the river. In the last days of November the water usually rises to eight me- tres above the ordinary level. In the valley of the Chagres the an- nual rainfall is 3 metres. The average discharge of the river during the wet season is 134 cubic metres per second, and 666 during the floods. In the exceptional rise of 1879 it reached 1,930 cubic metres, but it must be remembered that such discharges seldom last more than forty-eight hours; for, as Lieutenant Kimball states in his valuable report just published, "The floods are of short duration, showing that they result from large local rainfall, and not from extensive water- shed." When the barrage and derivations are completed, I believe that the problem of the Chagres will be solved.

Another interesting feature of this division is the two aqueducts that will be built near Emperador to carry the waters from the mount- ain valleys on the northern and eastern side across the canal into the Obispo liiver. Their elevation will be the present levels of these sites, and vessels will pass under them. The bed of the cuttings at the end of the division have now a level of 55 metres.

The original elevation of the Culebra in the plane of the axis of the canal was 108 metres; the cuttings have reduced it to 78 metres. The width of the cut at the summit is 300 metres, the slope of the sides being forty-five degrees. But a serious question at this point lies in the accumulation of material by wash, land-slides, and fissures. Last year 78,000 cubic metres of earth fell into the canal. The hill on the right side of the cut is formed of dolerite and sand, and no wash or slip can occur from it. But on the left side I found strata of clay covered with a mixture of alluvium, sand, and conglomerate. During the wet season this deposit becomes saturated, and the in- creased weight, coupled with the dip of the strata, causes it to slip over the smooth surface of the clay into the canal. The clay in turn contracts during the dry season, fissures result, and hence another source of land-slides; and the natural wash of torrential rains is a third cause of deposit in the bed of the cut.

But a far more serious problem apparently is the annual movement of this side toward the axis of the canal. It varies from 12 to 18 inches, and the contractors acknowledge that its remedy may require heavy expenditure for increased slope, if nothing more. As yet, how- ever, this can not be regarded as an actual danger. The removal of so much material from the Culebra must affect the position of the center of gravity of the mass, and it may be that this movement results from a settling to the new conditions. This is the more hopeful view, and a reasonable one, but there is greater cause to fear that this is a movement of the whole hill-side, and not an earth-slide from the higher portions of the bank. The clay of Culebra is of the same bed as the "greasy " or slipping clay of the adjoining section of Paraiso. Refer- ring to the latter. Lieutenant Kimball says its movement "in some places carries one bank almost intact across the cut with the top surface unbroken, and with the vegetation undisturbed." Again, "The effect of the move of the soil was very curious; at one point the bot- tom of the deflection cut had risen 3 metres where the greasy clay had forced itself underneath, and at another I saw a surveying picket which had moved out of line 2|- metres, where there was no break in the top soil." To my mind, the deep cut of the Culebra is the great problem of the enterprise; already its side threatens to bar the way.

Leaving this puzzle to the contractors, and looking toward Panama, the first third of the last division descends gradually to 4 metres level at Pedro Miguel; the middle portion forms a plane from 5 to 8 feet above the sea, and over the last 6 kilometres flow the waters of the Pacific to an average depth of 5 metres, and reaching the maxi- mum as Naos is approached.

At Colon the highest tides do not exceed 58 centimetres, or 23 inches, while at Panama high tides reach 4 metres, or 13 feet, and spring tides even G metres, or 20 feet. That vessels may pass at all stages of tide, the depth of the canal from Naos to the present cross- ing of the Rio Grande beyond Corozal—9"4 kilometres—will be 9 metres at lowest ebb.

The company has consulted the French Academy of Sciences con- cerning the probable effect of this difference of tide-level on the canal, and has been told that a lock or tidal gate will not be needed. The director-general does not oppose this view, but thinks that an answer to this question at present must be based on theory—that, as excava- tions progress, the effect must be watched; and that upon the knowl- edge obtained the decision must rest. Plans for a tidal gate have been prepared, and, if needed, it will be placed at the Boca, near Panama.

The line of the canal is crossed twenty-eight times by the Chagres between Gamboa and Colon, and thirteen times by the Rio Grande between Culebra and Panama. To avoid the dangers of current and overflow that would exist if these streams entered the canal, deflec- tions are excavated to carry them to the sea in beds on each side of the canal. The deflections of the Upper Chagres will drain the Gam- boa basin and the water-shed north of the canal, and will discharge their waters into the Boca Grande, east of Colon; those of the Lower Chagres will transport to the present mouth of the Chagres, the tribu- taries now entering the river on its left bank, the most important of which are the Obispo, the Arena, and the Trinidad. The Rio Grande will be deflected entirely to the right of the canal, and will enter the sea at La Boca. The total length of the deflections will be 64 kilo- metres. Some of them will be 40 metres wide and 3 deep; others, 30 metres wide and 5 deep. Erosion will increase these dimensions. Lying in valleys where feasible, the soil is alluvial, and easily exca- vated. It has occasionally happened that a subterranean stream has undermined the banks, and caused a break. The engineers claim that so far the repairs are effective, and I see no cause to disagree with them. The following table shows the total excavation in both canal and derivations. The figures are those of the Canal Company, expressed in cubic metres:

Colon 2,500,000 1,900,000 600,000 600,000 420,000 180,000
Gatun 6,300,000 5,300,000 1,000,000 3,000,000 2,600,000 400,000
Bohio 5,500,000 2,100,000 3,400,000 1,100,000 450,000 650,000
Tavernilla 6,000,000 500,000 5,500,000 1,200,000 100,000 1,100,000
San Pablo 4,000,000 1,200,000 2,800,000 900,000 90,000 810,000
Gorgona 4,500,000 1,600,000 2,900,000 850,000 260,000 590,000
Matachin 3,250,000 1,200,000 2,050,000 400,000 150,000 250,000
Obispo 10,050,000 3,100,000 6,900,000 900,000 90,000 810,000
Emperador 19,000,000 4,300,000 14,700,000 500,000 . . . . . . . . . 500,000
Culebra 23,000,000 2,100,000 20,900,000 None. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Paraiso 7,000,000 1,800,000 5,200,000 240,000 180,000 60,000
Corozal 1,600,000 400,000 1,200,000 150,000 100,000 50,000
La Boca 2,500,000 1,900,000 600,000 100,000 80,000 20,000
 Total 95,150,000 27,400,000 67,750,000 9,940,000 4,520,000 5,420,000

According to these statistics the total cube of canal and deflections was 105,090,000 cubic metres; the amount excavated is 31,920,000 cubic metres, leaving 73,170,000 to be removed. In other words, thirty per cent of the work is finished, and seventy per cent remains. The deflections are nearly half finished. The principal machine-shops are at Colon, Matachin, and Panama, These, with the hospitals and quarters for officials and laborers, if placed side by side, would cover an area of eighty-one acres. They are frame-buildings, picturesquely situated, with sills resting on masonry supports, and roofs of corrugated iron. They are clean, well-ventilated, and admirably suited to the climate of the Isthmus. The "cantines" are kept by Chinamen, who board the laborers at reasonable rates. The native huts are unhealthy; the vegetable matter of a thatched roof decays and becomes a harbor for insects. The present quarters are decidedly in the line of economy both as regards health and future expense and needs. I visited the Isthmus in 1881, when the country was a thickly-matted jungle, the only signs of habitation being a few huts at railway-stations. To-day thousands of acres are cleared, and such is the installation of the company that the canal seems to lie in a prosperous and populous district. In fact, the passenger from Matachin to Culebra is reminded rather of a single settlement than of several railway-stations.

At the time of my visit 10,640 workmen were employed by the contractors; with the 926 employés of the company, the total force was 11,566 men. The laborers are chiefly negroes from Jamaica or other islands, with a few from our Southern States, who have gone to Colon in coasting-vessels, and have been attracted by the wages of $1.50 per day in Colombian coin. About 300 Kroomen and as many Chinese recently brought over, have sho^vn themselves good work- men. Time contracts are unknown; Government officials in the islands discourage negro emigration to the Isthmus; and changes are arising constantly from sickness, dissipation, return to homes, or fear of revo- lution. Many leave through fear of climate, lack of guaranteed hos- pital attendance, and the exorbitant rates of the Isthmus.

On Saturday the laborers are paid. Sunday is spent in dissipation or pleasure, Monday in recuperation, and it is not till Tuesday that a full force is at work; hence the number of working-days in a month seldom exceeds twenty or twenty-two. Twenty thousand laborers are wanted; and as the West Indies do not supply them, the company is trying to solve the difficult question of labor in the populations of Western Afi'ica and Southern China.

The main hospitals are at Colon and Panama, but ^jhysicians are assigned also to each section of the works. There is, too, a sanitarium on Taboga, an island fourteen miles from Panama. The entire medi- cal staif consists of thirty physicians and fifty apothecaries. It must be increased and other hospitals provided, if additions be made to the force of laborers. The hospital service has been much criticised, and it has been asserted that contractors discharge the sick, who die for lack of medical attendance. During my stay of six weeks on the Isthmus I saw nothing to confirm such statement. The hospital rec- ords show a death-rate of seven per cent to January, 1887; but this does not include those who, on account of illness or disease contracted here, have left and died elsewhere.

In the original act of concession, Colombia agreed to surrender to the Canal Company a border 200 metres wide on each side of the canal, and 500,000 hectares (1,235,571 acres) of public lands as the work progresses. The first grant of 150,000 hectares, made when the Colombian Government conceded that one third of the total work necessary for the construction of the canal had been done, is situated near the Chiriqui Lagoon and along the Tuira River. Besides this, the company has bought 34,65.S acres between Colon and Panama. On the 9th of October, 1886, the first grant was increased to 250,000 hectares, the Government conceding that one half of the necessary work had been finished. The compan}^ owns, therefore, 652,438 acres of land, besides the border of 200 metres on each side of the canal.

By this, however, neither the Government nor the company concede that one half of the necessary excavation has been made; but that the present excavation, plus the quarters for officials and workmen, the hospitals, and the plant of machinery, represents one half of the total work required to finish the canal. Undoubtedly, quarters and ma- chinery are important factors of the total work, but they do not rep- resent twenty per cent of it; the Government would be sufficiently liberal in conceding to-day that one third of the total work has been done.

PSM V32 D471 The panama canal route.jpg