Friday, December 2, 2016

Telegraphic communication with India

Our readers are probably aware that schemes have long been in agitation for providing more direct means of communication than those which at present exist between this country and India. Of the two routes proposed, one is by the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea, the other is by the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf. The Red Sea route is, as we are all aware, in full operation; and the only proposal with respect to it is to provide more expeditious modes of transit by canal or railway across the Isthmus. The Euphrates route is about six hundred miles shorter, but it could not be made available without the construction of a railway from Seleucia on the coast of Asia Minor to J’abir Castle on the Euphrates, which would ultimately be continued as far as Bussorah—the communication with that town being maintained in the interval by river steamers of a light draught of water. Besides the question at issue, between these two routes—into which at present we do not intend to enter—there is another question, which, however closely it may appear to be connected with the rival schemes, is nevertheless perfectly independent of them. It refers to the means of making a telegraphic communication between England and India. Electric telegraphs are already in full operation between Pegu, Calcutta, Bombay, Hydrabad, Peshawur, and Madras; and the line on the European side is completed or provided for as far as Alexandria. The question, therefore, is, what course the telegraph is to take in order to unite Kurrachee near Hydrabad with Alexandria. Without expressing any opinion as to the comparative merits of the two routes, which we have indicated for the traffic of passengers and merchandize, we cannot help feeling that there are, to say the least, very strong reasons for preferring the Red Sea route for telegraphic purposes—or at any rate for laying down a telegraph on that line as quickly as possible, whether another is ultimately laid down on the Euphrates route or not. The state of affairs as respects the Red Sea route is as follows. The parties interested in the undertaking have obtained concessions from the Egyptian and Ottoman Governments, authorizing them to land at certain specified points on the coasts of Africa and Arabia, and to build stations there, which they are to hold rent-free for ninety-nine years. They are to have the absolute independent control of the telegraph, and the right of fixing the wires to the posts of the Egyptian telegraph already constructed between Alexandria and Suez. The course of the line of telegraph would be as follows:–After leaving Suez, it would follow the western Coast of the Red Sea as far as Cosseir, it would then cross over to Jiddah in Arabia, thence it would follow the channel as far as Cameron Island, a small rock near the Straits of Babel Mandeb. The next station, after passing the Straits, would be Aden. From Aden the line would lo to Ras Sharma, thence to the Kooria Mooria Islands, thence to Ras el Hadd, the south-eastern point of Arabia, and from Ras el Hadd to Kurrachee, which is on the sea-coast, at no great distance from Hydrabad. The other route would take the cable from Alexandria to Joppa, from Joppa to Seleucia, thence to the Euphrases, along its course to Bussorah, and down the Persian Gulf to Kurrachee.

In comparing the advantages of the two lines, it must be remembered that the security of the telegraphic wire is of infinitely more importance than any saving in the length of the cable. It takes no longer to transmit a message 2500 miles than to transmit it 2000; so that the shortness of the Euphrates route is quite unimportant, if the Red Sea route is more secure. There seem to be the strongest reasons for concluding that this is, in fact, the case. A submarine telegraph is the safest of all telegraphs, if there is a proper depth of water, for the sea is an absolutely perfect protection against either mischief or marauding. On the other hand, the country between Seleucia and Bussorah is in the most dangerous state. It is nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, but is, in fact, a sort of no man's land, wandered over by tribes of wild Arabs, who are continually at war with each other, and who would naturally and inevitably feel the greatest jealousy of an establishment which they would think likely to interfere with their independence. They would be certain to destroy the telegraph from mischief or wantonness, and the wires or cables would in themselves excite their cupidity. It is almost impossible that a telegraph should be made along the Euphrates route unless and until the projected railway is accomplished. No doubt the forces which would be required to guard the one would guard the other also; but the period of the completion of the railway is very distant, and there seems to be no reason why we should not obtain the benefit of a telegraphic communication with India as soon as possible. It must also be remembered that whatever advantages may ultimately be found to belong to the Euphrates line, the Red Sea route is that which is actually taken by commerce at present; and as this is so, it would be strange to prefer to it, for purposes of telegraphic communication, a line of which the advantages are as yet entirely matter of conjecture. The advantage of a telegraphic communication with Aden would in itself be very considerable, and charts and soundings have been prepared along the whole line which it is proposed to adopt.

These reasons lead us to incline strongly to the opinion that, whatever may be the ultimate decision as to the Euphrates route, it would be desirable to carry out the proposal which we have described. But we do not see that there is any necessary opposition between the two plans. If the Euphrates line of railway should hereafter be completed, and if that project should include the establishment of an electric telegraph, the undertaking would, no doubt, be a most important and noble one. The advantage of having the alternative of using either line of communication might, under many circumstances, be very considerable. At any rate, it appears to us that the Euphrates Telegraph is dependent for its success on the construction of the Euphrates Railway. The Red Sea Telegraph is a substantive scheme, and we do not think that the possible success of a collateral project ought to prevent our having the benefit of it.

Saturday Review, March 7, 1857.

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