« PreviousContinue »
information than they appear as yet to possess, with regard to the comparative facilities and expenses of the two routes they here allude to ; and we shall begin with that by the Euphrates, as being the least known, and because we have now before us everything necessary for our purpose, detailed in the able and minute survey of that river by Captain Chesney, who, at a considerable hazard of life, persevered in accomplishing his object, and has happily returned home to communicate the result of his labours in a report.
Captain Chesney sets out by observing that the great river' of Scripture, linked as it is with the earliest times and the greatest events in the history of the world, and the ancient channel of extensive commercial intercourse, 'is not likely to disappoint any moderate expectations which may have been formed of its importance and utility. In the upper part of its course, it struggles in a tortuous channel through high hills, forcing its way over a pebbly or rocky bed, at the rate of two to four and a half miles an hour, according to the season of the year and the different localities, carrying with it a considerable body of water, but without any cataracts, though the stream meets with frequent obstructions (above and a little below Anna) by a rocky bottom, and is shallow enough in places to allow camels to pass in the autumn, the water then rising to their bellies, or about four feet and a half. This portion of the river is compared with the scenery on the Rbine below Schaffhausen ; its bank is covered thickly with high brushwood, interspersed with timber of moderate size. It is here studded with a succession of long narrow islands, some of them thickly wooded, and others cultivated; and on several of these are moderate-sized towns or villages. The bank's of the river are well peopled, not only with Bedouin Arabs in tents, of whom there are many thousands, but also with permanent residents in houses of brick, mud, stone, and reeds. The following passage carries us back to a remote antiquity, when a civilized society crowded the banks of the Euphrates.
“The scenery above Hit (in itself very picturesque) is greatly heightened, as one is carried along the current, by the frequent re. currence at very short intervals of ancient irrigating aqueducts, which, owing to the windings, appear in every variety of position, from the foreground to the distant part of the landscape ; these beautiful specimens of art and durability are attributed by the Arabs to the times of the ignorant, meaning the Persians when fire-worshippers. They literally cover both banks, and prove that the borders of the Euphrates were once thickly inhabited by a people far advanced in the application of hydraulics. These speaking monuments have, as may be supposed, suffered in various degrees, and the greater portion are now in ruins; but some have been repaired, and kept
**** either to grind corn or to irri when attached on the ancient, simple
* *hole being in some instances sufici aneurly the original application of the
• The aqueducts are of stone, firmi tiro feet af top, placed at right ar various distances toivards the hundred yards; their height he to be irrigated: the shorter longer ones tiro, one abor in fact, almost forming the arch. At 1 little distance in the stream, and ther. occasionally four
number of ear
rn or to irrigate, having a modern nt, simple, and most efficient model;
ances sufficiently well preserved to show lication of the machinery.
f stone, firmly cemented, narrowing to about jer
ed at right angles to the current, and carried
wards the interior, from two hundred to twelve their height being regulated by the level of the spot
the shorter distances have one row of arches, and the be irrigare one above the other, and both extremely pointed
of forming a triangle from the key-stone to the spring of in fact, . At the one extremity of the structure, which is some
nce in the river, the building makes a turn parallel to the and there widens sufficiently to contain one, two, three,
ally four wheels, parallel to each other, and revolving with occasecrent, each of about thirty-three feet diameter, and having a
of earthen vessels placed around the exterior rim, which,
g a few inches into the water, are filled, and forced round by the curt
urrent in succession, the open end foremost, until each in Turn reaches the top, and there discharges its contents into a trough.'
These wheels differ little from those used in Persia, and are precisely the same in principle and construction as the bamboo wheels of China. Captain Chesney states that, just above each aqueduct, there is a parapet wall crossing the stream from side to side, leaving only an opening in the centre for boats to pass; the object of these subaqueous walls being to raise the water to a sufficient height at low seasons, so as to give it an impetus, and to afford an increased supply to the wheels : and that they are not, and never were intended to be means of defence, which Alexander mistook them for. Such stone-barriers existed also in the Tigris, in the time of the Macedonian conqueror; and it is not doubted that many, now visible in both rivers, rest on the bases of the ancient fabrics.
About ten miles below Hit, all these things disappear; the bills gradually diminish, and the surface becomes comparatively flat. A few trees are scattered along the banks, but there is little brushwood : the current becomes duller and deeper, with an appearance approaching that of the Danube between Widdin and Silistria ; but, in the captain's view, much more animated the banks being covered with Arab villages of mats or tents, almost touching each other; with numerous flocks of goats, sheep, and some cattle, feeding near them; also beautiful mares, clothed and piqueted close to the tents, their masters strolling about, and the slaves busily employed in raising water by means of pullies.' This, too, is a common machine throughout the eastern world. Sometimes the water is raised from the river to the high banks by bullocks traversing up and down an inclined plane. "They appear to have been known,' says Captain Chesney, “and used, in Mesopotamia, from the earliest times; and the river's bank is quite covered with them, all at work, and producing all the fertility of Egypt, as far inwards as irrigation is extended; beyond which the country is, generally speaking, a desert.'
From Hit to Hilla or Babylon, little is seen but the black tents of the Bedouins; the land mostly desert, with the date-tree showing itself in occasional clusters : but, on approaching Babylon, cuts and canals, for the purposes of irrigation, became more frequent. Two streams, one above, the other below, the ruins of Babylon, take the common eastern name of Nile. For about thirty miles below Hilla, both banks are crowded with mud villages, embedded in date-trees; and to these may be added a multitude of huts, formed of and supported by bundles of reeds placed slanting, at four or six feet apart, and covered with matting of the same material ; villages of this kind are hereabouts exceedingly numerous, and generally built around a sort of mud fortress, with semicircular towers and battlements, inclosing a space sufficiently large to secure all the grain from depredation.
Lower down, towards Lemlun, the country being level, and the banks little raised above the river, irrigation is carried on by the simple operation of a lever, moveable on a pole, having a leather bucket at one extremity and a basket of stones at the other, being the same that is used in Egypt and Spain; and, we may add, in the garden-grounds beyond Hammersmith. The banks are here covered with cultivation, fringed with a double and nearly continuous belt of luxuriant date-trees, extending down to the Persian Gulf;' and attaining,' says Captain Chesney, • a degree of perfection, with a variety of productiveness, far beyond those of the Nile.'
At Lemlun, the Euphrates throws off its branches, forming a delta, which is said by Captain Chesney to resemble that of Damietta ; and here, when the river is swollen, the country is inundated, to the extent of sixty miles in width, covering the fertile rice-fields known by the name of the Lemlun Marshes. Here, as in Egypt, the huts of the peasantry are surrounded by water; and it is no uncommon occurrence to see a whole village afloat, and the people following on foot, or in their canoes, to arrest the materials of their dwellings, which are erected on the same spots, and exposed to the same disaster, the following year.
At fifty miles below Lemlun, the marshes terminate ; and here the river is greatly increased in depth and width, by a junction of a branch of the Tigris, called the Hie-taking a breadth of about
three hundred yards as far as Shuge Shug, inundating the country on the left bank, when swollen, and, at the same time, irrigating the right one. At Korna, about three hundred and fifty miles below Hilla, the main branch of the Tigris joins the Euphrates, where it takes the name of Shut ul Arab, which it keeps down to the sea, varying in breadth from five hundred to nine hundred yards, with a depth from three to five fathoms; both banks covered with villages, the land smiling with cultivation, and the scenery, as our traveller says, “wearing an imposing and majestic appearance.
The whole distance, by the course of the river, from Bir to Bussora, is calculated, by Chesney, at 1143 miles; and, throughout this distance, he is of opinion that, from the time the Euphrates begins to rise to that when it has reached almost its lowest point, no insuperable impediments are offered to its navigation by steam. In January, there is usually a temporary and moderate rise; but the great and regular rise begins towards the end of March, when the rains set in—and the river attains its greatest height from the 21st to the 28th of May. Its lowest state is in November. Captain Chesney is not very clear in this part of his statement, which is of great importance in deciding the point as to a constant and uninterrupted navigation of the Euphrates, more especially as, in its low state, he enumerates no fewer than thirty-nine obstructions, by rocks and shallows, between Diget-us-Laik and Bushloubford-a distance of about five hundred miles,-nearly half the length of the navigation, between Bir and Bussora.- As these obstructions are stated to occur only at or about the lowest state of the river, and the greater part, if not all of them, it is said, may be passed by a steamer, properly constructed, it will not be necessary for us to notice them in detail.
Captain Chesney gives a plan of a steam-boat, which we do not much admire; this is obviously not his forte; we dare say, however, that a steam-boat like those we have alluded to on the Paisley canal, long and narrow, not drawing more than eighteen inches water, the bottom spoon-shaped, and constructed either of light wood or thin iron plates, might attempt, and perhaps succeed, to navigate the Euphrates from Bir, if thought expedient to commence so high, at all or most times of the year, but would always be liable to damage and uncertainty on account of the rocks and shoals. With regard to the supplies of provisions and fuel, we consider Captain Chesney's statements to be satisfactory. Bir contains about two thousand houses, and would supply rice, flour, poultry, &c.; of Giabar, we niay say the same. Deir, the ancient Thapsacus, contains fifteen hundred houses, and would supply
Hit, vered witheighteen
plenty of provisions. Anna has eighteen hundred houses; its picturesque islands are covered with date-trees, and the surrounding country is rich. Hit, with its fifteen hundred houses, affords plenty of butcher's meat. Hilla or Babylon covers a large tract of ground with an inadequate population, not exceeding ten thousand souls, inhabiting about two thousand seven hundred houses ; but the bazaars are good and well supplied with meat, fish, rice, and even luxuries; the government regular, and well disposed towards strangers. Dewania, with its fifteen hundred houses, can furnish ordinary supplies. In short, throughout the whole navigation of the river, plenty of meal and grain may be had at intervals of fifteen or twenty miles, and the Euphrates throughout abounds in fish, an excellent species of which is taken in such quantities, that Captain Chesney's boatmen purchased thirty-nine pounds in weight for 3 d.
As to fuel-wood, charcoal, bituinen, petroleum or naphtha, are to be had along the whole line of the Euphrates. At Giabar, a little below Bir, at Gasar Sadi, at Hit, and several other places, are abundant sources of this bitumen, under different states—in some places liquid, in others solid ;-and from Bir to Bussora wood and charcoal may be had in any quantity. So abundant is the supply of bitumen, says Captain Chesney, that one of the ancient fountains close to Hit gives the necessary quantity for all of the extensive demands along the lower Euphrates and Bagdad. How singular it is, that for ages past, the duration of which is hidden from man, this substance has continued to flow, inexhaustible, as it would seem! The • slime,' which the descendants of Noah made use of instead of mortar,' is admitted by all the commentators to have been the liquid naphtha; we know from Herodotus that it was used in the stupendous buildings of Babylon, and the historians of Alexander testify to the fact; nay, it is still visible in the ruins of this ancient city. The dry hard flakes are sold at the rate of about 2żd. per cwt. ; and the naphtha, when reduced to a thick liquid, at about 11d. per cwt.-in either state much cheaper than coal in England. Small wood for fuel is not more than 1 d. per cwt. When these materials are mixed, they burn with a brilliant flame and give out a strong heat; and Captain Chesney seems to think, that they would be found as cheap and equally efficient, for the sea steamer to and from Bombay, as coal.
There is another point, however, connected with the navigation of the Euphrates deserving of serious consideration : we allude to the danger to which the lives of those employed on it would be exposed. At present there is no dependence to be placed on many of the Arab tribes bordering on the river, and on the desert