In 1870 the traffic of the Suez Canal was represented by 486 ships of 435,911 tons, yielding a revenue of 5,159,327 francs; in 1885 it was 3,624 vessels, of 8,985,411 tons, and paying 62,207,439 francs. M, Levasseur, Member of the Institute, taking the statistics of 1876 as a basis, estimates that if the canal were open in 1889, the tonnage of vessels passing through it would be 7,250,000. M. Marteau, editor of the "Journal du Havre," places it at 9,000,000 tons. Both gentlemen disregard the markets of the Mediterranean and of India, and send the entire commerce of Western Europe through the Panama Canal during the first year of its existence. Presuming a tariff of fifteen francs per ton, the receipts from either estimate would not remunerate at the outset a capital exceeding $240,000,000, when expenses of administration and repair are deducted. On the 1st of last March the total sum realized from the company's loans was 6179,771,190. As a new loan has since been raised, this sum must be wholly expended. It is evident that the final cost will exceed the sum warranted by the estimates.
No exact estimate of the time and money required to finish the canal can be made, as much of the data needed is unknown. M. Charles de Lesseps said to me: "In two years the canal will be finished from Colon to kilometre forty-four, and from La Boca to Paraiso. As to the Culebra, I leave you to form your own conclusions. It is a great and difficult work."
It is evident that the rate of excavation in a work of such magnitude must be small until the plant is complete; it is equally true that more work can be done in a given time with a complete installation than with one of less size. Hence it is false reasoning to conclude that if 32,000,000 cubic metres are excavated in five years, it will require twelve years to extract the remaining 73,000,000. That such reasoning is absurd is shown by the cube of last year, which was 11,727,000 cubic metres. At this rate it would require about seven years to complete the canal. It is not probable that this rate will be exceeded materially for a year or more.
Keeping in mind the sum already expended, and the purposes to which it was applied, it is unreasonable to presume that the final cost of the canal will be less than 2,000,000,000 francs, or about 8375,000,000. These figures are now acknowledged by the company; but owing to the great sacrifice at which the loans are obtained, the liabilities of the company will be nearly double this amount.
Any views concerning the completion of the canal by the present company must be conjectural; but if the present loan be expended with economy, the results will enhance the prospects of success.
At Colon there were many residents and foreigners not interested in the canal. The most bitter opponents of the enterprise were Americans and Englishmen, or former employés of the company who had been discharged or had a similar grievance. But from all sources there was a free admission that the company has both brains and energy.