logo: Matthew Parker: Hell's Gorge
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Panama: The French Tragedy

'Do but open these doors, and trade will increase trade,
and money will beget money'
Scottish Promoter William Paterson, 1698

Ferdinand de Lesseps depicted as Hercules separating the two continents. Riding a wave of public adulation after his triumph at Suez, de Lesseps had the charisma and force of will to make the Panama dream a reality.

Ferdinand de Lesseps depicted as Hercules separating the two continents

The beginning of the ‘big ditch’

The beginning of the ‘big ditch’. The French aimed to build a sea-level canal, but massively underestimated the task ahead.

A French ladder excavator. The machines that had triumphed at Suez proved unable to cope with the heavy clays of the Chagres valley. Most work had to be carried out by hand, and soon the labourers were dying in their thousands.

A French ladder excavator

the directors of the Canal Company, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, are brought to trial

With the press running for cover, the directors of the Canal Company, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, are brought to trial. Eiffel brings up the rear. The collapse of the canal company led to a fever of recriminations in France.

© Matthew Parker 2011 spacerback to top

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