A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, July 31, 2015

As Egypt Prepares to Open Expanded Suez Canal, Did You Know the Ship That Led the Way in the Original Opening of the Canal in 1869 is Still in Commission?

Khedive Isma‘il
Next week Egypt will be opening its "New Suez Canal," a major expansion project that includes  a newly dredged second channel in the middle section and a widening and deepening of the old canal elsewhere, and with plans for additional improvements. It will make two-way traffic feasible for more of the Canal's length and should greatly increase toll revenues and improve transit times. They're planning major ceremonies, though they'll have to go some to outweigh the spectacle staged by the Khedive Isma‘il at the grand opening of the original canal in 1869, which ultimately helped bankrupt Egypt and bring on 70 years of British occupation. I'll write more about the Khedive's big party next week, but I thought I'd drop a factoid now to bait your interest: the first ship through the Canal in 1869, leading a procession of royal yachts through the new waterway, is still in Egyptian service and under commission. She is also one of the largest yachts in the world and by some accounts the oldest steam vessel still in service, 150 years after launch. I don't know if she'll lead the new celebrations, but I hope so.

HM Yacht Victoria and Albert
During the American Civil War, the Union Blockade kept Confederate cotton from world markets, and the British textile mills turned to Egyptian cotton as a substitute. Isma‘il, acting as if this prosperity were permanent embarked on a spending spree, rebuilding Cairo, working on the Suez Canal with French help, etc. In 1865 a new Khedivial yacht was launched by Samuda Brothers on the Thames and named Mahroussa ("guarded," or "protected," a traditional soubriquet of Cairo or, sometimes, of Egypt). She was designed on the same lines as Queen Victoria's Royal Yacht, HMY Victoria and Albert, and had twin paddlewheels in her original configuration.

The Opening Procession, 1869
869Unsurprisingly,  Isma‘il had the Khedivial Yacht lead the opening procession through the Canal.On short notice I haven't found a photo of what she looked like when she still had her paddlewheels but it was modeled on Victoria and Albert, shown above. I hope to find an earlier image soon.

Isma‘il Pasha
Ironically, when Isma‘il was deposed in favor of his son Tawfiq in 1879 it was Mahrouusa  which took him into exile, and in another irony, when king Farouq was exiled in July 1952, he also sailed away on Mahroussa.

In the intervening years she had been much changed. In 1872 40 fet were added to her length, and another 16.5 feet in 1905, when her paddlewheels were replaced with triple screws. Soon after Farouq's abdication she was renamed Al-Hurriya (freedom), often spelled Horreya in Western registries. In the past 60 years she has been occasionally used as a Presidential Yacht and otherwise as a training vessel. She visited the US at least once, in 1976 for the American Bicentennial.

Still in commission and moored at Alexandria, she is taken out two or three times a year, usually for only a day or so at a time, which seems about right at the venerable age of 150. Wikipedia claims that during a visit in 2000 President Mubarak restored her original name Mahroussa, but most reports still call her Hurriya.

No comments: