The Suez Canal was critical to maintaining Britain’s Empire and yet we came close to losing the control that was necessary to keep that passage secure.
- It was opened in 1869, the project having been doggedly pushed along by French diplomat, Ferdinand de Lesseps.
- Through his persistence, ninety miles of sand had been replaced by a channel of water, linking the East and the West, between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
- Britain had been crossing this point, the Isthmus for decades. The Peninsula and Orient Steam Navigation Company began their monthly mail service to India using Alexandria as the drop off point before collecting it on the other side.
- It was a critical overland route for the British and they would keep that passage free at all costs.
- Britain was therefore anxious to prevent either Egypt or the Levant from falling into the hands of the Ottoman or the Russians
Considering all this, it seems strange that Britain refused to fund any of the costs to build the canal, in fact Palmerston did his best to thwart the project. The money came from the French and Egyptian governments.
The British were close to finding themselves in an embarrassing position of losing their position and advantage over the route and a great scramble went on to try and save the situation.
It was the insolvency of the Khedive of Egypt that saved the face of the British, they bought out his shares, acquiring a minority stake, just under half the capital, of the Suez Canal Company and in consequence strengthened and protected their route to India.