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From Cape Horn to Panama
A Narrative of Missionary Enterprise among the Neglected Races
of South America, by the South American Missionary Society

By Robert Young

[London] South American Missionary Society, 1905.

Chapter XIV. The Isthmus of Panama

OUR narrative opened with the Mission in the extreme south. We have now reached the extreme north. From the one to the other there is a coast-line of 5,000 miles, an area of more than seven million square miles, and a population of over forty millions.

PANAMA, formerly named the Isthmus of Darien, is the connecting link between North and South America, and between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Some general remarks with reference to the great scheme now in progress there may not be out of place.

After the appointment in 1889 of a Commission in France to give effect to a scheme of liquidation, rendered necessary by mismanagement and miscalculations, the Canal remained for several years thereafter in a state of suspended animation. As regards its reorganization, a sea level Canal, similar to the Suez Canal, was abandoned, partly because the concession from the Colombian Government expired and partly on account of the expense and labour involved, and, instead, a Canal with locks was considered more feasible.

Colonel Sir Howard Vincent, C.B., M.P., referring to the Canal in a paper read before the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, said, "I stand before you a firm believer in the possibility of its accomplishment, and the good it will do." Sir Henry Tyler also, a most competent authority, believed in the possibility of its being completed in some five years, if only the requisite money could be found, and honestly expended. The Commission appointed by the United States Government, accompanied by no fewer than seventy engineers, visited Nicaragua, and made a thorough investigation of the entire Canal region. The conclusion arrived at was that the construction of a canal by either of the suggested routes is quite possible. As to the advantages to commerce, consequent on the carrying out of this great undertaking, one single fact, as stated by the Bishop of Honduras, speaks volumes, namely, that in going from New York to San Francisco, if the vessel went through the Canal, instead of going round Cape Horn, nearly 10,000 miles would be saved; and that in going from England to New Zealand, between 3,000 and 4,000 miles would be saved by the Canal. One of the chief difficulties in the way is the Culebra Hill, two-thirds of which have already been cut through. There is another impediment, arising from the Chagres River, which, after heavy rains, rises to fifty or sixty feet, and would sweep away any canal constructed across its course.

The work at this Isthmus has been carried on, with interruptions, since 1864. The first chaplain, Rev. G. Hughs, died of yellow fever three months after arrival. His successor. Dr. Lee, laboured with much vigour for eighteen months. Then followed the Rev. Alfred W. Lockyer. who, like Mr. Hughs, was cut off by yellow fever, in 1884. Some years elapsed ere another appointment was made, owing to the difficulty of finding a suitable man. By special arrangement of Bishop Stirling, the chaplaincy was transferred, first to the episcopal superintendence of the Bishop of Jamaica, and later on, as being more suitable, to that of the Bishop of Honduras, a subsidy by the Society to assist the spiritual work being continued.

It was estimated by those competent to form an opinion that at one time from 15,000 to 20,000 workmen were employed on the Canal banks, of whom about 5,000 were British subjects from various localities of the West Indies resident on the Isthmus. The majority of them lived in the towns of Panama and Colon (or Aspinwall), situated the one at the eastern and the other at the western end of the Isthmus, many others being scattered about on the line, of the Canal. For their benefit eight mission stations were established, where services were regularly held.

On the partial collapse of the Canal works in 1889, some 7,000 or 8,000 persons were thrown out of employment; many of them being natives, much suffering resulting all along the banks. It was an anxious and trying time for the missionaries. On the Isthmus, which extends for a distance of forty-rive miles, there are several distinct missions, including a most flourishing one at Colon, with a handsome church, erected by the Railway Company, and for several years subsidized largely by them. The Company also gave the mission seven good sheds of wood and iron, in which to hold services. And they further show their interest by giving to all the missionaries free passes on the line. The labourers in this field certainly stand in need of all the encouragement thus given, for the spiritual destitution along the banks of the Canal is very great.

On the Isthmus of Panama there are two clergymen--the Ven. Archdeacon Hendrick, who is Rector of Christ's Church, Colon; and the Rev. A. A. Smith, Rector of St. Paul's, Panama.

At Cartagena, in Colombia, south of Panama, a Medical Mission has lately been established, under the superintendence of Dr. Edward M. Morriris. A Medical Mission has also been planted at Bocas del Toro, in Colombia, and is under the charge of the Rev. Henry Hartly, M.D.

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