Ferdinand de Lesseps

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Ferdinand Marie, Vicomte (English: Viscount) de Lesseps, GCSI (19 November 1805 – 7 December 1894) was the French developer of the Suez Canal, which joined the Mediterranean and Red Seas in 1869. He also tried to build a Panama Canal during the 1880s, but malaria and yellow fever was so bad that he gave up and the Panama Canal Company went bankrupt. A different canal was later built by the United States and completed in 1914.

Early life[change | change source]

Ferdinand de Lesseps was born at Versailles, Yvelines, in 1805. His first years were spent in Italy, where his father was a diplomat.

Career[change | change source]

Diplomatic[change | change source]

In 1828 de Lesseps was sent as an assistant vice-consul to Tunis, where his father was consul-general. He aided the escape of Youssouff, pursued by the soldiers of the Bey, of whom he was one of the officers, for violation of the seraglio law.

In 1832 de Lesseps was appointed vice-consul at Alexandria, and in 1833 he became consul in Cairo, and soon afterwards given the management of the consulate general at Alexandria, until 1837. Near the end of 1837 he returned to France, and on 21 December married Agathe Delamalle (Garches, Hauts-de-Seine, 15 October 1819 – Paris, 13 July 1853), daughter of the prosecuting attorney at the court of Angers. They had five sons.

In 1839 he was appointed consul at Rotterdam, and in the following year transferred to Málaga, the ancestral home of his mother's family. In 1842 he was sent to Barcelona, and soon afterwards promoted to the grade of consul general. From 1848 to 1849 he was minister of France at Madrid.

In 1849 the government of the French Republic sent him to Rome to negotiate the return of Pope Pius IX to the Vatican. He tried to negotiate an agreement whereby Pope Pius could return peacefully to the Vatican but also ensuring the continued independence of Rome. But during negotiations, the elections in France caused a change in the foreign policy of the government.

He was created on 30 August 1851 the 334th Commander and then the 200th Grand Cross of the Order of the Tower and Sword.

De Lesseps then retired from the diplomatic service, and never again occupied any public office. In 1853 he lost his wife and his son Ferdinand Victor at a few days' interval. In 1854, the accession to the viceroyalty of Egypt of Said Pasha gave de Lesseps a new impulse to act upon the creation of a Suez Canal.

Suez Canal[change | change source]

Caricature of de Lesseps by André Gill, 1867
De Lesseps' statue now stands in Port Fouad shipyard.

Said Pasha invited de Lesseps to pay him a visit, and on 7 November 1854 he landed at Alexandria; on the 30th of the same month Said Pasha signed the concession authorizing him to build the Suez Canal.

Death[change | change source]

De Lesseps died at Château de La Chesnaye in Guilly, Vatan, Indre, on 7 December 1894. He was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

After his death[change | change source]

His name was used in a speech by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser as the codeword to order the raiding of the Suez Canal Company's offices on 26 July 1956, the first step to its nationalization. In the course of the raid and seizure of the canal by Nasser, the statue of de Lesseps at the entrance of the Suez Canal was removed from its pedestal, to symbolize the end of European ownership of the waterway. The statue now stands in a small garden of the Port Fouad shipyard.

References[change | change source]

  • Smith, G Barnett The Life and Enterprises of Ferdinand de Lesseps (London, 1893)
  • de Lesseps, Ferdinand, Souvenirs de quarante ans (trans. by CB Pitman).
  • McCullough, David, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 Simon & Schuster, 1977.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Danville, Ill.: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.

Parker, Matthew. Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time - the Building of the Panama Canal. New York: Doubleday,

  • Simon, Maron J. The Panama Affair Charles Scribner's Sons, 1971.
This article includes text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Please add to the article as needed.

Other websites[change | change source]