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Title: Geography of the Land
Author: Ogden, Herbert G. (Herbert Gouverneur)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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VOL. III, PP. 31-40, APRIL 30, 1891







Price 25 Cents.


VOL. III, PP. 31-40, APRIL 30, 1891





(_Presented to the Society January 23, 1891_.)

Very few of the geographic events of the past year have been of such
an essential nature as to require a reference in this report, and yet
some of them are of surpassing interest. Fraught, as many of them are,
with policies that must have a marked influence in the future in
developing the still uncivilized regions and increasing the prosperity
of the established communities, they present a field for research that
has already attracted the political economist, enlisted the labor of
the philanthropist, and excited the cupidity of commerce.

       *       *       *       *       *

The division of Africa, as commonly referred to, has naturally aroused
the most profound attention of all civilized peoples. But few have
attempted to penetrate the darkness of the future with predictions of
the ultimate results of the partition of this great continent. That
civilization will eventually follow, we may feel reasonably assured;
and if we could but see the end in the establishment of powerful
nations without the repetition of history in the quarrels, strife, and
war that have preceded the settled order of political progression on
other continents, we might well hope the human had improved his
humanity and believe we had entered the border land of the millennium
that enthusiasts have so long held up to us as the final stage in the
progress of man.

{32} The professions of the African powers are peaceful, but in the
division of these unknown millions of square miles it requires but
little penetration to discern the elements for protracted strife in
future generations. The agreement between Germany and England, by far
the most important of the compacts to extend the protection of
European nations to particular zones not embraced in the Kongo Free
State, exemplifies in a marked degree the disputes that may arise, and
with what avidity the civilized nations have sought mutual recognition
of their right to dominate in specified spheres. As might have been
expected, however, in an attempt to divide great areas that have not
even been mapped, and with an economic value still to be determined,
the boundaries of the spheres are oftentimes indefinite, and instead
of settling disputed questions, but defer them to the generations yet
to come. There are colonies, protectorates, and spheres of influence,
with boundaries sometimes so ill defined that we may conceive they
have been purposely left indeterminate, that at the proper time the
most powerful may push their frontiers to include regions that the
adventurous may proclaim desirable acquisitions.

The area of Africa is computed at nearly 12,000,000 square miles; and
about 9,500,000 square miles are claimed by the powers as under their
control, protectorate, or influence within the tentative boundaries
that seem to have been very generally agreed upon. Fully 83 per cent.
of this area has been acquired during the past fifteen years. We have
seen during this period the possessions of Spain increase from 3,500
to 200,000 square miles; England, from 280,000 to 2,000,000; France,
from 280,000 to 2,300,000, while Italy and Germany, that were without
a square rod a few years ago, now claim extensive areas--Italy about
360,000 and Germany over 1,000,000 square miles. Portugal, though not
less grasping, seems to have been less successful, as she has acquired
less than 100,000 square miles. Perhaps having encountered a more
powerful nation in her path may account for this, but the total area
within her "sphere" is nevertheless not insignificant, reaching as it
does over three-quarters of a million of square miles. In the Kongo
Free State we find another million square miles, which many believe
will ultimately become a Belgian colony; but in any event, occupying
as it does the larger part of the basin of the Kongo, it is destined
to be the scene of an activity in the development of the continent
fruitful of the most important results.

{33} We must remember, too, that England now occupies Egypt, and that
with her protectorate over Zanzibar and her sphere of influence to the
northward of that state, that has not yet been limited, it is not
improbable that she will eventually reach the Mediterranean,
establishing a more extended influence in northern Africa than even
that which she has exerted over the southern end of the continent.
Should England's influence in the north result in the occupation of
all the territory that is apparently within her "sphere," we may
conceive some of the complications likely to arise, and see the
realization of the proviso in the recent Anglo-German agreement
granting her the right of way to build a railroad through the German
sphere east of Lake Tanganyika. Englishmen have expressed grave doubts
as to the wisdom of conceding to Germany this large territory east of
Lake Tanganyika, claiming it was rightfully theirs through discovery,
and as they are estopped from intercommunication to the westward of
the lake by the boundaries of the Kongo Free State, view with alarm
the possible intricacies of the situation when they may attempt to
exercise their rights in the German sphere. But doubtless there are
compensating advantages derived from the agreement, as many earnest
and able men commend the concessions made by their government in view
of the greater influence that has been acquired in other regions where
it has not heretofore been generally conceded.

South of the Zambesi there are still other elements that promise fruit
for strife ere the region is recognized as settled to the satisfaction
of the contending powers. Boundaries now but illy defined must be
adjusted before the venturous pioneers shall know to which nation
their lands belong, and we may well foresee in the sections where
exploration develops riches and abundance that the peaceful measures
of arbitration will fail to satisfy the claims to dominance. We have,
too, an element in the south African republic that must ere long find
vent in a more pronounced movement to secure a seaport than that made
a few years ago. The fact that Delagoa bay, the finest harbor on this
section of the African coast, is the natural outlet for these people
and for the extensive regions adjacent that may eventually come under
their control, points to this bay becoming a bone of contention if the
powers interested do not conclude the present arbitration on a just
and satisfactory basis. On the lower Niger there are also points of
friction, and even the sands of the great {34} Sahara are becoming the
subject of dispute in the anxiety to establish power that may wield an
influence in distributing the wealth that may be found.

From what regions of the continent the future wealth is to be derived
we cannot predict. The uncertainty is, perhaps, the consideration in
the problem of development that leaves vast areas with undefined
boundaries, though nominally within the sphere of influence of a
specified power. There are fully 2,000,000 square miles yet to be
explored before we may know the general geographic features of the
continent, and a much larger area that must be examined and studied by
experts before any reasonable estimate of its value and adaptability
to the schemes of civilized man can be approached. The great strides
that have been made in recent years in seizing upon the unclaimed
territories doubtless received the larger impetus from the revelations
in Mr. Stanley's explorations. The Kongo is recognized to be a natural
highway leading to a region believed to be susceptible of remunerative
development. Preparations have been made to construct a railroad
around the falls in the lower river to overcome the greatest practical
obstacle to its fullest utilization. We may reasonably expect
commercial enterprises on extensive scales to speedily follow the
completion of this road and hasten the acquisition of a more perfect
knowledge of the Kongo basin, not within the boundaries of the Kongo
Free State alone, but also the region drained by the great tributaries
from the north and the sections naturally dependent upon this great
river system.

The Kongo is but one line on which the general advance is being made
upon the interior of the continent. The French seem determined upon
extending their influence on the northern and western coasts, and the
Portuguese, English, Germans, and Italians are pronounced in their
efforts on the eastern coast, while the English are careful, too, of
their interests from the south, and seem to have almost unlimited
scope north of Victoria Nyanza. The progress of the advancing
colonization will necessarily be accelerated or retarded by the
geographic conditions encountered in the different regions. In some,
it may be the difficulty of maintaining communication with older
settlements; in others, that the land is unproductive or the probable
gains not sufficiently attractive; and lastly, the great density of
the native population in certain districts is likely to prove a
hindrance that it may require many years to overcome. On the lower
Niger, in {35} the British west African colony, in Egypt, in Natal, on
the shores of Lake Victoria Nyanza, and in parts of the Kongo basin,
it is estimated that the native population is nearly as dense as in
India; but the climatic conditions are so unfavorable that it is not
probable that any attempt will be made to advance in these regions for
a more serious purpose than to maintain a foothold for the future. The
more attractive districts for the white man are thought to be much
less populous, and are not scourged with such an unhealthy climate.

Even now the nations of Europe are planning to enter these great
unknown fields. There is an expedition on the western coast, under the
explorer Cameron, investigating the conditions for trade; and the
rumors of the organization of wealthy companies to work in the several
"spheres of influence" but impress upon us the fact that the Old World
is moving to lay bare the resources of the great continent, and we may
hope with an energy that will overcome all obstacles, open new fields
to mankind, and relieve the nations of the horrors of human traffic in
which they have been too long encouraged. But it would be vain to hope
there will be no bloodshed, for where man has great rival interests
history teaches us they are settled by the sword; and we can hardly
believe the peaceful methods of arbitration will have gained such sway
as to rob history in her predictions as to the regeneration of
"darkest Africa."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the western hemisphere also there have been events of most
interesting import, in that they foreshadow a closer union of the
people of the two continents. Unlike Africa, in that this hemisphere
has been under the control of the more intelligent races of men for
several generations, so that discovery and the cruelties attending the
establishment of supremacy are virtually questions of the past, the
interests involved are on a different plane, though not on a higher
moral sphere, as we can conceive no greater Christian duty than the
regeneration of the uncivilized, but a sphere affecting the relations
of established communities that for generations have been wielding an
influence in the world's history on principles recognized to be the
product of civilization. The metes and bounds of the states are well
defined, with few exceptions, and the ambition for territorial
accretion has been so greatly subdued by the misfortunes of their
earlier histories, that the time seems to be propitious for {36}
advancing those greater questions of public policy that naturally
arise from their community of interests. The proposition to convene a
Pan-American congress was for several years viewed with suspicion, and
was even designated by some as chimerical, but the suggestion took
root. Many thoughtful men believed such a conference would lead to a
better understanding between the people of the states represented, and
that, while the fruits might not be made immediately apparent, the
foundation would be laid for lasting benefits. The interest manifested
by the different nations and the high character of the representatives
they sent to the conference clearly indicated that deliberations were
to be undertaken in good faith. We need not follow the deliberations
of this body, nor even revert to the many questions discussed. Since
the adjournment we are beginning to appreciate some of the results.
The recent establishment of the "Bureau of the American Republics" is
one of the first practical evidences of work accomplished. This bureau
is maintained by proportionate contributions from the nations
represented in the congress, and is intended to be the medium for
collecting and disseminating information on commercial, industrial,
and cognate subjects. If we consider the different characteristics of
the people of the two continents--their manners, customs and methods
of business--we can readily conceive the bureau has before it a labor
of no little magnitude, but one that, fairly accomplished, cannot fail
to be beneficial and of lasting value.

Further evidence of the work of the congress is apparent in the
organization of a commission of experts to project the
long-contemplated inter-continental railway--a scheme that, dependent
upon individual effort, would doubtless require many years for
accomplishment, but undertaken under international auspices we may
hope will be pressed to a speedy conclusion.

The assembly of delegates to consider a monetary unit for the
republics of the two continents is also the result of the congress.
The progress of this conference will doubtless be watched with
peculiar interest, coming as it does when our own people are in the
midst of a reactionary effort to habilitate silver as a standard coin.

The revolution a year ago that gave birth to the United States of
Brazil, it was feared by many would lead to a state of anarchy that
would end disastrously to the new nation and perhaps involve
neighboring states. Fortunately these forebodings have {37} not been
realized, and the recent general election in Brazil, which seems to
have been conducted without violence, has caused a feeling of
confidence that we may well believe will continue and permit this
great state to enter heartily into the new era of material development
that seems opening to our sister republics.

       *       *       *       *       *

Work on the construction of the Nicaragua canal has steadily
progressed during the year. A harbor for light-draft vessels has been
constructed at San Juan del Norte, and satisfactory progress has been
made in constructing the railway designed to facilitate the work of
excavation. It has been hoped by the friends of this project that the
canal would be constructed with funds raised by private subscription.
The admirable management of the preliminary work of surveying and
organization were good grounds for their belief; but the bill recently
introduced in Congress asking a guarantee for one hundred millions of
bonds to be issued, indicates that expectations of friends were too
sanguine, and that the financial backing that had been believed to be
assured has for some reason not been developed. This may be only a
temporary alarm, due to the general financial stringency that has
prevailed during the past few months, and on the recurrence of an
easier money market the necessity for the relief asked from Congress
will disappear.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Panama canal project, supposed to have been abandoned in hopeless
financial ruin, has recently been revived, with new concessions
extending the period for construction, and, it is currently reported,
a scheme for a colossal lottery company for raising the means for
prosecuting the work. It seems incredible that this canal shall become
a fact in this generation; but if it is the feasible route its
projectors claim, it is not improbable that the demands of a future
generation may necessitate its construction.

       *       *       *       *       *

A year ago I commented upon the improvement of the Mississippi river.
Since then one of the greatest floods on record has visited the lower
river country, devastating a large area. It brought to the settlers in
the valley, however, a new experience, and has inspired them with a
confidence in the levée system that finds expression in the demand for
levées of approved construction from Cairo to the Gulf. The flood of a
year ago covered many square miles. A large proportion of the area,
{38} however, was not protected by levées, and another large
proportion was only partially protected; and while, therefore, the
disaster impressed the general public with a belief that the levées
were a failure, the facts really point to the contrary. In former
notable floods it has not been unusual for one hundred or more miles
of levée to be washed away before the flood subsided, but on the
recent occasion there was a total length of less than five miles
destroyed in some 1,100 miles of levée that had been believed to be
safe. This is a remarkable showing, and has naturally inspired the
advocates of the system with greater confidence. It points to the
possibility of constructing levées at a reasonable expense that will
stand the pressure of water for the height that it has been computed
necessary to build them. There is a grave doubt, however, in the minds
of some as to whether the computed heights, the levées holding intact,
will afford sufficient cross-section to carry off the volume of water
draining from the catchment basins. Some interesting computations on
this subject have recently been made by General Greely, the chief
signal officer,[1] from observations made during an extended period.

[Footnote 1: North American Review, May, 1890.]

The question raised is not a new one, but, considered in the light of
the statistics presented, seems to involve the problem of the
improvement of the river with increasing difficulties. General
Greely's figures indicate that the cross-section of the lower river
will only permit carrying to the sea a volume of about sixty cubic
miles of water during an ordinary flood season, and that in the
extraordinary flood years, such as 1882 and 1890, the volume to be
carried down is about eighty cubic miles, showing an excess of about
twenty cubic miles over the capacity of the river in a specified time.
These figures should be taken in the nature of a warning; and while it
must be admitted that the intricacy of the problem precludes
precision, their probable reliability should be carefully studied
before an extended levée system is built intended to guarantee
protection against exceptional floods.

       *       *       *       *       *

During recent years the complex and perplexing subject of geographic
nomenclature has received the careful consideration of a number of the
European nations, with a view to reaching a uniformity in treatment
and the transliteration of names of unwritten languages into Roman
characters. England, France, and {39} Germany have adopted
substantially the same system of rules. Recent publications from these
countries evidence the intention to apply them as rapidly as
circumstances will permit. Although we may rebel at first on seeing
such familiar names as Cairo spelled with a K, Mecca with double k,
and Muscat converted into Maskat, it is believed the general
principles adopted will eventually receive acquiescence--perhaps
half-hearted at first--and as the utility of the system becomes more
apparent through its universal adoption and we realize that maps from
whatever nation will give us the names of the same places in
substantially the same form, our prejudices must give way.

Under the provisions of an executive order issued on the fourth of
September last, our own Government has virtually adopted the European
system in the treatment of foreign names, thus bringing us in accord
with the principal nations upon a most important subject to students
and geographers the world over. The executive order constitutes a
board composed of ten representatives from different departments and
bureaus of the Government service, to which all questions relating to
the work of the board that may arise in the departments are to be
referred, and requires all persons in the Government service to
respect the decisions that may be rendered. The board in its first
bulletin, recently issued, has announced its adoption of the English
system for the treatment of foreign names and transliteration into
Roman characters, and has presented principles to guide in reaching
decisions affecting home names. These principles will doubtless be
added to as new questions arise, so that at no very distant day we may
see formulated a set of rules that will be instructive as well as
useful in their application. The first bulletin seems to have been
received favorably, and we may hope, as the work of the board advances
and the importance of the subject is more generally realized, that it
will gain the hearty endorsement of the public and a support that must
largely increase the usefulness of its labors.

       *       *       *       *       *

In conclusion, permit me to congratulate the society upon its first
attempt at scientific exploration in the field. The Mount St. Elias
expedition, under the leadership of Mr. I. C. Russell, with Mr. Mark
B. Kerr as topographer, left Seattle, Washington, in June last, and
after spending more than two months on the mountain sides, one-half
their time above the snow line, have {40} returned with notes,
specimens, and data of the greatest interest. The topography was
sketched over an area of about one thousand square miles, and includes
the determination of the geographical position and elevation of Mount
St. Elias and many neighboring peaks. Mount St. Elias is indicated to
be not so high by some 4,000 feet as the heretofore accepted
elevation, 19,500 feet. The difficulties attending the determination
of the height of this mountain are so great that the range between the
extreme elevations that have been given by different explorers is
nearly 6,000 feet. This is believed to be the first height for it that
has been derived from a carefully measured base, and it therefore
should receive great weight. But I regret to say that in the chain of
triangles connecting with the top of the mountain, the difficulty of
placing well-conditioned triangles seems to have been so great that
the observers were forced to accept very small included angles, which
necessarily casts a doubt upon the resulting distances. We must
therefore accept the new elevation with caution until it is verified
by further observations.

The party was unfortunately prevented from reaching the top of Mount
St. Elias by severe storms, but the ascent was so nearly accomplished
that Mr. Russell is confident he found a practicable route; and it
seems probable that had he been started ten days or two weeks earlier
the first ascent of Mount St. Elias would have been recorded as a part
of the work of the expedition.

The full report of this expedition is now nearing completion, and will
be published by the Society at an early date. To this I must refer you
for the interesting details, and experiences encountered by the

The expedition was organized by the Society, but in congratulating
ourselves we should not forget that our thanks are due to the United
States Geological Survey for the assignment of officers to conduct the
work in the field and for assistance rendered in the organization; and
we may hope the substantial results that have been secured will prove
as pleasing to that great national work as they are to your board of

_Washington, January 23, 1891_.

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