Northern Ireland news

Co Down soldier and explorer helped formulate plans for Suez Canal

Francis Rawdon Chesney, who was born in Annalong

A Co Down soldier and explorer helped formulate plans for the Suez Canal.

Francis Rawdon Chesney, who was born in Annalong in 1789, worked on the famous channel that links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea.

He was also responsible for creating an overland route to India by the Euphrates River valley.

Chesney was the son of a revenue officer, Captain Alexander Chesney, who had served with distinction during the American War of Independence.

He was named after his godfather, Francis Rawdon, Earl of Moira.

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Chesney completed a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy near London before joining the Royal Artillery in 1805 and rising to become a general.

In 1829, he was sent on a mission to Egypt to explore the possibilities of Egyptian and Syrian routes to India.

During the tour, he visited Damascus, Tiberius, and Djerash, until he reached El Werdi and the Euphrates, which he sailed on a raft.

He was able to report the feasibility of a Suez Canal.

But the British government failed to exploit the idea and it was left to the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps to undertake the project, which was completed in 1868.

At the opening of the Suez Canal the following year, de Lesseps referred to Chesney as 'the father of the Suez Canal'.

The Co Down man later embarked on a second exploration in 1835, landing in Syria and travelling across the desert in two small steamboats.

Despite one of the boats sinking, Chesney managed, with the remaining boat, to explore the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Karum, and to chart these waters.

The venture took him to India and won him the admiration of geographers.

He also published many works, including those on the exploration of the Rivers Tigris and Euphrates, a book on firearms and artillery as well as Russo-Turkish campaigns.

He retired from the army in 1847 and visited the Middle East two more times before returning to live in Co Down before his death in 1872.

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