The long Britanica article about Egypt contains the following footnote that protests against damage English troops did to Egypt and its farmland during the Napoleonic Wars. As the main text argues, after two years of warfare, Turkey briefly regained control of Egypt and soon lost it so “it would indeed be difficult to give any satisfactory account of the views which Great Britain at this period entertained regarding Egypt. Her policy was too vacillating to be reconciled with any fixed principle of action.” Nonetheless, as a contemporary British military historian complains, British troops wreaked great devastation., — George P. Landow
hen General Hutchinson marched for Cairo, leaving General Coote to blockade Alexandria, the latter officer, wishing to strengthen his position, and shorten the line of the blockade, had recourse to an expedient which wisdom and humanity must alike condemn. In the pocket of General Roiz, who had been killed in the action of the 21st of March, there was found a letter written by Menou, expressing an apprehension that the British would cut the embankment along which was carried the canal of Alexandria, and thereby admit the waters of the sea into Lake Mareotis. From this moment the project unhappily suggested in this letter be came a favourite object with the army. By securing the left and part of the front, the duty would be lessened, the French cut off from the interior, and a new scene of operations opened : these were the military advantages which the execution of this project would ensure, and the army thought of nothing else.
But there were nevertheless grave objections to the measure. The mischief it might do was incalculable; the Arabs could give no information where the sea, if once let in, could be checked; and the ruin of Alexandria might probably be the consequence. Besides, it was argued that the inundation, whilst it covered the British left, would also secure the French front, except from a new landing. But every consideration yielded to the supposed urgency of the service, which superseded all remoter considerations; and the measure was determined on. To comprehend the precise nature of the operation, however, it is necessary to attend to the natural formation of the country. To the south and westward of Alexandria extends a valley, running in the latter direction upwards of forty miles, and forming the bed of the ancient Lake Mareotis. Of this hollow space a large portion was under the level of the sea, which, therefore, was only prevented flowing into it by the dike or embankment along which runs part of the canal from the Nile to Alexandria. General Coote accordingly directed four cuts of six yards in width, and ten yards asunder, to be made in this embankment; and his orders were executed with the zeal and alacrity generally displayed in the work of authorized destruction. When the fascines which protected the workmen were removed, the water rushed in with a fall of nearly seven feet, and with such force that the portions of the dike intervening between the cuts were all washed away; yet although the whole breach widened to the extent of a hundred yards, it was nearly a month before the valley filled and the water found its level. Thus a work which formed the pride as it had ever been the peculiar care of Egypt, which it had required the labour of ages to construct and consolidate, and which all former invaders, however barbarous, had spared, was in a few hours destroyed by the ruthless hands of British soldiers. (Stewart's Military Service of the Highland Regiments, vol. i. p. 482, 2d edition.) [VIII, 493n].
Related Protests against England’s Actions in Egypt and the Sudan
- No One Knew Why They Were Fighting (1884 Westminster Review)
- “There was no enemy, and no war, but we had to fight”: Gladstone's Ministry & Egypt (1885 Quarterly Review)
“Egypt.” The Encylopædia Britanica or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black: 1842. VIII, 458-560. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 13 August 2020.
Last modified 1 September 2020