Papers of James Fleming Brown, engineer, Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, Scotland

Scope and Content

  • Foreign Office document authorising permission to James Fleming Brown, travelling on the continent, to pass freely, 8 March 1880;
  • Letter to James Fleming Brown, Redclyffe, Skelmorlie from Robert Simpson, Glasgow regarding Brown’s idea of a proposed tunnel canal on the Isthmus of Panama. His reply includes comments on the feasibility of the project; materials and costs; a cross-section drawing of the tunnel with High Water, Low Water and radii marked (waxed linen), 11 March 1897;
  • Letter to Mr A Cross, MP, Kensington, London, from the Foreign Office stating the construction rights for the building of the Panama Canal through Colombian territory had been granted exclusively to the Interoceanic Canal Association, 13 Jul 1897;
  • Six handwritten pages by J Fleming Brown outlining the relative merits and demerits of the tunnel schemes in the Isthmus of Panama and outlining his own scheme to build a canal, c1900;
  • Letter to J Fleming Brown, Redclyffe, Skelmorlie, from Robert Simpson, Glasgow, about the measurements and costings of his tunnel venture, estimated to be £38,700,000, 23 Jan 1900;
  • Printed leaflet, Proposed Tunnel Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through the high land of the Isthmus of Panama by J.Fleming Brown, Torwood, Colinton. This includes 3 drawings of a cross section of the Campania in the proposed tunnel. Ink and pencil annotations, 28 Feb 1900;
  • Dyeline paper copy of the genealogical tree of the Browns of Newmilns, Ayrshire, with a map of Newmilns, 1912.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Fleming Brown of Skelmorlie, Ayrshire and Colinton, Mid Lothian, proposed a scheme to build a tunnel in Panama to link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.This was at the time when the two schemes, the Panama Canal and the Nicaragua Canal, had stopped due to financial and constructional difficulties. His alternative scheme was to build a tunnel of 31 miles, which would be shorter than de Lessep’s canal. By not using the existing rivers it would not have the risk of ‘disaster from torrents and floods, from silting or damage to locks’. As the tunnel was only wide enough to accommodate one ship, he proposed that “the canal would be open for four hours for vessels going one way, then closed at that entrance for four [changed to eight] hours till the last of these vessels got through, then open for four hours for vessels going the other way. At a speed of eight [changed to four] miles an hour they would go through in four [changed to eight] hours –letting one vessel every quarter of an hour, that is, keeping them two [changed to one] mile apart.’

Mr J Fleming Brown’s scheme never amounted to anything. The Panama Canal was eventually completed in 1914.



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