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The Life and Work of James Abernethy, C.E., F.R.S.E
Hungary, 1866—River Theiss


WHILE serving as a member of the Commission for the regulation of the similar Danube, he was further requested by His Excellency M. Mailath, Chancellor of Hungary, to inspect and report upon the regulation of the River Theiss, a large river which, flowing in a depressed bed through the centre of that country, acted as a drain in dry weather, depriving the land of moisture, but during periods of flood, owing to a deficiency of sectional area, causing extensive inundations in the districts of country near Pesth, and more especially further southwards, near the town of Szegedin. Accompanied by Major Ghyczy, an officer of the Imperial Engineers, who spoke English fluently, the two ourneyed from Vienna to Buda, through the treeless plains inhabited by peasantry clad in sheepskin dresses and highjack boots, which enable them to wade through the deep mud in wet weather, the surface of the roads being for the most part alluvial soil, entirely destitute of stones or any hard materials. Even in the larger villages the inhabitants were chiefly of the same peasant class, the exceptions being government officials, doctors, and priests. Railway facilities were afforded to Pesth, Szegedin and Debreczin, but long distances were traversed in the small springless wagons of the country, from which the travellers alighted at nightfall to take up quarters at the post houses, which were almost exclusively in the hands of Jewish postmasters, who offered very indifferent food and viands, and sorry looking horses to further the journey in the day time. On one particular evening (Jan. 28th, i8y6), difficulties overtook them by a collapse of the animal drawing the vehicle, in an out of the way district, and the discomfort of a night spent under the canopy of heaven seemed to be threatening as their lot, when they obtained the information that there was the chateau of a Hungarian gentleman close at hand. At that time, however, there was considerable estrangement between the Austrians and Hungarians, and Major Ghyczy being an Austrian officer, had considerable misgivings as to ajppealing to the hospitality of the owner of the chateau, but as the former could speak the Hungarian dialect the venture was made and with a successful issue. They were kindly welcomed and partook of a good supper and spent an enjoyable and interesting evening with their host, while the engineer's limited command of French enabled h'm to converse with the intelligent hostess. Good horses were put at their disposal >n the morning, and accompanied by their host on horseback for several miles, they proceeded to the isolated hill and village of Tokay, by the River Theiss, which was reached in a snowstorm, and quarters obtained at the house of a government official. This gentleman was also a wine producer, and provided some samples of the capability of the vines in his district. Three days later they had again got as far south as Szedegin, from which town they returned to Pesth, staying at the Hotel Queen Victoria. That town, like Vienna, was in a transitional state, fine new streets and buildings in course of progress, which presented a striking contrast to the ancient quarters of the Turk at the ancient city of Altiofen or Buda on the right bank of the River Danube. While staying at Pesth his diary records introductions to several leading Hungarians, among others Counts Bathyani and Schenzi, and a leading politician, M. Deak.

The result of the visit to the region traversed by the river Theiss, was in the cause of irrigation, the recommendation of a new canal eighty miles in length, from Loh to the river Koros, previously advocated by M. Herrick, engineer, of Buda. Upon returning to Vienna, General Baron Scholl escorted the English representative on the commission to the Island of Lobau, Napoleon the First’s position previous to his sudden appearance on the mainland on the morning before the battle of Wagram on 6th July, 1809, in which he defeated the Archduke Charles. Before leaving the city of Vienna, the members of the commission were entertained by some of the city authorities in the old Town Hall, which contained many relics of the Turkish army of 200,000 men, under the command of the Grand Vizier, Kara Mustapha, defeated and driven from the walls by the Duke of Lorraine and John Sobieski in 1683.

A friendship of a more lasting charactcr was made at this time with Field-Marshal Baron Jochmus, a remarkably handsome man and of great stature. When resident in London he occasionally came to dine at 11, Prince of Wales Terrace, Kensington. Baron Scholl, too, was a frequent guest there, between the years 1866—8, and occasionally English officers were invited to meet them, among others the author can re-call Colonel Jervois R.E., now Sir William Jervois, K.C.B.


 

 


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