Post- Eiffel??

A comment in David Biggs’s, generally very engaging, 2010 book Quagmire. One part early on seemed to clang like a cheap scooter hitting the railings of an old iron bridge… Biggs writes:

“Before Eiffel made millions of francs operating the Eiffel Tower, he had already made a fortune exporting hundreds of ironwork segments for colonial bridges and public buildings, including Sài Gòn’s General Post Office and market halls still standing today. The estimated cost for his spans in 1881 was eight million francs, approximately eight times the cost of building the Eiffel Tower in 1887”

and in a footnote immediately following Biggs refers us to a text called Les Travaux publics et les voices de communication en Cochinchine, by Cochinchine francaise (Saigon: Imprimerie nationale, 1880), p143.

So, I was thinking that does not sound quite clear, and had enjoyed the extensive background by Tim Doling debunking Eiffel’s involvement, at least as architect of the Post Office, and his documentation about two more likely candidates, Vildieu and Foulhoux. Nevertheless, Effel’s Cochinchina company did build some things, as Tim explains, there were:

“numerous structures in Cochinchina between 1872 and 1889. These included, amongst others, railway bridges (Bình Điền, Tân An and Bến Lức viaducts on the Saigon-Mỹ Tho railway line), road bridges (Pont des Messageries maritimes, Pont de Cholon/Pont des Malabars, Pont de Ông Núi, Pont de Rạch Lăng, Pont de Bình Tây, Pont de Rạch Gia, Pont de Long Xuyên), markets (Long Châu, Cao Lãnh, Ô Môn, Tân Quy Đông and Tân An), filter wells and canal/creek towpaths, as well as the imposing headquarters of the Halles des Messageries fluviales on the Saïgon riverfront – see”

Yet, of course even if Eiffel was not the architect, I wondered just what Biggs’s 1880 reference that supported his statement might say. Could it show Eiffel supplied some bits for the post office? I suspect that would mean some spans were shipped by Eiffel years earlier as the PO was built in 1887 I think – so Biggs’ source cannot really support that part unless the spans were just lying about for 7 years! What was the pre-order time for huge chunks of metal to be sent from France…? Is this of any interest, or is Biggs using his hat for a megaphone here?

And where are the market halls? I have now tracked down this 1880 text and am crawling through its arcane phrasings and the documented expenditure on various items such as Police stations, gendarmerie Soc Trang, Prison Central (the notorious one in Saigon presumably), and much more… One Eiffel item does seem to be mentioned as the record list includes 4k (I assumed piastres, but it seems to be francs) in 1871 for pont sur l’arroyo chinoise a Cholon. p55, but this would have to be planning as the bridge did not open for ten more years. Yet more promising is that in 1877 some 14k fr were allocated for the Hotel des postes and the comments column mentions Foulhoux as architecte, chef de la section des bâtiments civil. No other references to the post office that I can see. I reckon Eiffel, on balance, was looking elsewhere. Nice bridge though, this by Eiffel.


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