Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 57.]

Sir: Lieutenant Colonel Neale, her Britannic Majesty’s charge d’affaires, has kindly given me a verbal account of the result of his mission and of the operations of the British fleet at Kagosima, though the preparation of despatches for his own government has rendered it impossible for him to address me an official communication.

On the 6th instant Vice-Admiral Kuper and his flag-ship Euryalus, the steamships Pearl, Perseus, Argus, Coquette, Racehorse, and Havoc, left this port for Kagosima, having on board Colonel Neale and the officers of the British legation, and leaving in this harbor seven ships of his fleet for the defence of this place.

On the 11th the fleet entered the bay of Kagosima, and with some difficulty found anchorage, having in the evening reached a point near the city. The water in the bay was found to be of extraordinary depth, from 60 to 100 fathoms, except on a bank which was accidentally found in the dark, and the ships anchored in 15 fathoms.

Early in the morning of the ensuing day some officers came on board and made the usual inquiries: Who are you? Where are you from? Why do you come here? How many guns have you? They severely censured a Japanese pilot whom they saw on board, and were discourteous if not violent, omitting to take off their long swords as is usual when entering the cabin.

The ships immediately shifted their anchorage to a place within the range of the batteries. The officers again came off and asked for a letter which they understood was prepared for the Prince of Satsuma. This letter demanded as an indemnity £25,000 and the punishment of the murderers of Mr. Richardson in the presence of a British officer, which letter was given to them. In reply to the question whether a Japanese steamer had arrived, they asked, Why should one come here? To show you the way? Mr. Eusden, the interpreter, with whom these several conversations were held, said: The Gorogio promised to send a steamer for the purpose of acquainting the Prince of Satsuma with the object of their coming. The officers whispered to each other and remarked, “That beast at Yedo has been cheating us.”

Shortly after other officers came on board, and stating that Satsuma was not at Kagosima, but at a castle fifty miles distant, said that his karo or secretary would receive Colonel Neale on shore in a building prepared for that purpose, and that he might come accompanied by as many of his suite as he chose and with an escort. The karo was invited to a conference on board the ship, which was the most proper, as he was the inferior officer, and as both the minister and admiral would take part in it. It was also urged that as the British minister had come so far for the purpose of a settlement this course was the most suitable; besides, the British were accustomed to see Japanese, but the people of Satsuma were not accustomed to strangers. The officers retired to present these views, and returned, still manifesting great anxiety that the minister and admiral should go on shore, saying that the Dutch had done so; the building was not far from the bay, and it was specially prepared for business with foreigners. It was quite evident, Colonel Neale thinks, that some sinister motive made them so urgent for his presence on shore.

In the afternoon an officer, represented to be the next in rank to the karo, [Page 446] approached the ship, and asked whether Colonel Neale would see him, and whether he might bring his attendants, some fifty in number, on board. When the attendants reached the deck they were placed opposite the marines, drawn up in line, and the chief officers conducted to the cabin. The principal personage, for some reason, appeared speechless, and just as one of his officers had declared he would act as spokesman, a servant entered with a message, when it appeared he had been ordered to return, as some error existed in the letter he was charged to deliver.

On his leaving the ship the squadron changed its anchorage to a point less under the guns of the batteries. Late in the evening the officer returned, and delivered a letter in reply to that sent by the British minister. It commenced by declaring that murder was of course a serious crime, and murderers should be punished; that they frequently escaped, however, and it was difficult to arrest them; but that in this case it was not certain that Satsuma was in fault; that it was the custom and law of Japan to get out of the way and dismount before a great Daimio, and if people did not they were beaten. Was not this also the usage in England? That the Tycoon was to blame; he should have put such provision in the treaties, and then no difficulty would have occurred; that as to the indemnity, Satsuma would appoint a commissioner, and the Tycoon might appoint another, who would investigate the subject, and then Colonel Neale would see whether Satsuma or the Tycoon was to blame.

Colonel Neale, regarding this letter as evasive and otherwise unsatisfactory, addressed a communication to the admiral, placing the business in his hands. Early the next morning (a boat expedition having, late on the previous evening, discovered their position) three steamships, the England, Contest, and Sir George Gray, were seized by order of the admiral, and brought to anchor near the British fleet. They were intended to be held as pledges, with a view to further negotiations.

The weather at this time was very heavy, and at noon a typhoon was evidently approaching. Shortly after the crews were piped to dinner, and at once the batteries opened fire. The admiral immediately signalled, “Burn the prizes.” The gale blew the British ships stern on, and their guns could not be brought to bear, by springs on the cables, in consequence of the great depth of water. For nearly half an hour the ships were under fire before the anchors could be weighed. As soon as this was effected, the ships steamed past the batteries, as delineated on the plan of the harbor I enclose, the Euryalus taking the lead, and returned slowly to their anchorage, delivering a close and steady fire on town and batteries. The Racehorse grounded, and was with difficulty hauled off by the Argus. In this engagement the Flag-Captain Joslin and Commander Wilmot, of the Euryalus, brave, accomplished, and most estimable officers, were killed, having their heads taken off by the same cannon shot, and 56 officers and men on the different ships were killed and wounded. Five out of the eight boats of the Euryalus were destroyed, and all the vessels greatly suffered, particularly in their rigging. At this time the storm was raging with great fury; the town had been fired by the shells and rockets of the fleet, and the wind was carrying the flames swiftly through the streets. A dreadful spectacle was thus presented. The three steamers were on fire, as were also five large Lewchew junks, to which the gunboat Havoc had separately applied the torch, and the city, stretching away over three miles, was in flames, which was also seen to envelop the green trees on the hillsides. The foundry and machine shops, a mile in extent, were also on fire, and the fury of the flames kept pace with that of the storm.

The next morning the fleet opened fire again on the town and batteries, some of which feebly responded. Several shells were thrown into the palace of Satsuma, which is believed to have been destroyed, as flames were seen to issue from it as the fleet left.

[Page 447]

It was thought that sufficient had been accomplished by way of punishment, and that further proceedings would be regarded as vindictive.

When the captured ships were destroyed, orders were given to land the officers and crew who remained on board. The captain and doctor, one or both of whom had been with the embassies to the United States and Europe, begged they might be permitted to remain, as if landed they would be obliged to commit hara-kiri, or would lose their heads. They are now on the Euryalus.

The admiral arrived here on the 24th, after experiencing severe weather the entire voyage. I was not able to meet the British chargé d’affaires till last evening, and I have been engaged the entire day with some governors for foreign affairs, sent from Yedo.

The mail, unexpectedly, closes at 10 o’clock to-morrow morning, and the late hour forbids my saying more than that other governors will wait upon me this week with a project for the amicable adjustment of our difficulties with the Prince of Nagato, and that they entertained no doubt it would be perfectly satisfactory, and render another visit of the ships-of-war of the treaty powers unnecessary.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident in Japan.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington.


The Wyoming leaves at 9 this day on a cruise, pursuant to orders of 26th January. A steamer is of great value here. Jamestown here; worth little except to lie in harbor.

The British minister has shown me a copy of your despatch of June 1; the original has not reached me.

You may rely with confidence on my forbearance with this people and government. I hope to merit your approval and that of the President.



Prussian corvette Gazelle in harbor with consul-general of China, with ratified treaty. Netherlands government has ordered additional force here.