Mr. Clay to Mr. Seward

No. 199.]

Sir: I herein inclose you a translation of the note, from the French of Mr. de Westmann, acting minister of foreign affairs, &c., and a copy of my response in reference to the affair in the Sea of Okhotsk.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


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


Mr. Westmann to Mr. Clay

The undersigned, acting minister of foreign affairs, in referring to the note which General Clay, envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary of the United States of America, was pleased to addres to the chancellor of the empire, dated the 4–16th of March ultimo, has the honor to inform him that he has been put in possession of advices which, according to the desire of the federal government, the imperial cabinet hastened to ask of the minister of marine concerning the incident occurring in the Sea of Okhotsk, between an American whaler and a ship of the imperial navy. These are the circumstances: The schooner Aleout, under the command of Lieutenant Etoline, had been sent in commission from Nikolaievsk to Oudrk. The abundance of floating ice having forced him to enter into the Gulf of Tougoursh, he there met, the 14th of July, at about 20 miles to the south of the Straits of Chautusk, near the eastern coast, the American whaler Java, occupied in rendering the oil of a captured whale. Considering [Page 471] that foreign whalers are forbidden by the laws in force to fish in the Russian gulfs and bays at a distance less than three miles from the shore, where the right of fishing is exclusively reserved to Russian subjects, Lieutenant Etoline warned (invito) the captain of the Java, to “bear off” from the Gulf of Tougoursh, which he at once did. The same day, the Aleout made for the Bay of Mawgau, where arrived, on the next day, the American whale-schooner Caroline Foot, whose captain, accompanied by the captain of the Java, called on Lieutenant Etoline, and declared that he had no right to prevent them from fishing for whales wherever they liked. Lieutenant Etoline replied that there were in that respect established rules, (régles,) and if they insisted, absolutely, upon breaking them, that he would be compelled to prevent them. The captain of the schooner Caroline Foot pretending (ayant pretendee) that he had entered into the Bay of Tougoursh in consequence of “deviations from his course,” Lieutenant Etoline offered, at once, all assistance in his power, and, upon request, delivered him seven poods of biscuit from the stores of the Aleout. After which the two ships again went to sea. The 19th of July, that is, four days afterwards, the schooner Aleout met a whale, upon which the commander caused a trial fire to be made. At the same moment was seen, at about 16 miles’ distance, a sail, name unknown, and nearer, three “chaloupes,” the nearest of which was at least three miles in advance in the direction of the cannon fire. In the evening all these ships had disappeared. That incident is registered in the books of the Aleout in the following terms: “The 19th of July, at nine in the evening, at anchor in the Bay of Mawgaus, fired a cannon shot for practice at a whale afloat.” From these facts General Clay will be convinced that the incident alluded to has been exaggerated, and even perverted, (de naturé,) much in order to be represented as a cause of grievance against the commander of the Aleout on the part of the American whalers. In consequence of the conversation which had occurred between them, of the pretensions of the captain of the Java to fish wherever he pleased, and the necessity in which Lieutenant Etoline was placed to remind him of the laws which related to the right of fishing in the territorial waters of a foreign state, it is possible that the commander of the Java had really taken for a menace directed against him the fire of the experimental shot from the Aleout. But it is incontestable that the commander of the Aleout was acting in his right when he reminded the Americans of the laws in vigor, and his obligations to cause them to respect them. He certainly has not transcended the limits of his rights in firing, four days afterwards, a trial shot upon a floating whale in Russian waters.

He had no intention by that of giving the American whalers a warning, (avertissement,) useless because they were out of difficulty, and since the distance which separated the Aleout from the ships and the “chaloupes” in view at the time excluded all such intentions. Lieutenant Etoline had taken in their behalf proceedings conformable to the good relations between the two countries, since he had offered them his assistance in repairing their deviations from their course, and in providing them with provisions. Finally, the commander of the Aleout has not thought it necessary to inform the authorities of that incident, because it appeared to him of no importance, (insignifiant,) and because on his part he was conscious of not having transcended his rights, nor of having been wanting in his duty.

The undersigned flatters himself with the hope that the federal government, informed of these details, will consider the affair as settled, (l’incident comme vidé.) He seizes at the same time this occasion to renew to General Clay the assurances of his most distinguished consideration.


Mr. Clay to Mr. Westmann

The undersigned has the honor to acknowledge the receipt of note No. 2530 of his excellency, M. de Westmann, acting minister of foreign affairs, &c., dated July 31, ultimo, 1868, O. S., in reference to the affair in the Sea of Okhotsk, which he will hasten to lay before his government.

Whilst the United States are justly jealous of all their maritime rights, the American minister believes that his government, having had many signal proofs of the friendly sentiments of his imperial Majesty’s navy, will be slow to believe that they or any portion of his imperial Majesty’s subjects would designedly invade them.

The minister of the United States begs to renew to his excellency, the privy counsellor, assurance of his most distinguished consideration.