Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward.

No. 2.]

Sir: It becomes my painful duty to give to you the account of a melancholy accident which occurred near this city on Saturday, the 11th day of January instant.

On the 8th instant, Rear Admiral H. H.Bell, in his flag-ship, the [Page 613] Hartford, accompanied by the Shenandoah and Iroquois, came up to the anchorage near the fort in this city. The wind was blowing very fresh, and the sea was high upon the bar at the mouth of the river which enters the bay of Osaka at the fort. On the 11th this wind had somewhat abated, although the sea was still rough, and the admiral at 9 o’clock in the morning, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Reid, flag-officer of the squadron, left his ship in his barge with 13 sailors, with the intention of paying me a visit at the temporary legation. On reaching the bar, and in attempting to pass it, his barge broached to in the heavy sea which was running and capsized, and the admiral, Lieutenant Commander Reid, and ten of the sailors were immediately drowned. The accident was observed from all the vessels, lying at the distance of nearly or quite a mile from the bar, and they immediately lowered their boats and sent them to the rescue, but succeeded in recovering alive but three of the sailors, and those in an exhausted state. Search was immediately made for those missing, but the surf was running so high and the wind was blowing so strong that it was almost impossible for the boats to live in the gale; however, the officers and men vied with each other in the attempt to rescue their officers and mates. At half-past 4 o’clock in the afternoon the first information of the casualty was brought to me by J.Frederic Lowder, esq., her Britannic Majesty’s acting vice-consul at this place, who resides about half-way (three miles) between this legation and the scene of the accident. He gave to me a letter (inclosure No. 1) which had been sent by Commodore Goldsborough on shore in charge of an officer having a boat and engaged in search for the bodies of the missing. He also informed me that about 1 o’clock of that day, (the 11th instant,) a rumor reached him that an American boat had been capsized in attempting to cross the bar at the mouth of the river. He immediately took his horse and rode down to the fort, about three miles, from which he could have a good view of the bar and the shipping; that he observed on the north side of the fort what seemed to be a boat capsized, and, taking a Japanese boat, he pulled for it, but before reaching it found the dead body of our admiral floating face downwards. This he recovered, brought to shore, and delivered it into the keeping of Lieutenant Commander Higginson, of the Hartford, who had just arrived in a boat from his ship. Then taking the letter of the commodore from Mr. Higginson, he hastened to inform me. On his way he met Mr. Morse, United States consular agent at this port, and who had arrived but the night before from Hiogo, and gave to him the sad news. Mr. Morse at once hastened to the fort, called upon the officials there, and took active measures to recover the remainder of the bodies.

I asked Mr. Lowder to give me a written statement of the facts as they were within his knowledge, and he subsequently furnished to me a letter a copy of which I inclose, No. 2.

Immediately on receiving this information, at half-past four o’clock on the afternoon of the 11th, I sent Lieutenant R. L.Meade, of the marines, and three of the marines who had been detailed by Commodore Goldsborough as a legation guard, in a boat to make effective search for, and take charge of the bodies recovered. They were accompanied by General Julius Stahel, United States consul at Kanagawa, and Mr. J. D. Carroll, an American of Yokohama, both of whom were my guests at the time. I also immediately sent for the governor of foreign affairs, who quickly answered my summons, and gave directions at my instance to the governors of Osaka to furnish men and boats, and continue a persistent search until all the bodies should be recovered. On the same [Page 614] evening I was waited upon by all my colleagues of France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, and Prussia, to sympathize with me in this sad affliction, and to tender me such assistance as was in their power. The governors of foreign affairs, on the part of the Tycoon, and in their own behalf, also visited me for the same purpose, and on the 12th instant I received a letter from Itakura Iga No Kami, prime minister, a copy translated of which I inclose, No. 3. On Sabbath morning, the 12th instant, I visited the fort and scene of disaster myself, and superintended the search; the body of Lieutenant Commander Reid was recovered, and during that day and the night following all the bodies were recovered, viz., the admiral, Lieutenant Commander Reid, and ten sailors, and they were taken on board the ships preparatory to going to Hiogo for burial. On the morning of the 13th I again went down to the fort for the purpose of going on the Iroquois to Hiogo to be present at the funeral, but the wind was so high and the waters on the bar so rough that it was not thought prudent for the boats to go off, and the boats and crews that had been sent on shore for the purpose of conveying me to the vessel were compelled to remain. I presume the funeral has taken place this morning at Hiogo, but I trust arrangements have been made to exhume the bodies of the admiral and flag-lieutenant at some future time and convey them to their country and friends. I regret that I have not the names of the sailors lost, to communicate to you, but the state of the waters on the bar, and the great difficulty of communicating with the vessels, have rendered it impossible for me to procure them. Should I be able, however, to do so before the mail leaves, I will inclose a list in this dispatch. I am sorry to inform you that the native official having charge of the village situated at the mouth of the river, and near the fort, was the only person who seemed to have no sympathy with the sufferers, and at first took no interest in the recovery of the bodies. It was his duty to have reported the accident at once to his superiors; he did not do this. Mr. Lowder informs me he was actually discourteous to him, and although five hours or more had elapsed from the capsizing of the boat to the time of his arrival at the spot, and not only had no efforts been made by this man Ichikawa Chokisi to rescue the survivors or recover the bodies, but he persistently denied any knowledge Of the accident, although it had been witnessed from near his own house. I am informed this is not the first occasion on which he has evinced utter carelessness and culpable neglect in matters of moment, and I have addressed a communication to the government upon this subject, a copy of which I inclose, marked No. 4. I inclose No. 5, copy of a letter addressed by me to his excellency Sir Harry S. Parkes, thanking Mr. Lowder for his humane efforts, and No. 6, the answer received thereto. No. 7, copy of letter addressed to his excellency Itakura Iga No Kami, prime minister, in answer to his note of the 12th instant. No. 8, copy of letter also addressed to his excellency Itakura Igo No Kami, thanking the Tycoon, and the officers engaged in the search, for their assistance. No. 9, a diagram of the fort, entrance to the river and bar, and showing where the body of the admiral was recovered. This diagram was made for me by Lieutenant Meade of the marines. It is impossible for me in words to express my sorrow for this calamity. Bear-Admiral Bell had won the confidence, respect, and esteem of all who knew him, and his sudden and unexpected death is lamented here by all nationalities. I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,


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

[Page 615]

No. 1.

Commodore Goldsborough to Mr. Van Valkenburgh.

Dear General: It is with pain and sorrow I write to inform you that about 9 a. m. this morning Rear-Admiral Bell, Lieutenant Commander Reid, and 13 men in the barge belonging to the Hartford, left that ship for Osaka, intending to pay you a visit. As the boat approached the bar she was struck by a heavy sea and capsized immediately. This was seen from all the vessels, and boats were quickly dispatched to their assistance. The last seen of the admiral was either sitting or holding on to the bottom of the boat, and unless he was picked up by some passing Japanese boat, or got hold of an oar, or something else, and washed on shore, I am afraid he and Mr. Reid met a watery grave. It is now about half past 11 o’clock a. m. All the boats have returned but one, and she is inside of the bar, hunting along the beach. The return boats picked up three of the barge’s crew—10 of them still missing. Will you do me the favor to ask of the authorities of Osaka assistance in hunting along the shore opposite the fort for any dead bodies that may have washed up on the beach; also, if the admiral or any of the party have been picked up, requiring assistance, to ascertain their whereaboats? Some, perhaps, if so fortunate as to have been picked up by a passing Japanese boat, may be so exhausted as not able to speak.

I will keep this open until the last moment, and send you the result of the boat now in shore, when she returns to the ship.

At the time of this sad and melancholy occurrence the barge of the Hartford was pulling, without sail, and there was a heavy sea on the bar.

I am, very truly yours, &c.,

J. E. GOLDSBOROUGH, Commodore.

No. 2.

Mr. Lowder to Mr. Van Valkenburgh.

Dear Sir: It is with feelings of no common regret that I find myself compelled to take pen and paper to record the few circumstances that have come under my personal knowledge in connection with the sad fate of Admiral Bell, of the United States navy. But as these form a link in the melancholy story of his death, I cannot but think that their perusal may afford some slight satisfaction to those who live to deplore his loss.

At about 1 o’clock yesterday a rumor reached me that an American boat had been capsized in attempting to cross the bar at the mouth of the river, which, as you are aware, is about three miles from my residence. The wind had been blowing hard all that day and the one previous, and although the rumor was extremely vague, I at once repaired to the scene of the reported disaster in order to ascertain for myself the truth of the matter, and if haply I might have it in my power to render any assistance. On nearing the fort, I perceived on the extreme left, or north side, what appeared to me to be the keel of a boat, lying, I should judge, about 200 yards from the shore. My worst fears were aroused at this sight, and after making inquiries from the people of the village without eliciting any information whatever, I resolved to take a boat and make my way up to the object which had excited my apprehensions. About half-way between the fort and this object I saw a body lying in the water with its face downwards. With the assistance of two gentlemen who accompanied me it was raised into the boat, and then for the first time I discovered who it was. Words fail me to describe the sensations which for the moment overpowered me when I recognized the calm features of the poor admiral, looking in death as placid and serene as was ever their wont in life. We laid him gently in the bottom of the boat, and reverently covered his remains, while we pulled back to the landing steps. Here I met Lieutenant Higginson, in whose charge, after making the necessary arrangements for securing the best room in the village, I left the corpse, and rode back to bring you the sad intelligence.

I will only add to these few details that I was personally acquainted with the deceased; and when I say that there are few men for whom I have so great respect and esteem, either in private or in public character, I feel that I only give feeble expression to the feelings which were entertained towards him by every individual who enjoyed the honor of his acquaintance; and I shall ever have a sentiment of pride and [Page 616] satisfaction in the thought that circumstances should have made me instrumental in doing even this little towards the discovery and rescue of his remains.

Believe me, dear sir, most sincerely yours,


His Excellency Gen. Van Valkenburgh, United States Minister, Japan.

No. 3.


Itakura Iga No Kami to Mr. Van Valkenburgh.

I have the honor to communicate the following to your excellency: The Tycoon was exceedingly grieved on learning that an accident had happened to one of the boats of your, country yesterday, (the 11th day of January, 1868,) on the coast of Osaka, and that the admiral, one officer, and several men were drowned, and sympathizes with you most sincerely. My regret and sorrow are beyond expression at this sad event.

I have been instructed by the Tycoon to communicate the above to you, and regret that, owing to a great pressure of business, I am unable to call upon you in person. With respect and consideration,


His Excellency R. B. Van Vankenburgh, Minister Resident of the United States of America.

Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Itakura Iga No Kami.

No. 12.]

Sir: While most of the officers of your government, from the Tycoon down, have tendered your sympathies and proffers of assistance to me and my countrymen in the hour of our trouble, and have been prompt, energetic, and successful in recovering the bodies of our lost friends, I regret to learn that one alone has not thus been actuated by humane feelings. I refer to Ichikawa Chokishi, the official in charge of the little village at the fort and near the entrance of the river. I am informed by J. Frederick Lowder, esq., her Britannic Majesty’s acting vice-consul at Osaka, that upon his visiting him and asking for information and assistance on the afternoon of the sad accident, he was treated with marked discourtesy; that his answers were abrupt and uncivil, and that no information or assistance could be procured from him. I am sorry that this should have occurred, and I am sure, when the fact is brought to the knowledge of your excellency, your disapprobation of his conduct will be marked by his dismissal, and the appointment to his position of a more energetic, civil, and humane person.

With respect and esteem,

R. B. VAN VALKENBURGH, Minister Resident of the United States in Japan.

His Excellency Itakura Iga No Kami, &c., &c., &c., Osaka.

Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Sir Harry S. Parkes.

No. 10.]

Sir: I desire, through you, to express my thanks to J. Frederick Lowder, esq., her Britannic Majesty’s acting vice-consul at Osaka, for the prompt and energetic measures adopted by him on the occasion of the recent sad accident, by which he was enabled to recover the body of Rear-Admiral H. H. Bell, and also in furnishing to me the first information I received of the misfortune.

I shall take pleasure in transmitting to my government an account of his humane exertions.

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

R. B. VAN VALKENBURGH, Minister Resident of the United States.

His Excellency Sir Harry S. Parkes, K. C. B., &c., &c., &., Osaka.

[Page 617]

Mr. Parkes to Mr. Van Valkenburgh.

Sir: It will afford me much pleasure to communicate to Mr. Lowder your dispatch of this date, in which you are so good as to express your appreciation of his conduct in recovering the body of the late Rear-Admiral Bell, of the United States navy. Such sad services will doubtless at all times be willingly rendered by the officers of our respective nations without distinction as to the class or country to whom the unfortunate sufferers may belong; but in this instance the high esteem in which Rear-Admiral Bell was held by all those who had the honor and pleasure of his acquaintance will add to the satisfaction which both Mr. Lowder and myself will entertain on finding that the former should have had it in his power to render you some assistance on this melancholy occasion.

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


General Van Valkenburgh, Minister of the United States in Japan.

No. 7.

Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Itakura Iga No Kami.

No. 9.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your excellency’s letter under date of the 12th instant, tendering to me the sincere sympathy of the Tycoon, as well as that of yourself, upon the occasion of the recent sad accident, and I ask your excellency to convey to the Tycoon, and to receive for yourself, my thanks for the kind and considerate words you have written.

A copy of your excellency’s letter shall be transmitted to my government.

With respect and esteem,

R. B. VAN VALKENBURGH, Minister Resident of the United States.

His Excellency Itakura Iga No Kami, &c., &., &c., Osaka.

No. 8.

Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Itakura Iga No Kami.

No. 11.]

Sir: On the occasion of the recent sad accident occurring near the fort in this city, by which Rear-Admiral H. H. Bell, Flag Lieutenant Reid, and ten sailors were drowned, I called upon your government for assistance in recovering the bodies from the water.

Prompt and efficient aid was at once rendered, and diligent and persistent efforts were continued upon the part of your officers and men charged with that duty, until the whole number of bodies were recovered and delivered to their shipmates.

This assistance I understand was given by direct order of the Tycoon, and take this opportunity to return to him, in the name of the government I represent, its thanks for his kind sympathy and active efforts on this sorrowful occasion, and I assured him that the President will consider it another proof of the desire of the Tycoon to strengthen the friendly relations now existing between the two countries.

I also desire to tender, through your excellency, to all those officers and men who have been engaged in the search, and who have been so attentive and kind, my most sincere personal thanks.

With respect and esteem,

R. B. VAN VALKENBURGH, Minister Resdient of the United States.

His Excellency Itakura Iga No Kami, &c., &c., &c., Osaka.