Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward.

No. 25.]

Sir: In pursuance of the joint resolution of the representatives to proceed to Osaka, of which I informed you in my last (No. 24) on Thursday, the 5th instant, I went on board of the United States ship Oneida, accompanied by the Italian and Prussian representatives, and proceeded to that city. We found there everything quiet, it being in the possession of the troops of the Mikado, the citizens having returned and being in the performance of their accustomed avocations. The residence of the late Tycoon within the walls of the castle had been entirely destroyed by fire, while the walls themselves and the turrets were shattered by explosions. The barracks surrounding it, together with the buildings formerly occupied as the English legation had also been burned; the building occupied as the French legation and the governor’s house and offices were much torn to pieces, and some fires had occurred in other portions of the city. I found Uraijee, the temple I had occupied as a legation, in good condition and ready to receive me. A portion of my furniture, which I had been compelled to leave behind on our hasty departure, had been taken away or destroyed by the troops that had subsequently occupied the temple. I landed and marched through the city, some seven miles, taking with me only a marine guard of ten men, under command of Midshipman Emory, all of whom were kindly furnished me by Commander Creighton of the Oneida. On the next day, the 8th instant, I received a visit of ceremony from Higashi Kuze, Sakinoshosho and Date Tyonokami, the two commissioners for foreign affairs, who congratulated me upon my arrival and expressed a desire to continue and cultivate friendly relations between the government of the United States and that of the Mikado. I reciprocated their friendly desire and good wishes. They informed me again, in answer to inquiries put, that large bodies of troops were marching toward Yedo, that three envoys had been sent with them to treat with Tokugawa Yoshinobu, (the late Tycoon,) [Page 698] and that the officers had instructions to observe the rights of all foreigners and to treat them with consideration. I then told them that the interests of my government were very large at Yokohama, within about two miles of which place these troops would pass on their march to Yedo; that Yokohama was occupied by a governor, officers and troops of the late Tycoon, and I feared that the great interests I represented might in some way be jeopardized; that their troops marched without order, straggling and apparently under no command, and that duty seemed to require that I should at once leave for Yokohama; that I had made my preparations and should sail on the following Monday, (March the 9th.)

On the 7th instant all the representatives met the two commissioners at a large temple near the centre of the city, and were there introduced to the governor of Osaka recently appointed a Kuge of the court of the Mikado, and to eleven high officers representing eleven of the large Daimios, who are supporting the Mikado and furnishing contingents for his army. The conversation was of a general character, principally upon the question of finance and currency, the commissioners desiring that a regular rate of exchange of boos for Mexican dollars should be established, and that such rate should be the same throughout the empire. But nothing decisive was agreed upon. I then took leave of the commissioners, informing them that on the following Monday I should leave for Yokohama. Similar information was given to them by the representatives of Prussia and Italy.

On the evening of the next day (March 8th) I received a communication from the two commissioners for foreign affairs desiring a conference, and they visited me at half-past twelve o’clock in the night. They then informed me that a collision had occurred that afternoon at Sakai, a suburb of Osaka, on the bay and about eight miles from my legation, between some natives and foreigners, and they believed a foreigner had been injured. At the same time they gave me a verbal invitation to visit the Mikado at Kioto. I told them that I extremely appreciated the honor, and would readily accept the invitation; that the President of the United States desired to be on the most friendly terms with the Mikado and his government, but that some time must be allowed me to properly present myself at his court; that now, as I had already on two or three different occasions informed them, my duties demanded my immediate return to Yokohama to protect there the interests of my government and the lives and property of my countrymen; that if tbey would fix such time in the future as would enable me to fulfill that duty, I would return to Osaka and proceed to Kioto; that now, as they well knew, my arrangements had all been completed for leaving on the following day. They then promised to call on me in the morning and consult further upon the subject.

About half-past one o’clock, (a. m.,) and soon after the commissioners had left me, I was summoned to a conference of the representatives at the legation of the French minister, where, upon arrival, I found all my colleagues assembled, with the news, just officially received, of the cob lision at Sakai, and of which the commissioners must have been fully informed before their visit to me.

At Sakai one branch of the main river, passing through Osaka, debouches into the Gulf of Osaka. This branch is sometimes used for the passage of boats and junks into the gulf when the surf is high on the bar at the mouth of the main river. The French frigate Venus and corvette Dupleix were lying off Osaka. The French admiral had given orders to the commander of the Dupleix to cause this passage through Sakai and the bay near there to be properly surveyed and sounded. In compliance [Page 699] with this order, the commander of the Dupleix had concluded to send in his boats a surveying party, on the morning of the 8th instant, and had given information of his intention to the French minister. This information was transmitted to the commissioners for foreign affairs and by them to the guard at Sakai, with instructions not to interfere with such foreigners. This instruction was hardly necessary, because Sakai is especially opened to foreigners by the arrangements completed with the Japanese government for the opening of Osaka, and which were published on the 1st of January last. Captain Boy, of the Venus, and the French consul at Hiogo, Mr. Viault, had been spending the previous day with the French minister, and on the morning of the 8th, mounted on horseback and escorted by three jakunins, started to go to Sakai for the purpose of meeting the boats and surveying party and then going off to the Venus. After reaching the bridge crossing the branch of the river near Sakai, they were not permitted to pass by the guard in charge of it, but were compelled to return to the legation. The surveying party which were there from the Dupleix were in two boats, one containing one officer and seven men, the other a steam-launch containing one officer and fifteen men.

They had hauled up the steam-launch close to the landing-place, and had been kindly treated by all the residents of the place with whom they had come in contact. Two of the men went ashore, and after passing a short distance up a street, were arrested by some Japanese two-sworded men, who attempted to take them off. One of them pulled away from the guard and attempted to run back to the boat, when suddenly from all sides a large number of Japanese armed men sprang up, fired at this man, wounding him, and rushed down to the boat, firing at all foreigners in sight. After reaching the landing near where the steam-launch was lying, they fired at all the crew and continued their attack until they had, as they believed, killed all on board. They then retired. Eleven men, including the midshipman in charge of the launch, were killed, four were wounded, and one escaped unhurt. The wounded men, in conjunction with the one unhurt, succeeded in getting the launch off and out of reach of the shore, where they were subsequently picked up by boats from the Dupleix. The smaller boat’s crew succeeded in getting off with only one man wounded. In the two boats were two officers and twenty-two men. One officer and ten men were killed and five men were wounded. The commanding officer of the Dupleix immediately sent armed boats toward the shore, but finding that the forts were manned and every preparation had been made to resist an attack, prudently retired to his ship. This affair occurred about 5 o’clock p. m. of the 8th instant, and was the work of the retainers of Tosa, a prince whose people have had little acquaintance with, and are therefore inimical to foreigners, but who were in charge of the town of Sakai, under orders from the Mikado’s government. We were up all night consulting as to measures to be pursued under the circumstances, and not being entirely confident of our own safety. On the morning of the 9th, the commissioners of foreign affairs and all the representatives held a conference at my legation. The commissioners expressed the regret of the government and their own personal regret for the occurrence, declaring that there was no provocation for the attack, and assuring us that prompt satisfaction should be given. Six of the bodies of the unfortunate Frenchmen had been left on shore, not having reached the launch before they were killed; these were afterwards delivered on board the Dupleix in coffins.

On the afternoon of the 9th instant, in company with the Italian and [Page 700] Prussian representatives, I embarked. on board the Oneida. The French minister also embarked, on that day, on board the French frigate Venus. On the next day, the English minister embarked on board the Ocean. The 10th was windy, and we remained in the roadstead of Osaka. The United States steamer Monocacy arrived on that day, having come from Yokohama for the purpose of taking me to that port, the Iroquois being disabled from the performance of that duty by reason of having several cases of small-pox among her crew.

This morning, having transferred myself and suite on board the Monocacy, we came to this port, accompanied by the Oneida. The French corvette Dupleix and the English iron-clad Ocean also came down, and we have just attended the funeral of the unfortunate eleven men who have been so cruelly murdered. To-morrow, I hope to leave this port on board the Monocacy for Yokohama.

I have the honor to transmit herewith—

Inclosure No. 1. In relation to the murder.

Inclosure No. 2. Official report of the same.

Inclosure No. 3. Official report continued.

Inclosure No. 4. Sketch of the port of Sakai.

Inclosure No. 5. Mr. Van Valkenburgh to the Mikado’s government.

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


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

Mr. Roches to Count de la Tour.

My Dear Colleague: At the same time with myself you heard the assault committed on the 8th instant at Sakai, by retainers of the prince of Tosa, upon the flag of France and the lives of French sailors.

In order that you should be fully informed of the hateful character of this assault, and of the abominable circumstances under which it took place, I deem it proper to submit to you the reports of the commanders of the Venus and the Dupleix. The details accurately set forth in those reports will enable you clearly to comprehend the seriousness of the offense and the barbarism of those acts.

You are also aware that immediately and previous to my withdrawal on board the Venus I demanded from the government of the Mikado the bodies of the unfortunate sailors and of the missing officer, reserving further action in regard to the requisite reparation.

Within the time granted for the recovery I received the intelligence from the Mikado’s government that the bodies had been found, and that they would be returned; and this has taken place to-day.

This morning their excellencies Iwasima Iyonokami and Higashi Shosho, and also Messrs. Kumadzu and Godoi came on board the Venus to furnish the information they had collected, and to again express their regret at the occurrence.

I asked these high officers whether any act, a word, any imprudent gesture had been noticed on the part of the French sailors. They said that, quite to the contrary, the acts as well as the manners of those sailors had not been in the least to blame, and that the aggressions had taken place without the shadow of a pretext.

I asked him why the commander of the Venus, who on the same day, in company with the vice-consul of France at Hiogo, had gone to Sakai by land to meet his boat, had, notwithstanding his entreaty, been refused to enter the town by the officers of Tosa, while the government had been notified that soundings would be taken, and while the commander of the Venus was accompanied by an escort of four Takonins of the government?

They said that the officers had been questioned, and replied that they did not know that the port of Sakai was open according to the treaties.

I finally asked them if the presence of the French flag, the sight of French uniforms, or the nationality of the men, or even if any reminiscence or special motive had anything to do with the aggressions or with the cruelties practised on the French sailors.

[Page 701]

They answered me that in all that had happened there had absolutely been nothing exceptional towards France, and that they could only perceive the effects of a general and savage hatred which animated these barbarians against foreigners indiscriminately.

After the steps taken and the replies made by the government of the Mikado, the bearing of this government appears to me as proper and sincere as could be wished on this occasion.

It strikes me, therefore, that a similar misfortune might befall any other navy or any other flag; and from this point of view it is not only France that is insulted, but in fact all the foreign nationalities, which the men of Tosa have wished to humble and bully at Sakai, and that the same barbarism is still held out in defiance to all.

I feel sure those were your thoughts during the nights of the 8th and 9th, at the first news of the assault, and without even being aware of the extent and the details. You have been kind enough, as did also our colleagues, to express your sympathy in that misfortune. You did not feel justified longer to remain, or to leave your flag in a city at the gates of which a European flag had been cowardly insulted.

I judged I could not better respond to these proofs of solidarity, for which I am deeply grateful, than by submitting to you, together with the reports of the commanders of the Venus and the Dupleix, the answer given by the government of the Mikado.

As for the reparation to be demanded, the same acknowledgment of solidarity prevents me from separating in this sad affair the cause of France from that of the other nationalities. Convinced that each of our colleagues had taken up as his own the insult perpetrated by the men of Tosa on the foreign flag, on this occasion represented by the flag of France, I intend to apply for your moral support, and to agree with you in order to procure an efficient repression. We should not forget that the insult in question is not the first one experienced by foreigners at the hands of the officers of Tosa, and if the weakness of the preceding government was an obstacle to lawful punishment, the advent of a new government, and the circumstances which have made this Daimio one of its active chiefs, lead us to hope that at present we shall obtain satisfaction for the offense from which we have suffered.

As soon as I shall have paid at Hiogo the last honors to the unfortunate victims of the barbarism of the men of Tosa, I shall have the honor to consult you on the proposals it will be proper to address to the government of the Mikado, and I firmly hope that, like myself, you will require an example, which, in the future, may completely shield all flags and all foreigners from similar indignities.

Be pleased, sir, to accept the assurance of the high consideration with which I have the honor to be your obedient servant,

LEON ROCHES, Minister Plenipotentiary of France in Japan.

His Excellency Count de la Tour, Minister of the King of Italy.

Mr. Petit Thouars to the captain commanding ad interim the squadron of the China seas.

Sir: I have the painful duty to perform to report to you the sad accident that at 5 o’clock this afternoon happened to the steam-launch of the Dupleix.

In obedience to your order, I sent the launch, with a whaleboat of the Venus in tow, to take you on board at Sakai, and also the consul of France, instructing Ensign Paris, in charge, and also Midshipman Guillon, to go along the coast taking soundings to ascertain with the whaleboat that there was sufficient water between the jetties and the inner harbor for the launch before entering, and to wait for you from 3o’clock to take you back on board. The. launch had a crew of fifteen men, among whom was one senior quartermaster, Lemeur, and one second-class engineer, Durel, in charge of the engine. As on the preceding days, each man was furnished with a revolver and ammunition, all kept in a chest to prevent accidents, the men of the Venus were not armed. Arrived at Sakai at 3 o’clock precisely, and without the slightest difficulty. Mr. Paris, seeing the population as quiet and good-natured as on the preceding days, anchored the launch in A, leaving Mr. Guillon in charge to watch the men. and recommending him to shift his berth to the center of the inner harbor, if the curiosity of the Japanese should become troublesome. He then left to take soundings in the vicinity. A little later, at ten minutes to 5 o’clock, he returned, and found everything perfectly quiet. He then proceeded to take soundings in C. Durel and Lemeur then asked Mr. Guillon permission to take a stroll on the wharf B, which may be about two hundred meters (French yards) in length. The permission was readily granted, as for two hours the population remained good-natured, and several persons had landed without the slightest annoyance having been shown by the natives. As soon as they came to point B, that is a distance of hardly fifteen yards from the launch, they met a two-sworded [Page 702] man, who invited them to come to the other side, and then this person uttering a yell, they found themselves suddenly surrounded by a troop of armed men, dressed similarly, among whom were two men bearing flags, as given in the diagram appended, and those men then took their hands in order to tie them. Lemeur at once attempted to resist, but Durel told him to let them do so. He endeavored to make them understand who they were, and during this parleying they were gradually being crowded towards the interior of the town. On perceiving this, Lemeur suggested to Durel to try to turn back, little by little, towards the launch. He then with a jerk turned back, and freeing himself at once from those who thought they held him, he began to run towards the launch. Fire was at once opened on him, and the entire armed gang then ran after him in the direction of the launch. He jumped in, cut the rope at the stem, crying to the stoker to start the engine, but at the same moment both tell dead. The steam-pipe was cut by the bullets, and then all those Japanese discharged their arms at short range in the boat, keeping up the fire for a few moments.

Our unfortunate men, thus unexpectedly attacked, only thought of jumping overboard on the other side to find protection behind the boat, and some of them must there have been drowned. No further signs of life being perceptible, the firing ceased, the Japanese retired, and seven of our men, all seriously wounded, with the exception of Durel, who, owing to the confusion, jumped in the water, where he would certainly have been drowned but for the faithfulness of one of our men, taking advantage of the first moment of respite shoved off, took hold of the oars, and succeeded in clearing the passage without again having been fired at; and once outside, they set sail and made for the ship.

At a quarter past 6 o’clock, Mr. Paris, from whom you will find a sketch of Sakai and also a note appended to the statement, reported to me the attack on the launch; and thinking that she might still be in the hands of the Japanese, and that you might perhaps be waiting for her at some point, and also if this assault was only the work of a robber, the people themselves would return us our men, I gave orders to arm the boats of the Venus and Dupleix, and leaving my senior officer to bring them, I went at once, accompanied by the surgeon and Mr. Paris, towards a boat which our quartermaster believed to be the steam-launch. At the same time I directed the officer in charge of the Venus to inform the minister of the occurrence, and also gave notice to the commander of the Ocean, whom I informed that it was not my intention to attack that evening, if I succeeded in recovering my launch. To act otherwise might have endan gered the safety of our ministers at Osaka, the lives of our men, if any were still alive, among whom I believed yourself might be, and might be also engaging a battle without certainty of success. Leaving the ship under those circumstances at twenty minutes past 6 o’clock, I met our launch half way, under canvass, having only seven men on board, of whom only one was unhurt; two dead bodies were there also; consequently seven men, among whom Midshipman Guillon had disappeared, probably wounded first and then drowned. I ordered the launch to be towed on board by two boats, and with the five remaining boats which had joined me I proceeded to the entrance of the passage defended by the two forts. I proceeded in the whaleboat, the other boats in double file. The two leading boats were to follow me in the inner harbor, and the others to wait at the entrance, and not to go through the narrow passage unless to assist us, if they heard firing. I soon perceived, however, that we were expected, although it was 10 o’clock in the evening. Men were visible along the parapets, the guns were armed, though their crews concealed themselves, and soon a field-piece was placed on the jetty to the left, which was simultaneously reported to me by the officers in the two boats nearest to my whaleboat. To proceed might be placing all the interests I have named in jeopardy; and my launch, being safe, I gave orders to the boats to return to their ships. Most fortunately, also, at the same moment I received a message from Mr. Giquel, informing me that you were safe at Osaka.

In summing up what I have learned of this sad affair, I think, first, that the population of Sakai is not implicated in the matter; second, that this assassination has been committed by a perfectly organized gang, who were in ambush near the bridge B for the purpose of capturing some of our men; third, that the firing was probably intended for Quartermaster Lemeur, and because he attempted to escape from those who held him; fourth, that the defense of Sakai was this evening regularly organized at an hour when Japanese have generally retired, the authorities of the town must have been informed accordingly; fifth, that the men firing at the crew of the launch have not furnished the shadow of a pretext to the abominable crime of which they have been the victims.

In submitting to you these heart-rending details, it is very gratifying to me to be able to say that among the survivors from this catastrophe several have given proof of the highest courage, and that the commander of the Ocean, as soon as he heard of it, kindly sent me his surgeon at once.

I have, &c.,


The Captain commanding ad interim the squadron of the China Seas.

[Page 703]

Mr. Petit Thouars to the captain commanding ad interim the squadron in the China Seas.


Sir: The four wounded who survived the murder of Sakai being convalescent to-day, I questioned them more particularly, and I have collected information, which enables me more correctly to represent the facts in that case; the quartermaster, Durel, from whom I obtained most of my previous information, only knew from hearsay what had taken place in the boat, because he only got into it again after the departure of the Japanese, who must have thought that all had been killed.

Not only were the people of Sakai free from ill feeling, but they were so good natured that more than once fruit and cakes had been brought to our sailors; those men, therefore, were without the slightest mistrust in the launch and on the wharf, joking with the Japanese, by whom they were surrounded; when suddenly Quartermaster Lemeur, who had just come on shore with, Durel, came back running, saying: “Shove off, we are lost, the guards are coming;” then Midshipman Guillon, standing behind, ordered: “Cut the ropes—start the engine,” and at the same moment from sixty to seventy men, armed with carbines, followed by others carrying sticks and hooks, came down to the wharf, pushing back the crowd, which ran away frightened, and then began firing on the launch close by.

Lemeur and the fireman were killed at once; several men wounded dropped in the boat, others overboard, and those who had not been hit at the first fire, finding themselves so suddenly attacked, also jumped overboard on the other side, hoping in that manner to escape being butchered.

But as soon as a Japanese had fired his musket, he went under cover to reload, then fired again on those who, in the water or overboard, still gave signs of life, while others, armed with hooks, went along the wharf, seized the unfortunate men who were swimming, to knock their brains out. Mr. Guillon, first wounded in the hand, appears to have been shot in the head while he was swimming away; and the escape of the four survivors is owing to the two men, who, dangerously wounded at the first fire, fell senseless in the bottom of the boat, and to those others who managed to keep their heads above water without being perceived between the launch and a junk close by.

There, also, Quartermaster Durel, who could not swim, in a truly providential manner made his reappearance after he threw himself into the water. As for the seventh man, he was supposed to be dead, and left on the wharf, where he had been knocked down with hooks; but the people of Sakai, who returned as soon as the soldiers had left, still perceiving that his eyes were moving, made signs to him to get into the boat, which sufficiently proves that the people had nothing to do with this abominable crime.

When the firing ceased, Durel, seeing the soldiers go away, got into the boat again, hoping to find the engine in working order, and to take her away at once, but the steampipes were broken; then assisting the wounded to get aboard, and encouraging them by his example with those six men so seriously wounded that two of them died since and that two others still cause us the deepest anxiety, he succeeded in getting under way, to man two oars, and to reach the end of the jetties, when hoisting sail he made for the ship.

It is thus owing to the coolness, courage, and determination of this non-commissioned officer that the entire crew were not lost, and the launch itself saved, because the Japanese, as has been ascertained afterwards, only went away for a moment, for the purpose of fetching the necessary instruments to destroy the boat.

I have therefore to request, sir, that you will authorize me to recommend this noncommissioned officer for the cross of the Legion of Honor, as also the man Gomor, who, though wounded already, saved Durel by supporting him behind the boat, when half-drowned from being under water some seconds he had nearly fainted.

I would also request to recommend for the military medal those wounded who so bravely brought us back our boat; the spirit of those men is beyond praise; and the remembrance of what I have witnessed and heard in the boat, when I joined her towards half-pastseven in the evening, can never be forgotten. Not a sound—no complaint. Here is the captain; no one had hurt them—certainly not; we were all very quiet, hoping that the captain of the Venus may not have met those men. I jumped on board with the surgeon, ordering Mr. Paris to tow us on board with the whale-boat; a rope was to be fastened and the sail to be set, which had come down when I boarded. I told a man to do so: “Both of my arms are broken, sir.” To another man in the bottom of the boat: “Both of my legs are broken, sir.” This man had been shot through the body. With a third it was the foot; and so forth with the others. I repeat, Durel was the only able-bodied man left, and those six men, two of whom were dying, and [Page 704] two others, who are in the most dangerous condition, who assisted him in saving the boat.

I should also wish to recommend Mr. Ensign Paris for the cross of the Legion of Honor. This officer, who hastened to come up as soon as he heard the first shots fired, and reached in sight of the launch to see the last man fall, being unarmed, he remained ready to pick up those who might still be alive, and he did not leave to report to me what had taken place until signs of life were no longer visible, when the man with the lead had been hit twice, and the whale-boat received several bullets.

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


The Captain commanding ad interim the squadron in the China Seas, Venus.

Mr. Van Valkenburgh to the ministers for foreign affairs.

No. 41.] Legation of the United States in Japan, Hiogo,March 11.

I have been informed of the nature of the reparation asked by his excellency the minister of France, for the recent unprovoked murder of his countrymen at Sakai.

I trust your excellencies will see the importance of his Majesty the Mikado at once acting according to this request of his excellency the minister, and that prompt satisfaction may be given to him.

With respect and esteem,

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

Their Excellencies Higashi Kuze Saki No Shosho, Date Iyo No Kami, Ministers for Foreign Affairs.