Mr. Heap to Mr. Seward.
Sir: I have delayed until how any mention of the deplorable events which have kept this unfortunate country in a state of painful excitement [Page 175] and apprehension since September last. Mr. Cubisol, the late acting consul, had not placed on record his correspondence with the department during the time he was in charge of the consulate. He has just furnished me with copies of his dispatches, which are full of interest.
Happily this country had been exempt for many years from such sanguinary scenes as have succeeded each other with alarming rapidity during the last few months, and the people seemed to be steadily advancing in civilization, if not in prosperity. * * * * *
I shall not enter into the particulars of the late insurrection which the dispatches of Mr. Cubisol have brought so graphically and thoroughly to the knowledge of the department, but confine myself to a brief synopsis of these events, which may be useful for reference.
In September last, certain Arab tribes inhabiting the mountains in the western district near the Algerian frontier, who had for some years refused to pay taxes or tribute to the Bey, their master, and for several months been in arms against him, gave still more serious cause for anxiety by more daring acts of hostility to his authority. The nature of the country gave them great facility for defying the force he had sent against them under General Zarook, which was able only to watch the tribes, but was quite too small to follow them into their mountain fastnesses.
The position was unpleasant and humiliating, but if the Bey was unable to reduce the Arabs, he could at least do as he had done heretofore—let them alone, losing only, in addition to his prestige as ruler, the arrears of taxes due by them, which in the depressed condition of his finances was doubtless what he valued the most.
But the situation was rendered too serious to be longer neglected when it was discovered that Sidi Adel Bey, his Highnesses youngest brother, had disappeared from the bardo and joined the insurgents, with the hope of being elected their leader. The Bey, now seriously alarmed, immediately dispatched Sidi Ali Bey, “Bey of the Camp,” and heir presumptive to Begia, in the vicinity of the insurrectionary district, with re-enforcements, and to take command of the army, as General Zarook declined to assume the responsibility of arresting a prince of the reigning family.
Partly by force and threats, partly by persuasion, but mostly by means which are found irresistible in these countries, Sidi Ali Bey soon got his brother in his power, and at the same time a number of the prince’s adherents who had accompanied or joined him in his flight. These were soon induced to divulge the names of all who were in the plot, and so many were inculpated that soon the dungeons of the bardo were gorged with prisoners.
Two of Sidi Adel’s principal officers were executed in the camp, and the prince was sent with the remainder to the bardo, where he was kept in confinement in his own palace. Nearly 200 sheiks and principal men of the tribes, who were captured at the same time, were sent to the bardo and the goletta, where they received various sentences; some were exiled, some bastinadoed, and many were confined to the Bey’s ships to do duty as common sailors, and kept under a strict surveillance.
A few days after Sidi Adel’s flight two generals of division, friends of the prince, were strangled at the bardo by order of the Bey; one was Sidi Ismail Sunni, (his Highness’s brother-in-law,) and the other Sidi Rechid. This took place in the early part of October, without subjecting them to the ordinary course and procedure indicated by the law, and without permitting them the means of offering a defense.
It appears that the Bey was induced to take these severe measures by [Page 176] the real or supposed discovery of a plot by which the troops were to be brought over to act in the movement, and that even some of the officers of his body-guard had been seduced from their allegiance. * * *
Adel Bey died on the 4th of November, it was reported, of camp fever, and Ben Gadam and Ben Dahar, chiefs of the great Arab revolt of 1864, and who had been kept in confinement at the goletta ever since, died a few days before the prince in their prisons.
Since then from fifteen to twenty other persons, who were compromised by the disclosures of Sidi Adel and his companions, have been exiled to Syria.
These deplorable events have filled the country with consternation. It seemed a return to the barbarous practices of a period far remote, which it was thought a long contact with the civilization of Europe had rendered impossible.
Although the constitution promulgated under the preceding reign was suspended during the rebellion of 1864, and though it has not been renewed since, it was not thought possible that the Tunisian government would defy the opinion of the civilized world to the extent of perpetrating deeds darker and more atrocious than had been committed under any previous reign. They have received the severest reprobation from several of the principal European governments, who, in communicating on the subject with their representatives here, have expressed the utmost horror and indignation. I have been permitted to see some of these dispatches, in which diplomatic etiquette is well-nigh forgotten in the expression of the sovereign’s displeasure that one who had received testimonials from every crowned head of Europe on account of his efforts to advance the welfare of his people, should suddenly have relapsed, as it were, into barbarism, and reproduced scenes which it was hoped had passed into history with other bad things of the past.
In the midst of a severe epidemic, the country suffering from a drought of over two years’ duration, the population sinking under poverty, pestilence and famine, these events produced the most profound and painful sensation.
It was natural that the death of Sidi Adel, preceded as it was by those of the two Arab chiefs at the goletta, should have given rise to the darkest suspicions, which seem, unfortunately, too well founded. Others of lesser note died or disappeared suddenly about the same time, and these tragedies would probably have continued had not the consuls of France and Italy and some others interfered.
* * * * * * *
I beg the indulgence of the department for this long dispatch, but I hope it will be found useful as a sketch of the events of the few last months, the details of which have been ably related by Mr. Cubisol.
I am, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.