Mr. Heap to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Although already overburdened with debt, the Bey’s government has recently endeavored, by means of a new loan, to relieve its finances from the exhaustion to which they are reduced by the failure of all regular sources of revenue.
Through General Musalli, director of foreign affairs, who is now in Paris, negotiations were opened with the banking house of “International Credit,” whose president, Mr. Bureau came here to arrange about the loan, and also to establish a bank. These measures created much alarm in the business community, as it was evident that the proposed [Page 179]issue of from fifty to seventy millions of francs in paper, with a forced circulation on a metallic basis, and that probably nominal, of ten millions only, would give the finishing stroke to the commercial interests of the country. Happily, these fears were allayed by the bankruptcy of Mr. Bureau, on his return to Paris.
The Bey is now reduced to such extreme penury, that his body-guard is sometimes left without rations for twenty-four hours, and his purveyors have often difficulty in providing for his own table.
The famine continues its frightful ravages. During the forty days ending the 6th instant, the number of interments from the establishments where the dead are prepared for burial was eight thousand two hundred and thirty—a daily average of over two hundred—of whom over one hundred and seventy-five died of hunger, and this in the city.
The carelessness with which the bodies have been interred, and the general misery and poverty, are bearing their fruits. Malignant fevers are prevailing, and we are threatened with an epidemic more fatal, even, than that which swept the regency last year.
As the authorities, though frequently urged by the consuls, not only took no measures for the cleansing of the streets, but neglected their own regulations for the burial of the dead, permitted deposits of bones, hides, and rags, in the most thickly populated parts of the city, and of carcasses of animals in the open spaces, the accumulation of filth of every description in all the streets, and other nuisances too numerous and too disgusting to mention, it became necessary for self-preservation that the foreign population, numbering here some ten thousand souls, should adopt measures for the public health.
A “Council of Public Salubrity” has been created, consisting of eight members, representing and elected by the different nationalities, and presided over by a consul, which is already proceeding, with ample means at its disposal, to the herculean task of cleansing and purifying this Augean stable. I am at present the president of the council, and trust we shall succeed in removing most of the sources of pestilence with which our quarter is filled.
A disease resembling the cattle plague having been denounced to the board of health, which is composed of the consuls, it has appointed a committee to examine and report on the subject.
There is every prospect of a bountiful harvest this year. The oil crop, which is the principal one, promises to be abundant. Two or three good crops in succession will be sufficient, if no fresh disaster occurs, to restore the country to at least its former prosperity. Before the next harvest, however, fully one-third the population will have perished.
The Bey has recently received a complete battery of artillery from the King of Italy, in return for a bronze cannon of large dimensions and exquisite workmanship which the Bey had presented to the King. The presentation was made at the goletta, with much ceremony, as the Tunisian government was glad to give éclat to an interchange of courtesies, which seemed to do away, in some degree, with the odium which attaches to it since the events of last fall.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.[Page 180]