Mr. Heap to Mr. Seward.
Sir: The long illness of the Bey’s prime minister has occasioned a stagnation in affairs for several months past, no business except of very minor importance being transacted by the Bey when this minister is unable to attend.
The Bey himself rarely receives a consul in the absence of the khas-nadar, and it is sufficient to excite the latter’s serious displeasure for a native to speak to his Highness on business unless in his presence.
I had an interview with the Bey, to inform him of the result of the presidential election, which he had expressed much interest to learn. I received the news in eighteen hours from the time of the closing of the polls, and when it was confirmed by a subsequent telegram, I waited on his Highness, who accorded me an interview notwithstanding that his minister was too ill to assist at it.
The crops, which promised to be so abundant this year, have fully come up to the estimate. That of olive oil in particular is very large, and we have every reason to hope for an equally abundant one next season. The misery so prevalent lately has greatly diminished, and I think there is no fear of repetition of the widespread suffering of last winter. The late great mortality from famine and disease is now sensibly felt in the scarcity of hands for agricultural purposes. The health of the country is quite good at present.
We are visited by the German traveler, Gerhard Rohlfs, who has been [Page 188]appointed Prussian consul at Jerusalem, and is now on a mission to the Sultan of Bornou, to whom he is conveying rich presents from the King of Prussia. He will penetrate the interior of Africa from Tripoli.
The financial commission so often spoken of, and the discussion in regard to which was so near producing a rupture between France and this regency, is how, it seems, on the eve of being organized with the joint concurrence of France, England, and Italy. I fear it will only result in fresh complications, which, without benefiting the foreign creditors of the Bey, will overwhelm them in still greater difficulties. On the other hand, nothing can be more wretched than the present financial system, if system it can be called, which consists in extorting the last piaster from the unfortunate creditor and leaving the government creditor to clamor for his pay. Under an honest and enlightened administration, the public debt, large as it apparently is for so small a country, ($30,000,000,) would soon be paid off. This country abounds in natural wealth: the soil is of unsurpassed richness; there are fine fisheries on the coast, and the mountains abound in excellent timber, and, it is reported, in mines; but the government guards them with a jealousy which can only be explained from its fear of exciting the cupidity of foreigners. There is much natural facility for irrigating the rich plains which once sent their superabundant yield to Italy; and where the Romans held dominion in this part of Africa, they spread a network of aqueducts over the country the colossal remains of which explain how it came to pass that Tunis, once styled the granary of Rome, has, since the distraction of these great works, been dependent on other nations for bread.
An American with large capital is about introducing agricultural steam machinery on the banks of the Mejerda, anciently the Bagrada, where he, in association with a Frenchman, has obtained a large concession of lands from the Bey. Although it is easy to foresee that their enterprise will, for causes too numerous to mention, end in loss, it will not be altogether fruitless, as it will give these people a lesson in improved methods of cultivation. Their own is as rude as it was in the days of the patriarchs.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.[Page ]