No. 139.
Mr. Williams to Mr. Fish.

No. 19.]

Sir: I have the honor to send for your information the translation of a dispatch received about four months since from Prince Kung, (inclosure 1,) who therein upholds the report of the intendant at Shanghai, protesting against the action of the Great Northern Telegraph Company, whose managers had opened a station at Woosung, and taken up the cable between there and Shanghai. The intendant had applied to the consular body to interfere in the matter, and restrain the telegraph company, whose agents had, without regarding the agreement made between Mr. Wade and the Yamun at Peking, erected their poles between Woosung and Shanghai. The consular body referred his complaint to a committee, whose letter in explanation of the thing, and report of their personal interview with him, are inclosed as the best explanation of Prince Kung’s dispatch, (inclosures 2 and 3.)

This was sent as a circular to all the legations, and the general understanding was that the best course was to let it remain unanswered. If a discussion arose, the proceedings at Woosung could not be defended according to the terms of the agreement referred to in it, which had, however, been made with special reference to an English line. Its privileges had been used by the Danish company, which was first in the field. The general terms of this agreement are given in Prince Kung’s dispatch and the other inclosures, and confined all telegraphic operations to hulks and submarine cables.

The intendant has taken no steps to remove the poles sinces the interview described, and the people along the river-bank have now become accustomed to their appearance there and in the settlement. No one has any apprehension, therefore, of a repetition of the acts of 1864, when [Page 247] they were all taken up in a night by the country people, with, the connivance of the intendant, because they interfered with and injured the good luck of the region.

Moreover, as a good thing is always its own best argument and vindicator, the native merchants at Shanghai have begun to employ the telegraph to carry on their business with Hong-Kong and Canton and Japan to such a degree that they desire no interruption to the line; and this public opinion has its influence with the intendant. We shall, I think, now that several months have passed, hear no more of the matter.

* * * * * * *

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 19.—Translation.]

Prince Kung to Mr. Williams.

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, herewith makes a communication:

I received a dispatch on the 2d instant from the superintendent of trade of the southern ports, inclosing the following report to him from Chan, intendant of circuit and collector of customs at Shanghai:

“It has lately come to my knowledge that a foreign telegraph-office has been opened at Woosung, and that telegraph-posts have been erected to connect with the submarine cable laid between Hong-Kong and Shanghai, the end of which has been landed there for that purpose. The treaty makes no mention of the telegraph, and I therefore referred to the dispatch in which the Yamun communicated to the superintendent of trade the agreement they had come to respecting it in June, 1870, with Mr. Wade, the British minister. This was to the effect that the cable was to be a submarine cable, the end of which was to be made fast to a hulk to be moored outside of the foreign anchorage. The opening of a telegraph-office at Wu-sung, and the erection of telegraph-posts for the reception of a cable which has been brought on shore there, being nothing else but a rejection of a water in favor of a land line, and, as such, being distinctly at variance with the agreement providing that the cable should terminate in a hulk to be anchored outside of the port, I immediately wrote to the British consul and requested him to order their removal.

“He replied that the office was the property of the Great Northern Telegraph Company, and that the way to proceed in the matter would be to communicate officially with the board of foreign consuls through Mr. Seward, the United States consul-general, who, from length of residence at Shanghai, was at present the chairman of the board.

“In his reply, Mr. Seward, the United States consul-general, stated that the case against the Great Northern Telegraph Company had been referred by the board of consuls to a committee composed of the British and Danish consuls and himself, and that he would be glad if I would fix upon a day to meet and discuss the case.

“I met the British consul and the United States consul-general by appointment on the 4th September last, and I pointed out to them that, in terms of the roles laid down, the telegraph-office at Woosung must be closed, the line of telegraph-posts removed, and the cable made to terminate in a hulk to be moored outside of the port of Woosung. I further showed that the Great Northern Telegraph Company, in unauthorizedly taking upon themselves to construct a line at Woosung, were acting in direct opposition to the rules agreed upon by Mr. Wade, the British minister, and the foreign office; and I represented that, if the consuls did not prevent their doing so, it was to be feared that other mercantile communities would disobey the instructions issued by their minister resident at Peking in a way calculated to lead to constant breaches of the treaty and its regulations. I added that if the merchants were to be allowed to do as they pleased in such matters, it would be very difficult to conduct international questions between China and foreign powers.

“To this the British consul replied, that as the Danish consul was not present it would be better to postpone for a time further discussion of the case. The United States consul-general, who was present at this interview, did not dissent from this suggestion. But although a considerable time has elapsed since the date of that meeting, not a word further has been heard on the subject; I therefore,” adds the superintendent of trade, “now request instructions how to act in the matter.”

[Page 248]

In regard to the above, the foreign office would observe that no provision was made in the treaty for the construction of lines of telegraph between the treaty ports along the coasts. They therefore must refer to the letter from Mr. Wade, the British minister, in 1870, concerning telegraphy, which he then addressed to the foreign office, in which he referred to a dispatch from Lord Clarendon, the foreign secretary of state, in which he said that the telegraph-offices in England were anxious to ascertain whether they could obtain permission to lay cables between Shanghai and the treaty ports of Canton, Swatow, Amoy, Foo-chow, and Ningpo. They had in ail their proposals in doing this, meant a line which could be carried by land from place to place; but that the present arrangement was totally different, as it contemplated laying a submarine cable along the coast, the end of which only was to be landed to connect with a foreign establishment on shore.

In replying to this note of the British minister, I pointed out that the question of introducing telegraphs into China was attended with great difficulties; but stated that no opposition would be offered to the laying of a submarine cable along the coast, provided the end of it was not brought on shore and did not in any way touch ground at the treaty ports. I further observed that it was only by clearly defining the limits within which telegraphic operations in China might be carried on, that one could hope to avoid future complications.

In his rejoinder, the British minister stated that he had signified to the telegraph agent sent out, for the information and guidance of his principals, that the end of the cable must not be brought on shore, and that, to prevent possible complications, it was essential that means should be devised for carrying out the project within the limits imposed.

It follows, therefore, that the Great Northern Telegraph Company, in opening an office at Woosung, and in erecting telegraph-posts, or, in other words, in bringing the cable on shore, and in thus constituting it a land instead of a submarine cable, have acted in direct opposition to the rules laid down in the note of the British minister above quoted; and as the case has been referred to the United States consul-general, the British consul, and the Danish consul, it is requisite that instructions should be sent to these officers to have the proceedings of the telegraph company put a stop to.

In view, therefore, of the report that has been forwarded by the superintendent of trade of the southern ports, it is my duty to request that your excellency will direct the consul-general that by the agreement of 1870, the telegraph-posts and telegraph-office belonging to the said company must be at once removed from the places in which they are now standing.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 19.]

Report of committee in the Great Northern Telegraph Company matter.

In pursuance of a resolution passed at a meeting of the consular body held at the United States consulate-general on the 27th of August, 1873, to the effect that Messrs. Seward, Johnson and Medhurst should seek an interview with the Taotai for the purpose of ascertaining his actual views in respect to the telegraphic communication lately opened between Woosung and Shanghai, Messrs. Seward and Mednurst called upon the Tautai on the 4th of September, 1873.

The Tautai was attended by Chăn, the mixed-court magistrate, who took an active part in the conversation.

Messrs. Seward and Medhurst directed their efforts toward discovering how far the objections raised by the Taotai in his official letter were positive as against the institution of telegraphs generally, or were only officially put forward with the object of setting himself right with his superiors in respect to the particular line objected to.

The Taotai disclaimed any desire to oppose telegraphy in general. He referred to the so-called agreement with Mr. Wade, and declared it to be the sole ground of his objection. He was bound, he said, in duty, as well as for his own sake, to see that the understanding come to by the Tsung-li Yamun was strictly acted upon; and if the consuls could only arrange so that the views of the telegraphic company were carried out in accordance therewith, he would be satisfied. He was even prepared, he said, to stretch a point, if the consuls would on their part defer to his objection.

He admitted the existence of other lines in the settlements, but he argued that these did not afford any precedents, seeing that they were within the boundaries allotted to foreigners, and had not been made the subject of agreement. It was urged that the line objected to was upon property owned by foreigners, and in no way prejudiced any rights, private or public. But he could or would not see how this affected the question; an understanding had been come to, and it could not be departed from by the one side without the consent of the other. It was then suggested that, as he had performed his duty by protesting, he might rest satisfied with the mere protest; but this he declined to admit. His duty, he pleaded, extended to seeing that his protest was [Page 249] effectual, otherwise he could not set himself right with his superiors. It was then argued that the understanding, if any, had long ago been broken through by previous Taotais; for, as a matter of fact, the line had been landed from the very first, and run into the company’s premises, in Nanking road. The breach of agreement having thus been condoned, it was too late now to raise objections. To this he replied, that any failure of duty on the part of his predecessors could afford no excuse for his following in their footsteps. The vast utility of telegraphy, as an institution, was also enlarged upon, but without effect; the Taotai entirely admitting its benefits to the public at large, but reverting to the necessity of keeping faith in the matter of the particular agreement entered into by the Tsung-li Yamun.

On the whole, Messrs. Seward and Medhurst were compelled to come to the conclusion that the Taotai had no personal objection to the innovations which have been ventured upon by the Great Northern Telegraph Company, but that he had been driven by the public attention which had been unfortunately drawn to the line to enter his protest against it. That to this protest the Tautai is likely to adhere pertinaciously, and that it can only be met by the consuls with an explanation, so prepared as to free the Tautai from responsibility, while it carries conviction to the superior authorities, to whom he is responsible.

With this impression the consuls for the United States, Denmark, and Great Britain have drafted a dispatch, which they propose should be addressed to the Tautai, in reply to his communication, and they recommend it for the adoption of their colleagues.

  • F. B. JOHNSON.
  • G. F. SEWARD.
[Inclosure 3 in No. 19.]

Mr. Seward to the Taotai.

Sir: I have had the honor, as senior consul, to receive your communication, dated the 19th of August last, in which you call attention to the fact that the Great Northern Telegraph Company have recently established a station at Woosung, and have carried a wire along the line of new road, between that place and Shanghai, and request the consuls to require the immediate removal of both station and wire, on the ground that the extension of the telegraph to Shanghai was permitted on the express understanding that the end should not be landed anywhere upon the shore.

I have placed this letter before the consuls, and have now to communicate to you their response.

The company alluded to is Danish. Its lines connect with the Russian telegraph, and in this way that government is interested.

As a consequence, the matter is one which more directly concerns the Danish and Russian consuls; and if your protest is to be further urged, it would with more propriety be addressed to them.

As, however, the general question of telegraphic communication intimately concerns the entire commercial interests of the port, the consuls have given the subject their most careful consideration, and, on their behalf, I am to state the opinion that you are attaching great importance to a very simple proceeding, which in no way injuriously affects the public welfare, and to request your attention to the following considerations:

The new road between the anchorage and Shanghai (which, after all, is only 12 miles long) is the property of foreigners, who have acquired the land in the usual manner, and subscribed funds for its construction, their object being to secure quick communication between Shanghai and the shipping at Woosung.

The manager of the telegraph company, finding that the cable which had been laid along the river’s bed between Woosung and Shanghai was often broken in consequence of fouling the anchors of the numerous vessels which frequent the stream, applied to the road proprietors for permission to take the wires along the road. Their consent was obtained, and the new line formed. The posts are placed wholly on foreign-owned lands, and, therefore, in no way interfere with the rights of the Chinese government or of the people; and the convenience of the company and of the business of the port has been materially benefited.

I am authorized to say further, that it is by no means foreigners alone who have derived advantages from the lines of the Great Northern Telegraph Company. Chinese merchants employ them very extensively, and the supreme and provincial governments have had occasion to invoke their valuable aid.

The consuls believe, indeed, that the telegraph is an appliance, the utility of which cannot be overrated, and against which no argument? worthy of consideration can be adduced; and they have no doubt that in view of the whole case you will accept this explanation and refrain from pressing the matter.

I have, &c.,