No. 156.
Mr. Henderson to Mr. Davis.

No. 31.]

Sir: Since sending my dispatch No. 30, with reference to the Japanese invasion of Formosa, I had a long conversation with the Chinese [Page 315] admiral and Taotai at this port on that subject, and particularly the complicity of certain prominent Americans in the affair. The Taotai thought it a matter of common notoriety that Americans were taking part, and a very active one, too; and remarked that it had frequently been stated in the newspapers that the expedition had been concocted and was being managed by Americans. They professed to regard America as China’s oldest and truest friend, and thought justice and good faith demanded that our Government should at once prevent its citizens from taking any part in the performance. The admiral made a special request that I would do what I could to bring about an amicable settlement of the trouble that would be just and honorable to China.

I cannot help thinking it a little unfortunate, for appearance’ sake at least, that citizens of the first Government in the great family of nations, just now trying to teach China international rights and obligations, should be about the only foreigners implicated, and especially that so many of them, until quite recently, held responsible positions in our civil and “military service, and particularly that one of them is now a lieutenant-commander in our Navy.

I assured them that it had always been the pride of the United States to maintain a scrupulously impartial neutrality in difficulties between other nations in which they had no concern, and that, when apprised of any unlawful conduct on the part of either their officers or citizens in China, it would inquire into the matter and do justice; but as yet I had no certain information that Americans were taking any part in the transaction, other than that of innocent observers; that I had been over to Formosa to see for myself what was going on, but the weather was so stormy I was obliged to return without landing; and, until I received the Taotai’s letter on the subject, a day or two ago, I was not aware that China claimed the savage territory at all, and had been so informed by a high officer in their service; that, besides all this, it had frequently been stated in newspapers that the Japanese had gone to Formosa with the express consent of the government at Peking. They both claimed to have authority from Peking to declare the latter report untrue.

The character and sources of the information I have received about this affair, until within the last four or five days, has not seemed to justify me in taking any official notice of it; and, judging from what I know of the history of Formosa and its savage inhabitants, I was disposed to believe that China had given permission to the Japanese to go there and punish the savages, and really supposed she would be glad of it, if they had to be punished at all. But after what developed in the conversation yesterday, I concluded this morning to telegraph to the legation for instructions as to the course to pursue toward Americans implicated, and did so.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure.—Newspaper extracts.]


[From The Daily Press, Hongkong, June 2, 1874.]

(From our special correspondent.)

Langkiaou, where the Japanese are encamped, is a small plain, one or two square miles in extent and surrounded by hills, on the west coast of Formosa, about ten miles [Page 316] from the South Cape, and forty miles from Takow. There are a few Chinese villages in it. Communication with the north is generally by junk, as the path through the hills is not safe from attack.

The Japanese have lately been busily occupied in changing the position of their camp. The old one was on an open level, plain, that answered capitally till the rain began to fall, when the unfortunate soldiers found themselves sleeping literally in water. The new camp is on a line of sand-hills nearer the shore, and less regular, but far more healthy and comfortable. In spite of the work and the rain, a few small parties have managed to get away into the bush to try their breech-loaders on the savages. Two or three men have thus fallen on both sides. On one occasion such a large party of savages jumped out upon six Japanese that they had to run, leaving one of their number on the ground. His head now decorates some savage hut. Let us hope that it will be the only trophy of the kind that the savages will gain in the war. The tribe against whom proceedings are carried on are supposed to be the actual murderers of the Lewchewans, and are called the Bawtan, or the “peony” savages.

There are two American officers here, Commodore Casseli and Colonel Wasson. Sach, at least, is the rank which they bear while serving the Japanese. They seem to have had hitherto, in an unofficial way, the general direction of the expedition; and, unless they belie their reputation, they will do good service in the war. These two gentlemen the other day went, unattended by an escort, to a neighboring savage village to see the chief. It had been agreed that they should meet in the open country; but, the savages not appearing, the officers went on to the village. This was an act requiring more nerve and real courage than some dashing exploit on the battle-field. A peaceable arrangement was made, which included all the villages south of Langkiaou except one, which is to be punished for some act of hostility.

This morning early the later sleepers among us were awakened by a salute of several guns. This announced the arrival of General Saigo, the commander-in-chief of the expedition. He came in the Delta, which also brought 1,200 troops. A Japanese gunboat came in at the same time, and an hour or two afterward the Shaftesbury, with 600 soldiers, raising the number to about 2,500. Three thousand are expected in all. The Delta is said to have been bought standing, with her fittings and stores, and apparently officers as well, for they are all on board, though a new captain commands her. A fine Chinese corvette, the Yang Woo, and a small gunboat, have also come in, bringing three Chinese mandarins from Taiwanfoo to visit the Japanese commander-in-chief. With the four Japanese vessels and Her Majesty’s steamship Hornet, which have been here for some days, there are, therefore, ten steamers anchored together in the bay.

A small party of troops bivouacked last night in the mountains, about four miles away. Early this afternoon two men were seen coming in wounded. At the same time about one hundred men hurried off to take part in the fighting. They were in irregular detachments, apparently without any officers. They went along at a half run as eager and delighted as possible. Many of them were carrying their two-handed swords as well as rifles. The swords are awkward enough for scrambling through the bush; but the Japanese cannot bear to leave them behind, hoping that some time or other they may come up with the savages. If they do there will be fearful work. It is a common sight to see men employing their leisure moments in sharpening and re-sharpening their sabers or sword-bayonets. They think breech-loaders are excellent weapons for fighting at a distance, but they have a most blood-thirsty longing for hand-to-hand work.

We hear this morning that the result of yesterday’s fight was fifteen savages and six Japanese killed on the spot. A visit to the hospital showed ten wounded men there, one, and perhaps two, mortally hurt. The Japanese brought in all their men who were killed, and cut off and carried back the heads of the savages, which, however, were immediately buried. One of the savages killed was a chief, and in his pouch was found a quantity of percussion-caps; but he was fighting with a matchlock. The work was severe. The savages generally waited under cover, rising up suddenly and firing first, and then running away to take up a fresh position. In one place a slight stockade was erected across a ravine, and a stand was made there. The Japanese are extremely brave. The only fault to be found with them is that they are too regardless of their own lives, preferring to rush in rather than to adopt the savage tactics, and make the most of the cover.

The Chinese inhabitants are both delighted and astonished at this slaughtering of their enemies. They are on excellent terms with the Japanese, who, with equal justice and wisdom, pay well for everything they want. The Chinese do not well understand the big copper coins, but thoroughly appreciate the new silver currency.

The Chinese mandarins came on shore to-day, at noon, to see the commander-in-chief. They were received by a guard of honor of two hundred soldiers. The visit was very [Page 317] short. It is not known what passed. The mandarins were not of sufficiently high rank for the Japanese to be willing to discuss any thing of importance with them; and probably not much took place “beyond an interchange of compliments.

We are having a sample of Formosa weather. In the morning, though the sea was quiet, still there was a surf which rendered care necessary in landing. This afternoon, in an incredibly short space of time, such a sea has got up that the two small gunboats are rolling almost gunwales under, and communication between the shore and the ships is a matter of real difficulty. Cloudy weather, with a mixture of drizzling rain and heavy down-pour, render fever and ague a too probable contingency.

The Japanese commanders do not want to have any more fighting for two or three days, fearing to frighten the enemy away. They wish to wait till they can attack from several quarters at once, and so have a chance of preventing the escape of the savages.

The Nepaul sails to-night for Nagasaki.