Mr. Hegermann to Mr. Fish.
Washington, January 7, 1874. (Received January 9.)
Sir: The Great Northern Telegraph Company of Copenhagen commenced three years since to lay cables in Chinese waters, and its lines now connect the ports of Shanghai and Amoy with each other, and likewise with Japan, Eastern Siberia, and Hong-Kong.
Before commencing the work, the direction of the company addressed Mr. Burlingame, the head of the Chinese embassy, which was then at Copenhagen, asking for information as to whether the landing of cables at Chinese ports would be permitted. Mr. Burlingame having sent the satisfactory reply of which I have the honor to inclose a copy, any further application to the Chinese government in relation to the matter was deemed unnecessary. Although the company has not, for this reason, received a special and official authorization to lay cables along the coasts of China, and to establish telegraph lines and stations in the two aforesaid Chinese ports, the local authorities have, nevertheless, tacitly recognized that the operations of the company are authorized. At Shanghai they have assisted in the prosecution and punishment of Chinese subjects who have been guilty of thefts to the detriment of cables laid in rivers, and whenever telegraph lines have been destroyed or injured by acts of violence, they have promptly lent their aid to the company, and have performed their duties toward it in the most satisfactory manner, which duties have more than once been rendered difficult of performance by the condition of affairs in China and the national prejudice of the population.
Interruptions to the working of cables caused by premeditated acts of violence, have only occurred of late in places which are partly outside of Chinese territory.
The Chinese magistrates have frequently visited the telegraph stations, and, like the native merchants, they have made use of the electric wires for their own correspondence.
The only difficulty that has occurred, until quite recently, was raised by a local magistrate at Amoy, viz, the Tautai, who protested against the telegraph when, at the beginning of last year, the company established a station there.
This protest was followed by no results; but now, according to late advices received from the agent of the company, the Tautai at Shanghai, being irritated, as it appears, on account of an article which had appeared in the English newspaper published in that city, the tenor of which was very offensive to the feelings of the Chinese, has required that the telegraph line which connects Shanghai by land with the little port of Woosung should be removed, and that the station there established should be discontinued.
Mr. Seward, consul-general of the United States, and Mr. Medhurst, consul of England, having objected to these requirements, the Tautai is said to have submitted the matter to the government at Peking.
Although it is to be presumed that this incident will be followed by no results—it might perhaps even exert a beneficial influence upon the extension of telegraphic communication in the interior of China by calling the attention of the government to the great advantages that would accrue therefrom to the country—the direction of the company [Page 379] cannot close its eyes to the fact that its interests in China will always be, in many respects, at the mercy of contingencies and arbitrary proceedings, so long as they shall not be under the protection of influential persons at Peking. The company is convinced that its future in China would be assured, and that the task which it has taken upon itself in the interest of civilization would be considerably lightened, if it could succeed in obtaining effective official support, near the Chinese government, from the legations of the powers represented at Peking, together with the adoption of direct measures in its favor by the Japanese government, which has at all times given evidence of great good-wall toward the company and its operations in Japan, and which, in view of its oriental character and the community of so many interests, must certainly exert a great influence at Peking.
The government of the King, having been solicited to express the desires of the company to the governments represented at Peking, has not thought proper to refuse compliance with this request, in view of the immense importance of the development of telegraphic communication in China to the commerce of the world in that country and in Japan.
It is, therefore, in obedience to the orders of my government that I have the honor, Mr. Secretary of State, to address to you the present communication, for the purpose of begging the Government of the United States to be, pleased to grant the powerful support of its legation at Peking to the operations in China of the Great Northern Telegraph Company, for the sake of bringing the Chinese government to recognize and appreciate the great advantages of the ulterior development of telegraphic communication in that country.
I have also received orders to request the Government of the United States to be pleased to use its good offices at Yeddo for the purpose of inducing the government of the Mikado to exert its influence at Peking in favor of the company.
There is one more point which I am instructed to submit to the kind consideration of the Government of the United States.
The company has every reason to believe that some of the interruptions to which the working of the cable is from time to time exposed are due to acts of violence, which are prompted either by thoughtlessness and malevolence or by the calculating spirit of persons interested in stopping telegraphic communication at a given moment.
The company being unable by its own efforts to put a stop to these abuses, which are so detrimental to a regular and secure telegraphic service, it would be of the greatest importance to it to receive from the commanders of squadrons and of vessels stationed in Chinese waters— so far as this might be consistent with their duties—kind and active protection against these violent acts, which can be considered by the civilized world only as piracy and similar crimes, against which it is the duty of vessels of war to protect mankind.
Be pleased to accept, &c.,