No. 761.
Mr. Boker to Mr. Fish.

No. 129.]

Sir: In my dispatch. No. 126 I had the honor to transmit to the Department a copy of the letter addressed to the Khedive by the grand vizier, containing the interpretation given by the Sublime Porte to article 17 in the charter of the Suez Canal Company. Thisdocument,* * * * *, unsatisfactory as it was, was yet considered to be sufficient to settle one branch of the question of the tolls, by compelling the company henceforth to adopt the Moorsoa system of measurement, and to levy tolls upon the net tonnage only, leaving the matter of reclamation for the illegal dues heretofore collected under protest to be settled in some way yet to be determined.

Great was the astonishment of the friends of the shipping interest to learn that the Khedive understood the vizierial letter to be entirely in favor of the views of the company; that it declared nothing as to the illegality of the company’s present method of measuring ships and charging tonnage-dues, and that it bound the company to no prescribed course for the future, unless with the company’s own consent. The opinions expressed in the vizierial letter were understood to be mere opinions, advisory and not authoritative, which still left the question in the hands of the company, and relieved the Sublime Porte of responsibility by referring the matters in dispute to a proposed international commission.

On being pressed by the representatives of the mercantile interest, the Khedive wrote to the Sublime Porte, asking for an explanation of the vizierial letter. This drew forth a reply from the grand vizier, a copy of which I inclose, and I believe that the Department will agree with me, that if the Khedive’s own sphinx had uttered the answer, it could not have been darker and more enigmatical. The reply confirmed the Khedive in his previous course, the secret motive of which I suspect to be that he wishes to show to the powers that they cannot get along without sanctioning his scheme of Egyptian judicial reform, and thus bringing the affairs of the Suez Canal Company under the jurisdiction of the proposed tribunal. The present position of the question seems to be, that the Suez Canal Company may disregard all that has been written on the subject of the toils by the Sublime Porte, that the company will be countenanced in that course by the Khedive, and that it will be the interest of the company to postpone to the latest date the assembling of the projected international commission, to the possible decrees of which the company has not yet even agreed to submit. As there must be an interval between the date of the promulgation of the vizierial letter and the assembling of the international commission, it is natural that those who represent the mercantile interests should desire to know what will be the system of measurement and the rate of tolls authorized by the Sublime Porte during that interval, irrespective of the action of the company, which it needs no prophet to predict. I accordingly addressed a letter of inquiry on the subject to the Sublime Porte, a copy of which I inclose, and in that movement I acted in harmony with a majority of my colleagues. It is proposed that the meetings of the international commission above referred to shall be held in the city of Constantinople, and in that case it will be no easy matter to obtain delegates to represent our interests. I know of but two gentlemen whose mercantile experience would fit them to sit as American commissioners, [Page 1124] Mr. William R. Page, the United States consul at Port Said, and Mr. George M. Braggiotti, a shipping, merchant of this city. If the services of these gentlemen are thought to be desirable, some provision must be made for the payment of their expenses while in the performance of their duty. The other powers will be represented by experts, sent here by the various governments at high rates of compensation, and I deem it proper that we should not be unrepresented in the commission. I therefore respectfully request instructions on the subject.

I have, &c,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 129.—Translation.]

Vizierial letter addressed to the Khedive under date of the 24th Djemazi-ul-evvel, July 19th, 1873.

Highness: I have had the honor to receive the letter to which your highness was pleased to wite to me under date of the 22d Djemazi-ul-evvel, 1290, (July 17, 1873,) to ask me some explanation relative to the vizierial dispatch concerning the decision which was made by the Sublime Porte in the matter of the tonnage to be used in determining the dues which are to be collected from vessels passing through the Suez Canal.

As is known to your highness, the Suez Canal Company had recourse to the decision and the opinion of the imperial government for the settlement of that question.

As your highness will observe also by reading the before-mentioned dispatch, the Sublime Porte having thoroughly taken in hand the interests and the rights of the company, it becomes evident that in this point of view there should arise no difference; but if the company insist upon acting contrary to the opinion of the Sublime Porte, then the case should be examined into by an international commission, as is established in the general disposition of the decision. As that decision was communicated directly to the powers by the Sublime Porte in the same manner and in the natural order of affairs, your highness should transmit it to the company. In consequence, your highness is requested to communicate the above decision, as has been already stated, so that if there may be on the part of the company any opposition or pretext whatsoever, it may not pass unobserved. Of course, your highness will cause the case to be made known to the Sublime Porte with the objections brought forward, so that recourse may be had to the commission.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 129.]

Note verbale: Suez-Canal dues.

No. .]

The legation of the United States of America desires to address to the Sublime Porte the following inquiry:

Inasmuch as the vizierial letter addressed to His Highness the Khedive of Egypt concerning the tonnage-dues now levied by the Suez Canal Company, which letter was communicated to the foreign representatives on the 15th of July, 1873, seems to admit of opposite constructions, and is in no way a satisfactory solution of the question proposed, nor such a one as the representatives of the foreign powers had a hope to expect; and as a settlement of the points at issue is referred to, and still seems to depend upon the decision of an unappointed international commission, yet to be authorized and assembled; therefore the legation of the United States of America wishes to know what, according to the understanding of the Sublime Porte, is the present position of the affair, and under what system and at what rates the Sublime Porte will henceforth authorize the Suez Canal Company to collect tonnage-dues Upon the shipping of the United States of America passing through the Suez Canal between the 15th day of July, 1873, and the date of the decision which may be promulgated hereafter, if all the parties in interest should agree to recognize its decrees by the proposed international [Page 1125] commission. The Sublime Porte must clearly perceive that the present situation is one ofdoubt and uncertainty, notwithstanding the opinion expressed by the Sublime Porte in favor of the Moorson system of measurement and the duty enjoined upon the Suez Canal Company of levying tolls upon the net tonnage of ships as calculated under that system. The legation of the United States of America, desiring to conform to the principles which may have been established in regard to the tonnage-dues of the said canal by the Sublime Porte, and to instruct our ship-masters and others interested accordingly, requests that the Sublime Porte will return an early and conclusive answer to the foregoing inquiries.