Mr. Boker to Mr. Fish.
Constantinople , July 29, 1873. (Received August 25.)
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,