Mr. Bassett to Mr. Fish.
Port au Prince, March 11, 1875. (Received April 2.)
Sir: I have the honor to represent that, on Wednesday, the 24th ultimo, there came into this harbor an English fleet, consisting of three men-of-war, namely, (1) Her Majesty’s iron-plated screw-ship Bellerophon, of four thousand two hundred and seventy tons, flag-ship of Her Majesty’s North American and West India squadron, commanded by Captain Richard Wells, Vice-Admiral G. G. Wellesley, C. B., being on board, manned by six hundred men and carrying fifteen guiis, nine of them being three-hundred-pounders; (2) Her Majesty’s paddle steam-sloop Argus, of nine hundred and eighty-one tons, under command of Commander Edward J. Jermain, and carrying five guns; (3) Her Majesty’s double-screw gun-vessel Swallow, of six hundred and sixty-four tons, commanded by Commander Edward C. Drummond, and carrying three guns.
It soon appeared that this fleet had come hither in response to statements made near the end of last year to his government by Mr. St. John, who was at that time Her Majesty’s minister resident in Hayti, and who was understood to entertain no friendly disposition toward President Domingues’ government, relative to what he represented to be injustice inflicted by the Haytian authorities, primarily upon a British subject named Maunder, whose husband, Joseph Maunder, now deceased, had secured, some years ago, by contract with the then existing administration of this government, a patent which was to run for a term of years not yet expired, to cut and export mahogany on the island of La Tortue, and secondarily upon another British subject named Stevens, who made with the Saget administration a contract to undertake and complete works to supply the city of Port au Prince with water.
In regard to the former and graver of the two cases it appeared that when, during the year past, the government intimated to Madame Maunder that she had not fulfilled and was not fulfilling the conditions exacted of her by the terms of the contract, she resented the intimation by charging that she had been seriously interfered with and hindered in the work at La Tortue by the authorities in that section who were acting directly under instructions from the capital, and that, in fact, she had been spoliated by them to an extent which warranted her in asking an indemnity, which she accordingly demanded. It was, I am led to believe, more especially to influence this government in the adjustment of this claim for indemnity that Mr. St. John had called to his aid the men-of-war.[Page 681]
Neither Vice-Admiral Wellesley, nor my colleague, Mr. Byron, Her Majesty’s chargé d’affaires, was at all disposed to resort to coercive measures, but they both seemed desirous of an impartial examination into all the alleged causes of complaint, and they both had conferences with the Haytian minister of foreign affairs regarding the subject. At these conferences, which were, I am assured, unofficial, the minister is said to have maintained that Madame Maunder had not fulfilled the conditions required by the contract given to her late husband and afterward assumed by her; that she was not a bona-fide British subject, but really a Haytian citizen, and that, therefore, his government ought not to recognize the equity of any claim preferred by her through the British legation.
Vice-Admiral Wellesley having received and noted directly and through my colleague, Mr. Byron, the statements and papers offered by Madame Maunder, and also such representations as the minister chose to submit, weighed anchor on the 27th ultimo, and steamed out of these waters with the Bellerophon and the Argus, leaving behind him here the Swallow. On the 2d instant the latter sailed for La Tortue, for the purpose, it is said, of a more intimate examination and verification of some of the allegations advanced by both the parties concerned in the case. As soon as the government gained knowledge of the Swallow’s mission, it caused to be sent to the British legation a communication in the nature of a protest, claiming, as I understand, that the Swallow was hardly warranted in thus attempting to proceed to a port of the republic not open to foreign commerce, there to search for facts with which to meet the statement which had been in good faith offered by the government, and which it was ready to substantiate. I have also understood that my colleague’s, Mr. Byron’s, reply to the communication was to the effect that the visit of the Swallow at La Tortue was intended to be entirely friendly, and that, therefore, the government sent a commission to the same locality to observe and report upon the proceedings of the British officials there and to gather any facts bearing upon the case at issue and within reach.
The Swallow, after an absence of ten days, has just returned to Port au Prince this moruing. I am told by Mr. Byron that she is to remain here or be relieved by another of Her Majesty’s war-vessels during the pendency of Madame Maunder’s ease. The result of the visit of the Swallow and of the Haytian commission to La Tortue has not yet transpired. But I have learned that my colleague, Mr. Byron, has already written somewhat fully to his government relative to the subject, and also relative to the other case of Mr. Stevens, which my colleague tells me he thinks will be settled easily and amicably, as Mr. Stevens only asks for authority to continue his work under his contract with the Saget government or to be indemnified for the labor and expense which he has already made in conformity with his engagements as stipulated in the contract.
I shall keep the Department duly advised of any further developments that may be made touching these two cases rendered interesting from the attitude now assumed toward them by Her Britannic Majesty’s government.
I am, &c.,