No. 401.
Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Evarts.

No. 39.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose copy of my letter of this date to Mr. Merriam, our consul at Iquique, together with an extract of the letter of the consul to me of July 10 (his No. 38), in reference to the right of the Chilian fleet to prevent the shipping of nitrates from Pisagua.

As to the circumstances going to show whether the blockade of Iquique had been raised, you will find them stated with substantial accuracy in my dispatch No. 34 (July 15). * * *

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 39.]

Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Merriam.

Sir: Your two notes of the 10th instant (Nos. 38 and 39) received.

As to the blockade, you are undoubtedly right in your conclusion (stated in your No. 39) that, upon the facts stated by you, and as appears by all accounts I have seen, the blockade has not been raised. The whole proceeding must be treated rather as an unsuccessful attempt to raise it.

As to the other matter mentioned in your No. 38, the question of the right of the Chilian fleets to prevent the loading of nitrates at Pisagua, I will say that I do not think those nitrates, considered with reference to their agricultural use and their destination to European ports, can be treated as contraband of war, properly so called; and if the nitrate-beds are owned by individuals and worked on their account only, I do not think the Chilian fleet could lawfully prevent such commerce by neutral vessels in any other way than by establishing an effectual blockade of the port.

[Page 889]

But if the nitrate-beds are owned or worked or the nitrate shipped on the part of the Peruvian Government, so that the proceeds or part of them go into the Peruvian treasury, then I am inclined to think the Chilian fleet has, under the laws of war, a right to stop that commerce if they can, and to use any means for that purpose properly calculated to reach the end, such as preventing the loading of vessels or destroying any of the works or lighters used in loading, after having notified the neutral vessels to leave or cease to load. Nevertheless, should such a course be attempted by the Chilian fleet towards the American vessels, it might be well for you to protest in due form against such proceeding, so as to save any rights which American shipowners or American citizens engaged in that commerce may in the end be found to have. Such protests can do no harm, and it is better in such circumstances to err by claiming too much than too little.

I am, &c.,

  • J. W. Merriam, Esq.,
    United States Consul, Iquique.
[Inclosure 2 in No. 39.—Extract of letter from United States consul at Iquique, of July 10, 1879.]

As the mail closes in a few minutes, I have only time to add that I have just been informed that Commander Simpson, of the Lord Cochrane, verbally notified the captain of the American brig Mary Greenwood, on the 1st instant, at Pisagua, where she is taking in a cargo of nitrate of soda for the United States, that she will not be allowed to continue loading after the 15th instant, and that if he finds her in port after that date he will take her to a Chilian port and confiscate her cargo.

It is said that the Chilian commander would not give any written order, and that he inquired particularly as to whether the Peruvian Government was the owner of the nitrate, and that the captain would only reply that he was chartered by Grace Bros., of Callao, and that he was ignorant of the ownership of the cargo.

I am waiting for an official statement of the facts from the agent of the Peruvian Nitrate Company, before taking action in the matter, and am also endeavoring to find out whether nitrate of soda can be considered contraband of war.

I shall keep you informed on the subject.