No. 402.
Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Evarts.

No. 41.]

Sir: I have the honor to inclose to you, 1st, the letter of Mr. Merriam, our consul at Iquique, of the 17th instant; 2d, extract from his letter of the 21st instant; and, 3d, a copy of my answer to those letters.

I also inclose copies of the correspondence between the consul, as dean of the consular corps, and the Chilian admiral, in reference to the bombardment of Iquique, first in Spanish and second by translation.

This correspondence, as well as that between the consul and myself, will explain itself.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 41.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that the Chilian fleet bombarded this town last night between the hours of half-past seven and half past nine, having fired in all forty shots.

This act of barbarism was committed without previous notice upon a town containing [Page 890] thousands of defenseless inhabitants, including women and children, of whom some of the latter fell victims to the murderous assault. The exact number of casualties is not known at the hour of writing, but it is thought to be small. Two of the national guards were killed outright. A shot struck the custom-house, passing through one of the windows of a room where a few minutes before the Chilian officers, prisoners of war, were confined. It then burst, passed up through the ceiling into the room above, where a group of Peruvian officers were seated, slightly wounding three of them, and finally passed through the southern side of the custom-house. Other buildings in different parts of the town were also seriously damaged, and one, at least, completely destroyed. Among those damaged may be mentioned the dwelling-house attached to the gas-works, and the buildings and large tank of the Arica Water Company, the property of English citizens.

The mutilated remains of two small children have been found in the outskirts of the town.

As dean of the consular corps, I have called the body together to meet at twelve o’clock to-day, to take action in the premises, to protest against the act of barbarism, and if possible secure immunity against its repetition.

As the mail is about to close, I have not time to send a dispatch to the Department, and would be greatly obliged to you if you would embody in one of your dispatches the fact of the bombardment. If we had had a foreign man-of-war in port, I do not think that the scandalous event would have happened.

[Inclosure 2 in No. 41.—Extract of letter from J. W. Merriam, United States consul at Iquique, July 21, 1879.]

To the last note of the consular corps of the 19th instant, no answer has as yet been received. The absence of the signature of the French vice-consul on the protest and on the subsequent note is explained by the temporary absence from town of that gentleman.

With reference to the assertion of Admiral Williams that torpedoes were employed against one of the vessels of his command on the night of the 8th instant, and also against the Blanco Encalada, on the night of the 16th instant, I will state that General Buendia has most solemnly assured me that on neither of those occasions, nor on any other, have torpedoes been employed against the Chilian vessels in Iquique. We, as members of the consular corps, did not feel it incumbent upon us to deny the truth of the statement of the Chilian admiral on this point, for no assertion of ours would be taken as evidence in a matter in which we cannot be considered competent witnesses; you will also observe that, in the only allusion which we have made to the charge referred to, we have made use of a saving clause, which shows that we do not concede the fact of the employment of this weapon.

On the points of law which we have tried to make, I should be very glad of your opinion, and particularly as to whether the Chilian commander is not bound, by principles of international law and by the usage of civilized nations, to give sufficient notice of his intention to bombard, to allow neutrals and other non-combatants to leave the town, no matter what provocation he may think he has for resorting to this extreme measure.

With reference to Admiral Williams’s statement that, from humane motive, he directed that the shots should be fired at a great elevation, it is difficult to understand why, if he was actuated by such humane sentiments, he should have fired at all, or, at least why he should have expended more than forty shots, a large number of 250 and 300 pounds, upon a defenseless town, and at night, and still at such a low elevation as to cause destruction of property and loss of life in various parts of the town.

Moreover, the most convincing proof of all that his intention was to destroy the town is to be found in the fact that many of the missiles were filled with explosive substances, which only failed to set fire to the town from the fact that the wooden walls of the houses, from their thinness, did not afford sufficient resistance to cause their explosion. Several of these shells were picked up in a perfect state and carried to General Buendia, who caused them to be carefully emptied, and found them to contain, among other things, resin and sulphur.

* * * * * * *

[Inclosure 3 in No. 41.—Translation.]

[From the South Pacific Times, Callao, Tuesday, July 29, 1879.]

Sir: We have not forgotten the distinct declarations that your honor was pleased to make on the 6th of April to the delegates of the consular corps, and, in view of the confidence which those declarations merited from us, we could never have [Page 891] imagined that events would happen in direct contradiction to the guarantees spontaneously offered by your honor.

Contrary to all our expectations, last night, for the space of two hours, for motives that we fail to understand, and without prior warning as required by international law, the vessels under your honor’s command threw a considerable number of cannon-shots into this town with disastrous effects, various defenseless people, old men, women, and children, and several neutral persons having been killed, and some private property belonging to foreigners, of whom, as your honor must be aware, the majority of the inhabitants of this town is composed, destroyed.

The protection of the lives and interests of our respective countrymen being en-charged to us, in fulfillment of the duties of our trust, at a special meeting we have unanimously resolved to protest, as in due form we hereby do protest, against the bombardment of last night as unjustifiable and contrary to the most sacred and current practices of international law, and throw the responsibility of the consequences to which this act may lead upon your honor.

We remain. &c.,

  • J. W. MERRIAM,
    Consul of the United States of America, and senior of the Consular Corps.
    Ecuadorian Consul.
    Consul of the Argentine Republic.
    Consul of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and Acting Consul of the German Empire.
  • M. JEWELL,
    Acting Vice-Consul of Her Britannic Majesty.
    Consular Agent for Italy.

To the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilian feet in this harbor.

[Inclosure 4 in No. 41.]

Mr. Christiancy to Mr. Merriam.

Sir: Your two letters of July 17 and 21 (Nos. 40 and 41) received. I shall write to the Department to-day giving the information contained in those letters, with extracts from them.

I will only say here that you did well in placing your protest upon the distinct ground of the assurances given by the admiral to the consular corps on the 6th of April, which, being public and known to the people of the town, they (as well as the consular corps) had a right to rely upon those assurances. If no such assurances had been given, the case would have been very different. This town being occupied by, if not the headquarters of, the military forces of Peru and Bolivia, the Chilian fleet undoubtedly had the right to attack and even to destroy the town itself, according to the laws of war. And such occupancy by the military forces of the allies, might itself be looked upon as notice to the inhabitants that if they continued to reside in it, they must do so subject to all the risks of war; and that among these risks is that of a bombardment, and though, even without the assurances of the 6th of April, humanity might dictate that a notice should be given before openings fire, so that the peaceable inhabitants might fly from the danger, yet this would not have been imperative according to the laws of war. But the attacking party must be allowed a liberal discretion in judging of the exigencies which justify the omission of such notice.

The case is quite different from what it would have been if the town had not been held or controlled by the military forces of the allies, and had been occupied by peaceable inhabitants only.

And in the present case what I have said of the inhabitants applies equally to the people of other (and neutral) nations there residing and to their property. By continuing their residence in, such a place under such circumstances, they all equally, assume all the risks incident to the situation, and the attacking party are not bound to make (and practically could very seldom make) any discrimination.

It is, therefore, the violation by the admiral of the assurances he had given on the 6th of April, which alone can be held to have constituted the bombardment without notice an act of vandalism, and a violation of the laws of honorable warfare. And the merits of the question must depend upon the validity or sufficiency of the excuse which [Page 892] he alleges, the attempt to use torpedoes against his vessels. Opinions might differ as to the validity of this excuse, if true. For myself I should not consider it a valid excuse for the neglect to give any notice; hut if the excuse which he alleges had no existence in fact, then I think all would agree that the admiral had violated the rules of honorable warfare, unless he was himself deceived as to the facts; and in this view I regret that you did not in your note to him of July 19 either deny, upon information and belief, the use of torpedoes as alleged by him, or protest that you were ignorant of the facts so that you could not be held to have admitted it, as I fear will now be held to be the effect of the correspondence when taken together. But this effect will be removed if hereafter it should be made clearly to appear that the excuse alleged did not exist in fact.

  • J. W. Merriam, Esq.,
    United States Consul, Iquique.

Mr. Consul: I have had the honor of receiving the protest-note of the consular corps resident in this port, and shall lay same before my government by the first opportunity.

In the mean time I consider it right to assure your honor that I do not deny the fact of my having offered the consular corps that, in the event of the circumstances of war obliging me to bombard this place, I would, with due anticipation, notify the consular corps of same, for the personal safety and interests of their countrymen. And I possess the satisfaction, Mr. Consul, of having acted strictly in accordance with my promise, in spite of the hostile acts of the military forces on shore, practiced against the corvette Esmeralda, during the first naval engagement, and the attempted destruction of one of the ships of the fleet under my command, by means of a torpedo on the night of the 8th instant.

The repetition, however, last night of the latter act against my flag-ship, authorized me, in fact, to destroy the town; but, even then, and solely in obedience to sentiments of humanity, I gave orders that the shots should be fired high, as your honor must have observed.

I deplore the loss of lives of defenseless persons which your honor assures me has occurred; but your honor cannot be ignorant of the fact that the successful exit of the torpedo scheme would have destroyed the lives of numberless persons also defenseless against this treacherous arm of warfare.

Up to the present, the war in which we are engaged has been, for our part, carried on with entire good faith; your honor can assure your countrymen of this, and add that it will be continued in the same way, so long as the enemy do not employ arms of the above kind.

Finally, I must beg to remind your honor that this town, to-day the headquarters of the army, with its fortifications and defenses, has become a military stronghold, and its inhabitants are therefore subject to all the fortunes of war, for which reason I am sincerely sorry that neutral citizens, and very particularly your honor and the other members of the consular corps, over which you so worthily preside, still remain in the town.

With sentiments, &c.,


To the Consul of the United States of North America,
and Senior member of the Foreign Consular Corps in Iquique.

Sir: We have read with careful attention the note that your honor has been pleased to address to the senior member of the consular corps in this port, and after meditating upon all the reasons adduced in justification of the bombardment of the night of the 16th instant, and in support of the right to repeat same in future, whenever the hostilities be renewed which your honor asserts have been put into practice against the fleet under your command, we beg to state that on this subject we are of another opinion.

We do not believe that international law authorizes and makes legitimate the destruction of private and neutral property, as a mere measure of reprisal, but only in the distinct and extreme case where the necessity of bringing the war to a speedy termination or of executing some highly important operation make its destruction inevitable. Neither do we think that this open town can be properly termed a fortified place; but however this may be, and leaving the responsibility of future events [Page 893] to whoever incurs same, we beg to inform you that at the same time that your honor makes use of the power in your hands, after the manner and way in which you may think fit, your honor will be pleased to remember that the same civilized nations which classify a bombardment, when legitimate, as a measure of extreme rigor, stigmatize it as a crime if it is effected without previous warning, however legitimate it may otherwise be.

Trusting in the promise which your honor made us on the 6th of April, indirectly confirmed by the note to which we have the pleasure of replying, we request your honor to be good enough to inform us whether we can assure our respective countrymen that, in the unfortunate event of their lives and properties running the risk of bombardment, this may not happen unawares, but be advised beforehand, according to the practice of civilized nations.

In conclusion, and thanking your honor exceedingly for the interest shown for our personal safety, we hasten to remove the feeling of surprise that our actual presence in this port causes your honor, assuring you that it is explained by the guarantees which your honor gave us; and that the duties of our trusts oblige us to remain where the interests of our countrymen are threatened.

We are, &c.,

  • J. W. MERRIAM,
    Consul of the United States of America, and senior member of the Consular Corps.
    Ecuadorian Consul.
    Consul of the Argentine Republic.
    Consul of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy and Acting Consul of, the German Empire.
  • M. JEWELL,
    Acting Vice-Consul of Her Britannic Majesty.
    Consular Agent for Italy.

To the Commander-in-Chief of the Chilian fleet in this harbor.