No. 144
Mr. Frelinghuysen to Mr. Lowell.

No. 835.]

Sir: I inclose herewith, for your information, copies of correspondence with the American consulate at Colombo concerning certain legislation of the colony of Ceylon, by which it appears that it is proposed [Page 220] to levy a duty upon kerosene oil, heretofore free, to take effect upon the passage of the law, without excepting from its provision kerosene oil then in transit from this country.

I will thank you to call the attention of the foreign office to this matter, with the statement that this Government entertains the view that it is very desirable that sudden changes in colonial tariffs should not be allowed to affect bona fide shipments en route at the time, and that the hope is entertained that the Imperial Government may be able to afford adequate relief to American shippers who may have been injuriously affected by the legislation of Ceylon.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 835.]

Mr. Morey to Mr. Davis.

No. 243.]

Sir: Adverting to the subject-matter of my dispatch No. 130, of May 11, 1881, I inclose herewith two printed copies of the speech of his excellency the governor at the opening of council last Friday, and would draw attention to the marked paragraph intimating an intention of levying a duty on kerosene oil, hitherto imported free.

I think that such a measure is to be deprecated, even from local considerations, for the product is a great boon to the natives, being by far the best and cheapest illuminator they can get, and an impost increasing its present cost will, I fear, militate against its enlarged introduction. The act would also be very unreciprocal towards the United States, for kerosene is the only American commodity comprised in the 300,000 rupees’ worth of our goods possibly consumed here yearly that is free of duty, whereas the Ceylon exports to the United States, amounting to over 2,000,000 rupees in value yearly, are all in out free list.

The value of the kerosene oil imported here last year was under 119,000 rupees, the duty upon which at 5 per cent, ad valorem, a rate analogous to that ordinarily levied here upon most goods, would therefore produce the small sum of 5,950 rupees, an amount, it strikes me, so insignificant as not to be worth the risk of interfering in such a direction with the trade, and out of all comparison with what the colony would lose were our Government to put a duty upon the 560,000 rupees’ worth of cocoanut oil alone we now take annually from Ceylon; and yet, to my knowledge, the traffic in that article at home yields so inconsiderable a profit that the imposition of any duty upon it at all in America would effectually put a stop to the trade, and thus this island would be deprived of about its best customer for so much at least as we now take of the article, a deprivation, in fact, which in these hard times would be severely felt here.

Immediately upon learning the intention of the local government to put on this duty, I wrote soliciting an interview with his excellency the governor with a view to represent these facts to him, and am assured in a letter of yesterday’s date that he will appoint a time to meet me after his levee on the 13th instant. I hope then to be able to place the matter before him in such a light as will induce a reconsideration, of the subject, and possibly an abstention from the measure, which I suppose would not have been thought of now were it not that the colony is suffering from a diminished revenue.

I am, &c.,


Extract from the address of the governor of the colony.

It is not, however, my intention at once to propose to you to have recourse to this step, except in so far as regards a readjustment in the mode of collecting duties on grain and the reimposition of a duty on the importation of kerosene oil, both of which measures have been recommended by the committee.

[Page 221]
[Inclosure 2 in No. 835.]

Mr. Morey to Mr. Davis .

No. 249.]

Sir: Adverting to my No. 243, of December 11 last, I have to report that the promised interview with the governor therein alluded to occurred on the 22d idem.

* * * * * * *

His excellency was good enough to say that if I embodied my views in a letter to the government he would have it considered. Accordingly I wrote to the colonial secretary on that day, and inclosed herewith is a copy of my letter; in reply to which I was informed, under date 5th January, 1884, that “my fetter would be submitted to the executive and legislative councils by the governor.”

It now appears, however, that an act levying a duty of 5 per cent. ad valorem upon kerosene oil has passed the legislature within this week, and become a law, without the last-named body being aware that I had addressed the government upon the subject.

The agent of the ship John Harvey (the vessel alluded to in my letter to the colonial secretary as being en route here from New York with a consignment of kerosene) asked, quite without my knowledge, Mr. Leechman, an unofficial member of council, to intercede in the interest of that shipment at least, and have, if possible, the bill so made as to exempt from duty all shipments made prior to its enactment.* * *

I am, &c.,


Mr. Morey to the colonial secretary.

Sir: I have the honor, in referring to the proposed levying of an import duty upon kerosene oil, as intimated in the speech of his excellency at the opening of council, to beg leave to present for the consideration of the government the following propositions which I conceive may have an important bearing upon the subject, viz: The measure would certainly be unreciprocal towards the United States, inasmuch as that country admits free of duty every considerable Ceylon product, to the value of over 2,000,000 rupees per annum; whereas of the perhaps 300,000 rupees’ worth of American products introduced here indirectly annually, only kerosene, valued at 119,000 rupees is admitted duty free; and kerosene as a commodity, instead of competing with any local products, is a valuable auxiliary to other oils, and a positive boon to the inhabitants, especially the poorer classes, as it enables them to light their dwellings in a cheap, effective, cleanly, and otherwise commendable manner, in striking contrast to the inferior and slovenly results and modes connected with the use of native oils; and its use as a substitute for cocoanut oil sets free an equal quantity at least of the latter article for export, which, realizing more than double the cost of kerosene, leaves the colony a handsome profit from the transaction, in addition to the benefit derived from the American product being a more perfect illuminator.

It is more than probable that a duty on kerosene would militate against its importation, for, as a matter of fact, I believe the only direct shipment from America here, though admitted free, failed to yield a profit. It was expected, however, that the transaction would open the way to future dealings, and it appears that another small shipment is now en route from New York, which probably would not have been sent had the shippers anticipated its being subjected to an import duty.

In marked contrast to the relative position of kerosene to local products here are the circumstances governing the produce of this island in the United States, for the principal articles of it consumed there, viz, plumbago, coir, and cocoanut oil, compete with and lower the value of American products, without yielding superior results. It is true the use of cocoanut oil as a substitute for tallow sets free an equal amount of the latter article for exportation, which in principle is analogous with kerosene here, but different in degree, since in the latter case the imported article is superior to the native product for the uses it is put to, and so much cheaper that a large profit is gained by the exchange, whereas the difference between the value of cocoanut oil and tallow in America is so small that very little is gained by substituting one for the other.

[Page 222]

I need not, I am aware, point out the trifling amount that a duty upon kerosene would yield, for the Government would have noted its insignificance, and if, as I have the highest authority for concluding, the object of levying a duty is to bring the article more completely under Government surveillance, I do most respectfully ask and earnestly hope that some less onerous mode of accomplishing that purpose may be adopted than so unreciprocal a measure as the levying of a duty upon the only free product of a country which buys so largely from Ceylon and admits the latter country products free.

I am, &c.,