Mr. Francis to Mr. Frelinghuysen.
Lisbon, December 22, 1883. (Received January 9, 1884.)
Sir: The Diario do Governo of the 15th instant, contains a printed copy of a contract just made by the Portuguese Government for the construction of a railroad from the port of Lourenço Marques, which will traverse the extreme southern portion of the Portuguese province of Mozambique, east coast of Africa, to the frontier of the state of Transvaal, in the immediate vicinity of Pretoria, its capital, a distance of about 50 miles.
This concession is granted to an American citizen, Mr. Edward McMurdo, in behalf of an association composed in part of Mr. George S. Sedgwick and other citizens of the United States, who, it is understood, have associated with them a number of foreign capitalists in the enterprise. The concessionaire binds himself to have the road completed and in running order within three years of the date of the concession, which is for ninety-nine years. The sum of £5,000 has been deposited with the Portuguese Government as forfeiture money in the case, and another deposit of £10,000 is to be made within a specified date to assure the carrying out of the contract.
Liberal grants of land are made to the railroad company as bonus, amounting to 250,000 acres, and also a zone on either side of the road of 500 meters, with land for docks and stations, and forest timber for construction, &c. The company is accorded freedom from taxation and freedom from customs on all material for the use of the road during a period of fifteen years.
The port of Lourenco Marques, on Delagoa Bay, considered the finest and safest on the eastern coast of Africa, had been claimed by the [Page 438] British Government in its entirety, or at least in joint occupancy with Portugal, the latter, however, resisting the claim on the ground of prior discovery. These differences were submitted in 1873 to the arbitrament of the French Republic, and in 1875 President McMahon confirmed the right of possession to the Portuguese.
In 1879 a convention was entered into between Portugal and Great Britain by which the latter bound itself to construct a railway over the same route as now proposed by the new concession, the road to be international. This convention was signed by Senhor Corvo, the Portuguese minister of foreign affairs at that time, and Mr. Morier, the then British minister at Lisbon; but such was the dislike in the public mind to the proposed concession to British interests and convenience that it was virtually rejected by the Cortes, which failed to take up the convention when it was presented for their approval.
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At present the entire commerce of the port of Lourenço Marques amounts to less than $300,000 annually. But it is assumed that the proposed railroad now contracted for, connecting with other projected roads traversing the great Transvaal region and securing a development of its rich mineral and other resources, will create a great and important volume of commerce from this port. At all events, there is reason for congratulation that by means of the road to be constructed over Portuguese territory to the Transvaal that great region will be thrown open to the civilizing influences of commerce, as it is also a source of satisfaction that the promised amelioration of Central Africa will be largely due to the courage and enterprise of citizens of the United States.
I have, &c.,