No. 43.

Mr. Hall to Mr. Frelinghuysen.

No. 309.]

Sir: I beg leave to inclose herewith, and to invite your attention thereto, three letters from Mr. Sarg, the consular agent of the United States at Livingston, addressed to Mr. Whitehouse.

Mr. Sarg reports that there are numbers of destitute foreigners at that place, all, or nearly all, of whom have come from New Orleans, some of them engaged by verbal contract to work on the projected railroad from the west coast of Guatemala to this capital; others have gone there ostensibly in search of work. Doubtless among these there are many of the tramp class who never look for work with the expectation of finding it; but there is no doubt as to their general destitution and suffering from want and privation.* * * Many of these unfortunate persons are reported to have died for want of proper attention in sickness.

I called to-day on the minister for foreign affairs, Mr. Cruz, and gave him these letters to read. I asked that the authorities at Livingston be instructed, so far as in their power, to render relief to these destitute persons, and to that end to co-operate with the consular agent. He has promised to bring the subject to the notice of the President, but I look for no efficient measures from them.

I respectfully suggest that a naval vessel be sent to Livingston; that the commander he instructed to investigate the reports of the consular agent, and to take back to New Orleans such American citizens as are found to be really destitute and desire to return. I have no means of knowing how many there may be; but, from the estimates that have been made me, I imagine there are from three to five hundred persons out of employment and destitute.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1 in No. 309.]

Mr. Sarg to Mr. Whitehouse.

Sir: Your No. 14 was received on the 30th ultimo. I confess that I have allowed myself to be completely misled by the jefe politico, as regards the sanitary condition at the hospital at Santo Tomas. In the early part of November I spoke to him on this matter. He then told me that there was a good hospital at Santo Tomas; that a Government doctor was attending the sick, and that no American citizens had died, either at Santo Tomas or on the line. I told him that I should require a regular weekly sanitary report on both places, and a record of such as die, and in case he could not furnish me with such, I should have to report it to my consulate, which might tend to cut off further communication by American vessels with Port Barrios and Santo Tomas [Page 67] on the ground that the sanitary condition of those places could not be proved satisfactory. I was unable to impress upon his mind the importance of this question, either as to how far it would inconvenience the Guatemala Government or affect the interest of the United States.

I spent the 3d and 4th of the month on a personal inspection of Santo Tomas and Port Barrios.

The Santo Tomas hospital is a common leaf-covered shed of the meanest description, but the patients have been taken out that morning to Port Barrios, as the railroad contractors have now engaged a medical man, a Dr. Pawlett. I have heard accounts, repulsive beyond description, of the want of care, and the scant attention bestowed on the unfortunate men of all nationalities who were brought there to lie on the bare, damp ground, without proper fool or attendance. How many had died there I could not ascertain, but I inclose a list of ten men given to me by Captain Mitford, the Guatemalan Government railroad agent, who corroborated all accounts I had heard, and assured me that he had reported on this matter to the direction-general at Guatemala, which took no notice of such complaints.

I passed on to Port Barrios and invited the comandante and the alcalde to accompany me to inspect the new hospital. This is a large, open shed, about a mile distant from the landing, with a board roof, affording shelter to about fifty men. Dr. Pawlett, the physician, here presented himself; told me he had been on the place but two days; that the shed was a temporary hospital, and that a permanent hospital would be erected; that food, medicine, and attendance were furnished by the contractors. I then asked the doctor to step outside while I catechised every single patient. They were content with the change to the new quarters; said that they liked the new doctor, but that the food was scant and poor. With but one exception they had nothing coming to them from the contractors, but were in debt. Those that had no blankets complained of cold at night. How many had died at Port Barrios and in the camp up the line, no one could account for; but from what I could hear, some twenty-five or thirty must have died.

Many of the men clamored to have me go up the line into the distant camps to see for myself how badly they were fed and housed. All of these men have come here merely on verbal agreement, and, as soon as landed, they owe the contractor $16 for their passage.

I do not believe that more than half of the men are United States citizens, although they nearly all claim to be such.

The men complain that the weather has been so bad they have not been able to work and clear themselves from debt; that the food, salt provisions, does not agree with them, giving them diarrhœa; that there is no regular pay-day; that the contractors do not pay in cash, but in checks, which are not exchangeable into money, and are only received at the contractor’s store in exchange for goods; that the prices of the goods are exorbitant; that an itemized account of such goods is refused; that they vainly apply for redress to the comandante of the place, as they cannot find an interpreter.

The contractors complain that many men come out who are absolutely physically unfit for the labor expected of them; that men will smuggle themselves over affected with a chronic complaint that requires immediate care; that many of the men are tramps who feign sickness, and that a great number have run away owing for their passage and a considerable store bill.

I told the contractors and subcontractors that I should make a minute report of what I had heard and seen, and drew their attention to the fact that the constitution of Guatemala requires every foreigner arriving to conform to the laws of the country; that it was my duty to see that Americans were not injured by the non-compliance with such laws whenever they protected their interests, and the National Board of Health expected me to exert the greatest vigilance as to the sanitary condition of the ports at which the outbreak of an epidemic could be avoided only by the greatest care; that I should require a register of United States citizens as previously intimated, also a weekly hospital report, with specifications of the diseases from the doctor (whom I will put under oath) and that notice of the death of any man on the line be given to the comandante and alcalde, interment deferred until the body has been inspected by one of the officials, and that I shall exact the application of the legal fine for every case of remissness under this head. (I have heard sundry stories of men being kicked, beaten, and even shot at, and have thought my self justified in putting this point forward.)

I have also told them that I shall have to uphold the men if they claim an account-book, because the law prescribes one to be given every man; if they claim to receive cash for their labor instead of store tickets, and if they claim a fixed pay-day every week.

The question arises what is to be done with the men who are not so sick as to warrant hospital, yet so weak that they can do no work, have absolutely no means of subsistence, and yet cannot leave the place because they are in debt.

[Page 68]

I await your approval of the measures I have taken, and your orders to change them if you deem it expedient.

I beg to add that sanitary precautions are one-sided as long as vessels running to-ports in the United States do not call for hills of health, and I take this opportunity to cover my responsibility.

I am, &c.,


H. Remsen Whitehouse, Esq.,
United States Consul-General, Guatemala:

Sir: As advised in my No. 11, I beg to hand you a list of the men who died at the hospital of Santo Tomás during the month of November of this year. It is supposed that they were United States citizens, although nothing definite is known. No personal effects were left by them. (1) Andrew McCullen, (2) David Flanigan, (3) Francis Smith, (4) William Watts, (5) Henry Higgins, (6) Pat Conelly, (7) George Anderson, (8) Josef Boegel, (9) Mike Lynch, (10) Josef Krichreuther.

I am, &c.,

[Inclosure 2 in No. 309.]

Mr. Sarg to Mr. Whitehouse.

Sir: * * * My position is becoming somewhat precarious for the want of instructions. I fully comprehend the necessity of avoiding as far as possible a collision with the local authorities, from which would result either a disagreeable interpolation of the Guatemalan Government or a disavowal of my action; at the same time I deeply regret that I am often unable to give the protection to the interests of United States citizens that is applied for.

A regulation for consular interference is urgently required for the estates of the United States citizens deceased, particularly of those who die at Port Barrios and on the railroad line.

The steamer Blanche Henderson, from New Orleans, brought one hundred and twelve men to Port Barrios yesterday. The captain assured me that when his ship was brought alongside the wharf at New Orleans, there was such a press of men over and above the number engaged that they were obliged to drive them off the ship with clubs, and in spite of this twelve stowaways appeared after they got out to sea. I have not received a register of these men, nor do I expect the contractors will send me one.

Livingston is crowded with destitute and sick men coming from Port Barrios. I listen to their complaint for entire days, and do all in my power for them, yet I am unable to afford the relief which many believe they are entitled to at the hands of the consul.

Also at Belize, I hear, there are numbers of these men on the street.

Yours, &c.,