to Mr. Bayard.
The Hague , July 30, 1886. (Received August 9.)
Sir: I have the honor to report that disorders of a very serious character have recently occurred at Amsterdam, resulting in the death of 22 persons and the wounding of some 90 others.[Page 758]
It is said that the immediate cause of the present difference between the authorities and the people is due to the attempted enforcement by the police of a local ordinance of Amsterdam prohibiting a popular game among the people known as “palling-trekken,” which literally means eel drawing.
As the suppression of this popular amusement is reported to have given rise to so much bloodshed, I deem it proper to place you in possession of the actual facts of the case by reciting in detail the particulars of the so-called sport.
It appears that the people, after collecting together at some suitable spot on the street through which the canal passes, subscribe a sum of money, usually from 2 to 5 cents each, which makes up a common pool to be divided and distributed in prizes, usually in sums of 5 florins ($2) each to be given to those who successfully draw the eel.
It appears that the amount of subscription in each case is limited, in order to increase the interest in the sport by increasing the number of subscribers.
A rope is securely stretched across the canal at a suitable distance or height from the water. From this rope a live eel is suspended by means of a cord fastened to its neck.
Those desiring to test their skill enter in turn boats provided for the purpose, and while standing in the boat are rapidly pulled under the suspended eel. If, while passing, the contestant succeeds in taking hold and subsequently holding on to the eel and detaching the trunk from the head, he not only keeps the eel, which is a favorite article of food with the people, but also secures a money prize.
In the effort or struggle to firmly grapple and hold on to the eel the party usually falls into the canal, where he is subsequently picked up by one of the boats provided for the purpose.
Some years since the authorities of the several large cities of Holland, having reached the conclusion that this amusement was demoralizing, and brutalizing, attempted to put a stop to it by passing ordinances to that effect.
It seems that the people of Amsterdam simply ignored the ordinance of that city forbidding them from engaging in their favorite pastime, and upon the police attempting to enforce them a collision ensued, in which some twenty-two people lost their lives and some ninety others were wounded.
It is generally claimed in well informed circles that the disturbance should not be accepted as an indication of the hold that eel-drawing has upon the popular mind, but as more correctly showing that the people see in this prohibitive ordinance special legislation, intended to curtail their rights, and especially their amusements.
The people of this country have a limited number of pastimes, and they appear to regard this legislation only as an interference with their sport by people who do not regard it as amusing.
It may be, mentioned, however, that during the disturbances which ensued the red and black flags were freely displayed by the people, and the demonstration, which is said to have had its origin in a protest against the suppression of a popular game, is reported to have assumed more or less of a socialistic character.
The authorities have thought it advisable to concentrate all available troops at a point convenient to Amsterdam in anticipation of further trouble on the day of the funeral of the victims.
The many rumors and reports of the growing distrust and uneasiness [Page 759] between the people and the authorities are not susceptible of complete verification.
The situation in Amsterdam is said to be especially strained, and may result in serious trouble at no distant day.
I have, &c.,