No. 152.
Mr. Denby to Mr. Bayard.

No. 500.]

Sir: I have the honor to hand you inclosed copies of correspondence which have passed between the Tsung-li Yamên and myself regarding the obstructions in the Canton River near Whampoa.

The appointment of a higher officer to attend to the duties affecting commerce at Whampoa I regard as desirable, but I do not admit the right of China to put obstructions at Whampoa that prevent vessels of deep draught from proceeding to Canton in time of peace.

I have, etc.,

Charles Denby.
[Inclosure 1 in No. 500.]

The Ministers of the Tsung-li Yamên to Mr. Denby.


Your Excellency: Last year your excellency addressed the Yamên, requesting that steps be taken to cause the removal of the barrier at Whampoa in the general interest of commerce.

At the time the Yamên replied that the barrier at Shalu could never be removed, & decree having been issued by the throne, and further discussion upon the subject would be of no use.

Later, his excellency Mr. Von Brandt, minister for Germany, at an interview, requested that an officer be appointed at Whampoa, and that the rule adopted at Taku be carried into effect there, which would be convenient to commerce.

The Yamên would observe that the appointment of an officer to reside at Whampoa in order that loss of time by delay to foreign merchants may be avoided is certainly an admirable and satisfactory plan. Notes have repeatedly been sent to the governor-general of the Tao Kuangs to take under consideration the circumstances and devise a scheme that could be enforced.

That officer has reported that, under the present regulations in force at Whampoa, on the arrival of foreign vessels the customs tide-surveyor issues a permit; to open hatches and discharge into cargo-boats. After loading, the hatches of the cargo-boats are sealed by the tide-surveyor, and on arrival at Canton the hatches are opened, cargo examined, and duties paid.

In the case of vessels loading at Whampoa, the goods to be shipped are first examined at the custom-house at Canton, and after the payment of export duty a permit to ship in cargo-boats is issued. After loading, the hatches are sealed, and on arrival at Whampoa the tide-surveyor re examines the cargo, and if there be no mistake permission is granted to transship to the foreign vessels. This rule is the same as the one in force at Taku governing imports and exports.

But foreign vessels, on arrival at Taku, must first be reported by the foreign consul to the customs before permit is issued to discharge cargo into boats. At present, on the arrival of foreign vessels at Whampoa, if the foreign hong (consignee) gives a bond guarantying the payment of the duties, dues, and all other charges within, the specified time, and that they will not overstep or evade the rules, it is only necessary then for the vessel’s papers and tonnage-due certificates to be presented (to the . customs), and the tide-surveyor at Whampoa will at once issue permit to open hatches [Page 225] and discharge cargo into boats. Hence cargo can be discharged and be on its way to Canton before the consul has reported the vessel to the customs.

Further, if the arrival of a vessel at Canton is telegraphed by the tide-surveyor to the customs at Canton, shippers can at once apply for permits to ship export cargo.

When the vessel is ready to clear, the tide-surveyor at Whampoa, after duly examining the export cargo, and the loading of the vessel is completed, bauds the grand chop, or clearance, with the other papers, to the captain, and he is therefore not obliged to proceed to Canton for them.

Thus it will be seen that the regulation in force at Whampoa governing the importation and exportation of merchandise is much more convenient than the one in force at Taku.

But hitherto at the Whampoa customs there has been only a tide-surveyor, and as the rank of the chief of the tide-waiter class is comparatively low, it is now proposed to appoint a fourth-class assistant deputy commissioner of customs, to reside at Whampoa and take charge of the customs, then giving due weight and importance to the office.

The Yamên would further observe that as the object and purpose of your excellency’s communication are to benefit commerce, the plan now proposed by the viceroy at Canton, together with a request that a deputy commissioner of customs be appointed to reside near at hand (Whampoa) to take the management of shipping, will meet with the wishes of the mercantile class.

The plan adopted at Whampoa is much more convenient than the one in force at Taku, and the ministers believe your excellency will surely be pleased to agree to it. (Cards with compliments of ministers.)

[Inclosure 2 in No. 500.]

Mr. Denby to the Tsung-li Yamên.

No. 15.]

Your Imperial Highness and Your Excellencies:

I have had the honor to receive your imperial highness’ and your excellencies’ communication of the 10th instant, wherein you inform me that the Imperial Government intends to appoint a fourth-class assistant deputy commissioner of customs to reside at Whampoa to take the management of shipping. You further state your belief that I will agree to this plan.

You also inform me that the barrier at Shalu, in the Pearl River, can never be removed, and further discussion upon the subject would be of no use.

I have to express my regret at the above determination of a question in which the commerce of all nations is interested.

The obstruction of natural channels leading to ports has only occurred in time of war. It has been done by the Dutch, the English, the Americans, the Russians, and the Germans. But it is thoroughly settled by international law, that when war ceases, such obstructions, when impeding navigation in channels in which large ships are accustomed to pass, must be removed by the territorial authorities.

Such is the rule apart from treaty.

If there were any doubt about this question, it would be settled by the provisions of the treaties of the United States with China, which virtually make Canton a free port, to which our merchant vessels are entitled to have free access in time of peace.

While I do not admit the right of China, under international law, to close the channel in question, yet the appointment of a higher officer to take charge of the shipping duties at Whampoa seems to be desirable.

With assurances, etc.,

Charles Denby.