Sir Julian Pauncefote to Mr. Gresham.

Sir: At the commencement of June last year the British steamship Danube Capt. Myers, arrived at Portland, Oreg., having on board a number of Chinese, who had represented themselves as merchants. The collector of customs refused to allow some of them to land, and the U. S. district judge issued writs of habeas corpus to bring them before him at his court, which was distant about 2 miles from the port.

I received on the 3d of June a telegram from Mr. Laidlaw, British vice consul at Portland, informing me of these facts and stating that the captain was unable to incur the responsibility of preventing the escape of these Chinese on their way from the ship to the court, as any [Page 258] evasion on their part would have subjected him to heavy penalties. The vice consul begged me to request the U. S. Government to relieve the captain of this responsibility, which might entail an involuntary violation of the law.

As the matter was pressing I brought the matter unofficially to the notice of Mr. Attorney-General Olney, and he was good enough to telegraph instructions to the U. S. marshal at Portland, directing him to prevent the Chinese escaping on their way from the Danube to the court-house. Mr. Olney also telegraphed to the U. S. attorney at Portland, instructing him to give his assent if an application was made to the court to allow the Chinese, ordered to be produced on habeas corpus, to remain on the Danube in custody of a deputy marshal pending a hearing of the case.

On the 28th ultimo I received another telegram from Mr. Laidlaw stating that a similar case had arisen at Portland with Capt. Irving, of the British steamship Islander, and asking whether instructions could not be telegraphed as in the case of the Danube. I again had recourse to Mr. Olney’s kind offices, and he was good enough to instruct the United States officials to the same effect as in June last.

Consul Laidlaw, in a dispatch supplementing his telegram, informs me that the case of the Islander resembles in all respects that of the Danube. He adds that the marshal, on being requested to guard the Chinese on their way from the Islander to the court-house, refused his consent on the grounds that the instructions issued by Mr. Olney with regard to the Danube only applied to that special case and could not be regarded as general.

Vice-Consul Laidlaw urges that it is impossible for the master of the ship to do more than prevent the escape of persons from his vessel, so long as they remain on board, his authority over them ceasing once they are allowed to land.

In view of the possible frequency of cases similar to those of the Danube and Islander under the Chinese immigration act, he expresses the hope that instructions may be issued to the United States authorities at ports whese such cases are liable to occur, authorizing them to furnish guards sufficient to prevent the escape of persons whom the master of a ship is compelled to land and produce before the courts in obedience to a writ of habeas corpus.

I venture to commend this suggestion to your favorable consideration.

I have, etc.,

Julian Pauncefote.