Mr. Gresham to Mr. Bayard.

No. 218.]

Sir: I inclose herewith a copy of a letter1 dated the 2d instant, from the president of the Board of Underwriters of New York, calling attention to the treatment experienced by vessels in distress at the hands of the inhabitants of the Bahama and other West India islands. It appears that many of the islanders pursue the occupation of salvors, and that frequently their anxiety for gain tempts them into a course of conduct which wholly disregards the rights of the owners of vessels and cargoes placed within their reach by the perils of the sea.

The case is cited of the American steamship El Dorado, of which these “wreckers” seem to have practically taken possession, in spite of the statement of the master that he did not desire their assistance. This vessel, which had run aground on the Bahama Banks, [Page 285] but was being relieved by salvors engaged by the master and was out of all danger, was surrounded by seventy-eight wrecking vessels which came from the neighboring islands to which news of the disaster had spread. The wreckers, to the number of seven hundred, it is stated, boarded the El Dorado and practically compelled the master to allow them to remove the cargo, in spite of his protestation that he neither needed nor desired their services. These practices unfortunately, though not altogether, perhaps, unnaturally, seem not to be adequately condemned by local opinion and the only protection against them is in the courts of admiralty. The British vice-admiralty court at Nassau is presided over by Chief Justice Yelverton, a fearless and impartial magistrate, whose services in the protection of commerce are gratefully recognized by the New York underwriters.

The president of the Board of Underwriters incloses in his letter a copy of a communication from Chief Justice Yelverton in which the latter, discussing the question under consideration, makes certain suggestions, the adoption of which he considers absolutely essential to the effective administration of justice in the vice-admiralty court at Nassau.

That the chief justice of the colony should be thoroughly independent.
That the payment of the officials of the court by fees should be abolished.
That upon the occurrence of every wreck it should be in the power of the chief justice, with or without application made to him for that purpose, to order an inquiry, with or without nautical assessors, into the circumstances attending the wreck.

Recognizing the great value to American commerce, as well as to that of Great Britain and other countries, of an impartially-administered admiralty jurisdiction in these islands, this Department desires to call the attention of the British Government to the above suggestions. You are therefore directed to present them to the attention of the minister of foreign affairs, expressing at the same time this Government’s appreciation of the able and impartial manner in which Chief Justice Yelverton has administered his office.

I am, sir, etc.,

W. Q. Gresham.
  1. Not printed.