Sir Julian Pauncefote to Mr. Olney.
Washington, June 3, 1896.
Sir: I have the honor to inform you that I am in receipt of a dispatch from Her Majesty’s secretary of state for foreign affairs containing his observations on your note to me of the 9th April last in reply to the [Page 270] complaints of Her Majesty’s Government against the action of the United States revenue cruisers in Bering Sea during the past sealing season.
The Marquis of Salisbury observes that your note does not remove the impression that British vessels were repeatedly overhauled without sufficient cause, and although Her Majesty’s Government have no desire to prolong the correspondence on this subject, there are certain points in your note on which they deem it necessary to make some comment.
Her Majesty’s Government have now learned for the first time of the report which reached the United States Treasury Department that the law had been systematically violated in 1894 by the use of firearms in Bering Sea and by the making of false entries in the logs as to the sex of the seals killed. The first part of that report (as to the improper use of firearms) is scarcely consistent with the fact that British vessels showed such readiness to have their arms sealed up in 1894, and again in 1895. The United States Government are, moreover, well aware that Her Majesty’s Government have only refused to renew the agreement for the sealing up of arms in 1895 because it had not afforded to British vessels the immunity from search which had been expected to result from the observance of its provisions.
It should also be remembered that those vessels which cleared from British Columbia direct for Bering Sea were furnished with certificates that they had no arms on board, and that in the great majority of cases they were manned with only Indian spearmen as hunters.
If these circumstances were not considered conclusive by the United States revenue officers, a single search would have sufficed to settle the matter and also to verify the accuracy of the entries in the log books.
Her Majesty’s Government are unable to accept the views expressed in your note in regard to the right of search. In the absence of circumstances warranting suspicion, the sealing vessels are entitled to be exempt from executive interference, and the British act of Parliament and orders in council do not give any general right of indiscriminate search for the purpose of discovering whether an offense has been committed.
It may be presumed, however, that the United States authorities have now convinced themselves that the masters of British sealing vessels do not systematically violate the law and that they have done their best to act in conformity with the existing regulations.
Her Majesty’s secretary of state, while requesting me to communicate to you the foregoing remarks, has instructed me to state that Her Majesty’s Government trust that the right of searching British vessels conferred on United States naval officers by imperial legislation will be exercised with the discrimination requisite in using so exceptional a power.
I have, etc.,