On the morning of August 2, 1891, the American schooner James Hamilton Lewis was compelled by force of arms to come to, was boarded and searched, and afterwards forcibly and violently seized by the officers of the Russian war cruiser Aleut at a point admitted by the commander of the Russian war vessel to have been at least 12 miles from the Russian coast (viz, Copper Island), and claimed by the captain of the Lewis to have been 20 miles from that land.

The preliminary search did not reveal any skins of seals, but the commander of the Aleut appears to have considered that the outfit of the vessel was such as to indicate that she might be engaged in poaching seals in Russian waters, and, as he expressed it, “probably upon our shores also, if occasion offered.” In his report the commander says: “In consequence,” that is to say, in consequence of the suspicions aroused by the equipment of the vessel, “the commandant of the Aleut ordered Lieutenant Lébédeff to take with him six men, go aboard the schooner, and make the arrest.”

After the arrest, and in taking the Lewis with a prize crew to Bering Island, a more thorough search revealed 424 salted seal skins, one line for fishing sea otters, and 2 skins of seals too young to swim, and therefore presumed by the Russian officers, apparently, to have been taken on shore.

At Bering Island her catch of seal skins, her outfit, and her stores of provisions were taken from her and she was sent in charge of a prize crew to Petropavlovsk, and from there to Vladivostock.

The master and crew were held prisoners from the time of the capture until October 10, 1891. The master was compelled to sign a paper in Russian which he believes, but, as he does not understand the language, he does not know, was a notice of seizure of the schooner, and against this he filed a written protest. Afterwards at Vladivostock he was obliged to sign another paper which he was informed was an acknowledgment that he and his crew were prisoners. The crew were subjected to arduous labor, on very insufficient rations and without any adequate accommodations, from the time of the seizure until their arrival at Vladivostock. While at Petropavlovsk the rations allowed them were barely sufficient to sustain life, and at Vladivostock they were still very inadequate. At this place they were obliged to sleep on the floor of some sort of a building quite unsuited to healthful conditions. Here two of the crew contracted smallpox and one of them afterwards died.

No trial was ever given them or the vessel by the Russian authorities, although the master repeatedly demanded one.

In consequence of the above-recited arrest of the vessel, master, and crew, their detention and hard treatment, the owners, master, and crew of the American schooner James Hamilton Lewis, all American citizens, memorialized the Government of the United States seeking damages amounting to $123,000, as set forth in the note and inclosures of the United States legation at St. Petersburg to the Imperial ministry of foreign affairs, dated July 11, 1894, N. S.

In the memorandum of the Imperial ministry of marine, a copy of which was inclosed to the legation of the United States in the note of the imperial minister of foreign affairs, dated May 18, 1896, on the subject of the capture of the Lewis, no invasion of Russian territory or territorial waters by this vessel, nor the taking of seals on Russian shores, or within a marine league thereof, is shown. There is no contention in the reply of the Russian Government to the claims of the United States that Russia has jurisdiction over American vessels fishing or hunting in the North Pacific Ocean beyond ordinary jurisdictional waters. Furthermore, not a particle of affirmative evidence has been adduced to show that the vessel or her crew ever entered Russian waters. It is not even shown that when first sighted by the Aleut coming toward Copper Island she was within a marine league of land, and upon being’ pursued by that vessel she went about and sailed away from the island, so that when overhauled she was from 12 to 20 miles from shore.

It is the claim of the Government of the United States that the James Hamilton Lewis was not within Russian jurisdictional waters when seized, and that she never had been, for any purpose whatever. But had she been within such jurisdiction, so long as she was not there for an unlawful act, her seizure would not have been justifiable. To justify such a seizure it would be necessary to establish an act of depredation on her part within such waters.

In point of fact the evidence simply shows that the Lewis had come into the neighborhood of Copper Island, where, by Russian acknowledgment, she had a perfect [Page 195] right to come; that she had taken somewhere a large number of seals, including two pups too young to swim, which, provided she had not taken them within Russian jurisdiction, she had a perfect right to take, so far as Russia was concerned, and that the master had evinced a disposition to escape and to avoid search. In the absence of any obligation to submit to search, the Government of the United States can not admit that such evasion is circumstantial evidence of guilt.

It was also declared by the commander of the Aleut that during the chase the crew of the Lewis were seen to throw something overboard. This is denied by the master and crew of the schooner; but as there is no evidence whatsoever to show what this something was, or, in any way to connect it with an unlawful act, it must be considered as immaterial.

The log book of the James Hamilton Lewis, which is exhibited, and a copy of which, duly authenticated by the legation, is hereto appended, indicates the course of the vessel during the entire voyage up to the time of the arrest, and shows that she never had been nearer to Russian jurisdiction than at the time when she was sighted by the Aleut. This log book bears upon its face every evidence of genuineness. It is sworn to by the master of the schooner as being a true record of the voyage, and the signatures of the crew attached to the declaration as to the seizure, which follows seriatim the last entry of the vessel’s position, could only have been secured at Vladivostock, the crew being separated on leaving that place.

Doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this log book by the officials of the Imperial ministry of marine owing to its not having been produced at the time of the seizure, and in view of the fact that another log book, called the official log book, was at that time submitted, in which were only certain brief entries which did not at all indicate the position of the vessel from day to day. There appears here to be a misunderstanding on the part of the officials of the Russian Government as to what the so-called official log book is.

The statutes of the United States provide and require that every vessel making voyage from a port in the United States to any foreign port is required to carry an “official log book,” specifically so called in the statute, in which certain entries regarding the personnel of the crew are required to be made. The purpose of such an official log book is to offer protection to the members of the crew against possible abuse of authority, and, as in case of any claim on the part of a member of the crew against the master or owners of the vessel, this book might be required to be retained as evidence in a court of law, it might well happen, should the record of the daily position of the vessel be kept in this book, that embarrassment might arise, owing to its absence from the ship. Hence it is not the custom to record the ship’s course in this “official log book,” but to keep it only for the record of the events specified in the statute. This disposes of the point raised by the Imperial Government that the ship’s daily position and due course were not indicated in the official log book exhibited by the master of the Lewis to the commander of the Aleut and confiscated by him. But it is further argued by the Imperial ministry of marine that the failure to produce the log book which did show the vessel’s daily position is evidence that such a book did not exist at the time of the arrest, but was fabricated later. This conclusion is not warranted. On the contrary, as this book was the direct evidence that the vessel had not been within Russian waters, and therefore could not have committed any act of depredation therein, and as the master proposed not alone to protest but to make a claim for damages on account of the arrest from the Russian Government, it was of the utmost consequence to him that this important evidence in the case should not pass out of his keeping, especially in view of the fact that the official log book had been immediately confiscated on its exhibition.

This action of the commander of the Aleut in confiscating the official log book alarmed the master of the James Hamilton Lewis, who, being inexperienced in matters of official procedure, feared that the surrender of this book into the hands of the arresting parties, or the putting it in jeopardy of confiscation, would be an unwarrantable action on his part, in view of the rights and interests of the owners and crew, and even that, if by any contributory act of his it should be seized, he would lay himself liable for damages for the loss of the vessel and sufferings of the crew. That log book is now produced in its original condition, and bearing upon its face such evidence of its authenticity and of its not having been tampered with as to put it beyond any reasonable question as valid testimony to the vessel’s position during the voyage. A plotting of the course of the vessel according to the data furnished by this log book shows a track entirely consistent with the ostensible object of the voyage, namely, the pelagic hunting of seals upon the open seas, and shows that she did not cross the line fixed by treaty ceding Alaska to the United States until about twenty-four hours before her seizure, and that she was never within a marine league of the Russian coast, her nearest approach thereto being at the time she was sighted by the Aleut.

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Even were it claimed and conceded that all Bering Sea, on the Russian side of the line referred to, is within the territorial jurisdiction of Russia, it is not believed by the Government of the United States that the Imperial Government would claim the right to seize and confiscate foreign vessels or their cargoes and imprison their crews merely because they happened to come within those waters. There is, however, no contention, in the reply of the Imperial Government, that it had jurisdiction over American vessels fishing in the North Pacific Ocean (or Bering Sea) beyond ordinary jurisdictional waters.

The presence of the skins of two young seals, or pups, in the vessel was assumed by the commander of the Aleut as evidence that these pups had been killed on shore, doubtless on the basis of the well-known fact that up to the age of six tonight weeks, during which time the pups retain the black hair with which they are born, but which is shed and replaced by gray hair at about two months old, the young seals can not swim. But the evidence produced before the Paris tribunal clearly established, if it established nothing else, that an immense number of female seals are killed at sea yearly, in the bellies of which are found young. Indeed, this is shown by that evidence to be a daily occurrence, and several experts declared that one-half of the seals taken at sea are pregnant mothers. In the evidence before that tribunal it was further shown that the skins of “black pups,” so called, are regularly quoted on the London market, and these are the skins of young seals taken from the wombs of their dead mothers killed at sea by the pelagic seal hunters.

The two skins of young seals found on the James Hamilton Lewis were, in fact, taken from the bellies of their mothers, which were captured on the open sea, as is sworn to by the master and two of the hunters, copies of whose sworn affidavits are submitted herewith.

The following quotations from the proceedings of the Paris tribunal furnish further strong corroborative evidence of the truth of the statement of the master that the seals whose skins were found on the James Hamilton Lewis were taken on the open sea.

In the paper by Dr. J. A. Allen, submitted in evidence by the Government of the United States, occurs the following:

“The proof of the claim that 80 to 90 per cent (probably the latter figure is nearer the truth) of the seals killed in pelagic sealing are females, is varied and conclusive. It is so stated by the experts in the fur trade, whose business it is to classify and grade the skins in accordance with their value and quality. The usual marks which characterize maternity are not only obvious in a seal’s pelt, but the quality of the pelt of the breeding female is much inferior to that of the ‘bachelor’ seals, which constitute the catch from the rookeries. The northwest coast, or pelagic catch, has sometimes been designated in the trade as the ‘female catch,’ from the great preponderance of female pelts.”

Now this was the distinguishing characteristic of the skins found on the James Hamilton Lewis and seized by the Aleut. During the proceedings the deposition of Mr. Thomas Morgan, agent of the lessees on the Pribilof Islands and of the lessees on the Commander Islands, was submitted in evidence. In his deposition Mr. Morgan stated upon oath: “I have also examined the skins seized from the James Hamilton Lewis in the year 1891 by the Russian gunboat Aleut, numbering 416, of which at least 90 per cent were skins of female seals, and from my long observation of seals and seal skins I am able to tell the difference between the skin of a male and the skin of a female seal.”

Mr. John Malowansky, agent of the lessees of the Commander Islands, in his sworn affidavit, also submitted in evidence before the tribunal, stated: “In 1891 the schooner J. H. Lewis was caught near the islands by the Russian gunboat Aleut and found to have 416 skins on board. I made a personal examination of these skins, and found that from 90 to 95 per cent were those of female seals.”

It appears, therefore, that the skins taken from the catch of seals of the James Hamilton Lewis had in a marked degree the indications of a pelagic catch.

Now, it was clearly proven before the Paris tribunal that the success of pelagic sealing does not at all depend upon close proximity to the Seal Islands. The course of the British schooner Ada on a pelagic sealing trip during the summer of 1897 shows that more seals were taken at 137 miles from the islands than were captured at 40 miles from them. The British schooner Alfred Adams in the same season took more seals in a given time at 125 miles from the islands than at 60 miles from them. The mass of evidence which was presented before the tribunal showing the great distances to which the female seals go from the islands in search of food, and at which they are killed by the pelagic hunters, is voluminous and conclusive; but the two typical illustrations cited sufficiently show that such hunting as that pursued by the James Hamilton Lewis does not require incurring the risk of seizure by close approach to the islands for its successful practice.

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Briefly, the James Hamilton Lewis did not require to practice her calling within Russian jurisdictional waters; nor did she do so. That she approached Copper Island was because she desired to verify her reckoning, taken for days previous in the dense fogs which prevail during the summer months in the North Pacific Ocean. Her log book and the depositions of her crew show where she was and that she was cruising entirely without Russian jurisdiction. This evidence is not only in itself stamped with every indication of veracity, but it is entirely consistent with and sustained by all the well-known conditions affecting its import. On the other hand, there is not a scintilla of direct incriminating evidence against the vessel, her master, or her crew.

It is therefore the confident hope and belief of the Government of the United States that the Imperial Government will now, upon the new evidence submitted, without further delay reimburse the owners, master, and crew of the James H. Lewis for their losses sustained by the arrest and confiscation of the vessel, her outfit and cargo, and the imprisonment of her master and crew.

This new evidence consists of the original of the log book of the vessel, a copy of which only was previously submitted, and the supporting affidavits of the master and two of the hunters.

The entries in the log book are all made consecutively in regular and systematic order, without variation in spacing, up to the day of the arrest. On the reverse page, following the last entry is given a copy of the protest of the master, which occupied two pages, and on the reverse page, following this, commences a statement of the facts of the arrest, signed by every member of the crew, to the number specified by the commander of the Aleut as constituting the company of the James H. Lewis, when seized, save one. This lacking name is that of the man who died at Vladivostok. These signatures are all written with the same ink, and as, after leaving Vladivostok, the crew separated and became scattered, their signatures could only have been obtained there, while the consecutive sequence of all the matter in the book, written without variation as to spacing or handwriting, and followed, without hiatus, by these signatures, clearly shows that these men signed a document which was complete at the time.

I, Herbert H. D. Peirce, first secretary of the embassy of the United States of America at St. Petersburg, Russia, do hereby certify that I have compared the foregoing copy of a memorandum of the embassy of the United States at St. Petersburg with the copy of the said memorandum now on record in the archives of this embassy, and that the same is a correct transcription therefrom and of the whole of said memorandum, and of a memorandum which the ambassador of the United States handed to the officials of the Imperial Russian ministry of foreign affairs in my presence, and left with said official.

Herbert H. D. Peirce,
Secretary of United States Embassy.