File No. 585/2–3.

The Secretary of State to Ambassador McCormick.

No. 219.]

Sir: I inclose herewith copy of a letter from the Acting Secretary of the Navy, together with copies of a reporta and findingsa of a naval board appointed to investigate the circumstances under which Lieut. Clarence England, U. S. Navy, was mortally wounded in July last while on duty on the U. S. S. Chattanooga in the harbor of Chefoo, China.

The board reports that the Chattanooga was at the time under way, standing out of the harbor of Chefoo, in the recognized highway channel, and that the wound which resulted in the death of Lieutenant England was caused by a stray rifle bullet from the French war ship Depetit Thouars, engaged at that time in rifle practice, and whose line of fire the Chattanooga was compelled to cross in the main ship channel in passing out of the harbor.

While the killing of Lieutenant England can only be viewed as an accident, it can not be regarded as belonging to the unavoidable class whereby no responsibility is entailed. Indeed, it is not conceivable how it could have occurred without the contributory element of lack of proper precaution on the part of those officers of the Depetit Thouars who were in responsible charge of the rifle firing practice and who failed to stop firing when the Chattanooga, in the course of her regular passage through the public channel, came into the line of fire. The evidence establishes that Lieutenant England was killed by a direct rifle ball at the moment the Chattanooga passed into the line of targets at which the practice of the Depetit Thouars was directed.

It will, I am sure, not be necessary to remind the French Government of the course adopted by the United States consequent upon the deplorable occurrence in the harbor of Toulon in 1835, when a saluting gun of the American frigate United States, which had been carelessly left shotted, caused the death of two men and the wounding of four others on the French frigate Suffren. Recognizing that the [Page 399] casualty was due to the remissness and neglect of its officers, this Government voluntarily provided by act of Congress for indemnity by way of pension to the sufferers. But it may not be out of place to remark that this Government has carried its recognition of moral responsibility for the carelessness of its agents so far as to provide a substantial indemnity when certain Japanese subjects were killed in 1887 by the explosion of a shell which, having been fired into a barren cliff on the island of Ikishima and having failed to burst, was subsequently dug out of the sand by the natives and handled by them with fatal result.

This Government has no disposition to put forward a demand of an exemplary character in this case. It is, however, as the guardian and representative of the interests of its citizens, proper that it should take cognizance of the claim of the parent and relatives of Lieutenant England that some substantial reparation is due to them for the destruction of this young life of promise under circumstances which, it is represented, would have laid good ground for reparation by course of law if the incident had occurred between private parties.

The Government of the French Republic will readily comprehend the reluctance with which this deplorable occurrence is presented to its attention, and will I trust as readily understand the confidence with which an appropriate disposition thereof is left to its equitable sentiments.

You will take early occasion to bring the matter in oral conference to the attention of the minister for foreign affairs, consulting your good judgment as to the appropriate manner of doing so, and showing him this instruction and the accompanying reporta and findingsa with the charta and diagrama referred to. For your further convenience in dealing with the question an abstract of the report of the naval board is added hereto.

I am, etc.,

Elihu Root.
[Inclosure 1.]

The Acting Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of State.

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith a copy of the reporta of a naval board appointed by the senior officer present to investigate the circumstances under which Lieut. Clarence England, U. S. Navy, was, on Saturday, July 28, 1906, mortally wounded while on duty on the bridge of the U. S. S. Chattanooga, in the harbor of Chefoo, China.

After finding that Lieutenant England was wounded on board the U. S. S. Chattanooga, July 28, 1906, between 10.09 and 10.13 a.m., while in the performance of duty on the bridge of that vessel, the board reports that the Chattanooga was at the time under way, standing out of the harbor of Chefoo, in the recognized highway channel; that the wound which resulted in the death of Lieutenant England was caused by a stray rifle bullet in direct flight, and adds:

  • “IV. The board is further of the opinion that from the position of the U. S. S. Chattanooga at the time that Lieut. Clarence England, U. S. Navy, was shot, the position of the Dupetit Thouars, and the targets at which they were firing, also from the testimony given, that the stray bullet which hit Lieut. Clarence [Page 400] England, U. S. Navy, was fired from the deck of the Dupetit Thouars, which was the only vessel engaged at that time in rifle practice and firing at targets which were to the northward and eastward of said vessel, and which line of fire the U. S. S. Chattanooga was compelled to cross in the main ship channel in passing out of the harbor.
  • “V. The board is still further of the opinion that it is impossible for it to determine individual responsibility for the wounding and the death of Lieut. Clarence England, U. S. Navy, owing to the indiscriminate and careless manner in which the French fleet conducted small-arm practice from their ships at anchor in Chefoo Harobr, as shown above.”

In view of the findings of the board of investigation, the papers are transmitted to you for such action as may be deemed appropriate. This department considers that the death of Lieutenant England occurred under such circumstances as to suggest the case should be called to the attention of the French Government.

Very respectfully,

Truman H. Newberry.
[Inclosure 2.]

Abstract of evidence taken by board of naval officers.

[References in parentheses are to the pages of the report.]

The Chattanooga took the usual course for men of war in leaving the harbor (3). Stopped engines at 10.07 when near the flagship Ohio to receive an official message from her (3). At 10.09 started up again, full speed ahead (3); passed the head of the Wisconsin (4). Lieutenant England fell at 10.13. Before passing the Ohio, Lieutenant-Commander Burrage remarked that the Frenchmen seemed to be firing with revolvers at targets on their lower booms (4). Commander Sharp, commanding the Chattanooga, did not notice any targets in the water when Frenchmen were firing (5). He heard the report of firearms, but could not tell in which direction they were shooting (5). “The first intimation we had that shots were coming near this ship was when Lieutenant England fell (5.) I did not know what hit him, nor did he” (5).

Lieutenant-Commander Burrage, executive officer of the Wisconsin, observed the French cruisers to be firing when the Chattanooga passed the bow of the Wisconsin (9); could not tell the direction of the firing, though he looked particularly for the splash, but found none. He observed two rifle targets out ahead of the Dupetit Thouars. The other ships had balls suspended from their swinging booms, from which he thought they were having revolver practice (9). Lost sight of the targets after Chattanooga had gone ahead full speed. Did not see or hear any firing in a direction ahead of the Chattanooga previous to England being shot (9). There were scars on the ship to indicate that other rifle or pistol bullets had struck it (10). Couldn’t say whether bullet that struck England came from the Dupetit Thouars or the Guichen (10). Didn’t know the direction of the firing nor which ships were doing it (10). Saw two rifle targets ahead of the Dupetit Thouars. French vice-admiral stated that ship was firing with rifles, others using pistols (10). Turned around and came back, blowing whistle. After England was shot, heard firing continued for some time, but could not tell direction. Saw no sign of shots on water (12). In his opinion, course pursued by Chattanooga was a safe course (12). The rifle targets were to the north and east of the Dupetit Thouars (12).

Williams, chief quartermaster, heard firing from the French ships after the orders for full speed ahead (14); saw line of targets (14). The Guichen and the Dupetit Thouars were nearest to the targets (15). Did not notice that they were firing rifles at these targets from any of the French cruisers (15). Heard no other bullets pass by or hit the ship after Lieutenant England was shot (15).

Quartermaster Allen states targets were seen off the Dupetit Thouars, about northeast (16). Heard firing from the ships before Lieutenant England was shot (16). Didn’t know from what direction shots were going or from what coming, but saw them splash around targets (16). Noticed firing from French cruisers after England was shot, but didn’t know which one; they were all firing (17). Surgeon Orvis states that from the nature of the wound it was a bullet in direct flight, not a ricochet, and was from a rifle, direction horizontal (18).

Ensign Wallace states he saw no targets going out. Whatever there were must have been very small (23).

[Page 401]

Captain Drake, of the Wisconsin, stated that the Montcalm and Gueydon were firing with revolvers and the Dupetit Thouars with rifles, the latter in a northeasterly direction (23) at targets about 400 yards distant.

Commander Boush, of the U. S. S. Concord, stated that on the morning of the accident, and just before it, he sent an officer to the captain of the French corvette Decidé to inform him that two of his shots had passed near the Concord’s cabin port and his target practice was dangerous to the Concord, and he ceased firing at once and shifted his target (26).

Assistant Surgeon Olsen testified that on July 26 the crews of the Montcalm and the Gueydon, at rifle practice, kept firing at their target while a United States launch containing the surgeon was approaching the target, and did not cease firing until the coxswain on the launch blew his whistle three times (27).

The board made an examination of the scars alleged to have been made by bullets striking the ship (20). Result of examination not reported. It nowhere appears in the testimony that the ship was struck on both sides. The only testimony regarding the ship being struck at all is that of the executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Burrage, who stated there were scars on the ship (location not mentioned) to indicate it had been struck by rifle or pistol shots (10).

  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.
  6. Not printed.
  7. Not printed.