Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, With the Annual Message of the President Transmitted to Congress December 3, 1907, (In two parts), Part II
File No. 6610.
Minister Squiers to the Secretary of State.
Panama , May 10, 1907 .
Sir: I have the honor to bring to the attention of the department, a foreign office note, dated January 29 last, with regard to the administration of the estate of Wan Fok, a Chinese subject. It is alleged that this estate was administered by Mr. D. R. Hand, in his official capacity, as consular agent of the United States at Bocas del Toro. A translation of this note is inclosed herewith.
I immediately wrote to Mr. Hand, who had, it appears, resigned sometime before, and had left the country, which explains the delay in reporting the case. A reply from Mr. Hand was received on the 9th instant, copy of which is inclosed herewith.
In inviting the attention of the department to the foreign office’s inquiry, as to the authority of American consular officers in Panama to settle estates of deceased Chinese, as they would in the case of an American citizen, I beg to ask whether the general instructions to consular officers in the absence of Chinese consular officers, to look after the general interests of Chinese residing here, extends to this legation. The consul-general has reported as to certain illegal treatment of Chinese by the municipal authorities. I have not taken up the matter with the foreign office, as I am uncertain as to my duty in the premises.
I have, etc.,
The Minister for Foreign Affairs to Minister Squiers.
Panama , January 29, 1907 .
Mr. Minister: In his dispatch No. 324, dated January 25 current, the first judge of the circuit of Bocas del Toro communicates the following to this department:
“On the 9th of December, 1902, on the strength of a note from the consular agent of the United States containing information of the death of a Chinese, one Won Fok, on November 19 of the same year * * * the judge of this circuit began on this same date above mentioned legal proceedings to prevent the loss or diminution of the estate of the deceased, who was a partner * * * in the firm of Won Cuy Mon & Co., of this place.[Page 930]
“Mr. R. D. Hand, consular agent of the United States, on the 10th of January, 1903, communicated by a dispatch to the judge of this circuit that by virtue of the public treaty existing between the two Republics—the United States and Colombia—the said consul has taken possession of the estate of the above-named firm, and had proceeded to inventory and appraise the property with the assistance of two merchants of this place in good standing. He inclosed this inventory at the same time, in which he appraised the property of this firm at $19,654.77.
“This matter to which I refer, came, in the division of July 8, 1904, under the cognizance of the second judge of this circuit; at this time this matter is before the court in consequence of Law 30 of 1906.
“On November 12, 1904, the second judge of this circuit, by the usual legal document, declared the estate of the deceased Won Fok not settled, and named Mr. Herbert Leer executor, but up to the present time this estate has not been turned over to him for administration, because, according to the documents in the case, the consular agent, Mr. Hand, has been absent from this city since the month of January, 1905, without having returned and it is impossible to obtain information as to the present status of the estate, in spite of every effort which has been made with this object in view. * * *”
In view of the above communication I beg that your excellency will cause an investigation to be made into the status of the estate of Won Fok as left by Mr. Hand, American consular agent in Bocas del Toro, in order to facilitate the delivery of the estate to the legally appointed judicial depositary, Mr. Leer.
I shall esteem it a favor, also, if your excellency will call the attention of the consular officers of the United States in Panama to the fact that they are not warranted in assuming the settlement of the estates of Chinese subjects in the same manner as those of American citizens, for the representation by American consular officials which this department recognizes and accepts in matters pertaining to Chinese interests, should not lead these Chinese to believe that they are covered by the stipulations of the public treaties existing between the United States and Panama.
I take this opportunity, etc.,
Mr. Hand to Minister Squiers.
Sir: I am in receipt of your letter of February 1, forwarded to me by the consular agent at Bocas del Toro, requesting the facts connected with the matter of the estate of one Won Fok, a Chinaman, and asking me to advise you by what authority I took over the estate of a Chinese subject.
I must draw on my memory for the facts, as I have no records or data here pertaining to these matters, but if there may be some inaccuracies as to minor detail, the statement of the facts in the case, as hereinafter written, are substantially correct. I will answer your latter request first.
At one time, during my incumbency at Bocas del Toro, I received a letter from the Department of State, through the American consul at Colon, directing the American consular agent at Bocas del Toro to extend his good offices to the Chinese residents of his district, so far as he could do so with the consent of the local government, or words to that effect.
This was done at the request of the Chinese minister at Washington, who was petitioned to take this step by a number of the Chinese merchants of Bocas del Toro, with my consent.
I presented this letter from the Department of State to the highest government authority at Bocas del Toro, Mr. Serafin Jovene (Bocas del Toro was then a part of the Provincia de Colon), and asked the alcalde if he would informally recognize me as the consular representative of the Chinese residents. The alcalde said that he was pleased with the idea; that the Chinese could neither understand nor make themselves understood, and that he would like to have as much as possible of the necessary business between the local government and the Chinese transacted through me, and he forthwith recognized me as such consular representative, pending the approval of the governor of Panama. (Panama was then a State of Colombia.)[Page 931]
I will add here that during the year of my residence in Bocas del Toro I did a great deal of work with and for the Chinese, and that I never charged or received from Chinamen a fee, commission, or other remuneration.
I never interceded for a Chinaman nor performed any services for them in a consular capacity without first stating that I was acting informally as their consular representative, and asking the consent of whatever official I was then dealing with for the particular case in hand, and I never failed to have such consent courteously conceded, with one single exception, when a Chinese merchant was being blackmailed, badgered, and shamefully treated by a clique of unscrupulous parties.
So much for the authority. As to the facts connected with what you term in your letter as my “Administration of the estate of Wan Fok,” I have to say:
I arrived in Bocas del Toro on November 10, 1902, an invalid, after having submitted to a surgical operation for abscess of liver, and after having been in hospital a little less than a year. Shortly after my arrival, probably on the date you mention, November 19, 1902, I was advised by a Chinaman of the death of a Chinese merchant, of whose name I have no recollection.
Probably this was the Wan Fok you refer to, as this was the only case in which I was interviewed in any way on the death of a Chinaman, and the circumstances in this case were as follows:
I can not recall names, so will say: A came to me and stated that B had died; that C, the principal owner of the business, was in China. That C was a man of some wealth. That B was C’s cousin and owned a small share in the business besides receiving a salary. That C had, before leaving Bocas del Toro for China, executed a general power of attorney in favor of B. A was a distant relative of B and C and was working for a very small salary, in addition to which he received at the end of the year’s service a stated amount of stock in the business. On the death of B, A proceeded at once to invoice the stock with the assistance of three other clerks employed in the business. That the authorities had notified him that they would take possession of the effects, including the store and stock of goods, make an inventory, and place all the effects in deposit in the hands of a curator.
That the stock consisted largely of fine China silks, embroideries, etc., that were so packed and made up that they could not be opened, taken out, and examined and repacked again by any but Chinamen without serious deterioration, and that three appraisers appointed by the court would not be competent to appraise such goods after seeing them. While these Chinese themselves could correctly invoice and value them by the marks on the packages.
That the stock of goods further consisted of general merchandise, including a general assortment of liquors and wines.
This Chinamen A knew, and I knew, that if three appraisers were appointed to invoice this stock that fees and stamped paper would be a considerable expense; that [persons might] steal and carry away a large amount of valuable merchandise, and that if the store was locked up, nominally in possession of a “depositario” or curator, rats, roaches, and mildew would damage all and ruin a great deal of the stock. And the Chinamen A asked me if there was any way to avoid this invoicing by irresponsible shyster lawyers and hangers-on about the government offices, and the subsequent locking up of the store.
I told him to send two cables at once to C, to return one via Mobile and San Francisco (we then had two mails a week from Bocas del Toro to Mobile) and the other through their correspondents in Panama, advising C that if he could not return immediately he must send general power of attorney to A or to myself, or to someone else.
I then laid the case before the authorities and told them that if they would allow these Chinamen to complete their inventory, I would give them a copy of the same properly written out in Spanish, receipted and verified by three responsible merchants, and would nominate a “depositario” or curator, who would give bond for one and a half times the value of the effects, and they, the government authorities, could appoint him formally as depositario or curator. The authorities consented to do this and during these negotiations I suffered a relapse and became confined to bed.
I employed a young lawyer, a native of the city of Panama, to write out the inventory, which I dictated to him from my bed. When I became too ill to do even this, I paid the young man $3 a day for his services and let him go, as he was incompetent and could not proceed with the work without me.[Page 932]
I then became so ill that I lost all knowledge of business matters of any kind and lay at the point of death for over a month. My physician said, and it was generally known in Bocas del Toro, that I could not recover.
I was so ill that I never knew when the Chinaman A came and took away his inventory and other papers, and do not know whatever became of the inventory written in Spanish by my assistant. I never asked him to reimburse me for the funds actually paid out by me in the matter and he never did so. Then I consented to be carried by a friend to the United States where I was in hospital for eleven months, and did not return to Bocas del Toro until March, 1904. Then ill health again made it impossible for me to remain there and I came [at] once to the United States and never returned to Bocas del Toro, shall never be physically able to go there again.
The government authorities all knew of my illness, knew that I was practically in a dying condition, knew that I did not supply them with copy of inventory, as I agreed to and intended to, knew that I did not nominate a curator for them to appoint. My illness was so severe that it obliged me to let all my own business and the business of others go as it would or could, and it went very badly. When I left the authorities and everyone else supposed that I would not live but a few days.
There was never any administration of this or any other estate of any Chinaman by me, and no part of the effects of this or any other Chinese estate ever came for one moment into my possession or under my control.
I believe [this] covers the whole ground. I am sorry to burden with so long a letter, but it may be best to have this matter threshed out at one sitting.
I am, etc.,
(Formerly American Consular Agent at Bocas del Toro.)