The British Ambassador (Geddes) to the Secretary of State

No. 863


His Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador presents his compliments to the Secretary of State and has the honour on instructions from his Government to inform him that a member of the staff of the United States Embassy recently called at the Foreign Office and left copies of two documents purporting to be extracts from a proclamation dated the 24th September, 1884, countersigned “Salisbury, Secretary of State for India” and extracts from an agreement dated 23rd August, 1885, between the Secretary of State for India and the Burma Oil Company also signed “Salisbury, Secretary of State for India”. A request was at the same time made that the Embassy might be informed whether or not these documents were authentic. The India Office to whom copies of these papers were submitted pointed out that they appear to be those referred to in Senate document No. 272.5 The relevant passage is contained on page 8 of the report of the State Department under the heading “India” and runs as follows:—

“American oil companies are expressly excluded from doing business in Burma by proclamation signed by Queen Victoria and Lord Salisbury, Secretary of State for India, on September 24th, 1884, and a blanket concession of ninety nine years was given the Burma Oil Company (Limited) on August 23rd, 1885, protecting this company from all foreign competition.”

The India Office further state that in their judgment the documents in question are self-evident forgeries. The late Marquess of Salisbury, whose second and last tenure of the office of Secretary of State for India ceased in April 1878, is represented as holding that office in 1884 and 1885, whereas in fact Lord Kimberley was Secretary of State for India throughout 1884 and Lord Randolph Churchill in August 1885. The wording of these two documents, copies of which are enclosed,6 is alone sufficient to indicate their spurious character. The India Office further point out that the message of the President of the United States under date of May 16th, 1921, covering a report by the State Department7 “furnishing information supplementary” to that embodied in the previous report regarding restrictions on American petroleum prospectors omitted the statement in the previous report under the head of “India” to which reference is made. The supplementary report, however, does not [Page 78] contain any admission as to any question of the authenticity of the materials on which the previous statement was based and that statement accordingly stands uncorrected in the original message of May 17th, 1920.8

Sir Auckland Geddes is instructed to bring this matter to Mr. Hughes’ notice and to inform him of the painful impression produced on His Majesty’s Government by the use in an official publication in Congress of such a statement based on documents which bore every indication of being false and the authenticity of which no attempt was apparently made to test.

Sir Auckland Geddes is further instructed to suggest for the consideration of the Secretary of State the propriety of the publication of an acknowledgment that the statement in question was erroneously made and that it has been discovered to be entirely devoid of foundation.

In conclusion, Sir Auckland Geddes has the honour to state that it would be of interest to His Majesty’s Government to learn if possible the origin of these fabricated documents and of the means by which they have found their way into the archives of the State Department, and he would be most grateful if Mr. Hughes could see his way to inform him accordingly.

  1. See letter from the Acting Secretary of State to President Wilson, May 14. 1920, Foreign Relations, 1920, vol. i, p. 351.
  2. Not printed; they are entitled Appendix XVIII and Appendix XVIII–A.
  3. S. Doc. 11, 67th Cong., 1st sess.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1920, vol. i, p. 351, footnote 2.