The Chargé in Great Britain ( Wheeler ) to the Secretary of State

No. 2802

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s Instruction No. 895, dated May 17, 1923, on the subject of Wrangel Island, and, in this connection, to enclose a clipping, in triplicate, from the Daily Telegraph of August 25, 1923,14 stating that the Soviet Government has renewed its claim to this territory.

In order to obtain the view of the Foreign Office upon the question—particularly its view of the Canadian claim of annexation by virtue of the Stefansson expedition—a member of the Embassy had [Page 286] an informal conversation yesterday with both Mr. Ovey, of the Russian Department, and Mr. Sperling.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Concerning the political aspect of the question, Mr. Sperling stated that the status of the island had recently been discussed by the Cabinet but that no decision had been reached. From this and the guarded nature of Mr. Sperling’s replies to the Embassy’s questions, I believe that the matter has assumed a rather important character in the eyes of the British Government and is accompanied by a divergence of views. Mr. Sperling remarked that Mr. Stefansson was insistent that the island would be a great economic asset to the British Empire on account of its equable, mild climate and good soil, and for communication purposes to Siberia. Mr. Sperling, on the other hand, rather relegated the advantages to the dim and distant future. Asked as to whether the claims of Russia and the fact that the crew of an American vessel had landed on the island in 1881 and taken possession in the name of the United States had been noted, Mr. Sperling replied in the affirmative, adding that he personally felt that the Russian claim was the weakest of all.

It will be seen from the above that no definite reply can yet be given to the Department’s inquiry concerning the attitude of the British Government in the premises.15 The Embassy, however, will not fail to follow the subject closely and report fully to the Department.

I have [etc.]

Post Wheeler
  1. Not printed.
  2. Apparently no further statement was received directly from the British Foreign Office; but in a letter dated May 27, 1925, Mr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson wrote that “Ponsonby, acting as the official spokesman of the British Foreign Office, assured the Russians during the tenure of the Labor Government that Great Britain would never make a claim to Wrangel Island.” (File no. 861.0144/135.)