Mr. Harvey to Mr. Seward

No. 328.]

Sir: The enclosed copy of a note which I had occasion to address to the Duke de Loulé on the 29th instant, and the papers which accompany it, will bring to your notice a vexatious incident, which has excited much interest and feeling in this community. It is not necessary now to repeat the details, since the complete history of the case is related in the note to the minister of foreign affairs. It may be observed, however, that no moral doubt was entertained that the offence complained of originated in the inexcusable mistake or excessive zeal of the imprudent officer in command of Belem castle, which, though bearing a very imposing name, is really little more than a beautiful architectural ornament to the harbor, and of no consequence in a military point of view.

The government of his Majesty served no notice of any kind upon me, applying to our ships what is known as the 24-hour rule, and I feel authorized to state, from that fact and others, that there was no intention on the part of the responsible authorities to impose any such restraint upon their movements.

In the midst of the confusion and alarm which prevailed during the presence of the Stonewall in port, and the apprehension that a collision might occur in the Tagus, verbal orders were probably passed among military officers, without definite instructions from their superiors, which led to this untoward circumstance; [Page 114] still the event was of itself of a character which could not be passed by in silence, and, after a lapse of 24 hours, I addressed the Duke de Loulé in such terms as seemed to be appropriate to the occasion, keeping in view the propriety of a dignified calmness, and not forgetting that our own government had been recently compromised by a similar indiscretion. That note was not delivered in point of fact at the Foreign Office until yesterday at 12.20 p. m., and was sent from there to the royal palace of the Ajuda, where the Duke de Loulé was attending the King in a council of ministers. It was kept back in order that there might be no appearance of precipitancy, and in the hope that the government would anticipate the necessity of any communication whatever.

At the usual audience of the diplomatic body later in the afternoon of yesterday, the Duke de Loulé stated to several of my colleagues that he was gratified with the moderation and tone of my representation, and that he would respond to it by ample reparation for the wrong. I permit myself to hope that this proceeding may merit the approval of the department.

The shots which struck the Niagara did not inflict the least injury, or I should have required the repairs to have been made.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,

JAMES E. HARVEY.

Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

No. 1

Commodore Craven to Mr. Harvey

Sir: With the object of shifting her berth further up the river, so as to be nearer the usual landing straits, at about 3.15 p. m., the Niagara was got under way with a regularly authorized Portuguese pilot on board, and was about being turned head “up stream,” when three shots were fired in rapid succession directly at her from Castle Belem. Supposing that the officer commanding the fort might have been under the impression that I was in the act of following the pirate Stonewall out to sea, and had fired those guns as a warning not to proceed, I immediately ordered our flag to be dipped, or hauled part way down, a signal that his warning was understood and that I did not intend to pass the fort.

But, to my astonishment, so soon as those guns could be reloaded, they were again fired at my ship, and this too when my flag was at half-mast and the ship’s head being rapidly turned up stream. The firing having been ceased for some few minutes, my flag was run up to its place at the “peak,” when almost immediately a third volley of three shots was fired at us. At the moment this last round was fired at us the port quarter of the Niagara was presented to the castle, and no one but an idiot could have imagined for a moment that there was any appearance of intention on my part to quit the port.

The officer who perpetrated this gross outrage upon our flag cannot invent the least possible excuse for his conduct, and I feel that I have only to submit this statement for your consideration, in order that the whole case may be presented to the Portuguese government.

I have the honor to be, sir, with great respect, your obedient servant,

THOMAS T. CRAVEN.

Hon. James E. Harvey, Minister Resident of the United States of America at Lisbon.

No. 2.

Mr. Ivens to Mr. Munro

My Dear Sir: In reply to your request to be informed of anything I know regarding the affair between the United States ship Niagara and Belem castle, I beg to say that I went on board said steamer between 3 and 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon with my two sons, for the purpose of ascertaining what coals she might require; when I spoke to Mr. Roberts, the chief engineer, he told me that he could only state the quantity exactly, when she got to her anchorage near the city; and as she was then under steam, and about to leave her moorings, he told us [Page 115] we had better get into our boat at once, which we did. I then steered for the Sacramento, and after a few minutes I heard a gun, followed immediately by another, and looking round I saw a shot or two strike the water, and in a short time two or three, or more, one of which passed the Niagara and struck on the shore, on the south side, near Porto Brandao, or the Lazaretto, when the Niagara’s head was that way far over on the south side, viz., her head and stern across the river; this was the last shot I saw fired.

I must mention also that at the second or third shot the Niagara dipped her colors; I must also state that, as the tide was coming in, her head was necessarily turned down river, therefore she could not make the turn without steaming a little way ahead.

I remain, my dear sir, faithfully yours,

ARTHUR H. IVENS.

Charles Munro, Esq.

No. 3.

Mr. Tufnell et al. to Mr. Harvey

Sir: In compliance with your request, we have to state that we were visiting the castle of Belem yesterday afternoon about 3 o’clock, when suddenly a shotted gun was fired at the United States ship-of-war Niagara which was then in motion, and immediately after three others were discharged in quick succession. Meanwhile the Niagara was plainly turning towards the city, and after her bow was pointed in that direction, two other guns were fired at her.

WILLIAM TUFNELL, London.

AUGUST ARNAUD, 48 Boulevard Picalle, Paris.

GEORGE W. WURTS, of Philadelphia. Attaché a la Legation des Etats Unis a Madrid.

His Excellency James E. Harvey, Minister Resident of the United States at Lisbon.

Mr. Harvey to Count de Loulé

Sir: The unpleasant duty is imposed upon me of bringing to the attention of his Majesty’s government an event which is officially reported by the letter of Commodore Craven, communicated herewith, (marked No. 1,) and which, unexplained, assumes the nature of an act of war on the part of the Portugese against the United States, without notice, cause or provocation of any sort. The facts of this case are so extraordinary that it is difficult to believe they could have occurred in a community governed by the laws and usages of civilized society.

The United States steamers Niagara and Sacramento arrived in this port on Monday afternoon, the 27th instant, and upon entering the harbor were verbally requested by some officer claiming to represent the naval authorities to anchor near Belem, as much anxiety and apprehension were entertained, owing to the presence in the Tagus of the piratical cruiser Stonewall. Although that request involved considerable inconvenience, and was in no manner obligatory, it was at once respected and obeyed.

The two ships remained off Belem until about three o’clock yesterday afternoon, some five hours after the departure of the Stonewall. Commodore Craven then ordered them to be moved to the usual place of mooring of vessels-of-war, which is more convenient for intercourse with the city. The Niagara was under the charge of a regularly licensed Portuguese pilot in making this change of position, and he alone directed her movements. As soon as the ship got under way to be turned, Belem castle discharged three shotted guns in quick succession directly at the Niagara, without previous warning of any kind. As Commodore Craven supposed that this hostile and unwarrantable act proceeded from some misapprehension on the part of the officer commanding at Belem, the flag of the Niagara was immediately dipped or hauled partly down, a signal which is universally understood to express submission to the governing authority. The guns were reloaded and fired in flagrant disregard of this token. The national flag of the United States was then hoisted at the peak, and while the bow of the ship was actually turned to the city, the guns of the castle again opened fire. These proceedings were witnessed by numbers of persons and are verified in detail by the statements marked Nos. 2 and 3, which accompany this note.

Three of the shots struck the Niagara at different parts of the ship, and if no life was sacrificed, it was not because the gunners at Belem castle did not do their best regardless of consequences. If the Niagara did not respond to this warlike demonstration, as she was, and is still, entitled to do, it may be attributed to the singular prudence and forbearance of [Page 116] Commodore Craven, who with becoming humanity wished to avoid the effusion of blood, and to spare innocent persons from the penalty which they would have inevitably shared with the authors of this crime, if the broadside of the Niagara had been once opened upon Castle Belem. A state of actual war would have then been inaugurated, the consequences of which I do not permit myself to contemplate.

It is assumed with entire confidence that his Majesty’s government has in no way authorized or sanctioned the acts which are now presented to notice, though it is not easy to reconcile the fact of a military officer at all competent to command a post proceeding to such violent extremities without the knowledge or consent of his government. But whether that officer acted with or without instructions, the actual responsibility is the same, though the moral aspect of it may be modified by explanation.

The facts of the case admit of no dispute, and of no extenuation, whether the plea be misapprehension, hot zeal, or ignorance of duty. The amicable relations between governments and the grave questions of peace and war are too momentous in themselves to be committed to the keeping of a caprice, passion, prejudice or partiality.

The conviction is entertained that his Majesty’s government will regard this matter in the only light that it can be viewed with due respect to legal and moral obligations, and will be glad of the opportunity to disavow at once all responsibility for the wrong, accompanied by proper acknowledgment and atonement, to require the flag of the United States to be saluted in form with a national salute by Belem castle, and the national fortifications and ships in harbor at a day and hour to be named for that purpose, and to visit the officer who directed the firing upon the Niagara with the most exemplary punishment.

As it is desirable for both parties that a question of this character should not be allowed to hang in suspense, and as there is no necessity or reason for discussion since the proof is conclusive, the hope is indulged that his Majesty’s government will find it convenient to signify its pleasure within forty-eight hours after the delivery of this note, in order that the decision may be made known to my government, by the British packet which can be intercepted in Ireland on Sunday next by the telegraph.

In closing this communication, I beg to assure your excellency of a sincere and earnest desire on my part to avoid any and every form of complication, and to strengthen friendly relations between the two countries in the most enduring manner.

I avail myself of this opportunity to reiterate the sentiments of my highest consideration and respect.

JAMES E. HARVEY.

His excellency the Duke de Loulé, Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.