Mr. Pruyn to Mr. Seward

No. 69.]

Sir: As you have been already advised by telegram of the 29th ultimo, via San Francisco, Major George Walter Baldwin and Lieutenant Robert N. Bird, officers of the 2d battalion, 20th regiment of British army, stationed at this place, were murdered on the 21st ultimo, by two yakunins, while in citizen’s dress, near Kamakura, within the treaty limits. The murder was witnessed by several unarmed Japanese, who were laboring at a short distance from the place, and the assassins immediately fled.

Intelligence of this sad event was communicated to the foreign representation about midnight of that day, and it was stated one of the officers was still alive; but when the British officials and escort arrived at the place, about 3 a.m. the next day, both officers were found dead and the bodies placed on mats in the public highway, with a rough shed over them and fearfully cut to pieces, as has been invariably the case in all such assassinations.

I united with my colleague of France in commissioning the Abbé Mermet de Cachon, attached to his legation, to proceed to Yedo and represent to the Gorogio that the murder had caused great excitement in the regiment, as the officers were much beloved, and that it might be impossible to guard against retaliatory measures. We thought this suggestion might increase the desire and efforts for the arrest of the murderers. The Abbé Mermet on his return reported that the Gorogio very earnestly, and apparently with entire sincerity, promised that no effort should be omitted to bring the offenders to punishment.

I enclose Nos. 1 and 2, copy of my letter to the Gorogio, and translation of their reply.

I have not failed to give the British minister my hearty co-operation, having at his request been present at all the interviews he has had with the Japanese Vice-Minister Sakai Hida No Kami and the governors of foreign affairs associated with him. I have also at his request carefully examined the evidence taken by the British consul, with a view to such suggestions for further inquiry as I might deem necessary, and to such representations as the testimony already taken might render proper to be addressed to the Japanese government.

We have been forced to the painful conclusion that one of the officers, Lieutenant Bird, must have been put to death as late as 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening, the attack having been made on them between 4 and 5 o’clock in the afternoon; and if so, then by other than the two murderers, as they immediately left the place. One Japanese witness testifies that the younger officer, Lieutenant Bird, asked that a messenger should be sent to Yokohama to give intelligence of their condition; another that this officer asked for water and drunk it; two others that after the murderers escaped they saw one of the officers (identified, from his position when seen, as Lieutenant Bird) sitting up and then fall back. In short, eleven witnesses in some form or other testify to his having been alive after the escape of the murderers. And yet the post-mortem examination disclosed the fact, that the spinal chord had been completely severed, the wound being of a character which rendered it impossible for him to live after its infliction. Nor is it open to the explanation that the spinal column only was cut through, as found on the examination, and that the chord might have been [Page 228] ruptured by moving the body after death, as the surgeons who made the examination testify that the chord was severed by a clean cut; and further, it is not possible he could have sat up, even if it were not severed, with so fearful a cut through the bone alone.

This evidence made a profound impression on the vice-minister. The fearful suspicion excited, together with the tardiness of the governor of this place in making known to the foreign representatives the intelligence he had received, (a delay of nearly three hours being admitted, which he says, in excuse, were occupied in giving instructions to his officers, and with a report to Yedo,) induced me to concur with the British minister in his opinion that the governor should be dismissed from office. The vice-minister asked that no formal demand should be made, as that might embarrass the action of the Gorogio. The governor has been dismissed.

I hope that our improved relations and the increased power of the Tycoon’s government will impart to it the desire and ability to bring the offenders to justice.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident in Japan.

Hon. Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington,

No. 1.

The atrocious murder of two British officers has created so much feeling in this community, extending to officers and men of both the British land forces and fleet now at this place, as to induce his excellency the minister of France and myself to commission the Abbé Mermet to explain to your excellencies the critical situation of affairs, and the measures which, in our judgment, your excellencies should immediately adopt for the preservation of good faith, and in the interests of peace.

With respect and esteem,

ROBERT H. PRUYN, Minister Resident of the United States in Japan.

Their Excellencies the Ministers op Foreign Affairs, &c., Yedo.

No. 2.

“We have the honor to inform you that the intelligence of the murder of two Britsh officers in the vicinity of the town of Pruatshee, in Soshu, (Sagami,) has filled us with pain and horror. Since the opening of the ports many deplorable events occurred, and we always did all in our power to arrest the culprits, but without success.

This makes us despair, and grieves us exceedingly. We must say, however, that although the troubled state of part of our country favors the rising of such banditti, we have better means than formerly of discovering them. We are aware that, should we fail to apprehend the murderers, our friendly relations might be jeoparded. This is a matter of the greatest importance. We have, therefore, sent the vice-minister of foreign affairs to your place to make an investigation, and direct the measures to be taken to insure a successful result.

We had a conference to-day with Mr. Cachou, who fully explained to us the impressions and observations of the ministers in regard to this murder, and feel convinced of the accuracy and great weight of his communication, which will stimulate our exertions to arrest the culprits. We have made it a point of absolute duty to come to a satisfactory conclusion before the departure of SIR Rutherford Alcock, the minister of Great Britain, which we state to your excellency with respect and esteem.




His Excellency Robert H. Pruyn, Minister Resident of the United States of America, &c.