Mr. Burlingame to Mr. Seward

No. 116.]

Sir: I enclose for your consideration A publication from a Boston newspaper, over the signature of John Humphrey, on the subject of pirates in the Chinese waters. With the opinions and sentiments of the article I partially concur, and I suggest that the subject be brought to the attention of the Navy Department, with a view that, if necessary, special orders in regard to it may be given to the commander of our squadron in that quarter.

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


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.

A Fleet in the China Seas.

Now that the government of the United States has succeeded in putting down the rebellion in the southern States, it is to be hoped it will organize a fleet for the China seas at once, not [Page 487] to lie about in the different ports in China, but with orders to search for and destroy the pirates infesting those seas. Within the last two years pirates have increased alarmingly, and at present you can hardly take up a Hong-Kong daily paper without seeing an account of a piracy committed or an attempt to commit one. I enclose a slip from the Hong-Kong Daily Press, giving an account of one attempt.

If a murder is committed on the land, rewards are offered and all the machinery of the government is set at work to apprehend the murderer, but although murder is committed by wholesale on the China seas, no notice appears to be taken of it. The accounts I have read in the Hong-Kong papers are horrible. Sometimes the crews are tortured before being butchered. Sometimes their heads cut off at once, and in one case they were lashed to the ship and the ship set on fire. It is probable that many of the missing ships, supposed to have foundered in typhoons on the coast of China, have been destroyed by pirates and their crews murdered in cold blood.

It is very mortifying to an American to be told by an Englishman, “You are indebted to the British government for what protecion you have on the coast of China.” It is true, nevertheless. There is not an open port on the coast of China in which you will not find an English gunboat. What little is done towards suppressing piracy is done by them. After the pirates are taken (as they sometimes are by the English gunboats) it is very hard to get them condemned, as, of course, they are not taken in the act, and there is very little evidence againt them. I think the proper way would be to have a few small fast barks, heavily manned and armed and disguised as merchantmen, attached to the fleet. Let these cruise up and down the coast and allow themselves to be attacked, then you have proof positive of guilt, and I say hang the pirates at the yard-arm without judge or jury. I think all Christian nations should join forces to exterminate these pests of the seas.

By drawing public attention to this subject, you will confer a favor on all those “who go down to the sea in ships,” and especially those who navigate the Chinese waters.

Yours, respectfully,

JOHN HUMPHREY, Master American barque Wild Gazelle.

The Editors of the Boston Daily Advertiser.