Mr. Willians to Mr. Seward

No. 28.]

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of the despatches Nos. 7 and 12 relating to the case of Burgevine; and to send you, in connection with Nos. 3 and 6 of mine last year, two additional documents closing the subject, viz: the report of the Chinese authorities respecting the disposal of his body (enclosure A,) dated 2d November, 1865, and (enclosure B) my letter to them of the 2d instant, giving your decision as to the disposal to be made of the criminal. These two papers should be prefixed to the long despatch in the form of a report to me from the consul general, dated February 2, 1866, which has been lately forwarded to you from Shanghai.

I hesitated at first whether it was desirable to inform the Chinese of your decision, though they had particularly requested it; but after reading the note sent by Burgevine to the consul at Fuhchau, June 3, it seemed to be a good opportunity at the same time to protest against the cruelty exercised towards him and his fellow-prisoners by the provincial officers of Fuhkien. Whatever plans the officials at Peking may have had regarding his ultimate disposal, I do not think that this harsh treatment can be charged to them; their wish was to execute him themselves. But the central goveroment is very weak in such cases, and a pragmatic governor or general easily sets aside their orders to carry out his own ends, and then reports whatever he sees fit.

Though the Emperor may be sure that his proconsuls in the provinces will on the whole act loyally towards him, their semi independence and wilfulness of [Page 504] restraint form one of the most unsatisfactory features of Chinese polity that foreign officials have to deal with peaceably.

This case of Burgevine illustrates some of these points better than any remarks of mine; and a perusal of all the documents will enable you to judge whether he and his felllow-prisoners were drowned intentionally or accidentally, as well as we in China can do. The question has been much discussed among foreigners, though I suppose it can never be decided; and each one’s opinion would be biased by his estimate of the people. I think that the boat was upset by the current; and that this unforeseen accident balked Governor Li at Nanking of his expected pleasure of getting his enemy into his power.

The whole career of Ward and Burgevine in the service of this government was experimental and unsatisfactory, and shows that the position of our countrymen in it should be better defined. The Peking authorities see now how hazardous it was, and they can avoid future disagreements; but their position in 1860 was a desperate one, and they adopted a good plan, as it proved, by encouraging Ward to initiate the drilling their men in foreign arms and tactics. Now they are carrying out this plan widely and efficiently.

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

S. WELLS WILLIAMS, Chargé d’ Affaires.

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

P. S.—April 9: a reply has unexpectedly just come from Prince Kung, (enclosure C) which, though vague in its terms, is, I am disposed to think, intended to assure me that in future all American citizens arrested in the country will be handed over to their consuls. The governor general at Canton last year delivered a man named Baffey to Mr. Perry; he had been aiding the rebels near Amoy, and took the first favorable opportunity to leave them, and throw himself upon the officials in the. northeast of Canton province; they took him down to the city, and requested the consul to try him, but I have not heard the result.

S. W. W.



Prince Kung to Mr. Williams,

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, herewith makes a communication respecting the case of Burgevine, who was drowned in the district of Lanki, in Chehkiang, by the boat upsetting in which he was travelling.

On the 1st of September I informed you that Burgevine had been drowned by the boat upsetting, and that his coffin was still at Lanki; and inquired whether his body should be buried in the same place where it was found, or whether you had any directions to give respecting its being brought away and buried elsewhere. You stated in reply that you were much obliged to the district magistrate of Lanki for recovering the body of Burgevine, and for his oversight in having it put into a coffin—acts which showed his kindness of heart—and wished to have the coffin taken to Ningpo and delivered to the United States consul who would bury it.

Accordingly, directions were sent from the Foreign Office to the governor of Chehkiang to comply with your wishes. A despatch has now been received from Li, the superintendent of commerce at Shanghai, enclosing an extract from a report of the intendant of circuit at Shanghai, as follows:

“On the 19th of September, Mr. Seward, the United States consul-general, sent his interprefer, Mr. Allen, to Ningpo, where he joined the vice-consul, Mr. Lewis, and they together went on to Lanki, meeting Siau Tsin, the officer deputed by the governor of Chehkiang at that place on the 28th, and all conferred with the river bailiff and other officials, and together went out of the north gate to a place where six coffins were stored. Among these was to be seen Burgevine’s, varnished black and sprinkled with gold leaf. Mr. Lewis, having closely interrogated the bailiff, and learned that extra care had been observed in putting the body into the coffin, said it was needless to open it. The next day he went with the same official and [Page 505] others to the place where the boat was upset, and where Burgevine’s body was dragged for and found, having every position carefully pointed out, and making a drawing of the localities.

“On the 2d of October a public bier was prepared, and the river bailiff had Burgevine’s coffin put on board a boat and sent, in charge of some of his men, to Ningpo, where it was received, and thence forwarded to Shanghai.”

From the above I learn, in brief, that the consul-general had sent Mr. Lewis, his viceconsul, to Lanki, to learn the particulars respecting the disposal of Burgevine’s coffin and get it; and further, that the local authorities there had taken good care of it, and had sent men in company with it to Ningpo, where it v as received and forwarded to Shanghai. This, therefore, ends this case, and I now inform you of these proceedings.

His Excellency S. Wells Williams, United States Chargé d’ Affaires.


Mr. Williams to Prince Kung

Sir: Referring to the case of Burgevine, formerly a prisoner in the hands of the Chinese authorities, and to my despatch of June 21, 1865, in which I proposed to leave him in your custody until I could receive instructions from my government whether he might be surrendered to the Chinese, I have now the honor to inform your highness that I have been honored with instructions from the Secretary of State, as follows:

“Although the offender, Burgevine, was in the employ of the imperial government, he is still an American citizen, and must accordngly be judged by the laws of his country; and if, on the trial, his guilt is proved by clear evidence, he may then be left in the custody of the Chinese. But this is to be understood to rest upon the voluntary consent on the part of the United States upon the grounds of national honor, and not from Chinese right under treaty stipulations.”

In communicating this decision I beg to bring to your notice the conduct of the governor general at Fuhchau towards Burgevine. When he was in that city the American and British consuls received a note from him, complaining that he was treated with great cruelty and indignity, and had not sufficient clothing or food, and asking them to visit him. But the governor general refused them permission even to see him. Such conduct and treatment is a violation of the rights of humanity, and incenses every foreigner who hears of it. Whenever an American citizen shall be arrested by Chinese officers as a criminal they are bound to treat him kindly, and not subject him to insult or cruelty, but to deliver him over to the American consul at the nearest port. His crime will be carefully examined and equitably judged by the consul; but the government of the United States will not consent, in any case, to have such a prisoner secretly taken through the interior of the country to another part of it, violating both the spirit and letter of the treaty.

I have, therefore, respectfully to request your highness to enjoin this point upon the high provincial authorities, as it is one of the highest importance.

I have the honor to be, sir, your highness’s obedient servant,


His Imperial Highness Prince Kung, &c., &c., &c.



Prince Kung to Mr. Williams

Prince Kung, chief secretary of state for foreign affairs, has the honor to acknowledge your excellency’s communication of the 2d instant, the particular object of which was to make known to me the reply which you had received from the government of the United States respecting the disposal to be made of Burgevine.

The circumstances which have attended this affair were all detailed last year in the various despatches which then passed between us and further, Governor Li, the superintendent of commerce at Shanghai, has arranged other points with Mr. Seward, the United States consul, so that all things seem now to be settled in a manner that is acceptable to all.

I may, however, express the desire that no such case will again arise, and that no Americans in China will join seditious natives in rebellion. The Chinese government will then [Page 506] have no occasion to restrain or imprison citizens of the United States. If such be the case none of these evils will spring up; and, as I confidently expect that it will be so, I send you this reply in order to express my gratification.

His Excellency S. Wells Williams, United States Chargé d’Affaires.