Mr. Van Valkenburgh to Mr. Seward.
Sir: It becomes my painful duty to give to you the account of a melancholy accident which occurred near this city on Saturday, the 11th day of January instant.
On the 8th instant, Rear Admiral H. H.Bell, in his flag-ship, the [Page 613] Hartford, accompanied by the Shenandoah and Iroquois, came up to the anchorage near the fort in this city. The wind was blowing very fresh, and the sea was high upon the bar at the mouth of the river which enters the bay of Osaka at the fort. On the 11th this wind had somewhat abated, although the sea was still rough, and the admiral at 9 o’clock in the morning, accompanied by Lieutenant Commander Reid, flag-officer of the squadron, left his ship in his barge with 13 sailors, with the intention of paying me a visit at the temporary legation. On reaching the bar, and in attempting to pass it, his barge broached to in the heavy sea which was running and capsized, and the admiral, Lieutenant Commander Reid, and ten of the sailors were immediately drowned. The accident was observed from all the vessels, lying at the distance of nearly or quite a mile from the bar, and they immediately lowered their boats and sent them to the rescue, but succeeded in recovering alive but three of the sailors, and those in an exhausted state. Search was immediately made for those missing, but the surf was running so high and the wind was blowing so strong that it was almost impossible for the boats to live in the gale; however, the officers and men vied with each other in the attempt to rescue their officers and mates. At half-past 4 o’clock in the afternoon the first information of the casualty was brought to me by J.Frederic Lowder, esq., her Britannic Majesty’s acting vice-consul at this place, who resides about half-way (three miles) between this legation and the scene of the accident. He gave to me a letter (inclosure No. 1) which had been sent by Commodore Goldsborough on shore in charge of an officer having a boat and engaged in search for the bodies of the missing. He also informed me that about 1 o’clock of that day, (the 11th instant,) a rumor reached him that an American boat had been capsized in attempting to cross the bar at the mouth of the river. He immediately took his horse and rode down to the fort, about three miles, from which he could have a good view of the bar and the shipping; that he observed on the north side of the fort what seemed to be a boat capsized, and, taking a Japanese boat, he pulled for it, but before reaching it found the dead body of our admiral floating face downwards. This he recovered, brought to shore, and delivered it into the keeping of Lieutenant Commander Higginson, of the Hartford, who had just arrived in a boat from his ship. Then taking the letter of the commodore from Mr. Higginson, he hastened to inform me. On his way he met Mr. Morse, United States consular agent at this port, and who had arrived but the night before from Hiogo, and gave to him the sad news. Mr. Morse at once hastened to the fort, called upon the officials there, and took active measures to recover the remainder of the bodies.
I asked Mr. Lowder to give me a written statement of the facts as they were within his knowledge, and he subsequently furnished to me a letter a copy of which I inclose, No. 2.
Immediately on receiving this information, at half-past four o’clock on the afternoon of the 11th, I sent Lieutenant R. L.Meade, of the marines, and three of the marines who had been detailed by Commodore Goldsborough as a legation guard, in a boat to make effective search for, and take charge of the bodies recovered. They were accompanied by General Julius Stahel, United States consul at Kanagawa, and Mr. J. D. Carroll, an American of Yokohama, both of whom were my guests at the time. I also immediately sent for the governor of foreign affairs, who quickly answered my summons, and gave directions at my instance to the governors of Osaka to furnish men and boats, and continue a persistent search until all the bodies should be recovered. On the same [Page 614] evening I was waited upon by all my colleagues of France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, and Prussia, to sympathize with me in this sad affliction, and to tender me such assistance as was in their power. The governors of foreign affairs, on the part of the Tycoon, and in their own behalf, also visited me for the same purpose, and on the 12th instant I received a letter from Itakura Iga No Kami, prime minister, a copy translated of which I inclose, No. 3. On Sabbath morning, the 12th instant, I visited the fort and scene of disaster myself, and superintended the search; the body of Lieutenant Commander Reid was recovered, and during that day and the night following all the bodies were recovered, viz., the admiral, Lieutenant Commander Reid, and ten sailors, and they were taken on board the ships preparatory to going to Hiogo for burial. On the morning of the 13th I again went down to the fort for the purpose of going on the Iroquois to Hiogo to be present at the funeral, but the wind was so high and the waters on the bar so rough that it was not thought prudent for the boats to go off, and the boats and crews that had been sent on shore for the purpose of conveying me to the vessel were compelled to remain. I presume the funeral has taken place this morning at Hiogo, but I trust arrangements have been made to exhume the bodies of the admiral and flag-lieutenant at some future time and convey them to their country and friends. I regret that I have not the names of the sailors lost, to communicate to you, but the state of the waters on the bar, and the great difficulty of communicating with the vessels, have rendered it impossible for me to procure them. Should I be able, however, to do so before the mail leaves, I will inclose a list in this dispatch. I am sorry to inform you that the native official having charge of the village situated at the mouth of the river, and near the fort, was the only person who seemed to have no sympathy with the sufferers, and at first took no interest in the recovery of the bodies. It was his duty to have reported the accident at once to his superiors; he did not do this. Mr. Lowder informs me he was actually discourteous to him, and although five hours or more had elapsed from the capsizing of the boat to the time of his arrival at the spot, and not only had no efforts been made by this man Ichikawa Chokisi to rescue the survivors or recover the bodies, but he persistently denied any knowledge Of the accident, although it had been witnessed from near his own house. I am informed this is not the first occasion on which he has evinced utter carelessness and culpable neglect in matters of moment, and I have addressed a communication to the government upon this subject, a copy of which I inclose, marked No. 4. I inclose No. 5, copy of a letter addressed by me to his excellency Sir Harry S. Parkes, thanking Mr. Lowder for his humane efforts, and No. 6, the answer received thereto. No. 7, copy of letter addressed to his excellency Itakura Iga No Kami, prime minister, in answer to his note of the 12th instant. No. 8, copy of letter also addressed to his excellency Itakura Igo No Kami, thanking the Tycoon, and the officers engaged in the search, for their assistance. No. 9, a diagram of the fort, entrance to the river and bar, and showing where the body of the admiral was recovered. This diagram was made for me by Lieutenant Meade of the marines. It is impossible for me in words to express my sorrow for this calamity. Bear-Admiral Bell had won the confidence, respect, and esteem of all who knew him, and his sudden and unexpected death is lamented here by all nationalities. I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,
Hon William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.