THE SHIMONOSEKI AFFAIR.ON the 25th of June, 1863, the American steamer Pembroke, on her way from Yokohama to Shanghae, anchored near the town of Shimonoséki, and was warned off by a blank discharge. The next day two Chōshiu steamers attacked her, but she escaped without injury. On hearing of this (July 11th), the American minister directed Captain McDougall of the U. S. S. Wyoming, of four twelve-pounders and two pivot-guns, to proceed to Shimonoséki. Arriving there on the 16th, Captain McDougall ran his ship between the two Chōshiu men-of-war, receiving their fire and that of six batteries. An eleven-inch shell from the Wyoming, exploding in her boiler, blew up the steamer. The brig was sunk, and the batteries shelled. After an hour and ten minutes, having been hulled eleven times, and receiving about thirty shots in masts, rigging, and smoke-stack, and having five. men killed and six wounded, the brave captain withdrew from such overwhelming odds, and returned to Yokohama.
The French ship Kien Chang, and the Dutch corvette Medusa (July 11th), were also fired on after blank warnings. The French men-of-war Semiramis and Tancrede (July 19th), and the Medusa (July 11th), also shelled the Shimonoséki batteries. The Dutch ship was struck thirty-four and hulled seventeen times. Three eightinch shells bursting on board, four men were killed and five wounded. The French landed a force and destroyed a battery, with a loss of only three men wounded. Ample vengeance wits thus taken by Dutch, French, and Americans. No British vessel was injured. After the failure of negotiations, the allied squadron made rendezvous at Himéshima, In the Inland Sea, and on the 5th of September, 1864, at 2 P.M., began the bombardment of the batteries. The combined squadron consisted of nine British ships of war, and a battalion of marines, three French, and four Dutch ships of war. It being the time of our civil war, and our vessels being all engaged in blockade service, or on looking for the Alabama and other Confederate privateers, the United States was represented by the Takiang, a small chartered steamship, commanded by Lieutenant Pearson, with a party of marines and one Parrot gun, from the U. S. corvette Jamestown. There were engaged in the action: After a battle (September 5th and 6th) bravely contested on both sides, the batteries were silenced by the ships, and captured and destroyed by landing, and the guns removed.
The total expenses incurred by the United States in this expedition were less than twenty-five thousand dollars. The Pembroke is still doing service in one of the rivers in China. In a memorandum drawn up at a convention held in Yokohama, October 22d, 1864, the representatives of the four treaty powers, Sir Rutherford Alcock (England), Léon Roches (France), Hon. Robert H. Pruyn (United States), D. D. von Polsbrock (Holland), demanded three million dollars "indemnities and expenses for hostile acts of the Prince of Nagato." Four hundred and twenty thousand dollars were claimed as compensation for injuries to the vessels, American, French, and Dutch, first fired on, or one hundred and forty thousand dollars apiece. "Such a sum, or a much larger one, may be justly claimed," is the official language. Hence Great Britain would receive somewhat less of the partition of the indemnity than any of the other Powers. The share of each nation, not including interest, was:
All the installments have been paid over to the respective powers, in part by the bakufu, and the remainder by the mikado's Government, the last being in 1875.
In dividing the money, the French principle was to apportion it according to the numerical forces of each power engaged; the American principle was that the general co-operation of the four powers had equal weight, and contributed in equal degree to effect the result.
So far, the bare facts. Let us look into the justice of the case. As matter of international law, the Japanese had perfect right to close the Straits of Shimonosŭki, since the right to use it was not stipulated by treaty, and each nation has the right to a league of marine territory along its shores, and to the straits and water passages commanded by cannon-shot. Further, no British ship was in any way injured or fired upon. Ample vengeance was taken in each ease by American, French, and Dutch men-of-war; but the British minister, Alcock, ever ready to shed blood, collected all the available British naval force, and was the leading spirit in organizing this bombarding expedition. Orders from Her Majesty's Government, forbidding British participation in the needless and wicked act of war, arrived after the squadron had sailed. Sir R. Alcock was then recalled to explain the situation.
The part taken by the United States is the least enviable. In the first place, the Pembroke had no right to be where she was. She disregarded the warning of blank cartridge. It might be supposed that the American envoy, on hearing of the matter, recognized the Japanese right to close the strait, gave the Japanese officials the benefit of his legal knowledge, and helped to mitigate some of the impending horrors of civil war. On the contrary, he sent the Wyoming down to take all possible retribution, and then presented the bill of damages ($10,000!!!) of the owners of the Taking. The items of this document were, "Five days' loss of time, at $300 per diem;" "loss of freight and passangers, at not being able to visit Nagasaki, whither she was bound, estimated at $6500;" "consideration for deadly peril for officers; and crew, $ 2000." Five minutes' study of a good map of Japan will show the first two items to be pure tabrications. The Shimonoséki route is not the shortest to Nagasaki. Into the "deadly peril" they knowingly went, and remained till driven away. Strange to say, the successor of Perry and Harris, instead of disowning this outrageous claim, compelled the bakufu to pay $12,000, by which the United States gained $ 2000 clear profit. Further, after excessive vengeance taken by the Wyoming, the American minister actually put in a claim for "a sum to provide annuities for the dead and wounded" of the Wyoming - when the American captain started on an avowed warlike expedition! The amazed ministers of the bakufu replied that the loss of life on the Wyoming was fairly offset by the punishment inflicted. It seems incredible that such a claim should ever have been suggested.
The only government of Japan recognized by foreigners had made profound apologies, the absurd Pembroke claims had been paid, and the United States had gained $ 2000. The "insult" to our flag had been wiped out in two sunken steamers, and in the blood of perhaps fifty Japanese. Could the force of vengeance further go?
Unfortunately for Christian civilization, it did. In this triple act of savage revenge, instigated by Sir Rutherford Alcock (the apostle of murder and blind force, who ill conceals his anger at the policy of peace, fair play, patience, and steady courage of Townsend Harris), the American minister joined; and the United States was again disgraced by a needless act of war, and an outrageously unjust extortion of money from a weak nation, as ignorant as a hermit, and already impoverished by excessive drains, called, by a euphemism, "indemnities."
The money paid both by the bakufu and the mikado's ministers now remains in Washington, amounting, principal and interest, to over $1,300,000. The shōgunate and feudalism are no more. Japan is entering on a new national life, in which every dollar is needed for mighty enterprises of civilization and education. The very men who once fired at a usurpation, through out ships, are now our best friends. They are leaders in the new civilization. What shall be done with the money thus unjustly taken, after a triple vengeance wreaked in punishment for what, by the laws of nations, was in itself no crime?
For authorities, read, in the light of the history of Japan given in "The Mikado's Empire", Minister R. L. Pruyn "Dispatches in the Diplomatic Correspondence of 1863-1865", F. O. Adams "History of Japan", and "Shimonoski" (E. H. House), Tōkiō, 1875.