Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Japanese fragments - Part 8
BY CAPTAIN SHERARD OSBORN, R.N.
When the monopoly of the trade to China by the East India Company was abrogated, a wonderful expansion of commerce between that country and Europe, as well as America, immediately ensued. The ten years which elapsed between 1830 and 1840 did more to open up our knowledge of the countries lying beyond the Indian Ocean, than the previous century had done; and this progress was still further stimulated by the development of trade which followed the measures adopted by great Britain to resent the insults of Chinese officials, in 1840, 41-42. Our missionaries, and the merchants, labouring in China, found themselves at Shanghai, only a few hundred miles from another country, named Japan, once as famous for its profitable trade as they well knew China to be, and inhabited by a race reputed to have been once upon a time nigh all Christians. It was natural both should turn a longing eye to such a quarter, but the enterprise of either party was but lukewarm. We Protestants are but poor missionaries, and the Romanists had quite enough to do to meet the vast demand upon their missions in China; whilst our merchants soon found ample employment for all available capital in the silks and teas of the Central Land. The efforts, therefore, of those sections of the English and American communities in China were all ill-digested, feverish, and exhibited no perseverance or determination; whilst the British officials, though evidently hankering after a trade with Japan, did nothing effective towards the desired end.Between 1840 and 1850, however, the attention of European nations was attracted to the shores and islands of both the North and Pacific Oceans,
In 1846, the American Republic, with consummate audacity and skill, made a bold stroke for empire upon the shores of the Pacific. She had always kept a large squadron in those seas, and exercised a high-handed influence over the wretched republics into which the American dominions of Spain had dwindled. England, thanks to having handed her magnificent provinces of Oregon and Vancouver, as well as that noble stream the Columbia to the entire monopoly of the Hudson Bay Company, knew nothing of their value, or resources; and the good-natured public appreciated about as much the geographical, commercial, or political importance of our position in the Pacific, as Englishmen usually do of anything off the map of Europe. Suffice it, that in one and the self-same year, we were cheated out of Oregon, and the Mexicans were robbed of the Californias, and by May, 1846, the United States stood with both feet upon the shores of the Pacific, the real mistress of the situation, over-awing the puny states of South America upon the one hand, and on the other stretching out her right arm towards the rich and densely peopled countries lying on the Asiatic coasts of the same sea. With a political foresight which rebounds in no small degree to the credit of the United States lawyer, who then ruled the destinies of his country, President Polk did not sit down, and bemoan, as our British statesmen now do, the extension of dominion, as a sign of weakness in the empire; but leaving California to become the great state it now is, he at once laid down the theory which is yet being developed, that the Pacific is the natural route of North America to China and the Indies!
At the same time, that a powerful American fleet was concentrated in California to over-awe and, if needs be, fight the petty British squadron, should they interfere with his plans, Mr. President Polk contrived to have the line of battle ship Columbus of ninety guns, and the Vincennes of twenty-four guns in the Gulf of Yeddo. Had the American commodore possessed an equal share of Mr. Polk’s zeal or energy, Japan would have been opened to American commerce on the self-same day that the stars and stripes were hoisted at Montery. The commodore did not succeed in Japan, but the genius of the man who directed that double movement was not the less great, and yet that was not all, for it was mainly through American influence that England then repudiated the sovereignty of the Sandwich group, the stepping-stone to Japan, across the North Pacific Ocean; and entered with America and France into a convention guaranteeing the independence of those islands, that independence consisting in a thorough Americanising of the Sandwich Islanders by swarms of Yankee missionaries, one of whom is Prime Minister and actually ruler. Thus with one foot on the eastern sea-board of the Pacific, and the other on Cooke’s famous discovery, the Sandwich group, America was ready to make another great stride for the commerce of the East, and Japan was her nearest point. It was closed to her citizens and missionaries; it must be opened; and mark how steadily and consistently she worked to the point, and eventually succeeded. We do not blame her, but what we do find fault with is that spirit of cant which tries to persuade us that Commodore Biddle and his huge two-decker, or that Commodore Perry with a powerful squadron, breaking all Japanese laws which interdicted communication with foreigners, were representatives of mere Christian arguments; or, indeed, of moral and not material force. England has been called a bully for going to Tientsin and looking ugly at Pekin, in spite of the Emperor of China. Allow us to call attention to the course by which America insisted upon visiting Japan in her equally secluded capital. In 1853, President Fillmore, having beaten a very big drum, and talked a wonderful talk, of philanthropy, science, trade, and revolvers, dispatched from pious America a strong squadron under Commodore Perry, with a letter to the Taikoon of Yedo, assuring him of his unalterable friendship and adding, with a keen eye to business, that “the great state of California produced sixty million dollars in gold every year, besides silver and precious stones,” and guesses Japan and the United States might do a good stroke in trade, if the Taikoon would have no objection. In another paragraph, with that regard to the future which so distinguishes the policy of an American statesman, Mr. Fillmore requests that a port may be opened in a convenient part of Japan, for American steamships to touch at for coals and stores, in their voyages across the North Pacific! and winds up with a little oil for the troubled conscience of pious Philadelphia, by hoping that “the Almighty might have his Imperial Majesty, the Taikoon, in His great and holy keeping.” The commodore delivered this letter, backed by a semi-threatening one, in which he advised the Taikoon to enter into a treaty and friendship with the United States, tells him that “the Japan seas will soon be covered with American vessels,” and mildly insinuates that he designs “should it be necessary, to return to Yedo in the ensuing spring with a much larger force.”
The presence of the commodore’s vessel in the lower part of the Gulf of Yedo caused, no doubt, considerable anxiety to the Taikoon and his council. They contrived after two seasons of procrastination, and the usual amount of diplomatic delay, to get rid of Commodore Perry, having yielded a treaty it is true, for there was no other way of getting rid of him, but as little more as they possibly could. The Americans were to be allowed to visit the port of Simoda, near Cape Idsu, about eighty miles south of Yedo; but on the other hand, by Art. 10, the commodore bound his countrymen to visit no other ports but Hakodadi in Yesso and the said port of Simoda, except through stress of weather. The Americans were to procure by barter or purchase such stores and provisions as might be necessary; but, to guard against the opening of trade, we find the following article cleverly introduced by the Japanese in Art. 6.:—“If there be any other sort of goods wanted, or any business which shall require to be arranged, there shall be careful deliberation between the parties, in order to settle such matters.” In fact, so far from the treaty being a commercial one, we see nothing in it to lead one to infer that they intended a relaxation of the Japanese commercial code by their convention with the commodore; but, on the other hand, there is no doubt that they conceded three important points:—
The right of American ships to touch at two places for refreshment; they guaranteed safety to life and property in the event of American ships being wrecked upon the coast of Japan; and, above all, that the United States might appoint a consul to live at Simoda.
This last concession was most important; it involved, in short, the re-opening of Japan to European intercourse; and, although we maintain that pressure was used, that America did carry her object out with a high hand, still we allow that it was a political necessity, and only laugh at her when she gets up a pious whine upon the subject. A very able man was sent as consul at Simoda; not a diplomatist, but a plain honest-hearted gentleman, who rapidly won on the love and esteem of the native authorities; and it was, in the first place, due to the influence he obtained over the Taikoon at a time when the Taikoon and council in Yedo were agitated and alarmed by our second war in 1857, as well as the subsequent opportune arrival of Lord Elgin with a British squadron at Yedo in 1858, that America and England are to-day indebted for the re-establishment of commercial relations which already yield such profitable results.
Claims have been made by Holland for some degree of credit in re-opening Japan; we are not prepared to admit them, although we will allow, that when the Dutch saw the opening of Japan inevitable, they tried to get the credit of making the first commercial treaty; and having lately read that document we may congratulate the merchants of England on not being hampered by Dutch notions of trade as antiquated as those decrees of Taiko-sama, which are at last subverted.
The Dutch treaty proposed in 1855—a scheme they wished the Taikoon to consider the basis of all foreign intercourse—was briefly as follows:—That all foreign nations should trade at Nangasaki, under the superintendence of the Governor of that place, a system analogous to the famous Hong-Kong system of Canton, which was for many years the bane of our commerce with China; that the Japanese should concede two places, one in Yesso Island! the other in the Linchotsen Archipelago! for the ships of friendly nations to visit for refreshment and coaling purposes! Thus the Japanese are advised to keep the foreigner from Japan Proper, the two wildest and remote portions of the empire being selected as those at which our ships were to touch, and they concluded with one or two insignificant suggestions rather tending to hamper than encourage trade. If, however, we cannot say much of the exertions of Holland in throwing open the Japanese nation to European civilisation or commerce, it is but just that we should bear witness to the industry and ability with which Dutch instructors have prepared the native government officials for intercourse with us when it was inevitable. They have taught them to speak and write Dutch, as well as English; enlightened them on most European sciences; taught them to handle as well as build ships and steamers; shown them how to imitate many of our manufactures; given them a taste for mathematics and mechanics; and are now busy drilling them in all the mysteries of war, according to European notions—of all this Holland may well be proud.
As it is more than probable that the recent wanton acts of dishonest traders in Japan have again revived a strong feeling of dislike to the foreigner in the ports opened to trade, and that the late attempt to return into the old exclusive system, by the destruction of the progressionist party in the council of the Taikoon, may yet be successfully carried out,—it will be as well to relate how the throwing open of Japan to our commerce was recently brought about.
During the summer of 1858, whilst the allied forces were busy operating against the earthworks of Taku, and using what is called “moral force,” in inducing the Court of Pekin to open China to our merchant, missionary, and traveller rumours were afloat that the Americans and Dutch, taking advantage of the general panic in Japan, incident to their neighbours’ houses being on fire, were making great play in that quarter, and it was generally known that in the smoke and flourish of the signature of the Treaty of Tientsin, the American commodore in a huge United States’ steamer, the Powhattan, had hurried off to Simoda, or Yedo. It so happened that a yacht had been sent from England, which our naval commander in-chief was ordered to present to the Taikoon of Japan, as an acknowledgment for the courtesy and good-nature with which he did the neutral in the Russian war. It appears to have struck Lord Elgin, that the opportunity was a good one, to try and see what could be done on behalf of Great Britain, who otherwise would have paid for roasting the chesnuts whilst others eat them. To Nangasaki in Kiu-siu, we accordingly took him in H.M. frigate Furious. Our Admiral arrived a few days afterwards with the yacht, and finding no one of sufficient rank to receive the present, it was sent round to Yedo, under the escort of Captain Barker, of the Retribution, and thither our ambassador cleverly decided upon going likewise. The intelligence gleaned at Nangasaki was interesting, it appeared that the Dutch resident, or chief factor, as well as the consul-general of the United States at Simoda, had been invited to Yedo, in consequence of their having, during the early part of 1857, made some representations on behalf of their respective states. But so far as the Dutch at Nangasaki knew of the result of these negotiations, there was nothing cheering. They said that Mr. D. Curtis and Mr. Harris had been subsequently ordered back to their respective posts without any formal signature being appended to their treaties, and it seemed to be the general impression that the Mikado’s party as well as the parti prêtre in Japan, were decidedly hostile to any departure from the laws which had been enacted by their forefathers against foreign intercourse, and the residents at Decima were of opinion that the first panic having passed off, unless we really appeared off Yedo, with the eighty odd British pendants then in Chinese waters, that very little would really come of Lord Elgin’s visit.
On the 10th of August, 1858, we arrived at Simoda, a port lying at the extreme of a rocky and highly volcanic promontory, one of the many projecting from the island of Nipon into the Eastern Sea. Here we found Mr. Harris, the American consul, in the greatest state of glee. He had had, as we heard at Nangasaki, to return to Simoda from Yedo, empty handed, but when in the depth of his chagrin, Commodore Tatnall, suddenly appeared with the news of the allied successes at Tientsin, and the opening up of China, Mr. Harris saw his opportunity, hurried on board the war steamer, steamed up to within some fourteen miles of Yedo, hastened to the capital, and astonished them with his intelligence. Mr. Harris urged that it was better to yield a little willingly than perhaps to give much hereafter, and bringing his own personal influence to bear in various quarters, successfully carried his point, and within a very few days found himself back at Simoda, and the Powhattam steaming away with the first commercial treaty framed and signed in Japan since the year 1613. Thus our successes at Tientsin opened not only China but Japan likewise. The history of the previous negotiations with Japan are curious.
Directly the Allied Expeditions of 1857 were known to be in Chinese waters, the Dutch and Americans took good care that its achievements, its force, and objects should be thoroughly appreciated by the Japanese authorities; and they accompanied their information with disinterested suggestions as to certain treaties which would avert similar proceedings from the land of the Day Dawn. Agitated, bothered, seeing no end to these treaties (for ever since Commodore Perry’s visit they had been incessantly pestered with conventions and treaties), the Taikoon listened patiently, but evidently doubted at first who was his real friend. The war rolled to Northern China; it was getting unpleasantly close, and seemed even more like war than what the Japanese had witnessed during the “hide-and-go-seek operations” against Russia. The Taikoon and council at Yedo sent for Mr. D. Curtis from Nangasaki, and the American Consul from Simoda. They were kept apart, negotiated with singly, watched, reported upon, and played off one against the other to a charming extent, yet with much kindness and courtesy; and they were treated with very great distinction so far as the etiquette of the court was concerned. Mr. Harris was especially honoured; he dwelt for six months in a house within the limits of the imperial enclosure, and in the heart of Yedo. He lived at the imperial charge; and when some excitement arose from the mob being worked upon by a reactionary party, a strong guard was sent to patrol round his quarters, and made responsible for his safety. The Prince of Bitsu then held in the imperial council a position somewhat akin to that of our Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Mr. Harris had frequent interviews with him, and found him an intelligent, well-informed nobleman. He was evidently fully aware that the time had arrived in which Japan should, and indeed must, enter into relations with foreign nations. But he had two great difficulties to contend with. On the one hand, the prejudices of a powerful party in both council and state, who were opposed to any alteration of policy, and encouraged in their fears of the foreigner by the priesthood, who preserved a knowledge of the narrow escape they had had from total annihilation at the hands of Xavier and his well-disciplined followers. The other anxiety of this enlightened prince and the progressionist party was, how to bring about the change without giving rise to tumult and rebellion within their borders from squabbles and differences with foreigners along the sea-board, which, fanned by one functionary and another, would lead Japan into the same sad state embroglio as China had been so cursed with ever since she had swerved from the great Confucian maxim: “Happy those who never depart from the wisdom of their ancestors.”
During all the winter of 1857-58, these negotiations and conferences went on; and whether it was the obstructionists were two powerful, or that the first alarm occasioned by the huge fleet of allied ships upon the coast of China had passed off, it is impossible to say. At any rate, after acknowledging the justice of the grounds upon which Mr. Harris urged his treaty upon the Taikoon, after promising to concede it, and on more than one occasion actually naming the day it should be formally signed, the Taikoon and Council suddenly broke off negotiations, and in the spring of 1858 intimated that the representatives of Holland and America might return to their respective posts. Mr. Harris, however, had succeeded in thoroughly ingratiating himself in the good graces of the Taikoon and Court. His departure was marked by every act of sympathy and respect; and when on his return to Simoda the worthy American was struck down by sickness, occasioned partly by disappointment and anxiety, the Taikoon generously sent two Japanese medical men of his staff to attend upon him, and despotically desired them to cure Mr. Harris, or perform upon themselves the operation of disembowelment—an alternative usually attending all failures in Japan. Mr. Harris was soon restored to health, and wondering how the subject of the American treaty would be re-opened, when, as I have told, the Powhattan arrived, the news that the Emperor Kienfung had yielded came in the very nick of time, and the Taikoon followed suit.
All this was cheering intelligence for Lord Elgin; it was evident that the official intellect of Japan was just then in that happy condition to which all eastern ones have to be brought before western arguments have much weight: a funk, as the Eton boys say, had been established by our friends the Dutch and Americans in exaggerating the objects of the Allies, and it only remained for us to keep it up until we obtained the same privileges for Great Britain as they had secured for themselves. Mr. Harris, in the most generous manner, gave every assistance and information, and placed at our ambassador’s disposal his secretary, Mr. Hewskin, whose knowledge of the Japanese language rendered him invaluable. We need not dwell upon the circumstances under which the escorting squadron and my stout old frigate eventually reached within gunshot of Yedo—the first foreign keels that ever reached within eyesight of the three million Japanese inhabiting that vast city—that I have already told in another work.
Lord Elgin sent on shore by the first interpreter that visited the Furious to announce his arrival, coupling his object in obtaining a treaty with the presentation of a yacht as an acknowledgment of past courtesies. Commissioners shortly afterwards waited on the ambassador, and made no serious objection to his taking up his residence on shore in the city in Yedo, though it required some skilful fence to induce them to submit quietly to the presence of the British men-of-war. At last they ceased to press the point of the ships going back to Kanagawa, and the Taikoon and council appear from that time forward to have merely devoted themselves to see how quickly they could conclude a treaty, receive their present the yacht, and be rid of their unexpected visitors, at the same time exhibiting the profoundest respect and good-will towards our ambassador; but, it is well to remember that Asiatics generally respect those most whom they fear greatly. At an early stage in the proceedings the Japanese commissioners succeeded in impressing the ambassador with a high opinion of the intelligence and amiability of the people with whom he had to deal,—an opinion more than verified by the tenor of their conduct throughout the brief but earnest negotiations which ensued. It was well, however, for the success of the English treaty with Japan that our men-of-war had been able to appear within sight of the city of Yedo, for, within the short interval between the signature of the American treaty and Lord Elgin’s arrival, the enlightened Prince of Bitsu had been forced to retire by a reactionary influence in the Taikoon’s council, and three high personages now constituted a commission for the management of foreign affairs, the senior commissioner being the Prince of Bongo. This Prince of Bongo was said to represent the ultra-conservative section of the Japanese aristocracy. He was seen once, if not twice, by Lord Elgin; but he did not impress our ambassador as at all a favourable specimen of the intelligence and ability of the upper class.
Whatever may have been the original intentions with which his party came into power, their calculations were entirely confounded by the apparition of two British frigates and a gunboat in their hitherto secluded harbour. Of course it was only moral pressure, but never mind; they had sense enough to appreciate how rapidly it might assume a material form, and, like rational creatures, they saw but one way of escape from our presence—and it was a very simple one—to give us what they had already given to America. Persons were immediately appointed to treat with our ambassador; and, as an extra precaution, no less than six Japanese officials were ordered to deal with so astute a diplomatist as Lord Elgin; whilst two were considered sufficient for Mr. Harris, and three for Count Pontiatine,—a measure which savoured of distrust, although they cleverly explained it away with a neat compliment upon our ambassador’s well-known skill and talents, and their comparatively humble capacities. Lord Elgin gives so excellent and concise an account of the negotiations, that I will abstract them.
“Our first meeting took place,” says his lordship, “on the 19th of August, when we exchanged powers. I made some objection to theirs, which I put on paper, in order that I might obtain from them a written reply. We met again on the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd, in order to go through the clauses of the treaty. I was much struck by the business-like way in which they did their work, making very shrewd observations, and putting pertinent questions, but by no means in a captious or cavilling spirit. Of course their criticisms were sometimes the result of imperfect acquaintance with foreign affairs, and it was occasionally necessary to remove their scruples by alterations in the text which were not improvements; but, on the whole, I am bound to say that I never treated with persons who seemed to me, within the limits of their knowledge, to be more reasonable. At the close of the conference of the 23rd, we had agreed on all the clauses of the treaty, and arranged that it should be signed in duplication on the 26th of August.” Thus it may be said that in four conferences the treaty of Yedo was discussed and agreed to, a rapidity very unusual in diplomacy anywhere, especially in the East, and only to be accounted for, by the anxiety of the reactionary party to get rid of our ships, out of Yedo Bay.
The American treaty, negotiated by Mr. Harris, was naturally accepted as the basis of the English one. Had Lord Elgin attempted to act otherwise, he would assuredly have aroused all the jealousy of the Japanese government, and led to a general rupture. Our ambassador, however, succeeded in introducing two important privileges which were matters of indifference to the Americans. Mr. Harris had agreed to all imports of cotton and woollen manufacture into Japan being taxed with a twenty per cent. duty. This heavy tax Lord Elgin induced them to reduce to five per cent. on all British manufactures. In the next place the revision of the American treaty, or rather its tariff, was to take place at the end of five years, provided the Japanese government would agree to do so. In the English treaty, this right depends as much upon the will of our government as of theirs; either party may call for it at the expiration of that period. A most wise precaution, seeing how very ignorant we were of the staples of Japan, or of her wants from Britain and her colonies.
The opening of trade and political relations with Japan, at one and the same time, was, to say the least of it, a hazardous measure with a people who had been so long excluded from foreign intercourse, and who had such good cause to look back with jealousy to their former relations with Christendom; but it could not be helped, America had taken the initiative. It would never have done for our merchants to have been in a less favourable position than those of the United States, and the responsibility of precipitancy must be with her, not with Great Britain. Within a month of the news reaching Shanghai, vessels were sailing for Japan, and returning with Japanese gold and copper. A feverish eagerness to be the first in the field, seized the communities of Europeans in all the Chinese sea-ports, and we have already seen now the abuses of the Japanese laws, abuses which led to the slaughter and expulsion of Portuguese citizens, have again been repeated, and there is little doubt but that for the opportune and sudden arrival of twelve Russian ships-of-war in Yedo Bay last year, the hostility awakened by the proceedings of dishonest traders to Japan, would have led to a general slaughter of our people in Kanagawa, and Hakodadi, and a return to the old exclusive policy of Japan.
Let America and England look to this—we have compelled the Eastern government to risk destruction by throwing open the millions they govern to the influences of European civilisation and ideas. Do not let dishonest men embroil us with these people. No one can rejoice more than we do at the prospect of so interesting a land, so charming a race, being better known and appreciated. No one can recognise, more earnestly than we do, the admirable position of the Japanese empire, geographically and politically speaking, with reference to the development of the future vast trade between America and Asia; but for all that we do not desire to see the forty millions of human beings now contentedly living in Japan, sacrificed to the keen money-making of some unworthy merchants or the cant of missionaries, whether of Rome or London.
Two centuries ago the Japanese, as I have told, voluntarily held out the hand of good-fellowship to Christendom: she met with robbery, insult, and treachery. They had then the courage and energy to thrust out the disturbers of their peace. We have now compelled them to receive us by our importunities. We think we are right in trying the experiment; but rather than see them plundered and insulted, we say God send that if evil is persisted in, the Taikoon and Mikado may have the wisdom to shut the portals of Japan again, firmly and peaceably, before our governments are embroiled, and before any question of imperial revenue obliges us to consult necessity before justice.
- See “Memorials of Japan” edited for the Hakluyt Society, by Thomas Rundall, Esq.
- The Bonin Islands, lying between the Sandwich group and Japan, have likewise been claimed in support of these same views by the United States.
- Our readers will recognise this prince’s title as having been held by the hospitable nobleman who, two centuries earlier, had been so kind to Europeans, and who the Jesuits declare died a Christian.
- See Blue Book of Lord Elgin’s Embassy to China, and Japan.