No. 31
26th November 1856
1. I have, on the present occasion, to report for your information that the United States Steam Ship "Massachusetts" under the command of Captain Swartwout, commanding the United States naval Forces, in Puget's Sound, arrived yesterday atManuscript imageat this Port, with 87 native Indian prisoners on board, of whom about 45 were able bodied men, the rest being women and children.
2. It appears from Captain Swartwout's statements that those Indians have for some time past been plundering the inhabitants, and spreading alarm among the United States Settlements in Puget's Sound; that they, on one occasion, set the United States troops at defiance, and finally when the "Massachusetts" was detached to compel their departure from the Territory, they refused to remove their camp, beat off the boats crews, and opened a fire of musketry upon the ship, which was warmlyManuscript imagewarmly returned from her batteries, with round shot and shell at the distance of 600 yards.
3. After a desperate contest, with considerable loss of life on both sides, their camp was taken and burnt, their canoes destroyed, and the savages driven to the woods, when they agreed to surrender on condition of being left in possession of their arms, and safely landed on Vancouver's Island.
4. The object of Captain Swartwout's present visit, is to carry out the terms of that capitulation, by landing his prisoners in this Colony, and he sent an application to me for permission to do so.
5. That course appearing toManuscript imageto me in every respect objectionable, and, at the same time, contrary to the usage of civilized nations I decidedly objected to their being landed in any part of this Colony, and I was further confirmed in that resolve, by the fact, which I gathered from the prisoners themselves, that they were natives of Russian America, and not as Captain Swartwout reported to me, of the British Territory on this coast.
6. Captain Swartwout appeared disappointed and irritated at my decision, and somewhat inconsiderately held out a threat of landing his prisoners, with or without my sanction, on some of the uninhabited islets on our coast, butManuscript imagebut on being reminded that such a course, would be a breach of international law, and immediately become the subject of complaint to his Government, he apologized for the warmth into which he had been inadvertently betrayed.
7. I then proceeded to open my views, on the subject of landing criminals, without authority, on the coasts of other states, and concluded by shewing that the Indian prisoners on board the "Massachusetts", having been guilty of offences against the laws of the United States, ought properly to be taken to Washington Territory and there delivered over to the civil authorities, for trial, and to be dealt with according to law; but, as I furtherManuscript imagefurther observed, as I had no wish to throw obstacles in his way I would not object to their being convoyed to the distance of 100 miles north of our settlements, and there discharged, provided however that they be found with canoes, and food sufficient for the journey to their distant homes.
8. He preferred the latter course, especially as the prisoners protested against being taken back to Washington Territory, as a breach of the capitulation, and Captain Swartwout confesses that he could not have induced them to surrender, after the battle, had it not been for the promise given of landing them on Vancouver's Island.
9. He has purchased sixManuscript imagesix large canoes at this place and proposes to leave this afternoon, with the Indian prisoners on board, and I send an officer with the "Massachusetts" to see that the Indians are fully equipped and provided for their journey according to that arrangement.
10. I have been thus particular, at the risk of being considered tedious, in describing the substance of my communications to Captain Swartwout, on the subject of the disposal of Indian prisoners, in order that you may be acquainted with my proceedings on that occasion, and that you may otherwise direct me, if wrong.
11. Unless I receive your instructions to the contrary, I shallManuscript imageshall continue to oppose the landing of any criminals whether natives of British America or not, from the ships of other nations, on the coast of Vancouver's Island, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government may approve of my proceedings.
I have the honor to be Sir
Your most obedient humble Servant
James Douglas

The Right Honble Henry Labouchere Esqre
Her Majesty's principal Secretary of State
For the Colonial Department.
Minutes by CO staff
Manuscript image
Foreign Office—saying that if Lord Clarendon concurs Mr
proposes signifying his approval of the Governor's proceeding in this case?
ABd 17/3
HM Mh 17
I agree.
JB 20 Mch
Other documents included in the file
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Draft, Merivale to E. Hammond, Foreign Office, 26 March 1857, forwarding copy of the despatch with approval for Douglas's actions.
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Draft reply, Labouchere to Douglas, No. 8, 8 April 1857.