Saturday, November 13, 2010

"No thank you" to a Five-Gun Salute from the U.S.S. Powhatan

The January 22, 1859 edition of the Polynesian, edited by Charles Gordon Hopkins in Honolulu, featured news from Japan that included a mention of Commodore Josiah Tatnall of the U.S.S. Powhatan. This is the same ship that would bring the Japanese ambassadors and their entourage to the Hawaiian Islands and to San Francisco in 1860.

The news quotes the Hong Kong Mail dated October 29, 1858 in which the Shogun (referred to as the “Temporal Emperor” or “Siogun” or Shogun) “disemboweled himself, because he had received a wigging from the Spiritual Emperor for having concluded the treaty with Lord Elgin without previously consulting him.”

“The U.S. steam frigate Minnesota returned to Shanghae on the 7th October from Nagasaki, where Mr. Reed, the U.S. Minister, had been on a short visit. While there the official announcement of the death of the Siogun, or [Temperal] Emperor, at Yedo, on the 16th September, was made by the Governor of Nagasaki. The Siogun was 36 years of age at his death, and had been ailing from dropsy for some months, of which he died. Though rumors were current that he committed suicide by disemboweling himself, according to a frequent Japanese custom, in consequence of some of the provisions of the treaties lately signed, this was peremptorily denied by some officials. He had reigned twelve years, and having no heir, had adopted a successor.”

Regarding Commodore Tatnall, the story continues. “When the Governor of Nagasaki reported the demise to Commodore Tatnall, the Commodore proposed to fire minute guns from the Powhatan, explaining the object and usage of western nations on such occasions. The Governor politely declined this mark of respect, saying that the custom of the Japanese was to mourn in silence.”

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