Phu Yen province on the commercial nautical chart between the United States and Vietnam
Updated : 9/16/2020 8:25:02 AM (GMT+0700)

Long time before the 20th century's legend of no-numbered ships[1], Phu Yen had been landmarked in naval history with closed bays, safe harbours and even a natural lighthouse that could guide sailors on the high seas. European and American maritime explorers in 17th century had noted Phu Yen in the sea map of the Indian-Pacific oceans rim with Lighthouse Cape, Xuan Dai Bay, Vung Ro Bay… Among those navigational records was significantly the "Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat"[2] by Edmund Roberts. This voyage account of Edmund Roberts had pages deleanating thoroughly about Vung Lam Harbour, Xuan Dai Bay of Phu Yen province. Vung Lam harbour was the shelter for USS Peacock during her mission to Vietnam for commercial and diplomatic purposes in 1833.

Vung Lam in Song Cau town

New diplomatic realm under Andrew Jackson’s Presidency

Since the Declaration of Independence, generations of founding father of the United States was outwards looking and open-minded to foreign trade. Andrew Jackson, the seventh President was the pioneer in promoting navigational trade, establishing rich commercial and diplomatic relations with the world. As General during the War of 1812, President Andrew Jackson controversially embraced  “gunboat diplomacy” to extend the US’s power in the world. However, it is undeniable the diplomatic success during Andrew Jackson’s Presidency in signing transcontinental treaties with the Eastern sovereigns.

USS Peacock was among a few US Navy ships having served those maritime trade and diplomacy missions. She served in the War of 1812, then brokeup in 1828 to be rebuilt as an exploration ship. The Peacock carried a 130-member crew, measured 118 feet in length with a 10-gun armament. On 8 March, 1832, under Commander David Geisinger, the ship departed for "meeting with the Orient". Also aboard was a Captain's clerk - Edmund Roberts,  a “special confidential envoy” of President Andrew Jackson and also a special, lesser known diplomat in American history.

During this voyage, USS Peacock and Envoy Edmund Roberts successfully negotiated treaties with several Eastern sovereigns for opening up new opportunities for the commerce of the fledgling American Nation. In Thailand (Siam), the Envoy and a Secretary of King Rama III signed Treaty of Amity and Commerce. In Oman (Muscat) on 13 Sept, 1833, the Envoy concluded the Treaty of Friendship and Navigation with Sultan Said bin Sultan. However, the Envoy did not succeed in Vietnam though he had brought along his “Letter of Credentials” to submit to King Ming Mang as well as goodwill messages of navigational freedom, promotion of goods exchanges, mutual respect and equal treatment in the relation with Vietnam.

After nearly two centuries, nonetheless, it is remarkable success of Edmund Robert’s embassy in an effort to enhance diplomacy with Asia and the Middle East through the nautical trade route. The 1833 transcontinental treaties signed with Oman and Thailand both laid the foundation for the relationship between the United States and these two nations. By far, Thailand stays the US’s 200 plus year old ally, Oman remains a key partner of the United States in the Middle East in terms of commerce, security, counter-terrorism, promotion of the region’s sustainable development.

Phu Yen on the maritime voyage of the Mission

On the way sailing to Vietnam, Commander David Geisinger discerned Danang (Turan Bay) as the best and nearest point to communicate to the imperial capital in Thua Thien Hue.  However, the misty and rainy weather pushed the ship southward then only to allow her anchor at Vung Lam harbour, Xuan Dai (Shundai) Bay, Song Cau Town, Phu Yen province. It was Phu Yen the shelter pier for USS Peacock, the crew and the U.S. President's Special Envoy during the hardship voyage to Vietnam.

Phu Yen’s coast had been earlier noted in the navigational documents by European sea merchants as… not easy to see to, being low and level like the coast of Cochin China... very hilly, barren, rocky and sandy, abounding by report with wild beasts... but as a peaceful beauty, a fantastic combination of the mountain, the sea and the sky.  And in the charts and maps of the Indian Pacific oceans rim late 18 century and early 19 century by James Horsburgh (1762 – 1836), a Scottish hydrographer who was called "the Nautical Oracle of the World", Xuan Dai bay was represented as "very safe, and having sufficient depth of water”.

Vung Lam harbour, Xuan Dai bay in Song Cau town, Phu Yen province are not only famous for their stunning land, sea and people but the hidden history of trade, diplomacy and navigation, too. Phu Yen where the first letter of credence of a U.S. Diplomatic Envoy was sent to King Ming Mang has almost witnessed the length of the U.S and Vietnam’s relationship since the earliest interactions which were founded upon certain geopolitical and economic factors. The history happened almost 200 years ago in Vung Lam inspires the future generations to nurture the growing relationship between Vietnam and the United States

Having been guided by those indications, USS Peacock decided to anchor in Vung Lam harbour. The entries by Envoy Edmund Roberts during the voyage confirmed the attractiveness of Xuan Dai bay…This is, truly, one of the finest harbours in the world, and free from all obstructions, save a rock, called the buoy rock, within one and a half miles of our anchorage, the top of which is above water. The country around is apparently well cultivated, being laid out in small patches, resembling gardens. It is beautifully picturesque and bold, frequently running into hills, from one to fifteen hundred feet high; the verdure of which extends, in many places, to the water’s edge. The hand of workman has here been busy on every spot susceptible of cultivation. Villages were seen among the palm-trees, near the sandy beaches, and on the cultivated swells of land, for many miles around us.

Other accounts by the Envoy also proved the panoramic view the ships and boats would have when sailing into the estuary of Xuan Dai Bay “which was done at sunset on the fifth… Seeing, to the southward of us, a large fleet of fishing boats; e very high conial mountain, which we supposed must be mount Epervier, and the land, extending far to the eastward , which we were satisfied must be cape Averella, or Pagoda cape, and, the same time, discovering the island of Maignia, a short distance to the southward of the harbour, we stood boldly in…”

The poetic beauty of Xuan Dai Bay, Vung Lam Harbour, Vung Chao Harbour was also noted “at twelve, came to anchor, in six and a half fathoms waters, in the fine harbour of Vung-lam; the village of that name, bearing to the southwest, distant a mile and a half, and within three quarters of a mile of a small, uninhabited, and unnamed island...  To the southward... lies a sand-beach, extending ups a rising ground… to the southward of the island of Maignia...”

Also recorded in the Special Envoy’s writing, on board the ship anchored at Vung Lam had occured reception and protocol functions hold by the imperial court of King Ming Mang for the U.S. mission. Vung Lam and Xuan Dai mandarins came on board with an official from Hue, Nguyen Tri Phuong (Chief of the Office of Ministries) to hold a welcoming banquet to the U.S. party. A salute was also solemnly fired by 13 guns from a fortification at Xuan Dai. The Vung Lam Chief explained about the government structure of the commune, the town, the province, the capital to the ship's crew and discussed with the mission about the significance of the President’s letter to the King. In the Special Envoy’s record, the Vung Lam Chief was described as “The old man was throughout lively and cheerful. It was easy to hold  talks with him”.

[1] Vung Ro Port (Phu Yen Province) is best-known for its role on the chart of “Ho Chi Minh Sea Trail”. Vung Ro has uniquely strategic topography that could  always bring safety and security for  maritime transportation. 

2 Embassy to the Eastern Courts of Cochin-China, Siam, and Muscat; In the U.S. Sloop –of-war Peacock, David Geisinger, Commander, During the years 1832-3-4 by Edmund Roberts. New York: Happer & Brothers. 1837.

Source: Phu Yen Newspaper

Translated by DO NGOC THUY



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