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Colonial Cases

United States v. Hetherington [1892]

[murder, provocation]

United States v. Hetherington

Consular Court, Yokohama
United States Consular Court, Japan

Source: The Straits Times Weekly Issue, 9 March 1892 (3)


The Murder of a Broker at Yokohama.

An Inquest was held in H.B.M.'s Court Yokohama on the 15th February, before James Troup, Esq., Assistant Judge, acting as Coroner, and a Jury into the circumstances attending the death of George Gower Robinson a resident of Yokohama.

Edwin Wheeler, M.D., sworn, said :---I was acquainted with George Gower Robinson for a number of years.  I saw him on Saturday afternoon a little after six.  He was at the Y.U.C. He was then alive, but in a state of collapse.  On examination, I found there was a bullet wound between the anterior superior spina parosis of the left ileum to the great trochants of the femur.  The bullet wound would be found to be midway between these two points . . . There were altogether five openings in the small intestines.  The hemorrhage was enormous.  The wound could have been self-inflicted, but would be hard to get at, it would require something like an acrobatic feat.  Deceased was perfectly conscious to within dinner time, say 6 o'clock, on Sunday evening.  I said "Gower give me some idea how it was fired, so as to enable me to trace the direction the bullet had gone?"  He said that the man fired 2 or 3 shots; that after the first, his friend, Pors, had jumped out, and he believed fell.  He recollected nothing farther except a pain running from his left hip across to the navel.  The man was running alongside at the wheel, on the left side of the trap.  I told him he was seriously hurt; he knew he was in a bad way.  He was very reticent, and when I asked him questions he said "it didn't matter, it didn't matter."  He did not expect death at the time, as he was in fair spirits.

Stuart Eldridge, M.D., sworn, said: ---I overtook the coolies who were carrying Gower Robinson almost at the entrance of the Y.U.C. in Water Street, to the best of my belief a little after six o'clock on Saturday evening.  Seeing that it was a serious matter, as first on the ground I took charge of the case, and saw him placed on a bed, and I as quickly as possible investigated his condition at the same time despatching a message for Dr. Wheeler, who was his regular attendant.  Dr. Wheeler arrived in about half an hour.  He had begun to rally a little after treatment, before Dr. Wheeler came.  When I first saw him he was in sensible and apparently moribund.  I have heard Dr. Wheeler's evidence, and by my own investigations can corroborate it in every detail, as we were in alternate charge of the case.  I assisted at the post mortem examination.  The notes read by Dr. Wheeler are in my hand writing.  I think this bullet is calibre 35 to 40 allowing for the bruising, although calibres have changed very much since my time.  Mr. Robinson made a statement to me as to the cause of the accident, agreeing with what Dr. Wheeler had said, with the addition that after Mr. Pors had jumped out, and the infliction of the wound, he, Robinson, with some difficulty managed to stop the horse and get out of the trap with the intention of going to Pors's assistance, who was struggling, or he thought was struggling with Hetherington, fearing that Pors might be injured.  But from the moment of formulating the wish to go to his friend's assistance he knew nothing more.  It was with great difficulty that Robinson was induced to speak of the affair at all, only as an assistance to me professionally that he gave these details.

Pietro Beretta, merchant of No. 10, his evidence being interpreted by the Marquis Nembriei de Gonzaga, whose service as Italian Interpreter was made use of by kind permission of the Governor, sworn, said :---I remember on Saturday afternoon  at 6 o'clock seeing Mr. Robinson on the bund near No. 12.  I was on the bund at the time.  I took a jinrikisha at 6 o'clock from the Y.U.C. in order to go to the Grand Hotel.  While I was passing the Messageries Maritimes, I heard two shots fired, from the right to the left as I stood.  Arriving in front of No. 12, I saw Gower Robinson's carriage standing still and Robinson himself lying down in then road senseless.  I alighted and with the help of my ricksha and other Japanese I put him into my jinrikisha and had him conveyed to the Club.  I then took Robinson's carriage and went to the Club to look for a doctor and Mr. Blad, after which they went towards the place where Robinson fell.  I did not see the man who fired the shot.  I believe I only heard two shots.

Koneko Zhuzo [?], the deceased's betto, warned, said :---We were coming down from the Bluff, on Saturday afternoon at 6, and had got as far as the French Hatoba [?], when some one suddenly rushed forward and called out "stop stop," grasped the side of the trap with one hand and put forward the other hand and fired.  I thought only two shots were fired, but people in the neighbourhood say three.  When the shots were fired, the horse went on a bit and then stopped.  Mr. Robinson fell out on the road.  I pout my arms around him and with the help of others put him in a jinrikisha.  The man who shot him was standing behind the trap, and the gentleman who was with him in the trap had previously got out and grasped this man.  Some policemen came running up so I asked them to arrest him, and asked the bystanders to help put my master in a jinrikisha belonging to Mr. Beretta.  He then got into my master's carriage and drove off.  It was too dark for me to see what kind of weapon he had in his hand.  My master ducked his head at the first shot.  There was a cry, when my master pulled the horse up, and while I was looking, the shot was fired from my right side.  I was sitting in the trap behind.  There was no conversation or altercation.  The shooting took place quite suddenly without any warning.  I did not see the man arrested, as I was looking after my master.

A police constable deposed to hearing shots fired and hastening in consequence to the spot where the firing came.  A foreigner was pointed out to him as having fired the shots at the deceased.  The man got into a 'ricksha and tried to escape but the policeman pursued and arrested him.  The inquest was then adjourned to the 18th February.---Japan Mail.


Source: The New York Times, 9 March 1892




This afternoon Emlen Hewes, father of the wife of Lieut. Hetherington, arrived in this city from a southern business trip, but he knew nothing more of the Yokohama tragedy than he had read in the newspapers. No member of the family has received a word from Mrs. Hetherington since the shooting.

Ex-Secretary of State Bayard was asked tonight if he thought the killing of Robinson by Lieut. Hetherington would give rise to any international complications. He replied, "No, it is not an international question. It is a case for the Consular Court of Japan.  In a capital case the United States Consul General and four associates, citizens of the United States, try the case.  They must all five agree upon the verdict.  If such an agreement is reached it must be approved by the Minister.  We have no Minister in Japan, but an appeal may be taken to the United States Circuit Court, California. This consular jurisdiction applies to China, Japan, Siam, Egypt, and Madagascar."  He cited a number of cases similar to the one now occupying the attention of the public.

"If he is found guilty, where will his sentence be carried out?"

"Well, he could be hanged in Japan."

"Could he be brought here and hanged?"

"That is a question I am not prepared to answer, and one for after-consideration.  I don't suppose it will make much difference to him where he is hanged."  The President of the united States has the power to commute his sentence and even pardon him outright."

"Where would be be imprisoned?'

"Well, if they have a suitable prison in Japan, they could imprison him there.  If not, the President could order that he be brought here and imprisoned."

George H. Bates was also asked if there was any danger of international complications arising, and said:

Not in the least.  The offense is committed in Japan, and if he is tried or acquitted as provided by treaty, I don't see where the action on the part of England would come in; no more so than if an Englishman were killed here and his assassin tried by our courts.  There is no foreign intervention possible."

"In Japan," continued Mr. Bates, "there is what is called extra-territorial jurisdiction; that is, jurisdiction of our own officers outside of the United States.  We claim the right to try our own citizens in those countries where our Government does not consider them entirely civilized. We carry on in Japan what is called a Consular Court.  It is held by the Consul General.  The treaty with Japan provides that Americans committing offenses there shall be tried by the American Consular Court, and when guilty shall be punished according to American law."

DUBUQUE, Iowa, March 8.

After interviewing Secretaries Blaine and Tracy, Congressman Henderson telegraphed last night: "Notwithstanding the recent treaty with Japan, Lieut. Hetherington will be tried by the American Consul at Yokohama.  Appeal will be successively to the American Minister and the United States Circuit Court of California.  Ex-Mayor Hetherington says he heartily approves of his son's course in shooting the English seducer, and is confident of his acquittal.


Source: Los Angeles Herald, 15 March 1892

THERE seems to have been a decided trait of magnanimity in Robinson, who was killed by Lieutenant Hetherington for a liaison with his wife.  Admiral Belknap, who arrived at San Francisco on the Oceanic from Japan yesterday, says that, before he died, the wounded man wrote the admiral a letter asking clemency for his slayer.  On being interviewed Belknap said, emphatically, "Hetherington will never be convicted of murder."  Nevertheless the coroner's jury found him guilty of wilful murder. This does not necessarily control the consular courts, however.


Source: The Advertiser (Adelaide, Australia), 11 April 1892



London, April 9.

A scandal having a shocking termination is agitating foreign circles in Japan. A lieutenant in the American navy named Hetherington suspecting the fidelity of his wife instituted a watch over her movements, and at last surprised her in a bedroom at Yokohama in company with an English banker named Robinson.

The injured husband shot the seducer dead, and was arrested for the offence, but the consular court held him justified in his action, and he was liberated.

Source: The Times, 20 May 1892


As already reported in these columns by telegraph from Vancouver, Lieutenant Herrington, of the United States Navy, has been acquitted on the charge of murdering Mr. Gower Robinson, an English banker in Yokohama.  The full text of the judgment of the United States Consular Court has now reached this country.  It is signed by the Consul-General and by four assessors, who are respectable American merchants in Yokohama, and explains the considerations which led them to the verdict of acquittal.  The trial lasted ten days, and the evidence was of a very voluminous character.  The Consul-General, in his judgment, says:-

"As shown by the evidence there was a long train of circumstances leading up to the culminating point in this sad affair.  For more than two months it seems the defendant had been trying to avert trouble.  Her had notified the deceased by letter to cease his attentions to his wife, and was assured that his wishes would be complied with.  When matters became more serious Captain Bartlett interposed and received the solemn word of the deceased that he would cease his attentions to the wife of the defendant.  Even this did not avail; but, on the contrary, he continued to pursue the wife, according to the evidence, relentlessly, almost fiendishly.

Early in December the defendant learned positively that his former vague and misty suspicions of Robinson as being the cause of the change in his wife's conduct were well founded.  From that time on till February 13 his troubles eventually grew thicker and darker.  In December the defendant did not know how bad matters really were, but he knew they were bad enough.  Robinson had confessed that he loved the defendant's wife, yet defendant could not believe that there had been anything criminal between them.  He began then that desperate struggle to save his home for his child's sake, little thinking, probably, after what had passed, that Robinson would make nearly as desperate an effort to destroy it.

Robinson goes away to Kobe, not a long distance, but far enough to relieve the wife of the defendant from his influence.  She makes a confession to the defendant on February 2.  She tells him of a wild midnight ride to Robinson's house on October 23, 1891.  She tells him everything of his threats and pursuits, whether all or more than actually took place is not for the Court to decide.  The deceased having broken his word of honour so solemnly given so many times, the defendant was undoubtedly ready to believe anything of Mr. Robinson.  From the wrongs inflicted on him by Robinson, as detailed in Court, I can readily believe that he would not probably be able to control himself should they meet.  He undoubtedly intended to inflict some chastisement, but, when he found Robinson was getting away, he lost his self control, and I believe he did not exactly know what he was trying to do, or wanted to do, or how to do it.  His one object seems to have been to protect his home and save the mother of his child from ruin. ... There is no evidence in this case of premeditation, at least, satisfactory to the Court, but I do find that the defendant had such provocation that under the pressure of grievances his mind had been strained to such an extent that he was not responsible for his actions at the moment the fatal shot was fired, and, therefore, I find him not guilty."

[See also The New York Times, 9 March 1892; Los Angeles Herald, 10 April 1892; San Francisco Call, 10 April 1892; Sacramento Daily Union, 11 April 1892; Sacramento Daily Union, 21 April 1892.]

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School