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Colonial Cases

Newspaper commentary China 1900-1909

The Times, 7 May 1902

Our Shanghai correspondent ...

A difficulty has arisen in Shanghai which more particularly concerns ourselves.  There are, we need hardly say, two European settlements in that great centre of Chinese commerce - an international mixed settlement, still commonly though incorrectly called the British settlement, and a French settlement.  Until 1863 there was actually a British settlement with the same rights and privileges as the French, but far exceeding it in wealth and importance, and a small American settlement.  With the levity and want of foresight which have so often marked our action in the Far East, we foolishly agreed to abandon our exclusive position, while the French tenaciously maintained that which they had acquired.  We allowed our settlement, amalgamated with the American settlement, to become international, and granted to all our rivals, including the French, the same rights within its limits as we ourselves possessed.  We trusted for the protection of our interests to the predominance of our wealth and numbers assured us in the Municipal Council.  That predominance we have always enjoyed, and the result has been that, in all differences between the Council and the Consular Body, the foreigners, who are jealous of our position, give their support to the Consuls.

The incident which our Correspondent reported yesterday beings the claims of the Council and of the Consuls into conflict on a subject of vital importance to the British community, whose intelligence and industry have made Shanghai what it is.  The magistrate of the French settlement - a Court with a French and a native element - issued a warrant last month for the arrest of four natives residing in the international settlement.  The warrant was endorsed by the French Consul-General and by Mr. Goodnow, the American Consul at Shanghai, who is also the senior Consul.  The French claimed the right to remove the four natives from the international settlement for trial by the French Mixed Court.  The Consular Body have not only supported this claim, but they have passed a resolution denying the right of the Municipal Council to discuss or dispute the execution of any warrant for the arrest of a native countersigned by the senior Consul.

Whatever the merits of this particular claim, the resolution appears to be a flagrant violation of the rights and interests of the international community.  It would practically place the Chinese population of the international settlement at the mercy of the senior Consul for the time being whatever might be his nationality and character.  That population has been attracted the the settlement by the confidence is has learned to repose in the justice and wisdom of the Municipal Council and the Mixed Court of the international settlement, both of which have been administered under the predominant influence of our countrymen.  It now numbers half a million of natives, including many wealthy bankers and prosperous traders, and upon their presence the activity of trade and the prosperity of the European community very largely depend.

The Consuls now suddenly claim a right to transfer this indispensable element in the international settlement, from the jurisdiction to which it has been subject and which it had trusted for nearly half a century, to a foreign jurisdiction, at the caprice of the senior Consul, and to deprive the International Council of the right to protest against this novel and arbitrary infringement of the privileges of their constituents.  The Council and the leading residents are rightly resolved to assert rights which they have exercised since these were defined by SIR RUTHERFORD ALCOCK with the assent of the treaty Powers in 1854, and they have convened a meeting for this purpose.  We cannot doubt that they will receive the firm and uncompromising support of the British Government.  LORD LANSDOWNE, who has shown a statesmanlike appreciation of many aspects of the Chinese question, may be trusted, we believe, not to tolerate encroachments which would subject a native population, through whom our trade is conducted, to the uncovenanted mercies of a foreign official who, thanks to the mere accident of seniority, might at any moment happen to represent a Power with no commentarial stake whatever in the prosperity of Shanghai.


Manchester Courier, 24 August, 1904
  A telegram from St. Petersburg to the "Liberte" says:- The Council of the Admiralty met today to discuss the case of the Askold and Grosovoi, which had been ordered by the Taotai to quit Shanghai. I am able to affirm that the majority of members of the Council were of opinion that the Askold should be disarmed in case the cruiser was not in a condition to put to sea because of the great difficulty it would encounter on the banks of the Woosung, while the Grosovoi, if it put to sea, would meet certain destruction at the hands of the Japanese.  Much comment has been excited by the reluctance of the Consular Court at Shanghai to take the initiative in ensuring the respecting of Chinese neutrality.

  The State Department has called on Mr. Conger, Mr. Goodnow, and Mr. Fowler, the United States Consul at Chifu, to report as soon as possible the facts in regard to the situation at Shanghai.  It is believed that Admiral Stirling has been instructed to co-operate with Mr. Conger and the United States Consuls for the protection of American interests in the treaty ports.
.  .  .  

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 24 August, 1904.
[Dalziel's Telegram.]
PARIS, Tuesday.
  The "Petit Parisien"  says the incidents at Chefoo andf hanghai are fraught with such grave dangers, and the political state of China of such tremendous importance to all the civilised Owners, that the latter can  no longer remain passive onlookers of the struggle between Russia and Japan in the Far East.  .  .  .  


The Times, 6 September 1904

Trade-marks in China.


Los Angeles Herald, 26 January 1905


Resolution Introduced in House Directing Inquiry into Actions of John Goodnow.

By Associated Press.

WASHINGTON, Jan 25. - Representative Hughes of New Jersey introduced a resolution in the house to-day directing the committee on judiciary "to inquire and report where the action of this house is requisite concerning the official misconduct of John Goodnow, judge of the United States consular court at Shanghai, China, and say whether the said judge has been guilty of corruptive conduct in office and whether the conduct of his office has resulted in injury and wrong to the litigants in his courts."

The resolution is accompanied by seventeen specifications.  These include accusations of embezzlement and misconduct of various kinds.


San Francisco Call, 26 January 1905


Resolution in House Calling for Inquiry Into Acts of Shanghai Consular Judge.


Said to Have Extorted and Misappropriated Money in the Conduct of His Office.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25. -  [As before published.]  The resolution is accompanied by seventeen specifications.  The first charges him with the embezzlement of $946 on various dates during the fiscal year ended June 30, 1903; the second charges that he mailed false accounts to the Secretary of State as to moneys received and expended for alleged court expenses.  The third charges that he presented a false claim against the United States to the Secretary of the Treasury; the fourth changes embezzlement on November 19, 1903, of $643; the fifth charges the appointment of George A. Darby as an expert accountant, the appointee being asserted to be wholly incompetent.  The next nine charges include extortion and fraud in financial transactions.

The fifteenth specification charges a conspiracy to "manufacture aliens into citizens of the united States in consideration of large sums of money, the plan being to issue bogus identification papers, to be presented by other parties to the conspiracy to Minister Conger, who issued the proper passports.  Four Russian aliens, one Turk and one German are named as receiving such passports.  Two aliens, a British subject and a German, were registered at the United States consulate, it is alleged, as citizens of the United States.

The sixteenth charges Judge Goodnow with appropriating to his own use fees collected in settling the estates of American citizens who died at Shanghai and making false returns thereof.  The seventieth charges that Judge Goodnow did unlawfully and knowingly take jurisdiction in the case of George A. Derby and one H. P. Plant, the case being triable only before the United States Ministerial Court at Peking, the result being that Plant was sentenced to a long term in prison, which, it is believed, he is serving in a California jail.

The resolution charges that said Judge Goodnow is incompetent to hold the office of Federal Judge, that he has never been admitted to practise law before any court in the United States or elsewhere and that he is not a lawyer.

A protest against the retention of Judge Goodnow, signed by twenty American residents of China, is made part of the resolution.


The Daily News (Perth, Australia), 6 March 1905


The Shanghai papers that inform us of the circumstances attending the murder of a Chinese coolie recently by some of the Russian sailors interned there, comment freely on the farcical nature of the trial to which the prisoners were brought for the crime.  The case occupied some days and a large amount of evidence was recorded - to a large extent, conflicting.  It would appear, too, that the Chinese witnesses examined were required to identify the prisoners out of a crowd of Russian sailors.  This they were naturally unable to do, although, as the culprits were taken in flagrante delicte, there did not appear to be any identification called for.  The matter altogether has created a great stir among the Chinese in this northern treaty-port, and intense dissatisfaction obtains in native circles that the culprits were not handed over for trial to the Chinese courts.

The sentence of the Russian Consular Court, which has now been promulgated, viz., four years' imprisonment with hard labor, is considered on all sides totally inadequate to the offence, and it must be conceded that in this point the Chinese have just ground for complaint.

The feelings of the local officials and of the people as a whole have been to no small extent aggravated and excited by the conduct of the Russian prisoners since the latter have been in Shanghai.  This irritation is shared, too, by the foreign trading communities, which for some time past have been working through their Consuls for the removal of the Russians from the port, owing to the constant trouble the latter have given, and the want of discipline and absence of control with which their conduct has been marked. ...


The Times, 17 April 1905


SIR RICHARD TEMPLE RENNIE, ... Called to the Bar at the Inner Temple on 1860, he practised in Shanghai for many tears at the Supreme Court for China and Japan. In 1878 he was appointed Judge of her majesty's Court for Japan, and three years later, in 1881, he returned to Shanghai as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  He retired in 1891, but he again lent his services temporarily to the Crown as special Judge of her Majesty's Supreme Consular Court at Constantinople in 1897. ...while the Consular Body, representing 15 nationalities, rarely presents a united front.  This last consideration renders the establishment of a provisional Consular Court a matter of difficulty.


The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 1905



LONDON, Dec. 14.

   The Taotai of Shanghai refuses to re-open the Mixed Court unless the British assessor is removed.  The Taotai declares that the Chinese Government intends to insist on increased authority in the affairs of the settlement.


  Chinese residents in the foreign settlements of Shanghai, which comprise the British, United States and French concessions, are amenable to their own laws, administered by a so-called Mixed Court, which was established at the instigation of Sir Harry Parkes in 1864.  It is presided over by an official of the rank of Tung-chi, or sub-prefect, and the cases are watched by foreign assessors from the principal consulates.  The working of the Court, especially in regard to civil suits, is far from satisfactory, as the Judge has not sufficient power to enforce his decisions.


Wagga Wagga Advertiser (Australia), 19 December 1905



LONDON, Dec. 18.

A Consular Court dispute led to an outbreak at Shanghai, as a result of which the American Vice-Consul was injured, the German Consul stoned, and other foreigners hurt.  Marries were landed from the warships in port, the volunteers summoned, and the Chinese shops closed.


The Times, 21 December 1905





Boston Evening Transcript, 22 December 1905

Shanghai, Decd. 22. - Order has been restored here.  The viceroy yesterday settled the Mixed Court dispute, and the court re-opens today.  American, British, German, Italian and Japanese sailors are guarding the foreign concession, and mounted volunteers are patrolling roads outside the city.  An attack on the water works Wednesday was easily repulsed.


Spokane Daily Chronicle, 26 December 1905


LONDON, Dec. 26. - The correspondent of the Morning Post at Shanghai says that the Chinese foreign office have instructed the Chinese minister at London to negotiate with the British Government regarding the mixed court dispute, to demand the dismissal of the British assessor and to insist on punishment of the police concerned in the recent outbreak.


Boston Evening Transcript, 28 May 1906 [Google News Archive]



Laws of Oriental Countries Are So Different from Those of the United States That the New Court Is Suggested - Consular Judicial System Worked Well in the Early Days When There Were Few Americans in China, but Business is Increasing and requires the Services of a Trained Jurist, and Consuls Need All Their Time.

[Regular Correspondent of the Transcript]

Washington, May 26.

   Far-reaching in its effect upon American interest in China is a [       ] reported favourably from the house Committee on Foreign Affairs several days ago by Representative Denby of Michigan which provides for the creation of a United States District Court in China.  Instead of entrusting to consuls who are seldom learned in the law the absolute decision ort the many legal questions arising in China between Americans or in which Americans are defendant litigants, [    ] Denby but provides for the creation of a district court and for the appointment of a judge, district attorney, marshal and clerk.  Jurisdiction is given this Court in [    ] criminal cases involving more than $100 fine or sixty days' imprisonment, and in civil cases involving an amount greater than $500.  Appeals from this court will be to the ninth judicial circuit and thence to the Supreme Court of the United States.


In the early days of American-Chinese relations there were few Americans in China.  The consular judicial system worked fairly well then for the reason that little knowledge of the law was required to dispose of the few and comparatively simple cases that came before the courts.  But the development of American trade in China, which has been so rapid in the last decade, has gone hand in hand with a large increase in the number of Americans in China.  They have acquired property, much of it of great value.  There has been a resultant increase in the amount and in the difficult character of the work of the consular courts.  Gustad Ohlinger, an Ohio lawyer, who was for a long time a resident of Shanghai and was acquainted with the work of the consular court there, in a letter to the committee urging favorable action on the Denby bill, declared that the great variety of litigation before this court was such as to tax the legal acumen of the ablest jurist. "In the hands of our consuls," he wrote, "none of whom prior to his appointment has been called to examine aspects of a question, it gives rise to mistakes which would be ludicrous were not such great interests at stake and were it not for the fact that the prestige of our Government is involved.  The necessary concomitant of this lax judicial system is a lack of confidence in American enterprise and American business men.  No man will hazard his property in an undertaking with an American when his rights,  if disputed, are to be determined ultimately by a single man who is not even a trained jurist, especially when from this one man's unassisted judgment there is no recourse by appeal or error."

... The cornerstone of British prestige in the Orient is declared by many to be the British courts whose reputation for ability and fair dealing is the highest.  The result is that rather than assume the risk of engaging in business with an American who, if a difference shall arise, can take his case to a court presided over by an American consul, whose consular duty is to protect American interests, the Chinese prefer to deal with British subjects.  Creation of a district court such as is provided for in the Denby bill will guarantee the same fair trial of all cases coming before the British courts and the effect on American trade will be beneficial.


   Court is to be held annually at Shanghai in the east, Hankow in the west, Tientsin in the north, Canton in the south and in other consular jurisdictions if deemed advisable.  An appeal to this court is given from the consular courts of Korea.


San Francisco Call, 26 September 1907


Charge That Federal Judge Wilfley Has Directed Insults at Church.

Special by Cable and Leased Wire to The Call.

SHANGHAI, Aug 30. - Protesting against what they term insults and calumny directed at the church of which they are members, Roman Catholic residents in Shanghai have forwarded to America a petition for presentation to the president and congress asking that Judge Leobus R. Wilfley of the United States court for China be replaced by another.

It is charged that in a recent decision Judge Wilfley referred to the Pope and the Roman Catholic clergy as dishonest, though neither the pope nor the clergy were parties to the cause on trial.

Judge Wilfley, who has been here less than a year, was promoted from the position of attorney general of the Philippines to be the first judge of the court which was established following the discovery of irregularities in the old consular court.

Since coming Judge Wilfley has, it is charged, taken part in anti-Catholic gatherings to the extent of presiding at a meeting where the Rev. J. W. Lowrie severely condemned the Catholic clergy in China.

"Your petitioners," says the letter to President Roosevelt, "simply confine themselves to the judgment of record rendered by Mr. Wilfley in which he stated that the popish clergy robbed the widows and orphans."

Judge Wilfley is a native of Missouri.  He is a graduate of the Yale law school and prior to his appointment to the Philippines was a prominent lawyer in St. Louis.  In politics he is classed as a democrat and in religion as a Methodist.  His salary is $10,000 a year.


The Register (Adelaide, Australia), 21 March 1908

Article on Judge Lebbeus Redmond Willey, US Consular Court Shanghai. ... In one especially flagrant case an American [Biddle] had induced a Chinaman to pay £900 for the lease of a building ...

Judge Willey's course with regard to other loose characters was characterized by a like promptness and efficiency.  All the eight American keepers of houses of ill fame were brought into Court.  They pleaded guilty, and were fined £200 each.  So summary was the action against disreputable houses that all of them kept by American women were closed and their inmates, over 60 in all, thereupon left China.


The Straits Times, 28 April 1909



   A newspaper libel case to which the public at Saigon had eagerly looked forward to, came to a lame conclusion on April 19, at a sitting of the Criminal Court there.  The persons concerned are all connected with the press.

   The prosecutor was M. Chollot, formerly engineer to the French Municipality at Shanghai, but now holding a post on the management of the Echo de Chine, a newspaper at that port.  The defendants were M. Tapernoux, the manager of the Courrier de Chine, and M. Camadan, the manager of the Mirror - both of these journals being published at Shanghai. 

   The indictment stood for libelling the prosecutor through newspapers.  The case arose in this wise.  In the latter part of 1908, the municipal water reservoir within the French concession at Shanghai, the construction of which was superintended by the prosecutor in his capacity as municipal officer, was found to be flawed and to be defective in workmanship.

Sharp Comment.

   The two journals in question (the Courrier and the Mirror) commented sharply on this, and blamed the prosecutor, the insinuation being that he knew the construction  work to be faulty, but winked at it.  The prosecutor brought the libellers up before the French Consular Court at Shanghai.  The Court held that the alleged libels were not directed against the prosecutor as a private person. They were, so to speak, justifiable comments on him in his actions as a public officer employed on public works.  In short, criticism on the prosecutor's conduct, in his official capacity, was allowable, and was in this case borne out by the evidence.  The prosecutor lost the case.  The prosecutor then decided to bring up the defendants  before the Criminal Court of Saigon, under an old Press law bearing the date 1881.  Failure again awaited him on a point of law.

No Jurisdiction.

   Defendant's counsel pointed out that the Criminal Court at Saigon had no jurisdiction to try crimes committed by French subjects in China, ands quoted from sundry laws to prove this.

   M. Tapernoux, would not hear of the case being laid aside on a technical point, but declared through counsel his readiness to go on and produce witnesses to prove his charges against the prosecutor.

    The Attorney-General, however, upheld the objection raised by counsel, and pointed out that the proper course should have been to appeal against the decision of the Shanghai Court.  The Court's judgment was that it had no jurisdiction and dismissed the case, the prosecutor being caster in costs.

   The Opinion says that while admitting that the Court could have come to no other decision, regrets that the case could not have been thoroughly gone into.  The Saigon public would then see the uses to which the public money is sometimes put at Shanghai.  The Courrier Saigonnais remarks that the case was envenomed by political and party considerations.  The Echo and the Courrier take opiate sides in politics.


The Straits Times, 11 August 1909



   Eight native grooms, belonging to Harmston's Circus, were arrested early this morning for assault and battery in the Russian Concession, by the Russian Police, says the China Critic (Tientsin) of July 22.  A free fight appears to have taken place between Borowski's men and Harmston's, and the former seem to have got the worst of it.

   The delinquents were handed over to the B.M. Police and sent by them for trial to H.B.M. Consular Court this morning.  Of the 8 culprits, one was a Malay, two were Japanese, two were Filipinos, two Madrasses, and one a Singapore Chinese.  Only the Madrasses and the Singapore Chinese could be tried by the British Court, the rest having to be dealt with by their respective Consuls.

   Evidence was somewhat conflicting, partly owing to the different nationalities of the witnesses called; who included a Russian, a German, a Pole, also 2 Chinese.  The prisoners were fined $5 each.


The Times, 17 September 1909



The boycott of the British shipping companies trading on the Yang-tsze River, which was initiated by the Kiukiang Native Chamber of Commerce in the middle of August as reprisals for the alleged assault by Inspector Mears on a Chinese coolie resulting in the latter's death, continues unchecked.  Shippers are warned by the Chambers against the use of British steamers.  Evidence of the absence of any genuine resentment on the part of the merchants is afforded by surreptitious consignments of cargo in assumed names, as also by the fact that Messrs. Butterfield's steamers plying on the Poyang Lake are not included in the boycott as there are no other available means of transport there.

Mears has already been discharged after a preliminary examination before the Kiukiang Consular Court, and the suggestion that he should be retried by the Shanghai Supreme Court is deprecated here on the grounds that such a course would appear to be a concession to unjustifiable clamour as in the Fatshan incident.

It is instructive to compare the attitude of the Japanese towards a similar movement ...

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