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Colonial Cases

R v. Brown and Murphy, 1863

[assault by police]

R. v. Brown and Murphy

Consular Court, Shanghai
Source: The North-China Herald, 23 May 1863


NEITHER in the police records of England nor any of her colonies, has so singular and uncalled for an assault by the police fallen under our notice as that committed by Constables Brown and Murphy on a party of gentlemen while quietly returning from a dinner party last Monday evening.  We can only account for it by the very recent importation of the delinquents into the Force, and an exaggerated notion on their part of the duties which they had undertaken and the importance of their new position.  Every one, we think, will cordially concur in the decision arrived at by the Consular Court; and admit that, while the sentence of three months imprisonment awarded to Brown was richly merited by his insane interference, Murphy's lesser fault was sufficiently met by a severe reprimand which, together with the fate that has befallen his comrade, will be a sufficient warning to him to act more coolly in future.

His behaviour during the affair, as well as the evidence he gave, were genuinely Irish.  He heard a row and ran to the spot; did not know its origin and did not stop to enquire; but seeing a scuffle instantly joined in in virtue of his nationality, and naturally espoused the cause of his comrade.  Another time, he will doubtless think it wise to ascertain whether it may not be just possible that a party of gentlemen are in the right; and whether the guardian of the public peace may not have forfeited the noli me tangere privilege which attaches to his cloth, by his own behaviour.

But the conduct of Brown is utterly inexcusable.  It is inconceivable by what stretch of imagination a man in his saber senses, as he is universally declared to have been, could fancy himself called on to enquire into the destination of a gentleman who was passing quietly in a chair, and, when refused an answer, to drag the unfortunate object of his official energy to the Station house.  He was hardly responsible for his after behaviour.  As one of the witnesses said, he was evidently beside himself; and like a mad dog, attacked every thing that came in his way, regardless whether it were an Englishman, a Chinaman or a char, so long as he found some object on which to vent his rage.  It is fortunate that his sword fell out of its scabbard, or in his excitement he might possibly have used it with serious effect.  The recommendation of the Court that he should be discharged at the end of his imprisonment will doubtless be acted on by the Municipal Counsel; it is not safe to trust a man who gives way to such transports of rage with offensive weapons. 

The amount of punishment due to Brown for his misconduct in this particular instance was not the only point which the Court had to take into consideration.  It was necessary to impress a stringent warning on the members of the Force, that they cannot, with impunity, make a vexatious use of the power entrusted to them.  The punishment of fault is not an act of revenge on the part of society towards a culprit, but is intended as a warning to othetrs of the same fate which awaits the commission of a similar offence. No class possesses more powers of annoyance than the police, if they choose to indulge the fancy for unnecessary interference which Brown has so severely rued; and too prompt and severe steps cannot be taken to check such outbreaks.

That such an instance of misconduct on the part of the English police should have taken place, must be a matter for sincere regret; but at the same time, the whole affair has occurred opportunely in another point of view.  We had occasion last week to comment severely on a still grosser outrage perpetrated by the French police on another resident of Shanghai.  In that instance, the victim of the Policemen's spite was ironed, imprisoned and confined in the stocks; in the present he was only taken to the Station house, without being subjected to any of the subsequently, more galling insults.  But unless we are strangely misinformed, the aggressors in the one instance have suffered no punishment beyond a reprimand, whereas in the latter, three months imprisonment have been awarded.  The contrast is strong evidence of the different estimations in which personal liberty may be held in different Courts of Justice.  It will also shew M. Mauboussin that, in urging on him stringent measures for the suppression of such grievous outrages on the part of the French police, the English authorities were only requiring a course of action which they themselves would have followed under similar circumstances.

We trust that the immediate open trial and severe punishment which have followed this offence will dispel the idea, expressed in thr latter addressed to us by the Secretary to the French Municipal Council which we published last Saturday, that "passion" had influenced our writers regarding the outrage to which Mr. Gamble was subjected.  We simply required the same open trial, and severe punishment of the guilty parties, which was at once accorded in the case where our own police committed a similar fault.

CONSULAR COURT, SHANGHAI           , May 14th, 1863.

Before FRED. HARVEY, Esq., H.B.M. Consul.

S. RAWSON & ---------------, Assessors.

J. S. ROBISON versus JOHN BROWN, P.C. 29 and PETER MURPHY, P.C. 121.

The defendants were charged with violently assaulting the plaintiff and three other Gentlemen - Messrs. King, Innes and Vickers at 11.30 p.m. on the 18th May.

The defendants denied the charge, partially.

Mr. ROBISON's evidence, which had been given on the previous day before the Vice-Consul and was now re-read in Court was to the following effect: - He was returning home, with the other three Gentlemen named, in close chairs, after dining with a friend on the Hong-que side.  Himself, was in an open chair with four coolies.  L. & Co. was marked on lantern.  He was stopped at Drake's jetty, and enquired "who is there."  A policeman stepped up, when he asked why he had stopped him.  The man replied that he would not let him go till he knew where he was going.  He enquired his number, and was told - 62.  Witness s aid he would report him; whereupon the policeman seized him by the collar and said he would take him to the Station.  At that time, Mr. Innes' chair came up, and was passing, when witness called out, "Be a witness that No. 62 is stopping me."  Innes called out to his coolies to go on. He was in a close chair.  As he passed, the policeman was pushing witness by the collar against the wall; and raised his staff and struck one of the coolies on the head; as the latter moved he struck another.  When Mr. Innes said it was a shame, he said, making use of very foul language that he would strike him too.  He was quite beside himself with excitement, striking right and left.  Witness, with the assistance of his friends, held him till Murphy came up to his aid.  The whole party then went to the Station house, P.C. 62 dragging witness by his collar.  Mr. Robison confirmed these statements, and added, in reply,

To Court: - P.C. 62 made use of the foulest language.  Innes jumped out and said we must arrest this man and take him to the Station.

To BROWN: - I do not think I gave you in charge at the Station house for being drunk.

Mr. KING corroborated the evidence of the previous witness, adding: - I heard an altercation as I passed in my chair, but thinking it would be nothing serious, went on until I heard myself calked back by name.  I saw P.C. 62 struggling between Robison and Innes.  I laid hold of the scabbard of his sword, fearing he might draw it.  He was shouting for the assistance of another constable, who came up and struck at us to release P.C. 62.  I did not think the latter was drunk, but very excited. He dragged Robison to the Station house. The Inspector there ordered two sergeants to examine him, who declared him sober.  There was a great deal of violence, but nothing serious occurred, principally, I believe, in consequence of P.C. No. 62 not having his sword, which was afterwards picked up in the road.  He moved his hand towards the scabbard the moment his arm was let go.  The foul language was repeated at the station.

To BROWN: - I did not see any of the gentlemen with your sword.  I saw it on the ground.

Mr. INNES: - I heard Robison called out to me, Innes you are witness that No. 62 is stopping my chair, or words to that effect.  It was dark, and I could not see what was going on.  I called out to my coolies to go on, until I got alongside of Mr. Robison's chair.  I saw a scuffle going on and heard Robison cry out, "why do you assault my coolies?' The Policeman struck my coolies, and on my asking him why he did so, he replied, I will strike you too, using at the same time very abusive and foul language.  He struck three or four blows at me through the chair, which broke the door.  I jumped out and found No. 62 very violent, brandishing his baton, and holding Mr. Robison by his neck.  I said we must seize this man, and called to King to assist us.  We held his arms.I did not see his sword in his hand.  He called to Murphy, who came up, and to whom we said, "we give this policeman in charge for assaulting us."  Instead of receiving him, he laid about with his baton, and struck at my head, but I ran away.  I tried to get the bamboo from the chair, to use as a defensive weapon, but I could not.  Murphy walked alongside of us to the police office.  At the Station house, they tried to put me in a room but I refused to go.

To BROWN: - I did not tell Mr. Robison to strike you before I was struck at.  You may have told us to stop.  I believe it is the case that my chair got entangled with Mr. Robison's and was dragging his on.

Mr. VICKERS: - Corroborated the evidence of the previous witnesses in every particular; merely stating in addition that Murphy had struck him twice over the wrist, on coming up.

To COURT: - Murphy was not drunk.

Sub-Inspector CLODD's evidence, given before the Vice-Consul on the previous day was here read.  It was to the effect that, on the evening of the 18th, four gentlemen had come to his office and charged P.C. 62 with interfering with Mr. Robison.  No. 62 had said, he interfered according to orders.  No such orders had been given. He found the Policeman had overstepped his duty and asked the gentlemen to appear at the Station on the following morning, when the case should be investigated.  One of the chairs was broken, and the door left at the office.

To BROWN: - I do not think you were given in charge for being drunk.

BROWN (P.C. 62) said in his defence, I saw four chairs coming along at 1/4 past 11.  I stopped the first and asked where it was going.  The reply was, "what business is it of yours?"  I said I was a constable on duty.  He asked me for my number, which I gave.  He said, "I shall report you, you ruffian." He was singing. (Mr. Robison here remarked that he was prepared to state on oath he was not singing.)  I seized him by the collar, and said, "you shall come yon the Station and report me."  Another chair came up, and its inmate told the first party to strike me.  On hearing that, I said I'll strike you, and struck at the chair.  I then felt myself grasped by two or three man.  I resisted and called for assistance.  Murphy released me, I felt a hand about my scabbard and found my sword missing.  It could not have dropped.  I did not draw it.  Some of the gentlemen must have drawn it.

Each of the plaintiffs were here recalled, and on oath, denied having drawn the sword.

Mr. RAMSBOTTOM said it might have fallen out if the scabbard were turned up.

MURPHY said he heard a great noise; went down to see what was the cause; saw Brown in the grip of three gentlemen who were trying to drag him along; did not know what was the cause of the disturbance; struck two of them and told them to let go, which they did; he came up in a rage at seeing Brown held by them.

T Court: - I did not hear a request made to me to take Brown in charge.  There was great confusion.

Mr. RAMSBOTTOM said Murphy had only been nine days in the force; he had brought first-rate testimonials from the 31st regiment.  Brown had been in the service w little more than a month.  His were not so good.      

After some deliberation, the Court decided that the charge of a gross and unprovoked assault had been proved against Brown, and sentenced him to three months' imprisonment, six weeks thereof with hard labour.  It also recommended his dismissal from the force.  Taking into consideration the short time Murphy had been in the service, it was thought sufficient to severely reprimand him.

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