Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

Sommer, 1867

[felonious killing]


Edward Sommer

Danish Consular Court, Shanghai
11 April 1867
Source: The North-China Herald, 17 April 1867




April 11th.

The indictment charged the prisoner Edward Sommer with having on April 3rd 1867, in the foreign settlement of Shanghai feloniously wilfully and of his malice aforethought killed one Richard Harris, a subject of H.F. Majesty, against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King his crown and dignity

To it the prisoner pleaded "Not Guilty."  The following gentlemen were then sworn as juryman, Messrs. Hanssen, Meyer, Levysohn, Schmidt, Smith

Mr. BECH H.D.M. Vice consul conducted the prosecution.

Mr. RENNIE was asked by the Danish Consul to watch the case for the prisoner.

JOHN BARRY. - I am Captain of the Eunice Nicholas.  The [prisoner] was an apprentice on board my ship.  He left it about seven in the morning of the 3rd inst. with my knowledge.  He was to have returned at noon but did not do so.  I was summoned by a policeman to identify his body on the 4th inst.  The cause of death was a stab in the left side.  The deceased was in perfect health when he left my ship.  He had been on shore about a fortnight previously.  When he returned to my ship of that occasion he was sober.  He left the ship with $4 from me to buy clothes, he said.

This witness was not cross examined.

DR. JOHNSON. - On 4th April I was called on by Mr. Mowatt to make a post mortem examination of the body of a man murdered in a house in the French Concession.  I found death to be caused by a wound through the upper part of the left lung and penetrating the heart. The wound was mortal; and must have resulted almost instantaneously in death.  There was also a slight wound on the forehead, but not of any importance.  The wound on the forehead might have been caused by a fall.  Very likely it was so caused.

TO THE COURT. - I think the wounded man might have spoken after the mortal wound, and risen up and staggered a pace or two.

To MR. RENNIE. The man was lying down in my opinion from the direction of the wound when it was given.  The wound must have been given with force and deliberation.  In whatever position the man was, the blow passed upwards and inwards.  A knife was shown to me.  It was such an one as would have inflicted the wound.

Re-examined.  I do not consider that the wound could have been given from behind.

A-NI. I live by the Yang-king-pang.  I saw the death of a man who came in to my house.  He came at ten o'clock in the forenoon.  He said he wished to sleep in my house.  I have known him, the deceased a year and a half.  He gave me to understand he would return.  At two in the forenoon another man came to my house.  Three men came to my house at two o'clock.  The prisoner is one of them.  I could point out the other two.  They are not in this room.  When the murdered man came back at six o'clock he told me to go to another house.  I told him to go on board.  He declined and I agreed to go with him to another house.  He went first and I followed.  We had been in the house a very short time when the prisoner and two others came.  The prisoner took a light and looked about.  The light was made by the prisoner.  In the house are two rooms upstairs and one below.  The room below is divided by a passage.  In the back room below I staid with the murdered man.  Some girls and two other men were in the font room below.  The prisoner said nothing to the murdered man, but struck him.  The murdered man was not asleep but lying down at the time.  The dead man did not return the blows.  I did not see what the prisoner struck the dead man with.  The murdered man cried out you have killed me," he jumped out of the bed.  The prisoner ran away, so did the other two men.  I did not see either of the other two strike the deceased, who got as far as the outer door way and then fell down.  He said nothing when he fell down.  Only the girls were in the room then.  I saw blood, but could not find where the wound was.  A boy in the house went for the police.  I remained in the house the whole time.  The man died about eight, and the police came about half past eight with the boy.  I saw the prisoner the night before the murder, but not previously.  I did not see who first touched the body on the arrival of the police.

To MR. RENNIE. - The prisoner and the deceased talked to each other, but there was no quarrel.  Shortly after the deceased left the others came.  At two o'clock when the others came in the deceased was in bed.  I know the two men, one of them was a black man, the other a white man.  The light was extinguished when the three men entered the room.  They brought in a paper light dipped in oil.  I had not seen thr two men who came in with the prisoner before.  The prisoner ran straight up to the bed.  The other two men stood in front of it.  They said nothing.  I did not see the prisoner draw a knife.  The prisoner pulled the blanket off the deceased.  The deceased then got up and sat on the bed.  He was sitting up when the blow was struck.  The prisoner told me privately that if the deceased did not go away, the three of them would flog him.

RE-EXAMINED. - I can't tell which one of the two received the light.  I am confident the light was not in the prisoner's hand when he struck the deceased.  I did not see how many blows were given.  The two men you now produce before me are those I have alluded to as bring in the room with the prisoner.

A-KOW. - I have a master, he is a pilot, he lives at Tinsing hong [by Wright's the undertaker's].  I go daily to the house by the Yang-king-pang creek for my chow-chow.  Five foreigners came into the house one Wednesday [3rd April] about 6 p.m., I w as in the room into which they came.  They spoke about flogging another foreigner.  I now see one, the prisoner, of the five foreigners. There are three of the five outside now.  The prisoner asked for the girl A-ni.  He was told she had gone to her mother.  He said nothing, but looked about.  He was told by the black man A-ni was in the other house.  The prisoner did not ask which other house, butr went to another house, followed by the others.  I followed them to outside the door and there stropped.  I tried to keep myself concealed, because I was afraid of being beaten by them.  I did so because what the black man had said aroused my suspicions.  Five went into the other house.  Stopping outside I could look into the house as the door was open.  A-ni was in the house, some other girls and the deceased.  The black man took a match and got a light which he handed to the prisoner and they all began to look for the deceased who was found by the black man.  He then called for the prisoner who came in and struck the deceased with a short knife.  There was no noise in the room.  I heard no crying out.  After the blow was given, the five men ran away.  One of them called out "this man makee die."  They did not see me.  I hid near the door.  They saw me when I was calling for the police.  The prisoner called out then to take hold of mew.  The prisoner tried to seize me, but his hand slipped and I got away. One of them had a knife which was thrown into the Yang-king-pang.  I know it was thrown there as I saw something being thrown into the creek and told the police so, who found it the next d ay in the creek.  When the police came the man was lying dead.  I know he was dead as he did not breathe.  A policeman first touched the body.

To Mr. RENNIE. - I gave evidence before the Coroner [Here Mr. Rennie remarked that the present evidence of the boy was at variance with what he said before the Coroner, but that he could not  cross-examine him on that prior evidence without its being placed before him, which he did not think of much use.]  I did not go into the house.  No one staid outside with me.  The prisoner struck the deceased.  The black man had no knife.  It was thrown over by the prisoner to another man.  I did not see these men before.

JAMES WILLIAMS. - I am steward in the pilot boat, the Golden Gate.  I know the prisoner.  He lived on board the Golden Gate with me.  He left it two days before the man was killed.  On the 3rd April I met the prisoner about seven o'clock in a house by the Yang-king-pang.  I saw him at six o'clock the same day at the City of Hamburgh.  I saw him leave the City of Hamburgh and half an hour later met him in a house by the Yang-king-pang.  There were three othetrs there.  I did not tell the prisoner in which house the girl was.  He told me this himself.  All of us went into thje room.  There was a bed in it. I do not know what was in the bed.  The prisoner went up to the bed and pulled back the curtains.  He went out for a light. We staid in the house.  He then jumped into the bed and remained there some minutes.  The light went out as he jumped into the bed.  The light he got was taken from one by the door.  I heard no scream nor any noise.  He came out and said "he has got it" and shewed me his knife bloody.  I ran away, though I saw nothing.  I did not ask who "had got it."  A policeman arrested me.  I asked "what the trouble was" and he told me I should find out.  We were all of us perfectly quiet.  Nothing was said about thrashing any one.  The prisoner was the first to go up to the bed.  I did not pull the clothes off the bed.  The first time that day I saw the prisoner was about six.  He went up to the bed in the dark and pulled aside the curtains, then got a light and went back to the bed.  I had no knife with me.  The other men with me had not knives, so far as I know.  The sailors I know do not generally carry knives.  The prisoner was not excited.  I was not either.  I had been taking two or three glasses.

BASTIAN HOFFMAN. - I am an able seaman on board the Golden Gate, where I am known as Tom.  I know the prisoner. [The first portion of this witness' evidence merely alluded to the five men going out together to the Yang-king-pang.  I saw no one take a light.   *     *     *

The prisoner jumped into the bed.  I did nit see what happened there.  I heard groans.  The prisoner said "let us go, we have had enough, I have had satisfaction."  We then went to the City of Hamburgh.  We said nothing to one another, but smoked pipes and played cards.  I never asked what the groaning was about.  I saw no knife at all.

To Mr. RENNIE. - I had not been drinking.  I did not hear the dead man threatened. *     *     *

I saw no knife thrown into the Yang-king-pang.

LORENZO CARDINI. - I am unemployed now.  Three weeks ago I belonged to the Sea Mew.  After I left the ship I went to stop at the city of Hamburgh.  At five o'clock on the afternoon of the 3rd we met at the City of Hamburgh for supper.     *     *     *     I believe there were two rooms below in the house we went to.  There was no light in the inner room.  I did not go into it.  The black man came out of the inner room for a light.  I heard a girl call for the police.  I went quietly to the City of Hamburgh.

To Mr. Rennie. - *     *     *     I know nothing about a knife.  The prisoner, the back man and Tom went into the back room. I went away quietly by myself to the City of Hamburgh.

LAFONT BATISTE, a policeman, described finding the body.  A woman, as far as I could make out, told me the man had been murdered by four others.  A boy told another policeman a knife had been thrown into the Yang-king-pang.  This boy told us to go to a house in the French Concession and pointed out the prisoner and Hoffman from some eight or ten.  The other three were taken subsequently in the same house.

C. V. BONO.  I belong to the French police.  On Wednesday night I was at the Station.  Shortly after the prisoner was brought in I heard him deny the charge of murder, but he admitted having thrashed the deceased.      *     *     *     He said he jumped on the deceased and so did his friends.  He was the first to strike him he said.  He added, he had not the knife in his hand.  The prisoner himself told us the knife with which he stabbed the deceased was in the creek.  It was in answer to a question of Williams that he admitted having stabbed the dead man, and he told me when I asked where the knife was, that it was in the Yang-king-pang.

This closed the case for the prosecution.

No witnesses were called for the defence.

Mr. RENNIE. - I have appeared at the request of his Danish Majesty's Consul to watch this case on behalf of the prisoner.  My position is a somewhat peculiar one, as I have not had any communication with this prisoner.  In fact, beyond pleading "Not Guilty" he has declined to speak a word.  I therefore can only comment on the evidence and point out some of the discrepancies in it.

It is undeniable that the deceased met his death at the hand of one of the five men on the 3rd inst.  The questions are whether the mode of his death was such as to render the person causing it guilty of murder or of manslaughter, and whether again such person was the prisoner or some other.  The learned Counsel quoted from Russell on Crimes to shew that there must be a formed design to constitute murder, trhe absence of which would reduce the crime to manslaughter.  In the present case the evidence of the witnesses showed no revengeful feeling had been manifested by Sommer.  He had merely observed in a quiet way that Harris had gone away with his girl, and that he could not go and look for her.  I would remind you that A-ni's evidence against the prisoner is unconfirmed by that of any other witnesses. 

As to the evidence of the policeman how was it obtained?  Williams in attempting to exculpate himself put a question to the prisoner that led to an admission of his having stabbed Harris.  But no previous caution had been given to Sommer.  All the witnesses except Williams have deposed to the active part that he (Williams) took in the matter.  He it was who procured the light, who pulled apart the curtains and called out here he is.  Such words under the circumstances were calculated to rouse the prisoner's passions.  Why did he not say here she is, as it was A-ni for whom the prisoner was searching.  I feel sure you will give the prisoner the benefit of any doubt that may exist in your minds, and with these observations I leave the case in your hands.

The jury retired, and after about an hours absence returned a verdict of "Wilful murder but under circumstances of provocation."  The Consul then passed sentence in the following terms.

Prisoner at the bar, after a most patient trial by a jury of your own countrymen, you have been found guilty of the murder of Harris under circumstances of provocation.  It is therefore my painful duty to pass sentence.  You will be sent to Denmark as soon as an opportunity shall offer, there to be dealt with according to law.

[We have been obliged to excise a great deal of the evidence in this case, as being unfit for publication. - ED .]

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