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Colonial Cases

The Barque Siam, 1867

[shipping, sabotage]


The Barque Siam

Bremen Consular Court, Shanghai
23 September 1867
Source: The North-China Herald, 9 October 1867



Shanghai, Sept. 23rd, 1867.

Before R. HANSEN, Esq., Bremen Consul.

J. NOLTING, C. SCHNEPEL, Associates.


In the matter of Captain H. Tiedemann and the crew of the barque Siam, with regard to abandoning the ship on the open sea and scuttling the same under circumstances of gravity, the Court has, after its sitting to-day, decided according to the verbal testimony.

That the papers &c., of Captain Tiedemann, with the report of these proceedings be sent to the High Senate of Bremen, for being further dealt with.  Captain H. Tiedemann had been guilty of a grave neglect of duty, inasmuch as he did nothing to prevent a portion of the crew from scuttling the vessel by cutting a hole in her side at the waterline, after as he said he had forbidden such act, which is confirmed by evidence of some of the crew.  The Court cannot help expressing its suspicion that the hole was cut, if not by Captain Tiedemann's order, but on the contrary against his orders, at least with his knowledge.

That the same course be adopted with the Seefartsbuch (Book of certificates) of the chief mate. J. C. Meyer, as with the papers of Captain H. Tiedemann, as no doubt a similar neglect of duty as that of Captain H. Tiedemann is chargeable to him, as a like suspicion rests upon him.

That the second mate, Jacob s, cook, C. Haak, sailors John Frances, Ato Gretke, Niels Honsen, Pilter Gricksen and the boy Charles Holm are to be acquitted of having taken part in scuttling the vessel, but be warned, and their imprisonment during the time of the enquiries into this case shall be their punishment for not having reported what they knew of the scuttling when they entered their protest.

That sailors P. W. Harms and Richard Jones shall remain in gaol for four months or until further instructions be received from the High Senate of Bremen.  They have been found guilty of having cut a hole above the water line of the Bremen barque Siam, shortly before they left the vessel.

R. HEINSEN, Consul.

J. NOLTING, Assessor.


Shanghai, 24th Sept., 1867.


SIR, - In the case of the criminal abandonment of the Bremen barque Siam, I cannot agree with the decision given by the Bremen Consul.

I believe that Captain Tiedemann and the first mate J. C. Meyer, were fully aware that a part of the crew were at work cutting a hole in the vessel, and that they did nothing to prevent it.  Their protest has, therefore, been false.

Six months' imprisonment, I think, would be a very mild punishment for them, as also three months imprisonment for thr two sailors.



Source: The North-China Herald, 9 October 1867


A JUDGMENT given by the Bremen Consular Court, in a recent case of barratry, has been the subject of much comment.  A few weeks ago, the master and the crew of the Bremen barque Siam landed at Shanghai, and affirmed that they had been obliged to desert their ship in consequence of injuries received by her during the typhoon.  Their tale was of course credited, and they were duly sympathised with.  But a few days later, the British ship Dartmouth picked up the identical baroque, still afloat, though with a large hole cut in her stern.  She was partially dismantled, but still in fair condition, having, we believe only three feet of water in the hold, and her lower masts standing.  The rudder, however, was gone; and though she had a spare main-yard on deck, there were no tools on board out of which the carpenter could fashion a temporary one.  Some hands were at once put on board her, and she was brought  safely to this port, where she now lies in custody of the British Supreme Court, pending decision of the Dartmouth's  claim for salvage, or until her Agents, or the Insurance office, claim her.

In the meantime, a criminal charge against the master and crew, for attempting to scuttle her, naturally suggested itself, and they have been tried before the Bremen Consul and two assessors.  The whole crew acknowledged to cognisance of the act, and two men admitted that they themselves cut the hole; the master and mate alone denying any knowledge of the matter.  The Court sentenced the two admitted culprits to four months imprisonment, or until instructions could be received from Bremen regarding them; and dismissed all the others, including the master, though expressing a suspicion that the hole could not have been made without his knowledge.

We are not aware what punishment Bremen law allows in similarly atrocious cases; but an Englishman guilty of maliciously damaging a ship, with intent to destroy or render it useless, is guilty of felony, and liable to three years penal servitude.  The evidence in this case is as clear as day; the men say that, just before abandoning the ship, they cut a hole in her side with an axe, while hanging over the side by a rope.  The Court itself admits the inference of complicity on the part of the master and mate to be strong; but there is a strange absence of any criminal motive for the act.  The cargo of the ship was not insured, so there could have been no hope of realizing a surplus over and above its value, out of the Insurance.  The ship itself was sound, and there was no apparent motive for desiring her destruction.  Ingenious research might succeed in finding one possible reason for the act, if the master chose to allege it.  When a vessel becomes waterlogged far from port, and her fate is inevitable, to hasten her sinking may be an act of wise forethought.  It is nearly impossible to detect a floating hulk on dark night, and a sound ship might sun against it and be lost.  But, so far from pleading this, which would probably have been accepted as an adequate motive, the master denies all knowledge of the act.  And so far as we can learn, the confessed culprits acquit him of any complicity.

We are not in possession of the evidence elicited, and in its absence, no correct opinion on the case can possibly be arrived at; but no further evidence that that of common sense is needed, to convince any man who has been on board a sailing ship, of the impossibility that a hole should be cut in any part of her with an axe without every one on board being aware of the noise.  Yet neither master nor mate enquire what is this noise?  The supposition seems absurd; and the only possible explanation is that the sound was overcome by the noise of preparation for departure.

To summarise the case, had any possible motive for scuttling the barque been apparent, the inferential evidence would, we think, have been amply sufficient to inculpate the master and mate in the transaction.  It seems inexplicable that they could have been unaware of such a proceeding as cutting a hole in the vessel's side, by men hanging outside on a rope, in tolerably fair weather.  And yet no possible motive can be assigned for their guilty complicity in the act. A loophole of escape was open for them - they might have said they wished to sink her out of the way of other ships - but they do not avail of it.  We cannot but think that sufficient ground for suspicion existed, to justify the Consul in detaining them, pending reference to superior judicial authority.

True, the matter has been referred to the High Senate of Bremen; but pending their decision the master and mate are both at large, and may easily betake themselves to any port other than Shanghai, before that decision can be known.  Of the sentences passed on the two confessed culprits, we say nothing.  They are to be imprisoned, till a decision on their case can be obtained from Bremen, so it is possible their four months may be increased to four tears, if they be thought to deserve the increased penalty.

Another interesting question is raised in connection with this affair - in what Court shall the claim for salvage be disposed of?  The Dartmouth being a British ship, naturally handed over her prize to the English Admiralty Court, on arriving in Shanghai; and if Shanghai were an English port, that Court would of course adjudicate on her claim.  But we are here in China, of foreign soil and, the Siam being a Bremen barque, the Bremen Consul claims jurisdiction in the matter.  The question is a new one, and could only arise in a country where extraterritorial rights are accorded to foreigners.  There is much to be said on both sides.  But the question is simplified by the fact that neither the Agents for the Company in which the barque was insured, nor the Agents for the Bremen owners, have yet come forward to claim her.  Public notice has been given that, unless she were claimed before the 25th Sept., the English Admiralty Court would proceed to make such order as might appear fit.  But no claimant has yet appeared.  If they did so, the argument that, the Siam being a Bremen barque, any question affecting her interests here should be heard before the Bremen Consul, would be strengthened.  But as it is, she being a derelict under lien, so to speak, to a British ship, it seems natural that the latter should claim the same privilege she would enjoy, had she entered an English port - of having her case adjudicated upon by her national authorities.  The Siam may say that her interests are principally concerned, and she has a right to be sued before her own Consul; but she would not enjoy that privilege in any other country; why in China?  As we said before, however, there is much to be said on both sides, and we cannot pretend to exhaust the arguments.

In the meantime, action is suspended until the return of the Chief Judge, whose decision on the knotty point is wished.


Source: The North-China Herald, 25 October 1867

The salvage claim of the Dartmouth against the Siam has been tried in the English Court.  The Chief Judge awards about Tls. 5,000 in rewards and expenses.


Source: The North-China Herald, 9 November 1867

The hull of the barque Siam has been sold by auction  for Tls. 3,600, and the sails and stores for Tls. 400, altogether Tls. 4,000.

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