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Colonial Cases

Shanghai Inquest, 1870

[inquest into death]

Shanghai Inquest

(Chinese) Chehsien, Shanghai
9 September 1870
Source: The North-China Herald, 15 September 1870



September 9.

Before the CHEHSIEN.

   An inquest was held at the Hongkew police Station, by the Chehsien, on the bodies of children accidentally shot at the rifle Butts; H.B.M.'s Consul watched the proceedings.

   The Chehsien, having questioned the parents of the deceased, proceeded to inspect the bodies.  He no sooner cast eyes on them than he assumed that it had taken two shots to kill the deceased, and authoritatively declared such to be his opinion.  Mr. Medhurst objected to any such hasty and foregone conclusion being come to without examination of witnesses.  The Hsien said witnesses were needless, in the face of the appearance shewn by the bodies; and angrily suggested that the Consul might consult any of his own country's medical men, and see whether they would not bear him (the Hsien) out in his opinion.  Dr. Macgowan here came forward and endeavoured to explain that it did not necessarily need more than one shot to kill more men than one.  The Hsien scouted Dr. Macgowan's statements, and vehemently repeated his own opinion that there had been more shots than one fired.  H.B.M.'s Consul again insisted on witnesses being heard, and the Hsien again declared them to be needless.  The Consul thereupon angrily told the Hsien that, if he persisted in his ridiculous assumption, the proceedings must be at an end, as far as he was concerned.  He would have nothing to do with them, nor would he accept them as formal.

   The Hsien became very wroth.  He repudiated the idea of anything he did being "ridiculous."  He was there to do his duty, and protect the sacred charged Heaven had placed in his hands, namely the lives of his children.  These could not be lightly thrown away.  He then, in a very loud voice, and with repetitions of similar language, proceeded to harangue the crowd, evidently for the sake of effect.  H.B.M.'s Consul repeated the assertion that he was simply making himself ridiculous.  The Hsien angrily moved away from the bodies, told the attendants to place them in front of the little table at which the Hsien had opened the proceedings, and said to the Consul - "There are the bodies, now do you inquest them yourself.  I am ridiculous fool."

   The Consul went to the table, took up a paper lying there with a list of names upon it, and enquired what it was.  "A list giving the names of Tepow, relations, &c.," said the Hsien.  The Consul asked if any of these had witnessed the accident.  "No, nobody saw it," returned the Hsien, "but those dead boys."  The Consul replied, "Pardon me.  Several foreign gentlemen were present, and I demand that they be examined, before any conclusion is come to."  "I don't w ant evidence," rejoined the Hsien; "the wounds suffice as evidence.  By Chinese law they are all the evidence needed, wounds speak truth, men tell lies."

   The Consul then argued how that the scene which they had that moment witnessed, gave very good proof that wounds were not sufficient evidence, and that Chinese law was faulty in making them so, seeing that they had led the Hsien into an utterly absurd and false conclusion. The Hsien thereupon yielded, and asked where the Consul's witnesses were.  One or two were produced instanter, and H.B.M. Consul begged Mr. Forbes to state what he saw, the Consular Linguist, Yang-he-ding, interpreting for the Hsien.

   Mr. FORBES, the nearest witness to the occurrence gave evidence.  He said Mr. Maclean had just exchanged rifles, and had retired behind the other foreigners who were shooting.  Mr. Maclean was talking to wirness, and showing him how stiffly the trigger of his rifle pulled, unaware that it was loaded.  He let it hang its own weight on his finger, and remarked that the hammer should fall by its own weight.  The boys were standing a little way off, in a bunch.  He had brought it up to the horizontal position, with the muzzle somewhat elevated, when the hammer fell.

   The Hsien suggested that there might have been two shots in the rifle.  Mr. Forbes shewed how this was impossible.

   "Very well then" said the Hsien, "if Mr. Forbes' evidence is to be relied on, the bullet must have gone through the skull of the one boy to hit the other - see if this be the case." But the Hsien, unconvinced, told his attendants to examine the head, and eventually got up and inspected it himself.  He then acknowledged the fact, and declared that no other evidence was needed.

   H.M. Consul offered to bring forward other gentlemen, who could corroborate what Mr. Forbes had said.  The Hsien declined to hear more.

      The parents of the unfortunate youths then were called forward, and, kneeling, received the finding of the Hsien, that the deaths had been occasioned by purely accidental causes.

   H.B.M.'s Consul begged that this decision might be recorded.  On his being assured that it was, he addresses the parents through Yang-he-ding, referring to the verdict just given, expressing the very poignant regrets of the whole body of volunteers, and more especially of the one from whose hand the shot had been fired, and the sad consequences of that discharge, and assuring them that, if they would but wait patiently, they would have no cause to complain of the liberality of the foreigners in relieving their unfortunate condition.

   The parents exhibited a very natural sorrow at the bereavement, but complained bitterly of the result of the inquest, remarking how different it would have been had a Chinese shot a foreigner.  Both Hsien and Consul endeavoured to quiet them, and induce them to accept their fate, and leave themselves as much as possible to the favourable consideration of the foreign community.

   Mr. Medhurst availed himself of the opportunity to warn those of the villagers present, who lived in the vicinity of the Butts, to prohibit their children from indulging in the dangerous practice so common to them for years past, of collecting round the volunteers whilst practising, to pick up empty cartridges.  The Hsien promised to issue a proclamation on the subject.

   The HSIEN then ordered the bodies to be restored to the parents, and gave them a few dollars for immediate expenses of burial, etc.  Mr. Superintendent Penfold also saw that the relatives did not go away empty-handed.

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