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Colonial Cases

United States v. Sherburn, 1870

[sailors, maltreatment of]

United States v. Sherburn and others

United States Consular Court, Shanghai
5 August 1870
Source: The North-China Herald, 11 August 1870


Shanghai, August 5th, 1870.

Before O. B. BRADFORD.

The UNITED STATES v. BENJ. F. SHERBURN, Master, F. H. HEATH, first mate, and RICHARD HOFFMAN, second mate, of the American ship "Game Cock."

   Charge of abuse, assault and threats to do bodily injury to with intent to cause desertion.

   Judgment was delivered as follows:

   The charge is brought by four men, who claim that they had been driven or induced on shore by continued abuse at the hands of the second mate, Hoffman, and while in port.  The evidence is conflicting, but on a careful examination of it, I find that the complaints lie chiefly against Hoffman, who having an ill and quick temper, and a watch composed of inferior men, has had certainly some cause of irritation, and has not hesitated while in port to assume authority without his province.  His reputation is that of a capable and good officer, though of an irascible disposition; but I cannot admit his right to deal with his men within the jurisdiction of the Court, as it seems he has done.  The testimony points to similar conduct during the voyage.  His cross-examination of the witnesses proves to me that his method of dealing with his men has not been calculated to promote good feeling, or just discipline.  Good order and strict discipline may be preserved without continual verbal abuse, or the use of invectives coupled with threats of an exaggerated character.  I cannot justify his course in the premises, and I hereby severely reprimand him, with a warning of consequences to which he is liable from continued action of the sort, and I fine him $25.

   The aggrieved do not seem to have made any complaints to the master, but to have left the ship with no intention to return; and it appears that not until after their arrest, as absentees, did they evince any intention to prosecute.  I cannot justify their action, nor grant them their discharges as asked.  They will return on board ship to complete their contract as seamen, and will be liable, pro rata, for their jail expenses and cost of summons.

   There is much evidence in favor of the first mate, but his assault upon a seaman, sent on board from the Consulate by its officer, cannot be overlooked.  I fine him $10.

   On the part of the master, there seems to have been some severe discipline on the voyage out.  No complaint lies against him, except in connection with the charges against the second mate.  While he has high powers confided to him at sea, yet he should carefully see that those powers are not usurped by his subordinate officers.  I am disposed to think that, in this case, the second mate has exercised authority not entrusted or delegated to him, and that unknown to the master, and if suspected by the latter, not inquired into by him.  It is evident that he should carefully see that no abuse of men, at the hands of his officers, takes place out of sight; and should their conduct arouse suspicions of such practices, he should inquire into and rectify them.  Such laxity on his part may be the foundation for breaches of peace committed in port, and assaults in harbour cannot be overlooked.


Approved, R. JENKINS, Vice-Consul-General.

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