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Colonial Cases

R. v. Williams, 1871


R. v. Williams

Supreme Court of China and Japan
1 June 1871
Source: The North-China Herald, 2 June 1871




June 1st, 1871.

Before C. W. GOODWIN, Esq., and a Jury.


Wilful Murder.

   His Lordship having taken his seat on the bench, the prisoner was placed in the dock and answering to his name, called by Mr. Bishop the Clerk of the Court, heard the indictment read.

   The following are the terms of the Indictment: - Shanghai to wit. - George Jamieson Esquire, Acting Law Secretary of H.B.M.'s Supreme Court for China and Japan, charges William Williams for that he, the said William Williams, on thr 24th day of May 18712, feloniously, wilfully and of his malice aforethought  did kill and murder one Thomas Mitchinson, against the peace of our Lady the Queen, her crown and dignity.

   To the question, How say you, guilty or not guilty,

   Prisoner answered - Not guilty.

   The Clerk of the Court then called the jurors, and the following answered to their names: - C. Edbrook, G. G. Mayne, F. C. Gwyn, B. A. Valentine, G. Bailey.

   His Lordship to prisoner - If you wish to object to any of these gentlemen, you have now the opportunity of doing so.

   Prisoner said he had no objection to any of the Jury.

   The Jury were then sworn, and the Clerk of the Court read to them the indictment and the prisoner's plea of not guilty.

   His Lordship to prisoner - Are you without counsel?

   Prisoner - yes, I did not know but that I had some here for me.

   The Public Prosecutor then opened his case.  He said, - My Lord and Gentlemen of the jury - The prisoner has been indicted on the charge of wilful murder.  He is a seaman on board a British schooner now in this harbour, where the alleged crime took place.  The evidence I am about to call will unfold a simple story, and I have only to request your attention to it.  The first witness I have to call is

   HENRY WATKINS, who, sworn, stated - I am an able seaman on board the schooner "Anne." I remember the night the mate was killed.  I was on watch that night.  I know the prisoner at the bar, who is an able seaman on board the same ship.  About half-past eleven on the 23rd May prisoner came on board while I was on watch.

   Prisoner - If you please Sir, he said before it was twelve o'clock.

   His Lordship - Well, you may question him presently.

   Witness continued - Prisoner was in drink at the time.  He was using threats ands bad language towards the mate and we took him forward.  He called the mate by a bad term and after that he came aft again and the mate went and asked him to go forward.  He said he would if he liked, and then he struck the matte, I could mot say where.  He struck him with his hand, and they both fell.  We parted them and took his forward.  The prisoner then went below and I remained on deck.  Next I saw of him was that he came on deck and ran right aft to the wheel and was going forward.  He sung out for the mate, who was coming upstairs, and asked what he wanted.  Prisoner said - "I want you, you son of a -----"I can't say what reply was made.  The mate ordered him off the poop when he came up, and asked him to go forward and keep quiet.  Prisoner went down on to the main deck and the mate followed him off the poop and again asked him to go forward.  There were words between them but what they were I can't say.  I saw a struggle between the two, and the prisoner said "I'll finish you, you son of a ''----'" and I turned round and saw him strike the mate, who gave a shriek and ran to the cabin.  I saw nothing in prisoner's hand.  It was dark.  The mate ran down the cabin stairs and the prisoner walked forward.  I did not hear him say anything.  He went below, and I saw him no more till the policemen came.

   Prisoner - His statement is quite different now from what it was before.

   His Lordship said prisoner could now question the witness.

   Witness to prisoner - I did not see you strike the mate with a knife, but I did see you strike him.

   Prisoner remarked that witness had before said he saw him strike the mate with a knife.

   Witness - I did not see you with the knife.

   Prisoner then made some remarks not audible.

   His Lordship said he could not hear prisoner's questions to the witness.

   Prisoner - I am asking him why he did not try to seize me and prevent me doing bodily harm to the mate; as he said he had seen me with a knife and strike the mate with it.

   His Lordship asked witness whether he had said on his former examination that he had seen prisoner strike the mate with a knife.

   Witness said he had not.  He and some others of the crew did all they could, but to no good; prisoner always went aft again.  They could do nothing with him.

   Prisoner said the witness had himself been on shore and perhaps scarcely knew what he was doing, that night.

   His Lordship thought it would be well to know if the witness varied in his statement.

   The Public prosecutor said he did not think the point material.  The witness might not give his evidence with the same correctness as when the affair was fresh on his mind.

   His Lordship to witness - Well, you are upon your oath now, and required to say whether you did see a knife in prisoner's hand, with which he struck the mate, and whether you said formerly that you did.

   Witness - No; I did not see a knife.  I can't say whether it was a moonlight night.

   His Lordship having repeated the witness' answer,

   Prisoner said he had witness' written statement in his hand, of his former evidence.

   His Lordship said it would be for the Jury to consider whether witness now altered that statement to a certain extent, but what the witness now said was so far in the prisoner's favour.

   Witness to prisoner - I can't say whether I heard you say you wanted to fight the mate.

   By the Court - I did not see what happened in the last struggle the prisoner had with the mate, nor whether the mate at any time struck prisoner.  The mate and prisoner were alone.  I was standing by the fore rigging.  There were three of us tried three times to get prisoner forward.  He was not insensibly drunk.

   ISIDOR VIDAL, sworn, stated - I am a medical practitioner in Shanghai.  I remember being called to the schooner "Anne" about one on the morning of the 24th.  I went on board and down to the cabin, where I was shown by the captain the body of a dead man.  The captain requested me to examine the man, to ascertain whether he was dead or not.  I found him lying on hjis back with his breast uncovered, a wound on the left and upper side with a quantity of blood on the body and on the floor.  I satisfied myself of the death and asked the captain how it happened.  He said the man had been stabbed.  I asked the captain to show me the knife and was shown a knife which was not the one but of the same pattern, sharp at the point but broadening up to the handle, and from thje appearance of the wound I supposed it must have been inserted up to the hilt.  The depth of the wound I did not measure, but it must have been two or three inches and have cut some large arteries, judging from the quantity of blood.  The knife shown me is sufficiently broad to have caused the wound, from the effects of which I think the man died.

   Prisoner had no questions to ask.

   By the Court - I could find no other wound than that on the left and upper part of the breast.

   JOHN WADE, sworn, stated - I am a seaman on board the schooner "Anne," and remember the night of the 23rd.  I know the prisoner, who came on board about half-past eleven, using all sorts of bad language to every one on board the ship, but to the mate especially.  The mate came up after prisoner had been on board about half-an-hour saying to him to make less noise there.  Prisoner said to him "Who are you, you son of a -----?" and the mate said "Never mind who I am, you go to sleep."  The mate then said "Go forward," and Williams replied, "I'll go forward when I like."  I helped to get Williams down to the forecastle, and there was a bucket of water there with which one of the men had been washing his feet.  Williams got hold of the bucket, emptied it all over the forecastle, and then broke it on the floor.  He went on deck then and went aft.  I went up a little after and found the mate on deck in his stockings.  The mate said "Take this man forward." I and another man went to get prisoner to go forward and Williams struck me.  We got him forward, and I went down to the forecastle.  Williams went on deck again, and I followed, and saw him go right round the wheel.  He was coming forward again when he sung out for the mate, and just as he got to the end of the companion the mate came up and  said "What do you want Williams?"  Williams said "I want you, you son of a -----."  I came forward and went down into the forecastle, where I had been about two or three minutes when I heard the mate scream.  I ran on deck, and while I was going aft Williams was coming forward and saying "I have done for you, you son of a -----, now."   I went down to the cabin and found the mate lying in the floor; just alive.  I did not see him die, as the captain sent me for a doctor.  He was lying there when I came back with the doctor, but he was then dead.  I did not hear Williams threaten the mate before the scuffle took place.

   Prisoner had no questions to put.

   By the Court - It was very dark that night.  I heard Williams say "I have done for you now," and knew it was he who was there.  I saw nothing further of him after he said those words.  I had not known of any bad feeling between the mate and the prisoner except that the latter might be occasionally dissatisfied, as most men sometimes are on board ship.  I had not till that night ever seen prisoner drunk, nor quarrel with the other sailors, and I have no reason to think him a quarrelsome man.

   CHARLES HARMER, sworn, said - I am a seaman on board the Anne," and know prisoner.  I was in his company at 7 o'clock on the evening of the 23rd, on board the "Mexicana."  We got back to our ship at 11.30. We talked of the mate on board the "Mexicana," about an affair between the mate and prisoner that day, when the mate spoke to him about some scrubbing.  Prisoner spoke about this and said that when the mate found fault with his scrubbing he had kicked the bucket over and that if the mate had been anything of a man he would have taken it up.  We had two square bottles of gin in the forecastle of the "Mexicana," and there were nine of us there, two belonging to out ship, three to the "Leucadia," and the others to the brig.  We left the "Mexicana" about 11.20, ands had a sampan to take us on board.

   When we got there Williams made a great noise after he got over the gangway.  I suppose it was trhe liquor he had in him made him noisy.  He caught me by the throat, shook me, and, grinding hjis teeth very much, said "I'll serve the mate like that."  I felt scared, and kept my distance after that.  I felt timid-like.  I did not know but what he might give me a punching.  After a good deal of trouble the watchman and I got him below, and I went to my bunk.  Williams drew down the ladder, and I got up and put it right, and Williams slapped it down again.  I put it up again, and then he seized the bucket of water and dashed that down and commenced to tear up the ladder.  I went after him.  The mate told him to go forward, and he said "I will if I like."

   The mate came off the poop then to the main deck, near the hencoop, and told him to go forward, but Williams made a slap at him and struck him on the face.  The mate fell and prisoner fell on top of him, and as he fell his head struck on the hencoop and began to bleed.  I took him away and got a bucket of water to wash it, but he left me and went aft again.  I followed and saw him shake hands with the Captain and then run to the other side, the port side, where he fell down and stayed there sitting, and bleeding very much.  I got him forward from there once more, but he tore away aft again, out of my hands.  I did not go further aft than the carpenter's bench, and saw him run round the poop as far as the wheel and come back to the companion.  I heard the mate say "What do you want?" and Williams answer "I want you, you son of a -----."  I then went below, saying to the others I would have no more to do with the man.  I heard the mate scream aloud twice and ran on deck, and near the forecastle saw Williams making motions.  I could not tell what he was doing, but his hands were moving where he usually kept his sheath.  It was dark, but I could see where he was.

   Prisoner objected to this statement as being different from former ones made by the same witness.

   Witness - I have only left out about your striking the mate in the eye and saying "You son of a ----, I'll strike you again."

   Prisoner read witness' former evidence; and observed that the witness had then stated he saw him (prisoner) wiping his knife.

   By the Court - I did not see that, and if I had seen prisoner with a knife I would have taken it from him.  Did not before say that I had seen it.  Sailors generally have knives, but I did not notice one then with Williams.  I did not hear him say anything which led me to think he meditated injuring the mate. I formerly said that I saw Williams drink three times a basin of gin, the size of a small Chinese chow-chow basin, about two wine glasses each time, but did not notice him much, as I was sitting apart and joining in a song.  I did not think when he said "if the mate were a man he would have taken it up," that he intended anything but a fight.  I often hear remarks of such a character.  Prisoner had no more drink after coming on board his own ship.

   It was about ten minutes after we came on board prisoner had the struggle with the mate.  I can't recollect exactly how long it was after that before I heard the mate scream.  I have seen prisoner drunk before.  I have been pretty nearly three months in this ship with him and about six weeks in the "Jane Spiers." I can't say how many times I have seen him drunk.  In Nagasaki once I had orders to let no men on shore and Williams had a little too much and wanted to go.  I would not let him, so he went into the forecastle and took away the ladder so that I could not get down.  I have always found him a good shipmate when sober.  I cannot say whether he was unusually drunk on this occasion.  I had drunk very little myself.

   JAMES KING, sworn, stated - I am a seaman on board the "Anne" and know the prisoner.  I was not on deck on the night in question.  I was confined to my berth, when the prisoner came down and knocked the ladder away.  He also took me by the hair of the head and pulled me half out of my bunk.  Prisoner went on deck, and I was lying with my head out of the bunk when I heard a scream.  A few minutes after that prisoner came down below and wiped his knife, and said the mate had been folling of him all the evening but he had given him enough for three feet and a half of coffin.  I can't swear to the knife, but it was very much like that produced.  I saw him wipe it and put it into his sheath. We had a light in the forecastle but it was very dim.  There might have been about twenty minutes between prisoner's first and last coming into the forecastle.  The first time he came down he had not his head cut.  I am certain that it was a knife he was wiping.  I have known thje man three months, and found him a very good shipmate if he would keep from drink.

   Prisoner had no questions to put.

   HENRY YEOMANS, sworn, stated - I am a detective in the Police Force.  I went on board the "Anne" to arrest a man named Williams, the prisoner.  He was lying on the forecastle floor,

We called him by name several times and got some water and put it on him before we could rouse him.  We then put the irons on him and took him away.  Mr. Fowler took the knife produced out of the sheath, and it has been in my keeping since.  The prisoner was very violent all the way to the station, and very talkative, calling me by name and asking me who put me on the scent.  While we were taking him along he said "I have been locked up several times, and the next time it will be for something."  I put no questions to him, and did not answer him anything to what he said.  He was very much excited

   M r. JAMIESON said that was the case for the prosecution.

   CHARLES HARMER, recalled, by the Court - I said I saw a scuffle in which prisoner fell down and cut his forehead.  The mate told him to go forward and he said "I will if I like, and made a blow at the mate, striking him in the face.  The mate fell down with Williams on the top of him.  I don't know that the mate struck Williams.  They were wrestling but I did not see the mate strike.  When Williams struck the mate he clung to him, and the mate must have tripped and fallen down with Williams on top of him.  Williams struck the corner of the hencoop in falling.  I did not hear the mate say anything.  Williams said nothing when he struck his head.  I took him forward and tried to wash him, but he broke away and ran aft.  I cannot say how long it was from the time Williams struck his head till I Heard the mate scream.  It might be quarter of an hour.

   His Lordship asked if prisoner had any witnesses to call.

   Prisoner - Only one man from the "Mexicana," who wanted to keep me on board there that night.

   His Lordship - You are now upon your defence, and may make any explanation or statement you please, as well as call this or any other wirness.  Perhaps you had better hear the evidence before saying anything.

   ROBERT MANSFIELD, sworn, stated - I am an A.B. on board the "Mexicana."  Prisoner came on board on Tuesday evening 23rd May between 6 and 7, in company with Harmer.  We talked on deck for a quarter of an hour and then went below, to the forecastle, where we took some liquor and commenced singing till about 11.15.  The man had become very drunk and quite insensible to what he was doing.  We put him on a bed but Harmer took him off and said he should take him on board.  I said no, he had better stop there for the night.  They decided to take him to his ship, and we took him out of the bunk and got him on deck and into the sampan.  We had three bottles of liquor among seven

   This witness was all but inaudible.

   His Lordship asked if prisoner had anything to say to the Jury.

   Prisoner - The only thing I have to say is that I don't recollect anything of it.  I cannot say whether it was on board my own ship or on board the "Mexicana," but I recollect getting a heavy blow from the mate, and that was all I knew.  My head was swollen up by the blow so that I could not see for three days afterwards, as the officers of the prisoner can tell. I was bruised all over the side of my head.  I can't recollect anything else, Sire, I can't think of it.

   His Lordship then said - Gentlemen of the Jury - I need not remind you of the solemn nature of the duty which you have to perform to-day.  You have to consider the question as to whether a murder has been committed by the prisoner before you.  The evidence no doubt is perfectly simple and clear, but I must begin by telling you what the law lays down with regard to murder, how it defines murder, and what is the difference between that and other forms of homicide. I think I need hardly go into the evidence as to the facts of this present crime, because it will  appear pretty clear from what you have heard that the mate was stabbed, and also that this was done by the prisoner before you.

   Now, with regard to murder, the definition of that crime is the malicious taking way of life. And when the law speaks of malice prepense, it is not to be understood that the word malice means long preconceived meditation of \killing - it means a present wicked intent.  [His Lordship then read from Archbold's Pleadings and Evidence in Criminal Cases showing that though a prisoner is in an indictment accused of murder by malice prepense, the jury mujst not be allowed to think that malice should be proved to have existed for some time previously.  The legal differed from then common acceptation of malice.] I must therefore lay down to you as law that if you should find from the evidence which has been laid before you that this accused person, without any just or lawful cause, inflicted death upon the mate of his ship, it need not be proved that he did it with premeditation.  But there are some extenuations of the crime of homicide, and it is for you to consider whether there is any extenuation in this case.
   A man who voluntarily takes away his own senses is not thereby excused if he goes gthe length if taking away life, but rather the reverse, because drink brings out those malignant feelings which lie dormant in him.  I will not say that there might not be cases where a man may, in a certain way, involuntarily get drunk, take a dose of a dram which reduces him to a state of frenzy, so that he might really not be aware what he was doing.  It might be considered that then he caused death accidentally or unknowingly, but if his will was concerned in it, if drink did not take such a hold of his faculties as to prevent his willing or wishing to kill, then you cannot admit that condition as any extenuation.

   Then the law allows provocation.  If a man receives provocation, so that his passions are aroused and he there and then  kills a man the law takes a lenient view of it and pronounces the homicide to be not murder but manslaughter.  Now it will be for you to consider whether there is anything in the evidence upon which to form such a conclusion - that the prisoner received an amount of provocation which could extenuate and justify to a certain extent the violence he used.  It certainly does appear that he was wild with gthe effects of thje liquor he took, and he seems to have been using words against the mate.  It would appear therefore that he had not lost the control of his faculties, that he knew to a certain extent what he was about.  He went up to the mate, a scuffle ensued, and he fell down, which he alleges is all that he recollects of then circumstances.  Now it might be possible that in the scuffle the mate had been so fat the means of provoking him, and that this was some extenuation of the deed he afterwards did.  I must leave that to you to consider.

   I think I am justified in leaving it to you to consider whether the fact of his falling and having sustained some injury could be pleaded in hjis behalf.  Looking at all the evidence you have, however, it does not in the slightest show any voluntary provocation on the part of the mate, but it is for you to come to a  conclusion as to whether there may be anything in the circumstances which may extenuate the crime, and in that case to bring in a verdict of manslaughter.  I point out this to you as a possible means of defence for the prisoner.  He had not been defended upon the present occasion, has had no legal assistance, and possibly had some legal gentleman been here to assist him points of that character would be brought forward.  I therefore put it before you, if you can find any case of extenuation.

   But if you find that he knew what he was about, that it appears to you he had present malice in his heart against the mate, and that at the moment he intended to kill him, then his state of drunkenness is not in law any excuse as extenuation.  Provocation might be, and if you can find anything in what you have heard to lead you to think that he had received some slight provocation, and that but a very short time had elapsed between that ands the time he committed the deed, you may come to the conclusion that the crime is manslaughter and not murder. The witness could not say how great the time was between prisoner's head having struck the hencoop and the deed being done. Some minutes must have elapsed, and the law lays down that if a man has time to cool before he attacks another in such circumstances there is no extenuation.  Here the mate seems to have been stabbed about a quarter of an hour afterward, and I leave the point for your consideration.

   I think I need not particularize the evidence any further.  What we have heard gives us a very simple story.  We find that thje prisoner came on board very excited, and used some language and threats, not only towards the mate but towards toner persons; that he was several times taken forward and returned back.  He was at this time in a very excited state, occasioned by an overdose of liquor.  In the scuffle which ensues, he becomes perhaps further irritated, and shortly afterwards does the deed.  These are the circumstances, and it is for you to say that the prisoner knowingly and wilfully murderer a fellow-man or whether you see anything to extenuate the crime.  With these remarks I will now leave the case in your hands.

   The Jury having retired, returned in about 5 minutes.

   His Lordship to the Jury - Have you agreed upon your verdict.

   Mr. Bailey, foreman, - Yes, my Lord, wilful murder.

   His Lordship - Prisoner, the verdict by the Jury is that you are guilty of wilful murder.  Have you any reason to urge why the sentence of the law should not be passed upon you.

   Prisoner - All I know is that my heart would not allow me to do it.  I am all alone here, without a friend, a poor seaman, working hard for my living, and every one here who knows me knows that my only fault is that of taking a little drink.  I never drew a knife; I struck a man once who drew one in my presence, and that was Charles Harmer.

   His Lordship then assumed the black cap and said - That cannot be taken into commiseration here.  You have been found guilty by a Jury, of the crime of wilful murder.  The circumstances in which you committed it are in fact no excuse for it; and it now only remains for me to pronounce the sentence of the law upon you.  The sentence is that you be taken to the place from whence you came, and that in due course of time you be taken thence and hanged by the neck till you are dead, and that your body be buried in the precincts of the prison.  And may God have mercy on your soul.

    Prisoner, vehemently - Then I am an ill-used man.  I am wronged; before God and man I am wronged.  But God be thanked I am going home and every one will have fair play there.

   The prisoner was then removed, bearing himself very calmly, and the Court was cleared.

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