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Colonial Cases

Lee Choy Chum v. The Spark, 1872

[shipping, collision]

Lee Choy Chum v. The Spark

United States Consular Court, Canton
Source: Daily Alta California, 4 November 1871



An Appeal Case from the Consular Court of Canton, China.

We were shown yesterday a transcript of proceedings in the cause entitled the "Steamship Spark and other appellants vs. Lee Choi Chum et al., appellees," on appeal from the Consular Court of Canton, China, which has been filed in the Circuit Court of the United States in this city. The appeal was taken in pursuance of the Act of Congress dated July 1st, 1870, which provides that from final judgments of the (American) Consular Courts of China and Japan, where the amount in dispute exceeds the sum of $2,500, an appeal will lie to the United States Court for the District of California.  This case is the first which has been sent up by the Appellate Court in pursuance of the provisions of the Act.

The original action was instituted in the Court of Consul Jewell, at Canton, China, on July 31st, 1871, by Lee Choi Chum, Master of the Chinese Junk Shin Fat, against the steamer Spark, for an alleged collision, whereby the junk alluded to was sunk, and damages sustained to the amount of $7,112.50.  It appears from the record that on the morning of March sixteenth, 1871, the Shin Fat was lying at anchor at a place called the Nine Islands, Near Macao, when the steamer Spark bore down upon the junk and the two vessels collided, resulting in the complete wreck of the Shin Fat.  The junk had on board at the time a valuable cargo of merchandise, and was carrying passengers, 29 of whom were saved and 14 drowned.

The cause came up for hearing before Mr. Jewell, and a final judgment was therein rendered for the sum of $6,005.32 against the steamer Spark and her owners.  The respondents appeal from the decision to the E. S. Circuit Court for California, alleging that the Consul had no jurisdiction whatever over the subject matter.

The record consists mainly of the testimony of witnesses to the disaster, some of whom relate with considerable accuracy the doings of "a big, fat, foreigner" on board the Spark, who, whilst several of the passengers and crew of the wrecked vessel were endeavouring to save their lives by clambering on board the steamer, pushed some of them off into the water and left them to the mercy of the winds and waves.

Altogether the appeal is quite a novelty, the record of testimony alone being quite a feature in itself, consisting of a book 8x5 inches, written in Chinese characters much more concisely than if spread out on legal cap in the English language.

Source: Daily Alta California, 1 March 1872


An Appeal from the Consular Court at Canton Dismissed.

We published a short time ago an appeal case from the Consular Court of Canton, China, to the United States Circuit here.  The particulars of the case are briefly as follows:-

A Chinese junk was run down by the American steamer Spark at sea, and sunk, those on board narrowly escaping watery graves.  Lee Choy Chum, the owner of the junk, sued the steamer Spark to recover $6,000 damages.  The case was heard by the United States Consular Court at Canton, and judgment given for the plaintiff.  A recent Act of Congress provides that an appeal case can be taken from the decision of a Consular Court to a Circuit Court of the United States, and acting under this law the defendant appealed from the decision of the Consular Court of Japan to the United States Circuit Court here. Yesterday Judge Sawyer gave his decision.

He dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it was not properly before the Court; no claim having been made in the Court below, no appeal allowed; and no citation had been issued to the opposite party.  The Court remarked that this being the first case of appeal from a Consular Court, he was more particular in pointing out these errors; band he took occasion to recommend to practitioners in Consular Courts the necessity of studying some two or three well known and familiar works on Admiralty.  It will have the effect of saving time and expense, and of enabling them to put these cases properly before appellate Courts.

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