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Colonial Cases

Commissioner of Customs v. Beeching, 1876

[customs duties]

Commissioner of Customs v. Beeching, Master of the Barque Ellen Brown

Consular Court, Shanghai
Medhurst, 25 May 1876
Source: The North China Herald, 27 May 1876




Shanghai, 25th May.

Before W. H. MEDHURST, Esq., Consul.




The Master of the British Barque Ellen Brown.

   The Commissioner was invited to take his seat on the Bench.

   The COURT - This is a Court held under the rules for joint-investigation in cases of confiscation and fine, to hear and determine a charge brought by the Customs against Mr. Harry Beeching, master of the British barque Ellen Brown, for having offended against the 37th Article of the treaty, in presenting a false manifest of the cargo of the vessel, thereby subjecting himself to a fine of Tls. 500.  Have you anything to say, Mr. Beeching?  Do you plead guilty, or not guilty?

   The defendant - I plead not guilty.

   The COURT - You don't admit it.

   The defendant - No; but I admit signing the manifest, believing that all the cargo was on board.

   The COURT - Do you admit signing the manifest, believing that all the cargo was on board.

   Defendant - I certainly signed a manifest which was not in accordance with the cargo on board, but it was no fault of mine; I was misled by other people.

   The COURT called for evidence.

   Mr. G. B. GLOVER, the Commissioner of Customs, produced the manifest which he had deceived from the Ellen Brown.  It was handed to the defendant, and he admitted that it was signed by him, and was the same which he sent to the Customs.

    Mr. G. F. MULLER, one of the assistants in the Customs being sworn, deposed - This paper produced has been initialled by me; my initials are in the corner.  It is the manifest which was handed in to the office of account of the Ellen Brown.

   Mr. GLOVER - The next point is when the discrepancy was discovered - the ship was very slow in discharging, and it was only discovered on the 24th of April that the manifest was a false on e, the cargo on board not agreeing with the manifest, - I write this letter to the captain, and I now propose to hand it in.

   The COURT - You had better go into the box and giver your evidence.

   Mr. GLOVER was then sworn and said - I repeat on oath what I just stated, that when the facts of the case came before me I addressed this letter to the Captain.  The letter was read as follows:

Shanghai, 24th April, 1876.

SIR, - My attention  having been called to the incorrectness of the manifest of the Ellen Brown, signed by you, by which, under Art. XXXVII of the British Treaty, you render yourself liable to a fine of Tales 500, I have to call upon you to hand to me, in writing, any explanation you may have to offer of this incorrectness.

I am, &c.,

                  GEO. B. GLOVER, Commission of Custom s.

Captain H. BEECHING,

British Barque Ellen Brown,  Shanghai.

I received an answer, and that is all that took place as far as I am concerned. 
   The answer was read by the Court.  It was as follows:-

Shanghai, April 25th, 1876

Commissioner of Customs, Shanghai.

SIR, - In answer to your letter of yesterday's date, regarding the incorrectness of the manifest of the Ellen Brown, in your possession, signed by me, the only explanation I can give is that I was not aware the cargo therein described was not on board the vessel till such time as the packages and bales were nearly all discharged.  As soon as I discovered the cargo was short shipped, I made the fact known  to my Agents Messrs. Wheelock & Co., who, I have no doubt, have already notified you.  Trusting that this explanation will be satisfactory to you.

I am, Sir. &c., &c.,

   The COURT - Is there any evidence to show that the  cargo on board was not in accordance with the manifest.

   Mr. T. R. WHEELOCK (the Consignee of the Ellen Brown)- The captain admits the cargo was mot there.

   The COURT - Captain Beeching, have you any further explanation to make?

   The defendant - There is only one thing I wish to say, and it is that until  my arrival here I was perfectly innocent of the short-shipment.  I discovered it from the letter I received.  Of course, I signed the manifest innocently enough; I thought it was all correct. Had I known the cargo was not there, I should not have signed unless I did so under protest.
   The COURT - Have you signed the bills of lading?

   The defendant - Yes.

   The COURT - Without knowing what was on board?

   The Defendant - Just so.

   The COURT - As far as you know, is the manifest a copy of the bills of lading?

   The defendant - To the best of m y knowledge it is.

   The COURT - How came it to pass that you signed the bills of lading without knowing what was on board?  What is the general custom?  Don't you sign them on the production of the mate's receipts?

   The Defendant - In my case there was no mate on board, and I simply signed them believing they were correct.

   The COURT - Who produced them to you?

   The Defendant - Mr. Robert E. Love of 59 Mark Lane.

   The COURT - Were you there when the goods were being shipped?

   The defendant r - Sometimes I was fibered and sometimes I was not.  I signed all the bills believing they were correct.  I had sailed before in the ship, and I never doubted the man's word; I thought I was doing perfectly right.

   The COURT - Have you ever been to this port before?

   The defendant t - Not to this particular port before, but I have been to other ports in China.

   The COURT - Were you aware that the treaty required a correct manifest?

   The defendant - I believe a correct manifest is required at every port.

   The COURT - Well, Captain Beeching, having heard the evidence, and the manifest not being in accordance with the cargo on board, I have no alternative but to declare you liable to the penalty which is put down in the treaty at the round sum of Tls. 5p00.  I have no power to mitigate it, but under the circumstances of your explanation, I recommend to the Commissioner of Customs to mitigate it as far as he thinks fit, he having the power to do so.  So far as I am concerned, I have no alternative but to hold you liable for the whole penalty.

   Mr. WHEELOCK - May I ask what is the object for the infliction of the penalty?  It is evident the captain did not attempt to defraud the customs, for he signed for more cargo than was found on the vessel.  Had he presented a manifest for less cargo than was on the ship, it would have been very different, and there would have been some reason fop the penalty, but as it is, the vessel certainly contained fully one-third less cargo than was in the mangiest.

   The COURT - That will be a reason, no doubt, to be considered in favour of a mitigation of the penalty, but I have nothing to do with that.  The manifest was an incorrect one, and that is the only point I have to consider.
   Mr. WHEELOCK - It is well known under what circumstances the fraud has been committed, but where, has not been found out.  The Captain signed the manifest in perfectly good faith, he signed it in accordance with the bills of lading, and they agree with the manifest.

   The COURT - If the Captain likes he can put in a written explanation to be added to the record.

   Mr. WHEELOCK - The Captain had no further explanation to make; he simply signed the manifest in accordance with the bills of lading.

   The COURT - The captain's position may be made a plea for a mitigation of the penalty.  So far as I am concerned, the treaty has been violated, and I have mo power to decide the penalty.  It must remain with the Commissioner of Customs; and under the circumstances, I have no doubt it will be considered favourably.

   The proceedings then terminated.

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