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Colonial Cases

United States v. Eckfeldt, 1876

[false pretences - embezzlement]

United States v. Eckfeldt

United States Consular Court, Shanghai
Bradford, 14 April 1876
Source: The North China Herald, 22 April 1876



Shanghai, April 14th

Before O. B. BRADFORD, Esq., Vice Consul-General.

   THEODORE W. ECKFELDT,  who had been arrested on an affidavit charging him with misappropriating various sums of money belonging to his employers, Messrs. Russell & Co., who brought up for preliminary examination.  Mr. Eames appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Robinson conducted the defence.  After the proceedings had commenced, the accused was allowed to sit by the side of his Counsel.

   Mr. ROBINSON opened the proceedings by explaining that he had been unable to find a stature which conferred on a Vice-Consul General any authority in judicial matters, and if there were no statute conferring such authority, the present Court had no jurisdiction.

   The COURT replied that, by an amended statute passed by Congress, and approved by the President on the 1st February, 1876, the Vice-Consul-General was invested with the same authority in judicial matters as the Consul-General.  He read the 4130 section of the Amended Act, which conferred the required authority.

   In answer to a further question from Mr. Robinson,

   The COURT stated that it had received its appointment from the State Department, and also explained that this judicial jurisdiction did not extend beyond the port to which he (the Vice-Consul-General) was appointed.


   The accused was then removed.

   Mr. ROBINSON understood that the prosecution would be confined to the charges that had been mentioned.

   The COURT explained that as many charges could be brought forward as the prosecution wished, but due notice of them would be given to the accused.

   Mr. ROBINSON replied that he should strongly oppose and fresh charges being entered into.

   The Court then rose.


Source: The North China Herald, 20 May 1876



Shanghai, May 8th.

Before O. B. BRADFORD, Esq., Vice Consul-General.


Mr. EAMES appeared for the prosecution.

Mr. ROBINSON defended the prisoner.


False Pretences and Embezzlement.

   Prisoner, a late employee of the firm of Messrs. Russell & Co., of Shanghai, was placed on his trial, charged with the above offences.  The indictment contained no fewer than twelve counts, and was very lengthy. ...

   The VICE CONSUL-GENERAL replied in the affirmative, and went on to say that the Associates had been drawn by lot, and would take their places accordingly.

   Mr. ROBINSON requested that they might now be taken by lot, asking if that mode of selection was in accordance with the rule?

   The VICE CONSUL-GENERAL replied that it was not in accordance with the rule, adding that the court usually was constituted with three Assessors, but looking at the importance of the present case, it was deemed advisable to have a greater number, and therefore the names of six gentlemen upon whom the lot had fallen, had been requested to be in attendance.  It was very strange, but the first five named drawn were those of employees of Russell & Co., and they had in consequence been rejected, and the names of others taken as they now stood.

   Mr. ROBINSON asked if the prisoner had the right to challenge the names of the Associates; and whether they might be challenged as they were called?


   Mr. EAMES - Upon the prisoner showing cause for challenging.

   Mr. ROBIN SON contended that it was not necessary to show cause - to challenge was sufficient.

   The VICE CONSUL-GENERAL said the point could be discussed if any challenge was made.  He then proceeded to read out the names of those drawn by lot, the first being that of Mr. A. A. McCaslin, the next that of Mr. Wetmore.

   Mr. ROBINSON said the prisoner had no objection to Mr. Mccaslin, and now asked that he might be permitted to challenge without showing any cause.  He made that application   under 819 of the revised Statues, (from which he then read.)

   Mr. EAMES said he must say one word, if permitted to do so, and only one he thought would dispose of all argument on the point.  The Associates were not sitting there as a jury - there was in fact no jury, for the Vice Consul-General would decide the case.  Therefore what had been advanced by his friend did not apply.
   Mr. ROBINSON said he was aware the Associates were not sitting as a jury.  He made the application upon principle, but would say that the gentlemen called upon to perform the duties of Associates were in place of a jury; and he therefore thought the prisoner should have the right to challenge any name he chose.

   Mr. EAMES said it was the usual course, then, for the persons challenged to be requested to stand aside, and if the panel became exhausted, for the court to exercise the right to put on any of those challenged, in order to make up the required number.

   Mr. ROBINSON said he had no objection to that course being taken now.

   The VICE CONSUL-GENERAL - Does the prisoner object to Mr. Wetmore?

   Mr. ROBINSON replied that he did.

   Mr. Wetmore was therefore asked to stand aside; and the prisoner also challenging the next name, that of Mr. Dobbyn, he was also asked to stand aside.  The succeeding three names were not challenged, and the court was therefore constituted as above given. ... [31 columns] ...

   We do, therefore, upon evidence, clear, positive, and abiding, find that within two years last pasty, previous to his arrest, upon each of the several formal charges, and at different dates, the prisoner is guilty of a series of misdemeanours and criminal acquisitions under false pretences, of money the property of his employers, with a fraudulent intent in each instance. 

   We have been unable to discover one palliative feature in the whole case.  Had his demands for moneys arisen as a result of speculations in business, some clue might have been sooner found under suspicions aroused, by which his systematic frauds would have been stopped.  His criminal intent is clearly proven to us, by the circumstances surrounding the several offences, and there is nothing to show, nor is it claimed that the prisoner was not of sound mind and in full possession of his faculties.

   In deliberating upon the punishment appropriate to his series of criminal acts, we consider the long residence of the prisoner in Shanghai, and the debilitating influences of the climate.  Had he frankly confessed in Court his guilt, as he did to his employer when accused by him, we would have had the element of penitence to consider.  Had his conduct after his discharge from employment been carefully chosen, we would have had his seeming appreciation of his position to revert to.

   We have sought earnestly but unsuccessfully for something upon which to make one point in his favour, but the clemency of the court has not been appealed to by word, action, or merit.  The prisoner has persistently maintained a prolonged defence, which had nothing to support it but bare technicalities.  On technical grounds alone then able Counsel for the defence made his efforts, worthy of a better cause; but he failed to show the court that the prisoner had one element of right or justice in his favor.

   I meet my duty to the prisoner, regretfully and sorrowfully, but under no doubt whatever of my just view of his crimes, and of his deserts as an offence against law.

   I find the prisoner Theodore W. Eckfeldt guilty upon each of the charges or offences against law, by his having criminally acquired money, the property of his employers, Messrs. Russell and Company, with a fraudulent intent in each case; and do hereby sentence him to three years imprisonment in the Consular Jail, at Shanghai.  The executive clemency may at any time be invoked in case of extremity, and the law provides a reward for good behaviour while under sentence.

   As the evidence shows the prisoner to have represented his possession of an estate, it is right tasty he pay the costs of this prosecution; and I do hereby so order.

   Mr.  ROBINSON - I do not know if it is necessary, as a matter of form, to give notice now of the prisoner's intention to appeal against the judgment - whether notice should be given verbally in Court, or in writing at a subsequent time.

   The COURT - the appeal must be claimed within twenty-four hours of the time of passing sentence - that is to say before three o'clock tomorrow.

   Mr. ROBINSON - I understand it is the prisoner's duty to claim before three o'clock tomorrow?

   The COURT - Yes, but you may give verbal notice now; and then within five days gibe the reasons for claiming an appeal.

  Mr. ROBINSON - I do, then, now give verbal notice, that the prisoner intends to appeal against the judgment of the court, and that within five days he will give his reasons.

   The Court then rose.

The North China herald, 1 December 1876


   We are informed that Mr. Eckfeldt appealed from the decision of the U.S. Consular Court in his case, last May, to the Minister; and that Mr. Seward, having reviewed the case, sees no reason to disturb the judgment - considering that substantial justice was done.[1]



[1] See also North China Herald, 29 March 1877, SHANGHAI STEAM, NAVIGATION COMPANY, re "defalcations by T. W. Eckfeldt."


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