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Colonial Cases

R. v. Roberts, 1878


R. v. Roberts

Supreme Court for China and Japan
French A.C.J., 1878
Source: The North China Herald, 4 April 1878



   Late on Friday night a disturbance occurred on board the O.S.S. Co.'s steamer Anchises, moored alongside the Hongkew Wharf, resulting in the boatswain, James Smith, being fatally stabbed, and in the apprehension of Charles Roberts, a sailor, charged with having caused his death.  During the evening, it seems that some of the crew were ashore, and two of them, at least, returned on board under the influence of liquor.  Roberts appears to have spent the evening at the Boar's Head, in company with two men belonging to the Americans war-vessel Monocracy.  He returned on board about half-past ten o'clock.  At this time the quartermaster on duty, a man named Cavanagh, along with the baker and a sailor named Rodgers were in the baker's shop, joking and chaffing over a bottle of "Old Tom" gin.  Roberts joined the party, but he asserts he refused to have anything to drink with them.  The joking and chaffing were continued, and, as Roberts says, they commenced to spar with each other and Cavanagh struck him too heavily, which resulted in a fight between the two on the deck.

   Cavanagh denies that he struck Roberts, who he alleges challenged him out to fight without any assigned reason.  Be that as it may, Roberts and Cavanagh left the baker's shop and fought two or three rounds in what is known as the alley-way.  A sailor named Thomas Quinn, brother to the baker, came up and interfered, whereupon Cavanagh ceased operations with Roberts, and commenced fighting with Quinn.  Soon afterwards the bias twain made his appearance, apparently having been attracted to the place by hearing the noise, and he immediately interposed, with the view, as is supposed, to terminate the quarrelling.  A voice warned him to "Stand off, boatswain, or you may get what you won't like," but he took no notice of it.  The result was that he and Roberts got in contact, and were seen fighting together.  By this time Cavanagh and Quinn had finished their encounter; and, what seems most strange, those who had been looking on up to this point appear to have gone away; for nobody, so far as we could learn, actually saw the subsequent proceedings which culminated in the latter's death.  Cries of "murder" and "help" were soon afterwards heard by two or three of the crew.

   The first person who appears to have heard them was a seaman named swindles, who, proceeding in the direction whence the sound came heard Roberts, who was then in an upright position, call out "murder," and instantly fall on the deck, flat on his back.  At this time the boatswain was lying motionless on the deck in a pool of blood, and Swindels, seeing something dark on his shirt, procured a light from the galley, and then discovered that he was dead, having been stabbed in the region of the heart.  Roberts was lying at a distance of about five feet away, to all appearances insensible.  Swindles informed the captain (Captain Jackson) and the chief officer of what had taken place; and several members of the crew soon gathered round.  The Doctor from the steamship Agamemnon, belonging to the same company, which was lying near, was sent for, as were also the police.  Lying near to Roberts was found a sailor's sheath knife, with a pointed blade, four and three-quarters inches in length, which was supposed to be the weapon which had caused deceased's death.

   When the Doctor arrived, he examined the body and probed the wound; but could do nothing but pronounce life to be extinct.  At this time Roberts had left the deck and gone into the forecastle. And from what the captain was told he had him and also Thomas Quinn, who was using very violent language, out in irons to await the arrival of the police.  It was ten minutes past midnight when the chief officer arrived at the Hongkew Police Station with news of the occurrence, and five minutes afterwards Inspector Stripling, with a staff of men, were on board the steamer.  Roberts and Quinn were both conveyed to the Police Station, where the former was charged with having feloniously stabbed and killed the boatswain, and the latter with being drunk and disorderly and using threatening language to the Captain.  Roberts' trousers and pants on the thighs were found to be saturated with blood, and he was supplied with others.  He complained of pain on the throat, intimating that it felt as if it was scratched, but no marks of violence, we understand, could be discerned except two finger nail marks some distance from where he  said he felt the pain.

   The body of the boatswain was not removed, but left, in accordance with the custom long since obsolete in England, on the deck, in the position in which it was first found, until it had been viewed by the Coroner and jury at half-past eight o'clock the following morning; a watch being merely set over it.  A post mortem examination was then made by Dr. Johnston, and, we understand, it was found that the stab had not pierced the heart but severed an artery on the uppermost side.  From the appearance of the wound, a casual observer would conclude that the knife had penetrated up to the hilt.

   Deceased, we hear, was a sober, respectable man, and generally liked by all on board.  He was a middle-aged man, and leaves a wife and two children.

   An inquest was opened on the body of the deceased by the Coroner, R. A. Mowat, Esq. at half-past eight o'clock on Saturday morning; and in the forenoon of the same day Roberts and Quinn were taken before Mr. Mowat at the Police court.  Reports of the two inquires will be found in other columns.


Source: The North China Herald, 4 April 1878


30th March.


The Fatal Fight on board the "Anchises."

   Prisoner, who is an A.B. on board the str. Anchises, was charged with unlawfully and feloniously stabbing and killing one James Smith, boatswain of the same vessel.  He is 26 years of age, and looked as if he were recovering from the effects of intoxication.

   The following evidence was taken:-

   [Adjourned, see also 11 April.]


Source: The North China Herald, 27 April 1878

   On Wednesday, Charles Roberts, formerly an able seaman on board the O.S.S. Co.'s str. Anchises, was indicted in H.B.M.'s Supreme Court, before G. French, Esq., and a Jury, for having murdered James Smith, boatswain on board the same vessel.  The circumstances of the case have already been laid before our readers, and a report of the trial appears elsewhere.  The Jury found the prisoner guilty of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour.

   Mr. French establishged a precedent, Wednesday, which indicates an intention to adhere more closely to the rules of the English Courts than has in some cases been the practice here, hitherto.  Instead of being allowed to go home for luncheon, as on former occasions, the Jury were marched off to the Central Hotel under charge of the Chief Clerk, and locked up.


Source: The North China Herald,  4 May 1878

Trial of Charles Roberts. ...

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