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Colonial Cases

United States v. Ross, 1880


United States v. Ross

United States Consular Court, Yokohama
Van Buren, 20 May 1880
Source: The North China Herald, 25 May 1880



   The American vessels visiting Japan are becoming notorious for the outrages perpetrated by members of their crews.  Within the last few months two murders have been committed at Kobe by American sailors, and now another is reported at Yokohama.

   From the Gazette we learn that Robert Kelly, second officer of the American ship Bullion, was on shore on the morning of the 9th inst., when he appears to have been in company with the cook and a seaman named Ross, both belonging to the vessel.  A quarrel occurred in a tavern, but nothing worse than high words followed, and at about 4 a.m. they all returned on board.  Mr. Kelly was in the galley waiting for coffee being prepared by the cook, when Ross, who had changed his clothes and armed himself with a long knife, approached and asked the second officer if he was as good a man on board as he pretended to be on shore.  The mate told Ross to go and lie down, coming partly out of the galley as he spoke, whereupon Ross stabbed Kelly in the neck, and again on the arm and face.  Kelly died almost immediately, and Ross was arrested.

   At the inquest held on the body of the deceased, the Deputy-Marshal in the United States Consulate deposed that when he arrested Ross, he (Ross) was under the influence of liquor, was very noisy, and threatened to do for someone else.  Witness further deposed as follows:-

   We uncovered the body as it lay on the hatch to shew it to Ross, and one of the men said: - "You see what you've done?"  he said, "Yes, that's all right.  Let me shake hands with him.  I'm friends with him now as I was before.  He was the best friend I had."

   While going ashore he admitted killing the mate, but tried to defend his conduct.  When we got him close to the hatoba he hung his head down and seemed top be thinking, and muttered to himself: - "I killed Kelly? I could not have done it when I went on board.  I went to the forecastle and had a drink, and then I went to the forecastle.  Yes, that must be when I did it.  I would not have stabbed him if he had not had a knife in his hand."

   I found meat and bread on a plate in the galley all covered with blood.  There was also a case-knife and a long carving knife; the former was greasy, and the latter unsoiled.  I examined Ross's bunk and found the knife produced sticking in a beam, a white shirt, and a suit of clothes with blood on them.  The shirt is bloody all over, and the sleeve looks as if a knife had been wiped on it. 

   When Ross saw me making up the bundle he said: - "That blood was on those clothes before.  That was from the mate and the cook kicking me."  I examined Ross when he came ashore, and he had no blood marks about his body.  I also found in his bunk a lemonade bottle about one-third full of liquor of some kind.  I left the bottle there.  We brought him up from the hatoba in a jinrikisha.  Some one asked him why he was being taken to gaol.  He then asked us: - "Where are you taking me to?" I said to gaol.  He then asked: - "What for?"  I replied for killing Kelly.  He remarked: - "Me kill Kelly?  I had no reason to kill Kelly.  He was my best friend."  He repaired that several times and told us not to be joking with him, that it was nothing to joke about, and that he would not hurt a child.  He appeared very drunk when I got him to the gaol, and he slept for seven or eight hours.

   When we were taking Ross over the side of the ship I said to him: - "There's the man you killed."  He replied: - "Yes, I killed him.  I suppose I'll swing for it, but I don't care a d-n."

   The following verdict was returned: - We, the jurors, having duly heard and considered the testimony presented on this hearing, and having viewed the body of the deceased, do hereby find that the deceased, Robert Kelly, late second mate of the American ship Bullion, came to his death in the galley of the said ship on the morning of the 9th instant, from wounds made in his neck and body; which wounds were given by John Ross, a seaman on said ship. And we further find that said killing was deliberate and malicious, and amounted to the crime of murder, and that said crime was committed on the ship Bullion, while she was lying in the harbour of Yokohama.

C. H. HASWELL, E. S. SMITH, Jurors.

Approved, THOS. B.  VAN BUREN, Consul-General.



Source: The North China Herald, 8 June 1880


Yokohama, 20th May.

Before General T. B. VAN BUREN, Consul-General, and Messrs. FOSTER, KEIL, MANLEY and OLMSTEDT, Assessors.




Sailor of the American ship Bullion, who is charged with having, on

 the 9th instant, murdered the second mate of that ship, Robert Kelly.

   The evidence in this case, the circumstances of which have already appeared in our columns, was concluded on the previous evening, and today the Court delivered the following:

Judgment and Sentence:-

   The COURT said - Prisoner, you have had a careful, and as the members of the Court believe, an impartial trial, and you have been defended by able and zealous Counsel, who has done everything possible in your behalf.

   The evidence shows that on the evening of the 8th of May instant you were ashore and, a portion of the time, in company with Robert Kelly, the second mate of your ship.  During this time bad blood was engendered between you which resulted in a fight at the hatoba, in which you appear to have received a number of bruises and injuries.  Some three or four hours after this you went on board your ship, the Bullion, and seeing your victim in the galley, eating his supper, you stopped at the door and threatened him with your swift-coming and merciless vengeance.  You then proceeded to the forecastle, and shewing your comrade your bruises, you cursed the alleged authors of them and boasted of your coming deed of blood.  You deliberately removed your clothing and put on your everyday suit, and, buckling about your waist the belt and sheath, in which you placed the large and well-sharpened knife which you kept only for special occasions, you left the room, rolling up your sleeves and announcing that the time had come for your exacting your revenge.

   You then proceeded to the galley, and called Kelly to come upon deck.  He not heeding, you cursed and derided him, and threatened, in foul terms, to cut his heart out, and then, without a moment's pause, you jumped upon him and thrust your knife into his neck, causing the blood to spurt over your comrade, who was working in the galley, over the dresser, and to stream down over the clothing of the stricken man.  And then, your vengeance not satisfied with his life, upon the body of this dying, defence-less man, you struck with your knife repeated blows.

   Then going out of the galley for a moment you returned to the door to gloat over your deed and mocked at the victim you had done to death.  You then went again to the forecastle, and wiping your bloody knife upon the palm of your hand, you held the latter before your shipmates and bid them look upon the heart's blood of the murdered man.

   During all this time you were self-possessed, calculating, deliberate.  You were not drunk, but had swallowed just enough of the vile compound sold in the dens of Yokohama to fit you for the deed you contemplated.

   A more deliberate, foul, and malicious murder it would be difficult to conceive.

   The Court accordingly combusts you of the murder of Robert Kelly on the morning of the 8th of May instant, in the galley of the American ship Bullion, while at anchor in the harbour of Yokohama, as laid in the charge, and you are sentenced to suffer death in such manner and at such time and place as the United States Minister in Japan may direct according to law, and may God have mercy on your soul.

(Signed) THOS. B. VAN BUREN, Consul-General, Judge of the Court.

We concur:


   The prisoner, who heard the sentence without any visible sign of emotion, here observed that he did not remember anything of what took place on the morning of the 9th instant.

   Mr. Hill, on behalf of the prisoner, moved for leave to appeal, of which motion the Court took note.

The North China Herald, 1 May 1880


[Full report of the trial; not transcribed.]

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