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Colonial Cases

Harman, 1882

North China Herald, 25 August 1882


IT seems to us that Mr. George Harman, of Foochow, is a man with a real grievance.  In December 1880, two steam-launches belonging to this gentleman were seized in a very arbitrary manner by the Tao-tai under the plea of an alleged breach of Art. 47 of the Treaty of Tientsin, and then and there confiscated.  The actual charge brought against Mr. Harman was that the launches were in the habit of resorting to Shui-k'ou, a village some seventy miles up the river Miu.  The action of the taotai was shown to have been irregular, and therefore unjustifiable; as the step, in any case, should have been taken through the British authorities.  But it was decided at the hearing before the Consul that no breach of the Treaty had taken place; the defence set up by Mr. Harman was borne out in every particular; his accuser failed to attend the Court, and the Consul concluded his Decision by expressing an opinion that the seizure and arrest of the two launches was not justifiable under the Treaty, and that they should be at once restored to the owner.

  This happened in February, 1881; and from that time to this the launches have remained in the possession of the Chinese, and Mr. Harman reduced to the greatest distress in consequence.  Moreover, with the launches, Mr. Harman has lost the commission-business on which he, his children, and his widowed mother had previously depended for their support; for the simple reason that the Chinese are afraid, if they trust him with goods of any kind, some high-handed official might seize the merchandise, and there be not the slightest chance of the Consular authorities succeeding in getting it back.  The Chinese know perfectly well that the Consul is unable to enforce his authority, and it is difficult to blame them for their caution.  It certainly seems monstrous that a British subject should be allowed to suffer for an action on the part of the Chinese, which was condemned in a British Consular Court as illegal and unjust.  Is the Consul at Foochow a toy in the hands of the Chinese? Is he helpless to sustain the cause of a countryman whom he acknowledges to be in the right?  Such would almost appear to be the case; and we submit that the spectacle of a British officer who can thus allow himself to be so disdainfully treated by an overbearing Mandarin is not a very edifying one.  Still, the impotence is a fact, and some months ago the Hon. T. G. Grosvenor, Secretary of Legation in Peking, went down to straighten things.  He seems, however, to have fared even worse than the Consul, for we learn that when he mentioned the matter to the Viceroy, His Excellency "would not allow of its being discussed."  International disputes would soon assume a very curious complexion if the parties against whom complaints are made were always thus successful in not allowing them to be discussed.  There is a rich vein of humour in this idea, which goes far to temper the indignation one naturally feels at the ridiculous figure cut by British representatives in the affair.  Mr. Harman, however, despairing of getting back his stolen launches through the aid of either Minister or Consul, has attempted to get himself right at home, and Mr. Cowen, M.PO for Newcastle, who considers the case a very hard one, has promised to bring it before the Government.  We are glad to hear that this gentleman is bestirring himself to make amends for the dilatoriness or impotence of British officials in China, and hope that substantial damages will be paid to Mr. Harman for the loss he has sustained, in addition to the restoration of his rightful property.

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