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Colonial Cases

R. v. Harrison, 1883

[conspiracy to defraud]

R. v. Harrison

Supreme Court for China and Japan
Mowat, 10 January 1884
Source: North China Herald, 16 January 1884

[See also 1883, German Court.]
Shanghai, 10th January, 1884
Before R. A. Mowat, Esq., Assistant Judge.
Conspiracy to Defraud.
  William George Harrison was brought up for trial on a charge of fraud and forgery.  There were three indictments, the first charging him with having conspired with one Heinrich Rubart to fraudulently obtain goods from Henry Everall and others (the Hall and Holtxxx Co-operative Company) by means of a forged letter purporting to be signed by P. G. von Mollendorff.  The second indictment charged the prisoner with having conspired with Rubart to defraud William Mielenhausen and others (Messrs. Wilck and Mielenhausen) by similar means.  The third indictment, which charged the prisoner with forgery, was not read.
  Dr. Gabriel, H.I.G.M.'s Vice-Consul, was present, and was invited by his Lordship take a seat on the bench.
  Mr. Wilkinson, Crown Advocate, appeared to prosecute, and the prisoner was undefended.
  The Prisoner, when called upon to plead to the first indictment, said he was guilty of writing the letter.
  Mr. Wilkinson said as the prisoner was not represented by Counsel, it would perhaps be desirable for his Lordship to explain to the prisoner exactly what the charge was.
  His Lordship explained to the prisoner that he was not at present charged with forgery, but only with conspiring with Rubart to obtain goods by means of a forged letter.
  The Prisoner -What he intended to do with it I could simply surmise -nothing more.  I took no active part in it.
 His Lordship said that amounted to a plea of not guilty.
  A jury consisting of the following gentlemen was then empanelled:- Messrs. T. Jeffrey, F. Stokes, V. D'O. Wintle, T. Harris and C. H. King.
  When called upon to plead to the second indictment, charging him with having conspired to defraud Messrs. Wilck and Mielenhausen, the prisoner said he was guilty of writing the letter.
  Mr. Wilkinson then opened the case for the prosecution.  He defined a conspiracy as an agreement between two or more persons to do something unlawful, among other things to do some wrongful act to the injury of some other person or persons.
  The prisoner, William George Harrison, and Heinrich Rubart, who was mentioned in the indictments, were together in Corea.  They were discharged from the Customs Service and came to Shanghai; and it would be proved that Rubart came to Harrison and suggested to him that he should write a letter addressed to Rubart stating that Hall and Holtz would supply him with anything he might require; and also that he should write another letter stating that Wilck and Mielenhausen would supply him with anything he required.  It would be abundantly proved that these letters purported to be signed by P. G. von Mollendorff, and that they were not signed by him.  They were written by the prisoner, though he denied having written the signature.  But even if the jury came to the conclusion after hearing the evidence that the signatures were not written by the prisoner, yet if they found that he had written the letters for the purpose of defrauding these persons, it would be their duty to find him guilty, as the charge was not one of forgery but one of conspiracy to defraud.
  Heinrich Rubart was then brought up in custody and placed in the witness box.  His evidence was almost exactly similar to that which he gave at the preliminary examination in the Police Court.  He said the prisoner wrote the forged letters because he wanted clothes, and he (witness) presented them at Hall and Holtz's and Wilck and Mielenhausen's stores.  He obtained a hat and an aluminium pencil from Hall and Holtz's, and he ordered a number of other things which were not delivered because the letter was sent to the German Consulate and the signature pronounced to bed a forgery.  He further deposed to having presented a second letter, written by the prisoner, to Mr. Mielenhausen, of whom he ordered gods to the value of $100.  This latter was, however, also sent to the German Consulate, where it was pronounced a forgery, and the goods were not delivered.  He was to have given part of the goods to the prisoner and kept part himself.  He (witness) had been tried, found guilty and sentenced on a similar charge to that preferred against the prisoner, before the German Consular Court. He had been eight years constable of the German Consulate at Tientsin, to which position he had been appointed by Count von Bismark.
  Henry Everall, J. P. Cottam and Daniel O'Rourke deposed to the witness Rubart having presented one of the forged letters at Hall and Holtz's store, obtained a hat and aluminium pencil, and ordered goods to the value of about $200.
  William Mielenhausen and Vetrus Birok deposed to Rubart's having presented the second forged letter at Messrs. Wilck and Mielenhausen's stotre, and endeavored to obtain by its means, goods to the value of $100.
  Charles Robert England said the prisoner had recently been living at his house in Hongkew, and Rubart used to visit him there.  On one occasion when they were both there Harrison asked him for a piece of blotting paper.  Witness gave him a piece, and Harrison brought it back, saying it was too thin, and smudged the writing.  Harrison afterwards showed him a piece of blotting paper which he obtained from somewhere else, saying, "That is good blotting paper."
  Two pierces of blotting paper were produced, and the witness identified one of them as that which he had given to the prisoner.
  The Witness further stated that the prisoner at the time was writing on white foolscap sheets, having a printed headline at the top, very similar to the forged letters.
  Inspector Mack deposed to having arrested the prisoner, and to having afterwards gone to Mr. England's house and taken away the two pieces of blotting paper, on one of which he found the impression of the name "P. G. von Mollendorf," which he found exactly corresponded with the signature attached to the letter presented by Rubart to Mr. Mielenhausen.
  Inspector Orlando Kluth corroborated the last witness's evidence.  He said he had considerable experience in handwriting; he knew that of P. G. von Mollendroff, and he could swear that the signatures on the two letters produced were not written by von Mollendorff.  To the best of his belief they were written by the same hand which wrote the body of the letters.
 Mr. Wilkinson then said that as the prisoner was unrepresented by Counsel he should say nothing more, except that the prisoner was entitled to the benefit of any doubt that the jury might have; but at the same time it must be a reasonable doubt - such a doubt as they would act upon in the ordinary affairs of life.
  His Lordship said he would adjourn at this stage to give the prisoner an opportunity of considering any remarks which he might wish to make to the jury.
  On the sitting of the Court being resumed in the afternoon,
  The Prisoner said - I wish to inform the jury that I am in no way connected with Mr. Rubart in the matter beyond writing the letters - that I have done nothing more than simply write the letters, not knowing at the time what would be made of them. I was under the impression that he might make use of them to get credit.  He told me that he was going back to Corea, and Mr. Harris was going to give him the same position as he had at Seoul before. He never mentioned anything about what he intended to do with the letters.
  His Lordship then summed up.  He said - Well, gentlemen, the accused is charged with a conspiracy to defraud.  An agreement between two or more persons to do an unlawful act is a conspiracy, and if you find satisfactory evidence of such an agreement nothing more is required.  In the present case, you have evidence of an agreement on the part of the prisoner and some one else - it requires two at least to agree -  to do something which was unlawful.  But the person who furnishes that evidence is Rubart, the person with whom the accused is charged with conspiring.  Now it is competent for you, if you should believe Rubart's evidence, to convict the prisoner upon that evidence without going any further; but it is my duty to advise you not to convict on that evidence alone, because Rubart is an accomplice, and the evidence of an accomplice, usually at any rate, is not accepted unless it is corroborated in some material particular by some unimpeachable witness.
  Now in cases of conspiracy it is rare, of course, to find direct evidence of the conspiracy unless it comes from an accomplice. It is rather to be inferred from acts of the parties which form the groundwork for believing that a criminal intention of the kind alleged existed.  The act which the prosecution relies on as manifesting that a criminal intention existed, with intent to defraud, or forged letters - letters which at any rate are alleged to be forged.
  And that brings you to the only question you have to consider - whether the letters were as a fact forged, and whether they were presented with intent to defraud.  It is not material for you to consider in this enquiry who forged the letters - whether they were written throughout, signature and all, by the accused, or whether the signature was written by some other person.  It is only material for you to enquire whether they were presented with an intent to defraud.
  Now after the statements which the prisoner has made to you I think you can have no doubt - though I do not wish to urge anything against him - that the letters were forged. Then comes the question, Was there any intent to defraud on his part? Now you have heard what he said on that score. He said, "I knew nothing of what these letters were written for. I was perfectly innocent of any intent to defraud.  I had no suspicion of the purpose which they were intended to serve." He has made this explanation to you, and it is for you to consider whether it is so.  There are the letters.  They are of considerable length, as you have seen. It must have taken some time to compose them.  And the prisoner asks you to believe that in writing them it never occurred to him what use was going to be made of them, or at any rate that any fraudulent use would be made of them.  It would be unbecoming for me to express any opinion on the matter; it is for you to consider whether there did exist any intention in the prisoner's mind of assisting in defrauding the prosecutors in this case. If you should have any reasonable doubt as to the existence of criminal intention on his part, then you ought to acquit him; but if in spite of his statement you believe he had a guilty knowledge of what was going to be done, then you must convict him. Gentlemen, you will now consider your verdict.
  The jury, without leaving the box, returned a verdict of guilty.
  His Lordship - I quite agree with the verdict the jury have come to.  I scarcely think it was open to them to come to any other conclusion upon the evidence, and I have only now to pass sentence upon you.  It is true that the amount of goods that you and your co-conspirator procured was very small; but I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that the intention was there in the minds of both of you to defraud the prosecutors to a very much large extent.  Goods appear to have been ordered by you to the amount of something like $400, and I have to consider that in passing sentence upon you, which is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for a period of six months.
  Mr. Wilkinson, in reply to His Lordship, said he would not proceed with the further indictment.

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