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Colonial Cases

R. v. Burns and others, 1886

[shipping, refusal of service]

R. v. Burns and others

Police Court, Shanghai
Jamieson, AAJ, 3 August 1886
Source: North China Herald, 6 August 1886

Shanghai, 3rd August, 1886
Before George Jamieson, Esq., Acting Assistant Judge.
  Seven sailors belonging to the British barque Jennie Parker were charged by Captain Veal, Master of the barque, with refusing duty.  One of the men, named John Burns, was English; the rest were all Scandinavians or Germans.
  His Worship asked the first man why he refused duty; but instead of replying the man looked towards Burns.
  Burns - Because I prefer being in gaol rather than being on board a ship like that.
  His Worship - If that is all you have to say you will probably find yourself in gaol.  What is the matter?
  Burns - Well, the provisions we got at sea were not good.
  His Worship - They are all right now?
  Burns - Yes, in port.
  His Worship - Is there not a scale?
  Burns - Yes, but they didn't go by it.  We had "cracker hash" sometimes for breakfast, and it used to take the steward an hour to pluck out the maggots - and then there were some left.
  His Worship - Have you complained to the Consul?
  Burns -No. We never had a fresh mess all the time - only once.
  His Worship - Is that your only reason?
  Burns - Well. I have another reason.  I have got into trouble with the Captain.  We made a statement and all the blame was put on me.  The ship was bad enough before, and I think it will be worse now.  The other men went aft to the Captain and asked leave to see the consul, and I did not know anything about it till afterwards; and yet they put all the blame on me.
  Captain Veal stated that when he shipped the men at Singapore he told them they could have everything they wanted, but there was to be no waste; and if they did not get what they wanted from the steward they were to complain to him (the Captain.) With regard to the matter which Burns had referred to - the complaint made by the sailors against himself in respect to the death of a man named Petersen [see Inquests] - he had told Burns that he would forgive him the part he had taken in that matter.
  His Worship (to Burns) - You have nothing to complain of now?
  Burns - No, not in port.
  His Worship - And this is simply because you are afraid on account of the case about the man who died?
  Burns - Yes. I prefer going to gaol rather than going on board now.
  His Worship - Let me tell you exactly how the case stands.  If you have any fault to find - anything to complain about in your treatment, or in the provisions - there is a remedy.  You can go to the Consul and have a Court of Enquiry held; but you will have to pay the costs if the complaints are found to be groundless.  But I cannot allow you to come here and say that, simply because you are afraid, you will do no more work; because the law does not allow that.  I shall have no alternative but to send you to gaol, and the term will be twelve weeks - and twelve weeks' imprisonment in this hot weather will not be pleasant, I assure you; so before you commit yourselves you had better think seriously over it.
  Capt. Veal said all the men had come to him and asked to be paid off' but Burns had spoken for them.
  Burns - I spoke for myself.  I am only one man.
  His Worship - Well, you hear what I say.  I had a similar case lately, and the men are all in gaol now.  I believe they would be glad to get out, but they will not, until the time is up.  I cannot help it; I am here to enforce the law.  If you have any complaint to make, there is a remedy, and it will be enquired into.
  Burns - For my part I won't do any more work on board.
  His Worship - Not under any circumstances?
  Burns - No, Sir.
  His Worship - Very well then, I give you twelve weeks. (To the Constable of the Court) - Take that man right away.  
  Burns was accordingly removed.
  His Worship (to the other defendants) - Now you understand; he has got twelve weeks.  I will let you off easily.  I will make you pay the costs of the summonses.  Go on board and return to your work.
  One man said he should not go back, as the Second Mate had threatened "to work them up" going back.  He knew how the Captain treated them coming out, and he believed it would be worse going back.
  His Worship - You do not want to be afraid of that.  If you are not treated properly you can complain at the first port you reach.
  The sailor said he was afraid.  He would rather go to gaol for three months than be on board the Jennie Parker for three days.
  Some of the other ,men shook their heads in sign of refusal to return to the ship;  but his Worship said he thought if they had a little time for reflection they would not persist in their foolish conduct.  He therefore ordered them to pay the costs of the summonses and return to the ship, saying that if they failed to do so they would be brought before the Court again and sentenced to twelve weeks' imprisonment.
4th Aug.
  The six seamen of the Jennie Parker who were on Monday charged with refusing duty, and were then sent back to their ship, again appeared before the court this morning, having refused to return to their duties.
  His Worship had the men brought before him two at a time, and reasoned with them on the folly of their conduct, but they one and all refused to return to the ship, and each was sentenced to twelve weeks' imprisonment.

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