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Colonial Cases

Sjoberg, 1891



Mixed Court
Source: North China Herald, 12 February, 1891

The following extracts from the North China Daily News show the progress of this case from day to day -
Shanghai, 5th February.
By order of the Mixed Court on Monday, a foreigner, whom none of the Consuls will recognise, is to be cangued next week for begging and being a general nuisance on the Settlements.
.  .  .  
8th February.
We have received a letter from 'An Old Resident,' impugning the view we take of the sentence on Sjoberg, approving the Swedish Consul's repudiation of his fellow-subject, and stating that 'a foreigner can only be sentenced at the Mixed Court according to international law which does not recognise such punishment as given in this case.' A foreigner, however, who comes under the jurisdiction of the Mixed Court because no Consul will claim him is subject there simply to Chinese law; and as for the Swedish Consul's repudiation of his national, we understand that it was the acting Swedish Consul at Nagasaki who shipped the man on to Shanghai. We understand, however, though the Swedish Court appears to be indifferent as to whether the sentence on Sjoberg is carried out or not, it will not, as a fact, be carried out.
.  .  .  
9th February.
In reference to the case of the Swede who was sentenced to the cangue, we understand that the Acting Consul-General for Sweden and Norway has at last asked for and will obtain a revision of the sentence.  All's well that ends well.
.  .  .  
10th February.
Sjoberg, the Swede, who was sentenced the other day to a week's cangue, was brought up at the Mixed Court on Wednesday before Magistrate Sung and Mr. George Brown, British Assessor. Mr. Brown told the accused that by returning to Shanghai after having been deported he had rendered himself amenable to Chinese law; but as he was probably ignorant of that fact, the sentence of a week's cangue would be altered to three week's imprisonment, at the expiry of the term he would be again deported.
  Prisoner asked for a lighter sentence, on the ground that he had already been in prison for 17 days, but the Court declined to alter its decision. Sjoberg was then removed in custody.


Source: North China Herald, 12 February, 1892

8th Feb.
MUCH indignation has been roused among the community at the sentencing of a white man to be cangued. The man in question is an incorrigible vagrant, and the sentence was suggested to the Mixed Court magistrate by Mr. George Brown, the British Assessor. It was not an impulsive sentence, but was decided on after considerable deliberation, and as a man of Mr. Brown's character must have had weighty reasons for his action, it is not proper to dismiss the sentence indignantly as the aberration of an otherwise excellent assessor, but to examine carefully the reason for his action.
  Shanghai, like the other sea-ports in the Far East, has its submerged tenth in the form of a number of worthless loafers and beach-combers, mostly run-aways at some time from sailing ships.  They will not work on any account, but they will shamble about begging, perhaps stealing from Chinese and from foreigners when they get a chance, turning everything that the charitable give them into drink, frightening ladies when they come to a house from which the men are absent, and dragging the foreign name into the mud they enjoy. Their earthly paradise is an island like Samoa, where they can get a romancer with more imagination that judgment, like Robert Louis Stevenson, to uphold their cause against the Municipal authorities. They fall constantly into the hands of the police as "drunk and disorderly;" but confinement in the cells has no terrors for them; the police station is for them a clean and well-kept lodging-house, where they are well fed and sheltered, and are protected from the menaces of their implacable enemy, work. They are sent to the Sailors' Hone, but they are so utterly useless that they cannot be kept there; and if they are deported, they take an early opportunity of drifting back to Shanghai. If nothing else will act as a deterrent to them, the cangue may. This alone, however, would not justify the execution of the sentence in question; for while it is only possible that the threat of the cangue would act as a deterrent in future, it is certain that to exhibit a white man in the cangue in the streets would not only be repulsive to us all, but would distinctly and permanently lower the prestige of all foreigners in the eyes of the Chinese.  We know that the man is only poor white trash, who does not deserve to be treated any better than a vagabond coolie; but to the Chinese he is a white man brought down to their lowest level.
  There is, however, a much stronger argument by which we have no doubt that Mr. Brown was swayed. No white man should be brought up in the Mixed Court at all. It should be the duty of all Consuls to look after their nationals. At the British Consulate a man born in the British empire is recognised as a British subject, unless he can prove that he had been naturalised as the subject or citizen of some other Power, and the Consul of that Power claims him. Some other Consuls try to make the unfortunate man who claims their protection prove their nationality, knowing all the time that the beach-comber does not carry in his pockets any documents by which he can do it. They shut their doors in his face, and turn him out into the streets, a man without a country.
  The Mixed Court is the only recourse for him; it is his consul who drives him into the hands of the Chinese law, and it is his consul who is to blame, if he is subjected to a Chinese form of punishment.  It is right that the community should be indignant at a white man's being cangued, but the indignation should be against the right object, the consul who denies his own national, not the assessor before whom the consul has driven him. The prestige of foreigners here will undoubtedly be injured if this sentence is carried out; but the consuls are here to protect the prestige of foreigners; and if Mr. Brown has succeeded in arousing the indignation of the community, so that it will force the consul for Sweden to do his duty, - for we understand that there is no doubt that the man in question is a Swede by birth, - Mr. Brown deserves well of the community.  We have no doubt that his main object in advising the Mixed Court magistrate to pass the objectionable sentence was to stop this shuffling off by some of the foreign consuls of their responsibilities to their nationals and to the community. They will perhaps reply that their governments do not allow them any funds from which they can meet the expense of caring for their vagabond nationals. Then they must represent the position to their governments, and get an appropriation for the purpose; not shuffle off their paupers on the taxpayers and the Mixed Court, and allow the prestige of foreigners here to be blown to the winds, while they save themselves a little trouble and expense.
  Public sentiment is right in not allowing the man Oscar Sjoberg to be cangued; but public sentiment should insist on the sentence being changed in the proper way, by his Consul's recognising and claiming him. We have no doubt whatever that it was to bring about this result that Mr. Brown suggested the sentence that has justly roused the indignation of the community.

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