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Colonial Cases

Municipal Council v. Mahomed and Singh, 1899

[escape from gaol]

Municipal Council v. Mahomed and Singh

Police Court, Shanghai
Burrows PM, 13 May 1899
Source: North China Herald, 15 May 1899

Shanghai, 13th May
Before E. H. Burrows, Esq., Police Magistrate
  Dost Mahomed and Chandat Singh were brought up on remand, charged with feloniously and wilfully allowing three Chinese convicts to escape from the Municipal Gaol, on the 5th inst.
  Capt. Mackenzie on behalf of the Council prosecuted, and Inspector Wilson conducted the case.
  Mr. Mears, the gaoler, was recalled and, interrogated by Inspector Wilson, stated that on the night if the 5th inst. three convicts Nos. 40, 54 and 115 escaped from the said gaol. No. 40 had been sentenced on the 24th of October 1898 to a year's imprisonment for larceny; No. 54 to two years' (for burglary) dating from the 28th of April last, and No. 115 (larceny) to six months from the 13th of March. The prisoners before the Court went on duty on the night of the escape each armed with a Martini-Henri carbine, sword bayonet, and five rounds of ball ammunition. He recognised the weapons produced in Court as those supplied to the prisoners,  and found them after the alarm was given lying on the guard bed inside of the gaol while the prisoners were outside in the compound. The door of the compound was closed and bolted on the outside.
  Inspector Wilson - Are there any keys belonging to the cells missing?
  Mr. Mears - Yes, two. One was lost a week before the escape; and the prisoner, Dost Mahomed, had the second one that night, and it has not been seen since.
  His Worship - It is necessary for me to satisfy myself that an offence has been committed, and I shall require some evidence about the gaol itself.
  Captain Mackenzie then proposed to the Court that Inspector Wilson should give the evidence as he was the first to make the enquiry. A plan of the gaol was then produced.
  His Worship to Mr. Mears - The key was missed about a week before the escape, did you not report it as missing? - Not until the night of the escape.
  What kind of key was it? - Would it open any cell? - Yes, it was a master key.
  Do I take it that a master key that would open any cell was missing, that you did not report the fact, and that it was still missing? - Yes.
  Who had access to it? - The Sergeant and myself.
  Who is the Sergeant? - Abdul Raman.
  Was the key itself locked up? - Yes. It had been taken out the day that I missed it.
  Whom by? - Myself.
  Into whose hands do it go? - I gave it out to one of the warders but I cannot say to which one, all keys being of like pattern.
  Did the warder give them back to you? I consider this evidence absolutely necessary in order to help me to form an opinion of the case. - A warder gave me some keys, but I cannot tell who it was now. I counted them after they came back, but not at the time they were returned. It was after that that I missed them.
  Who put them back into the receptacle? - I did and I counted them as I put them back.
  Were they handed back to you by the warder to whom you gave them? - Each man gave me some keys. I could not say which warder gave me a key short. I may say I was away at the time at dinner and I do not know when the warders handed back the keys. They should have handed them to the Sergeant. I do not know whether they handed them to the Sergeant or put them back in the cupboard themselves. The Sergeant locked them up.
  When you discovered the key was missing you took no steps until the day of the escape. - I tried to find out.
  Inspector Wilson to Mr. Mears - Can you tell me the numbers of the cells from which the convicts escaped? - Two convicts, No. 49 and 54, escaped from No. 52 cell, and one. No. 115, from No. 47 cell.
  Do you identify the plan put in of the cells as correct? - I do.
  Last Saturday, in your evidence you said that the ladder used by the convicts to get away was kept inside of the gaol? - Yes.
  And that you found the ladder against the outer wall of the compound? - Yes.
  This evidence was then interpreted to the prisoners after which the Magistrate asked them if they had any questions to put.
  Dost Mahomed, hereupon, asked the gaoler what orders were given when he went out on night duty.
  Mr. Mears - I told him that he was to go round as usual with the bull's eye.
  Were they to look at the convicts through the small door or large door? - I have given strict orders not to open the large door except in the presence of a Sergeant, besides, the orders are stuck up in the gaol.
  Capt. Mackenzie here explained to His Worship that the small door was only a hatch about 9 in. square to enable the warder to count the convicts through it.
  Dost Mahomed - Can anyone inside open the door if the hatch be open?
  Mears -  Yes, by passing one's hand   through the trap supposing one had the key.
  Mr. Mears here informed His Worship that on or about the 26th of last month the warders were made to fall in and were questioned regarding the loss of the key.
  His Worship - Did you never report the loss? - No.
  Convict No. 33 was then put into the witness box and, to interrogations by Inspector Wilson, said that his name was Chung Kwei-ching and that on the night previous to the escape he was locked in cell No. 52 along with convicts Nos.  40 and 54, who intended on the following morning at four o'clock, when one of the warders had gone to the cook, to effect an escape. They were to make some sort of noise to cause the remaining warder to open the door, as they could easily overpower the one man. Afterwards they abandoned the scheme.
  Inspector Wilson - On the night of the escape what cell were you locked in? -
  Convict 33 - I was locked in the same cell with the same convicts.
  Witness then continued his evidence stating that after they were locked up for the night No. 40 took a stone breaker's hammer out of his sleeve, and No. 54 had an iron wire which he used to remove the mortar surrounding a brick in the cell, the hammer being used to loosen the brick.
  Inspector - When the convict struck the brick with the hammer didn't it make a noise?
  No. 409 drowned the noise by striking simultaneously with the lid of the night soil bucket.
  Which warder came to the cell? - Dost Mahomed, who unlocked the door of the cell and came in, leaving the key in the lock. The warder noticed that the centre bed had been moved so he took his lamp and seartched round the  cell; when he could not find anything he caught hold of convict 54  by the queue, at the same time No. 40 slipped out of the cell, took the key from the lock, also the hammer,  and ran to the left and opened one of the cells, but what number he could not say as he was unable to see.  

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