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Colonial Cases

Newspaper commentary China 1860s

The Daily Alta California, 12 September 1860


By a decision of the United States Consular Court, freight in vessels from the United States, when the bill of lading reads, "payable in dollars," will be paid in mexican dollars.  If Taels are intended to be paid or received, it must be so stated.


The North-China Herald, 15 September 1860

Hongkong Supreme Court case, NURSEE KESSWJEE v. RUSSELL & Co.


Bathurst Free Press & Mining Journal, 22 June 1861

Letter from John Dunn (Late Chief Inspector Hong Kong Police) concerning the various Chinese oaths.

"The authorities at Hong Kong as well as at the Consular ports of China simply caution them to tell the truth."



The North-China Herald, 13 February 1864

WHEN commenting, in a former issue, on the urgent necessity for some form of better government in Shanghai, we alluded casually to the quantity of judicial business which falls on the hands of the three principal Consuls, and mentioned that that in the English Consular Court alone was sufficient to afford average occupation to one person.  The size and importance which Shanghai has now attained are such that it is impossible consular courts can much longer supply its requirements.  In many cases, they are perhaps more desirable than regular legal tribunals inasmuch as they are composed of gentlemen intimately acquainted with the customs of the port, and fully competent to decide most mercantile questions which are brought before them.

But consular courts are purely courts of equity; it is not required or even supposed that the members have had a shadow of legal education, or that they possess any knowledge of law further than the few points which they are likely to pick up, bearing on mercantile transactions.  Thus, while more competent than even the Supreme Court at Hongkong to decide such a case as that of Barton versus Sassoon, which rested on a question of custom, and would not have been fairly decided by law, a consular court is not qualified to deal with such cases as those of REID versus LEIGHTON, and the ORIENTAL BANK, which involves important legal questions.  Even the recent shipping case of the Master and Owners of the Robert Lowe versus Alladeen Habibhoy & Co., involved a question as to how far the verbal contract made between the parties could be held binding on the latter, which a legal court would have been more competent to decide.

But apart from any question as to the desirability for the introduction of a legal element into the Shanghai courts, the  quantity of work thrown on the Consul by the number of cases he is required to adjudicate in is, alone, sufficient reason for the appointment of an officer whose sole attention shall be devoted to judicial business.  We would suggest, then, that in each of the three settlements, a law officer be appointed, with the full powers of a judge, from whose decisions an appeal should lie only to London, Paris, or Washington.  The power to associate with himself assessors, in any case where a question as to the custom of the ports was concerned, might be advantageously retained; but in all the purely legal questions which are so n numerous in each settlement, he would require and  ask for no such aid.

Here again, however, the difficulties caused by the absence of government and the amalgamation of nationalities at Shanghai, threaten to offer obstacles to any attempt at a solution.  The work would be only half done, if each settlement had its law court, to which members of other nationalities refused to defer.  It is necessary to devise some scheme by which such divergence of opinion as that recently exhibited between the English and American courts in the cases of Reid versus Leighton and of the Oriental Bank shall be avoided; and we think this object is quite feasible. The necessary difficulty, where consular courts are concerned, of a subject of one nation being subject to the decision of the consul of another, when members of two nations are litigants, might be avoided by an agreement between England, France, and America, that whenever a subject of one of these countries had a difference with the subject of another, the law officers of the two nations should sit on the same bench and adjudicate.

If a Frenchman brought an action against an Englishman, the English and French judges might try the case in concert, and the same rule would apply where an Englishman and an American, or an American and a Frenchman were concerned.  The scheme no doubt, is open to objections, and numerous minor difficulties would have to be smoothed away.  But is appears to be the only one by which the urgent requirement for some general legal court can be met, in the absence of a single supreme government at Shanghai.  At any rate, even if the amalgamation of the courts as we have suggested, be found impracticable, it is at least urgent that a law officer should be appointed in each settlement with the full powers of a judge, added to those now possessed as a consul so far as these differ from the former. 

Of other nationalities, Italians, Germans, Danes, and Swedes, we make no mention; as their numbers are not sufficiently great, nor are the cases in which they become implicated often of sufficient importance, to render necessary any other provisions than those they now possess.  Their Consuls are not over-worked, as are those of America, England and France; nor is the business which they have to transact of greater importance than a Consul is generally supposed to undertake.


The North-China Herald, 23 July 1864


FOREMOST amongst the few occurrences of importance or interest which, during the past week, have taken place in our midst, we must place the capture of Morris, who some time since effected his escape from the American jail in company with others who like himself had been engaged in the Tsatlee affair.  He was captured on Thursday evening at a low public house in the French Concession known as the Liverpool Arms, and now lies double ironed in the English jail, his legs being, we are happy to say, accommodated with a pair of stocks which will prevent for the present any manifestations of  a jail-breaking tendency.

As usual, our French friends endeavored to have a finger in the pie, and, utterly regardless of the late Consul-General's protestations, to the effect that Consuls of other powers possess full authority to order arrests of their nationals within the French settlement, delivery of the prisoner to the proper American authority was refused.  The affair was ultimately settled, but the fewer misunderstandings that occur between the representatives of the great powers, the better we should imagine it would be for the peace and good order of the settlement.

On Wednesday, a man named Maclean, who had been sentenced to nine months imprisonment as a participator in the Tsatlee piracy case, was again placed in the dock, charged with having had a revolver in his possession, and resisting arrest by drawing it on the policeman who seized him.  He was accordingly sentenced to perpetual deportation, in addition to the sentence of imprisonment pronounced.


The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), 5 August 1864


(From The Times.)


To-day we have news that a people whose Government is founded entirely upon reason, and whose literature and religion exists only to combine with a system of pure ethics, have just been roasting to death over a slow fire four European prisoners.  [Mentions Major Gordon, a British officer of high character, a Colonel Cooke, who is not, we believe, a British Officer, 4 men of the ship Firefly.


The Consular Courts are gradually acquiring the sanctions necessary to authorize them to deal justice throughout the city.  Shanghai is now practically independent of Pekin, except in the matter of the Customs' dues.



The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June 1865

The Baron de Meritens is still in active charge of affairs in Fukhien Province.  He is supposed to be urging the authorities to apply more force, especially in the shape of artillery.  He continues to act in a most illegal and unbecoming manner, in total defiance of the treaties, and has apparently connived with the Consuls. He confiscates vessels without any form of trial even upon charges which a Consular Court has dismissed - ...

   He has established a spy system, which is carried on to a repulsive extent, and has resulted in the cold-blooded murder of a citizen of the United States, under circumstances which will be found detailed in the proper place.  The worst is that the outrage was committed by a French-man on board a British ship, and consequently comes under British jurisdiction.  But British law in China is made so lamentable subversive to diplomatic crochets, that the atrocity will probably be hushed up.


The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), 6 July 1865


(From the Times.)

Critical comment on Consular Courts.  [Refers to the case of  Dodds "might have been sent down to the Court of Hong Kong."]


Some years ago the Chinese Custom-house officers attempted to stop a sailing vessel in the Shanghai harbor which was leaving contrary to the Costoms' regulations.  The master fired his revolver into the boat and killed one of the Chinese Customs' men.  The case was carried to Hong Kong; the master was tried, the facts cleatrly proved, and the prisoner was immediately acquitted.


The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania), 5 September 1865


(From The Times, June 7th.)

[Long article on the law background, refers to the recent Order in Council for the Supreme Court at Shanghai.]


The North-China Herald, 10 February 1866


The 4th of September, 1865, was remarkable as the day upon which the newly established Supreme Court for China and Japan was opened.  With its constitution all are familiar, and we need therefore do no more than call attention to the more important cases which have come before it.

The case of "The Municipal Council versus Wills' Estate" established the legal status of the Council, and gave it a firm base of operations against others who may dispute its right to enforce taxes levied by the land-renters. 

Again, the equally important case of "Regina versus E. A. Reynolds," set at rest all controversy as to the right of renters of land on the banks of the streams to the foreshore formed by natural deposit.

Three serious criminal cases have occupied the attention of the Court.  In one, in which three Englishmen in company with certain Americans were charged with robbery with violence and manslaughter at a Customs barrier at Chipao, the prisoners were found guilty of the lesser offence, and were sentenced to three years penal servitude.  Two cases of murder have also been tried.  In the first, "Regina versus Mahommed, murder of Leemah (prisoner's wife,) the accused was found guilty, and sentenced to death.  In the other, three men charged with the murder of one MacDonald, a tavern keeper at Hankow, were acquitted through a flaw in the evidence, although the moral conviction of the whole community were strongly against them.



Empire (Sydney), 12 July 1866


The second ordinary general meeting was held yesterday (April 25th) at the London Tavern; Mr. J. J. Lowndes in the chair.


Problems with a Mr. Wiggins and misuse of funds.

The Chairman believed that only a very small loss would eventually occur from these transactions.

A Shareholder: Are you certain of Mr. Wiggins's death?  ("Hear," and a laugh.)

The Chairman had no certificate of his burial, but his will had been proved at the consular Court at Shanghai.  The doubt had never crossed his mind as to whether he was dead or not.


The North-China Herald, 27 October 1868


   Our readers will have noticed that a Chinese tailor who purchased silk stolen from Messrs. Watson and Co., was let off scot free by the Mixed Court.  It seems to us that he was as much to blame as the actual thieves.  He confessed to having bought for $34, silk worth $313.  Is a Chinaman so utterly ignorant of the value of one of the staple products of his own country, as to imagine he was paying market value for this silk?  The idea is absurd.  He must have known it was dishonestly come by; and should have been punished for receiving stolen goods.  A contemporary blames the foreign customers who purchased from him, at $2 a yard, silk worth $5.  But it is possible they were not so accurately posted as to perceive the great difference between its real and selling value.


Daily Alta California, 12 February 1869




The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 1869


The fifteenth ordinary general meeting of the proprietors of this bank was held on the 21st of April, at the London Tavern; Mr. T. A. Mitchell in the chair.


Referring to the old bad debts account, he said that they had written off a further sum of £21,213.  These debts arose mainly from three concerns, two of which he had alluded to on a previous occasion.  In one case they had obtained a judgment in the Consular Court in China upon a disputed claim; but two years ago the matter was transferred to the Privy Council here, which determined against the bank, and the result was the loss of £6500.


The North-China Herald, 18 September 1869


As will be seen by a notification in our columns, appeals from the French Consular Courts of China and Japan will now lie to Saigon instead of Pondicherry as heretofore.

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