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Colonial Cases

Hong Kong





... principal incidents connected with foreigners during the year 1839.

July 7th. - An affray occurred at Hong Kong, in which a native, named Lin Wellie, lost his life.


THE ENQUIRER (Perth, W. Australia), 22 May 1844

The first criminal Court ever held in China under British authority, had just been held at Victoria, the constitution of which Court presents a rather novel feature in the administration of justice.  The Governor, and Lieutenant Governor, sat as Judges in this Court, the former of whom made an address to the Jury on the peculiarity of his position, which certainly has some thing very un-English about it; in fact the settlers at present seem to be living entirely under Military law.  The HongKong Gazette, which is an official print, has a few cautious remarks on the extraordinary powers vested in the Governor,. Sir H. Pottinger, but seems satisfied that he will use them with impartiality, and discretion.  The settlers themselves are said to be anxiously looking forward to the appointment of proper civil and criminal Judges:-

   The first Session of a Supreme Court of Justice fir the trial of criminal offences, committed by Her Majesty's subjects within the colony of HongKong or the dominions of the Emperor of China, was opened yesterday.

   The Court was held in a temporary building near government house. Their Excellencies the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, sat as Judges upon a platform slightly elevated above the Clerks table and the seats for the Jury.  Sir He4nry Pottinger was dressed in plain clothes, and General D'Aguilar in uniform.  Mr. Burgesss officiated as Clerk, and Mr. Hilller as Register of the Court.

   The Court was opened by M r. Hiller's reading a proclamation stating the purposes for which it was held.  Mr. Farncomb, the Coroner, having presented an inquest, the names of several respectable parties were called and they were sworn in as a Grand Jury.  Mr. Patrick Stewart was chosen foreman.

   His Excellency Sir Henry Pottinger read a short and emphatic address to the Jury, at the conclusion of which Mr. Hiller presented them with an indictment against a Manila seaman, charged with killing an officer of his ship on the high seas.  The Grand Jury retired into an adjoining room and the Court proceeded to swear in petty Jurymen.

   A true Bill was found against a seaman of the "Harlequin" (a native of Manila) for wilful murder of the second Mate.  A true bill was also found against an Artillery Marine, of H.M. Steamer Driver, for manslaughter of a China boatman.

   In the afternoon the Seaman of the "Harlequin" was tried before His Excellency and a petty Jury.  A verdict of wilful murder was returned against him, but he was recommended to mercy on account of the provocation received.  Sentence of death has been recorded, pending the pleasure of Her Majesty.

   To-day the Court meets for the trial of the Marine, for manslaughter of the boatman, and any other matters that may be brought before them.




(From the Friend of China, Oct. 8.)

On the evening of Friday a most atrocious murder was committed at the house of Mr. Clarke, blacksmith, near the burying ground.

   From Mr. Clarke's examination before the Magistrate, and the evidence before the Coroner, who held an inquest on the body of the murdered woman, (Clarke's wife,) it appears that Clarke was in town until after 10 o'clock.  On his return he called for a servant to take his horse, but received no answer.  He opened [line missing] sitting room, open; his wife laying on a couch apparently asleep; a lamp was burning dimly as if it had not been trimmed for some time.  Clarke shook his wife by the foot that he might waken her; the stiff feel of the foot alarmed him, and on putting his hand on the body he found it cold, he also saw blood on the face.  He immediately gave the alarm to the Indian watchman on the beat, and also to the Inspector at the central station.  The Inspector went to the house; he found that Mrs. Clarke's throat had been cut with a sharp instrument; she had also several cuts on the neck, one across the nose which severed the bone from the skull, one across the forehead, which the Colonial Surgeon thought would have been sufficient to render her insensible.  On gong up stairs the children were found in bed asleep and several boxes opened, and apparently rifled.  The children---the eldest four and a half years of age---heard no noise.  The house servant and two men who wrought in the forge had absconded, and a large carving knife was missing.  These appear to be the particulars as known.  The Jury on the inquest returned a verdict of willful murder against some person or persons unknown.

   We understand that an application has been made to the Chinese authorities, that the three men delivered up; but with what success, we have not heard.  If they are arrested, it is likely that the crime will be brought home to one of them from the following circumstance.  On examining the body, Dr. Dill found part of a finger nail laying upon the chest.  The nail had evidently been sliced off by a sharp instrument; it was not cut from the murdered woman fingers, nor was it cut off those of her husband whose hands were examined before the Magistrate.  It is very likely that the murderer cut one of his own nails inadvertently, and if he neglects to cut the others, the fact of his having one short will be very strong proof of his guilt.

   Murder is a crime of rare occurrence among the Chinese.  We believe that this is the first instance on record of a European's having been murdered by servants; but it will cause a good deal of alarm, the more especially that a few months ago there was reason to suspect that an attempt had been made to poison a Gentleman and his wife, by putting some vegetable poison in their soup.  Foreigners have not that security over servants in Hong Kong which they have in Canton, where detection and punishment would certainly follow a murder.  In the present case it is to be hoped that every exertion will be made to capture the absconded parties upon whom the suspicion rests and bring them to justice.  We fear the supineness of our own Authorities and their want of decision in dealing with those of China.  We will be glad to hear that our fears are groundless, and then they have made a peremptory demand that the men be delivered up. 





On the 27th of October a China boat got under way a little before sunset on her passage to the south of Hongkong. She had on board of a crew and passengers in alt eighteen souls; some of the passengers are well known in Victoria, where they had been employed a considerable time, in passing the native shipping which usually congregate off the lower barrier, the passenger boat got foul of another boat at anchor, but without doing any damage. After some altercation between the boatmen, some of the crew of the junk at anchor got into their sampan armed with two muskets, and gave chase, firing one or more shots. Unfortunately, as it happened, a boat with a policeman on board who was in search of a vagabond who had absconded after robbing his master of 250 dollars was not far distant, and seeing the sampan in pursuit, joined in the chase, under the impression that a robbery had been committed, or that they were about to capture the thief they were in search of. The poor creatures who were thus being hunted down, found that escape was hopeless, and in desperation they leaped over- board and were captured, with the exception of five, who were drowned. This is the first act of the drama. The second act opens with the appearance of the captives before Mr. Hillier, arraigned on a charge of piracy. That acute young gentleman found them, guilty, sentenced them to be flogged, and imprisoned 'for three months, with the exception of four, who after being flogged were presented to the Cowloon Mandarin - a sort of complimentary exchange of civilities between the representatives of two civilized powers! The third act brings the catastrophe. The bodies of the drowned men being recovered, the coroner summons a jury, and holds an inquest. The jury, after a patient investigation, which occupied the greater part of three days, returned a verdict of man- slaughter against the parties who forced the men to take the water. An English jury have thus declared that the whole of the men were innocent, but in the meantime they were scourged, ironed, and imprisoned, by sentence of a person who holds the responsible office of Chief Magistrate of this colony. - Friend of China, Nov. 4.

   The Honorable Chief Justice has set aside the inquest upon the bodies of the five Chinese (drowned by being forced into the water by armed men on the 27th October), on the grounds that the form of procedure before the coroner was illegal and irregular. The parties against whom a verdict of manslaughter had been recorded were therefore discharged, though, as refers to the men who first gave chase and fired guns-for which they had neither warrant nor excuse - the case was clearly one of murder.- Ibid, Nov. 25.


Weekly Alta California, 12 July 1849

   On the eve of the departure of last overland mail, we had the painful duty of announcing that in all probability Captain da Costa of the Royal Engineers and Lieutenant Dwyer of the Ceylon Rifles, had been killed at Wong-maou-kok, a hamlet distant something more than a mile from Chek-chu Barracks.  The worst fears on the subject have since been confirmed. The body of captain da Costa was found the following evening, and brought to Hongkong, where an inquest was held upon it, which sat for four days. - China Mail.



THE STRAITS TIMES, 6 September 1853 (2)


Death of Captain Lovett; a Mr. Smith jumped overboard; Inquest.



FROM CHINA. -  By the arrival on Tuesday of the French ship St. Joseph, we are placed in possession of China dates to May 12th. ,,,'

   Five persons were struck by lightning on Hong Kong on May 6th.  Three were instantly killed and the remaining two died shortly after. ...


Bathurst Free Press, 21 June 1856
FIRE. - On the night of Saturday, the 23rd instant, a fire broke out at half-past twelve o'clock either in the store opening into the Western Market, or in that part of the market occupied by fish sellers.  .  .  .  
  At one place it was thought necessary to avert the spread of the flames westward and southward (towards Tai-ping-shan) by blowing up as house.  Seven persons were unfortunately blown up in the explosion - four were dug out dead, or have since died, the others not much injured.  We suppose an inquest will be held .  . .   Hongkong Register, Feb. 26


The Shipping Gazette, 13 October 1856

HONGKONG SHIPPING NEWS. - We gather the following intelligence from the Hongkong papers:- The river steamer Rose, on her voyage to Canton, on the 28th May, struck on some sunken rocks, owing to the Captain having hugged the shore too closely.  Twenty-six Chinese passengers are supposed to have been drowned in the fore hold, thirty-five being saved.  The Captain, mate, engineers, and European passengers were saved.  A coroner's inquest was held on the bodies of some of the Chinese, and a verdict of manslaughter returned against the Captain.

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