Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

R. v. Huffam, 1878


R. v. Huffam

Supreme Court of Hong Kong
Snpwden A.C.J., 11 November 1878
The North China Herald, 28 November 1878



11th November,

Before HON. F. SNOWDEN, Acting Chief Justice.

The Late Deputy Registrar.

    FREDERICK SOWLEY HUFFAM, late Deputy Registrar of the Supreme Court, convicted of converting to his own use $48, 849 received by him as official assignee in the bankrupt estate of Lyall, Still and co., and thirty other bankrupt estates, was now brought up for sentence.

   After the reading of an affidavit  by the prisoner, and hearing an address from Mr. Francis, the pioneer's counsel, in favour of mitigation of  sentence,

   His LORDSHIP said - Frederick Sowley Huffam, you have been found guilty, after a very patient investigation, of having, as a trustee, converted to your own use large sums of money entrusted to you. It is a fraud certainly of the most serious description - very nearly, indeed, I may say that has happened in third Colony since my arrival in it, or since this has been a colony at all.  No doubt, as Mr. Francis puts it, you have been placed in a position of great temptation.  You had command over large sums of money, to check which there was no adequate control; but at the same time I cannot forget that you were not left without some inducement to take care of this money as you ought to have done. 

   In the first place, I quite admit there was no creditors' assignee; if there had been you would have been accountable to him, and it is almost impossible these events could have happened of there had been.  The official assignee would have had a right to apply to the court to supersede the bankruptcy, and I may say of creditors will not take care of their own property I don't see why Government should be called upon to do so.  As I said before, there were other people who had an eye on what you were about.  There was a committee of management to supervise your dealings with the estate, and it is difficult to imagine that if they had discharged their duties properly they would not have known what sums of money were paid in and what sums were paid out.  Besides that, there were the rules of the Court by which you were strictly forbidden  to allow money to accumulate, and an order of the court might have been obtained at any moment. All these things were inducements to you to deal with the money properly, and you could only deal with it as you have done at very great risk.

   I have listened with great attention to the  eloquent address of your learned counsel, Mr. Francis, but I am sorry to say that your affidavit is to my mind a most unsatisfactory statement indeed.  In that affidavit you state that as large a sum as $800,000 has passed through your hands, and that the greater part of this large sum you have kept in a safe in your office, and that out of that sum yogi spent about $15,000 on family purposes, owing to the confusion in which your accounts were, and owing to the manner in which your own money was mingled with the creditors'. 

   Well, now, unless that affidavit was to be a full and frank confession of everything that has been done with the money, I must say that in my opinion it would have been better left out altogether.  There is a large sum of money still left, $25,000, of which you give no account whatever.  What you have done with it all, or where it is goner, we none of us apparently know.  Now, I think the only sign of true repentance you could possible give, the only way in which you could make any genuine reparation for your offence, would be to give such information as would have enabled the real owners of this money to recover it, if it is possible to do so now.  I was glad to hear Mr. Francis state there is a small sum to be returned to the creditors.  This is most satisfactory, and the person who voluntarily gives it up is much to be praised in every way.

   But I cannot forget, also, that there is another point.  In your affidavit, which is by no means satisfactory, you say you kept the large sum of money in the safe.  Why you did so I cannot possibly imagine, and besides that why you withdrew from the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank,  from the Oriental Bank, and also from the Treasury, a large sum of money which was safely  deposited there, is a circumstance to my mind full of suspicion.  I cannot imagine it was from any honest motive you removed that money and brought it so within your control that even the traces furnished by a banker's  account should be  wanting.  I have read the whole of the affidavit very carefully, and I must again say it is to my mind very unsatisfactory - very unsatisfactory.

   You say in your affidavit that you admit your offence and acknowledge the justice of the verdict, but I look in vain for any acknowledgment of regret, but I trust you do feel it, for you must have borne about a heavy load for years past, and the misery you bring upon others is fearful. I do earnestly hope that your example may teach other people how far better it is to eat the bread of honesty than to be in haste and grow rich by dishonest means, and how fearful a penalty must overtake persons who are guilty of fraud like this.

   You are acquitted, after argument, on a charge of having embezzled public money, being in the service of Her Majesty, but you have been found guilty as a trustee of converting to your own use moneys you held in trust.  Had you been found guilty on the first charge, you would have been liable to fourteen years' penal servitude.  The maximum penalty under the Fraudulent Trustee Section is seven years, and I am sorry to say that I think that term is scarcely adequate to your offence, I certainly should not be doling my duty if I award you a shorter period than that. 

   The sentence is that you be imprisoned in Victoria gaol and kept in penal servitude  for a period of seven years. 

   The prisoner was then removed.

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