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Colonial Cases

Roper v. Mitsubishi Mail S.S. Co., 1875

[wrongful dismissal]


Roper v. Mitsubishi Mail S.S. Co.

Judicial Court of Kanagawa Ken
Kitabatake Harayusa P
Source: The JAPAN WEEKLY MAIL, 27 November, 1875



Before Mr. Kitabatake Harayusa, President.

Wednesday, 24th Nov.,1875


   This was a claim for $5,320 for alleged breach of agreement and wrongful dismissal.

   Defendants in their answer pleaded breach of agreement on part of plain tiff, and disobedience of orders, as justifying them in dismissing him.

   Mr. Dickins appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. Ness for defendants.

   Mr. Dickins continued his examination of Alfred Roper.

  Witness: I did not write any report to the agent at Shanghai. By command of the agent at Shanghai I wrote a report of the grounding to the Japanese Consul at Shanghai. I have got a copy (produced). The ship was then afloat and ready to go back to Yokohama. We continued to take cargo. Capt. Corning was acting as agent then, but he told me he had resigned. I brought Mr. Grosser from Yokohama as a passenger to Shanghai. He was to be chief clerk, and he wrote a detailed account of the whole affair to Mr. Krebs, the foreign superintendent at Yedo. Mr. Grosser read the account to me before he sent it.

   Mr. Dickins called for its production.

   Mr. Ness said he had never seen it or heard of it.

  Witness: Mr. Grosser sent it by the Oregonian, as she was the faster ship.

  Mr. Ness said that he would produce the letter if it was in existence.

  Witness: The contents of the letter were favourable to me. It said that my ship was properly conducted. I arrived at Yokohama on the return voyage on Sunday, 6th of June. I was dismissed in the 8th Jun. On the 7thJune I went to the head office at Tokio. I saw Mr. Krebs and Mr. Iwasaki. I was asked how the accident happened in the Shanghai river. I said I could give no more information than I had given to the Japanese Consul at Shanghai. Mr. Iwasaki said that I appeared to be a very unfortunate man. Mr. Krebs asked me to draw a diagram. Did so. I promised to send from the ship a better one. Both gentlemen shook hands with me, and we parted. I do not remember anything being said about a pilot. I then returned to my ship.  On the 8th, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I was in my cabin, drawing the diagram now in Court, when I received a letter from the M. B. M. S. S. Co. I opened it, and saw it contained my discharge.  Captain Brown of the Thabor, was in my cabin at the time. (Discharge produced.) A quarter of an hour after I received my discharge I complied with it under protest. [Produced.] I then received another letter on same day saying my successor would be on board that same day or the next. His name was Capt. Allen Moore. About nine o 'clock that night, as I was at dinner on board with some friends, a Japanese brought me a letter and over 3,000 yen to pay the crew off for the previous month. This was six hours after my discharge. All my friends advised me to put the money in the Hongkong bank, get a receipt for it, and go to the English Consul. My friends said that the Mitsu Bishi would have to sue me in the English Court instead of me suing in this Court. I did not do this. locked it up in the safe.

  Next day Capt. Moore came and took charge. I gave the money to the English friends' clerk and he paid all the men and officers. Captain Moore took possession of my cabin, and asked me what the diagram was; I told him. I said I was going to send it to Yedo to the Company.  The second mate refused to initial the diagram. 

   Before I left the Kanagawa Maru Mr. Krebs came on board and I represented to him how hard it was that I should be discharged, after he had been so satisfied the day before. He took hold of my arm, and said, "Oh, the grounding is nothing. It is your dispatch to the Japanese Consul that offended the directors." Three chief officers were sent on board; I was to choose one. I took one and he turned out to be a drunkard. I took him before the Consul at Shanghai and had him discharged.  I received a letter expressing displeasure about it from the Company. [Produced.] [Mitsu Bishi instructions produced.]  I have had several conversations with Mr. Krebs and Japanese of the M.B.M. S.S. Co. on the subject of my dismissal. They told me that I was more of a Government man than of the Mitsi Bishi Company. It is not compulsory to take pilots for the Shanghai river.  My agreement is silent about pilots. By the sixth clause of my agreement I have full discretionary power over the navigation of my ship. (Read.) I did not think it advisable to lower a boat at the lightship. If the pilot had been on board the lightship I would have taken him. I did not think it wise to send a boat to the lightship simply to enquire if there was a pilot on board it.  I only saw a common lantern on board it. A "flare up" is the proper pilot sign.

  During the time I commanded the Kanagawa Maru I had trouble with the engines several times. The chief engineer often asked me to stop, or the engines would break down, he said. I did not always receive instructions always to engage pilots for the Shanghai river. The Company was to find them. Out of disobedience to the Company I never refused to take a pilot.  When the Kanagawa Maru ran ashore near Black Point, she did not injure herself. Expense was incurred for lighters. The tugs cost 950 taels.  It cost the Company more than if the cargo had been discharged in the usual way. I can't say the amount of loss; the accounts did not pass through my hands. I have never acted negligently in the navigation of the Kanagawa Maru.

   Court adjourned till 9 a.m. on the 29th inst.

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