HC Deb 03 August 1866 vol 184 cc2040-51

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the rendition, by the acting Governor of Hong Kong, Mr. Mercer, in May, 1865, of a Chinese inhabitant of Hong Kong to the Mandarin authorities at Canton on an accusation of piracy, and to his subsequent barbarous execution; also to call attention to Parliamentary Paper No. 262, which he held in his hand, relating to the surrender to the Mandarin authorities by Her Majesty's naval officers in the China seas of alleged pirates, and to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty by what Act or Acts of Parliament, or Orders in Council, or other instructions, naval officers serving on the coasts of China hold direct communication with the Chinese authorities, and surrendered to them the crews of junks whom they deemed to be pirates, without the intervention of the British Consuls, the duly constituted channels of communication with the Imperial Government. The first case to which his notice referred was the crucifixion of a prisoner who had been given up by Mr. Mercer in Hong Kong to the Chinese authorities at Canton. The case was a very painful one, and had excited a great deal of popular indignation. His attention was first called to the atrocious circumstances by the following statement in the Hong Kong Overland Trade Report:Hong Kong, Tuesday, 30 May, 1865. The case of extradition referred to in last report as having been made by the Hong Kong authorities to the Canton Mandarins of a Taeping chief who had taken refuge here, has excited a good deal of popular indignation. It would appear that the local authorities have not only read the treaty erroneously, but that they have no power whatever to meddle in the matter, no Ordinance ever having been passed to enable them to take cognizance of offences under the Tientsin Treaty. The sad part of the story is the mode of the death of the unfortunate man surrendered. He was demanded on a charge of piracy; the punishment for which is decapitation. The surrender was made through the British Consul at Canton, who, in giving the man up to the Mandarins, notified that the accused ought to have a fair trial, and that he wished to know when the same would take place, as he would make it a duty to watch the proceedings. Whether a reply was or was not received is not known; but the prisoner was taken to the execution ground, tied to a cross, and was cut to pieces in a manner too horrible to bear recital. When at length death released the victim, his heart was cut out, and the soldiers mustered around and ate it! After which the head was cut off; the idea, in the commission of the two last barbarous acts, being that the deceased should appear in 'Hades' without head or heart. The horrible spectacle was witnessed by an officer in Her Majesty's service. Consequent upon the perusal of the above statement he (Colonel Sykes) addressed a letter, dated the 25th July, 1865, to Earl Russell, asking his Lordship to cause inquiry to be made into the conduct of Consul Robertson at Canton, and that of Mr. Mercer, the acting Governor of Hong Kong. Copy of this letter was sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Cardwell), who promptly demanded the necessary explanations; and the result is the Parliamentary Paper No. 120, ordered to be printed on the 20th March, 1866, and which is now in the hands of Members. It had been stated that the case of the individual given up had not been judicially investigated. The Return to the House gives the details of the seizure and judicial investigation before the police magistrate, Mr. Whyte. The forms certainly had been gone through, but the essence of justice was wanting, as appears on the face of the investigation, and of which Members can form their own judgment. The case was simply this:—In August, 1861, a Chinese, by name, How-Hoi-Low, but the acting Viceroy of Canton called him How - yook - tin, and Mr. Mercer tried him as Ho-yu-teen, arrived in Hong Kong and set up a shop there. He must have been of some respectability, for he had four or five assistants. Very shortly after his arrival, a stranger paid him a visit, and demanded money from him, saying, if he did not give it he should denounce him to to the Chinese authorities as A pirate for having robbed his boat of sugar and opium. Having refused the money demanded, some little time afterwards he was arrested by order of Mr. Mercer, and sent before Mr. J. C. Whyte, the police magistrate at Hong Kong, on a charge of robbery; the acting Viceroy of Canton had demanded his surrender on a charge of piracy, and Mr. Consul Robertson, in his letter to Mr. Mercer, dated the 21st April, 1865, forwarding the Viceroy's letter also, called it piracy, but as piracy must be tried by the Supreme Court at Hong Kong, Mr. Mercer chose to call the act of How-Hoi-Low "robbery," which placed him at the disposal of Mr. Mercer for rendition, and this Mr. Mercer states in his letter in the Parliamentary Return No. 120; and so strong a personal feeling did Mr. Mercer show in the matter, that he actually ordered the acting Attorney General of Hong Kong to attend Mr. Whyte's police court to watch the proceedings, that the accused might not escape by any quirk of law. How-Hoi-Low, when first threatened by a Chinese who called himself Chan-Tsun-Kit, consulted Mr. Pollard, a barrister at Hong Kong, who assured him that he was perfectly safe, and that he could not be given up. On the 24th April, 1865, however, he was seized by order of Mr. Mercer, and examined by the police magistrate, Mr. Whyte, Mr. Pollard defending the accused. The Viceroy demanded his rendition on the ground of his having piratically taken 3,000 taels in silver from a boat belonging to Chan-Tsun-Kit in the River Fook-Shan. His accuser is the only witness to the act of piracy, and in the following evidence involves himself in gross contradictions:— Police Court, Monday, 24th April, 1865. "Chan-Tsun-Kit, declared, deposeth: I am a trader, and live in the Toong-Kune district. In the first year of Toong-chee, the 17th day of the 5th Moon (13th June, 1862), I left Shanghae in a Ningpo junk for Chun-Kong. I had about 3,000 taels' worth of goods, oil, sugar, and opium, on board. The next day we were in the Fook-Shan River; at about three or four in the afternoon, I was asleep, and was roused up by some people on board. I saw two boats near us, one of them fired small cannons at us; the crew in my junk, which I had hired, all jumped overboard; I do not know if they were drowned, but the river is very wide; I had a crew of seven. I remained in the junk alone; the two boats came alongside; there were about thirty men on board of them. The prisoner was one of them; he was the head man. They took my boat to Fook-Shan; when there I was taken to a shed, and had a chain put on my feet. The prisoner told me I must write home to my friends for 1,000 dollars to be ransomed. I told him I had no more property; I was kept there about a month in chains, and was made to work for the prisoner, in cutting wood and carrying as a coolie. I was taken about by the prisoner by land from place to place, until the 1st day of the 7th Moon, of the 3rd year of Toong-chee (2nd August, 1864), two years and one and a half month, when the prisoner's party was beaten by the Mandarins. I do not know the name of the place. The prisoner and his party all ran away, and I hid myself in the hills until nightfall. Next morning, seeing nobody, I made for a place called Chan-gong; there I saw some soldiers I knew, and told them about my case. I remained about ten days at Chan-gong; and then sailed for Hong Kong, which I reached on the 15th of last October; I stayed here one day, and then went on to Canton. On the 15th of last month I came here from Canton to buy some goods; I was walking on the Praya, when I saw the prisoner enter a shop, the Kom-shing-tai, in the Praya West. I went back to Canton the next day, and wrote to a friend, Chan-Fai-Ting, who had been a prisoner with me when I was in the power of the prisoner. I told him I had seen the prisoner; I went to the Chinese authorities and stated what I had suffered, and that I had seen the prisoner in Hong Kong. I was sent here with a Mandarin by the Acting Viceroy.—To the Prisoner, I never saw you until the day on which I seized you; I am not a gambler; I never asked you to lend me money; I did not go to your shop in the 2nd Moon this year to ask you to lend me money. [Signed, in Chinese.] Chan-Fai-Ting says he saw the prisoner in the Fook-Shan river at the head of a body of men, and his own boat had been plundered of salt fish by him, but he did not see the piratical plunder of Chan-Tsun-Kit's boat. The accused utterly denied the charge—said that he knew the accused as a gambler, and that he had never seen the second witness before. Mr. Pollard raised objections to the legality of the proceedings, which were disallowed, and he then asked for a remand and a copy of the evidence. The prisoner was remanded to the 1st May, and admitted to bail in two sureties of 250 dollars each, which he readily found, testifying to his respectable status in Hong Kong. On the 1st May the accuser was cross-questioned and contradicted his former evidence that he was plundered in the Fook-Shan river, but says it took place "at Keang-han, which is situated on a river a long way from the sea," and further deposed that the prisoner was at the head of several hundred men, and went from place to place; the names of which he did not know; but he accompanied the party for more than two years before they were defeated by the Mandarins; and he then made his escape. The prisoner's counsel raised legal objections, and demanded that the papers should be detained in the hands of the police magistrate, with a view to an application to the Supreme Court. The objections and demand were disallowed, and the prisoner was committed to gaol pending reference to his Excellency the Acting Governor. On the 2nd May the Acting Attorney General, Mr. Henry John Ball, who had attended the police court, reported to the Secretary, Mr. Alexander, for the information of Mr. Mercer, that the evidence was sufficient against the accused, and that delay ought not to be granted to him, to appeal from one court to another; and on the 3rd day of May, Mr. Mercer, under his hand, ordered the gaoler to give the accused, How-yu-teen, in charge to the captain superintendent of police to be given up to the Chinese authorities, and Mr. Consul Robertson is informed accordingly; and the unhappy man was given up and executed in the barbarous manner described—of the truth of which there could not be a doubt, for he (Colonel Sykes) held in his hand an autograph letter of an officer of H. M. 2nd Battalion, 9th Foot, who witnessed the dreadful scene. Half a dozen words of comment on the proceedings will suffice to prove that had there been any disposition in Mr. Mercer to save the prisoner from the more or less cruel punishment which the Chinese authorities invariably inflict on criminals, and of which, from his long residence in China, he was well aware, he did not need legal technicalities to justify him, as the contradictory evidence of the accuser spoke for itself. He told the Viceroy he had been plundered of 3,000 taels in silver. He deposed before the magistrate that it was 3,000 taels' worth of oil, sugar, and opium; he deposed that it took place in the Fook-Shan river, and in his cross-examination, in a river a long way from the sea. He swore absolutely that he had never been to the shop of the accused, and had never endeavoured to extort money from the accused, while three witnesses swore that he did go to the shop of the accused, that he did demand money, and that he was thrust out of the shop. This proof of falsehood should at once have quashed all belief in the other parts of his story—which was sufficiently improbable—that he had been kept a prisoner by the accused for more than two years, and taken about the country with him, and only made his escape when the Mandarins beat the party, at the head of which was the accused. But admitting the truth of the accusations, that his boat had been plundered, he equally proved that How-Hoi-Low was an officer at the head of several hundred men, and moved in the districts spoken of by the accuser uncontrolled; and Mr. Mercer ought to have known that those districts for those two years were in the undisputed possession of the troops of the Taeping Emperor, and that he must have been an officer of the Taeping Government, and the act he had committed was in conformity with the rules of war between belligerents, and that when he sought safety in Hong Kong he was a political refugee. Moreover, Mr. Mercer should have known that the districts spoken of by the accuser were the field of Major Gordon's successful operations against the Taepings, that Major Gordon got a map made at the office of the Trigonometrical Survey at Southampton of the districts in which he had carried on his operations, and in that map there is not any such river as that described by the accuser Chang-Tsun-Kit! Mr. Mercer, in his letter to the Colonial Minister (Mr. Cardwell), dated 20th September, 1865, was pleased to say that he (Colonel Sykes) "had been shamefully imposed upon;" but after a deliberate consideration of the documents transmitted by Mr. Mercer, and comprized in the Parliamentary paper which he held in his hand, he (Colonel Sykes) had no hesitation in repeating the opinion he had expressed in his letter to Earl Russell, that the giving up of the then supposed Mo-Wang to the Chinese authorities was a "culpable rendition," and it has been called by a much harsher name by the Editor of a Shanghai Journal, who, until he saw the Parliamentary paper, had not taken an unfavourable view of Mr. Mercer's conduct. He was glad to find that an order had been sent by the Secretary for the Colonies that no further rendition should take place at Hong Kong without reference home. The second part of his notice of Motion related to Her Majesty's naval officers in the China seas, placing in the hands of the Mandarins the crews of captured piratical junks, or, at least, believed to be so. From a Return granted to him by the House, and dated Admiralty, 9th May, 1866, it appeared that during Admiral King's command seventy-one junks had been captured and burnt, or given up to the Mandarins, and 215 of their crews were taken prisoners, and 200 of them given up to the Chinese authorities without the intervention of the British Consular authorities, the remaining fifteen were given up to British authorities. The crews of these junks could not have averaged Jess than thirty men each, so that nearly 2,000 must have escaped on shore. Some of the prisoners were given up to the Mandarin authorities at Amoy, and the horrible barbarities perpetrated upon prisoners, whether rebels, robbers, or pirates, will be judged of from copies of letters which he (Colonel Sykes) held in his hand, one from on board Her Majesty's Gunboat Grasshopper from the son of one of his (Colonel Sykes') constituents in Aberdeen. He (Colonel Sykes) stated that his object in bringing these revolting scenes to the notice of the House was to elicit an opinion whether some means could not be devised by which Her Majesty's naval officers might be spared from the painful reflections that their present duties involved, as being the means of handing over human beings to such tortures as the letters describe. The Chinese authorities had not the power, and it may be doubted whether they had the will, to repress piracy in the China seas, and the maritime police of 1,500 to 2,000 miles of coast had to be exercised by British ships of war and gunboats. But to the naval service this was a painful and indeed hopeless task, for there was a general impression that very many of the towns and villages on the coast were the refuge, indeed, domiciles, of pirates, and that the Mandarin authorities shared in their plun- der, those only being punished and tortured who had nothing to give. Testimony is borne to this corruption in the following letter addressed to the Editor of the Daily Press, Hong Kong, dated Amoy, 31st December, 1865:— As this letter will be the last you will receive from me this year, I shall wind up with an account of some horrible scenes I have witnessed, Her Majesty's Representative here having actually allowed the Chinese Government officials to offer one of the greatest insults possible to foreign residents here, by permitting them to cut a Chinese prisoner in pieces whilst living, in front, and within ten yards, of European private and public residences at Amoy. I witnessed the execution of two criminals; one, Yun-tao, a native of Tong-wa, was found guilty of conspiracy and rebellion, the other, a Sampan man, had committed murder—both were first beaten with a bamboo. The rebel, having received his 300 blows, and borne them without a murmur, was taken to a cross that had been erected for the purpose, and being securely lashed to it in an upright posture, with his arms extended, the executioner commenced his horrible butchery by first cutting off the flesh above the eyes, next the ears, and then the breasts; then he cut through the muscles of each arm, laying the silvery white bone bare, the flesh not being cut off, but left hanging; the blood spirting out, and actually bespattering the executioner at each pulsation of the heart. Then the muscles of the thighs were cut out in the same manner. After the executioner had performed these dreadful tortures upon the poor wretch he laid his small knife aside and took another about ten inches long and about an inch broad, and cut gashes on each side of the man's chest, laying the ribs bare. Then he made several flourishes with the knife, and then ran it into the poor victim's body, entering just below the sternum in the middle of the chest, to the full extent of the blade. This I thought and hoped would prove the coup de grace. But no, for the man still breathed, and the executioner still continued his bloody task, cutting downwards with the knife, and letting out the entrails. He then slashed, and cut open the stomach. Then, giving a yell, ran his hand in, and seized the man's liver, and cut it out, passing the bleeding, quivering mass to his assistant as coolly and in as business-like a manner as though he were opening and butchering a pig. This finished the torture, and the executioner left the victim in this mutilated state, not yet dead, for I saw him give several gasps for breath afterwards. He then cut the Sampan man's head off, at the foot of the cross, with a single blow, and then returned, and letting loose the rebel's head, which fell forward, he decapitated him, certainly the most merciful stroke he had given that day. The bodies were exposed on the same wharf, with their legs tied to posts, for five days afterwards, to the great annoyance of the Europeans who occupied the houses adjacent. The writer then narrates the fate of nineteen pirates captured by the Grasshopper, and delivered up to the Tautai. These men were tried and condemned to death. Three of them had friends who paid money for their release; the others were brought out for execution, when a respectably dressed Chinaman came forward and offered the Tautai a handkerchief full of dollars for the release of two others. The bribe was accepted, the two pirates were selected from the others, their shackles were knocked off, and they were allowed to depart with their kind friend and benefactor. The writer then states— Why it is quite a godsend to them, for our gunboats to capture pirates, and give them over to them for trial, and punishment; and this is what makes the Chinese authorities so anxious always for the gunboats to capture the men, and hand them over to them; so that they may reap the golden harvest, whilst our vessels of war and their brave crews are working hard, and risking their very lives, nominally to suppress piracy, but really to catch pirates, to hand over to a lot of thieving, lying, and squeezing Mandarins, to enrich themselves upon. The author then states his belief that of the fifty pirates surrendered by the gun. boats in November and December fourteen only were put to death. The Parliamentary Return, No. 262, mentions only twenty-seven pirates given up on the 1st of November from the Grasshopper, and none in December; but the author witnessed the executions of fourteen pirates at Amoy on the 8th of December, given up by the Grasshopper, and the chief pirate was crucified and cut to pieces in the same manner as the rebel had been. The truth of this is attested by a letter from the son of one of his (Colonel Sykes') constituents in Aberdeen, on board the Grasshopper, and which was published in the Aberdeen Free Press, on the 19th of June, 1866— I shall just mention some of the Chinese punishments which I have witnessed since I have been in Amoy. I went on shore the other day. It was the end of the Chinese Moon when all these things occur. The first I saw were four men who were crucified with the nails driven through the wrists, and the upper part of the foot, and who were let remain there till they died, with the skin of their forehead over their eyes. The next was three more pirates; they were put in a cage until they were starved to death. That is a common punishment. I have seen them where they had been in six days, and they turn regularly blue. It certainly does want something out of the way to try and suppress these pirates, for beheading is too good for them. I have seen eighteen beheaded at once. They are not allowed any block; they go on their knees, and off it comes as clean as a whistle. I think that will do for once. I could mention some more punishments cruel and more severe than any of these, but I forbear; these are bad enough. After such statements and such occurrences, he (Colonel Sykes) maintained that it would be a disgrace to the British name for us not to interfere to prevent the continuance of such atrocities inflicted upon prisoners whom our officers had captured. Of course, pirates should be punished even with death, but knowingly to deliver them up to torture, is too revolting to suppose for one moment that the continuance of the practice can be sanctioned. The Chinese Government has thrown upon us the maritime police of its coasts, and we have a right to prescribe the conditions on which we will perform the hateful work. Captured pirates might be sent as convicts to Bermuda or Western Australia, to our African settlements, or elsewhere, to be employed on Public Works. Indeed, the foreign Municipalities at Shanghai had adopted an analagous plan for Chinese offenders within their settlements. Under date of the 15th of January, 1866, it was stated, in a Shanghai Journal— That at Shanghai the Municipality, not wishing to hand over Chinese who had committed misdemeanors within the precincts of the foreign settlement, to be tortured by the Mandarins, had established a chain-gang. The Mandarins objected to this, but the Municipality was described as determined to carry out the plan. If therefore the Chinese Government consented to surrender its national rights to a local minicipality, the British Government surely could impose any condition it pleased in respect to the disposal of pirates taken by our naval officers, and he (Colonel Sykes), in the name of humanity, trusted Her Majesty's Government would speedily operate in the matter. He moved the adjournment of the House pro formâ.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Colonel Sykes.)


thought the hon. and gallant Member deserved the thanks of the House for bringing under their notice these painful circumstances. He contended that as the Chinese authorities had given up the guardianship of their own waters, they had virtually surrendered their claim at International Law to the rendition of these offenders, who might therefore be dealt with, when captured flagrante delicto, by the British authorities.


rose to order, and inquired whether it was competent for the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Sykes) to move that the House do now adjourn, and whether the Motion that the House do adjourn until Monday, which was on the paper, did not take precedence.


said, that Supply not being on the paper, there was nothing to prevent the hon. and gallant Gentleman from making the Motion that the House do now adjourn.


was most willing to do justice to the motives of the hon. and gallant Member for Aberdeen in bringing this subject before the House. Although it appeared that doubts had been entertained elsewhere as to the accuracy of the facts mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member, the Government were unfortunately well aware of their perfect truth. But while deploring the perpetration of the horrors that had been detailed by the hon. and gallant Member, the Government found that there were great difficulties in the way of putting an end to them. The whole of the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's Question related to the conduct of Mr. Mercer, the Governor of Hong Kong; this was a question for the Colonial Office, and therefore the Secretary of the Admiralty could not be expected to answer it. In answer to the second part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's Question, he might say that the officers of Her Majesty's navy in the Chinese seas acted under distinct orders, which were based upon the opinion given by the Queen's Advocate and the Law Officers of the Crown as long ago as 1855, as to the construction to be put upon the 13th Article of the Treaty of Tien-tsin of 1843. These orders directed that pirates taken in actual crime on the high seas were not to be punished except by the sentence of a Court of Law, and were to be delivered over to the British authorities; but, if the pirates were taken in seas within the Chinese jurisdiction, they must be handed over to the Chinese authorities, with the proviso that they were to have a fair trial, and were not to be subjected to torture or to any punishment contrary to the usages of civilized countries. Now, it unhappily turned out that, notwithstanding promises given in accordance with that proviso, the Chinese had frequently tortured the prisoners handed over to them. But what remedy had the British Government for such a breach of faith? The hon. and gallant Member suggested that the Government of this country should take the matter into their own hands; should try the prisoners, and, if guilty, send them to Bermuda or elsewhere. Such a course, without entering into fresh arrangements with the Chinese Government, might lead to very serious complications, and could not be adopted by the Government. The late Secretary for the Colonies had issued the strictest orders that the prisoners were not to be given up, unless the officers in whose custody they were placed were well assured that they would have a fair trial, and would not be tortured. He was sorry to say that, beyond issuing such instructions, Her Majesty's Government did not see their way to do anything at present. He trusted, however, that in time the civilizing influence of the Western Powers would put a stop to the revolting practices which had been referred to by the hon. and gallant Member, whom he could assure that any reasonable suggestion he might offer, by which these horrors might be put a stop to, would be gratefully received and acknowledged by Her Majesty's Government.