HC Deb 21 March 1861 vol 162 cc155-7

said, he wished to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, If he can inform the House of the circumstances under which a British subject has been tried at Kanagawa by a Court composed of the Vice-Consul and three Merchants as assessors; whether the Court so composed agreed in the decision come to, and if the sentenced pronounced by the Vice-Consul was fine, deportation from Japan, and three months' imprisonment at Hong Kong; and, lastly, whether the Court at Hong Kong have pronounced the imprisonment unjust and illegal, in consequence of which the British subject referred to has been discharged from imprisonment


said, in answer to the question of his hon. Friend, that the circumstances under which a British subject was tried at Kanagawa were briefly these:—Mr. Moss, the British subject referred to, had gone out shooting, and had killed a wild goose or some other bird. On his way home, when he arrived at Kanagawa, he met certain persons employed by the police of that district, who advanced towards him with their swords. He cocked his gun, and threatened to fire if they advanced; but some other persons behind, employed by the same authorities, took away his gun, which in the struggle went off, and inflicted serious wounds on one or two persons who tried to take it from him. The Japanese seized him and carried him to a place of confinement, from which he was rescued by the British Vice Consul, who took him to his own house. According to the Treaty and to the Orders in Council he was there tried for the offence of having gone out with his gun, and also for the offence alleged by the Japanese, of having deliberately fired at those Japanese who were wounded. The British Vice-Consul had two assessors for the purpose of this trial. It did not appear that the Vice-Consul thought Mr. Moss guilty of the crime alleged by the Japanese—namely, that he had fired deliberately at these persons—but the Vice-Consul referred to an order for notification, issued in 1859, to the effect that it was not lawful, according to Japanese laws and customs, either to carry firearms or to go out in pursuit of game without permission, and he also found that his resistance to the police authorities was likewise a violation of the general order which had been given by the Government. The Vice-Consul, in consequence of these offences, condemned Mr. Moss to deportation from Japan, and also to pay 1,000 dollars as a fine. The two assessors dissented from this judgment, and refused to concur in the sentence. The matter was, therefore, according to the treaty, referred to the Consul General, Mr. Alcock, who said that the two assessors were not competent in any way to give an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Mr. Alcock thought the punishment too mild, and he added to it three months' imprisonment at Hong Kong. Mr. Moss was accordingly sent to Hong Kong; but when he arrived there it was found that the warrant of the magistrate was informal. It professed to be given upon the authority of the Order in Council, which Order in Council was repealed, and there was not, therefore, any justification for the sentence of imprisonment. Mr. Moss was thereupon liberated, not at all upon the merits of the case, but from this technical defect. He was sorry to say that the conduct of Mr. Alcock on one side and the opinion of the British merchants on the other had led to a good deal of discussion and ill-blood in Japan. Mr. Alcock's representation was that between the question of conforming to the Japanese laws and customs on the one hand, and a certain liberty to the British subjects on the other, a line ought to be drawn; but he said that many of the British subjects in Japan thought themselves entitled to violate the laws of that country, whereby they excited on the part of the Japanese a great deal of resentment and complaint. The merchants, on the other hand, said it was absurd to suppose that all the Japanese customs, their mode of dress, and various other things were to be observed by English residents. That might be perfectly true on their part, but he must say he thought that Mr. Alcock was quite right in saying that while on the one hand a fair liberty should be allowed to British merchants and others engaged in their common pursuits, yet that to set at defiance the laws and customs of the Japanese was a course of conduct that was calculated to lead to very serious results. With respect to the legal question, that must be referred to the Law Officers of the Crown, and he could, therefore, offer no opinion upon it, nor could he give the papers until that opinion was given. These, however, were the facts, and he must say he should very much lament if the conduct of the English residents in Japan should neutralize the good effects which the active commerce springing up between the two countries could not fail to produce.