Sunday, 8 November 2015

Crockery in the Witness Box

When a Chinese crew member of a British vessel was killed in the 1920s, many of the witnesses at the subsequent trial took the oath by smashing crockery.

On 28th July 1925 an argument broke out amongst Chinese crew on the Sunderland registered steamer Palm Branch, which was sailing from St Thomas in Jamaica to Liverpool. The result of this was that one of them, Sing Looh ended up overboard. A boat was lowered but the search for him was abandoned after two hours.

On arrival in Liverpool on 11th August police boarded and after speaking to the Captain detained six of the crew. They then charged firemen Cheong Fook and Cheong Mo Fook, who were unrelated, with murder on the high seas. Cheong Mo Fook claimed that he had been hit over the head with a basin by Sing Looh and he had subsequently slipped into the water. Other witnesses though  said that the chief engineer had separated them and Cheong had then assaulted Sing Looh and threw him overboard with the help of his accomplice.

At the trial on 5th November two interpreters were required, one to interpret the evidence from Shanghainese to Cantonese, then another to translate into English. The Chinese witnesses took the oath by smashing crockery, the broken pieces of which littered the witness box. Cheong Mo Fook was found not guilty and discharged.

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