On the 1st January 1903, Lewis Hare Clayton, the District Officer for Christmas Island, finished his Annual report covering the preceding year. Among the various headings in that document such as “revenue”, “health” and “shipping” etc, was one titled “Crime”. This is what he had to say on the subject:
There were 93 cases in the Magistrate’s Court during the year. With very few exceptions the offences were trivial. Two cases of culpable homicide were however committed for trial at Singapore. The victims were in each case mandors. In the first case there was considerable provocation and the prisoner got five years. In the second and more serious case four coolies got fifteen years each and six others who were undoubtedly implicated were acquitted for want of proof.
That two mandors should have been killed in one year is not satisfactory and goes to indicate a certain amount of oppression on the part of the mandors, although it does not follow that the men killed were the worst offenders. The mandors at Christmas Island are possibly not worse than those elsewhere, but several of them, and especially the head-men, are to say the least of it unscrupulous, and coolies cannot, as elsewhere, abscond if they think they are being unfairly treated. Again, the practice of promoting the stronger and more influential coolies to be mandors does not always answer. These men are usually, although there are exceptions, the most tyrannous of any.
It would be an improvement if the coolies were not in future left entirely to the mandors while at work, and if a system of impartial European supervision were adopted.
Annual Departmental Reports of the Straits Settlements for the year 1902 (As laid before the Legislative Council, Singapore)
This was not the first time Clayton had spoken of the mandors. In his lengthy Colonial Report of 1900 he stated:
I found that when on duty most of the mandores carried canes. Some of the coolies had slight rattan marks, and they cheerfully announced, “When we are lazy we get caned.” I think this practice should be stopped. There was no instance of anything worse than a very slight caning, but it was always a weak or sickly coolie who had been punished, and a small fine would be just as effective in checking malingering.
A picture starts to form about the very early mandors of Christmas Island and it is not a very flattering one. In photos you will see them with sticks. They were being wielded on Christmas Island to beat and intimidate the hapless coolies. In John Hunt’s book, “Suffering through strength” he states that the mandors:
… used rattan canes and in some cases traditional fighting poles (even though both weapons were illegal for mandors under Straits law).
The following are newspaper reports for the murders mentioned above. They transport us back to that same year where if beriberi and accidents didn’t incapacitate or kill the coolie, getting on the wrong side of a mandor may well have the same effect!
The first case in March 1902 involved Liong Ah Shin who was a barber on the island.
THE CHRISTMAS ISLAND MURDER.
At the Assizes this morning, the trial of Leong Ah Shin, for murder at Christmas Island, was commenced before a Special Jury.
The Attorney General prosecuted and Mr. Stuart defended.
According to the evidence it appears that the prisoner committed the murder to a certain extent in self defence. He had shielded a Chinese boy, a friend of his, from a Chinese mandor and in consequence the mandor threatened to take vengeance. On the day of the murder, prisoner was told of this and having to meet the mandor at a certain spot, he armed himself with a knife, in case of necessity for its use. As prisoner had anticipated, the mandor made an attack on him and in the course of the scuffle, prisoner stabbed him, with fatal results.
“Source: The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly), 20 March 1902, Page 182 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission”
The hearing of the charge of murder against Liong Ah Shin at Christmas Island was concluded at the Assizes yesterday, when the jury found the prisoner guilty of homicide. He was sentenced by Mr Justice Hyndman-Jones to five years rigorous imprisonment.
“Source: The Straits Times, 20th March 1902, page 5 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission”
The second case in November 1902 was a far murkier one involving a number of coolies.
It is interesting to note the claim that mandors were murdering coolies on Christmas Island. However, this is not mentioned in Clayton’s 1902 report or reflected in the coolie death statistics that he gives for that year.
THE CHRISTMAS ISLAND MURDER CASE.
Ten Chinese in the Dock.
Before Mr. Justice Hyndman-Jones this morning at the Assizes ten Chinese were charged with being concerned in the murder of Hok Wai on or about Sept. 18th last at Christmas Island.
Lai Shap, Lan Chat, Chan Hoe and Wong Lok were charged with murder, and Chan Po, Wong Sang, Chan Chow Yong, Lam Heng, Chan Chong and Yak Fok were charged with abetment of murder.
The prisoners pleaded not guilty, and the following special jurors were empanelled :- Messrs. W. S. Coutts, James Sellar, E. L. Hunter, Paul Haffter, S. R. Robinson, A. von Roessing, and K. A. Stevens.
The Hon. W.R. Collyer, the AttorneyGeneral, assisted by Mr. R. W. Braddell prosecuted, and Mr. J.D. Stuart was for the prisoners.
The Attorney-General, in his opening address, said the murdered man in this case was a mandore, who was in charge of a number of coolies who worked at Christmas Island. Prisoners were members of a gang doing sanitary work and they all went into one room to sleep, on the night before the murder. Apparently a plot was hatched that night to kill the deceased. The following morning the mandore went down the coolie lines and to the room in which the ten prisoners had slept. There he was assaulted; a policeman heard cries for help and when he arrived on the scene he saw the first two prisoners actually engaged in stabbing the deceased, one with a knife the other being armed with a chisel. Two of the other prisoners were holding the deceased down.
P.C. Larim Singh was the first witness called for the prosecution. He heard cries from the room in which the prisoners had slept and, proceeding there, he saw two men stabbing the deceased and two others holding him down When witness arrested the first two prisoners there was blood on their hands. This occurred at 5.50 a.m. He knew this because at six o’clock the coolies had to be at work and a short time prior to this the police always sent the coolies away from the coolie lines,
Dr. C. F. Giddy, in the service of the Christmas Island Phosphate Co., on Sept. 18 visited the coolie lines, No. 34 house, at 6.25 a. m. He saw a pool of blood on the floor in the house and a pool on the front verandah. He examined the body of the deceased at the Mortuary. The deceased’s blue trousers and grey coat were soaked in blood. There were four cuts on the coat, seven on the trousers and one through the belt.
“Source: The Straits Times, 19th November 1902, page 5 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission”
THE CHRISTMAS ISLAND MURDER
The Christmas Island murder trial, the first part of which was reported in our issue of yesterday, was continued this morning at the Assizes by Mr. Justice Hyndman Jones. The six men against whom a charge of abetment was preferred were acquitted yesterday afternoon.
This morning the four men charged with the murder were put into the witness box by Mr. J. D. Stuart, who defended. The first prisoner said that the deceased had kicked him and struck him with a carrying pole. Deceased mandore struck many of the coolies with the pole and aimed blows at them with a knife. The mandores there had killed many of the coolies who had been engaged from Singapore. The mandores never allowed the coolies any leave even if the latter were sick. The deceased mandore was habitually very cruel and had killed many coolies.
The third prisoner then gave evidence. In walking to the witness box it was evident that he was lame. In explanation of this lameness prisoner said he had been struck by deceased mandore across the thigh with a carrying pole. Prisoner denied that he took part in the murder. It was a false charge. Prisoner was a new arrival at Christmas Island, and had been afraid of deceased.
The fourth prisoner, in the witness box, said the deceased mandore injured him with a carrying pole, saying he would strike him to death.
One of the six men who were discharged, said he saw the deceased mandore strike three of the prisoners. No. 1 and No. 3 prisoners were wounded by the blows dealt them by the mandore, the first man being wounded on the leg and the second prisoner being cut on the finger with a knife.
Dr. Giddy, in the course of his evidence, said the wounds on the deceased might have been self-inflicted; as the prisoners alleged, they might have been caused by a stab warded off by prisoners and returned on to the body of deceased; but some of the wounds deceased sustained could not have been caused thus. Witness said he knew deceased, whose reputation was generally good.
His Lordship, summing up, said that if the evidence of the Indian constable who arrested prisoners was accepted by the jury, then prisoners were guilty of murder. The constable said he saw two of the accused holding deceased while the other two were stabbing him.
Four of the men were found guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment each. The remainder were acquitted.
“Source: The Straits Times, 20th November 1902, page 5 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reprinted with permission”