Trial of Four British Seamen at Canton, 1 October 1807: Scene Outside the Court

The scene outside the Chinese Court of Justice at Canton showing the arrival of four convicted British seamen from the East Indiaman, 'Neptune' in 1807. The Chinese court of justice was held at the British factory of Canton on 8 March 1807. In the presence of the British authorities there was an enquiry into a charge of homicide laid against a seaman from the 'Neptune'. While on shore leave at Canton, sailors from the ship became involved in a disturbance resulting in the death of one and the wounding of several Chinese. Trade by English ships was stopped and an investigation was held. The Chinese magistrate found one seaman guilty of accidental homicide and ordered that he be detained in the English factory. The rest of the 52 men were acquitted. Trade was resumed after two months' stoppage. In the next year the seaman was released on payment of about £4, the penalty prescribed by Chinese law for accidental killing.

The view shows the buildings of the English factory dominating the scene and running diagonally across the painting. A palisade fence marks their boundary and from balconies and open windows unseen eyes view the proceedings. The four sailors are shown in the background on the right, talking to a Chinese figure pointing towards the main courtroom entrance identified by the red-ribbon swag above the door. The streets are lined with Chinese crowds, either processing with banners on the left or gesturing towards the courtroom. The procession leads the way for the judge who is just visible in a palanquin or closed chair carried by four men. Another chair follows and, on the right, unoccupied ones are shown waiting for fares. Despite the crowds in the street, women are absent from the scene. This painting may have been taken from an eyewitness account, although no engraving of the subject has ever come to light; see also BHC0581.

Object Details

ID: BHC0580
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Chinese School, 19th century
Date made: circa 1807
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Painting: 711 mm x 1016 mm; Frame: 795 mm x 1102 mm x 50 mm
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