On another day

ON May 5, 1844, the body of a baker named Wilkinson was picked up in Whampoa Reach in a ghastly state of decomposition. Three sailors Charles Ingwood, Thomas Cox and John Mears, serving aboard HMS Driver, were charged with the murder. Their shipmate, Joseph Charlow, turned Queen's evidence in exchange for a pardon.

''After drinking together, they all came off in a Chinese sampan, when, some angry words passing between them, it was alleged the prisoners set upon Wilkinson, tied up his hands and feet, and threw him overboard.'' The evidence revealed that everybody was drunk - but ''sober enough to know what they were doing''. It appears that the baker had been extremely abusive. Ingwood was found guilty and sentenced to death; but the jury acquitted Cox and Mears, who were sitting aft ''being mere spectators of the awful drama being perpetrated''.

Ingwood blamed his murderous rage on samshoo, a vile, intoxicating drink sold by unscrupulous tavern keepers to unwary blue-jackets. According to the Chinese Repository, a religious newspaper, this lethal brew was a sickening mixture of alcohol, tobacco juice, sugar and arsenic.

As Ingwood had clearly been ''maddened by provocation and liquor'' the new governor, Sir John Davis, was expected to pardon him. Unfortunately for Ingwood, a Chinese robber Chun Afoon had been sentenced to death a few days earlier for attempted murder - he had shot at his victim and missed.

It was argued that it could be regarded as ''judicial murder'' to hang Chun and pardon Ingwood. Chun had not actually killed anyone, whereas Ingwood had actually committed murder most foul.

British justice must be seen to be fair and impartial. Before the double execution, Ingwood lectured his shipmates on the evils of samshoo and Chun was received into ''the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church''. Ingwood made history by being the first Englishman to be hanged in Hong Kong. There must be pleasanter ways of achieving fame.