Who could be a juror? - or Where's John Olson?

Submitted by David on Sun, 07/11/2010 - 14:35

Sean Olson asks why his Great-grandfather John Olson doesn't appear in the Juror Lists. After all he lived in Hong Kong for close to sixty years, from appx 1860 til 1918.

First I thought British nationality may have been the issue, but the lists contain many European names that don't look as though they're British.

Did a potential juror's trade make any difference? Olson worked in and owned various pubs and taverns. Maybe that wasn't considered a suitable trade to be a juror?

Does anyone know what the requirements were to be a juror in those days?

Regards, David

For those us of who don't know what "jurors" were in HK, can you briefly give us a history?  Are you talking about jurors as in a criminal trial?  Did HK have a "fixed" (professional)  juror list instead of jurors who were chosen randomly among the general population like in the US?????????


As far as I can tell, the Jurors List was published once a year, and was a list of people eligible to serve as a juror.

The list was split into two sections: Special Jurors, and Common Jurors (I'm not sure what the difference between them was).

Then when a trial required jurors, I believe the court would choose a random selection of names from the current Jurors List.

You may NOT have the answer, but just in case you do, approximately how many names were usually on the juror list?  Were those elite members of  the society? Were they predominently English/foreigners?  What would your guess be -  the percentage of the HK Chinese general population in the 1880s could either speak or/and understand English well enough to be on jury? 

Were trials in HK back then conducted in English even though the defendant(s) might be Chinese and did not speak/understand a word of English?  If that was the case, that would definitely put the Chinese in great disadvantge  especially on cases that involved any Englishmen/foreigners vs.  local Chinese.


There was a requirement that "any person ignorant of the English language" was not allowed to serve on a Jury, because the cases were tried in English. 

Juries: a Hong Kong perspective By Peter Duff 

So perhaps John Olsen's English language skills were not up to snuff, or he pretended they weren't to get out of jury duty ?



The link you provided did NOT have anything regarding juror list.  The following is what it has info on - I copied and pasted it here:

"The Hong Kong Government Reports Online (HKGRO) is a full-text image database providing online access to pre-World War II issues of four major government publications, namely, Administrative Report, Hong Kong Sessional Papers, Hong Kong Hansard and Hong Kong Government Gazette. It contains a wide range of information, such as official notifications, proceedings of the Legislative Council, statistics, and reports of government departments and special committees, which are essential to students and scholars in conducting research on Hong Kong."


I hope I didn't violate the copyright statue.

When I typed in "juror list" in the search, I got nothing.  Did I not do it correctly?

The suggestion that my great grandfather, John Olson, may have avoided jury duty by making out his English was not good enough is I suppose a possibility. Unlikely though as he obtained a liquor licence acording to court reports in 1868 so therefore must have known some English. He also signed a complicated Will in 1890 (see www.the hongkonglegacy), hardly the act of a man whose English was poor.

Is it possible that he was barred because he held on to his Swedish citizenship? We know that in the early years the number of Swedes -  he appears in various Census - was often in low single figures. That means he maybe declared himself as a Swede.

It is also unlikely that his stated trade as a tavern keeper/proprietor and hotel keeper/propietor debarred him as I have seen similar occupations in jury lists. It is also unlikely that he was barred for legal reasons such as a prison sentence because he had no trouble obtaining liquor licences.

Perhaps, as he had houses in Canton and Shanghai, he used one of those as a registered address. Another thought. Maybe he was too old. He was born in Sweden in 1838. Maybe nobody over 50 could be a juror.

Finally, I suspect that he was not above ensuring he was not included!

More ideas please.


Running a pub or signing one's name requires considerably less English ability than sitting in judgement on a man's guilt or innocence. I suspect he simply didn't have the language skills.

Don't think your argument holds much water. Plenty of Chinese on early lists. John Olson was in the Colony for 58 years or so and might have picked up a bit of English.

Seemed to happen to most folk on those far off days of Empire don't you know.

But maybe he was just stupid.

Have a read of his life story at www.thehongkonglegacy.com and see what you think.



I think that people who ran their own businesses would try hard not to be on the jury list. The comparatively small number of jurors would mean that being on the list meant that you could be taken away from your business, at short notice, for uncertain periods of time, rather often.

As a personal footnote, in the 1980s and no doubt much earlier, Swires were frightfully keen on their staff being on the jury list and doing their bit for the public good, even when this went against their business interests. I remember trying hard to get out of jury service as I had a business trip to Japan all arranged but I was very firmly told that I should go and do my duty and the Hong's interests could wait.   

Thanks Andrew.

Understand what you say. Same applies in Ireland where I live and probably Uk. Does not explain though wht my great grandfather appears on no jury lists. I think he retired from the pub/hotel trade around 1892. He certainly had businesses after that and his sons appear on early 1900s lists up tp about 1927 when the last left HK.

I'm inclined to think that he stuck to being a Swedish national.

Do you think that is likely?



 He also signed a complicated Will in 1890 (see www.the hongkonglegacy), hardly the act of a man whose English was poor.


A complicated will was most likely drafted and executed by an attorney, so your grandfather needn't be an expert in English to sign the document after his attorney prepared for him.  Afterall, weren't most of the wills in HK prior to the handover to China in English? Local Chinese clients of local attorneys just simply signed on the dotted line.............. 

Out of curosity, where was your grandfather's tavern located? Do you have a picture of it?   Are you at least half Chinese if you don't me asking?  In light of your family has been living in HK for nearly two(2) centuries, you are more Hong Konger than most residents here.

because he held on to his Swedish citizenship?

I think residence was important, rather than citizenship. Certainly the lists contain several German-sounding names. I don't think they'd likely have renounced their German citizenship.

Maybe he was too old. He was born in Sweden in 1838. Maybe nobody over 50 could be a juror.

Even this short section of list shows Thomas Jackson, Chief Manager of HK & Shanghai Bank. Jackson was born in 1841, so would be 53 on this list.

I wonder if a criminal record could have been a problem? The couple of times I searched for pubs and taverns in the newspapers, some of the results were reports of fines, eg for staying open too late. It seemed like an accepted part of running the business. I don't know whether such fines would have been enough reason to bar someone from jury service?

Most of these were in force in 1911

(1) The following persons shall be exempt from service as jurors- (Amended 51 of 1911; 63 of 1911 Schedule; 28 of 1962 s. 3; 28 of 2000 s. 47)



        (a) members of the Executive or Legislative Council; (Replaced 8 of 1912 s. 29. Amended 67 of 1987 s. 2)

          (i) a judge, deputy judge, District Judge, deputy District Judge, Registrar, Senior Deputy Registrar, Deputy Registrar, Assistant Registrar, coroner or magistrate; (Amended 10 of 2005 s. 163)
          (ii) a presiding officer, adjudicator or member of any tribunal established by law;
          (iii) an officer or member of the staff of any court or tribunal established by law, if his work is mainly concerned with the day to day administration of the court or tribunal;
          (iv) a legal officer within the meaning of section 2 of the Legal Officers Ordinance (Cap 87); (Replaced 8 of 1993 s. 5)
          (v) serving in the Department of Justice, the Legal Aid Department, the Official Receiver's Office or the Intellectual Property Department; (Amended 39 of 1992 s. 7; 60 of 1992 s. 2; 8 of 1993 s. 5; L.N. 362 of 1997)
          (vi) a member of the Hong Kong Police Force, the Immigration Service, the Customs and Excise Service or the Fire Services Department, including a person holding any post specified in the Seventh Schedule to the Fire Services Ordinance (Cap 95); (Amended L.N. 362 of 1997)
          (vii) an officer of the Correctional Services Department;
          (viii) a member of the Government Flying Service; (Replaced 54 of 1992 s. 19)
          (ix) the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner or an officer of the Independent Commission Against Corruption;
          (x) carrying out duties in the Hong Kong Police Force, the Immigration Department, the Customs and Excise Department, the Fire Services Department, the Correctional Services Department, the Government Flying Service or the Independent Commission Against Corruption; (Amended 1 of 1997 s. 7; L.N. 362 of 1997)
          (xi) serving in a training or apprentice rank; (Replaced 64 of 1984 s. 4)
          (xii) appointed as the principal probation officer, or as a probation officer, under the Probation of Offenders Ordinance (Cap 298); or (Added 37 of 1988 s. 3)
          (xiii) a social worker employed full-time in any reformatory school established under the Reformatory Schools Ordinance (Cap 225), any place of detention appointed under the Juvenile Offenders Ordinance (Cap 226), or any approved institution within the meaning of the Probation of Offenders Ordinance (Cap 298); (Added 37 of 1988 s. 3)
          (i) the Chief Justice;
          (ia) a judge of the Court of Final Appeal; (Added 79 of 1995 s. 50)
          (ib) the Chief Judge; (Added 26 of 1999 s. 3)
          (ii) a Justice of Appeal;
          (iii) a judge of the Court of First Instance; and (Amended 25 of 1998 s. 2)
          (iv) a coroner; (Replaced 72 of 1997 s. 5)
      • (b) any public officer who is- (c) consuls, vice-consuls, and officers of equivalent status, of governments of foreign states and such salaried functionaries of such governments as are nationals of such governments and are not carrying on business in Hong Kong, and the spouses and dependent children of such persons; (Replaced 6 of 1955 s. 2. Amended 39 of 1960 s. 3; 37 of 1988 s. 13; 23 of 1998 s. 2)
        (d) barristers-at-law and solicitors in actual practice, and their clerks;
        (e) persons duly registered as or deemed to be medical practitioners under the Medical Registration Ordinance (Cap 161), persons duly registered as dentists under the Dentists Registration Ordinance (Cap 156) and persons duly registered under the Veterinary Surgeons Registration Ordinance (Cap 529); (Replaced 31 of 1936 s. 2. Amended 1 of 1940 s. 28; 96 of 1997 s. 31)
        (f) editors of daily newspapers in Hong Kong and such members of their staffs in respect of whom the Registrar is satisfied that jury service would disrupt the publication of such newspapers; (Replaced 6 of 1955 s. 2. Amended 37 of 1988 s. 13)
        (g) chemists and druggists actually carrying on business as such;
        (h) clergymen, priests, and ministers of any Christian congregation or Jewish congregation, functioning in Hong Kong; (Amended 20 of 1948 s. 4; 37 of 1988 s. 13)
        (ha) imams of and persons holding similar positions in any Muslim congregation functioning in Hong Kong; (Added 72 of 1997 s. 5)
        (hb) priests of and persons holding similar positions in any Hindu congregation functioning in Hong Kong; (Added 72 of 1997 s. 5)
        (i) full time students of any school, college, university, polytechnic, technical institute, industrial training centre or other educational (including vocational education) institution; (Replaced 64 of 1984 s. 4)
        (j) officers employed on full pay in the naval, military or air services of Her Majesty; (Amended 27 of 1937 Schedule)
        (k) pilots licensed under the Pilotage Ordinance (Cap 84), and the master and members of the crew of any ship; (Replaced 28 of 1962 s. 3)
        (l) pilots, navigators, wireless operators and other full-time members of the crews of passenger or mail or commercial aircraft; (Replaced 6 of 1955 s. 2)
        (m) members of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force and persons summoned to act or enrolled or appointed as special constables under any enactment: (Amended 29 of 1969 s. 2; L.N. 362 of 1997)
        Provided that any person claiming exemption under this paragraph may be required by the Registrar to produce a certificate from the Commissioner of Police in proof of such exemption; (Replaced 2 of 1959 Second Schedule)
        (n) persons who are vowed and full-time members of any religious orders living in monasteries, convents or other such religious communities; (Added 6 of 1955 s. 2. Amended 64 of 1984 s. 4)
        (o) the spouse of- (p) spouses of members of the Armed Forces of Her Majesty serving on full pay; (Added 39 of 1960 s. 3. Amended 28 of 1962 s. 3; 72 of 1997 s. 5)
        (q) (Repealed 25 of 1998 s. 2)
        (r) the Legal Adviser of the Legislative Council Secretariat and any of his assistants who is in the full time employment of the Legislative Council Commission and is a barrister or a solicitor as defined in the Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap 159). (Added 72 of 1997 s. 5)

    • (aa) (Repealed 78 of 1999 s. 7)
      (ab) justices of the peace; (Added 64 of 1984 s. 4)

Hi David,

I don't know of a criminal record for John 1 but everything is possible. I do know that somewhere in the Carl Smith Archive there is a note of a 10 dollar fine for noise on the National Tavern premises. Maybe such a fine barred him from jury service. Cheap at the price I'd say! But maybe there was a darker reason. I'd not be surprised particularly as we have the Farm Keeper mystery.

I'm putting it down to another one and may add it to www.thehongkonglegacy one of these minutes.

He certainly meets none of the conditions of the 1911 regulations which are posted.



(1) A person who has reached 21 years of age, but not 65 years of age, and is a resident of Hong Kong is, except as provided by this Ordinance, liable to
serve as a juror if (but only if)- (Amended 21 of 1999 s. 22)

   (a)  the person is of sound mind and not afflicted by blindness, deafness
        or other disability preventing the person from serving as a juror; and

   (b)  the person is of good character; and

   (c)  the person has a sufficient knowledge of the language in which the
        proceedings are to be conducted to be able to understand the


I suspect that your great-grandfather may very well have been a Swedish Honorary Consul or Vice-Consul, and as such would be ineligible for jury service.

Hong Kong has always had, and still has, reams of Honorary Consuls and Vice-Consuls because it has been a major port since 1840 and merchant ships, or rather their Masters, have a constant need for Consular services to Note Protest, Open Crew Agreements, Close Crew Agreements, and so on. Thus every maritime nation (certainly including Sweden) has maintained Consuls and Vice-Consuls in Hong Kong from a very early date.     

Has anyone actually checked the lists? I see a John Olson, Tavern Proprietor, on the Jury Lists for 1876, 1877 and 1878. I haven't bothered checking further lists, but isn't this the same man?

Thank you all for your help and thoughts.

First the Consul business. It is possible but fairly unlikely I feel. He was by trade a seaman when he arrived and came from a poor background in Karlshamn, Sweden. However, as David has pointed out there were times when the number of Swedes in HK was in single figures during his early days in the Colony.

Also I wonder if a publican would have been considered suitable for such a role. I don't know but it is just a thought.

I am also indebted to Anonymous who says he has found him in the 1876 to 1878 lists. I must check again.

If we take this to be correct it seems strange that he does not appear in later lists. He did not die until 1918 having lived close to 60 years in the Colony and seemingly made a pretty good living.

Could he have bought his way out of an onerous job?

There is also the question of the jury lists not covering anything like the population as well as the fact that John 1 may have spent periods away from HK in Canton and Shanghai where, according to my grandmother who was his daughter in law, the family had business and a house.

Thanks again.



My sources are The Chronicle and directory for China... (later The Directory & Chronicle for China...) various years, which contain invaluable information about Hong Kong, e.g. names, addresses, owners and staff (only Europeans shown, no compradores, what a pity!) of major hongs and companies, others useful information are govt officials, clubs and its members, lists of foreigners in the Far East. the Peak directory (two examples: from 1899: Ball, J. D., Fernside, Mount Kellett; 1903: Pollock, Hon. H.E., K.C., Peak Hotel), Hongkong ladies directory (one example from 1917: Remedios, Mrs. J. J., 53, Wyndham Street). Following the example of the jury list, I think it would be great to compile these two directories, and even all information about HK. I am doing some for my research but very limited in breath and depth. I could share some more of it later.

you could find them all at the HKPRO. I use the copies at the library of Hong Kong University, mostly in microfilm some in hardcopies (reproduced from the microfilm). check it our from HKU library's catalogue (http://library.hku.hk/record=b1469685)


you could search the Jury Ordinance (No 6 of 1887) in effect during the period in question from this link (Historical Laws of Hong Kong Online). Between 1887 and 1923, it seems that no major change on the exempt from being a juror, e.g. surgeons, press editors, chemists, druggists. So my very quick guess (haven't read through the ordinance) regarding the drastic drop of Portuguese jurors would be death (need to check their age), emigration (to China more business opportunity?), switch of business (say press editors?), and some other reasons making them exempt from the responsibility.

I am sorry that I reply to this post later than I promised.


I would like to try explaining what the "Special Juror" is in old days of Hong Kong. As Hong Kong followed the laws of England in early stage, Special Juror therefore introduced by according to the Juries Act which required the Special Juries should be merchants, bankers, esquires and people with higher degree for mercantile cases.

Looking through Jury Lists I have discovered that some names have as asterisk beside them.

This applies to my grandfather John Olson and there is a notation after the Special Jurors which says "Exempted under the provisions of the Jury Ordinances of 1887 to 1917, until ceasing to be qualified under the said ordinanaces".

Strangely this appears on the Jury list of 1918 and was also there in 1917. Also it does not appear next to his business partner's name so one assumes it could not be linked to a vital trade or profession. Anyhow neither could have qualified in that respect I suspect!

I have done some fruitless poking around in the archives but can find nothing to explain this "exemption" while at the same time being named as a Juror. It's as much of a mystery as my great grandfather, the John Olson referred to above, dropping off the list 30 odd years before he died.

Has anybody got any idea about these asterisks and reasons they were applied?


Patricia Lim's amazing book has reference to early jurys. She mentions that to be listed the qualifications were: 'All men over twenty-one and under sixty who earned more than $500 a year, understood English and were not mentally deranged or criminals were eligible'. She goes on to say the Governor picked the special jurors who were considered by him to be of higher rank. See Pages 75 onwards.

This whole posting started by asking why John Olson had dropped off the list. Unfortunatey this information does not answer the question as he should have been on the list well into the 1890s.

Has anybody a view about the previous note in this posting?