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Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

Austin v. Biddle [1832] NSWSupC 23

assault - false imprisonment - ship's crew - ship, discipline on

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Dowling J., 20 March 1832

Source: Sydney Herald, 26 March 1832 [1]

Austin v. Biddle. - This was an action to recover compensation in damages for assault and false imprisonment.  The declaration contained three counts; first, for assaulting and beating the plaintiff in the month of October, second, for sending him on the poop, and confining him there as a prisoner; and third, for again assaulting him, beating his head against a rail, rope's ending, and putting him in irons.  The damages were laid at £500.  The defendant pleaded first the general issue, and that before any of these assaults were committed, the plaintiff was a seamen on board his vessel, and acted in a saucy, impertinent, and pertinacious manner, refusing to obey his lawful commands, and he only inflicted the chastisement for the preservation of discipline.

It come out in the course of evidence on the part of plaintiff, that he had entered on the part of plaintiff, that he had entered on board the Margaret to work his passage to Sydney, on an agreement between them, but did not sign the articles.  In consequence of the steward not joining the vessel, plaintiff agreed to perform his duty, which he did until the vessel crossed the line, when plaintiff, as he alleged, from abusive and gross language on the part of the chief officer, refused to do any more duty in the cuddy.  The Captain in consequence of the refusal, struck him with his hands, rope's ended him, and ordered him to do duty forward.  Some time after, from his still refusing to do duty as steward, he was put on the poop, and kept on bread and water.  Two days before the vessel entered the heads, the Captain, in consequence of plaintiff going below to look over his papers, severely beat him with a rope, leaving the marks upon him up to the day of trial, and then kept him in irons till the vessel made Sydney.

For the defendant, it was alleged that plaintiff had on all occasions behaved in an outrageous manner, using most abusive language to the Captain and officers, and richly meriting the slight chastisement he received; and that while he was prisoner on the poop, he was allowed to shoot, fish, catch birds, and copy music.  The evidence of the ship's Doctor went to show that the bruises on plaintiff were such as might be received from playing single stick, and would cure themselves.

This was the case on both sides.

The Assessors found a verdict for plaintiff, damages, £25.


[1 ] See also Australian, 30 March 1832.

Just before this case was decided, the Legislative Council passed (1832) 2 Geo. 4 No. 10, an Act to regulate seamen and to protect "Master and Ships from vexatious  Suits in the said Colony."  Based on English legislation, it regulated contracts of employment and covered the consequences of desertion.  Seamen and passengers who had complaints under £10 against the master were entitled to a hearing before two magistrates.  The Act also provided standard terms for employment contracts at sea.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University