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Colonial Cases

The Pluto, 1856


The Pluto

Consular Court, Shanghai?
The North-China Herald, 2 August 1856

WE publish below a decision given in H.B.M.'s Consular Court in reference to towage at this port, to which we would call attention, as establishing an important principle, which ought to be generally known - the only difficulty being to make it known to those who are most interested, viz., masters of ships arriving in the river, and requiring the assistance of steam to bring them into Port.  It is not our province to question the decision of a court, especially when a principle is clearly laid down - but it seems to us that the arbitrary power thus allowed to the captain of a steamer is rather liable to abuse, if from caprice, or pique, or to suit his own convenience, the Captain of the steamer should chose to place the ship he has in tow as far as he can from the berth in which her master or pilot wishes her put, for we are quite sure that not one Master in ten would ever think of making the stipulation referred to.


In the matter before me the steamer Pluto was engaged to bring the vessel Tamara into Port, this she did, and left her at anchor in a safe and proper place within the limits of the anchorage, the master, however, wanted to go further up, but this, Captain Lewes declined doing - a question then arose as to whether the Pluto had performed the duty for which she had been engaged, and it is this I have to decide.

I am of opinion that a steamer engaged to tow a vessel into Port fulfils that contract when she has placed such vessel in a safe berth within the limits of the anchorage defined by regulations, provided no previous arrangement has been made for placing her in any particular part of the anchorage or in such position as the master of the vessel may point out.  And acting on this opinion I decided that the steamer Pluto has performed the duty for which she was engaged and has earned the remuneration agreed upon for her services.

28th July, 1856.  D. B. ROBERTSON, Consul.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School