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Colonial Cases

Roberts v. Delano, 1878

[shipping, damage to cargo]

Roberts v. Delano

United States Consular Court, Shanghai
Wells, 3 January 1878
Source: The North China Herald, 10 January 1878



Shanghai, 3rd Jan.

Before the Hon. G. WILEY WELLS, Consul-General.

   Plaintiff conducted his own case.

   Mr. RENNIE appeared for the defendant.


   Defendant is the Captain of the American ship Golden State, and the plaintiff is a missionary of the Presbyterian Church of the United States.  The action was brought to recover $200, as compensation for damage to certain goods brought from New York by the Golden State, alleged to have resulted from improper stowage and exposure to the elements.

   Plaintiff, in presenting his case to the Court, read a written statement, which was to the effect that in or about December, 1874, a consignment of goods reached Shanghai for him, from New York, by the Golden State, of which vessel defendant wad then the master.  The goods consisted of three hair mattresses, a number of books, and a stove, &c.; and from the way in which the packages were packed plaintiff considered that the officers of the vessel might easily infer what were the contents.  They were shipped at New York by his brother-in-law, and when they arrived at Shanghai plaintiff was absent at Ningpo.  When he returned to Shanghai and examined the goods, he found that the hair mattresses, books, and stove, had been badly damaged by water.  He at once complained to Messrs. Russell & Co., the agents of the Golden State; and they sent Mr. Butler to make an official survey of the damage that had been done.  Mr. Butler examined the goods and wrote out a statement as to their condition, a copy of which plaintiff produced.

   Subsequently plaintiff made out a statement assessing the damage at $150, and Mr. Butler assented to it.  This statement was forwarded to the defendant at Foochow by Messrs. Russell and Co., and plaintiff also forwarded a copy of it to his brother in New York.  Defendant replied, denying the liability. Plaintiff then had an interview with Mr. Hitch, of Messrs. Russell and Co., and that gentleman expressed surprise to him that the goods should have been damaged, as Messrs. Russell and Co. had received a large quantity of bale goods by the same vessel with only trifling damages. 

   In the following year, when the Golden State returned to Shanghai, plaintiff had an interview with the defendant, who seemed to be concerned about the damage and promised to call and inspect the books, but he failed to do so.  Plaintiff had since seen the defendant, but had been unable to arrive at an amicable settlement of the matter; and, in consequence, he had no alternative but to bring the case before the Court.  It was his opinion that his goofs had been negligently and improperly stowed, and had been subjected to the elements.

   Plaintiff, in cross-examination by Mr. Rennie, said he was under the impression, from what Mr. Hitch had told him, that there was no material damage to any other portion of the cargo.  His goods appeared to have fared the worst, and he considered their condition was strong prima facie evidence that they had been improperly stowed, but he had no further evidence to prove that fact.  The reason he had not presented his claim sooner, was because he had been using friendly means to come to a settlement with the captain, but had failed.

   Mrs. ROBERTS, the wife of the plaintiff, gave corroborative evidence as to the damage the goods had sustained, and described the manner in which they were packed previous to being shipped.

   Mr. BUTLER, who formerly had the superintendence of the godowns and wharfs belonging to Messrs. Russell and Co, deposed that he made a survey of the goods the plaintiff received by the Golden State, and read a copy of the report he made on the occasion.  In his opinion Tls. 150 was a reasonable sum at which to assess the damage that the goods had sustained.

   By the COURT. - He could not say whether any other portion of the cargo by the Golden State was damaged, besides the goods consigned to the plaintiff.  It was not his duty to examine all damaged cargo.

   Mr. RENNIE, on behalf of the defendant, did not deny that the plaintiff's goods had been damaged, but he contended that under the law relating to carriers defendant was exempt from all liability.  His contention was that the damage was caused by leakage of the ship, owing to heavy weather at sea, which was an exemption from any liability, being either an act of God, or what was styled the dangers and perils of the sea.  That was the defence he should offer, and he should merely call the defendant to prove that the vessel did experience heavy weather, and then examine Captain Barton to prove that the cargo of the vessel was properly stowed and the hatches securely fastened and made water-tight with tarpauling, &c.  When he had done that, he should submit that the defendant was entitled to the judgment of the Court.

   Defendant was then called, and deposed that in 1874 and 1875 he was captain of the Golden State, which was classed A.1, in the American Lloyd's.  She left New York well found in every particular for her passage to Shanghai, arriving here on the 8th January, 1875.  She had a general cargo.  In the lower hold was stowed oil and coals, and between decks there were about 3,000 bales of goods, and to the best of his recollection plaintiff's goods were stowed there also.  The voyage was an unusually bad one for heavy winds and sea, as the log would show.  He read several extracts to show that heavy winds and high seas were encountered in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and explained that on arrival at Shanghai the vessel was inspected by a marine surveyor. B Several bales of goods were found to be damaged, some of them being quite rotten; and he had been told that they were sold for the benefit of the underwriters.  No claims for damages had been made against the ships except the present on so far as he knew, but claims had been made against the underwriters. N He first heard of the present claim at Foochow, and again when he returned to New York, and again when he visited Shanghai in Nov. 1875.  When he was in Shanghai in 1876 he heard nothing about it.

   By the defendant. - He could produce documentary evidence that there were claims against the underwriters.  These, of course, were by parties who had insured their goods.  There were no private claims against the ship.

   Caption BARTON deposed that he inspected the Golden State when she arrived at Shanghai in January, 1875, and superintended the discharge of her cargo.  He gave two certificates, like the copies now produced, certifying that the hatches were properly secured, the cargo well stowed and properly dunnaged, and that any damage must result from stress of weather and not from neglect.

   Mr. RENNIE briefly summed up the case to the Court, repeating his contention that the damage having been caused by the  dangers and perils of the sea exempted the defendant from liability, and cited authorities in support of his argument.

   Plaintiff replied at great length, maintaining that when the Golden State arrived she showed no signs of having encountered bad weather,  and that the exemptions from liability claimed on behalf of the defendant were only applicable in cases where it was utterly impossible, under any circumstances, to escape the damage, and such had not been shown to be the case in this instance.

   The COURT reserved its decision.

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