47 U.S. 344 (1848), New Jersey Steam Nav. Co. v. Merchant's Bank Of Boston

Citation:47 U.S. 344, 12 L.Ed. 465
Case Date:March 07, 1848
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 344

47 U.S. 344 (1848)

12 L.Ed. 465




United States Supreme Court.

March 07, 1848


This was an appeal from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Rhode Island, in the exercise of admiralty jurisdiction.

In February, 1839, the State of New Jersey chartered a company by the name of the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, with a capital of five hundred thousand dollars, for the purpose of purchasing, building, repairing, and altering any vessel or vessels propelled by steam, and in the navigation of the same, &c., &c.; under which charter they became proprietors of the steamboat Lexington.

On the 1st of August, 1839, the following agreement was made:----

'This agreement, made and entered into this 1st day of August, A. D. 1839, in the city of New York, by William F. Harnden, of Boston, Massachusetts, on the one part, and Ch. Overing Handy, President of the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, of the other part, witnesseth:

'That the said William F. Harnden, for and in consideration of the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars per month, to be paid monthly to the said New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, is to have the privilege of transporting in the steamers of said company, between New York and Providence, via Newport and Stonington, not to exceed once on each day, from New York and from Providence, and as less frequently as the boats may run between and from said places, one wooden crate, of the dimensions of five feet by five feet in width and height, and six feet in length (contents unknown), until the 31st of December, A. D. 1839, and from this date.

'The following conditions are stipulated and agreed to, as

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part of this contract, to wit:--The said crate, with its contents, is to be at all times exclusively at the risk of the said William F. Harnden; and the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company will not, in any event, be responsible, either to him or his employers, for the loss of any goods, wares, merchandise, money, notes, bills, evidences of debt, or property of any and every description, to be conveyed or transported by him in said crate, or otherwise, in any manner, in the boats of the said company.

'Further, that the said Harnden is to attach to his advertisements, to be inserted in the public prints, as a common carrier, exclusively responsible for his acts and doings, the following notice, which he is also to attach to his receipts or bills of lading, to be given in all cases for goods, wares, and merchandise, and other property committed to his charge, to be transported in said crate or otherwise:----

"Take notice.--William F. Harnden is alone responsible for the loss or injury of any articles or property committed to his care; nor is any risk assumed by, nor can any be attached to, the proprietors of the steamboats in which his crate may be, and is transported, in respect to it or its contents, at any time.'

'Further, that the said Harnden is not to violate any provisions of the post-office laws, nor to interfere with the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company in its transportation of letters and papers, nor to carry any powder, matches, or other combustible materials of any kind, calculated to endanger the safety of said boats, or the property or persons on board of them.

'And that this contract may be at any time terminated by the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, or by the said Harnden, upon one month's notice given in writing.

'Further, that a contract made by the said Harnden with the Boston and New York Transportation Company, on the 5th day of July, A. D. 1839, is hereby dissolved by mutual consent.

'In witness whereof, the said William F. Harnden has hereunto set his hand and seal, and the President of the said New Jersey Steam Navigation Company has hereto affixed his signature and the corporate seal of the company.

'WM. F. HARNDEN, [L. S.]


'Sealed and delivered in presence of


It is proper to remark, that, prior to the date of this agreement, Harnden had made a similar one with the Boston and

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New York Transportation Company, which became merged in the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company on the 1st of August, 1839. Harnden, having begun to advertise in the newspapers in July, 1839, whilst his contract with the Boston company was in force, continued to use the name of that company in the following advertisement, which was inserted in two of the Boston newspapers until the end of the year 1839.

'Boston and New York Express Package Car.--Notice to Merchants, Brokers, Booksellers, and all Business Men.

'Wm. F. Harnden, having made arrangements with the New York and Boston Transportation, and Stonington and Providence Railroad Companies, will run a car through from Boston to New York, and vice versæ, via Stonington, with the mail train, daily, for the purpose of transporting specie, small packages of goods, and bundles of all kinds. Packages sent by this line will be delivered on the following morning, at any part of the city, free of charge. A responsible agent will accompany the car, who will attend to purchasing goods, collecting drafts, notes, and bills, and will transact any other business that may be intrusted to his charge.

'Packages for Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, New Haven, Hartford, Albany, and Troy, will be forwarded immediately on arrival in New York.

'N. B. Wm. F. Harnden is alone responsible for any loss or injury of any articles or property committed to his care; nor is any risk assumed by, or can any be attached to, the Boston and New York Transportation Company, in whose steamers his crates are to be transported, in respect to it or its contents, at any time.'

The above-mentioned contract with the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company being about to expire, Harnden addressed letters, on the 7th and 16th of December, to the President, expressing a desire to renew it, and, on the 31st of December, received a letter from Mr. Handy, the President, renewing the contract for one year from the 1st of January, 1840.

The New Jersey Company also published the following notice:----

'Notice to Shippers and Consignees.

'All goods, freight, baggage, bank-bills, specie, or any other kind of property, taken, shipped, or put on board the steamers of the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, must be at the risk of the owners of such goods, freight, baggage, &c.; and all freight consisting of goods, wares, and merchandise, or any other property landed from the steamers, if not taken away

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from the wharf without delay, will be put under cover at the risk of the owners of said goods, freight, baggage, &c., in all respects whatsoever.'

The bills of lading, or receipts given by the company, were in the following form:----

'New Jersey Steam Navigation Company.

'Received of -------- on board the steamer -------- master -------- marked and numbered as in the margin, to be transported to -------- and there to be delivered to -------- or assigns, danger of fire, water, breakage, leakage, and all other accidents excepted; and no package whatever, if lost, injured, or stolen, to be deemed of greater value than two hundred dollars.

'Freight as customary with the steamers on this line.

'N. B. The company are to be held responsible for ordinary care and diligence only in the transportation of merchandise, and other property, shipped or put on board the boats of this line.

'Dated at ----- the ----- 18--

'(Contents unknown.)'

In January, 1840, Mr. Harnden received from the Merchants' Bank in Boston a large amount of checks and drafts upon New York, which he was to collect in specie, and transmit the proceeds to Boston.

On the 13th of January, 1840, the sum of eighteen thousand dollars, in gold and silver coin, was shipped by William F. Harnden, and received on board of the steamboat Lexington, said boat being the property of the New Jersey Steam Navigation Company, and employed in making regular trips between New York and Stonington in Connecticut. The shipment was made at New York. The boat left New York about half past four o'clock in the afternoon, and in the course of a few hours a fire broke out, which totally destroyed the boat, the lives of nearly all the passengers and crew, and the property on board. The money, amongst the other property, was lost. As the circumstances under which the loss took place were much commented on in the argument, it may be proper to insert the narrative of Stephen Manchester, the pilot, who was examined as a witness:----

'To the third interrogatory he saith:--She was near Huntington lighthouse, some four miles east of the light, and between forty and fifty miles from New York. It was about

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half past seven o'clock in the evening. I know the hour, because we always take down on a slate the hour that we pass every lighthouse. This was the business of the pilot. I was in the wheel-house when I heard that the boat was on fire. Some one came to the wheel-house, and told the wheel-man and myself that the boat was on fire. I stepped out of the wheel-house and went up to the smoke-pipe. I saw the fire blazing up through the promenade deck, around the smoke-pipe. The promenade deck was on fire, and was blazing up two or three feet. I looked down a scuttle which went through the promenade deck, and which was about three or four feet on the larboard side, a little abaft of the smoke-pipe; it was not exactly abreast of it or abaft of it, but quartering. The scuttle led down between the after part of the boiler and the forward part of the engine. In looking through the scuttle I saw blaze and smoke, as if she was on fire there. I can't say whether or not the main deck was on fire at that time. I next returned to the wheel-house, and hove the wheel hard over a-port,...

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