1859 : Thomas Pluckrose in an Unusual Court Action

Title: The Times, 23, 459, 11e
Date: 9 November 1859
Place: London

SHERRIFFS' COURT, Guildhall, Nov. 8.
Mr MALCOLM KERR, the Judge.)


This was one of a hundred actions brought by so many coalwhippers employed on the Thames against the defendant, Mr. Matthew Hutton Chaytor, and extensive coal factor carrying on business at 155, Fenchurch-street, for “work and labour, loss of time, and expenses,” in connexion with the coaling of the Great Eastern steamship, at Weymouth, in September last.

Mr. Catlin, solicitor, conducted the plaintiff’s case; the defendant was represented by Mr. Leverson, solicitor; and it was understood that, on the question of principle, the decision in this case should govern and determine all the rest. The aggregate amount sought to be recovered by the 100 plaintiffs was nearly 400l., but in this particular action 3l. 16s. was the sum in issue. The circumstances, as stated in evidence, were as follow:-

Mr. Thomas Pluckrose, called by Mr. Catlin, said, - I reside in Wapping, and am an agent for the employment of coalwhippers. I remember seeing Mr. Chaytor, the defendant, in his counting-house on the morning of Friday, the 9th of September, when he said the Great Eastern steamship, which he had contracted to coal, was expected at Weymouth, and that he wanted me to procure 100 coalwhippers to go there on the following day (Saturday) to load her with coals and trim them, adding that they would be required to start from the Paddington station of the Great Western Railway at 6 o’clock in the morning. I said it was very short notice, but that I would go and make inquiries on the subject, I went to the coalwhippers’ office and saw one of the authorities, who put up a notice for a meeting in the evening for the selection of the men. The men at that meeting refused the price I offered them, which was 1½d. per man per ton, with 16 men in a gang, making 2s. a-ton. They asked 3d. per man per ton, which I said I could not give. The business being urgent I offered 2d. per ton per man, and to give them a guarantee that they should have 10s. per day per man until the work was completed, provided sufficient coals were not discharged to enable them to earn that sum each day; but they also refused that offer. As Mr. Chaytor had then gone to Weymouth, I went on the Saturday morning to Mr. Magnus, one of the directors of the Great Ship Company, and explained the state of things to him, but he told me he could not interfere in Mr. Chaytor’s arrangements. He said, however, he was going to Weymouth that afternoon, and that he would there see Mr. Chaytor and explain the circumstances to him. On the evening of the same day (Saturday, the 10th) I met Mr. Chapman, of the coalwhippers’ office, who stated that he had got 100 men ready to go at 2d. per ton per man, as I had offered. I directed Mr. Chapman to engage them on those terms, and at my request he prepared an agreement, which the whole of them signed. [This document bound the men to go to Portland or elsewhere to discharge coals into the Great Eastern, and trim them, for 2d. per ton for day work, and 2½d. per ton night work, per man, 16 men to constitute a gang. The men also agreed not to relax work nor strike until the whole of the work was completed; and if sufficient coals were not discharged to enable each man to earn 10s. a-day, they were to have that sum paid up, commencing from Monday, the 12th of September.] I gave the men 5s. each before starting. I got them together at the Paddington station, and arrived with them at Weymouth shortly after 9 o’clock on Sunday night. I saw Mr. Chaytor there, and told him I had brought the men. He said they had come too late and that he did not want them then, as he had been obliged to get men from Southampton to do the work, Mr. Magnus, when I saw him on the Saturday, said he was going down that day to Weymouth, and would see Mr. Chaytor and state the circumstances to him. After that I did not receive any letter or telegraphic message from Mr. Chaytor.

Cross-examined by Mr. Leverson. - Mr. Chaytor, in my interview with him, agreed to give 2s. per ton, but he did not confine himself exactly to that sum, less or more. The usual price in “the Pool” for whipping coals into barges is 9d. a ton, or 10d. a ton into steamships. 1½d. per ton per man with a gang of 16 was equivalent to 2s. per ton, but that was to include the trimming.

By the COURT. - Mr. Chaytor authorized me to engage the men at 2s. a ton, for the gang of 16 men.

Cross-examination resumed. - Mr. Chaytor said distinctly the price was to be 1½d. per ton per man, and I said that was a very fair price indeed. I told him there would be no difficulty in engaging men at that price. When I offered 2d. I had received no authority to do so from Mr. Chaytor; but I took the responsibility on myself. They refused the 2d. on the Friday night, but on the Saturday morning they were willing to take it. I took the men on Sunday afternoon to Weymouth, and when I arrived there Mr. Chaytor said they had not come on time; that the ought to have come a day sooner; he had been obliged, in consequence of their not coming in time, to get men from Southampton; and that my men must go back again. I brought them up to London on Monday, Mr. Chaytor paying their railway fare both ways.

Re-examined. - Mr. Chaytor told me, when I saw him at Weymouth, I had no business to bring the men down unless I brought them in proper time. He said he would have nothing to do with either me or them; they ought to have come a day sooner. He did not say anything was to be done in the event of my not getting the men at 1½d. per ton per man. I considered that a fair offer, and that I should have no difficulty in getting men at that price. Mr. Chaytor had made arrangements at the Great Western station at Paddington for the men to be taken down to Weymouth by a train starting at 6 o’clock on Saturday morning. The 5s. each which I gave the men on starting I have not since received from Mr. Chaytor.

The JUDGE said, the plaintiff must be nonsuited, Mr. Pluckrose having admitted that he had no authority to enter into the contract which he made on the occasion.

Mr. Catlin said, his clients not only sought compensation for breach of the contract, but for work and labour done.

The JUDGE replied that if they had done the work they might have sued for work and labour done; and in that case they might have put in the contract to show what it was, or have gone to the jury on the quantum valeat; but here they sued on the express contract, and where there was an express contract there could be no quantum valeat. The men had, in fact, done no work at all at the request of the defendant.

Mr. Catlin contended that, the defendant having paid their fare to Weymouth and back, that was a virtual recognition of the contract by him.

The JUDGE said, the defendant did not deny that he authorized Mr. Pluckrose to get men at a certain price, but not at the price for which Mr. Pluckrose actually contracted for the services of the plaintiffs. They might sue Mr. Pluckrose for any damages they had sustained, but they could not sue Mr. Chaytor for damages on a contract which he never recognized. Mr. Catlin had not established a contract binding the defendant, and he could not therefore, by anything he might say, alter that state of things.

Mr. Chaytor, the defendant, was then called, at the request of Mr. Catlin, and deposed that he authorized Mr. Pluckrose to procure him 100 men to go to Weymouth on the occasion in question, at 1½d. per ton per man, in gangs of 16 men each. He (witness) considered that price so very ample and so very much beyond what was usually paid that he gave Mr. Pluckrose no authority to offer any higher terms. Besides, Mr. Pluckrose had told him that the terms were so very ample that there would be no difficulty in finding men to accept them. Mr. Magnus, on arriving at Weymouth, had told witness the men were not coming. Witness went to the post-office in expectation of receiving a letter from Mr. Pluckrose explaining why they had not come, but, receiving none, he was confirmed in the belief that they were not coming, and then it was that he sent for 100 men to Southampton, who proceeded to Weymouth and engaged with him to do the work on precisely the same terms he had authorized Mr. Pluckrose to hire men in London. The contract made by Mr. Pluckrose was so outrageous that he (witness) would not sanction it.

The JUDGE left Mr. Catlin to make that out to be a ratification.

Witness, in answer to Mr. Catlin, said, he had not repaid Mr. Pluckrose the 5s. which he had advanced to each of the men, nor had he promised to do so. He had, however, promised to compensate him for the trouble he took, in the interest of witness, in coaling the great ship at Deptford.

The JUDGE said, he was clearly of opinion that Mr. Pluckrose had no authority from the defendant to make the contract he had made. Mr. Pluckrose was authorized to do one thing, and he did another. For that other thing the defendant was not liable.

Some of the men, of whom a considerable number were present during the hearing, appealed to the Court to know to whom they were to look for compensation?

The JUDGE said, they could all sue Mr. Pluckrose. (A laugh.)

The plaintiff was then nonsuited.

At an early stage of the hearing the Judge suggested that the case was one for arbitration, but Mr. Catlin declined to act upon the hint and elected to have it tried by the Court.

I have not been able to identify this Thomas Pluckrose.


| Search & Site Map | Contact me: | ©2011 Derrick Porter