Read the case of Raffles v. Wichelhaus which is a famous contract law case and which is posted in the “Week 3 Discussion Cases” folder.
• • What are the terms of the contract?
• • Who was suing whom? Why?
• • What damages was the plaintiff seeking?
• • Who won?
What was the reason (that is, what legal rule did it use) for the Court’s decision?
RAFFLES v. WICHELHAUS (1864)
Court of the Exchequer
2 Hurl. & C. 906
Declaration. For that it was agreed between the plaintiff and the defendants, to
wit, at Liverpool, that the plaintiff should sell to the defendants, and the
defendants buy of the plaintiff, certain goods, to wit, 125 bales of Surat cotton,
guaranteed middling fair merchant’s dhollorah, to arrive ex Peerless from
Bombay; and that the cotton should be taken from the quay, and that the
defendants would pay the plaintiff for the same at a certain rate, to wit, at the
rate of 17.25 d. per pound, within a certain time then agreed upon after the
arrival of said goods in England. Averments: that the said goods did arrive by
said ship from Bombay to England, to wit, at Liverpool, and the plaintiff was
then and there ready and willing and offered to deliver that said goods to the
defendants, etc. Breach: that the defendants refused to accept the said goods
or pay the plaintiff for them.
Plea. That the said ship mentioned in the said agreement was meant and
intended by the defendant to be the ship called the Peerless, which sailed
from Bombay, to wit, in October; and that the plaintiff was not ready and
willing, and did not offer to deliver to the defendants any bales of cotton which
arrived by the last-mentioned ship, but instead thereof was only ready and
willing, and offered to deliver to the defendants 125 bales of Surat cotton
which arrived by another and different ship, which was also called the
Peerless, and which sailed from Bombay, to wit, in December.
Demurrer, and joinder therin. Milward, in support of the demurrer. The
contract was for the sale of a number of bales of cotton of a particular
description, which the plaintiff was ready to deliver. It is immaterial by what
ship the cotton was to arrive, so that it was a ship called the Peerless. The
words, “to arrive ex Peerless,” only mean that if the vessel is lost on the
voyage, the contract is to be at an end. [Pollock, C.B. It would be a question
for the jury whether both parties meant the same ship to be called the
Peerless.] That would be so if the contract was for the sale of a ship called the
Peerless; but it is for the sale of cotton on board a ship of that name. [Pollock,
C.B. The defendant only bought that cotton which was to arrive by a particular
ship. It may as well be said, that if there is a contract for the purchase of
certain goods in a wharehouse A., that is satisfied by the delivery of goods of
the same description in wharehouse B.] In that case there would be goods in
both wharehouses; here, it does not appear that the plaintiff had any goods on
board the other Peerless. [Martin, B. It is imposing on the defendant a different
contract from that which he entered into. Pollock, C.B. It is like a contract for
the purchase of wine coming from a particular estate in Spain or France,
where there are two estates of the same name.] The defendant has no right to
contradict, by parole evidence, a written contract good upon the face of it. He
does not impute mispepresentation or fraud, but only says he fancied the ship
a different one. Intention is of no avail, unless stated at the time of contract.
[Pollock, C.B. One vessel sailed in October, the other in December.] The time
of sailing is no part of the contract.
Mellish (Cohen with him), in support of the plea. There is nothing on the face
of the contract to show that any particular ship called the Peerless was meant;
but the moment it appears that two ships called the Peerless were about to
sail from Bombay there is a latent ambiguity, and parol evidence may be given
for the purpose of showing that the defendant meant one Peerless and the
plaintiff another. That being so, there was no consensus ad item, and
therefore no binding contract. He was then stopped by the Court.
Per Curiam. Judgment for the defendants.
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