Newton v. Stebbins - 51 U.S. 586 (1850)


U.S. Supreme Court

Newton v. Stebbins, 51 U.S. 10 How. 586 586 (1850)

Newton v. Stebbins

51 U.S. (10 How.) 586

Syllabus

Where a sailing vessel was descending the Hudson River with but a trifling wind and chiefly by the force of the current, and came into collision with a steamer ascending the river, the question in the case was whether or not the accident happened, notwithstanding every proper precautionary measure had been taken on the part of the steamboat to pass the sloop in safety, in consequence of an improper movement of that vessel by the mismanagement and unskillfulness of the persons in charge of her. If the sailing vessel kept her course, it was the duty of the steamboat to avoid her. The evidence showing that the steamer did not take

Page 51 U. S. 587

proper precautionary measures to avoid the sloop while endeavoring to pass her, the responsibility of the collision must rest upon the steamer.

The steamer was in fault for not slackening her speed on meeting a fleet of sailing vessels in a narrow channel of the river, she then going at the rate of from eight to ten knots the hour. She was also in fault in not having a proper lookout at the forward part of the vessel, there being no one but the man at the wheel on deck.

Like the preceding case, this action arose from a collision which took place between a steamboat and a sailing vessel.

The circumstances under which the collision took place, as claimed to exist by the respective parties, are thus set forth in the libel and answer. The libel was filed in November, 1845.

"To the Honorable Samuel R. Betts, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York."

"The libel and complaint of John H. Stebbins, of Coeymans, mariner, owner of the sloop Hamlet, whereof the libellant was master, her tackle, apparel, and furniture, against the steamboat New Jersey, whereof one Beebe now is or late was master, her engine, boiler, tackle, apparel, and furniture, now within this district, and also against all persons lawfully intervening for their interest therein, in a cause of collision, civil and maritime, and thereupon the said John H. Stebbins alleges and articulately propounds as follows:"

"1st. That some time in the month of October last the said sloop Hamlet, whereof the said libellant was master, was at the port of Bristol on the Hudson River, and destined on a voyage thence to the port of New York, with a cargo of flagging and other stone on board, and was at the time a tight, stanch, and well built vessel of the burden of ninety tons or thereabouts, and was then completely rigged and sufficiently provided, and then had on board and in her service a full and competent crew for the navigation of said sloop on the voyage above mentioned."

"2d. That in the said month of October the said sloop, provided and manned as aforesaid, sailed from the port of Bristol on her aforesaid voyage to the port of New York, and in the prosecution of the said voyage, as he is informed and believes, the said sloop proceeded at the rate of about four or five miles per hour until she arrived at a point on the Hudson River called Blue Point; that at that point the wind failed, and the said sloop then proceeded with the force of the current and very little wind about one or two miles an hour; that on her arrival at said point, and while the said vessel was within the jurisdiction

Page 51 U. S. 588

of this court, the person in charge of the said sloop observed the said steamboat coming up the river at the rate of about twelve or fifteen miles per hour, and nearer to the east shore of said river than the said sloop, and directed the man at the helm to head the said sloop more to the west shore of said river, which was done; that when said steamboat New Jersey arrived within a short distance of the said sloop, she altered her course to the westward and negligently and carelessly headed across the bows of said vessel and attempted to pass to the westward of said sloop, in consequence of which negligent conduct of those in charge of said steamboat the said steamboat struck the end of the said sloop's bowsprit, carrying away about ten or twelve feet of the said bowsprit and the stays attached thereto, forcing the bows of the said sloop round so that she struck the sloop on the larboard bow, doing such injury to the said sloop by said collision, that the sloop immediately sunk, with her said cargo."

"3d. That at the time the damage mentioned in the preceding article happened, it was impossible for the said sloop Hamlet to get out of the way of the said steamboat New Jersey, the said sloop having little comparative way on and being at the time to the westward, and out of the course of the said steamboat, and there being room enough for the said steamboat to have passed to the eastward of said sloop, as she might and ought to have done. That if the persons having charge of the said steamboat New Jersey had taken proper precaution to keep clear of the said sloop, which it was their duty to have done, the damage in the next preceding article set forth would not have happened."

"4th. That the said sloop, at the time of the receiving of the damage above mentioned, was a tight, stanch, and strong vessel, and that the libellant then was, and now is, the true and lawful owner of said sloop, her tackle, apparel, and furniture."

"5th. That by the collision aforesaid, and the consequent sinking of said sloop with her cargo, the libellant has sustained damage to the amount of three thousand five hundred dollars."

"6th. That all and singular the premises are true and within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States and of this Honorable Court, in verification whereof, if denied, the libellant prays leave to refer to pleadings and other proofs to be by him exhibited in this cause."

"Wherefore the libellant prays that process in due form of law, according to the course of courts of admiralty and of this Honorable Court in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, may issue against the said steamboat New Jersey, her

Page 51 U. S. 589

engine, boilers, tackle, apparel, and furniture, wheresoever the same may be found, and that all persons having, or pretending to have, any right, title, or interest therein may be cited to appear and answer all and singular the matters so articulately propounded, and that this Honorable Court would be pleased to pronounce for the damages aforesaid, or for such other and different relief to the libellant in the premises as shall to law and justice appertain, and also to condemn the said steamboat, her engine, tackle, apparel, and furniture, and the persons intervening for their interest therein, in costs."

"JOHN H. STEBBINS."

To this libel, Isaac Newton filed the following answer:

"January Term 1846"

"To the Honorable Samuel R. Betts, Judge of the District Court of the United States within and for the Southern District of New York: "

"And now Isaac Newton, intervening for his interest in the steamboat New Jersey, appears before this Honorable Court and for answer to the libel and complaint of John H. Stebbins against the said steamboat New Jersey, her engine, boilers, tackle, apparel, and furniture, and against all persons lawfully intervening for their interest therein, alleges and articulately propounds as follows:"

"1st. That this respondent was the owner of said steamboat, her boiler, engine &c., in October last, at the time of the alleged collision of said sloop Hamlet, in the libel mentioned, and the New Jersey, and before that time, and afterwards, until the sale of said steamboat to William B. Dodge and John S. Moore on or about 19 November last, and that since such sale by this respondent to said Dodge and Moore this respondent has been and still is bound to indemnify and save the said Dodge and Moore harmless against any claim or demand which the said libellant or any other person may have against said steamboat, her boiler, engine &c., by reason of any such collision, and has been ever since such sale and still is interested in said steamboat, her engine, tackle, apparel, and furniture as mortgagee for the purchase money."

"2d. This respondent also admits that the libellant was the master of the said sloop Hamlet, but he says on information and belief that said libellant was not in command on board said sloop at the time of the collision in question nor at any time during her said trip or voyage. This respondent also admits that said sloop was at Bristol, on the Hudson, as alleged in the first article of said libel, and destined on a trip or voyage

Page 51 U. S. 590

thence to New York with a cargo of some sort on board, but he is not informed, save from the libel, and therefore will leave the said libellant to prove, of what her cargo consisted, and this respondent denies on information and belief that said sloop was, as alleged in said libel, tight, stanch, and well built, and he also denies on information and belief that said sloop was completely rigged and sufficiently provided, and especially does he deny that she had on board and in her service, a full and complete crew for the navigation of said sloop on her destined voyage, and he avers, as he is informed and believes, that she was not sufficiently manned, that the master was not on board of her and no competent person in charge of said sloop on said voyage."

"3d. This respondent further says that as he is informed and believes, on the afternoon previous to the collision in question, the New Jersey started from New York at or about five o'clock, with a tow boat of about two hundred tons burden, bound for Hudson, and at the time of said collision, which arose from running the sloop into the said steamboat, as hereinafter mentioned, the said steamboat was within about half a mile from a point on the Hudson known as Blue Point, a distance of about eighty miles from New York; that the time of the collision in question was about two o'clock in the morning; that at the time of collision, and a short time previous to the collision, and for three or four miles before the sloop struck the steamboat, the steamboat was on the west side of the river, and westward of the course of the sloop, with her tow boat on her west side; that said steamboat had had a fair tide until a little before the collision happened, but at the time of the collision it was slack water; that a short time previous to the collision and at the time thereof, the wind was from the westward and blowing a stiff breeze; that the steamer, a short time previous to the collision, was slowed, and was stopped about the time of the collision; that the steamboat did not cross the bow of the sloop nor the course the sloop was running at the time the sloop came in sight, and that the collision arose from the short luffing of the sloop through the fault and willfulness, carelessness, mismanagement, or misdirection of the person or persons in charge of the sloop, which the persons in charge of the steamboat could not have foreseen nor guarded against, whereby the said sloop was run into the said steamboat by the person in charge of said sloop, and with so much force and violence as to drive the bowsprit of the sloop into the steamboat and do a great damage to said steamboat, or that the said collision arose otherwise from the fault, mismanagement, misdirection, or incompetency of the person or persons

Page 51 U. S. 591

in charge of the said sloop, and that the said collision happened without any fault, misdirection, or mismanagement of the persons in charge of said steamboat."

"And this respondent, further answering says that he is not informed of the rate at which the said sloop was proceeding before and after their arrival off Blue point, but he has reason to believe and does believe that the said sloop was proceeding much more rapidly through the water, both before and after their arrival off Blue Point, than as aforesaid is stated in said libel, and he denies on information and belief that the wind failed as said sloop arrived at the point. And this respondent denies on information and belief that the said steamboat, with her tow boat, at the time she came in sight of the sloop or at any time on her said trip or voyage from New York, either did or could have proceeded at the rate of near twelve or fifteen miles per hour, but she was moving at a much slower rate, and very slow, and he likewise denies, as he is informed and believes, that said steamboat was at any time after her coming in sight of said sloop nearer to the east shore of said river than said sloop; but whether or not the person or any persons having charge of said sloop directed the man at the helm thereof to head the sloop more to the west shore of said river, and whether the same was done in manner and form as alleged in said libel, this respondent is ignorant, and would leave said libellant to prove the same; but he is informed and believes that as said steamboat, going up the river, was passing said sloop to the west of said sloop, and said sloop, going down the river, was passing to the east of said steamboat, the course of said sloop was suddenly altered through the manifest fault and carelessness, mismanagement, or misdirection of the persons in charge of said sloop, and so directed to the westward as to run her into said steamboat, and this respondent further says, as he is informed and believes, that as the said steamboat was passing said sloop to the westward, with her tow boat in tow on her west side as aforesaid, the said sloop being headed toward the eastward, before the sudden change of direction of said sloop as aforesaid, he is informed and believes that said steamboat was directed further, and as far as possible, to the westward to keep clear of said sloop, and that she was not directed westward so as to cross the bow of said sloop, and that the said steamboat was not negligently or carelessly or otherwise headed across the bows of said vessel, nor was it attempted to pass said steamboat to the westward across the bow of the sloop or the course of the sloop, and this respondent denies on information and belief that it was in consequence of any negligent conduct or fault of those in charge of said steamboat that said steamboat struck

Page 51 U. S. 592

the end of said sloop's bowsprit, and says, as he is informed and believes, that the allegation is more correct, as it is in accordance with the fact, to say that the end of the bowsprit of the sloop struck the steamboat than that the steamboat struck the end of the bowsprit of the sloop, which is not true as this respondent is informed and believes. And this respondent admits that said sloop sank at or soon after the collision; but he says, as he is informed and believes, it was through the weakness and insufficiency of the said sloop, and through the carelessness and mismanagement and insufficiency of those who had charge of her."

"4th. This respondent further says that as he is informed and believes, it is not true, as alleged in the third article of said libel, that it was impossible for said sloop Hamlet to get out of the way of the said steamboat for the reasons supposed in that article nor for any reason whatever, but, on the contrary thereof, this respondent is informed and believes that said steamboat was pursuing her course on the westerly side of the river, as aforesaid, and that said collision was occasioned entirely by the fault, misdirection, mismanagement, or incompetency of the persons having charge of the sloop in suddenly altering and varying her course as aforesaid, and in not keeping on her course as the said sloop ought and might have done, and for which she had sufficient headway, or otherwise through the fault, misconduct, mismanagement, or incompetency of the person having charge of said sloop. And he further says that if the person or persons in charge of said sloop had used proper precaution or reasonable skill or care, as in duty bound to do, to avoid said collision, said collision might and would not have happened. And this respondent further says, as he is informed and believes, that every precaution was taken and effort made, and all reasonable care, skill, and diligence used, by the persons having charge of said steamboat to avoid such collision."

"5th. This respondent, on information and belief, denies that said sloop, at the time of said collision, was tight, stanch, or strong, but, on the contrary thereof, was old, weak, and insufficient, and this respondent says that he is not informed, except from the libel, whether the said libellant was, at the time of said collision or since has been, the owner of the said sloop, her tackle, apparel, and furniture, and therefore does not admit the same, but leaves him to prove the same as he may be advised."

"6th. Whether the said libellant has sustained damages to the amount of $3,500, or to any amount, by the collision aforesaid and the sinking of said sloop with her cargo this

Page 51 U. S. 593

respondent is not informed save by said libel, and does not admit the same, and leaves him to prove the same as he may be advised, but this respondent insists that neither said steamboat New Jersey nor this respondent is liable for any part of such damage, if any there be."

"7th. That the said collision, as this respondent is informed and believes, occurred within the body of the County of Ulster or of Duchess, in the State of New York, and not within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of this maritime court, and that therefore this Honorable Court has not jurisdiction, and ought not to proceed to enforce the claim alleged in the libel aforesaid against said steamboat or against this respondent intervening for his interest therein, and this respondent claims the same benefit of this exception as if he had demurred to said libel or pleaded specially to the jurisdiction of this Court."

"8th. That all and singular the premises are true, in verification whereof, if denied, the said respondent craves leave to refer to the depositions and other proofs to be by him exhibited in this cause."

"Wherefore this respondent prays that this Honorable Court would be pleased to pronounce against the libel aforesaid and to condemn the libellant in costs, and otherwise right and justice to administer in the premises."

"J. NEWTON"

To this answer the libellant filed a general replication.

Twenty-five witnesses were examined, some of them being persons who were on board of vessels very near the Hamlet at the time of the collision and others persons who were on board of the steamboat. In order to show the contradictory nature of the evidence, the following depositions are inserted:

For the libellant:

"William Hallarbeck sworn. Was pilot of Eliza Wright; first saw steamboat when a little below Blue Point, at about Barnegat, close in to east shore, and kept right along up east shore to opposite Sands' Dock, and then sheered over northwest. Witness about one-third across river from west shore when steamboat came towards him heading about for him; came within three lengths of sloop. Witness shook his light, and she took a sheer west, cleared witness about as far off. Hamlet was then half way between witness and shore, a little astern of witness; steamboat kept her course west, and tried to pass Hamlet's bow; saw them strike steamboat. Hit bowsprit of Hamlet, and slewed her right round to westward; saw her sink within a minute or two; wind was very light and baffling, northeast and northwest and every way. Witness' boom

Page 51 U. S. 594

at time, off east; was going three to four miles through water. Witness a little above the White House, nearly opposite to it."

"Cross-examined. Not quite a mile from White House, to Blue Point three quarters mile. Witness about length ahead of Hamlet, and she about half way between White House and Blue Point, and about one-third of a mile from witness; she had no lights in her rigging; saw her bowsprit; night was then lit up a good deal. Witness' sloop steered well, about abeam; was going four miles to Hamlet's three, per hour; steamboat had tow boat on west side; did not stop for collision; did not observe vessels particularly after they struck and got clear; could see hull of steamboat a mile; a small flat between White House and Blue Point, not extending one-half length of sloop into river."

"Thinks steamboat passed him at rate of ten or eleven miles; does not know that she stopped her wheels before striking Hamlet; did not seem more than a minute after passing before she struck Hamlet; was room for steamboat to pass Eliza Wright on east side."

"Robert F. Osborn, sworn. master of sloop Van Buren; was coming down river night of collision; about half across river from Blue Point, when first saw steamboat; she was then on east shore, near Barnegat, one-third from shore; was then coming directly up the river, as he judged; very soon she altered so as to run more to west, and then again to about northwest; was astern of Hamlet, and a little east of her, about to end of her boom."

"Steamboat passed witness' bow; did not then know Hamlet."

"Steamboat was steering well into west when she struck sloop; saw her strike; was then thirty or forty rods off; did not, to witness' knowledge, stop her wheels before striking; judged she was going nine or ten knots; blow slewed Hamlet west; witness jibed over to clear steamboat, and kept away; was about abreast of sloop when she sunk; steamboat was close along side of her; mast was over steamboat. Sloop went down, head first. Witness thinks he was running about two miles; wind north, directly down river, and light; had kept close with Hamlet from Crumelbow."

"Cross-examined. Thinks course of river about north and south at that place. Witness' sloop minded her helm when he kept away; believes steamboat backed her wheels after collision; sloop sunk within two or three minutes; steamboat lay some time after; barge of steamboat on larboard side; did not see any light in rigging of Hamlet."

"Jonathan Reeve, sworn. Was pilot of Van Buren. Witness

Page 51 U. S. 595

was at helm; at time of collision, one quarter to one-third from western shore, across river, right after Hamlet thirty or forty rods, perhaps, off; saw two vessels come together; should think steamboat was going eight or ten knots, steering west-northwest to northwest course."

"Hamlet heading directly down river; wind unsteady at time; witness going about two knots; saw steamboat a mile and a half off, and though she was on east side, and going up that side, as witness' sail shut her in; boom off east. Captain Osborn called to witness she was crossing river, and she soon opened to witness' view; did not observe that steamboat stopped her wheels till she struck; turned sloop round; head same way with steamboat; then thought she backed her wheels, and that started sloop a little backward, which rolled over to windward; then rolled back her mast towards steamboat, and sunk immediately; did not know sloop at time; had to keep away to get from steamboat."

"Cross-examined. Does not think was length of sloop from steamboat when passed her; witness did not alter course of sloop before collision."

For the claimant:

"George Dobson sworn. Second pilot of Buffalo; was pilot of New Jersey night of collision; was at wheel at time of collision, and from New York, except time of taking his tea; saw Hamlet a mile or more ahead, she being most to west of all the vessels; great many vessels coming down; made course to clear her, as he had all the rest from Clinton's Point up; had plenty of room, as if she had kept her course he should have had nearly one-third of river; first she luffed, and witness hauled more west to avoid her; she had been running straight down the river, and was perhaps one-third of a mile off when she changed her direction; when she luffed, she bore more for steamboat; should have gone clear had she kept her course; fearing she would not clear steamboat, slowed her, and hallowed to sloop to keep away; then stopped steamboat, and hailed again to keep away, and saw man shove his helm down which would luff her up; it luffed her directly round; the instant witness saw him put his helm down, rang the bell twice to back, and sloop came head into her, as nearly head on as he could judge, might be a little glancing, and she ran against steamboat; hailed with loud voice; thinks would have cleared without trouble if sloop had not luffed last time; after helm was put down, nothing more could be done on New Jersey than was done; her direction could not be changed, and could aid in avoiding sloop only by backing. "

Page 51 U. S. 596

"Cross-examined. That night went on board New Jersey; been three or four years in People's line; Mr. Van Santvoord sent witness to boat; does not know whether he is owner in line or not; he is one of the principal managers; Drew another, and then chief director; heard he was owner; witness hired to him as runner, but good deal of time has been pilot; has also been captain; passed more vessels that night than he ever before saw on river; first part of night very dark and bad, but had become more clear at time of collision; nothing to call witness' attention particularly to Hamlet; does not recollect passing any vessels in immediate vicinity of Hamlet; passed some below; did not pass any vessel close to eastern shore of Sands' Dock; was then one-third river off west shore; began at Clinton Point to lay his course gradually across river, so as to get on west side; wanted to get to windward of vessels which had generally jibed; could in such state generally run over to west shore; sloop nearer the shore when she struck than when she sunk; thinks she sunk nearly one-third of river off shore; she was dragged off by backing of New Jersey, he thinks all of 200 feet or more, before she went down; sloop luffed twice; second time came dead up and direct into New Jersey; New Jersey backed twice, once when sloop was sinking."

"Been on river seventeen or eighteen years pretty steady, in all twenty-five years."

"Has run season as pilot, sometimes not on same boat."

In July, 1846, the cause came on to be tried in the district court, when the following decree was pronounced:

"This cause having been heard on the pleadings and proofs, and argued by the advocates for the respective parties, and due deliberation being had in the premises -- "

"It is now ordered, adjudged, and decreed by the court that the libellant recover, in this action against the steamboat New Jersey, her tackle &c., the damages sustained by the sloop Hamlet, and the cargo on board."

"And it is further ordered that it be referred to one of the commissioners of this court to ascertain and compute the amount of such damages and to report thereon to this court with all convenient speed."

"SAMUEL R. BETTS"

On 25 September, 1846, the commissioner made the following report:

"In pursuance of a decretal order, made in the above-entitled case on 1 August instant, by which, among other things, it was referred to the undersigned, one of the

Page 51 U. S. 597

commissioners of this court, to ascertain and compute the amount of damage sustained by the sloop Hamlet in her collision with the steamboat New Jersey and the value of the cargo on board: "

"I, George W. Morton, the commissioner to whom the above matter was referred, do report that I have been attended by the proctors of the libellant and claimant and have taken and examined the testimony offered in support of the libellant's claim and the testimony offered by the claimant in opposition thereto, and do find that the sloop Hamlet, at the time of the collision with the steamboat New Jersey, was worth the sum of $2,800, and the cargo on board the sum of $528.35, amounting in the whole to the sum of $3,328.35, being the damages sustained by the sloop Hamlet and cargo, in her collision with the steamboat New Jersey."

"All which is respectfully submitted."

"GEORGE W. MORTON, U.S. Commissioner"

"September 25, 1846"

Exceptions were filed to this report, and on 14 October, 1846, a final decree was entered in the district court reducing the damages to $2,403.70, which amount it was adjudged that the libellant should recover, with costs.

The claimant and libellant both entered an appeal from this decree, but the libellant not perfecting his appeal, the cause went up to the circuit court upon the appeal of the claimant alone.

On 10 September, 1847, the cause was tried upon this appeal in the circuit court, and on 11 November, 1847, the decree of the district court was affirmed, with costs.

The claimant appealed to this Court.

Page 51 U. S. 604



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