The Cayuga
83 U.S. 177 (1872)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Cayuga, 83 U.S. 16 Wall. 177 177 (1872)

The Cayuga

83 U.S. 177

Syllabus

1. Where, on a reference by a district court sitting in admiralty to assess the damages done by a collision, the master after taking depositions reports a certain sum as due, but is not requested by the respondents in the case to return the testimony or his finding of facts into court, and though returning certain parts of the testimony, does not return the whole, nor any finding of facts, and the court confirms his report and enters a decree accordingly -- a decree affirmed by the circuit court -- this Court cannot, in the absence of the testimony and where the record does not afford any satisfactory statement of facts to enable it to determine that there is any error in the report of the commissioner, review that matter.

2. A steamer condemned in damages for an accident occurring to her tow, which she was taking round a dangerous point with a very long hawser.

The Cayuga, a steamer engaged in towing canal boats upon the Hudson River, took, on the 25th of May, 1867, the canal boat Floating Battery, loaded with sand, in tow at Albany, to be brought to New York. The whole tow of the steamer consisted of thirty canal boats and two barges, the latter being from 150 to 200 feet astern of the former. The canal boats were placed in six tiers, each consisting of five boats, the Floating Battery being the starboard boat of the hindmost tier, bringing her the nearest to the west shore.

The distance from her to the Cayuga was about 1,000 feet.

Upon the first night out, the Floating Battery was brought in contact with a lighthouse near Coxsackie with such force that her lines parted and she was separated from the tow. She was replaced, however, in her old position by the aid

Page 83 U. S. 178

of a passing steamer without much difficulty. After this, she leaked a little, "about as much in twenty-four hours as a man could pump out in an hour." The evidence was clear that prior to this accident she was uncommonly dry and free from leaking. On the morning of the 28th of May, at about 12 1/2 o'clock -- the canal boat having been but a short time before pumped out -- as the steamer with her tow was rounding West Point, the canal boat struck something (a submerged rock the libellants alleged), upon her starboard side with such force as to throw her captain, who was lying down in the cabin, out of his berth, and -- the blow being a "sagging blow" -- to cause the boat to strike her companion upon its port side with great violence, sending the latter against its neighbor. At this time, the canal boat was not more than ten feet from the rocks upon the west shore, "so near that a man could have jumped from her upon those rocks."

As soon as the captain could gain his feet, he rushed upon deck, and being convinced that the boat was sinking, he and the bowman went immediately into the cabin for the purpose of securing their personal effects. When they reached it, they heard the water rushing into the boat, and before they had procured their clothes, the water was upon the cabin floor.

The helm was then lashed to port to send the boat to shore. By this time, she had sunk so rapidly that the water was rushing in at the cabin windows, within a few inches of the deck. This was only two or three minutes after the blow. The lines connecting her with the next boat were then cut, her men stepping upon the boat upon her port side.

Two witnesses standing upon the next boat to the canal boat which was struck, close to her, who were not interested in any way in the cause, testified positively that they saw her sink stern foremost. No horn was blown after the canal boat received her blow, nor any lantern swung -- the usual signals from a vessel in tow to her steamer when desiring aid. The steamer did not stop, and her officers knew nothing of the accident to the canal boat until the next morning.

Page 83 U. S. 179

A light that had been seen on the canal boat, it appeared, had been seen for a considerable time, perhaps half an hour, after the accident. The only light, however, on the canal boat was from a sheet iron stove, which weighed about fifty pounds and was placed upon a movable galley, not fastened to the deck. When the boat sank the galley might have floated, the stove not being heavy enough to sink it.

The owners of the canal boat having libeled the steamer in the district court at New York, that court entered a decretal order in favor of the libellants and referred the cause to a commissioner to assess the damages. He took depositions and reported the value of the boat and cargo at $2,329.92. The owners of the steamer excepted to the amount allowed, but they did not state what would have been a fair allowance for either boat or cargo, nor did they request the commissioner to report the evidence or his finding of the facts.

Some testimony was given in the record as having been taken before the commissioner, but it was not certified that it was all that was put before him. The district court confirmed the report of the commissioner and entered a final decree in favor of the libellants. The owners of the steamer thereupon appealed to the circuit court, where the decree of the district court was affirmed. They then appealed to this Court, and the case was here upon the same testimony as that introduced in the courts below.

Page 83 U. S. 181

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