The Northern Belle
APPEAL from the Circuit Court for Wisconsin, the case being this:
The La Crosse and Minnesota Steam Packet Company, owners of the steamboat Northern Belle, and engaged in the carrying trade on the Upper Mississippi, undertook to carry for a certain Robson, in their barge Pat Brady, five thousand bushels of wheat from Hastings, in Minnesota, to La Crosse, in Wisconsin, and safely deliver the same, the unavoidable dangers of the river and fire only excepted. On the voyage the barge was sunk and the wheat damaged, and the Home Insurance Company, which had given a policy on the wheat and paid it, filed a libel in admiralty against the steamer and her barge, to recover the loss.
The principal question in issue was the seaworthiness of the barge. The injury occurred May 12th. About the latter part of June following, after another accident and loss of a cargo on the same barge, she was placed upon the ways for repairs. And the depositions of several witnesses who examined her carefully at this time were now before the court. One of these witnesses testified that he found over ninety timbers rotted and gone, so much so that they were not strong enough to make a fastening to. At one point there were four side timbers rotted out, so as to leave about five feet without support. Her floor-timber ends were much decayed. Another witness stated that on one side he found about fifty rotted timbers, some of them entirely rotted off; on the other side about the same, fifteen or twenty of them rotted entirely off. A third witness, a ship carpenter, confirmed this, testifying that the effect of it would be that any strong pressure against her sides or bottom, from getting aground or surging against a steamboat, would cause her to leak; an inference which it hardly needed a ship carpenter to draw for the court.
The evidence in the immediate case showed that on the occasion when the present catastrophe took place, the steamboat was descending the river in the night, when a slight shock was felt on the barge, so slight that it was not communicated to the boat. It did not stop or retard either the barge or the boat, but in a few minutes the former was found to be sinking, and had to be grounded on the nearest sandbar. No rock or snag was proved to be in the river at the place where the stock first occurred.
The Pat Brady was an old barge which had been formerly called Fort Snelling. But about a year before this catastrophe, she had been repaired and sent forth with a new name.
The District Court decreed in favor of the libellant, and the Circuit Court affirmed that decree. The case was now brought here by the packet company.
Mr. Cary, for the appellant; Mr. Emmons, contra.
Mr. Justice MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.