The Portsmouth

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

76 U.S. 682

The Portsmouth

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the Northern District of Illinois; the case was this:

The Salt Company of Onondaga shipped at Buffalo, on the propeller Portsmouth, a large quantity of salt for Chicago, under a bill of lading in the usual form, but containing an exception of the dangers of the navigation.

On the 9th of October, 1866, the propeller, with the salt on board, reached Fox Island, in Lake Michigan, and about seven o'clock in the evening of the same day left it, bound directly for Chicago, using both sail and steam. The weather was foggy, and the wind was blowing from the northeast, with a considerable sea. The fog continued during that night and all the next day, and the wind blew freshly, though not so as to prevent the propeller's carrying her foresail. Nothing particular occurred until about sunset of the evening of the 10th, when, as described by the master, the fog lifted for a minute, and a loom of the land on the west side of the lake was discovered, and the master, mate, and engineer 'could just see a church-steeple and a house, as near as they could calculate.' The master did not know the distance from Fox Island to Racine, but consulting with the engineer as to the quantity of steam carried, and referring to his own expectation of the time when he expected to be that far on his course, which he had fixed at six o'clock in the evening, he concluded that the place was Racine, in Wisconsin. Acting upon that conclusion the propeller was continued on a course generally south by east half-east, and southeast, then south by west, and southwest, and finally west, until a whistle was heard, which the master took to be that of a propeller at the Chicago pier. This must have been at about three o'clock in the morning of the 11th. Soon after a white light was discovered, and this was assumed to be the Chicago light; the light at port being a white one, though not the only white one on the west coast of the lake. The sound of cars running, and of car-whistles was also heard, which the master inferred to be caused by making up trains at Chicago. Accordingly he attempted to enter the port, but when the propeller came very near the pier it was discovered not to be the pier of Chicago, and the vessel was immediately backed. It was, however, too late. She grounded and held fast. According to the testimony of the second engineer, who was in the engine-room managing the steamer, the vessel, until three minutes before his getting the bell to stop, had been running at full speed, which was between eight and nine miles an hour. The captain and first engineer-this last, until three minutes before the bell to stop was rung having been on deck with the captain-testified that they were not running so fast, that she was 'under check,' the captain stating that she was not running more than from three to four miles an hour. The master testified that although the weather was rough, he might safely have remained out in the lake till daylight, or might have signalled for a tug to take them in, and that he would not have gone in had he not, in common with the other officers, certainly believed that the place was Chicago. After the boat was found to be aground and fast the clerk was at once sent ashore and dispatched to Chicago for a tug. Meanwhile the propeller remained at the place where she had taken the bottom, which proved to be Waukegan, some thirty or forty miles from Chicago, until the tug arrived late in the afternoon of the 11th. No lighter was sent for, and no efforts were made to save the cargo, but after the arrival of the tug about one thousand barrels of the salt were thrown overboard to lighten the propeller, though the wind had then subsided, and she was apparently in no danger. The next morning she was got off, and she proceeded to her port of destination, where the residue of the salt was landed. The Salt Company now filed a libel in the District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, for the salt that had been thrown overboard and was undelivered. The propeller set up that it had been lost in the perils of navigation-thrown over to save the vessel and residue-and was so a case for general average. The District Court decided otherwise, and the Circuit Court affirmed its decree. The owners of the propeller now brought the case here.

Mr. Comstock, for the plaintiff in error. No opposing counsel.

Mr. Justice STRONG delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).