p.2 A COURT OF ADMIRALTY - PUBLIC MEETING
A public meeting was held in the Council Chamber on Thursday afternoon, called by the Mayor, in compliance with a requisition which has already appeared in our advertising columns. There were about forty or fifty gentlemen present, nearly all of whom were directly or indirectly connected with our commercial marine.
The Mayor (Commodore Gildersleeve) took the Chair; and Capt. Robert Patterson, mariner, of this city, was appointed to act as Secretary.
The Mayor said the meeting had been convened upon a requisition from a number of gentlemen connected indirectly and directly with navigation and with this city. He read over the requisition, and said it was for the purpose of getting together such men as he saw before him in order that the question might be discussed in a practical light. He believed that the general feeling of the public of Canada West was that there is a strong necessity in Upper Canada for a Court of Admiralty. Many of those whom he saw before him, connected with sailing craft, knew well the difficulties under which they labored when in a foreign port. - Those connected with steamers did not feel those burdens so much, yet circumstances at times occurred when they too were subjected to the annoyance which bore so heavily upon the owners of Canadian shipping. He said this want was not now felt as a new thing. Mr. Edward Berry, of this city, who he regretted was at present out of the country, some five or six years ago was instrumental in forming an association of the principal forwarders of Upper Canada which held its first meeting at Hamilton, where the determination was come to form an association for the protection of the mercantile marine of Upper Canada. At that meeting Mr. Berry and himself were appointed a committee to draw up a report and as Mr. Berry had to leave for England at the time matter of drawing up the report rested in his hands. He went with it to the adjourned meeting at Hamilton, but from some cause or other, most probably the decline in trade, the meeting was not well attended and the matter fell through. But now that the commerce of Upper Canada had revived they all were convinced of the advantages which would accrue from forming themselves into a great protecting interest. He need not tell them the great disadvantages under which they now labored - how they might be compelled to give security for their vessel in an American port - how debts might render their vessel liable to seizure and libel. He thought it was their duty to their country, and as persons interested in the commerce of Upper Canada, to seek redress from those grievances. He had no doubt, that this Government or any other government would be glad of the opportunity to put a feather in their cap by establishing a Court of Admiralty. Commodore Gildersleeve said further that it was his desire rather to hear than to speak, and he would be glad for the practical men whom he saw before him to express their views and give the result of their experience.
Mr. Jacques, of the firm of Jacques, Tracy and Co., of Montreal, being called upon, said he had not come with a view to express his own, but rather to hear the views of others. He agreed with the Chairman as to the necessity of obtaining an admiralty law such as he had described. In Lower Canada the law exists as far as tidewater, but not beyond. All who were connected with commercial matters were aware of the necessity that there should be some Court taking cognizance of disputed matters, such as claims for seamen's wages, etc. He said he should be happy to hear the opinions of others rather than undertake to speak further himself.
The Hon. Alex. Campbell, M.L.C., was next called upon. He said he did not see how an Admiralty Court here would relieve us from the inconveniences of our vessels being seized in American ports. It would only visit upon Americans the inconveniences which our captains feel in other ports, and it would not relieve our captains from those difficulties. A court of Admiralty jurisdiction to settle claims such as seamen's wages and disputes about collisions would no doubt be attended with some benefit, and perhaps at the same time with some disadvantages. The jurisdiction of an Admiralty Court is such that you seize the vessel itself in preference to taking any other course of proceeding against her owners. In case of a vessel coming into collision and being seized, this claim would have preference over a mortgage or all other claims. He did not conceive how the carrying out of such a law would be at all just. It was easy to see that seamen having a preferential claim upon a vessel should be entitled to enforce their claim, but he did not see that there was not the same advantage to be obtained by a change of the law, and by retaining the matter in the hands of our present courts. As the Courts of Admiralty are managed in England, in which a Judge sits, and two assessors are appointed, who are masters or retired masters of vessels, these two practical men afford the court much valuable aid in all that relates to an understanding of the management of ships and with respect to disputed technical points; but he did not know whether such a court was required here, for as the jury law now stands, a special jury could be obtained to try a case in which such disputes might arise. Mr. Campbell said he had not an intimate knowledge of the subject before the meeting, and he would rather listen as a spectator than take part as a speaker. However, he had heard no complaint of our ship-owners and sailors not being able to seize vessels, but he had heard complaints as to the abuses of the Admiralty Courts on the other side. If we were to establish an Admiralty Court, that would only retaliate against the Americans, and so far would not be desirable, but it would relieve the Canadian captain from the complaints which he heard them make. The Court of Admiralty as existing in Lower Canada, he might observe, is an Imperial Court, holding jurisdiction under Imperial laws, in tide water only.
Captain Patterson, the Secretary, was requested to explain his views. He said he did not know that Canadians had any remedy by against an American captain whose vessel might come in collision with one of ours.
The Hon. Mr. Campbell said proceedings might be taken against the American in our Courts, and service of a writ might be made on the other side, which would be accepted in our Courts. The loser might also take proceedings in the American Courts which were open.
Capt. Patterson said the subject had occupied his attention for a long time, and from very frequent loss and suffering he was deeply aware of the necessity of having a court of complete jurisdiction to settle disputed points about collision. He then referred to Mr. Campbell's observation as to the priority of a claim made in an Admiralty court over a mortgage, and said that a vessel might be built upon a mortgage to the fullest extent of what she was worth, and then as soon as she was completed she might commit a collision, and then there was no remedy. He had been a great number of years trading to American ports, and he knew something of the practical working of the Admiralty courts there. The great complaint of Canadian captains is with the American magistrates' courts. If a Canadian captain should hire a crew in a Canadian port to go to an American port and back - an arrangement which is perfectly valid here - he would find this set aside by the magistrates' Court, but again on appealing to a Superior Court, he would get the magistrates' decision reversed. So that he thought the magistrates went against the American laws, and that if we were to represent these disagreements to the American government, they might possibly be induced to alter it. The Captain said the matter was much more important now as the trade had very much increased. He found the Canadian stock of barges were able to carry a million of bushels a trip, with vessels on the Lakes enough to keep them supplied. He also found the entries of arrivals during this season were 3,400. In Montreal and Quebec the number of vessels entering was not so large as this, although the tonnage might be greater; but far greater number of vessels showed a greater necessity for the establishment of an Admiralty Court.
Captain Gaskin said he could hold with what Captain Patterson had said as to the detention of Canadian vessels in American ports. He related a case of his own: in Toledo a sailor stepped up to him when commanding the St. George and said: "Captain, you owe twelve dollars for caulking your vessel in Sarnia." This had been done six years before when he did not own the vessel, and he knew nothing of the justice of the claim. The man had the vessel libelled, however, and the amount had to be paid in order to save the expense of bonding the vessel. Another sailor made a similar complaint and demanded six dollars, and had the vessel attached for payment of the same. He did not see why the owner of a vessel which had been sold and resold at Sheriff's sale, should be made responsible for the prior debts which had been incurred on the part of the vessel. Another thing he said was wanted. We ought to have crews, as a general thing, sign articles, as a sailor, when he gets to Toledo, or to an American port, may leave the vessel and say: "Captain, I can get better wages here - I am going to leave you." Another thing - if a captain of a vessel did not pay the men, the vessel ought to be attached in Canada for debts due to the men, as that would prevent sailors from going to the other side and looking out for a ship and attaching her in an American port, where it was sometimes difficult for a Canadian master to find sureties for bonding his vessel. In cases of collision he did not see why the Courts here should not have an experienced man upon the Bench to assist the Judge in his investigations. Mr. Justice Draper had a knowledge of this kind, having been brought up as a midshipman on board a man-of-war; but what did Mr. Campbell or any other legal gentleman know about whether a vessel was on the starboard or larboard tack? (Laughter) He said that another thing wanted to be altered. Under the present agreement, as to insurance on the lakes, a vessel could not go out of her course to assist another in distress, for if a collision took place in doing so, the insurance would be forfeited.
(Our report of the debate, which was continued further, will be completed in our next issue. The following resolution, which was passed unanimously, shows the final action of the meeting.)
It was moved by Mr. B.M. Britton, seconded by Mr. John Carruthers,
"That a committee of the Mayor, Captains Gaskin, Adams, Taylor, William Bowen, and Mr. Quaig, and Captain Patterson, be requested to prepare a statement setting forth in detail the grievances and inconveniences which the shipping trade now suffer, and suggesting appropriate remedies, and report to an adjourned meeting to be held this day week."
The meeting then adjourned, after passing a vote of thanks to the Chairman.
p.3 Imports - 8.