Charles E. Eastman has been in Detroit the past ten days attending a lawsuit in which he is particularly interested. November 26, 1889, the propeller S.S. WILHELM took the schooners MEARS and MIDNIGHT in tow at Cheboygan for Buffalo. The wind freshened as they came down the lake, and when abreast of Thunder Bay northeast gale was blowing and the MIDNIGHT lost her deck load. She hung up a red light, which is a signal of distress, and for the propeller to seek shelter No attention was paid to the signal and the next morning, after having hugged the west shore, the propeller turned out into the lake so quick as to part the tow line and the two schooners went ashore and were stranded. They were a total loss and one of the MEARS' crew died from exposure, the others barely pulling through. The owners of the MEARS sued the owners of the WILHELM in the United States court for $27,778.85 damages, claiming gross negligence on the part of the propeller, and it is this cause, Mr. Eastman being one of the owners of the WILHELM, which has been on trial.
Thursday, February 26, 1891
NOTE.- Both the MEARS and the MIDNIGHT appear in Inland Lloyds Vessel Register for 1890, the MEARS however does not appear in the 1890 Merchant Vessel List U.S.A. It is supposed she was a total loss in the above casualty. The MIDNIGHT was recovered.
. . . . .
The famous decision of Judge Hammond of Tennessee, while sitting in the federal court in Detroit last March, in the case of Vance et al., owners of the schooner MEARS against the propeller WILHELM is just reported in full in the current issue of the Federal Reporter. The Marine Review printed the oral decision of judge Hammond at the time but it may be well to give here the syllabus, which was evidently prepared by the court and is as follows: "A propeller having a schooner in tow made a trip on Lake Huron at the very end of the navigation season. On passing a certain harbor (Thunder bay) the weather gave indications of a storm, but the propeller kept on her course. The storm soon grew to be one of unprecedented severity, and while the vessels were near a lee shore, (Fish point) the tow line broke and the schooner was wrecked. The court held that the action of the master of the propeller in keeping on his course in such an emergency was not negligence. Where circumstances are evenly balanced, which indicate a choice of action in time of danger, the master's decision in the matter of navigating the vessel is conclusive, and although lie may err in judgement, it is not negligence if the master be competent, Hypercritical scrutiny into the conduct of the navigation, after the event of the disaster and in the light of that which has happened, is not the test of negligence, but prudent judgement is to be tested by the circumstances as they appeared to the master at the time he was called to act, and not as they appear to the court after more critical scrutiny than the master could have given to them."
The Marine Record
October 1, 1891
It was thought when Circuit judge Jackson held court in Detroit a few days ago that several cases other than that of Vance et. al. vs. the steamer WILHELM, involving liability for the loss of the schooners MIDNIGHT and MEARS, would have been heard. Among them was the famous NORTH STAR-SHEFFIELD collision case and also the RANNEY-MERRICK collision case. The inability of Mr. Rae of Chicago to appear was the cause for postponement in the first of these cases. Attorney Canfield of Detroit, acting for the MERRICK, was also unable to appear. judge Jackson has not as yet given his decision in the case of Vance against the WILHELM. This was one of the cases heard by District judge Eli S. Hammond of Nashville, Tenn., about the time that judge Swan of Detroit was appointed to office. It was in the discussion of this case that Judge Hammond said : "From the ancient ground hog to the modern superintendent of the weather bureau the weather-wise are as often false as true prophets and their miscalculations are the daily subject of good humored derision by the public."
The Marine Review
December 3, 1891
Judge Swain of the United States district court, Detroit, has granted an order allowing the owners of the steamer WILHELM to avail themselves of the law limiting their liabilities to the value of the boat in the decree obtained against the WILHELM for the loss of the barges MEARS and MIDNIGHT in the storm of November, 1889, on Lake Huron. The amount of damages awarded by the United States circuit court of appeals is more than the value of the WILHELM. The judge named Alex McVittie of Detroit as trustee to sell the WILHELM and divide the proceeds
The Marine Review
November 8, 1894
Barge C. MEARS. U. S. No. 33602. Of 235.86 tons Home port, Chicago, Ill.
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1871
NOTE:-- the C. MEARS was a propeller until 1864