Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Hughan vs Gibson case

Basically, the story behind the court case went as follows:
Allan Hughan chartered the schooner 'Stanley' for his sole use, with the intention of shipping top quality sheep to Western Australia. He paid the master John Gibson two hundred pounds for this service, as well as twenty pounds extra for deck space. In addition to the 135 head of sheep, Allan Hughan asked Captain Gibson if he would object to him taking on board his dog, a large Newfoundland hound of the type which were often used for sheep work in that period. The captain gave full permission for Allan to bring the dog on the voyage.
In order for the sheep to be transported, special fittings had to be made to the schooner, and these would be dismantled once the cargo reached its destination at Fremantle.
It seems as though Allan Hughan and Captain Gibson locked horns from the very beginning of the voyage. Allan wrote the following in a letter to the editor on January 10, 1868:
"The voyage had been rendered a most unpleasant one by the conduct of the captain. Day after day I submitted to treatment against which I perhaps had no legal redress, though none the less galling to the feelings of a gentleman. At last even the law is broken, an unprovoked assault is committed, and threats of a most serious character are made use of towards me. Feeling powerless I had to submit and await my arrival in port for redress.
Arrived in port I , accordingly, summoned the captain and his mate; the latter for assaulting me, the former for directing him to assault me, and for using threatening language, to the effect "that he would send me on deck in pieces if he began with me."
Later in the letter Allan writes : " In the first instance an unprovoked assault- which though at the time no more serious than the twisting of a person's wrists by a man twice his size, led through the agitation caused by the indignity to much subsequent suffering, which continued seriously to affect me for upwards of a week, during which time I had to warn the captain by letter that unless he left me in absolute quiet the consequences might be very serious, as a dangerous attack was threatening me- is proved. I had four witnesses to prove the wantonness of the assault."
Allan Hughan's treatment at the hands of Captain Gibson was the least of his worries. When he sought to press charges against Gibson upon arrival in Fremantle, the captain retaliated by continuing to make things difficult for his employer. First he dismantled the sheep fittings before the agreed time as stated in the charter agreement. Then he charged Allan Hughan an excessive price for doing so, as well as an additional cost of five pounds for passage of the dog, stating that Allan had taken it on the voyage against his express wishes. The latter of course refused to pay the additional costs, and so on December 30, 1868 the Fremantle resident magistrate C. Symmons, Esq, heard the case of GIBSON v HUGHAN, with the plaintiff sueing the defendant for eight pounds and twelve shillings for the passage of a Newfoundland dog from Melbourne to Fremantle and the removal of sheep fittings, employing six men for two days at six shillings each per day!
Captain Gibson didn't bother appearing in court himself, but appointed an agent called Mr Bateman, who produced a letter written by the captain stating that Allan Hughan had taken his dog on board against his express wishes. Mr Bateman also stated that five pounds was a reasonable amount to charge for passage for the dog, as a small dog's passage on board a steamer ship was the same amount.
Allan Hughan must have thought things were going his way when the magistrate argued that his case was very different due to Allan having chartered the whole ship, and was not merely a paying passenger.
Allan produced his own written statement from a carpenter who had quoted what it would have cost him to remove the sheep fittings from the 'Stanley'. C. Ware, carpenter, had inspected the fittings on December 17 with a view of purchasing them, and stated that he would have removed them for the sum of eight shillings, including his expenses to and from the ship.
It was at this point that the eccentricities of the magistrate became obvious. When questioning the carpenter who had been sworn in to give evidence, Mr. Symmonds said "Do you mean to say that you would have contracted to remove those fittings without the view of ultimately purchasing them, for the sum of eight shillings?" When Mr Ware answered in the affirmative, the magistrate scoffed "Tut,tut,tut, be off Sir, I won't listen to you and your foreswearing yourself. The idea of you doing for eight shillings what a man here charges three pounds twelve shillings for!"
Allan weighed in to the discussion with :" Pardon me, your Worship. You labour under a great error. If you hear the witness out you will be fully convinced. I am also prepared to state that, from my own knowledge, eight shillings would be ample payment for the work done, and for expenses to and from the vessel".
Magistrate Symmons gave the verdict for the plaintiff at two pounds ten shillings for the dog, and eight shillings for the removal of the fittings.
Surprisingly, Allan Hughan was very dissatisfied with this verdict, and immediately enquired if he had the power of an appeal. The magistrate was very taken aback, exclaiming: " Yes Sir, but after the pains I have taken with the case I am astonished to hear you ask the question. You show very bad taste."
Allan responded with " With all due respect to your worship, I submit that this case is decided against me in the absence of any evidence by the plaintiff, and in direct opposition to my sworn evidence. You have received as evidence a mere statement of a letter, which I deny on oath; further I can produce other evidence to support our own if requisite, and all presumptive proof is in my favour. I feel that I am now harshly dealt with and desire to appeal if I have the power."
Magistrate Symmons said"Really, Mr. Hughan, had I anticipated these frivolous objections I should have dealt differently with the case. I am surprised that you should take such a stand after all I have done for you, here is a man prefers a claim against you for eight pounds twelve shillings, and I only give him two pounds ten shillings or three pounds, and yet you are not satisfied."
Allan ended the thread of the conversation by declaring" Were I to persue your worship for one hundred pounds when you did not owe me two pence, would the fact of a verdict in my favour of ONLY twenty pounds be an arguement in favour or proof of the justness of the verdict?" There was no reply from magistrate Symmonds to this.
The clerk of the court stated that Allan Hughan had no right of appeal except upon a point of law, and Allan responded by asking " May I enquire if there is a point of law here? I am without counsel." When asked by Mr Symmons why he had no counsel, Allan had to chose his words wisely..." Because you objected yourself, sir, and morever having applied to counsel they expressed a strong disinclination to enter this court."
Of course, the magistrate asked why, and Allan carefully replied "It is perhaps better not to state them here, your worship. By a combination of circumstances I stand here without counsel and therefore appear as my own, and as a stranger to your forms I would appeal to the Bench for direction as to the course I am to pursue."
Mr Symmons was thoroughly sick of Allan Hughan by now, and stated "Mr Hughan, I am no lawyer, you have no appeal here unless upon a point of law. Will you pay the money and refrain from taking up the time of the court."
He wasn't to get rid of the tenacious Englishman that easily...." May I ask for my evidence to be again taken, as no depositions are yet taken down, and a copy given me as a guide to counsel, or may I ask for a copy of your judgement?" REFUSED. "Then in what way am I to state a case to my solicitor? Am I to rely on memory alone?"
Finally, Mr. Symmons put an end to the proceedings with "You are talking like an old woman. I really shall have to ask you to leave the court. Will you pay the amount now, or when will it be convenient?"
The last word was Allan's..."I will pay the money at once, I see it is better to submit to circumstances and again be at a loss, but I leave this court with a feeling of being most unjustly treated. I wish to appeal against what I feel is wrong, as a stranger I apply to the bench for direction in the cause of justice and cannot obtain any aid, but the contrary. I must say that the way I have seen justice administered in this court differs widely from all my experiences in any part of the world."
Allan Hughan does in fact appeal to a higher court, and in the interim period between the first and second hearings the Perth Gazette discusses the infamous Fremantle magistrate, Mr Symmons:
" JUSTICE AT FREMANTLE. From all accounts the Magistrate's Court at Fremantle must be above all other places where an hour's amusement can most certainly be obtained, and it owes that distinction to the eccentricities of the presiding Magistrate, who is in a fair way of gaining an unenviable notoriety for adjudicating upon cases bought before him not according to law, but according to his caprice, and it is alleged that should any respectable person be connected with any case before him that caprice is very apt to break forth rather unpleasantly.....
....We are not unnecessarily harsh in our comments, but it is a fact that Mr Symmons was removed from Champion Bay at the request of the settlers, who would not tolerate his vagaries, and we should not be much surprised if he were to leave Fremantle under much the same influences." - "The Perth Gazette & West Australian Times", Friday, January 24, 1868.
The Supreme Court of Western Australia in Perth had the last say on the entire matter. The paper reported the Appeal as follows:
"In this case it is quite unnecessary to say more than this- the letter in question was improperly received as evidence. The magistrate was wrong. He pronounced a judgement without a tittle of legal evidence to justify it, and the judgement of this court is that the appeal be affirmed with costs."
Another legal victory for Allan Hughan!!!

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