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NEWTON V. STEBBINS, 51 U. S. 586 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Newton v. Stebbins, 51 U.S. 10 How. 586 586 (1850)

Newton v. Stebbins

51 U.S. (10 How.) 586


Where a sailing vessel was descending the Hudson River with but a trifling wind and chiefly by the force of the current, and came into collision with a steamer ascending the river, the question in the case was whether or not the accident happened, notwithstanding every proper precautionary measure had been taken on the part of the steamboat to pass the sloop in safety, in consequence of an improper movement of that vessel by the mismanagement and unskillfulness of the persons in charge of her. If the sailing vessel kept her course, it was the duty of the steamboat to avoid her. The evidence showing that the steamer did not take chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 51 U. S. 587

proper precautionary measures to avoid the sloop while endeavoring to pass her, the responsibility of the collision must rest upon the steamer.

The steamer was in fault for not slackening her speed on meeting a fleet of sailing vessels in a narrow channel of the river, she then going at the rate of from eight to ten knots the hour. She was also in fault in not having a proper lookout at the forward part of the vessel, there being no one but the man at the wheel on deck.

Like the preceding case, this action arose from a collision which took place between a steamboat and a sailing vessel.

The circumstances under which the collision took place, as claimed to exist by the respective parties, are thus set forth in the libel and answer. The libel was filed in November, 1845.

"To the Honorable Samuel R. Betts, Judge of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York."

"The libel and complaint of John H. Stebbins, of Coeymans, mariner, owner of the sloop Hamlet, whereof the libellant was master, her tackle, apparel, and furniture, against the steamboat New Jersey, whereof one Beebe now is or late was master, her engine, boiler, tackle, apparel, and furniture, now within this district, and also against all persons lawfully intervening for their interest therein, in a cause of collision, civil and maritime, and thereupon the said John H. Stebbins alleges and articulately propounds as follows:"

"1st. That some time in the month of October last the said sloop Hamlet, whereof the said libellant was master, was at the port of Bristol on the Hudson River, and destined on a voyage thence to the port of New York, with a cargo of flagging and other stone on board, and was at the time a tight, stanch, and well built vessel of the burden of ninety tons or thereabouts, and was then completely rigged and sufficiently provided, and then had on board and in her service a full and competent crew for the navigation of said sloop on the voyage above mentioned."

"2d. That in the said month of October the said sloop, provided and manned as aforesaid, sailed from the port of Bristol on her aforesaid voyage to the port of New York, and in the prosecution of the said voyage, as he is informed and believes, the said sloop proceeded at the rate of about four or five miles per hour until she arrived at a point on the Hudson River called Blue Point; that at that point the wind failed, and the said sloop then proceeded with the force of the current and very little wind about one or two miles an hour; that on her arrival at said point, and while the said vessel was within the jurisdiction

Page 51 U. S. 588

of this court, the person in charge of the said sloop observed the said steamboat coming up the river at the rate of about twelve or fifteen miles per hour, and nearer to the east shore of said river than the said sloop, and directed the man at the helm to head the said sloop more to the west shore of said river, which was done; that when said steamboat New Jersey arrived within a short distance of the said sloop, she altered her course to the westward and negligently and carelessly headed across the bows of said vessel and attempted to pass to the westward of said sloop, in consequence of which negligent conduct of those in charge of said steamboat the said steamboat struck the end of the said sloop's bowsprit, carrying away about ten or twelve feet of the said bowsprit and the stays attached thereto, forcing the bows of the said sloop round so that she struck the sloop on the larboard bow, doing such injury to the said sloop by said collision, that the sloop immediately sunk, with her said cargo."

"3d. That at the time the damage mentioned in the preceding article happened, it was impossible for the said sloop Hamlet to get out of the way of the said steamboat New Jersey, the said sloop having little comparative way on and being at the time to the westward, and out of the course of the said steamboat, and there being room enough for the said steamboat to have passed to the eastward of said sloop, as she might and ought to have done. That if the persons having charge of the said steamboat New Jersey had taken proper precaution to keep clear of the said sloop, which it was their duty to have done, the damage in the next preceding article set forth would not have happened."

"4th. That the said sloop, at the time of the receiving of the damage above mentioned, was a tight, stanch, and strong vessel, and that the libellant then was, and now is, the true and lawful owner of said sloop, her tackle, apparel, and furniture."

"5th. That by the collision aforesaid, and the consequent sinking of said sloop with her cargo, the libellant has sustained damage to the amount of three thousand five hundred dollars."

"6th. That all and singular the premises are true and within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States and of this Honorable Court, in verification whereof, if denied, the libellant prays leave to refer to pleadings and other proofs to be by him exhibited in this cause."

"Wherefore the libellant prays that process in due form of law, according to the course of courts of admiralty and of this Honorable Court in cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, may issue against the said steamboat New Jersey, her

Page 51 U. S. 589

engine, boilers, tackle, apparel, and furniture, wheresoever the same may be found, and that all persons having, or pretending to have, any right, title, or interest therein may be cited to appear and answer all and singular the matters so articulately propounded, and that this Honorable Court would be pleased to pronounce for the damages aforesaid, or for such other and different relief to the libellant in the premises as shall to law and justice appertain, and also to condemn the said steamboat, her engine, tackle, apparel, and furniture, and the persons intervening for their interest therein, in costs."


To this libel, Isaac Newton filed the following answer:

"January Term 1846"

"To the Honorable Samuel R. Betts, Judge of the District Court of the United States within and for the Southern District of New York: "

"And now Isaac Newton, intervening for his interest in the steamboat New Jersey, appears before this Honorable Court and for answer to the libel and complaint of John H. Stebbins against the said steamboat New Jersey, her engine, boilers, tackle, apparel, and furniture, and against all persons lawfully intervening for their interest therein, alleges and articulately propounds as follows:"

"1st. That this respondent was the