The deodand

The inquest jury found that eight people (four named, four unknown) “came by their deaths by being suffocated and drowned in the passage-boat Longford in the Royal Canal, near Clonsilla Bridge, on Tuesday, the 25th of November, 1845″.

The jury said that the neglect of both the captain, Christopher O’Connor, and the steersman, James Dunne, was “in some measure” the cause of the deaths but that the upsetting of the boat was “occasioned by the most gross negligence” of Patrick Teeling, whom they found guilty of manslaughter. The coroner committed Teeling for trial and “the witnesses were then severally bound over to prosecute.”[1]

Some days later, the Attorney-General directed that James Dunne be held on bail to stand trial with Teeling for manslaughter.[2] However, the Grand Jury ignored the bills sent to it and Dunne was not tried,

[…] a course on the part of the Grand Jury of which the Court seemed by no means to approve, being of opinion that more culpability belonged to those who were in proper charge of the boat than to the prisoner.[3]

Teeling’s trial

On Wednesday 10 December 1845, therefore, Patrick Teeling stood alone[4] to face four charges:

  • that he having the steerage and guidance of the boat entrusted to him, did negligently, wilfully, and feloniously steer a boat against the bank
  • that it being his duty to manage her skilfully, he did negligently, wilfully, and feloniously steer her against the bank
  • that being the steerer he did as above
  • that being the steerer, and his duty being to navigate and steer properly, did wilfully, negligently, and feloniously direct the helm.[5]

The prosecuting counsel, Mr Brewster QC, accepted that Teeling “was not so deeply morally guilty as those whose duty it was at all times to superintend the management of the boat”. William Keatinge, the boat’s usual steerer, spoke for Teeling, as did Gilbert O’Beirne, manager of the boats, and Charles Tarrant, the company’s engineer. Teeling’s own counsel, Mr Curran, said that “the real delinquents were the persons who were bound to have made such regulations as were necessary for the safety of the boat” and asked “Were they to make a victim of a poor labourer?” Even Baron Pennefather (sitting with Chief Justice Doherty) seemed to sympathise. He told the jury that

[…] they were called upon to pronounce their verdict upon the guilt or innocence of the prisoner. They were not trying all the merits or demerits of a most melancholy and calamitous occurrence. They were not trying those by whose misconduct or culpable neglect and mismanagement of their affairs the calamity had been occasioned. It should be obvious to every one who heard the trial that the prisoner was by no means the most guilty person in the transaction.

The jury agreed: after half an hour, it found Teeling not guilty and he was discharged.[6]

A great want of caution

The trial jury could not pronounce upon the company and its management but the inquest jury had been able to express its views. Towards the close of the inquest

The coroner then read to the jury the entire evidence, and proceeded to say that with respect to a deodand, it ought only to be thought of slightly, unless the matter was attended with criminality, since the Canal Company had taken upon themselves the defraying of every possible charge, whereby the question of deodand would become of trifling import.[7]

According to Wikipedia,

Deodand is a thing forfeited or given to God, specifically, in law, an object or instrument which becomes forfeit because it has caused a person’s death.[8]

In theory, the deodand was sold by the crown, which made some “pious use” of the profits; in practice the jury valued the item and the owners paid a fine of that amount. In this case, the jury ignored the coroner’s advice:

We also further find a great want of caution in the existing regulations concerning the construction of the passage boats, the regulation of the number of passengers to be carried, and the duties of the crew; and we further find a deodand on the said boat of £100 sterling.[9]

That was less than the value put on the boat by Samuel Draper, Secretary to the canal company:

[…] the value of the boat before the accident was between two and three hundred pounds; she is now probably worth one hundred and fifty pounds.[10]

As deodands were, again according to Wikipedia, abolished in 1846, the Royal Canal award may have been one of the last to be made. I do not know whether deodands were often awarded in waterways cases. It may be that they were used only where passengers were killed, and thus more likely to be applied in Ireland than in Britain. If they were not used on the deaths of waterway workers, that might be because of the attitude identified by John Armstrong and David M Williams in another context:

The third factor [explaining government concern about steamboat accidents] and perhaps the most telling was that steamboat accidents — much more so than sailing vessels — tended to involve the general public. Most accidents occurred near the coast or in harbour and thus in public view; more so, because the steamboat primarily provided passenger services, accidents involved persons other than the normal seafarer. The loss of seafarers, though regrettable, was hardly one to concern government. Maritime employment embodied dangers which were generally apparent. The risks of seafaring life were known and accepted by those who chose a livelihood at sea. A totally different matter was that of the fare-paying, “innocent of danger” passenger exposed to a new and unfamiliar hazard. Moreover, the presence of women and children in many accidents provided an added emotional aspect.[11]

The award of a deodand was the only way the inquest jury (or anybody else) could penalise the Royal Canal Company.

This is the third page of a sequence about the sinking of the passage boat Longford on the Royal Canal in 1845. The first page gives an overview of the accident; the second page provides information about the passage boats, their services and the crew of the Longford. The fourth and fifth pages discuss the management weaknesses that led to the award of the deodand; the sixth discusses who was steering when the boat hit the bank.


Notes and sources

[1] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[2] The Morning Post 4 December 1845

[3] The Morning Post 12 December 1845

[4] The trial was at the Commission of Oyer and Terminer

[5] Statesman and Dublin Christian Record 12 December 1845

[6] Ibid. Note that Ruth Delany [Ruth Delany and Ian Bath Ireland’s Royal Canal 1789–2009 The Lilliput Press, Dublin 2010] says that “Teeling was found guilty of manslaughter” but, as she cites the MGWR Canal Committee minutes of 28 November 1845, that could refer only to the verdict of the inquest jury, not to that of the court hearing on 10 December 1845

[7] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[8] Wikipedia on deodand

[9] Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[10] Evidence of Samuel Draper, Dublin Evening Mail 28 November 1845

[11] John Armstrong and David M Williams “The Steamboat, Safety and the State: government reaction to new technology in a period of laissez-faire” Ch 3 of The Impact of Technological Change: the early steamship in Britain Research in MartimMariner’s Mirrore History No 47, International Maritime Economic History Association, St John’s, Newfoundland 2011; originally published in  LXXXIX no 2 2003 pp167–184


From the BNA

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