Tuesday, 2 May 2017

2nd May 1817: Simon Orgill loses the appeal of the award of damages in his favour

On Friday 2nd May 1817, 18 months after the hearing had been ordered, the Hundred of West Goscote successfully appealed the verdict of damages awarded against them for the attack on Simon Orgill's lace frames in 1814. The Times of the following day carried a law report about the case (erroneously dubbing the location of the attack as 'Castle Dunningford'), which is reproduced below:




This action, under the 52. Geo. III. c. 130, was brought by the plaintiff, a lace-maker, at Castle-Dunningford, against the hundred, to recover compensation for "twelve lace frames, being engines," which were destroyed on the night between the 10th and 11th of April, 1814, by divers persons riotously assembled. A verdict was taken for the plaintiff, damages 400l., subject to the opinion of the Court upon a case which, after mentioning the destruction, stated that the plaintiff carried on his business in a factory adjoining to his dwelling-house, and that each of the frames or engines in question weighed 600lb. being made of wood and iron; that they formed no part of the factory, but could not be removed from it without being taken to pieces; and that they were fastened to the window-sill by an iron bar, and to the floor by two pieces of board. The question for the Court, upon these facts, was, whether these frames within the meaning of the above-mentioned act.

Mr. BALGUY, in support of the verdict, first called the attention of the Court to the Riot Act (1 Geo. I. c. 5.), to the Black Act (9 Geo. I. c. 2.), and to the 9 Geo. III. c. 29. which were statues in pari materia; the two first giving a remedy, in case of demolition by tumult, against the hundred in the statutes themselves, and the last having the same remedy communicated to it by 41 Geo. III. c. 24. At the same time the act in question passed, 52 Geo. III. c. 130, [1812], instances of destruction of stocking and lace frames, by riotous mobs, were of daily occurrence, and the object of the Legislature was to afford protection to property of that description; the title was "An Act for the more effectual punishment of persons destroying the property or His Majesty’s subjects, and for enabling the owners of such property to recover damages," & c; and it went on to recite, that it was expedient and necessary, that more effectual provision should be made for the protection of property not within the provision of former acts, viz.1 Geo. I. c. 5.; 9 Geo. I. c. 2.; and 41 Geo. III. c. 24. In consequence, it proceeded to enact, that, thereafter any person or persons who shall unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assemble and "demolish or pull down, or begin to demolish or pull down, any erection, building, or engine, which shall be used or employed in carrying on any trade or manufactory, or any branch or department of any trade or manufactory," shall be guilty of a capital felony. The clause immediately following the above gave the party injured his action against the hundred for compensation. It would not be denied that these lace-frames were used and employed in a trade or manufactory; and it was quite as clear that they came within Dr. Johnson's definition of engine, the word used in the act—"any mechanical complication in which various movements or parts concur to one effect." The statue contained nothing to limit or restrain the engines there mentioned to those employed for any particular purpose. Thus these lace-frames came within the strict terms of the clause; or if they did not, the case of Hide v. Cogan (Doug. 699) had settled, that under the riot-act the injured party was entitled to a liberal construction of the words.

Mr. READER, on the other side, impressed upon the Court the very great importance of this question to a large district of country, where many actions of the same kind were still pending. In order to show that a lace-frame was not an engine within the meaning of the 52d Geo. III. c. 130. he examined the statues recited in the preamble: neither the Riot-Act nor the Black Act mentioned engines, a term first employed in the 9th Geo. III. c. 29. explained by 41 Geo. III. c. 24. What then was the meaning of the word engine? A spinning-wheel, and even a pair of scissors, came within Johnson's general definition; and to prove it, the Doctor quoted two lines from Pope:—

"He takes a scissors and extends
"The little engine on his fingers ends."

The true explanation of the term in this case was, therefore, to be sought in the act under consideration, and in other statues of the same subject. It deserved attention, that wherever this word engine was used (with one exception) it was accompanied by "demolishing, or pulling down," which could not apply to a lace-frame, though it would to "an erection or building," the two words preceding engine in the 52d Geo. III. c. 130.

Lord ELLENBOROUGH.—To satisfy the word demolish, there must be a moles, the part of which must be separated. Can that be said of a lace-frame?

Mr. READER added, that the primary sense of the word demolished, given by Dr. Johnson, was "to throw down a building, to raze," though "to destroy" was added as a secondary signification. Lace-frames were never called engines in Nottinghamshire.

Lord ELLENBOROUGH.—The word engine may mean a larger or a less thing, according to the subjecta materia: thus, in statues we have engines for mines, and engines for killing game: but does it not mean, in this case, something capable of demolition?

Mr. READER.—The words preceding in the act are erection and building; and it would be a miserable bathos indeed to say, that the word engine, which followed, was satisfied by a lace-frame. He farther argued, that this statute was not meant to protect the mere instruments of trade like lace-frames; because the 52d Geo. III. c. 16. Had passed only a few months before the 52d Geo. III. c. 130. for the express purpose of inflicting the penalty of death upon the destroyers of them. No remedy was there given to the owner against the hundred, because the destruction would probably be a private act of malice, and not the consequence of a public riot or tumult. The stat. 28 Geo. III. c. 55.the first on the subject "for the better protection of stocking-frames, and the machines or engines annexed thereto," clearly proved that the frames themselves were not considered engines by the Legislature. He cited Reed v. Clarke (7 T. R.496.) to show that the hundred would be liable, unless the act by which the house, &c. was destroyed, amounted to a capital felony.

Mr. BALGUY replied.

Lord ELLENBOROUGH.—In the course of the argument my mind has fluctuated, and has now undergone a change: for I am clearly of opinion, that the word engine does not properly apply to all the moveable means of carrying on a trade—to the utensils, tools, & instruments employed in it. It is true, that engine is to be found in both the 52 Geo. III. c. 130; and in the previous statue of 52 Geo. III. c. 16: but the meaning of words is often to be ascertained from the company they keep: the two acts have different objects—the first for the protection of "erections, buildings, and engines;" and the last for the preservation of the engines, utensils, tools, or instruments of trade: this double or equivocal application of the same word has occasioned the difficulty, but it requires a different interpretation, and coupled as it is in the act immediately before the Court, with "buildings and erections," it must be understood as engines connected with the soil, and not merely moveable from from one part of a room to another, like a bed, which, as a lace-frame, must be taken to pieces before it can be got out of the house: the word engine must be understood in both statutes as ejusdem generis with the terms by which it is accompanied.

Mr. Justice BAYLEY concurred.

Mr. Justice ABBOTT observed, that the words "demolish, or pull down," could not, in their correct and sober sense, be applied to the destruction of a piece of mechanism like a lace-frame: but the at went farther, and said, that it should be felony "to begin to demolish or pull down;" so as plainly to indicate, that the operation must take time, and be upon some engine much larger and stronger than that in question. The terms of the other acts strongly confirmed this construction.

Mr. Justice HOLROYD, who entered the Court while Mr. Balguy was speaking, expressed his assent as far as he been able to form an opinion.

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