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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

NARA: Admiralty Case Files 1855-1863

By Martha Wallace and Cath Trindle

The Admiralty Case Files include appeals of decisions from both Northern and Southern California district courts. The original lawsuits involved ships with too many passengers, abandoned contracts, damaged goods, cargo not paid for, workers not paid, mistreatment of passengers, and Panama and Nicaragua crossings.  

Although there are only a few dozen cases, they provide a good read as they provide a glimpse into both the good and the bad of life at sea.

Daily Alta California, Volume 5, Number 342, 11 December 1854 (1)

Take the case of Hadji Hassan, Shack Badacrooden/Barrooden, Imangloo aka Mungloo, Thadanu, Shack Azum aka Mamed Dusden, Mumbaruck, Mootee aka Motse, Ameerow aka Amceron, Abdul Kurreen, Ishmael Enduph, Kadir, Edoo, Happian aka Aram Samy, Assenar, Cureen, and Omar Cullender aka Molydin vs. the ship Tartar with Edward A Mix, master, as claimant and Charles B Polhemus (2) and Edward Parker as sureties.  

What at first seemed to be a simple libel (3) for back pay turned out to be much more complicated.

Calcutta Document
Hong Kong document 
According to original documents included in the files, the libellants signed on as lascars (4) on the Tartar either in Calcutta about Oct 1855 or in Hong Kong in Mar of 1856. They agreed to serve for two years at various wages of of which 3 months were paid in advance.

In July of 1856 the Tartar docked in San Francisco.  On Jul 10,  Mix filed a suit claiming desertion by the lascars. On Jul 14 a libel was filed by the lascars for back pay and $1000 damages each.  On the 15th Polhemus and Parker filed a $500 bond as sureties in the case.

In the meantime, on July 12 Hadji Hassan was arrested and brought before the Police Court, charged with assault and battery and on being found guilty sent to county jail for 30 days.  Patrick McCormick and J J Joseph were among the police officers that went to fetch him from the Tartar to face the charges.

In court documents dated Feb 1857, they stated that when they went on board the Tartar in Jul 1856, they were met by ironed (handcuffed) men begging to be taken ashore. The ships officers stated that the men were ironed because they wouldn't work.  In turn the men said they couldn't work because the food that they were given was insufficient and rotten.  They stated the forecastle made them sick with the smell of the food, and that they would work if they were given proper food.

They showed the police men their supply of stinking fish and rotten rice. They said the men looked shabby, unhealthy and unfit to work. The captain wanted all the men back in irons so that he could handle them.  J J Joseph attested that one of the "mates" (he wasn't sure if it was the 1st or 2nd) agreed with the men that they were not getting good food.

The case was decided and appealed.  It was unclear who won the original case, perhaps it was the ship, or perhaps the lascars were awarded more than they received after the final appeal. (5)    On 16 Mar 1857 the Decree of the District Court was "reversed" and libellants were to be paid back wages. 

Calculation of Wages Due Lascars, Mar 1857

The ship appealed the 16 Mar 1857 decision, claiming that Henry B. Janes was not entitled to be the Proctor for the lascars.  They provided statements from some of the men stating the same.  Part of the testimony was that the men had been paid their wages in New York.  Perhaps the Admiralty Court Judge decided that any payments in New York were intended to "pay off" the men for their statements, or possibly he felt that the treatment they had received entitled them to more, whatever the reason on  5 Sep 1857 the Admiralty Court Jude he decreed Janes did have the right to represent the men, and ordered that they be paid all amounts due.

Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 
(1) "Tartar" was the name of more than one ship at the time, this sale is for the correct ship as the tonnage is the same.  Records for a "Tartar" bringing passengers to Australia about this time might be the same ship, the tonnage is close but not exact.  Searching for "Tartar" with master Mix brings up interesting results but no relevant records were found.
(2) Charles B. Polhemus emigrated to California from South America and founded the house of Also & Co. Commission Merchants in San Francisco.  Moving to the area that is now Central Park in San Mateo about 1858, he was one of the owners of the San Francisco to San Jose Railroad (later Southern Pacific). Biography  Photo Albums
(3)  Libel - In admiralty law - (verb) to bring a suit against someone; (noun) a plaintiff's written declaration.
(4) Lascar was a sailor or militiaman from South Asia, the Arab world, and other territories situated to the east of the Cape of Good Hope, who were employed on European ships from the 16th century until the middle of the 20th century. (Wikipedia)
(5) This answer might be found in other district court case files. 

Links . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

Admiralty Jurisdiction – Pacific Maritime Magazine

Index to Admiralty Case Files 1855-1863

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