THE LAW OF OLERON - THE JUDGMENTS OF THE SEA first printed in 1494, but the roots of this document are much older Translated from the French by Sir T. Twiss.

Royal Charles Royal Navy
Chrono date: 
1494 Jan 01

(1) This is the copy of the Charter of Oleron of the Judgments of the Sea.
First a man is made master of a ship. The ship belongs to two or three men. The ship departs from the country to which she belongs, and comes to Bordeaux or to Rochelle, or elsewhere, and is freighted to go to a strange country. The master may not sell the ship unless he has a mandate or procuration from the owners; but If he has need of money for his expenses, he may put some of the ship's apparel in pledge upon consultation with the ship's company, and this is the judgment in this case.

(2) A ship is in a haven and stays to await her time, and the time comes for her departure, the master ought to take counsel with his companions and to say to them: "Sirs, you have this weather." There will be some who will say the weather is not good, and some who will say the weather is fine and good. The master is bound to agree with the greater part of his companions. And if he does otherwise, the master is bound to replace the ship and the goods, if they are lost. And this is, etc.

(3) If a ship is lost in any land or in any place whatever, the mariners are bound to save the most they can; and if they assist, the master is bound, if he have not the money, to pledge some of the goods which they [the mariners] have saved, and to convey them back to their country; and if they do not assist, he is not bound to furnish them with anything nor to provide them with anything, on the contrary they shall lose their wages, when the ship is lost. And the master has no power to sell the apparel of the ship, if he has not a mandate or procuration from the owners, but he ought to place them in safe deposit, until he knows their wishes. And he ought to act in the most loyal way he can. (Et si doit fere a plus loialment qil pourra.) And if he act otherwise, he is bound to make compensation, if he have wherewithal. And this is the judgment, etc.

(4) A ship departs from Bordeaux or elsewhere; it happens sometimes that she is lost, and they save the most they can of the wines and the other goods. The merchants and the master are in great dispute, and the merchants claim from the master to have their goods. They may well have them, paying their freight for such part of the voyage as the ship has made, if it please the master. And if the master wishes, he may repair his ship, if she is in a state to be speedily repaired; if not he may hire another ship to complete the voyage, and the master shall have his freight for as much of the cargo as has been saved in any manner. And this is the judgment, etc.

(5) A ship departs from a port laden or empty, and arrives in another port; the mariners are not to go ashore without the leave of the master; for if the ship should be lost from any accident they would be bound to make compensation [if they have the wherewithal. But if the ship is in a place where she has been moored with four hawsers they may properly go ashore].(note 1)

---- Note ----
(note 1) The words in brackets were added to the Liber Horn in a hand considerably more modern than that of the original manuscript. It is possible that the rigor of the first part of the article was unenforceable. It has always been a source of more friction than even poor pay and bad food, between sailors and owners this restriction of shore leave. We may assume that the work of mooring with four hawsers would be done with enthusiasm.
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(6) Mariners hire themselves out to their master, and some of them go ashore without leave, and get drunk, and make a row (fount contekes), and there are some of them who are hurt; the master is not bound to have them healed, nor to provide them with anything; on the contrary he may properly put them ashore, and hire others in their place; and if the others cost more than they did, they ought to pay, if the master can find anything of theirs, But if the master sends a mariner on any service of the ship, and the mariner wounds himself or is hurt, he is to he healed and maintained at the cost of the ship.

(7) It happens that sickness attacks one of the ship's company, or two or three, and the sick man can do nothing in a the ship, as he is so ill; the master ought to put him ashore, and seek a lodging for him, and furnish him with tallow or a candle, and supply him with one of the ship's boys to tend him, or hire a woman to nurse him, and he ought to provide him with such food as is used on the ship, that is to say, with as much as he had when he was in health, and nothing more, unless he pleases. If the sick man wishes to have more delicate food the master is not bound to find it, unless it be at his [the sailor's] expense: and the ship ought not to delay her voyage for him; on the contrary she should proceed on it, and if he should recover he ought to have his wages for the whole voyage; and if he should die, his wife or his near relatives ought to have them [wages] for him. And this is, etc.

(8) A ship loads at Bordeaux, or elsewhere, and it happens a storm catches the ship at sea, and she cannot escape without casting overboard goods and wines; the master is bound to say to the merchants: "Sirs, we cannot escape without casting overboard wines and goods." The merchants if there are any, answer as they will, and agree readily on a jettison on the chance, since the reasoning of the master is most clear, if they do not agree, the master ought not to give up for that reason casting over board as much as he shall see fit, swearing himself and three of his companions on the Holy Evangelists, when he has arrived in safety on shore, that he did not do it except to save the lives of the merchants and the ship and the goods and the wines. Those goods which are cast overboard ought to be appraised at the market price of those which have arrived safely, and shall be sold and shared pound by pound amongst the merchants; and the master ought to share in the reckoning of his ship or his freight at his choice, to reimburse the losses: the mariners ought to have a tun free, and the rest they ought to share in the jettison, according to what they have on board, if they conduct themselves as men of the sea; and if they do not so conduct themselves, they ought not to have any exemption, and the master shall be believed on his oath. This is the judgment, etc. (note 2)

----- Note -----
(note 2) Here we have the ancient and universal principle of "general average" set forth in its simplest form. Those whose goods, for the safety and advantage of all, are thrown over board, are compensated by all on board. Simple as the rule appears on the surface, we can rest assured that each ease had to be argued hotly on its merits, each of the contestants swearing on the Holy Evangelists before the worthy consuls who held their court at the quayside or, as the phrase went, "at the chain." The chain was drawn across the harbor mouth each night for safety. So it was often known as "the Court of the Chain."
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(9) It happens that the master of a ship has to cut his mast from stress of weather, he ought to call the merchants, and show them that it is expedient to cut the mast to save the ship and the goods: and sometimes it happens that cables are cut and anchors abandoned to save the ship and the goods, they ought to be reckoned pound by pound as in jettison; and the merchants ought to share and pay without any delay everything, before the goods are landed from the ship; and if the ship should be on hard ground, and the master tarries for their dispute, and there shall be leakage, the master ought not to share in it; on the contrary he ought to have his freight as of the other goods which are saved.

(10) A master of a ship comes in safety to his place of discharge; he ought to show to the merchants the ropes with which he will hoist; and if he sees anything to mend, the master is bound to mend them, for if a tun is lost by fault of the hoisting or of the ropes, the master is bound to make compensation, he and his mariners; and the master ought to share all that he receives for the hoisting, and the hoisting ought to be reckoned in the first place to replace the losses, and the residue ought to be shared amongst then. But if the ropes break without his having shown them to the merchants, he and his mariners will be bound to make good all the damage. But if the merchants say that the ropes are fair and good, and they break each ought to share the loss, that is to say, the merchants to whom the wine belongs, so much alone. This is the judgment, etc.

(11) A ship loads at Bordeaux, or elsewhere, and hoists sail to convey her wines, and departs, and the master and mariners do not fasten their bulkheads as they ought and bad weather over takes them on the sea in such manner that the casks within the ship crush either a tun or a pipe; the ship arrives in safety and the merchants say that the casks have destroyed their wines; the master says that it is not so; if the master can swear himself and three of his companions, or four of those the merchants have chosen, that the wines were not destroyed by the casks, as the merchants stowed their wines above the water line, they ought to be quit. If they are not willing to swear they ought to make good to the merchants all their damage, for they are bound to fasten well and surely their bulkheads (boucles) and their hatches (elores) before they depart from the place where they have loaded. And this is the judgment, etc.

(12) A master hireth his mariners, and he ought to keep them in peace, and he their judge, if there is anyone who hurts another, whilst he puts bread and wine on the table, he who shall give the lie to another ought to pay fourpence. And the master, if he gives the lie to any one ought to pay eightpence and if anyone gives the lie to the master he ought to pay as much as the master. And if it so be that the master strikes one of his mariners, the mariner ought to abide the first blow whether it be of the fist or the palm of the hand; if the master strike him again he may defend himself. If a mariner strikes the master first he ought to lose a hundred shillings, or his fist, at the choice of the mariner. This is the Judgment, etc.

(13) A ship is freighted at Bordeaux, or at Rochelle or elsewhere and arrives at her place of discharge and has a charter party, towage and harbor-pilotage fall upon the merchants. On the coast of Brittany all those whom they take after they have passed "L'Isle de Bas" are harbor pilots: and those of Normandy and of England (after they have passed Calais and those of Scotland) after they have passed Guernsey, and those of Flanders after they have passed Calais and those . . . after they have passed Yarmouth. This is the judgment, etc.

(14) Contention arises on board of a ship between the master and his mariners. The master ought to take away the napkin from before the mariners three times before he sends them out of the ship. If the mariner offers to make amends according to the award of the mariners who are at the table, and if the master is so cruel that he will not do anything and puts him [the mariner] out of the ship, the mariner may follow the ship to her port of discharge and have all his wages as if he had come aboard the ship making amends according to the award of the other mariners. If the master has not another mariner as good as this one, and the ship is lost through any accident, the master is bound to make good the damage, if he have wherewithal. This is the judgment, etc.

(15) A ship is in a roadstead moored and riding at her mooring and another ship strikes her while she is at rest. The ship is damaged by the blow and there are some wines stove in. The damage ought to be appraised and divided by halves between the two ships. And the wines which are in the two ships ought to be halved for the damage between the merchants. The maser of the ship which has struck the other is bound to swear, himself and his mariners that he did not do it intentionally. The reason that this judgment is made is, that it may happen that a vessel would willingly place herself in the way of a better ship, if she were to have all her damage made good from having struck the other ship. But when she knows she ought to share the damage of both by halves she willingly places herself out of the way.

(16) A ship and divers others are in a haven where there is little or no water, and one of the ships dries and is too near another. The master of this ship ought to say to the other mariners [on the other ship]: "Sirs, you should raise your anchor [and move for it is too near us and may do us damage." If they will not raise it the master for himself with his companions may proceed to raise it and remove it at a distance from them. If they fail to raise it and the anchor does then damage the others [other ship] must make compensation thoroughly. And if it be that they have let go an anchor without a buoy and it does damage they are bound to make compensation thoroughly. If they are in a haven which dries they are bound to put floats to their anchors, so that they may appear above water [as markers]. This is the judgment, etc.

(17) The mariners of the coast of Brittany ought to have only one cooked meal a day, by reason that they have drink going and coming. And those of Normandy ought to have two a day, by reason that their master only supplies them with water in going. But when the ship arrives at the land where the wine grows the mariners ought to have drink and the master ought to find it. This is the judgment, etc.

(18) A ship arrives to load at Bordeaux or elsewhere. The master is bound to say to his companions: "Sirs, will you freight your fares, or will you let them at the freight of the ship?" And they are bound to reply, which they will do. And if they wish to freight choose to let them according to the freight of the ship, such freight as the ship shall have they shall have And if they wish to freight [their fares] for themselves, they ought to freight them in such manner that the ship ought not to be delayed. And if it should happen that they find not freight the master is not to blame. And the master ought to show them their fares and their berths, and each ought to place there the weight of their venture. And if he wishes to place there a tun of water and it be cast into the sea, it is to be reckoned pound by pound for wine or other goods if the mariners exert themselves reasonably on the sea. And if they [the mariners] freight their fares to merchants the same franchise which the mariners shall have shall be allowed to the merchants. This is the judgment etc.

(19) A ship arrives to discharge. The mariners wish to have their wages And there are some who have neither cot nor chest on board; the master may retain of their wages, in order to take the ship back to the place whence he brought it, if they do not give good security to perform the voyage. This is the judgment, etc.

(20) The master of a ship hires mariners at the town whereof the ship is, some of them for the venture, the others for money, and it happens that the ship cannot find freight for those parts to come in, and in the expedient to go a further distance, those who are engaged for the venture ought to follow the ship, but to those who are engaged for money the master is bound to increase their wages, view by view and course by course, by reason that he has engaged them to go to a given place. And if they go a shorter distance than that for which the engagement was made, they ought to have all their wages but they ought to assist in bringing the ship back to the place whence they brought it, if the master wishes it, at the adventure of God. This is the judgment, etc.

(21) It happens that a ship is at Bordaux or elsewhere; of such cooked food as there shall be In the ship, two mariners may carry with them ashore one mess such as they are cut on board ship. And such bread as there shall be, they might to have according to what they can eat, and of drink they ought to have none. They ought to return all quickly in order that the master lose not the service of the ship, for if the master loses it [the service] and there shall be damage, they ought to be bound to indemnify him. IF one of the crew hurts himself for want of help they are bound to contribute for his cure and to make compensation to their companion and the master and their mess-men. This is the judgment, etc.

(22) A master lets for freight his ship to a merchant, and it is devised between them, and a term is fixed [for loading] and the merchant does not observe this time; on the contrary he keeps the ship and the mariners waiting for fifteen days or more and sometimes the master loses his time and his expenses from the default of the merchant. The merchant is bound to indemnify the master, and of the indemnification that shall be paid, the mariners ought to have one fourth and the master three fourths, because he provides the expenses, And this is the Judgment, etc.

(23) A merchant freights a ship and loads her and sets her on her way and the ship enters a port and remains there so long that money fails them; the master keeps well and he may send to his own country to seek for money, but he ought not to lose time for if he does so he is bound to indemnify the merchants for the damage they shall incur. But the master may well take of the wines of the merchants and sell them to obtain provisions. And when the ship shall have arrived at her right discharge the wines which the master at the market price at which the others shall be sold, neither at a higher nor a lower price. And the master ought to have his freight of those wines as of the others. This is the judgment, etc.

(24) A young man is pilot of a ship, and he is hired to conduct her into the port where she ought to discharge, and it may well happen that the port where ships are placed to discharge is a closed port. The master is bound to provide her berth by himself and his crew, and to place buoys that they may appear above water, or to see that her berth is well buoyed, that the merchants may suffer no damage; and if damage results the master is bound to make it good, if they state reasons wherefore the master should be driven from his reasons. And the pilot who has well done his duty when he has brought the ship in safety to her berth, for so far ought he to conduct her and thenceforth the duty is on the master and his companions. This is the judgment, etc.*

----- Last Note -----
* The clumsiness of this article's phrasing derives from the general provincialism of the sea coast of France in all periods. The "young man" is a "bachelor" in tbe original a local expression for a young fellow. "Pilot" is "lod-man" or loadman in the same sense as loadstar or guiding star. What the article is driving at is that the responsibility of making the ship secure in her berth belongs to the captain or master. The pilot's job is done when he has brought the ship to her berth. In a general the final touch to bringing a ship in is expressed in the words that she has been secured "to the satisfaction of the master." In one version of the Laws of Oleron it is stated that in the ease of a pilot [lod-man or lead-man] if he bring a ship into a haven and she is cast ashore by his lack of skill the crew shall lead him to the hatchway and there strike off his head. Charles Molloy (1676) says that the law of England permits no such hasty execution. This is a good example of the gradual evolution of the basic law of the sea to fit the times. It had become obvious by the seventeenth century that such rough justice would thin the ranks of any profession that ran such risks in the practice of it.

 

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