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11. Inquest into death of Bridget Groke January 4, 1840

This coroner’s case is a vivid example of the sort of deprivation common to the era. Headed “Horrid case of destitution”, this harrowing inquest looked at the death of a three-year-old girl who had died in Sandgate, London. The verdict of the jury was one of “death by natural causes”, although a number of factors were cited in the case including the general and social conditions at the time and the behaviour of an “inhuman mother”. Something of the flavour of the story can be gathered from the opening paragraph: “It is almost impossible to convey the slightest idea of the retched hovel in which the decreased child was found . . . The room was low and naturally dark; and the light of a fire sent an unearthly glare around the place where the author of the recently published Fortunes of Godolphin [Nicholas Michell] might have gained many an idea, which might have enabled him to make the Sepulchre more descriptive where the gypsy was entombed alive.”

12. R V St George August 10, 1840

At a trial for attempting to fire a loaded firearm, the court considered whether, by pointing an unloaded pistol at someone, a common law assault had been committed. George Hanbury St George had been indicted for pointing the pistol at Bruce Ernest Darant and attempting to pull the trigger with intent to murder him. The court decided that it was an assault if the weapon had the appearance of being loaded (thus causing “fear and alarm”) and the range was such that it would have endangered life if it had been fired.

13. Merry V Green February 13, 1841

Finder’s keepers? Not in this case. The claimant purchased a bureau at a public auction sale and afterwards discovered a secret drawer that, unknown to anyone at the time of the sale, contained a considerable sum of money. The Court held that lawful possession of the money had not passed to the claimant.

14. Quarrier V Coulson January 28, 1842

This case arose from the gambling of an army captain who was alleged to be “of intemperate habits” and addicted to gambling “when in a state of intoxication”. Money was lent to him for the purposes of gaming at public tables in Germany, where it was lawful. The court held that his debts could be recovered in the English courts as such an action could have been maintained successfully in Germany.

15. Foss V Harbottle March 27, 1843

This was a ruling of major significance in company law. The law has since been revised but this case is necessary to understand many company cases as it is always referred to. Two shareholders in the Victoria Park Company brought an action against the company’s directors for fraudulently acquiring, at inflated prices, property in which the directors had a personal interest. They were also sued for making false statements at company meetings. What this case decided was that when a director of a company acted in breach of his duty, only the company – and not individuals – could be the claimant in an action to secure a remedy. A similar rule applies today, although there are now, under the Companies Act 2006, circumstances in which individual shareholders can pursue actions against directors for some breaches of duty.

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