Monday, May 28, 2007
Catching A Train
When two railway engines collided in 1838, killing one of the drivers, the English legal system of the day made it quite clear who was to blame. The guilty engine was seized and ordered to be forfeit, under the ancient law of deodand.
Deo dandum (a gift to God) was a Saxon precept requiring any chattel that had caused the death of a human being to be surrendered to the king, who would put it to some good use. So the widow of a man who had been run over by a cart might receive the cart as financial compensation. Or, if a farmer fell on his scythe and died, the scythe was sometimes given to charity, as happened in England in 1218.
In Victorian times, however, the law was used by opponents of the new railways. After the 1838 collision, and a similar incident involving an explosion on a ship, Parliament eventually abolished the law in 1846.