Countess of Dunmore v Alexander (1830) 9 S. 190

Contract law – Formation of contract


The Countess of Dunmore (C) was looking to change servant and wrote to Lady Agnew (LA) requesting information on the character of one of her servants, Alexander. LA responded and recommended Alexander, stating that she would accept the proposed wage. C accepted this and sent a letter to LA, acknowledging the agreement. LA was away from her residence but had the letter forwarded to the appropriate address. She acknowledged the letter and sent this on to Alexander. A day later, C wrote to LA stating that she no longer needed Alexander. LA forward the second letter by express post and both letters were delivered to Alexander at the same time. After C refused to house or pay Alexander, Alexander brought an action against her on the basis that there had been a completed contract and C had breached the terms.


C argued that as the two letters were received at the same time, Alexander had proper notice that she was not required. The issue for the court to consider was whether a party, who accepts an offer is entitled at the same moment to retract its acceptance.


The court held that there was no completed contract and therefore Alexander was not entitled to the wages for which she had claimed. The court found that as the two letters were received at the same time by Alexander, there could be no contract but notably stated that if one had arrived in the morning and the other in the afternoon, this would have been different (as per Lord Balgray). As a result of the circumstance, C was allowed to revoke her offer.