Raffles v Wichelhaus (1864) 2 Hurl & C 906

Contract – Mutual Mistake – Contract Formation – Void Contract – Enforceability – Objective Test – Certainty – Breach of Contract – Meeting of the Minds -


The complainant, Mr Raffles, offered to sell an amount of Surat cotton to the defendant, Mr Wichelhaus. This Surat cotton would be brought to Liverpool by a ship from Bombay, India. This ship was called the Peerless, but there were two ships that had this name. The complainant and the defendant were both thinking about a different Peerless ship when they agreed to make the sale. One of the ships was due to leave Bombay in October, which was what the defendant had thought for his Surat cotton delivery, but the complainant was referring to the ship that was to leave in December. When the Surat cotton arrived in Liverpool, Mr Wichelhaus refused to pay, as in his mind, it was months late.


The complainant sued the defendant for breach of contract. The issue in this case was whether there was an enforceable contract between the parties.


It was held that the contract between the complainant and defendant was not enforceable. When the contract was being discussed, there was ambiguity in the Peerless and what ship was being referred to, as well as no agreement on the terms on the sale. There had been no consensus ad idem or meeting of the minds between the parties to form a binding contract. The objective test made it clear that a reasonable person would not have been able to identify with certainty what ship had been agreed on.