Taylor v Laird (1856) 25 LJ Ex 329



The claimant was employed as the captain of a ship which was owned by the defendants. Whilst in a foreign port during the course of the voyage, he voluntarily gave up his position as captain, and worked as an ordinary crew member during his passage back to Britain. The defendant was not made aware of this change of position. Upon his return, he sought to claim wages from the defendant for his work as a crew member during this journey.


The issue was whether the defendant had accepted the claimant’s offer of work despite being unaware of it, and by extension whether the defendant was contractually bound to pay the claimant’s wages for his work on the ship during the return journey.


The court held that the claimant was not entitled to wages for the return journey on the basis that he had not entered into any contractual agreement with the defendant for the performance of his work as an ordinary crew member. The defendant had not received any communication or offer of work in this capacity from the claimant, and there was therefore no basis for a contract. The court reasoned that it would be unjust to hold a party bound by an offer which he had not been made aware of, and therefore had no opportunity to accept or reject; as such it is not possible in English contract law to accept an offer ‘in ignorance’.

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