The writ nailed to the mast

The writ nailed to the mast.


“In the High Court of Justice

Queen’s Bench Division

Admiralty Court

Admiralty action in rem against:


Before the Honourable Mr Justice Sheen


Upon hearing the plaintiff..”

But wait. What on earth is all this about? For the Admiralty Court is not just any court. It is the most venerable, the most resistant to change, and the most imposing in the land. Not for nothing did the Victorians go in for monumental architecture. They did it to impress. And with the law courts in the Strand, they most certainly succeeded. Eight years in the building, the place was opened on 4th December 1882 by Queen Victoria, appropriately enough, for it is a riot of Imperial self-confidence, dripping with symbolism, presided over by the figures of Jesus, Solomon and Alfred the Great.

And the supplicant, for which read plaintiff, is reduced, as intended to a state resembling jelly, before even entering those hallowed portals. Inside all is echoing marble, soaring columns, scurrying clerks, bewigged barristers, and to the uninitiated, utter confusion. The clock ticks inexorably on.

“Where is court number three?”

“Where is your counsel?”

“You have no counsel? No-one, but no-one has appeared unrepresented before the Admiralty Court in the last hundred years”.

But that, gentle reader, was about to change.

For you see, whether your ship be the Titanic, the Queen Mary or Sauntress, the procedure is the same. That is to say she is that holiest of holies a British Registered Ship. No nasty foreigners allowed (Nigel Farage will be glad to hear). Instead, provided you can clear the hurdles deliberately lain in your path, you will be provided a Certificate Of British Registry which is a parchment of prodigious proportions in which are recorded the particulars of your ship, her official number, the number, date and Port Of Registry and a good many references to those despised foreigners. “Particulars of propelling engines. Whether British or foreign made. Should the vessel be lost, sold to foreigners or broken up” being but two examples. For this is John Buchan land beyond a doubt.

Now an action in rem as the terminology goes, means, as any Latin scholar will tell you, is that you sue an inanimate object, in this case the ship. Yours is not, at this point, to reason why. If the rules say you sue the ship, you sue the ship. It would have been preferable, but unprofitable to sue those roguish Welshmen who failed to provide a proper Bill of Sale, for they did not “have power in the manner aforesaid the premises hereinbefore expressed to be transferred” to wit 64/64 shares in the good ship Sauntress.

And that being the case The Registrar of British Ships in Lowestoft, being her Port of Registry was not about to bend the rules (heaven forfend). For, as the note at the foot of the, now useless as I had discovered, Bill of Sale, reminds the buyer “A purchase of a registered British Vessel does not obtain complete title until the Bill of Sale has been recorded at the Port of Registry, and neglect of this precaution may entail serious consequences”.

Too damn right.

As I was saying

“Upon hearing the Plaintiff (that is me, in person to wit) and upon reading both of his Affidavits sworn on 10th March 1982 (a century after Queen Victoria opened the Law Courts), no acknowledgement of service having been lodged by the defendants, the Judge on this day declared that the plaintiff is the sole owner of sixty-four sixty fourth shares in the vessel “SAUNTRESS” and is entitled to be registered as such.”


I smell the blood

Of an Englishman.

Toodle pip.