The mysterious fate of the steamer Waratahwas recalled by an action in the Court of Appeal, London, last month. Mrs. Harriett M.Skailes, widow of the purser of the vessel, hadclaimed compensation for the loss of her husband on behalf of her children and herself under the Workmen's Compensation Act.
Judge Rentoul, in the City of London Court,granted her £900 compensation, but the ownersand managing owners, the Blue Anchor line andMessrs. W. Lund and Sons, appealed against thedecision on the ground that Skailes earned morethan £250 a year, and was thus not a workmanunder the Act. The Court of Appeal upheldtheir application, and remitted the widow's action to the City of London Court to be reheard.
On behalf of Mrs. Skailes itwas urged in the City Courtthat "earnings" was the wordused in the Act, and that herhusband earned less than £250a year. There was, it was con-tended, a distinction between"earnings" and "remuneration."Skailes had £8 a month paywhile on board. He received 5per cent commission on salesat the bar, which brought himin about £70 a year. It wasestimated that his board wasworth 2s a day, and he receiveda bonus of £2 a month when hisemployers were pleased withhim. The owners also suppliedSkailes with bottles of whiskyat 4s each, which he sold to thepassengers at 6d a glass.Skailes thereby reaping a pro-fit of about 3s 6d on each bottle.
Judge Rentoul found thatSkailes's income was in all£222 a year, and that he was aworkman to whom the Act applied, and he made an award of£100 in favor of Mrs. Skailesand her children. The employers appealed upon theground that the findings wereagainst the weight of evidence,and that the learned Judge waswrong in excluding from hiscomputation of the annual remuneration the item of £20 a year bonus, and the profits on the sales on the bottles ofwhisky.
The Master of the Rolls, ingiving judgment allowing theappeal, said that remunerationwas not the same thing as salary or cash payments by an employer, but it involved precisely the same consideration as earnings. The County Court judge had rejected the two items, vis., the £2 a month which was paid not as a voluntary gratuity, but as extra wages to which the man was entitled, and the profit on the sale of whisky, but for which it was admitted a larger sum would have had to have been paid to him as wages. In rejecting those items he was wrong, and the case must he remitted to him to consider them. The judge need not trouble to estimate the precise figures, but he must consider whether either or both items would bring the purser's remuneration above £250 a year. Lord Justice Fletcher Moulton, in his judgment, expressed the opinion that Judge Rentoul had properly excluded the two items in question from his computation, but he thought that the case must go back to him because he had not directed his attention to the proper determination of the issues before him.
Lord Justice Farwell delivered a judgmentagreeing with the conclusions arrived at by theMaster of the Rolls, and the appeal was, there-fore, allowed.
This lengthy report is both sad and revealing. Mrs. Skailes had lost her husband, never to know where or why. The Lunds were not held liable at the Inquiry for the loss of the Waratah. Mrs. Skailes was one of many widows cast into the harsh reality of late 1909, without a provider. The Lunds kept secrets about the full details of their flagship and the Inquiry was lenient when F.W. Lund and other partisan witnesses presented confusion and contradictions under oath. But this did not stop the Lunds from crossing t's and dotting i's regarding the Workmen's Compensation Act. What did they stand to gain by obstructing Mrs. Skailes' attempt to obtain funds which in no way compensated her for the tragic loss, but to some small degree, eased the financial component of her suffering? It seems to me that the time period surrounding the loss of the Waratah was cruel and harsh.