1st September 1846. Deodands.

Welcome to September.

The first of this month is regarded by the ‘Met-Office’ as the first day of autumn.

Sonning Cutting near Reading witnessed an early railway disaster in December 1841 when part of the embankment fell onto the track.(1)

It proved to be pivotal as it resulted in the Fatal Accident or the Lord Campbell Act whereby for the first time relatives of those killed could recover damages with the abolition as from Today in 1846 of Deodands.(2)


Prior to this the ancient Law of Deodand was used whereby accidents caused by moving forces such as horses incurred damages to the value of that entity.

A Deodand was a thing forfeited or ‘given to God’, in law an object or instrument which is forfeit when causing someone’s death.

Originally the value of an animal or inanimate property such as a boat or ladder, determined to have caused death, was confiscated after a Coroner’s Inquest, by the king.

Proceeds would then go in the superstitious Middle Ages, for the saying of Masses for the victims who would have ‘gone to their final account’ without benefit of supreme unction, essential for Purgatory.

The earliest official mention of a Deodand was in the reign of Edward I, ‘De Officio Coranatoris (1275-6), which having no definition drew on existing Common Law, being concerned with familiar objects such as horses, boats and carts etc: ‘Whereby any that are slain, that property are called deodands they shall be valued and delivered into the towns as before said’ (sic).(3)

In 1336 one Elyas Ide a drunken seaman fell from the top of the rigging of a ship on the Thames. The value of the rope he was using was 10 shilling, a price of a horse, so the ship-owner was liable for this amount as forfeit.

Sir Henry Finch’s Law 1613 stated: ‘If a man being upon a cart carrying faggots…fall down by the moving of one of the horses in the cart and die of it, both that and all the other horses in the cart, and the cart itself are forfeit. And these are called deodands’.

Horse Trial

Then Blackstone in the 18thc: ‘If a a man falls from a boat or  ship in fresh water, and is drowned, it hath been said that the vessel and cargo are, in strictness of law, a deodand’.(4)

In the 19thc a Deodand was paid on the murder of Oliver Palmer of Buckland Monachorum, Devon in May 1812, and in December 1828 one was paid on an accidental death of a carpenter Robert Weeks on the S.S.Shannon.

However the rise of the railways changed everything as with expensive machinery employed, the value was potentially forfeit as Deodand.

As late as the 1840.s/50.s juries were awarding big sums against companies too powerful to abide by medievalism: the Deodand died.

Later psychologists have ascribed the Deodand as a human strategy in coping with the ritual of death; a bulwark which kept death tame by tying it to some in/animate object which through the Inquest and Jury was opened-up to public exploration and authentication.

(1) 24th December 1841.

(2) From the Latin Deo dandum, ‘That which is given to God’. Victoria gave Royal Assent on August 18th 1846.

(3) Deodand did not appear again in statute until 1833.

(4) William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, 1765-69.


Andrew Marvel c 1650 wrote: The nymph complains for death of the fawn/And nothing may we use in vain/Even beasts by justice are slain/Else men are made their deodands.


rejinajeffers.wordpress.com/Pic of Notice.

historyextra.com/Pic of Judge.



nationalarchives.gov.uk/Plymouth/Devon R.O.

academia.edu.abolishment of deodands.



About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: