BILL OF LADING.—A bill of lading is the written evidence of a contract for the carriage and delivery of goods sent by sea for a certain freight, the contract being in legal language a contract of BAILMENT. In its usual form there is an undertaking to deliver to the order or assigns of the shipper. By delivery of the goods on board, the shipmaster acquires a special property to support that possession of them which he holds in the right of another, and to enable him to perform his undertaking ; the general property re maining with the shipper of goods until he has disposed of them by some act sufficient in law to transfer his property therein. The transfer is by a mere indorsement of the bill of lading in the same way as a bill of exchange is indorsed, this being, in effect, simply a direction for the delivery of the goods. A bill of lading has been the usual instrument in cases of carriage of goods by sea for over two hundred years, and during this time has continued to generally preserve its original and rather quaint and archaic language. There are, however, diffiTent modern forms in use in various countries and ports, and even amongst large shipping companies, such as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, whose form, by their courteous permission, we reproduce. Attempts are now being made to obtain the international adoption of a specified form. The following is according to the old usual form :— A bill of lading in the hands of a consignee, or indorsee for valuable con sideration, representing as it does that certain goods have been shipped on board a vessel, will be conclusive evidence of such shipment as against the master or other person signing the same, notwithstanding that such goods, or some part thereof, may not have been shipped. But if the holder of the bill of lading at the time of receiving is aware that the goods have not been actually shipped, the master will not be liable, nor will he be, where the misrepresentation in the bill was caused by the fraud of the shipper, the holder, or some person under whom the holder claims.
As a contract of carriage it will be noticed that the bill of lading provides that the goods shall be delivered in the same order and condition as received—they must, in fact, be carried safely ; but this is subject to the exception with regard to the act of God and other dangers. Such a bill of
lading as either of those reproduced in this article would be called a " clean " bill, as it acknowledges that the goods have been received in good order and well-conditioned ; the effect of which being that the master must so deliver them even if their actual order and condition when shipped were very different. To escape such a liability, in case through some oversight goods in bad condition should be acknowledged as in good condition, there is generally added in the margin, or at the foot of the bill, the memorandum : " Weight, contents, and value unknown" ; in the Peninsular and Oriental form this appears as the first condition. It is usual to consign the goods under a private and distinctive mark, by which means neither the consignor iyir the consignee run any risk of other persons at the place of delivery knoa ing with whom the business is being done. Thus a trader in the midst of competition is able to obtain his goods without his competitors knowing from whom he obtains them ; and, on the other hand, a wholesale dealer, who is not over scrupulous and has agreed to supply only one person in the same place, is enabled to supply others as well. The primage mentioned in the forms refers to a small percentage on the amount of the freight, or a fixed sum on certain packages, and is theoretically the perquisite of the master of the ship, average being a charge divided between the owners of the ship and of the cargo for small expenses necessarily but extraordinarily incurred for the general benefit. The duty of the master is to deliver the goods to the person who first presents to him the bill of lading. Should one of the documents of the set get into improper hands, the master, if he acts bona fide, incurs no responsibility in delivering the goods ; but he would be liable therefor to the true owner if he acted collusively or negligently. Technical terms occurring in either of these bills of lading, and having any general importance, will be found ex plained on reference to their appropriate headings ; whilst the law generally as to carriage will be found under the heading of CARRIER.