Seaman Holmes and the Sinking of the William Brown

Hugo Adam Bedau

in Making Mortal Choices

Published in print May 1997 | ISBN: 9780195108774
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199852888 | DOI:
Seaman Holmes and the Sinking of the William Brown

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This chapter discusses the case of the William Brown, a ship that struck an iceberg in 1841. Lacking lifeboats for all aboard, the crew was forced to decide whom to save: some passengers were thrown overboard and others left on board without lifeboats, while crew members and some passengers boarded the available lifeboats. Only one crew member was put on trial for “manslaughter on the high seas”. The author discusses in depth a large number of principles that could have guided the crew — such as saving the most possible, placing passengers' safety first, or saving families plus crew — intertwining his consideration of these principles with a discussion of the court proceedings and various relevant judicial opinions. Ultimately, he disagrees with the jury's decision to find the crew member guilty of manslaughter, and provides a detailed explanation of his reasoning.

Keywords: William Brown; manslaughter; lifeboats

Chapter.  9886 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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