Tarleton v McGawley

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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Tarleton v McGawley [1793] 170 ER 153

Tort – Interference – Unlawful interference – Intention to cause injury


Tarleton was a ship trading off the coast of West Africa with Cameroon locals. The Bannister ship, directed by M’Gawley, shot a cannon from the water and hit a Cameroon ship, killing a local onboard. The cannon was shot in the effort to scare the Cameroon people away and interrupt the trade that was occurring between Tarleton ship and the locals, as M’Gawley was owed money by the locals. Tarleton brought action for interference.


Whether unlawful interference occurred in circumstances where M’Gawley was owed money, and would otherwise be entitled to recover it.


Tarleton’s loss was occasioned by a fear arising from the danger of life itself. The locals had become too scared to trade goods with Tarleton because of the cannon and the fear of death or injury. The court noted that if there was any Court in that country to which he could have applied for justice to recover his losses, he might have done so, but he had no right to take the law into his own hands. Further, if the shooting had been an accidental act, no action could have been maintained. However, it is proved that the M’Gawley had expressed an intention not to permit any to trade, until a debt due from the locals to himself was satisfied. He had contrived law and maliciously intended to hinder and deter the natives from trading with Tarleton. This had caused physical and unlawful injury to the locals and injury to the profits of the Tarleton. The action was allowed.

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