Deodands Act 1846

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The Deodands Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vict, c.62) was an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, that abolished the ancient remedy of deodands.


By the early nineteenth century, the ancient remedy of deodands had largely fallen into desuetude. However, during the 1830s the rapid development of the railways led to increasing public hostility to the epidemic of railway deaths and the indifferent attitudes of the railway companies. Under the common law of England and Wales, the death of a person causes purely emotional and pure economic loss to their relatives. In general, damages cannot be recovered for either type of damage, only for physical damage to the claimant or their property, and families of fatal accident victims had no claim. This was the rule declared by the court in Baker v. Bolton (1808).[1]

As a result, coroners' juries started to award deodands as a way of penalising the railways. The railway accident at Sonning Cutting (1841) was particularly notorious.[2] This alerted legislators, in particular Lord Campbell and the Select Committee on Railway Labourers (1846).[3] In the face of railway opposition, Campbell introduced a bill in 1845 that would lead to the Fatal Accidents Act 1846, Lord Campbell's Act, along with a bill to abolish deodands. The latter proposal, which became law as the Deodands Act 1846, to some extent mitigated railway hostility.[2]

The Act[edit]


"Whereas the law respecting the forfeiture of chattels which have moved to or caused the death of man, and respecting deodands, is unreasonable and inconvenient:

Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, 1.Deodands and forfeitures of chattels moving to or causing death abolished from and after 1 September 1846

[T]hat from and after the first day of September one thousand eight hundred and forty six there shall be no forfeiture of any chattel for or in respect of the same having moved to or caused the death of man; and no coroner’s jury sworn to inquire, upon the sight of any dead body, how the deceased came by his death, shall find any forfeiture of any chattel which may have moved to or caused the death of the deceased, or any deodand whatsoever; and it shall not be necessary in any indictment or inquisition for homicide to allege the value of the instrument which caused the death of the deceased, or to allege that the same was of no value" [4]


  1. ^ (1808) 1 Camp 493.
  2. ^ a b Kostal (1994) pp. 289-290.
  3. ^ Cornish & Clarke (1989) pp. 503-504.
  4. ^ Deodands abolition (1846) (Imp)


  • Cornish, W.; Clarke, G. (1989). Law and Society in England 1750-1950. London: Sweet & Maxwell. ISBN 0421311509. 
  • Kostal, R. W. (1994). Law and English Railway Capitalism, 1825–1875. ISBN 019825671X.