Ardennes (Cargo Owners) v Ardennes (Owners)  1 KB 55
The plaintiffs shipped 3000 cases of mandarin oranges on the Ardennes at Cartagena after the defendants had orally agreed to carry this cargo direct to London. When the cargo had been loaded, a bill of lading was issued which contained liberty to call at intermediate ports, to proceed by any route directly or indirectly and to over carry. Instead of sailing direct to London, the vessel went first to Antwerp. By the time she arrived in London there had been an increase in the import tax payable on mandarins and the market price of the fruit had fallen. The plaintiffs were awarded damages in respect of the increase in import duty and their loss of profit due to the foreseeable fall in the market price.
Lord Goddard: The defences raised were in substance that there was no oral agreement, and reliance is placed on one of the conditions in the bill of lading. I have no hesitation in finding that there was a promise made to the shippers’ representative that the ship should go direct to London, and that they shipped in reliance on that promise. I therefore have now to consider the defence which arises out of the terms of the bill of lading . . .
It is, I think, well settled that a bill of lading is not in itself the contract between the shipowner and the shipper of goods, though it has been said to be excellent evidence of its terms: Sewell v Burdick (1884) 10 App Cas 74, 105 per Lord Bramwell and Crooks v Allan (1879) 5 QBD 38.The contract has come into existence before the bill of lading is signed; the latter is signed by one party only, and handed by him to the shipper usually after the goods have been put on board. No doubt if the shipper finds that the bill contains terms with which he is not content, or does not contain some term for which he has stipulated, he might, if there were time, demand his goods back; but he is not, in my opinion, for that reason, prevented from giving evidence that there was in fact a contract entered into before the bill of lading was signed different from that which is found in the bill of lading or containing some additional term. He is no party to the preparation of the bill of lading; nor does he sign it. It is unnecessary to cite authority further than the two cases already mentioned for the proposition that the bill of lading is not itself the contract; therefore in my opinion evidence as to the true contract is admissible . . .