Scriven Bros & Co v Hindley & Co – Case Summary

Scriven Bros & Co v Hindley & Co

High Court

Citations: [1913] 3 KB 564.


The claimant instructed an auctioneer to sell their bales of hemp and tow. They described the goods in the catalogue as including different lots of bales, with the same shipping marks. The description did not mention any differences between the lots or explain which were tow and which were hemp. However, the bales were on display just before the auction for purchasers to examine.

The defendant wanted to buy hemp, so he examined the hemp bales. He did not intend to buy tow, so he did not examine those bales. He accidentally bid on the tow and won. His bid was extravagantly high for tow (but reasonable for hemp). The auctioneer thought that the defendant had mistakenly overvalued the tow, but did not think he had bid on the wrong lot.

The claimant sought to claim the price from the defendant. The defendant claimed that the contract was void for mistake.

  1. Was the contract void for the defendant’s mistake?

The High Court held that the contract was void. The parties never had a meeting of minds on the subject matter of the contract. The claimant had contributed to this by ambiguously describing the lots in the catalogue.

The fact that the defendant was potentially negligent in examining the lots was not relevant. They did not owe the claimant a duty to take reasonable care in examining the lots.

This Case is Authority For…

A contract can be void for mutual mistake where the subject matter of the contract is completely ambiguous, and each party thinks it relates to something different.