Robinson v Balmain New Ferry Co Ltd – Case Summary

Robinson v Balmain New Ferry Co Ltd

Privy Council (Australia)

Citations: [1910] AC 295.


The claimant contracted with the defendant to enter the defendant’s wharf and get on a boat. In front of the entry turnstile was a notice stating:

‘Notice. A fare of one penny must be paid on entering or leaving the wharf. No exception will be made to this rule, whether the passenger has travelled by the ferry or not.’

Once inside the wharf, the claimant changed their mind and demanded to be let out. The defendant told him that he had to pay a toll to exit. The toll gate was guarded an officer to prevent people leaving without paying the toll. The claimant tried to barge past the officer, who stopped him leaving. He eventually managed to evade the officer and escaped into the street. The claimant sued the defendant for false imprisonment.

  1. Had the defendant falsely imprisoned the claimant?

The Privy Council held in favour of the defendant. The defendant’s toll was reasonable and they were entitled to prevent the claimant from forcibly evading it.

This Case is Authority For…

When a person enters premises as part of a contract, it is not false imprisonment to insist that their exit from the premises be in accordance with the contract.


The court also noted that the defendant’s conditions for exit were reasonable, regardless of whether the claimant had seen the notice. In particular, Lord Loreburn stated that:

‘the defendants were entitled to impose a reasonable condition before allowing him to pass through their turnstile from a place to which he had gone of his own free will. The payment of a penny was a quite fair condition, and if he did not choose to comply with it the defendants were not bound to let him through. He could proceed on the journey he had contracted for.’

There are two ways of interpreting this:

  • A defendant is entitled to impose a reasonable fee when people who enter their land try to leave, regardless of whether the claimant has another way out; or
  • The defendant was entitled to impose a reasonable fee as a condition for exit because the claimant had another reasonable way out – he could get on the boat, as he contracted to do.