Category Archives: History

Researching the Wellerman

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TikTok logo

A New Zealand sea shanty with the refrain, “Soon may the Wellerman come to bring us sugar and tea and rum” has become unexpectedly popular on TikTok.

The term “Wellerman” may refer to a resupply ship operated by an Australian shore-whaling company known as the Weller Brothers.

Not knowing whether the specific events of the song have any basis in fact or not, the question arose: has there ever been legal liability for a Wellerman failing to resupply a stranded whaling ship? If that answer proves difficult to pin down, then is it possible to find some historical cases worthy of their own sea shanties?

New Zealand Shore Whaling and the Law

Using the search term “Weller Brothers” on HeinOnline (UofSC login required) reveals two articles by Stuart Anderson:

Harris v. Fitzherbert: Customary Rights of Labour on a Shore Whaling Station, 42 Victoria U. Wellington L. Rev. 639 (2011).

Commercial Law on the Beach: Shore Whaling Litigation in Early Colonial New Zealand – Macfarlane v. Crummer (1845), 41 Victoria U. Wellington L. Rev. 453 (2010).

mountains, a few houses on a grassy plain, a beach

1907 watercolor by Walter Bowring depicting Jillett’s whaling station on Kāpiti Island in 1844

The facts of Macfarlane involve “clothing, tobacco, soap, flour, tea, sugar, calico and more” being delivered to a struggling whaling station. Anderson at 454, emphasis added. Could this delivery of provisions be the basis of the sea shanty, with some facts changed or exaggerated? There may be no way to know, but even assuming it were true, unfortunately Anderson informs us “there are no surviving court papers” from the Macfarlane case. Anderson at 470.

A Case for a Sea Shanty?

Wouldn’t it be great if the next popular sea shanty had a legal citation we could all link to?

The fact sections of many ship collision cases from past centuries somehow seem more poetic than the fact sections of modern automobile collision cases, with notable exceptions such as Fisher v. Lowe, 122 Mich. App. 418, 333 N.W.2d 67 (1983).

HeinOnline (UofSC login required) provides access to the sea-faring example below from English Reports

In re: H.M.S. Swallow, 166 Eng. Rep. 1002 (1856).

The "Leila," coal-laden, was bound to Cadiz; the "Swallow" was proceeding from Milford 
to Portsmouth, for the purpose of taking in her engines. The "Leila," it appeared, was
close hauled on the starboard tack; the "Swallow" was running right before the wind.
The night was foggy, and on the "Leila" descrying the "Swallow," [31] from her starboard
bow, making directly for her, she exhibited a lantern, and a fog-horn was loudly blown.
The light was answered by the "Swallow," and her helm slightly ported. The "Leila" kept
close to the wind until the last moment, when in order to ease the blow, her helm was put
hard a-port, and her head sheets let fly. The "Swallow" in her defence alleged that on
descrying the "Leila" she put her helm hard a-port; that the fog was so thick that the
two vessels could not see each other in time to avoid the collision, which was the result
of inevitable accident.

Hopefully, composers of shanties will consider case law as a potential source of inspiration.

Historic SC Courthouse Reopens

sepia photo of classic two story building. "Old Court House Camden, S.C. Erected in 1820. Now used as D.A.R. and U.D.C. Relic Room"

undated postcard

The City of Camden, South Carolina, has reopened its historic courthouse for use as a courthouse for the first time in more than 100 years, according to the city’s website and the Associated Press.

The building was used as a courthouse from the 1820s until the 1900s. After that, it served as a relic room, as the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, and as a rental venue for meetings and weddings. The first floor still houses the City of Camden Welcome Center. The second-story courtroom has now been restored according to its 1845 renovation and is in use for weekly municipal court hearings. 

modern photo of classic white two-story building; historic marker in front

2004 photo by Wikipedia user Pollinator

The historic courthouse was designed by architect Robert Mills. Robert Mills also designed the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., as well as several buildings in Columbia, South Carolina. His work influenced the design of the new UofSC School of Law building.

For more photos:

Directions to the Robert Mills Courthouse in Camden, from UofSC School of Law in Columbia:

Haunting Testimony

by guest author Melanie Griffin

One West Virginia case made U.S. legal history by a witness with haunting testimony.

In 1897, Elva “Zona” Heaster died under mysterious circumstances. Her doctor first called it an “everlasting faint” (19th century speak for “something just stopped working, we don’t know what”), then changed his ruling to childbirth. He ignored the markings on Zona’s neck and didn’t investigate her head wounds further at the insistence of her new husband, Erasmus Shue.

faded black-and-white photos of unsmiling 19th-century women

L: Zona Heaster Shue, murder victim. R: Mary Jane Heaster, victim’s mother. Photo from the Occult Museum.

Zona’s mother Mary Jane Heaster was suspicious of her son-in-law from the start, but she had no proof to take to court until, she said, Zona told her the truth herself—after the burial.

Mary Jane insisted to the county prosecutor that Zona visited her four consecutive nights after her death and gave her mother all the details about abuse she received from Erasmus. During her final visit, Mary Jane said her daughter gave a detailed account of how Erasmus killed her.

After learning that Erasmus had prevented a true post-mortem exam, the prosecutor ordered an autopsy, which brought up sufficient evidence to take the case to court.

Mary Jane told the court all about her nightly conversations with Zona, making history as the first time a ghost’s statement was allowed as evidence in a trial.

But don’t worry if you’ve made any ghosts mad—she was actually called as a defense witness to make her sound crazy and discredit her testimony. Erasmus was found guilty, based on evidence that was clearly tangible in this realm of existence.

Read news articles from the area and time with transcripts of the testimony, courtesy of the West Virginia Archives and History department.

Memory Hold the Door 2019

“During fall law school orientation, a few biographies from Memory Hold The Door are cited to highlight the professional virtues that law students and lawyers should cultivate. In addition, the Law Library curates a display that celebrates the lives and accomplishments of the highlighted honorees.”

This year, the display honors:

  • a lawyer who helped found both the American Bar Association and the South Carolina Bar Association in the 19th century;
  • a lawyer with a pivotal role in the 20th-century civil rights movement, who later became South Carolina’s first African-American federal judge; and
  • the City of Columbia’s first woman municipal judge, who later served in both Afghanistan and Azerbaijan helping develop emerging legal systems.

To learn more about these honorees, watch for future blog posts, or simply visit the display in the Coleman Karesh Reading Room on the second floor of the Law Library.

“To live for a time close to great minds is the best kind of education.” John Buchan, Memory Hold-the-Door 35 (1940).






Entering the Public Domain Like It’s 1999

As the new year dawns, published works from 1923 enter the public domain. These works were originally slated to lose copyright protection in 1999.

The Public Domain

excerpt from Bound By Law ©2006 by Keith Aoki, James Boyle, Jennifer Jenkins CC BY-NC-SA

When a work is in the public domain, that means it is not protected by copyright. People are free to perform or copy the work, or to create new works based on it, without limiting their use to what is allowable as fair use, and without going through the often confusing and potentially expensive process of figuring out whose permission is needed and obtaining that permission.

What Happened in 1998

US Representative Sonny Bono was previously part of the duo Sonny and Cher. The Copyright Term Extension Act was named in his memory because before his death, he had co-sponsored a similar bill.

In 1998, Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. It extended the term of copyright protection from 75 years to 95 years for works published before 1978.

If Congress had not passed that law, works published in 1923 would have entered the public domain on New Year’s Day 1999, because that’s when their 75-year term of copyright protection would have expired.

The extended 95-year term expires 20 years after January 1, 1999; in other words, today—January 1, 2019.

Examples of 1923 Works

Here are a few popular works that enter the public domain today because they were first published in 1923:

  • Cecil B. DeMille’s original silent movie “The Ten Commandments,” which he remade more famously in 1956.
  • Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which ends with the well-known line “and miles to go before I sleep.”
  • Cecil Mack’s and James P. Johnson’s ragtime song “Charleston,” which popularized the iconic 1920’s dance, the Charleston. The song and dance were based on African rhythms.

Learn More

Both Smithsonian magazine and Duke Law School’s Center for the Public Domain have more detailed information on today’s transition of works published in 1923 into the public domain.

Throwback to 1694

HeinOnline recently announced that they have now indexed all the session laws for South Carolina. 


session laws: a publication in bound-volume form of all enactments and resolutions of a legislature passed at a particular session, indexed, and numbered usually in chronological order —distinguished from code 


How far back in history does “all” reach? 

The first recorded South Carolina law was in 1694, when South Carolina was a colony. The law was “An Act for making sufficient Fences, and keeping the same in Repair.”


Here’s how we found it:

  • Go to
  • Click Quick Links, then click HeinOnline in the dropdown.
  • Click Session Laws Library, then click State Session Laws in the dropdown.
  • Scroll down, and click South Carolina. The years available are 1694-2017.

What else can you find? 

  • Click on any year in in the chronological list to see all the South Carolina laws that were passed in a particular year.
  • Type a word or phrase in the “Search this Title” search box to see every instance of that word or phrase in South Carolina law over the years.