Pudding Magna; located on Pudding Bay in the county of Dorset, and inhabited by lowly fisher-folk of modest means, is not referred to in any works by Mr. Thomas Hardy. Its obscurity assured had not Sir Ethelred Rutt K.C. acted on behalf of Pudding Magna’s loyal subjects in a case against The Crown, when, on June 21st 1924, a dead whale was washed up on the shore of Pudding Bay. Being a Fish Royal and belonging to The Crown, Pudding Magna’s loyal subjects extracted the whalebone, the blubber and other valuable and perishable portions from the carcass of the whale, to hold in trust for The Crown.
The ordeal for these loyal subjects began three days later, when the wind shifted and the noxious odours of the whale carcass wafted over Pudding Magna. Whereupon the Mayor of Pudding Magna petitioned the Home Secretary, humbly beseeching that he inform The Crown of the carcass and the need for its removal. The Home Secretary ignored The Petition, apparently presuming it to be directed to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, to whom it was also sent.
However, The Petition lay ignored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries on the desk of a Mr. Sleep. New to public service, Mr. Sleep who, while endowed with a fertile imagination and sagacious mind, was unusually inept in practical matters. Qualities awakened on being handed the following telegram:
To the Crown London whale referred to in previous communications now in advanced stages of decomposition humbly petition prompt action.
Two days later Mr. Sleep, sagaciously intent on saving public money, wrote to The Director of the Natural History Museum. On behalf of The Crown he offered the Museum the fine specimen of Balaena Biscayensis lying in Pudding Bay, should they bear the charges of collection and transport. On July 3rd the Museum replied declining The Crown’s gracious offer as it already had three fine specimens of Balaena Biscayensis, which precluded room for a fourth. For some further days Mr Sleep took no action, despite repeated exhortations from Mr Tinrib that the decomposing carcass, having poisoned the sea around it, impaired the fishermen’s livelihood.
On July 12th, at lunch with a Mr. Sloe from the Admiralty, Mr. Sleep suggested (informally) that were one of His Majesty’s ships to tow the carcass out to sea, it could be used, with the Ministry’s approval, for gunnery practice by those vessels that fired at submarines. On July 17th, over lunch, Mr. Sloe intimated (unofficially) the Admiralty’s disinclination, for although a disappearing target provided excellent gunnery practice, it could not sanction expenditure on ammunition firing at a target which, for most part, was quite invisible.
On July 20th Mr. Sleep met with a deputation from Pudding Magna who told him that all fishing had ceased in Pudding Bay, and that the prevailing winds made Pudding Magna uninhabitable (the odour causing most citizens to flee). They proposed, if it was lawful and The Crown would reimbursing their costs, that they use explosives to destroy the carcass themselves. A solution that Mr Sleep was unable to authorize, expressing doubt that the Treasury would expend public money destroying Crown property; certainly not without taking into account the value of the materials extracted from the whale’s carcass, now held in trust for The Crown by the loyal subjects of Pudding Magna.
However, ‘explosives’ inspired Mr. Sleep to propose, and the deputation readily agreed, that the Army be approached to dispose of the carcass. On July 24th Mr. Sleep wrote to the War Office offering an opportunity for its engineers to practice the removal of obstacles (the whale carcass) during planned amphibious landing manoeuvres, also noting that the Tank Depot at Lulworth was close by. On July 31st the War Office replied that no forthcoming manoeuvres would be amphibious and the destruction of whales by tanks was not thought to be a practicable operation of war.
Sometime post this outcome, Mr. Sleep resigned from the service.
The Court were finally shown a letter received by Mr. Tinrib on August 4th – described by Sir Ethelred as; “disgraceful and evasive!”.
WHALE, CARCASS OF
‘I am desired by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries to observe that your representations to this Department appear to have been made under a misapprehension. It should hardly be necessary to state that the whale is not a fish but a mammal. I am there-fore to express regret that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries can accept no responsibility in the matter’
At which point The Court adjourned.
[Footnote. Sometimes the Department will derive its power to act from a contract, or from “the Prerogative”. Prerogative powers are powers of the State, exercised by the executive, which are derived from the residual authority of the Sovereign. Such powers do not lie outside the scope of administrative law, but the Court may feel reluctant to interfere with the exercise of such powers (sic) The Judge Over Your Shoulder (pdf)]
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