Watteau v Fenwick: QBD 1893

The defendant brewers owned a beerhouse. They appointed a manager of the business; the license was always taken out in the name of the manager, whose name also appeared over the door. By the agreement between the defendants and their manager, the latter was forbidden to purchase certain articles for the purpose of the business, which were to be supplied by the defendants; but the manager, in contravention of his instructions, ordered such articles from the plaintiff for use in the business; the plaintiff supplied the goods and gave credit for them to the manager only. Subsequently, upon discovering that the defendants were the real owners of the business, the plaintiff sued them for the value of the goods’.
Held: The plaintiff succeeded as the defendants who were the real principals, were liable for all acts of their agent which were within the authority usually conferred upon as an agent of his particular character, although he had never been held out by the defendants as their agent, and although the authority given to him by them had been exceeded.
Wills J. said: ‘once it is established that the defendant was the real principal, the ordinary doctrine as to principal and agent applies — that the principal is liable for all the acts of the agent which are within the authority usually confided to an agent of that character, notwithstanding limitations, as between the principal and the agent, put upon that authority. It is said that it is only so where there has been a holding out of authority — which cannot be said of a case where the person supplying the goods knew nothing of the existence of a principal. But I do not think so. Otherwise, in every case of undisclosed principal, or at least in every case where the fact of there being a principal was undisclosed, the secret limitation of authority would prevail and defeat the action of the person dealing with the agent and then discovering that he was an agent and had a principal.’


Wills J


[1893] 1 QB 346


England and Wales


Updated: 16 May 2022; Ref: scu.616745