Stilk v Myrick 1809 – Case Summary

December 28, 2023
Micheal James

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Introduction to Stilk v Myrick:

The case of Stilk v Myrick from 1809 holds great importance in understanding how contracts operate and the legal consequences related to agreements. This case specifically deals with promises made within contracts and what happens when parties fail to fulfill their obligations. Stilk v Myrick’s impact reverberates in legal circles, providing guidance on contract interpretation and expectations of those involved in contractual agreements. It sets a precedent influencing future cases and helps in understanding the evolving landscape of contract law.


Stilk v Myrick originated from a sailing voyage where sailors were promised additional wages if they agreed to continue their work under specific conditions. However, during the voyage, a few sailors left, reducing the crew count. To encourage the remaining sailors to continue, the shipowner promised them extra money upon their return. Yet, when they completed the journey, the shipowner didn’t fulfill his promise. Subsequently, Stilk, one of the sailors, sought legal action, claiming the shipowner didn’t honor his commitment.

Legal Issues at Stake:

At the core of Stilk v Myrick were essential legal issues concerning the concept of consideration within contracts. Consideration refers to something of value exchanged between parties in a contract. The case raised questions about whether the shipowner’s promise of additional payment constituted valid consideration. Additionally, it examined the circumstances under which promises made in a contract become legally binding and enforceable, particularly when unforeseen situations arise.

Parties Involved:

The principal parties in Stilk v Myrick were the shipowner, Mr. Myrick, and Mr. Stilk, one of the sailors. Mr. Stilk, along with other sailors, continued their voyage based on the shipowner’s promise of extra wages. The case centered on whether Mr. Myrick was obligated to fulfill his promise to provide additional payment to the sailors and the implications of this promise in the broader context of their employment agreement.

Court Proceedings and Decisions:

The legal proceedings began at the court level, where Mr. Stilk sought to enforce the shipowner’s promise of extra payment. The court analyzed the circumstances surrounding the promise made by Mr. Myrick to ascertain its validity within the contractual framework. The court’s decision involved interpreting the nature of the agreement between the shipowner and the sailors, deliberating whether the promise constituted a legally binding obligation.

Judicial Analysis and Rationale:

The court engaged in a detailed analysis, examining the conditions under which promises in a contract are considered valid. It scrutinized whether the promise of extra payment made by Mr. Myrick could be enforced as a valid part of the existing contract between the parties. The court considered the circumstances and whether there was any alteration to the initial contract that would require the shipowner to fulfill the additional payment promise.

Impact and Precedents Set:

Stilk v Myrick’s impact resonates through its establishment of precedent regarding the doctrine of consideration within contracts. The court’s decision set guidelines for evaluating the enforceability of promises made within existing contractual agreements. It provided clarity on the circumstances where promises, particularly those made during unforeseen events, might not necessarily result in new contractual obligations. The case remains influential in shaping how courts interpret and enforce contractual agreements.

Significance and Ongoing Relevance:

The enduring significance of Stilk v Myrick lies in its lasting impact on contract law principles. It serves as a guiding precedent for assessing the validity of promises made within existing contracts, especially when unforeseen circumstances arise. This case helps in understanding the limitations of enforcing new contractual obligations based on promises made during ongoing agreements and shapes the legal expectations in similar situations.


In conclusion, Stilk v Myrick remains a pivotal case in contract law, offering insights into the validity of promises made within existing agreements. Its lasting influence on the interpretation of consideration within contracts aids in understanding the boundaries of contractual obligations. This case highlights the complexities surrounding promises in contracts and their enforceability, providing guidance for future contractual disputes.

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