Though arising in a case in which the applicable law was the old French law of Canada East, on the imperial periphery, it was taken as a faithful exposition of the common law of England, the imperial metropolis. In the 1876 case of Lyon v. Fishmongers’ Company, for instance, dealing with the right of access of riparian owners to the River Thames, the House of Lords (at the time the highest court for cases arising in Britain itself) referred to it as one of ‘the best authorities’ on riparian doctrine.
|"a lord of appeal" [Colin Blackburn].|
(Spy, Vanity Fair, 19 Nov. 1881)
A few years later came Commissioners of French Hoek v. Hugo, an appeal to the Privy Council of a judgment of the supreme court of the Cape Colony, in today’s South Africa. Governing the dispute over the waters of two small watercourses was what is known as Roman-Dutch law. This was the law in force in the Cape Colony when it was ceded by the Dutch to the British at the end of the Napoleonic wars (the metropolitan Netherlands had by this point adopted the Napoleonic Code for use in the home country), and, as the colony had been conquered from another state, not “settled”, this was the law that remained in force under British rule. Like the pre-Revolutionary French law in force in Quebec, Roman-Dutch law was based largely on the writings of learned ‘civilian’ jurists writing in the Roman law tradition. Indeed, in addition to Cape Colony cases and Roman-Dutch sources, lawyers for the appellants cited French treatises in support of their argument.
Writing for the Privy Council in French Hoek, Lord Blackburn referred approvingly to the summary of the law of riparian rights in Miner v. Gilmour, seeming to attach some importance to the similar positions of the Roman-influenced civil law in Canada East and the Cape Colony: