Responsibility of the Finder of Lost Property - The Legal Course to Adopt - The Law of
Treasure Trove - Sunken Treasure and its Recovery
"Finding's keeping" is true in this sense, that the finder has the right to the possession of the article as against the whole world, provided that the true owner of the lost article cannot be found. But before the finder can acquire any title to the article it must be lost, and not merely overlooked or mislaid; and, moreover, it must be out of the power of the finder to restore the lost property to its owner. If a lady drops her purse in the street, the man who picks it up and makes no effort to restore it to her, but converts it to his own uses, is just as guilty of theft as if he had picked her pocket in the first instance. And, again, to take another example, the man who takes possession of an umbrella which he has noticed another traveller has left behind in an omnibus or tram, with the intention of taking it to the Lost Property Office at Scotland Yard and claiming a reward, is likewise guilty of theft. The obvious duty of the finder was to call the passenger's attention to the fact that he was leaving his umbrella in the carriage; or, failing that, to hand the umbrella over to the conductor, or to call his attention to it. Common honesty requires the finder of money or of valuable property to take reasonable steps to restore it to the owner, either by giving information to the police or advertising the discovery; but should no claimant appear to establish his right, no one will have a better right to the property than the person who found it.
There appears to be little doubt that the law recognises a legal obligation as well as a moral one on the part of the finder to make some effort to discover the owner if he thinks he can be found. At the same time, i: a person finds an article which has beer lost, and takes possession of it, really believing at the time that the owner cannot be found, the fact of the true owner being afterwards brought to his knowledge will no1 make him guilty of larceny if he converts the article to his own use,
A man found a banknote on the high-road; there was no name or mark on it, nor were there any circumstances attending the finding which would enable him to discover to whom the note belonged, nor had he any reason to believe that the owner knew where to find it again. When he picked it up he meant to make use of it; but before he had cashed it he learnt the next day the name of the owner. Nevertheless, he changed it, and spent the money; and the Court of Crown Cases Reserved decided that he had been wrongfully convicted of larceny. This defence, however, did not avail a servant who, finding a package of banknotes in the passage of her master's dwelling-house, kept them to see if a reward Was advertised, and she Was very properly convicted of theft.
Money in Secret Drawer
The person who buys a bureau at a public auction and subsequently discovers money hidden away in a private drawer is probably justified in keeping it, unless he had express notice at the time of the sale that the bureau alone, and not the contents of it, was sold to him; but, of course, there might be circumstances in Connection with
Law the purchase of the bureau which would make the abstraction of the money a felonious one.
A cabinetmaker who receives a bureau to repair, and discovers in a secret drawer money, which he appropriates to his own use , is clearly guilty of larcency, since the money obviously belongs to the owner of the bureau, whether he had any knowledge of it or not.
Property In Cabs and Omnibuses
But with regard to property left in cabs and omnibuses, the police regulations require that the cabdrivers and conductors shall deposit the same at Scotland Yard, where the owner will be required to identify and appraise it, a proportion of the value being given to the finder by way of reward.
Left in the Train
Property which has been left in the train should be taken to the Lost Property Office; a member of the travelling public has no right to interfere with it, or to regard it as property which has been lost or abandoned by its owner. And it has been held that a servant of the railway company who appropriates property found in the train, instead of taking it to the Lost Property Office, is guilty of larceny.
Treasure trove is where any money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion is found bidden in the earth, or other private place, the owner being unknown, in which case the treasure does not become the property of the finder, but belongs to the Crown.
If the treasure was not concealed by the owner, but merely abandoned or lost, it treasure trove, and belongs to the first finder. But whether it is treasure trove or urn. if the owner is afterwards found, and comes forward to claim it. he is entitled to it, and not the Sovereign or the finder.
Treasures of the Deep
Treasure which is found in the sea, or upon the earth, does not belong to the King but to the finder, if no owner appears. Therefore, anyone may employ divers and rescue treasure supposed to have been lost in sunken ships, and is entitled to retain the results of the search.
When notice of treasure being found is brought to the coroner, it is his duty to summon a jury, and to inquire of treasure that is found, who were the finders, and who is suspected thereof. Concealment of treasure trove is an offence formerly punished by death, but now by fine and imprisonment; finders of hidden treasure must give notice to the police.