Bills of lading have been known from at least the thirteenth century. At that times shippers (usually the owners of the goods) as a rule accompanied their cargoes on the voyage to destination and bill of lading served only as an invoice of the goods shipped. Later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when larger ships has begun to carry varied cargoes belonging to several shippers this practice gradually came to naught and it became the custom to incorporate the terms of the contract of carriage into bill of lading
Cole v North Western Bank (1875) LR 10, CP 372 per Lord Blackburn:
The possession of Bill of Lading or other Documents of Title to goods did not confer on the holder of them any greater power than the possession of the goods themselves. The transfer of the Document of Title by means of which actual possession of the goods could be obtained, had no greater effect at Common Law than the transfer of the actual possession.
Leduc & Co v Ward (1888) 20 QBD 475 per Lord Esher, M.R. at p.479:
It is true that, where there is a charterparty, as between the shipowner and the charterer the bill of lading may be merely in the nature of a receipt for goods, because all the other terms of the contract of carriage between them are contained in the charterparty; and the bill of lading is merely given as between them to enable the charterer to deal with the goods while in the course of transit; but, where the bill of lading indorsed over, as between the shipowner and the indorsee, the bill of lading must be considered to contain the contract, because the former has given it for the purpose of enabling the charterer to pass it on as the contract of carriage in respect of the goods. When there is no charterparty, as between the grantee of the bill of lading and the shipowner, the bill of lading is no doubt a receipt for the goods, and as such, like any other receipt, it is not conclusive, for it may be controverted by evidence shewing that the goods were not received. But the question whether it will be more than a receipt as between the shipper and shipowner depends on whether the captain has received the goods, for he has no authority to make contract of carriage to bind the shipowner, except in respect of goods received by him. If the goods have not been received, the bill of lading cannot contain the terms of a contract o carriage with respect to them as against the shipowner. But, if the goods have been received by the captain, it is the evidence in writing of what the contract of carriage between the parties is