July 25, 1884

On the Fifth of July, 1884, the racing yacht Mignonette, being sailed from Southampton, England to her new owner in Australia, sank in a storm after being battered by large waves. The ship’s four man crew, Captain Thomas Dudley, first mate Edwin Stephens, able seaman Edmund Brooks, and seventeen year old Cabin Boy named Richard Parker, found themselves adrift in a small dinghy with no provisions other than two tins of turnips. The turnips were soon eaten, and as they drifted day after day the crew resorted to drinking their own urine. At some point the necessity of cannibalism was brought up. Richard Parker was the weakest, and unlike the others, had no dependents. On July 25th, in an act of terrible desperation, Captain Dudley murdered Parker, stabbing him in the neck with a pocket knife. Then, for the next four days, he and Stephens and Brooks feasted on the body and drank Parker’s blood.

Five days later the men were rescued, by a ship called The Montezuma (Montezuma, you may recall, was a cannibal).

Upon return home the sailors, in a precedent setting case in English law, were prosecuted for murder. But what interests us is not legal precedent, what interests us is that in 1837 Edgar Allen Poe wrote in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket of a group of seamen, adrift at sea, dying of thirst and starvation, who resort to cannibalizing a sailor named Richard Parker:

"He made no resistance whatever, and was stabbed in the back by Peters, when he fell instantly dead. I must not dwell upon the fearful repast which immediately ensued. Such things may be imagined, but words have no power to impress the mind with the exquisite horror of their reality. Let it suffice to say that, having in some measure appeased the raging thirst which consumed us by the blood of the victim, and having by common consent taken off the hands, feet, and head, throwing them together with the entrails, into the sea, we devoured the rest of the body, piecemeal, during the four ever memorable days of the seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth of the month."
- Chapter XII

For more on this strange symmetry made famous by Arthur Koestler see this account by the grandson of Richard Parker's cousin as well as this article which includes quotes from Dudley's trial testimony. For more on Poe see his essay on interior design Philosophy of Furniture which indirectly outlines Poe's literary aesthetic.

Comments

  1. I note that the "Cannibal Castaways" article (from "This is Southampton") refers to "quirky American writer Edgar Allan Poe", as if he were John Irving or Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose only the British could get away with that level of literary condescension.

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  2. I suspect the Brits don't read Poe anymore. They used to, of course. I wonder if Dudley had?

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  3. I wonder if he had - I suppose prosecutors in Victorian England would have been too polite to subpoena records of his library borrowings or bookstore purchases. We at least no one Briton who read Poe - Conan Doyle.

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  4. And how do we know that?

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  5. Conan Doyle said he was a big fan of Poe. In the first Sherlock Holmes story 'A Study in Scarlet' someone tells Holmes he reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe's character Auguste Dupin.

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