Cannibals at Sea & the Real Richard Parker

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For my local Halloween story I would like to tell you about the real story of Richard Parker. An unfortunate cabin boy who sailed from Southampton at the tender age of 16 only to be eaten by his crew.

In Southampton’s Peartree Churchyard lies an unusual gravestone…

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The newer stone in Peartree Southampton which combines the grave of Sarah Parker and the memorial to her son Richard Parker – the victim of cannibalism at sea

It is the combined stone which marks the grave of Sarah Parker and the memorial of her beloved son Richard Parker, who had reached the age of 17 by the time he became the victim of cannibalism at sea.

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Richard Parker was killed and eaten by Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens to prevent starvation Regina versus Dudley and Stephens (1884) established the precedent that necessity is no defence against a charge of murder Concerning survival cannibalism following a shipwreck the case overturned the folklore of the Custom of the Sea

Richard Parker served on the English yacht Mignonette, which set sail for Sydney, Australia from Southampton, England in 1884. While in the South Atlantic, the Mignonette sank, leaving Parker and his three shipmates in a lifeboat. Dying of thirst Richard fell into a coma after drinking sea water. As the crew thought he was going to die anyway, they killed the boy to drink his blood, then ate him so that they could survive. There had been many similar cases like this up until that time, which were given over to sympathy from seafarers, even those in Richard Parker’s own family in Southampton. It had been regarded legally as “A Custom of the Sea”.

The surviving three were rescued after 24 days by the German sailing barque Montezuma, named fittingly enough  after the Aztec king who practiced ritual cannibalism.

But this case caused a great uproar in Victorian Britain. The men were charged with murder and were found guilty. Although not much was done about the prisoners even when their sentences were later reduced to six months hard labour. Most importantly, their trial, R v Dudley and Stephens established a legal precedent in common law around the world, that: ‘Necessity is no defence to a charge of murder’. It is one of the first cases that law students read about.

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The original memorial to Richard Parker which reads: Sacred to the memory of Richard Parker, aged 17, who died at sea July 25th 1884 after nineteen days dreadful suffering in an open boat in the tropics having been wrecked in the yacht Mignonette.’ Though he slay me yet will I trust in Him. Job 15 v 15 Lay not this sin to their charge. Acts vii6

If you haven’t read Yann Martel’s Booker Prize novel about the Life of Pi then you may have seen the ®Oscar-winning movie of the same name directed by Ang Lee.

The narrator is a novelist who has been recommended to interview an Indian man named Piscine Molitor Patel, as his life-story will make him “believe in God”.

Pi’s story is how at 16 he survives a shipwreck in which his family and the zoo of animals they are transporting to Canada, all die, apart from him and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker who he ends up sharing a lifeboat with.

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Booker Prize novel ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel

In the novel the tiger who arrived at their zoo was called Thirsty but got mixed up on the list with the hunter’s name – Richard Parker. The novel is an allegorical one about man’s battle between his animal instincts and his religious ones. Pi has been brought up a vegetarian and does not even eat fish.

By a great nautical coincidence, the name of Martel’s tiger, Richard Parker, was also inspired by a character in Edgar Allan Poe’s nautical adventure novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). In Poe’s book, Richard Parker is a cabin boy who is stranded and eventually the victim of cannibalism on a lifeboat. There is a dog aboard who is named Tiger.

A third Richard Parker drowned in the sinking of the Francis Speight in 1846, described by author Jack London, and later a cabin boy was cannibalized.

Yann Martel said: “So many victimized Richard Parkers had to mean something. My tiger found his name. He’s a victim, too – or is he?”

The Mignonette yacht sketched by Dudley
The Mignonette yacht sketched by Dudley

For most who have never had starvation forced upon us it must be difficult to imagine how this could happen. One can only receive clues from behaviours in the animal kingdom.

There have also been three plays written about Richard Parker  –   ‘Richard Parker’ by Owen Thomas, ‘Mr Parker’s Bones, or The Strange, Lamentable, Bloody, and mostly true History of Parker of Pear Tree Green and of his Captain, the Dastardly Cannibal Tom’ written by Russ Tunney and more recently The Sad Tale of Richard Parker by Cheryl Butler who also works on historical walking tours of Southampton.

Although there are still many shipwrecks, technology is developing all the time and we are now able to convert sea water into drinking water in minutes. Although still expensive, new materials will soon make it available for common use.

To visit Pear Tree Church and cemetery on Peartree Green by satellite navigation, use the postcode SO19 7GY

Jack London - When God Laughs and other short stories
Jack London – When God Laughs and other short stories

For further interesting links on this story:

Court case: R v Dudley and Stephens 

You Tube video of descendant of Richard Parker

Edgar Allan Poe: Horrific Prediction Haunts my family –  by descendant/psychic Craig Hamilton-Parker

‘The Sad Tale of Richard Parker’ a play by Cheryl Butler

‘Life of Pi’ – Creating ‘Richard Parker’ (Behind the scenes making of the movie)

Halloween Challenge – Graveyards

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The Italian boy who drowned in 1921 (now headless)
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Mario’s grave
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The grave with the tree growing on it
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The tomb that slides open
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Lean on each other
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nettles amongst the headstones

Part of JNWS Halloween challenge: Graveyards

All these photos were taken at Southampton Common Old Cemetery, England. © Southampton Old Lady

You might also be interested in my other posts about this cemetery:

Titanic Graves at the Old Cemetery

The Weed Fighter

Killed by Lightening

Rainbows over Southampton

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This rainbow over the River Itchen had been a beautiful semi-circular rainbow, but with high winds had almost disappeared before I was able to snap it

Bright sunshine combined with tropical-style rain this autumn has meant a great many and unusual rainbows over Britain. I have never seen so many different types in one season. So quickly taking snaps of them (often through rain on windows) before they disappear, here are the ones over Southampton:

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Double or multilayered rainbow over Southampton with a dark ‘Alexander’s Band’
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A clear bright band separating light and dark sky over the motorway
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A rare upside-down rainbow or Circumzental Arc. When light shines through ice crystals which are higher up than rain

 

Southampton is a Cool Cat

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Southampton is a ferrel catp1170655

stretched out on a grand, green lawn

of broad summer sunshine

Fatted on battered haddock

grappled for against gulls

conquests behind nightclubs

kicked-over street bins

reeking of curry and booze

She cleans her face but not Her furp1100615

Who does She need to impress?

 

Southampton is a cool cat

catch the rat between two rivers

acrobatics at gas works

parkour-flipping around the old town walls

From hooks of port cranes

She sees it all.


Southampton is a wise old catp1090073

hoisted up quick and sailed close-to-wind

Her kittens roam world-wide

thirst knowledge – take notes

stalk students on side-streets

hide beneath Ford Transits

 

Southampton is flatteredp1100968

by the kindness of strangers

You’re fun – She likes to play

Curl up with Her by the coal fire

Stroke, purr, snooze,

Come dawn She’ll yowl you out of bed

Howl and holler ‘til She’s fed

p1120095Southampton is the eternal cat

you will never own

She’ll still be here

when you’ve sneaked out

by the back stairs

never to be forgotten

so longed for on your return

 

p1110933You will find Her asleep on tombs of sea captains

who dutifully sank with their vessels

You will find Her at the dock-gates

preening Her paws for sailors

from mighty merchant boats

who came bearing gifts

in big metal containers

For this ship’s cat

that can stare at Queens

 

p1140027Call Her names across the pitch… Scummer!

But don’t come looking for a fight – Mush!

Or She’ll give you War

Southampton. The great Defender

She sees you in the dark

She will hook out your eyes

with Her steel claws

One Spitfire pounce can kill

Wounds licked  –  She’ll be on her feet again

This Cat has nine lives

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Poem and Photos © Southampton Old Lady

Vomit Etiquette

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student vomit on a wall of a residential block

Horrible isn’t it?

But this is what residents in university cities face on a daily basis. I took this photo (above) of a wall of a residential block of flats, which means that no-one from the block will come and clean the offending spew, nor will the town council – so it might be there for well over a week. Thank heaven for British rain – but hell if it freezes over.

It has been freshers’ week and I have had to clean up three lots of the stuff. One lot on the pavement, one on my door step and another from my recycling bin. Recycled sick?  Come on guys I can feel the subconscious guilt – the well-meaning gesture, but no-one is going to re-use your puke!

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Fortunately while you are young your body take the abuse of alcohol and junk food
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behind the bush

Students are basically jobless alcoholics, but their parents are proud of them.

Well, it is a rite of passage, we have all been there. (Yes even me).

Fortunately, most students are at an age when their bodies can take all the abuse of alcohol and junk food. I am not giving advice on your choice of life-style. But you would do well to learn that this is not cool as there is in existence:-

Vomiting and Litter Etiquette

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A typical British street scene the night before bins are due to be emptied in a university town.

If you feel a need to chuck up, and it is better out than in, then it should be offloaded into the gutter, preferably on double yellow lines.

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Ideal place to chuck-up

No cars can park on them and these are usually cleaned by the Council each morning. This enables, say, a working mother to get her kids off to school and get to work in the morning, totally oblivious to what has happened the night before. If the chunder falls on her pavement, she’ll end up muttering “bloody students” under her breath and the chunks won’t be rinsed until she has time to do so in the evening, if she finds time at all. This also means that anyone passing the foul-smelling matter will also think: “bloody students” which does not make for good student-resident relations.

It is similar to litter. If you cannot bear to hold on to your left-over take-aways and drink cans until you find a public bin, then we would rather you used our bins than throw it at our front porch or hide it behind a bush in our green spaces. But please use the ordinary green-lidded rubbish bins, not the recycling ones.

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Squashed chips better off inside the bin

Find out from your council’s website what the recycling policy is in your neighbourhood. Students can also arrange to have their old mattresses collected cheaper or free in some areas, so you don’t need to dump them on parking spaces.

If you accidentally drop your take-away chicko-land & chips, then try to kick them into the gutter. This will prevent them being trodden on and squashed, and any that the gulls don’t breakfast on will be swept away in the morning.

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Too good to use?

Okay. I realise that not everyone who makes a mess is a student and that not every student trawls around the streets at night screaming drunk. But you will be stereotyped, unfortunately, as it is predominately students who do this.

I know that coffee shops, ice cream parlours and shisha lounges have become more popular in student areas and open later now to meet the demands of the alternative life-styles. The pendulum seems to swinging more towards an addiction to healthy green drinks and gyms these days.

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ice cream parlours open late for students

But until I stop having to check my bins for contamination, I will give my pennyworth.

Cancer Blanket Tree

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Rows and rows of stitches – a repetitive exercise for the brain
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Tree wrapped in a Cancer blanket

I have always been a bad knitter and hate repetitive tasks; I have always been envious of yarn-bombers.

To help recover from gaps in my memory ‘chemo brain’, I was advised to keep doing repetitive tasks, until I had mastered them, then take up another task as a way of re-training my brain.

I bought wool oddments and decided to knit a blanket while watching television. I had to relearn from scratch. I cannot tell you how many stitches I dropped and how much unravelling I needed to do. But it worked – I got it right and can knit better now than before my chemo treatment. I had visions of my ‘Cancer Blanket’ becoming some sort of heir-loom.

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I got the idea from this little warmer in Vienna when I visited in January this year.

I loved the blanket and felt a great sense of achievement, but alas, everyone else in my family hated it. So, as part of the dejunking, when deciding whether to donate it to the charity shop or put it straight in the bin, I recalled a blanket that I took a snap of in Vienna. It wasn’t your usual yarnstormer – it was  as if the crafter wanted to warm up a cold building by wrapping a blanket around a thigh of one of its columns.

But it gave me the idea. I took my blanket and wrapped it around a sad tree I knew of near a corner shop where passers-by continually dump their rubbish – cigarette packets, beer and wine bottles, unwanted take-aways, broken umbrellas and the occasional mattress.

Oddly enough the area was recently cleaned, but the blanket was left. Since then people have stopped throwing their rubbish there.

I am now on sailing knots.

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Dumped mattress and square of hardboard and naked tree

UPDATE 28th October 2016:

The blanket has now been removed. People have been dumping their rubbish again including a mattress.