Southampton is not usually forthcoming on Christmas lights as much as other cities – What with the Christmas market and so many lights from shops, ships and offices – But, to open up a leisure area for Christmas at West Quay malls this year, a stunning loop of 7-minute, light and sound illuminations ran on our Old Town Wall at the weekend.
Depicted, was the history of Southampton’s port, which focused on departures of: Henry V troops leaving for Agincourt, The Mayflower with Pilgrims preparing for America, The Titanic leaving for New York, boats and planes in WW2 manoeuvres, J-Class yachts, powerboats, hovercraft, container-ships and so on.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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
Regular readers will know that I am going to live on a sailing boat with my husband as we have to move soon. We are selling or giving away worldly goods and doing up an old Maxi 95 sloop.
Re-learn all the ropes
Hoisting and reefing the main sail
As it has been 15 years or so since I did any sailing, and pre-cancer/chemo, I thought it best to go on a refresher sailing course with a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) instructor.
Last weekend I got on a run as a team of five of like-minded individuals also honing their skills. We sailed from Shamrock Quay in Southampton to the Isle of Wight, where Cowes Week brought sailing boats from all over the world.
re-learning the knots
Dodging other vessels – what does that horn signal?
The severe treatment for my Hodgkin Lymphoma left my body and brain somewhat disorientated. I describe my brain as living in a town where a bomb has hit and roads have been blocked off. I have had to find detours and rebuild. I had been having terrible balance problems since the treatment, but following a number of NHS exercises I have not had any accidents for about a year now.
Although I was used to sailing I had been extremely nervous about going out, especially onto the Solent, which requires strength, skill and alertness due to its tides, geographical structure and the many number of different vessels using its channel.
Out of my price range – the Champagne bus at Cowes
Some revellers at Cowes
Opposition used to be ‘Morning Cloud’ Prime Minister Edward Heath’s boat that he used in the Fastnet race in the 70s.
Great learning for groups of young people on The Tall Ships Challenger boats.
This weekend course really helped me to regain my confidence and sort out what I could remember and what I needed to practice.
Visitors from around the world, but especially from North America, emerge from cruise ships at Southampton Docks and head immediately for London or Stonehenge. Many stay at the prestigious Grand Harbour Hotel on West Quay without knowing that their country’s heroes had stayed on that very piece of land before sacrificing their lives.
This historically, was the site for troops to be stationed before going off to wars, from Agincourt to The Falklands.
WW2 allied troops would have health check-ups and their vehicles disinfected. Servicemen would kill time playing cards and etching their names on the red-brick boundary wall. One of the most prolific times was when North American service personnel were stationed here during the run up to the D-Day manoeuvres.
When the site was demolished, local people campaigned to keep the brickwork of names standing as a monument. Unfortunately, with no glass or perspex covering these names deteriorate each year. Responsibility for the wall shifts from pillar to post.
After some research on the internet I found one man who, in despair, felt it important to catalogue the names that were still legible some years ago. However even by the time I took this photo, last year, some of those have disappeared.
Here is the list according to that person, some of the names are still very readable:
W.E SHIRK, Wm MUELLER, CLEMTATIO, JOE HAMMOND, H.L. EATHERINGTON – ZION T/S, ROBERT M RAY & DAVE RAY OHIO, ROBERT GOLDEN, Geo FABER OF COLO, JAMES HENLEY, LAWRENCE MATHIS 1941 DEC 23, JAMES ?, DES PENNY, VIRRLA PENNY, CALAVERY AMER ? ?, D CHICAGO ILLINOIS, F.F JOHNSON USA, JOE N JONES DEC 22 1944, D.W SMITH, J.C KELLOE, CHARSTON S.C, BILLIE WILSON, P.W ?- AAL, RALPH ODEL, J.L PLIEL, JONY JOHNSTON, BILL ? URBAN, W KNIGHT
And hidden behind dustbins a small demolished section of this wall in jumbled order
M.P CARTER AUG 44, M J WOMPON FEB 45, ?F RECINE – OCT 10,1944 FRANCE, P.D B?EECH – CATAWISSA PENNA, J.C CHRISTEN ?, N ALDEN BOLL M???NN, G.N BUNKER ? – CITY IOWA – 1945 BALTIMORE, EDDIE MEYER ILLINOIS 17/21/44, JOHN HELMLIIIO ELYRIA OHIO 11-4-44, DOOLING – BEVERLY MASS, R FINN, J.E WETTA- CALLAWA MIAMI FLORIDA LAB RY MT NC, ED C??BA??K – BOUND BROOK, JO COURT, ?.M SLATER MAY 13 1937, VANEE, MARTIN VA