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"A man who, in order to escape death from hunger, kills another for the purpose of eating his flesh, is guilty of murder"
July 31, 2009 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Some famous cases of cannibalism at sea: 1816 The Medusa. 1821 The Essex. 1878 The Sallie N. Steelman. [pdf] 1884 The Mignonette [pdf] 1889 The Earnmoor. [pdf] 1988 Bolinao 52 incident. [story starts on page 2] 2008 Vessel not named. As a bonus here's the legal decision in the case of The Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens, who were on The Mignonette.
posted by Kattullus (53 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
Quote from an online law class discussion about The Queen vs. Dudley and Stephens: "While the famous takeaway of the case is that cannibalism will not be tolerated, perhaps it should be instead that the social value of a man does not determine the value of his life."
posted by Kattullus at 12:09 PM on July 31, 2009


Oh, don't worry, there have been a lot of sailors eaten at sea.
posted by eriko at 12:13 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm Popeye the Soylent Man,
I'm Popeye the Soylent Man.
I'm strong right to the end
Cause I eats me seamen.
I'm Popeye the Soylent Man.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:16 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Much like gunmetal grey space ships, anyone naming their ship the Medusa deserves what they get.
posted by poe at 12:18 PM on July 31, 2009


Very cool post. I've been reading about the whaleship Essex recently thanks to the funeral doom concept albums of the German band Ahab, who made the wreck the topic of their album that came out last week.

(They also got me to buy Moby Dick. Metal is educational!)
posted by Bookhouse at 12:21 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


There is no cannibalism in the British Navy. And when I say "none," I mean there is a certain amount.
posted by anthom at 12:22 PM on July 31, 2009 [11 favorites]


Cannibalism and the Common Law is an awesome read, both from a legal history perspective and for the gruesome shanties collected in the appendix (which you are best off not eating).
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:25 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hmm... would Terror and Erebus count?
posted by Artw at 12:27 PM on July 31, 2009


Sailin' the seven seas, straight up eatin' motherfuckers!
posted by Divine_Wino at 12:27 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just because I can and it's even somewhat relevant.
posted by dilettante at 12:30 PM on July 31, 2009


I remember reading The Custom of the Sea, which recounts the Mignonette affair. I believe the author implied that before that case, you could come back from a shipwreck and say "Yeah, we ran out of food so we drew lots and had to eat Cortex" and everyone understood, it was the "custom of the sea." After the Mignonette case, people came back from shipwrecks and said "Oh yeah, Cortex starved to death and we threw his body overboard." In other words, there was no cannibalism in the British Navy.
posted by marxchivist at 12:31 PM on July 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Slightly less relevant.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:32 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have several books on cannibalism, and cannibalism at sea always plays largely into them, and the message I took away is: If you are a cabin boy, and your stranded on an island or a raft with other sailors, they will eat you, usually within just a day or two, and, the moment they do, they will be rescued by another ship.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:36 PM on July 31, 2009 [10 favorites]


Isn't that just like lighting a cigarette to make the bus show up?
posted by maudlin at 12:39 PM on July 31, 2009 [13 favorites]


I think the Vessel Not Named might well be dubbed the SS Tastes Like Chicken of the Sea. Gives a whole new meaning to "Sorry, Charlie."
posted by adipocere at 12:47 PM on July 31, 2009


Imagine the horror that the surviving sailors must feel, forever haunted by the taste of sea men.
posted by zippy at 12:48 PM on July 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


I once passed a man on the poop deck.
posted by Rumple at 12:54 PM on July 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's an eerie coincidence in a few of these stories- the remaining crew is rescued only a day or two after resorting to cannibalism.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:56 PM on July 31, 2009


What's a vegetarian to do?
posted by Postroad at 1:00 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or as Astro Zombie noted, the "Eat Cabin Boy Maxim."
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:00 PM on July 31, 2009


Regarding the seeming coincidence of people being consistently picked up a few days after eating their mates, I imagine if they're not rescued within a few days to a week they probably die which explains why you never hear about it.
posted by scrutiny at 1:05 PM on July 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


There's an eerie coincidence in a few of these stories- the remaining crew is rescued only a day or two after resorting to cannibalism.

so ... the moral of the story is, chew slower, live longer?
posted by mannequito at 1:08 PM on July 31, 2009


I'm Popeye the Soylent Man,
I'm Popeye the Soylent Man.
I'm strong right to the end
Cause I eats me seamen.
I'm Popeye the Soylent Man.


Arr! Ya should be keelhauled fer that one, ya swab!
posted by Atom Eyes at 1:17 PM on July 31, 2009


This immediately made me think of The Terror.

Except I can't remember if they resorted to cannibalism in The Terror.

They probably did. Enough other horrible shit happened.
posted by kbanas at 1:20 PM on July 31, 2009


Isn't that just like lighting a cigarette to make the bus show up?

While Murphy's Law dictates that the bus will show up after you light a cigarette, you cannot take advantage of this face to use Murphy's Law to your advantage, in the same way that you can't decide to wash your car to make it rain.

More realistically, what scrutiny said. Though flight 571 is an example of a group that resorted to cannibalism for a long time before being rescued.
posted by deanc at 1:26 PM on July 31, 2009


Thanks for the posting, the legal decision was a great read.
posted by cgk at 1:38 PM on July 31, 2009


There's also a horrible case of an unfortunate hiking couple being rescued the day they killed and ate their dog.

But it always come down to the delicate question which....
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:40 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I clicked on the "vessel not named" link and there was a slideshow in the right sidebar with pictures and descriptions of smoked meats and the next one was for kobe burgers. *shudder*

(Interesting post btw!)
posted by Kimberly at 1:41 PM on July 31, 2009


I'm ate teen, and I like it.
posted by swift at 1:43 PM on July 31, 2009


Huh! I just read through the Mingonette link and recalled that the tiger in the lost-at-sea novel Life of Pi was also named Richard Parker.
posted by emd3737 at 1:44 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite Stephen King stories, called 'Survivor Type' is about cannibalism, sorta. A doctor with a bag of heroin is the lone survivor of a sea accident or falls off his ship or something, and ends up on a little island that's basically just a rock in the ocean, and his leg is broken. He sets his leg, uses the heroin to kill the pain, and tries to kill a seagull with rocks, but no luck. His leg starts looking icky, and he's hungry, and he's got a bag of heroin and medical equipment, so he hacks off the bottom part of his leg and eats it. As time passes, he eats his ears, his nose, his legs, and one of his arms...and finally, he's rescued, yay, civilized life here we come! (Minus legs, one arm, ears and nose and with a heroin addiction no doubt.)

My significant other and I watched 'Alive' one night and she asked me if we went down in the Andes, would I eat her? I pondered that one for a while, because I really *am* a survivor type. Finally, I replied, 'Yes, I'd eat you, but being the kind and compassionate gentleman that I am, I would share your legs with you.' Then she hit me in the arm and it hurt, so I didn't mention the fact that feeding her her own legs would keep the REST of her fresher for longer. Some thoughts you should just keep to yourself, is what I figured.
posted by jamstigator at 1:56 PM on July 31, 2009 [11 favorites]


Except I can't remember if they resorted to cannibalism in The Terror.

Well, in the novel they did. IIRC in real life Inuit accounts and scrapes on the bones strongly suggest that they did as well.
posted by Artw at 1:56 PM on July 31, 2009


Yup
posted by Artw at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2009


Fifteen men on a dead man's chest? Maybe for a day or two, if you slice it thinly.
posted by pracowity at 1:58 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, don't worry, there have been a lot of sailors eaten at sea.

Thar she blows!

There is no cannibalism in the British Navy. And when I say 'none,' I mean there is a certain amount.

Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:01 PM on July 31, 2009


Huh! I just read through the Mingonette link and recalled that the tiger in the lost-at-sea novel Life of Pi was also named Richard Parker.

So many Richard Parkers has to mean something.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:15 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite Stephen King stories, called 'Survivor Type' is about cannibalism, sorta... As time passes, he eats his ears, his nose, his legs, and one of his arms...and finally, he's rescued, yay, civilized life here we come! .)

Might want to read it again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:56 PM on July 31, 2009


When I buy a boat in order to use it for nefarious deeds, I will name it "Vessel Not Named".
posted by gurple at 3:00 PM on July 31, 2009


Ah yeah, well, it's been like 20 years, and millions of brain cells -- he did catch some gulls for a while. Here's the best two lines in that whole story, in my opinion, where it takes your brain a little bit to grok what he's saying:

'I was very careful.

I washed it thoroughly before I ate it.'

Great use of 'it' there, to cloak the shock and let your brain supply it.
posted by jamstigator at 3:03 PM on July 31, 2009


Gee thanks, guys. Now I'm hungry.
posted by brundlefly at 3:05 PM on July 31, 2009


Is it really that hard to catch a fish on the ocean? What's with these people?
posted by orme at 3:35 PM on July 31, 2009


I would never, cross my heart.. I mean, honestly - sheesh.
posted by rainy at 3:49 PM on July 31, 2009


Cool post Kattullus, cheers. As an related aside, here's (sadly former Mefite) Jenny Diski reviewing An Intellectual History of Cannibalism in the LRB.
posted by Hartster at 3:58 PM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's surprising how many, after long months on the open ocean, have resorted to eating seamen.
posted by Flashman at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2009


Oh man, I love me some cannibalism. I've said it before, and I stand by it, that if I was having dinner with a cannibal, I would politely ask to try a bite. I'm not going to go out and... obtain... human for cooking, but if it's already there...
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:44 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Might want to read it again.

Thanks for the nightmares!
posted by lostburner at 8:10 PM on July 31, 2009


Calls for display of Theodore Gericault's version of the raft of the Medusa complete with dead and mangled bodies. His painting was partially based on an account of the voyage and the days adrift on the raft written by two survivors J. B. Henry Savigny and Alexander Correard Naufrage de la frigate la M├ęduse (links to English version of the text at Project Gutenberg).
posted by Cuke at 9:07 PM on July 31, 2009


Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash.

But I don't drink rum.
posted by marxchivist at 9:30 PM on July 31, 2009


What's a vegetarian to do?

Roast.
posted by Netzapper at 11:16 PM on July 31, 2009


Is it really that hard to catch a fish on the ocean? What's with these people?

Actually, yeah, it can be. In the middle of the ocean, away from any of the big currents, it's basically a watery desert. There's no upwelling from down deep bringing up nutrients, so there's no plankton and the like living there, which means nothing else lives there either. The water out there is unbelievably clear and blue, because there's just nothing in it.
posted by zap rowsdower at 6:15 AM on August 1, 2009


Ah yeah, well, it's been like 20 years, and millions of brain cells -- he did catch some gulls for a while.

And a crab. I was referring to the fact that there is no indication he ever gets rescued (unless on a metatextual level the reader is the one who discovers his journal under circumstances best not to think about too much).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:38 AM on August 1, 2009


Some thoughts you should just keep to yourself, is what I figured.

How could I know there's no island nearby?
If I don't eat something soon, I'll just die
I wouldn't eat you, oh, never, not I
so let's catch a shark and I'll make us a pie

What shall we use for bait? Lend me a hand
I'll sew it back on when we get to land
But if the shark takes it, that would be grand,
(because we won't starve to death; you understand)
posted by Evilspork at 11:05 AM on August 1, 2009


Mmm.... humanitarian food.
posted by lilywing13 at 3:53 PM on August 1, 2009


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