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Vol 21 No 11 Nov/Dec 2016

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Cannibalism and the Common Law: A Victorian Yachting Tragedy


ISBN13: 9781852852009
ISBN: 1852852003
Previous Edition ISBN: 0226759423
Published: November 1994
Publisher: Hambledon Continuum
Country of Publication: UK
Format: Hardback
Price: £120.00
Paperback edition out of print, ISBN13 9780140083811



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In 1884 Tom Dudley, an intensely respectable Anglican and teetotaller, was employed to sail the fifty-foot yacht Mignonette from England to Sydney, Australia. He set sail from Southampton on 19 May with a crew of three: Edwin Stephens (mate), Ned Brooks (able seaman) and Richard Parker (ordinary seaman and “boy”).

The yacht foundered in the South Atlantic on 5 July, the crew escaping in a small dinghy supplied with two tins of turnips, but no water. On 25 July Dudley, with the assent of Stephens, killed Richard Parker, who was the weakest: the sailors then ate him. Rescued four days later and landed at Falmouth, Dudley and Stephens made no secret of how they had survived.

Captain and mate were convicted of murder in a celebrated and manipulated leading case. Sentenced to death but reprieved, they served a mere six months in prison. Brian Simpson presents these events in their context, now utterly remote: that of the Victorian seaman in the days of sail, when murder and cannibalism after shipwreck ranked as an accepted custom of the sea.

Cannibalism and the Common Law tells the story of a dramatic collision between two worlds: that of Victorian judges and their parlour morality, and that of seamen confronted by brutal reality. In this tour deforce Brian Simpson proves that legal history can be presented in human terms; and that it can make compulsive reading.

Cannibalism and the Common Law is an enthralling classic of legal history. The killing and eating of one of the crew, Richard Parker, led to the leading case in the defence of necessity, R. v. Dudley and Stephens. It resulted in their being convicted and sentenced to death, a sentence subsequently commuted.

Brian Simpson sets the legal proceedings in their broadest historical context, providing a detailed account of the events and characters involved and of life at sea in the time of sail. This brilliant and fascinating book, is a marvelous example of careful historical detection, and first-class legal history, written by a master.

Subjects:
Legal History
Contents:
Preface
Acknowledgements
1. Sargeant Laverty Makes an Arrest
2. The Mignonette Goes Foreign
3. The Horrid Deed
4. Before the Falmouth Magistrates
5. The Custom of the Sea
6. Man-Eaters of the Frontier
7. The William Brown and the Euxine
8. The Devious Baron Huddleston
9. A Lawyers Question
10. Aftermath
Appendix A: The Special Verdict
Appendix B: The Explanatory Note in the Law Reports, Dated 1885
Appendix C: Ballards Illustrating the Custom of the Sea
Appendix D: Joseph Conrad and the Case of the Euxine
Bibliographical Notes
Index