The 33-ton yawl-rigged yacht Mignonette was built at Brightlingsea in Essex in 1867. In 1883 she was purchased by John Henry Want, a wealthy Australian, who then advertised for a crew to sail it to Australia. Before embarking on the voyage, the yacht put in at Southampton where she was to be made ready for her long journey. While in Southampton some of her crew decided not to undertake the voyage and were replaced by local seaman, one of whom was 17-year-old Richard Parker of Itchen Ferry Village, who signed on as an ordinary seaman.

The voyage began in May 1884 and on the 5th July the yacht foundered in a storm, the four crew members escaping in a lifeboat. After 20 days, with their supplies of food and water exhausted, the skipper Tom Dudley decided that Parker should be killed and eaten to keep the other three crew members alive. Parker had made himself very ill by drinking sea water and was probably likely to die. The surviving crew members lived off Parker’s body for the next four days before being rescued by the German ship Moctezuma. The three survivors were duly landed at Falmouth.

At the ensuing hearing, one of the men, Edmund Brooks, was discharged on the grounds that he had not taken part in the killing, but the other two, Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. There was much sympathy for them, however, and the sentence was commuted to six months' imprisonment.

In 1884 a benefactor paid for a memorial stone (see clipping 2 below) to Richard Parker which was placed in Peartree churchyard and can still be seen there (Image 2 and clipping 1 below).

1. Mignonette

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Tom Dudley's sketch of the Mignonette

2. Richard Parker's Tombstone

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Parker's tombstone in Peartree churchyard.

Newspaper clippings:

Further reading:

The Sad Tale of Richard Parker, by Jim Brown. (HS/t)
Cannibalism and the Common Law, by A. W. Brian Simpson. (HS/t)
Blood on the Sea, by Donald McCormick. (HS/t)
The Custom of the Sea, by Neil Hanson. (HS/t)


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