Monday 9 December 2019

Cannibalism: Charles Dickens v. Dr. John Rae, Part 2.

Here is the second part of the argument between Dickens and Rae, published 165 years ago today. Clearly the writer has some nineteenth century attitudes and goes on for around 7900 words! What though would a reader of the day make of it? Does the writer make his case? Rae's reply will come out on the 23rd.

Transcription and original page images at


No. 246                      Saturday, December 9, 1854                      385


We resume our subject of last week.

The account of the sufferings of the
shipwrecked men, in DON JUAN, will rise into
most minds as our topic presents itself.
It is founded (so far as such a writer
as BYRON may choose to resort to facts, in aid
of what he knows intuitively), on several real
cases. BLIGH'S undecked-boat navigation,
after the mutiny of the Bounty; and the
wrecks of the Centaur, the Peggy, the
Pandora, the Juno, and the Thomas; had
been, among other similar narratives,
attentively read by the poet.

In Bligh's case, though the endurances of
all on board were extreme, there was no
movement towards the " last resource." And
this, though Bligh in the memorable voyage
which showed his knowledge of navigation to
be as good as his temper was bad (which is
very high praise), could only serve out, at the
best, " about an ounce of pork to each person,"
and was fain to weigh the allowance of
bread against a pistol bullet, and in the most
urgent need could only administer wine or
rum by the teaspoonful. Though the
necessities of the party were so great, that when a
stray bird was caught, its blood was poured
into the mouths of three of the people who
were nearest death, and "the body, with the
entrails, beak, and feet, was divided into
eighteen shares." Though of a captured
dolphin there was " issued about two ounces,
including the offals, to each person;" and
though the time came, when, in Bligh's
words, " there was a visible alteration for
the worse in many of the people which
excited great apprehensions in me.
Extreme weakness, swelled legs, hollow and
ghastly countenances, with an apparent
debility of understanding, seemed to me the
melancholy presages of approaching

The Centaur, man-of-war, sprung a leak at
sea in very heavy weather; was perceived,
after great labour, to be fast settling down
by the head; and was abandoned by the
captain and eleven others, in the pinnace.
They were " in a leaky boat, with one of the
gunwales stove, in nearly the middle of the
Western Ocean; without compass, quadrant,
or sail: wanting great coat or cloak; all very
thinly clothed, in a gale of wind, and with a
great sea running." They had "one biscuit
divided into twelve morsels for breakfast,
and the same for dinner; the neck of a
bottle, broke off with the cork in it, served
for a glass; and this filled with water was
the allowance for twenty-four hours, to each
man." This misery was endured, without
any reference whatever to the last resource,
for fifteen days: at the expiration of which
time, they happily made land. Observe the
captain's words, at the height. " Our sufferings
were now as great as human strength
could bear; but, we were convinced that
good spirits were a better support than
great bodily strength; for on this day
Thomas Mathews, quartermaster, perished
from hunger and cold. On the day before, he
had complained of want of strength in his
throat, as he expressed it, to swallow his
morsel, and in the night grew delirious and
died without a groan." What were their
reflections? That they could support life on
the body? " As it became next to certainty
that we should all perish in the same manner
in a day or two, it was somewhat comfortable
to reflect that dying of hunger was not
so dreadful as our imaginations had

The Pandora, frigate, was sent out to
Otaheite, to bring home for trial such of the
mutineers of the Bounty as could be found
upon the island. In Endeavour Straits, on
her homeward voyage, she struck upon a
reef; was got off, by great exertion; but had
sustained such damage, that she soon heeled
over and went down. One hundred and ten
persons escaped in the boats, and entered on
"a long and dangerous voyage." The daily
allowance to each, was a musket-ball weight
of bread, and two small wineglasses of water.
"The heat of the sun and reflexion of the
sand became intolerable, and the quantity of
salt water swallowed by the men created the
most parching thirst; excruciating tortures
were endured, and one of the men went mad
and died." Perhaps this body was devoured?
No. " The people at length neglected weighing
their slender allowance, their mouths becoming
so parched that few attempted to eat;
and what was not claimed, was returned to
the general stock." They were a fine crew
(but not so fine as Franklin's), and in a state

of high discipline. Only this one death
occurred, and all the rest were saved.

The Juno, a rotten and unseaworthy ship,
sailed from Rangoon for Madras, with a cargo
of teak-wood. She had been out three weeks,
and had already struck upon a sandbank and
sprung a leak, which the crew imperfectly
stopped, when she became a wreck in a
tremendous storm. The second mate and
others, including the captain's wife, climbed
into the mizen-top, and made themselves fast
to the rigging. The second mate is the narrator
of their distresses, and opens them with
this remarkable avowal. "We saw that we
might remain on the wreck till carried off by
famine, the most frightful shape in which
death could appear to us. I confess it was
my intention, as well as that of the rest, to
prolong my existence by the only means that
seemed likely to occur—eating the flesh of
any whose life might terminate before my
own. But this idea we did not communicate,
or even hint to each other, until long afterwards;
except once, that the gunner, a
Roman Catholic, asked me if I thought there
would be a sin in having recourse to such an
expedient." Now, it might reasonably be
supposed, with this beginning, that the wreck
of the Juno furnishes some awful instances
of the "last resource" of the Esquimaux
stories. Not one. But, perhaps no unhappy
creature died, in this mizen-top where the
second mate was? Half a dozen, at least,
died there; and the body of one Lascar
getting entangled in the rigging, so that the
survivors in their great weakness could not
for some time release it and throw it
overboard—which was their manner of disposing
of the other bodies—hung there, for two or
three days. It is worthy of all attention,
that as the mate grew weaker, the terrible
phantom which had been in his mind at first
(as it might present itself to the mind of any
other person, not actually in the extremity
imagined), grew paler and more remote. At
first, he felt sullen and irritable; on the
night of the fourth day he had a refreshing
sleep, dreamed of his father, a country clergyman,
thought that he was administering
the Sacrament to him, and drew the cup
away when he stretched out his hand to take
it. He chewed canvas, lead, any substance
he could find—would have eaten his shoes,
early in his misery, but that he wore none.
And yet he says, and at an advanced stage of
his story too, "After all that I suffered, I
believe it fell short of the idea I had formed
of what would probably be the natural
consequence of such a situation as that to which
we were reduced. I had read or heard that
no person could live without food, beyond a
few days; and when several had elapsed, I
was astonished at my having existed so long,
and concluded that every succeeding day
must be the last. I expected, as the agonies
of death approached, that we should be
tearing the flesh from each other's bones."
Later still, he adds: "I can give very little
account of the rest of the time. The sensation
of hunger was lost in that of weakness;
and when I could get a supply of fresh water
I was comparatively easy." When land was
at last descried, he had become too indifferent
to raise his head to look at it, and continued
lying in a dull and drowsy state, much as
Adam the interpreter lay, with Franklin at
his side.

The Peggy was an American sloop, sailing
home from the Azores to New York. She
encountered great distress of weather, ran
short of provision, and at length had no food
on board, and no water, " except about two
gallons which remained dirty at the bottom
of a cask." The crew ate a cat they had on
board, the leather from the pumps, their
buttons and their shoes, the candles and the
oil. Then, they went aft, and down into the
captain's cabin, and said they wanted him to
see lots fairly drawn who should be killed to
feed the rest. The captain refusing with
horror, they went forward again, contrived to
make the lot fall on a negro whom they had
on board, shot him, fried a part of him for
supper, and pickled the rest, with the exception
of the head and fingers which they threw
overboard. The greediest man among them,
dying raving mad on the third day after this
event, they threw his body into the sea—it
would seem because they feared to derive a
contagion of madness from it, if they ate it.
Nine days having elapsed in all since the
negro's death, and they being without food
again, they went below once more and
repeated their proposal to the captain (who
lay weak and ill in his cot, having been
unable to endure the mere thought of touching
the negro's remains), that he should see
lots fairly drawn. As he had no security but
that they would manage, if he still refused,
that the lot should fall on him, he consented.
It fell on a foremast-man, who was the
favourite of the whole ship. He was quite
willing to die, and chose the man who had
shot the negro, to be his executioner. While
he was yet living, the cook made a fire in the
galley; but, they resolved, when all was ready
for his death, that the fire should be put out
again, and that the doomed foremast-man
should live until an hour before noon
next day; after which they went once more
into the captain's cabin, and begged him to
read prayers, with supplications that a sail
might heave in sight before the appointed
time. A sail was seen at about eight
o'clock next morning, and they were taken
off the wreck.

Is there any circumstance in this case to
separate it from the others already described,
and from the case of the lost Arctic voyagers?
Let the reader judge. The ship was laden
with wine and brandy. The crew were
incessantly drunk from the first hour of their
calamities fulling upon them. They were
not sober, even at the moment when they

proposed the drawing of lots. They were
with difficulty restrained from making
themselves wildly intoxicated while the strange
sail bore down to their rescue. And the
mate, who should have been the exemplar and
preserver of discipline, was so drunk after
all, that he had no idea whatever of
anything that had happened, and was rolled into
the boat which saved his life.

In the case of the Thomas, the surgeon
bled the man to death on whom the lot fell,
and his remains were eaten ravenously. The
details of this shipwreck are not within our
reach; but, we confidently assume the crew
to have been of an inferior class.

The useful and accomplished SIR JOHN
BARROW, remarking that it is but too well
established " that men in extreme cases have
destroyed each other for the sake of appeasing
hunger," instances the English ship the
Nautilus and the French ship the Medusa.
Let us look into the circumstances of these
two shipwrecks.

The Nautilus, sloop of war, bound for
England with despatches from the Dardanelles,
struck, one dark and stormy January
night, on a coral rock in the Mediterranean,
and soon broke up. A number of the crew
got upon the rock, which scarcely rose above
the water, and was less than four hundred
yards long, and not more than two hundred
broad.On the fourth day—they having been in
the meantime hailed by some of their comrades
who had got into a small whale-boat which
was hanging over the ship's quarter when
she struck; and also knowing that boat to
have made for some fishermen not far off—
these shipwrecked people ate the body of a
young man who had died some hours before:
notwithstanding that Sir John Barrow's
words would rather imply that they killed
some unfortunate person for the purpose.
Now, surely after what we have just seen
of the extent of human endurance under
similar circumstances, we know this to
be an exceptional and uncommon case. It
may likewise be argued that few of the
people on the rock can have eaten of
this fearful food; for, the survivors were
fifty in number, and were not taken off
until the sixth day and the eating of no
other body is mentioned, though many
persons died.

We come then, to the wreck of the Medusa,
of which there is a lengthened French account
by two surviving members of the crew, which
was very indifferently translated into English
some five and thirty years ago. She sailed
from France for Senegal, in company with
three other vessels, and had about two
hundred and forty souls on board, including
a number of soldiers. She got among shoals
and stranded, a fortnight after her
departure from Aix Roads. After scenes of
tremendous confusion and dismay, the people
at length took to the boats, and to a raft
made of topmasts, yards, and other stout
spars, strongly lashed together. One hundred
and fifty mortals were crammed together on
the raft, of whom only fifteen remained to
be saved at the end of thirteen days. The
raft has become the ship, and may always be
understood to be meant when the wreck of
the Medusa is in question.

Upon this raft, every conceivable and
inconceivable horror, possible under the
circumstances, took place. It was shamefully
deserted by the boats (though the land was
within fifteen leagues at that time), and it
was so deep in the water that those who
clung to it, fore and aft, were always
immersed in the sea to their middles, and it
was only out of the water amidships. It had
a pole for a mast, on which the top-gallant
sail of the Medusa was hoisted. It rocked
and rolled violently with every wave, so that
even in the dense crowd it was impossible to
stand without holding on. Within the first
few hours, people were washed off by dozens,
flung themselves into the sea, were stifled in
the press, and, getting entangled among the
spars, rolled lifeless to and fro under foot.
There was a cask of wine upon it which was
secretly broached by the soldiers and sailors,
who drank themselves so mad, that they
resolved to cut the cords asunder, and send the
whole living freight to perdition. They were
headed by "an Asiatic, and soldier in a
colonial regiment: of a colossal stature, with
short curled hair, an extremely large nose,
an enormous mouth, a sallow complexion,
and a hideous air." Him, an officer cast into the
sea; upon which, his comrades made a charge
at the officer, threw him into the sea, and, on
his being recovered by their opponents who
launched a barrel to him, tried to cut out his
eyes with a penknife. Hereupon, an incessant
and infernal combat was fought between the
two parties,with sabres, knives, bayonets, nails,
and teeth, until the rebels were thinned and
cowed, and they were all ferociously wild
together. On the third day, they " fell upon the
dead bodies with which the raft was covered,
and cut off pieces, which some instantly
devoured. Many did not touch them; almost all
the officers were of this number." On the fourth
"we dressed some fish (they had fire on the raft)
which we devoured with extreme avidity;
but, our hunger was so great, and our portion
of fish so small, that we added to it some
human flesh, which dressing rendered less
disgusting; it was this which the officers
touched for the first time. From this day
we continued to use it; but we could not
dress it any more, as we were entirely de-
prived of the means,'' through the accidental
extinction of their fire, and their having no
materials to kindle another. Before the
fourth night, the raving mutineers rose
again, and were cut down and thrown
overboard until only thirty people remained
alive upon the raft. On the seventh day,
there were only twenty-seven; and twelve of
these, being spent and ill, were every one cast

into the sea by the remainder, who then, in
an access of repentance, threw the weapons
away too, all but one sabre. After that,
"the soldiers and sailors" were eager to
devour a butterfly which was seen fluttering
on the mast; after that, some of them
began to tell the stories of their lives;
and thus, with grim joking, and raging
thirst and reckless bathing among the
sharks which had now begun to follow the
raft, and general delirium and fever, they
were picked up by a ship: to the number,
and after the term of exposure, already

Are there any circumstances in this frightful
case, to account for its peculiar horrors?
Again, the reader shall judge. No discipline
worthy of the name had been observed aboard
the Medusa from the minute of her weighing
anchor. The captain had inexplicably delegated
his authority " to a man who did not belong to
the staff. He was an ex-officer of the marine,
who had just left an English prison, where
he had been for ten years." This man held
the ship's course against the protest of the
officers, who warned him what would come
of it. The work of the ship had been so ill
done, that even the common manoeuvres
necessary to the saving of a boy who fell
overboard, had been bungled, and the boy
had been needlessly lost. Important signals
had been received from one of the ships in
company, and neither answered nor reported
to the captain. The Medusa had been on
fire through negligence. When she struck,
desertion of duty, mean evasion and fierce
recrimination, wasted the precious moments. "It
is probable that if one of the first officers had
set the example, order would have been
restored; but every one was left to himself." The
most virtuous aspiration of which the soldiers
were sensible, was, to fire upon their officers,
and, failing that, to tear their eyes out and
rend them to pieces. The historians compute
that there were not in all upon the raft
—before the sick were thrown into the sea—
more than twenty men of decency, education,
and purpose enough, even to oppose
the maniacs. To crown all, they describe
the soldiers as "wretches who were not
worthy to wear the French uniform. They
were the scum of all countries, the refuse
of the prisons, where they had been collected
to make up the force. When, for the sake
of health, they had been made to bathe in
the sea (a ceremony from which some of
them had the modesty to endeavour to excuse
themselves), the whole crew had had ocular
demonstration that it was not upon their
breasts these heroes wore the insignia of the
exploits which had led to their serving the
state in the ports of Toulon. Brest, or
Rochefort." And is it with the scourged
and branded sweepings or the galleys
of France, in their debased condition of
eight-and-thirty years ago, that we shall
compare the flower of the trained
adventurous spirit of the English Navy, raised
by Parry, Franklin, Richardson, and

Nearly three hundred years ago, a
celebrated case of famine occurred in the
Jacques, a French ship, homeward-bound
from Brazil, with forty-five persons on board,
of whom twenty-five were the ship's company.
She was a crazy old vessel, fit for nothing but
firewood, and had been out four months, and
was still upon the weary seas far from land,
when her whole stock of provisions was
exhausted. The very maggots in the dust of
the bread-room had been eaten up, and
the parrots and monkeys brought from
Brazil by the men on board had been killed
and eaten, when two of the men died. Their
bodies were committed to the deep. At least
twenty days afterwards, when they had had
perpetual cold and stormy weather, and were
grown too weak to navigate the ship; when
they had eaten pieces of the dried skin of the
wild hog, and leather jackets and shoes, and
the horn-plates of the ship-lanterns, and all the
wax-candles; the gunner died. His body
likewise, was committed to the deep. They
then began to hunt for mice, so that it became
a common thing on board, to see skeleton-men
watching eagerly and silently at mouse-holes,
like cats. They had no wine and no water;
nothing to drink but one little glass of cider,
each, per day. When they were come to this
pass, two more of the sailors " died of hunger."
Their bodies likewise, were committed to the
deep. So long and doleful were these
experiences on the barren sea, that the people
conceived the extraordinary idea that another
deluge had happened, and there was no land
left. Yet, this ship drifted to the coast of
Brittany, and no " last resource " had ever
been appealed to. It is worth remarking
that, after they were saved, the captain
declared he had meant to kill somebody,
privately, next day. Whosoever has been
placed in circumstances of peril, with
companions, will know the infatuated pleasure
some imaginations take in enhancing
them and all their remotest possible
consequences, after they are escaped from, and
will know what value to attach to this

In the reign of Queen Elizabeth, a ship's
master and fifteen men escaped from a wreck
in an open boat, which they weighed down
very heavy, and were at sea, with no fresh-
water, and nothing to eat but the floating
sea-weed, seven days and nights. " We will
all live or die together," said the master on
the third day, when one of the men proposed
to draw lots—not who should become the
last resource, but who should be thrown
overboard to lighten the boat. On the fifth
day, that man and another died. The rest
were ''very weak and praying for death;"
but these bodies also, were committed to
the deep.

In the reign of George the Third, the Wager,

man-of-war, one of a squadron badly found
and provided in all respects, sailing from
England for South America, was wrecked on
the coast of Patagonia. She was commanded
by a brutal though bold captain, and manned
by a turbulent crew, most of whom were
exasperated to a readiness for all mutiny by
having been pressed in the Downs, in the
hour of their arrival at home from long and
hard service. When the ship struck, they
broke open the officers' chests, dressed themselves
in the officers' uniforms, and got drunk
in the old, Smollett manner. About a
hundred and fifty of them made their way ashore,
and divided into parties. Great distress was
experienced from want of food, and one of the
boys, " having picked up the liver of one of
the drowned men whose carcase had been
dashed to pieces against the rocks, could be
with difficulty withheld from making a meal
of it." One man, in a quarrel, on a spot
which, in remembrance of their sufferings
there, they called Mount Misery, stabbed
another mortally, and left him dead on the
ground. Though a third of the whole number
were no more, chiefly through want, in eight or
ten weeks; and though they had in the meantime
eaten a midshipman's dog, and were now
glad to feast on putrid morsels of seal that
had been thrown away; certain men came
back to this Mount Misery, expressly to give
this body (which throughout had remained
untouched), decent burial: assigning their
later misfortunes " to their having neglected
this necessary tribute." Afterwards, in an
open-boat navigation, when rowers died
at their oars of want and its attendant
weakness, and there was nothing to serve out
but bits of rotten seal, the starving crew went
ashore to bury the bodies of their dead
companions, in the sand. At such a condition did
even these ill-nurtured, ill-commanded, ill-
used men arrive, without appealing to the
"last resource," that they were so much
emaciated " as hardly to have the shape of
men," while the captain's legs " resembled
posts, though his body appeared to be
nothing but skin and bone," and he had
fallen into that feeble state of intellect
that he had positively forgotten his own

ln the same reign, an East Indiaman, bound
from Surat to Mocha and Jidda in the Dead
Sea, took fire when two hundred leagues
distant from the nearest land, which was the
coast of Malabar. The mate and ninety-five
other people, white, brown, and black, found
themselves in the long-boat, with this voyage
before them, and neither water nor provisions
on board. The account of the mate who
conducted the boat, day and night, is, " We were
never hungry, though our thirst was extreme.
On the seventh day, our throats and tongues
swelled to such a degree, that we conveyed
our meaning by signs. Sixteen died on that
day, and almost the whole people became
silly, and began to die laughing. I earnestly
petitioned God that I might continue in my
senses to my end, which He was pleased to
grant: I being the only person on the eighth
day that preserved them. Twenty more
died that day. On the ninth I observed land,
which overcame my senses, and I fell into a
swoon with thankfulness of joy." Again no
last resource, and can the reader doubt that
they would all have died without it?

In the same reign, and within a few years
of the same date, the Philip Aubin, bark
of eighty tons, bound from Barbadoes to
Surinam, broached-to at sea, and foundered.
The captain, the mate, and two seamen, got
clear of the wreck and into " a small boat
twelve or thirteen feet long." In
accomplishing this escape, they all, but particularly
the captain, showed great coolness, courage,
sense, and resignation. They took the
captain's dog on board, and picked up thirteen
onions which floated out of the ship, after she
went down. They had no water, no mast,
sail, or oars; nothing but the boat, what they
wore, and a knife. The boat had sprung a
leak, which was stopped with a shirt. They
cut pieces of wood from the boat itself, which
they made into a mast; they rigged the mast
with strips of the shirt; and they hoisted a
pair of wide trousers for a sail. The little
boat being cut down almost to the water's edge,
they made a bulwark against the sea, of their
own backs. The mate steered with a top-
mast he had pushed before him to the boat,
when he swam to it. On the third day,
they killed the dog, and drank his blood out
of a hat. On the fourth day, the two men
gave in, saying they would rather die than
toil on; and one persisted in refusing to do his
part in baling the boat, though the captain
implored him on his knees. But, a very
decided threat from the mate to steer him
into the other world with the topmast by
bringing it down upon his skull, induced him
to turn-to again. On the fifth day, the mate
exhorted the rest to cut a piece out of his
thigh, and quench their thirst; but, no one
stirred. He had eaten more of the dog than
any of the rest, and would seem from this
wild proposal to have been the worse for it,
though he was quite steady again next day,
and derived relief (as the captain did), from
turning a nail in his mouth, and often
sprinkling his head with salt-water. The
captain, first and last, took only a few
mouthfuls of the dog, and one of the seamen
only tasted it, and the other would not touch
it. The onions they all thought of small
advantage to them, as engendering greater
thirst. On the eighth day, the two seamen,
who had soon relapsed and become delirious
and quite oblivious of their situation, died,
within three hours of each other. The
captain and mate saw the Island of Tobago
that evening, but could not make it until late
in the ensuing night. The bodies were
found in the boat, unmutilated by the last

ln the same reign still, and within three
years of this disaster, the American brig,
Tyrel, sailed from New York for the Island
of Antigua. She was a miserable tub,
grossly unfit for sea, and turned bodily over
in a gale of wind, five days after her departure.
Seventeen people took to a boat,
nineteen feet and a half long, and less than
six feet and a half broad, They had half a
peck of white biscuit, changed into salt dough
by the sea-water; and a peck of common
ship-biscuit. They steered their course by
the polar-star. Soon after sunset on the
ninth day, the second mate and the carpenter
died very peacefully. "All betook themselves
to prayers, and then after some little
time stripped the bodies of their two
unfortunate comrades, and threw them overboard."
Next night, a man aged sixty-four who had
been fifty years at sea, died, asking to the
last for a drop of water; next day, two more
died, in perfect repose; next night, the
gunner; four more in the succeeding four
and twenty hours. Five others followed in
one day. And all these bodies were quietly
thrown overboard—though with great
difficulty at last, for the survivors were now
exceeding weak, and not one had strength
to pull an oar. On the fourteenth or fifteenth
morning, when there were only three left
alive, and the body of the cabin boy, newly
dead, was in the boat, the chief mate
'' asked his two companions whether they
thought they could eat any of the boy's
flesh? They signified their inclination to try;
whence, the body being quite cold, he cut a
piece from the inside of its thigh, a little
above the knee. Part of this he gave to the
captain and boatswain, and reserved a small
portion to himself. But, on attempting to
swallow the flesh, it was rejected by the
stomachs of all, and the body was therefore
thrown overboard." Yet that captain, and
that boatswain both died of famine in the
night, and another whole week elapsed
before a schooner picked up the chief mate,
left alone in the boat with their unmolested
bodies, the dumb evidence of his story. Which
bodies the crew of that schooner saw, and
buried in the deep.

Only four years ago, in the autumn of
eighteen hundred and fifty, a party of British
missionaries were most indiscreetly sent out
by a Society, to Patagonia. They were seven
in number, and all died near the coast (as
nothing but a miracle could have prevented
their doing), of starvation. An exploring
party, under Captain Moorshead of her
Majesty's ship Dido, came upon their traces,
and found the remains of four of them, lying
by their two boats which they had hauled up
for shelter. CAPTAIN GARDINER, their super-
intendent, who had probably expired the last,
had kept a journal until the pencil had
dropped from his dying hand. They had
buried three of their party, like Christian
men, and the rest had faded away in quiet
resignation, and without great suffering. They
were kind and helpful to one another, to the
last. One of the common men, just like Adam
with Franklin, was " cast down at the loss of
his comrades, and wandering in his mind"
before he passed away.

Against this strong case in support of our
general position, we will faithfully set
four opposite instances we have sought

The first is the case of the New Horn,
Dutch vessel, which was burnt at sea and
blew up with a great explosion, upwards of
two hundred years ago. Seventy-two people
escaped in two boats. The old Dutch captain's
narrative being rather obscure, and
(as we believe) scarcely traceable beyond a
French translation, it is not easy to understand
how long they were at sea, before the
people fell into the state to which the ensuing
description applies. According to our
calculation, however, they had not been ship-
wrecked many days—we take the period to
have been less than a week—and they had
had seven or eight pounds of biscuit on board.
"Our misery daily increased, and the rage of
hunger urging us to extremities, the people
began to regard each other with ferocious
looks. Consulting among themselves, they
secretly determined to devour the boys on
board, and after their bodies were consumed,
to throw lots who should next suffer death,
that the lives of the rest might be preserved."
The captain dissuading them from this with
the utmost loathing and horror, they reconsidered
the matter, and decided " that should
we not get sight of land in three days, the
boys should be sacrificed." On the last of
the three days, the land was made; so,
whether any of them would have executed
this intention, can never be known.

The second case runs thus. In the last year
of the last century, six men were induced to
desert from the English artillery at St. Helena
—a deserter from any honest service is not a
character from which to expect much—and
to go on board an American ship, the only
vessel then lying in those roads. After they
got on board in the dark, they saw lights
moving about on shore, and, fearful that they
would be missed and taken, went over the
side, with the connivance of the ship's people,
got into the whale boat, and made off:
purposing to be taken up again by and by,
when the ship was under weigh. But, they
missed her, and rowed and sailed about for
sixteen days, at the end of which their
provisions were all consumed. After chewing
bamboo, and gnawing leather, and eating a
dolphin, one of them proposed, when ten days
more had run out, that lots should be drawn
which deserter should bleed himself to death,
to support life in the rest. It was agreed to,
and done. They could take very little of
this food.

The third, is the case of the Nottingham
Galley, trading from Great Britain to America,

which was wrecked on a rock called Boon
Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. About
two days afterwards—the narrative is not
very clear in its details—the cook died on
the rock. "Therefore," writes the captain,
"we laid him in a convenient place for the
sea to carry him away. None then proposed
to eat his body, though several afterwards
acknowledged that they, as well as myself,
had thoughts of it." They were "tolerably
well supplied with fresh-water throughout."
But, when they had been upon the rock about
a fortnight, and had eaten all their provisions,
the carpenter died. And then the captain
writes: " We suffered the body to remain
with us till morning, when I desired those
who were best able to remove it. I crept out
myself to see whether Providence had yet
sent us anything to satisfy our craving appetites.
Returning before noon, and observing
that the dead body still remained, I asked
the men why they had not removed it: to
which they answered, that all were not able.
I therefore fastened a rope to it, and, giving
the utmost of my assistance, we, with some
difficulty, got it out of the tent. But the
fatigue and consideration of our misery
together, so overcame my spirits, that, being
ready to faint, I crept into the tent and was
no sooner there, than, as the highest aggravation
of distress, the men began requesting
me to give them the body of their lifeless
comrade to eat, the better to support their
own existence." The captain ultimately
complied. They became brutalised and
ferocious; but they suffered him to keep
the remains on a high part of the rock: and
they were not consumed when relief arrived.

The fourth and last case, is the wreck of the
St. Lawrence, bound from Quebec for New
York. An ensign of foot, bringing home
despatches, relates how she went ashore on a
desolate part of the coast of North America,
and how those who were saved from the wreck
suffered great hardships, both by land and
sea, and were thinned in their numbers
by death, and buried their dead. All this
time they had some provisions, though they
ran short, but at length they were reduced to
live upon weeds and tallow and melted snow.
The tallow being all gone, they lived on
weed and snow for three days, and then
the ensign came to this: " The time was now
arrived when I thought it highly expedient
to put the plan before mentioned (casting
lots who should be killed) into execution;
but on feeling the pulse of my companions,
I found some of them rather averse
to the proposal. The desire of life still
prevailed above every other sentiment,
notwithstanding the wretchedness of our condition,
and the impossibility of preserving it by any
other method. I thought it an extraordinary
instance of infatuation, that men should prefer
the certainty of a lingering and miserable
death, to the distant chance of escaping one
more immediate and less painful. However,
on consulting with the mate what was to be
done, I found that although they objected to
the proposal of casting lots for the victim,
yet all concurred in the necessity of some
one being sacrificed for the preservation of
the rest. The only question was how it
should be determined; when by a kind of
reasoning more agreeable to the dictates of
self-love than justice, it was agreed, that as
the captain was now so exceedingly reduced
as to be evidently the first who would sink
under our present complicated misery; as he
had been the person to whom we considered
ourselves in some measure indebted for all
our misfortunes; and further, as he had
ever since our shipwreck been the most
remiss in his exertions towards the general
good—he was undoubtedly the person
who should be the first sacrificed." The
design of which the ensign writes with
this remarkable coolness, was not carried
into execution, by reason of their falling
in with some Indians; but, some of the
party who were afterwards separated from
the rest, declared when they rejoined them,
that they had eaten of the remains of their
deceased companions. Of this case it is to be
noticed that the captain is alleged to have
been a mere kidnapper, sailing under false
pretences, and therefore not likely to have
had by any means a choice crew; that the
greater part of them got drunk when the
ship was in danger; and that they had not a
very sensitive associate in the ensign, on his
own highly disagreeable showing.

It appears to us that the influence of great
privation upon the lower and least disciplined
class of character, is much more bewildering
and maddening at sea than on shore.
The confined space, the monotonous aspect of
the waves, the mournful winds, the
monotonous motion, the dead uniformity of colour,
the abundance of water that cannot be drunk
to quench the raging thirst (which the
Ancient Mariner perceived to be one of his
torments)—these seem to engender a diseased
mind with greater quickness and of a worse
sort. The conviction on the part of the
sufferers that they hear voices calling for them;
that they descry ships coming to their aid;
that they hear the firing of guns, and see the
flash; that they can plunge into the waves
without injury, to fetch something or to meet
somebody; is not often paralleled among
suffering travellers by land. The mirage
excepted—a delusion of the desert, which
has its counterpart upon the sea, not included
under these heads—we remember nothing
of this sort experienced by BRUCE, for
instance, or by MUNGO PARK: least of all
by Franklin in the memorable book we
have quoted. Our comparison of the
records of the two kinds of trial, leads us
to believe, that even man who might be in
danger of the last resource at sea, would be
very likely to pine away by degrees, and
never come to it, ashore. 

In his published account of the ascent of
Mont Blanc, which is an excellent little
book, Mr. ALBERT SMITH describes, with very
humorous fidelity, that when he was urged
on by the guides, in a drowsy state when he
would have given the world to lie down and
go to sleep for ever, he was conscious of being
greatly distressed by some difficult and
altogether imaginary negotiations respecting
a non-existent bedstead; also, by an impression
that a familiar friend in London came
up with the preposterous intelligence that
the King of Prussia objected to the party's
advancing, because it was his ground. But,
these harmless vagaries are not the present
question, being commonly experienced under
most circumstances where an effort to fix
the attention, or exert the body, contends
with a strong disposition to sleep. We have
been their sport thousands of times, and
have passed through a series of most
inconsistent and absurd adventures, while trying
hard to follow a short dull story related
by some eminent conversationalist after

No statement of cannibalism, whether
on the deep or the dry land, is to be
admitted supposititiously, or inferentially,
or on any but the most direct and positive
evidence: no, not even as occurring among
savage people, against whom it was in earlier
times too often a pretence for cruelty and
plunder. MR. PRESCOTT, in his brilliant
history of the Conquest of Mexico, observes
of a fact so astonishing as the existence of
cannibalism among a people who had attained
considerable advancement in the arts and
graces of life, that " they did not feed on
human flesh merely to gratify a brutish appetite,
but in obedience to their religion—a
distinction," he justly says, " worthy of
notice." Besides which, it is to be remarked,
that many of these feeding practices rest on
the authority of narrators who distinctly saw
St. James and the Virgin Mary fighting at
the head of the troops of Cortes, and who
possessed, therefore, to say the least, an
unusual range of vision. It is curious to
consider, with our general impressions on the
subject—very often derived, we have no doubt,
from ROBINSON CRUSOE, if the oaks of men's
beliefs could be traced back to acorns—how
rarely the practice, even among savages, has
been proved. The word of a savage is not
to be taken for it; firstly, because he is a
liar; secondly, because he is a boaster;
thirdly, because he often talks figuratively;
fourthly, because he is given to a superstitious
notion that when he tells you he has his
enemy in his stomach, you will logically
give him credit for having his enemy's
valour in his heart. Even the sight of
cooked and dissevered human bodies among
this or that tattoo'd tribe, is not proof. Such
appropriate offerings to their barbarous,
wide-mouthed, goggle-eyed gods, savages
have been often seen and known to make.
And although it may usually be held as
a rule, that the fraternity of priests lay
eager hands upon everything meant for
the gods, it is always possible that these
offerings are an exception: as at once
investing the idols with an awful character,
and the priests with a touch of disinterestedness,
whereof their order may occasionally
stand in need.

The imaginative people of the East, in the
palmy days of its romance—not very much
accustomed to the sea, perhaps, but certainly
familiar by experience and tradition with
the perils of the desert—had no notion of
the " last resource " among civilised human
creatures. In the whole wild circle of the
Arabian Nights, it is reserved for ghoules,
gigantic blacks with one eye, monsters like
towers, of enormous bulk and dreadful
aspect, and unclean animals lurking on the
seashore, that puffed and blew their way into
caves where the dead were interred. Even
for SINBAD the Sailor, buried alive, the
story-teller found it easier to provide some
natural sustenance, in the shape of so many
loaves of bread and so much water, let down
into the pit with each of the other people
buried alive after him (whom he killed with
a bone, for he was not nice), than to invent
this dismal expedient.

We are brought back to the position almost
embodied in the words of Sir John Richardson
towards the close of the former chapter.
In weighing the probabilities and improbabilities
of the " last resource," the foremost
question is—not the nature of the extremity;
but, the nature of the men. We submit that
the memory of the lost Arctic voyagers is
placed, by reason and experience, high above
the taint of this so easily-allowed connection;
and that the noble conduct and example of such
men, and of their own great leader himself,
under similar endurances, belies it, and
outweighs by the weight of the whole universe
the chatter of a gross handful of uncivilised
people, with a domesticity of blood and
blubber. Utilitarianism will protest "they
are dead; why care about this? " Our reply
shall be, " Because they ARE dead, therefore
we care about this. Because they served
their country well, and deserved well of her,
and can ask, no more on this earth, for her
justice or her loving-kindness; give them
both, full measure, pressed down, running
over. Because no Franklin can come back, to
write the honest story of their woes and
resignation, read it tenderly and truly in the
book he has left us. Because they lie
scattered on those wastes of snow, and are as
defenceless against the remembrance of
coming generations, as against the elements
into which they are resolving, and the winter
winds that alone can waft them home, now,
impalpable air; therefore, cherish them
gently, even in the breasts of children.
Therefore, teach no one to shudder without
reason, at the history of their end. Therefore,

confide with their own firmness, in their
fortitude, their lofty sense of duty, their
courage, and their religion.


  1. Wow. A long list of wrecks ! Even without touching on the issue of cannibalism, a lot of sailors went hungry.

    1. Yes -- as Harry Stone notes in his magisterial Night Side of Dickens, CD has been obsessed with cannibalism since his childhood, and his exhaustive compilation of cases actually rather undercuts than supports his argument!

  2. And Rae defended himself very well , as detailed in the book by Ken McGoogan, "Fatal Passage". It was Chief Factor James Anderson who followed up in 1855. Anderson could not cross the Simpson Strait due to the lack of suitable water craft. The book has an interesting item on page 238: that there was a rumor that one of Anderson's men had spotted two masts at a great distance, but did not inform anywhere then at that time due to fear of pushing the canoes beyond safe limits.

    Now, the question is: how far away could masts of a sunken Terror be spotted? Could those masts in Terror Bay be spotted from the mainland where Anderson was?

  3. Thanks Soloman but that's jumping ahead a bit! Rae's response starts tomorrow.


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