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It is not OK to eat a cabin boy!

Updated: Aug 28, 2018


This article features a weird case that became a leading precedent in criminal common law.



Murder, even if you're really hungry and want to eat somebody, is not OK. That's what the 1884 case of "The Queen v Dudley and Stephens" bequeathed to Commonwealth law.


Four guys, including one young cabin boy, went out in a boat one day in the 1880's. The boat sank, and they wound up without food in a little lifeboat. For days, they lived on two tins of turnips saved by their cabin boy, Richard Parker. After 8 days, little Parker passed out and Captain Tom Dudley proposed that they eat the lad.


So they slit his throat and ate him for 4 days until they were rescued.


Apparently they almost got away with the crime because the tradition of the sea was to eat the cabin boy at a pinch, but a High Court intervened, and said that letting Dudley and companion Edwin Stephens off for murder would set a dangerous precedent for allowing murder under all kinds of circumstances.


Score one for cabin boys. Richard Parker did not live to enjoy this triumphant moment which changed the law of the sea forever.


But the case is cited as a crucial precedent in the interpretation of murder - as well as the liberation of cabin boys.

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