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The Custom of the Sea: A Shocking True Tale of Shipwreck, Murder, and the Last Taboo

Hanson, Neil

219 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0471399779 / ISBN 13: 9780471399773
Published by Wiley, NY, 2001
Used Condition: Very Good Soft cover
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0.86 x 9.2 x 6.08 Inches; 336 pages. Bookseller Inventory # 58734

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Custom of the Sea: A Shocking True Tale ...

Publisher: Wiley, NY

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Trade paperback

Book Condition:Very Good

About this title

Synopsis:

"The nightmarish events of the shipwreck are reported with real power."-New York Times Book Review

Adrift at sea, your food and water gone, you are slowly starving to death: what would you do to survive?

On May 19, 1884, the yacht Mignonette set sail from Southampton, England, bound for Australia. Halfway through the voyage, the crew were beset by a monstrous storm off the coast of West Africa, and the Mignonette was sunk by a massive forty-foot wave. Cast adrift a thousand miles from landfall with no food or water and faced with almost certain death, the captain resorted to a grisly practice common among seamen of the time: the "custom of the sea." While the others watched, the captain killed the weakest of them, the cabin boy, and his body was eaten. In this riveting account of the ordeal of the crew and the sensational trial that followed, Hanson recreates the shocking events that held a nation spellbound. Drawing from newspaper accounts, personal letters, court proceedings, and first-person accounts, he has brilliantly told a tale rife with moral dilemmas.

Review:

What would you do to survive if you were adrift at sea, without food or water, and slowly starving to death?

In 1884, Captain Tom Dudley and his three-man crew were faced with just such a predicament. Dudley and his men were aboard the Mignonette, a small yacht they were delivering from England to Australia. Hit by a rogue wave in a storm, the Mignonette sank, leaving the four men in a 13-foot dinghy with two pounds of turnips and little else--no other food and no water--in the middle of the Atlantic. After nearly two weeks, Dudley announced they would have to resort to "the custom of the sea": drawing lots to decide who would be sacrificed and eaten to save the others. Two crewmen argued against lots, pointing out that the young cabin boy, Richard Parker, was delirious and on the verge of death. Dudley refused to kill the boy, and a few more days passed. Finally, on the 19th day adrift, Dudley killed young Parker while his crew watched. Three days later, the three survivors were rescued. Upon their return to England the three men were arrested and charged with murder.

Neil Hanson tells the story of the Mignonette and its crew in Custom of the Sea. At its best, the book reads like an adventure story along the lines of The Perfect Storm or Endurance. The story lags a bit when the survivors get entangled in the Victorian court and penal system--which is understandably a bit less gripping than the shipwreck and its ensuing survival cannibalism. It does, however, provide a fascinating window into the legal system and the power of the press in influencing public opinion.

Captain Simonsen of the Moctezuma, having rescued the Mignonette survivors, realized what they had done and tried to comfort Dudley by saying, "Desperate straits require desperate measures." Custom of the Sea does an excellent job of putting readers in a position to wonder if they too would take such desperate measures. --Sunny Delaney

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