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Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy - the Diapers of Itchen Ferry
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Early Days Itchen Ferry Village The Captain's Table At Sea Genealogy

Hichyn, a smaulle village on the est side: and hereof the trajectus is caullid Hichin-Ferry

 

c1540 John Leland, antiquarian

The museum contains a permanent display of the town’s maritime history and many of the artefacts have connections with the Diapers. Use this trail to take you around the museum, it will finish at the ‘Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy – The Diapers of Itchen Ferry’ exhibit.

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Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Richard Parker & The Mignonette

In 1884 the Mignonette yacht, purchased by a wealthy Australian barrister in Essex, set sail from Southampton for Australia with a crew of 4. After being struck by heavy seas in the South Atlantic the yacht sank and its crew (Capt, mate, hand, cabin boy) got into a 13 foot dinghy but without water or provisions except for 2 cans of turnips (which was brought on board by Dudley along with a sextant) having previously thrown the water barrel overboard thinking it would float. Occasional rainfall was collected by the men in their oilskins and they managed to capture and eat a turtle which was asleep in the water. They tried without success to catch fish and even drank their own urine. Parker & Stephens resorted to drinking seawater. After 19 days adrift the captain killed the unconscious cabin boy (after the drawing of lots which rumoured Dudley had cheated at) and the survivors ate him. The cabin boy had become delirious after drinking sea water. His name was Richard Parker, the Capt was called Thomas Dudley, mate Edwin Stephen and Edmund Brooks the hand. Dudley had initially proposed the drawing of lots Brooks had been against any killing, Stephens was indecisive. Dudley temporarily abandoned the idea but kept working on Stephens, arguing the fact he considered the boy near death and he had no dependants. Finally Stephens was persuaded. They said prayers over Richard’s sleeping body, Dudley shook him by the shoulder and said ‘Richard my boy, your time has come’. Parker replied ‘What? Me, sir?’ Dudley answered ‘Yes, my boy’ and then plunged in penknife into Parker’s neck. Parker was seventeen. All the survivors fed on the boy. They were rescued shortly after by a German ship, the Montezuma, which was heading for South America. Only Brooks was able to clamber on board, the rest had to be carried. It was clear from Parker’s remains what had happened and both Dudley and Stephens completed the tale when they recovered. On Setp 16 1884 the survivors were take to the Customs house and questioned, it did not occur to them they had done anything criminal. Dudley even kept the penknife as a memento. They were stunned to be arrested and tried for murder on their return to England – a legal first. Up until then murder committed under duress, because of severe necessity, was informally accepted as justifiable. Dudley insisted that he was the ringleader and that Brooks was completely innocent. The case went all the way to the Lords. Brooks was discharged and became the chief Prosecution witness. Public sympathy remained with the ‘cannibals’. When Dudley travelled from Falmouth to London to meet his wife at Paddington station people took off their hats as he passed. The Trial judge described him as being a man of ‘exemplary courage’. The mayor of Falmouth was threatened with murder for having arranged the men’s arrest. The prosecutor was also threatened, if obtained a conviction. Daniel Parker, Richard’s eldest brother openly forgave Dudley in court and even shook hands with him. The Parker family planted a tombstone on Richard’s grave that read;

‘Though he slay me, yet I will trust him’ Job xiii 15

Lord, lay not this sin to their charge

The jury was not permitted to render a verdict in case they acquited the defendants, but merely allowed to determine the facts. Neither did the trial judge render a verdict, by way of a highly unorthodox procedure, the case was brought before a 5 judge tribunal, presided over by Lord Chief Justice Coleridge who gave the opinion of the court, guilty as charged expressing a doubt over the necessity of the situation

The defendants ‘might possibly have been picked up the next day by a passing ship; they might possibly not have been picked up at all. In either case it is obvious that the killing of Parkerr would have been an unnecessary and profitless act. Even if necessity existed that could not justify the killing of another human being’. Coleridge refused to recognize self-preservation as an all justifying end. ‘To preserve one’s life is generally speaking a duty but it may be the plainest and the highest duty to sacrifice it. War is full of instances in which it is a man’s duty not to live, but to die. The duty in case of shipwreck, of a captain to his crew, of the crew to the passengers, of soldiers to women and children... these duties impose on men the moral necessity, not of preservation, but of their sacrifice of their lives for others.... It is not correct, therefore, to say there is any absolute or unqualified necessity to preserve one’s life’ he added ‘Who is to judge of this sort of necessity? By what measure is the comparative value of lives to be measured? Is it to be strength, or intellect, or what? The court sentenced the defendants to death but the court did not want to be taken too seriously and had pre-arranged a pardon with the home secretary and did not wear their black hoods as was customary.

From that time the only excuse for murder is self defence. The defendants were released from prison six months later, Brooks had already gone back to sea. Stephens settled in Southampton and supported himself by odd jobs, he continued to be absorbed by the events on the dinghy and over time went quietly mad. Dudley emigrated to Australia became a small shopkeeper and managed to keep his past a secret. He took was haunted by memories and according to one report tried to relieve it by great quantities of opium. He died as the first victim of the bubonic plague that hit Australia in 1900.

Fifty years earlier in 1837 Edgar Allan Poe published his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. It was a commission that quickly lost Poe’ interest. He finished it with a mix of reluctance and slapdash hurry. In that story the ship upon which Pym and a friend sail from Nantucket overturns in a storm. Survivors cling to the hull. After several days Pym & his friend eat a third man, his name was Richard Parke.

Then there was the Francis Speight a ship that foundered in 1846. There were deaths and cannibalism aboard. One of the victims was a Richard Parker.

In Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’ 16 year old Pi Patel (the son of a zoo keeper) is trapped for 227 days on a 26 foot lifeboat which a 450 pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.