Cannibalism at sea: sailors ate the cabin boy

When, in 1884, the starving crew of the ill-fated yacht Mignonette sacrificed a man in order to survive, the horrific killing became immortalised in legal history, relates Carl Thompson

A 19th-century engraving depicts a member of the crew of the 'Mignonette'

On 19 May 1884 four men set sail from Southampton in a small yacht. They were professional sailors tasked with taking their vessel, the Mignonette, to its new owner in Australia. As men reared to the sea, born and raised in coastal communities, they were under no illusions as to the dangers of an ocean voyage. Yet none of the Mignonette’s crew can have anticipated the full horror that lay ahead. And they certainly could not have imagined that their voyage, and the ordeal they would endure, would leave a lasting legal and cultural legacy – a legacy that extends right down to the present day.

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