“Truth has undoubtedly proved stranger than fiction on occasion, but, as a correspondent wrote to The Times in 1844, ‘she has certainly never committed so outrageous a plagiarism as in the present case.’
The case was that of Captain Thomas Dudley, Edwin Stephens and Edmund Brooks, of the yawl Mignonette, on trial for their lives. Their crime – murder and cannibalism. Sensational enough in Victorian England, but fantasy was added to the trial when it was discovered that the victim of the horrifying act, the cabin boy of the Mignonette, bore the same name as that of an Edgar Allan Poe character, who was also killed and eaten in similar circumstances and about whom Captain Dudley had been reading during the ill-fated voyage.
Dudley, Stephens, Brooks and the cabin boy, Richard Parker, were at the mercy of a scorching sun and freezing night for more than three weeks – with virtually no food or water. Their story is told with a penetrating psychological insight which brings their agony immediately to life – agony both of mind and body. Captain Dudley, said those who knew him, was a God-fearing man, ‘a man of exemplary character, able to tackle any job requiring skilled seamanship, courageous and with real power of command.’ He was prepared to draw lots and risk sacrificing himself to save his starving companions; he openly admitted the killing and accepted full responsibility for it, and his action must promote disturbing reflections in the minds of everyone capable of self analysis.
This remarkable story does not end with the trial of Captain Dudley and his crew. It continues with another of life’s coincidences, played out among the islands of the Great Barrier Reef with a romance that evokes all the imagery of a Conrad novel – ant that master would surely find a wealth of material here.”
(jacket copy for Donald McCormick’s Blood on the Sea: The Terrible Story of the Yawl “Mignonette”, 1962.)