Unspeakable Times

9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended in Cannibalism  

Chase Christy
50.2k views 9 items

Humans have been sailing - and sinking - ships since before Christ. Often times, shipwrecks end in the crew being swiftly carried off to their death at the hands of the unforgiving seas. But sometimes the crew survives and has time to think about their misfortune. And thinking makes you hungry! But if the rations you packed are with the sunken vessel, and you aren’t much of a fisherman, you might have to resort to eating one of your buddies. Don’t worry; you won't be the first sailor who became a cannibal. There have been mulitple examples of shipwrecks that ended in cannibalism throughout history, and this list has all the grisly details.

The Shipwrecked Crew of the Méduse Got the Drunchies and Ate Their Friends
The Shipwrecked Crew of the Mé... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended in Cannibalism
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Méduse, or Medusa, was a French warship captained by Hugues Duroy de Chaumareys, an aristocrat with limited naval experience. In 1816, the warship ran aground on the Arguin Bank off of the African shore. Some survivors elected to stay aboard the ship, while the rest escaped onto five lifeboats and a makeshift raft. The boats promised to pull the raft, but after only a few minutes at sea, they cut the rope and left the raft stranded.

During the second night at sea, all hell broke loose on the raft. Some passengers got drunk on wine (the raft's only provisions, in addition to some "soggy biscuits") and 60 people were either killed or committed suicide. Twelve more days of depravity followed, in which passengers of the raft drank their own urine, dried human flesh to eat, and threw weak survivors overboard. Finally, the French ship Argus spotted the raft and saved the remaining 15 survivors.

Dinner at Sea for the Survivors of the Mignonette Consisted of Fresh Cabin Boy
Dinner at Sea for the Survivor... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended in Cannibalism
Photo: Tom Dudley/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Mignonette was an English yacht purchased by Australian lawyer John Henry Want in 1884. The inshore yacht, not meant for long voyages, had to be sailed from Southampton to the lawyer in Sydney. A four-man crew was assembled, consisting of Captain Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Edmund Brooks, and 17-year-old cabin boy Richard Parker. Just weeks after the crew set sail, a wave struck the Mignonette, washing away the windward fortification, forcing the crew to escape on a 13-foot lifeboat.

The crew survived for days on turnips, urine, and an unlucky turtle, but they were slowly wasting away. Tom Dudley introduced the idea of eating Parker, who was ill from drinking seawater. Brooks refused to participate while Dudley and Stevens held Parker down and sliced his jugular vein with a penknife. The three men immediately devoured Parker’s body; it kept them alive until the German sailing bark, Montezuma, found the men after 24 days at sea.

Most People Eat Ham for Christmas Dinner, Sailors on the Nottingham Ate Human
Most People Eat Ham for Christ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended in Cannibalism
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

During a winter storm in December 1710, the Nottingham Galley crashed into Boon Island, located in the Gulf of Maine. The 13 surviving crew members took refuge under a piece of canvas sail and clung to life by eating rations from the Galley that had washed ashore. However, without winter clothing and the means to make fire, the men were slowly dying from exposure to the frigid conditions.

In the days before their rescue, the desperate men resorted to eating the corpse of the ship’s carpenter in order to survive. They disemboweled him and cut his flesh into strips before consuming it. After 24 days on the island, help finally arrived to rescue the 10 remaining men.

Sir John Franklin Had a Frozen Dinner Fit for a Cannibal
Sir John Franklin Had a Frozen... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended in Cannibalism
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Sir John Franklin departed England on his fourth Arctic exploration voyage in 1845. Two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror were set to explore the last unnavigated section of the Northwest Passage. They departed, and then neither ship - nor the 129 men onboard - were ever heard from again.

Over the years, archaeologists, explorers, and Inuit collaborated to piece together a story of what happened. The ships likely became stuck in ice and the crew was forced to find supplies on land. Some men died of hypothermia and scurvy, and the Inuit claimed to have witnessed the men participating in cannibalism. Archaeologists who studied the bones of the men supported these stories: The men's bones were broken and covered in knife marks and also showed signs of being heated up, presumably to extract the bone marrow.