Unspeakable Times

9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended in Cannibalism  

Chase Christy
51.1k views 9 items

Humans have been sailing - and sinking - ships since before Christ. Oftentimes, shipwrecks end in the crew being swiftly carried off to their deaths at the hands of the unforgiving seas. But sometimes the crew survives and the rations they packed are with the sunken vessel. In these cases, they might have to resort to cannibalism. This list has all the grisly details.

The Shipwrecked Crew of the Méduse 
The Shipwrecked Crew of ... 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. Of the 400 people on the ship, some elected to stay aboard, while the rest escaped onto lifeboats and a large makeshift raft. The lifeboats had 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 provision, in addition to some "soggy biscuits") and 60 people were either killed or committed suicide. Over 13 days of depravity, passengers of the raft drank their own urine, ate human flesh, starved, became ill, and threw weak survivors overboard. Finally, the French ship Argus spotted the raft and saved the remaining 15 survivors, though five of these died shortly after rescue.

Dinner at Sea for the Survivors of the Mignonette 
Dinner at Sea for the Su... 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 lawyer Jack Want in 1884, to be sailed from Essex to Sydney. A four-man crew was assembled, consisting of Captain Tom Dudley, Edwin Stephens, Ned Brooks, and 17-year-old Richard Parker. Just weeks after the crew set sail, a wave struck the Mignonette, washing away the windward fortification, causing the ship to rapidly sink and forcing the crew to escape onto a 13-foot dinghy. They were unable to bring any fresh water or food with them, beyond two tins of turnips.

The crew survived for days on turnips, urine, and an unlucky turtle, but they were becoming desperate. Tom Dudley introduced the idea of killing and eating Parker, who had become ill from drinking seawater. Stephens and Brooks agreed to it, though Brooks refused to participate. The three men devoured Parker’s body; it kept them alive for weeks until the German sailing barque, Moctezuma, found the men after 24 days at sea.

Sailors from the Nottingham at Christmas
Sailors from the Notting... 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 near the coast of York, Maine. The 14 surviving crew members took refuge on the desolate island, eating a seagull raw. When the ship's cook died, they pushed his body into the sea. By Christmas, two weeks had passed, and the 13 survivors sheltered from the cold under a piece of canvas sail, subsisting on bits of cheese that had floated ashore from the shipwreck and some fresh water. However, without winter clothing and the means to make fire, the men were near 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. The captain, who had trained as a butcher, beheaded and disemboweled him then cut his flesh into strips before giving it to the crew. After 24 days on the island, help finally arrived to rescue the remaining men.

Sir John Franklin and the Terror 
Sir John Franklin and th... 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 Northwest Passage. They departed, and then neither ship - nor the 128 men aboard - were heard from again, until the wreckage of one of the vessels washed up in the Candian arctic in 2014.

Over the years, experts have been able to piece together a story of what happened. The ships likely became stuck in ice and though the crew had supplies onboard, they left to search the frozen land of King William Island for a trading post. Some men may have died of hypothermia, but most probably died of starvation. The Inuit claimed to have witnessed signs of cannibalism, such as piles of broken human bones. Anthropologists who studied the bones found on the island 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.