On June 2, 1816 The French frigate Meduse ran aground 30 miles off the shore of Senegal in West Africa. During a botched attempt at unloading the ships cargo in order to set her right 146 men and women were moved to a makeshift raft, there not being boats enough to bring all ashore. A gale blew up pulling the raft away from the floundering ship into open water. It drifted in stormy seas for 15 days. During that time passengers fought constantly; first for a safe position on the ever heaving craft, then for food, then for water. When it was rescued only 67 souls remained, the rest had been washed away or killed and cannibalized. I have seen what I was told to be a faithful reproduction of the famous painting the tragedy inspired. A work of horror, survivors grasp at the bare timbers of the raft while the sea pitches a torrent around them, still, reality could not have been so pleasant.
The Francis Mary, a 398 ton merchant ship en route from Canada to Liverpool went mast over in a storm on February 1, 1826. The ship drifted on its side for 22 days, being slowly torn apart by the ceaseless storm-driven waters. The 14 survivors, including two women, clung to the wreck. After ten days the stores of food ran out, two days after that the first of the survivors died. When they were rescued on March 7 by the HMS Captain Blonde the lieutenant in charge of the operation questioned how it was they had fresh meat aboard. 'No sir, tis part of a man. One of our unfortunate crew' he was told. Later reports told of how Anne Saunders one of the female survivors had butchered her fiance after he had died of dehydration and claimed her right as the betrothed to drink his blood.
In May of the same year, The General Brock was run down by another brig on its way to Gaspe, on the wild coast of Canada. 8 crew members survived for 12 days in an open boat with no provisions by drinking the blood and eating the meat from the bodies of those that had died of exposure, dehydration, and hunger.
Dec. 5, 1830 The Quixote sailing for Liverpool was pooped by hurricane force winds. 5 days later the survivors began eating a dead crew member they had lashed to the wreck. Only the Mate and second Mate survived to be rescued.
Most famous in this part of the world is the story of one of our own. On Nov. 20, 1820 The whaleboat Essex was struck and sunk by an enraged sperm whale. She went masts under in less than an hour. The crew split up into 3 lifeboats and set off for the far coast of South America over 3,000 miles away. They navigated open waters for four months. Stopping in on unknown islands for as long as they dared to provision themselves with what little amounts of food and fresh water there was to be found on those almost barren atolls of dead coral. Storms separated the boats and the men became weaker as time drew on while they drifted in the great emptiness of the Pacific. The first man to be eaten was Lawson Chase who died of hunger. The crew deliberated over the act but necessity won the day and they ate his heart first. From then on those who died were immediately pieced out for food and when the last of the dying passed the living drew lots voluntarily. In March two of the surviving boats were rescued off the shores of Chile. In the first, squatting at opposite ends of that boat, each guarding a hoard of human bones from which they had sucked the marrow clean was two men; nearly reduced to animals after their ordeal at sea. One of them my own Uncle, Owen Chase.
This is only a short recounting of more than 20 like yarns I know by heart, all of which having occurred in this century. Surely these are a mere smattering of incidents that occur among the world's navies. This is the custom of the sea which every sailor knows. It doubtlessly has been going on for as long as men have taken to exploring the great oceans. There is no law that forbids, in times of dire need, survival cannibalism and even the word of god as taken from the bible vacillates on eating the flesh of men but we who never ship are steadfast that to eat human flesh is the worst type of crime and an unpardonable sin.