Regina v. Dudley and Stephens

4 Sep

So, a while back I mentioned a case that I was reading for the first week of law school, called Regina v. Dudley and Stephens. As it turns out, this is a very famous, and very cool case. You should know about it, and since you don’t, it is my fiduciary duty* to educate our esteemed imaginary readership.

Four seamen (stifled laugh) are stranded at sea in a small rowboat. This adrift quartet is without food and water, save two small tin cans of turnips (tough break, really), and they have been floating about for nineteen days. They are all slowly starving to death. Two of the men Dudley and Stephens decide that it is a worthwhile idea to eat someone to survive. The third, Brooks, agrees. The fourth, a young cabin boy, is not consulted. The cabin boy is dying at a more rapid pace than the others, having drank a moderate portion of seawater, and it is not suspected that he will last more than another two days. On the twentieth day, Dudley and Stephens decide that it would be best to kill the young boy, since he does not have a family to go home to. Brooks, the third, dissents. Dudley and Stephens approach the boy, who is lying helpless and weak in the bottom of the boat, and bludgeon him to death. Thereafter, the remaining three feed on cabin boy’s remains. A boat rescues them four days later.

Dudley and Stephens are charged with murder of the cabin boy. Testimony at trial shows that the boy would have died before the others and that if they had not eaten him, it is likely that they would not have survived until the twenty-fourth day when rescued.

The Queen’s Bench (equivalent of an appellate court in Britain) found Dudley and Stephens guilty of murder and sentenced them to be hanged.

The question of law: is necessity to survive a defense for murder?

Nope. It isn’t.

Take that as you will, and feel free to leave your imaginary thoughts (redundant?), but that is only tangential to the real odd thing that resulted from this case: an extraordinary coincidence.

In 1838, Edgar Allen Poe published his only complete novel, called The Narrative of Arthur Gorden Pym of Nantucket. In that novel, Poe wrote about four seamen (huh huh) who are stranded at sea and have to kill one of the four for food. The name of the person sacrificed in the novel is Richard Parker.

The Regina v. Dudley and Stephens incident happened 1884, almost half a century after the publication of Poe’s novel. And the name of the cabin boy who was sacrificed? Richard Parker.

Weird, right?

*It’s not really my fiduciary duty. But the word fiduciary sounds really cool, so I’m staying with it.

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