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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Legal History at its best, 22 Jan. 2012
Samuel Romilly (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Cannibalism and the Common Law: The Story of the Tragic Last Voyage of the Mignonette and the Strange Legal Proceedings to Which it Gave Rise (King Penguin) (Paperback)
When Dudley and Stevens arrived back in England, the sole survivors of a shipwreck, they were asked how they had done it. 'Well', they replied nonchalantly, 'we ate the cabin boy of course'. Such had always been the custom of the sea and such the role of cabin boys, fresh at least, if a little skinny on the bone. The marriners, highly respectable and decent men, had nothing to be ashamed of and were much bemused aswell as put out to be tried for, and convicted of, murder. They had, it seems, not merely eaten the cabin boy but killed him as well. Their case is still the authority on necessity. It is no defence to murder. At sea the custom had long been different, better that one, the weakest, the youngest (women and children first takes on a rather different meaning)or those with no dependants, should be sacrificed than that all be lost.

The stance of Dudley and Stevens was not unusual. Their fankness was. They paid dear for it, when the common practice of the sea clashed with the Common Law. They lost; their conviction was upheld; but their sentence at least was commuted from death to six months imprisonment. Law and mercy both triumphed.

The author here portrays this macabre and important case in all its fascinating detail, as well as giving lengthy treatment to the law and custom of the sea. It is the sort of book all lawyers would have liked to have written, and all lawyers should read. But so should others. It is well written and interesting, even to the non lawyer, as a Victorian curio.
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