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The Custom of the Sea
Cast adrift in a tiny boat on a vast and desolate ocean, faced with almost certain death, what would you do to survive? This is the agonizing question that lies at the heart of the gripping true drama of The Custom of the Sea. On May 19, 1884, the yacht Mignonette set sail from Southampton, England, bound for Sydney, Australia. Halfway through the...
Cast adrift in a tiny boat on a vast and desolate ocean, faced with almost certain death, what would you do to survive? This is the agonizing question that lies at the heart of the gripping true drama of The Custom of the Sea. On May 19, 1884, the yacht Mignonette set sail from Southampton, England, bound for Sydney, Australia. Halfway through the 12,000-mile voyage, Captain Tom Dudley and his three- member crew were beset by a monstrous storm off the coast of West Africa. After four terrifying days battling towering waves and hurricane-force gales, the Mignonette was sunk by a massive forty-foot "freak" wave. Captain Dudley and his crew were cast adrift a thousand miles from the nearest land in a leaky thirteen-foot dinghy with only two small tins of turnips for food, no water, and no shelter from the scorching sun. After nineteen days, they were all near death, and Dudley determined that they must resort to the horrifying practice well known among seamen of the time called "the custom of the sea." While the others watched, the captain killed the weakest of them, the seventeen-year-old cabin boy, and his body was eaten. Five days later, the survivors were picked up by a passing ship, and although such cases of survival cannibalism were usually either hushed up or condoned as terrible but justified acts of desperation, in this case the men were arrested for murder. The sensational trial that followed kept a shocked public enthralled during the following winter, from the lowliest ship’s deckhand to Queen Victoria herself. In this riveting account, Neil Hanson re-creates with vivid detail the harrowing ordeal of the Mignonette’s crew. Drawing from newspaper accounts, personal letters and diaries, court proceedings, and first-person accounts of the principals, he has brilliantly pieced together their tragic story, a talerife with moral twists and turns that will draw you deeper and deeper into the drama of the men’s fate. Four shipwrecked sailors...one must die so the others might live. What should they do? A terrifying true-to-life account of peril on the high seas—and of the electrifying murder trial that shocked the world. Praise for THE CUSTOM OF THE SEA "Makes astonishing reading . . . extraordinary." —Times Literary Supplement (London) "An engrossing account."—The Sunday Times (London) "A terrific story. . . . A riveting read."—The Spectator (London) "Sensational."—Daily Telegraph (London)
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