The Hunger games of the 19th century-THE QUEEN v. DUDLEY AND STEPHENS’s case

This article will not serve as an interest for those of you who want to know the law side of the case ,but only it will serve as a moral judgement of the murder itself.

First of all ,I would like to represent a brief description of the case.

“On July 5,1884, the prisoners, Thomas Dudley and Edward Stephens, with one

Brooks, all able-bodied English seamen, and the deceased also an English boy, between seventeen and eighteen years of age, the crew of an English yacht, a registered English vessel, were cast away in a storm on the high seas 1600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, and were compelled to put into an open boat belonging to the said yacht. That in this boat they had no supply of water and no supply of food, except two 1 lb. tins of turnips, and for three days they had nothing else to subsist upon. That on the fourth day they caught a small turtle, upon which they subsisted for a few days, and this was the only
food they had up to the twentieth day when the act now in question was committed. That on the twelfth day the remains the turtle were entirely consumed, and for the next eight days they had nothing to eat. That they had no fresh water, except such rain as they from time to time caught in their oilskin capes. That the boat was drifting on the ocean, and was probably more than 1000 miles away from land. That on the eighteenth day, when they
had been seven days without food and five without water, the prisoners spoke to Brooks as to what should be done if no succour came, and suggested that some one should be sacrificed to save the rest, but Brooks dissented, and the boy, to whom they were understood to refer, was not consulted. That on the 24th of July, the day before the act now in question, the prisoner Dudley proposed to Stephens and Brooks that lots should be cast who should be put to death to save the rest, but Brooks refused to consent, and it was not
put to the boy, and in point of fact there was no drawing of lots. That on that day the prisoners spoke of their having families, and suggested it would be better to kill the boy that their lives should be saved, and Dudley proposed that if there was no vessel in sight by the morrow morning, the boy should be killed. That next day, the 25th of July, no vessel appearing, Dudley told Brooks that he had better go and have a sleep, and made signs to Stephens and Brooks that the boy had better be killed. The prisoner Stephens agreed to the act, but Brooks dissented from it. That the boy was then lying at the bottom of the boat quite helpless, and extremely weakened by famine and by drinking sea water,
and unable to make any resistance, nor did he ever assent to his being killed. The prisoner Dudley offered a prayer asking forgiveness for them all if either of them should be tempted to commit a rash act, and that their souls might be saved. That Dudley, with the assent of Stephens, went to the boy, and telling him that his time was come, put a knife into his throat and killed him then and there; that the three men fed upon the body and blood of the boy for four days; that on the fourth day after the act had been committed the boat was picked up by a passing vessel, and the prisoners were rescued, still alive, but in the lowest state of prostration. That they were carried to the port of Falmouth, and
committed for trial at Exeter. That if the men had not fed upon the body of the boy they would probably not have survived to be so picked up and rescued, but would within the four days have died of famine. That the boy, being in a much weaker condition, was likely to have died before them. That at the time of the act in question there was no sail in sight,nor any reasonable prospect of relief. That under these circumstances there appeared to
the prisoners every probability that unless they then fed or very soon fed upon the boy or one of themselves they would die of starvation. That there was no appreciable chance of saving life except by killing some one for the others to eat. That assuming any necessity to kill anybody, there was no greater necessity for killing the boy than any of the other three men.” But whether upon the whole matter by the jurors found the killing of Richard Parker
by Dudley and Stephens be felony and murder the jurors are ignorant, and pray the advice of the Court thereupon, and if upon the whole matter the Court shall be of opinion that the killing of Richard Parker be felony and murder, then the jurors say that Dudley and Stephens were each guilty of felony and murder as alleged in the indictment.”

Such a lovely story,doesn’t  it? The question we will try to find answers to is whether the action of the murder of the young boy is justifiable or not.

Let’s first consider the consequence or more specifically the lack of food and water for seven days and nights after the catching of the turtle. Medically speaking, you could go up to eight weeks without food if you consume water (badly they didn’t have any water,only the ocean). As a matter of fact,if you have a slow metabolism ,you might starve far more longer due to your extra body fat.There are several symptoms which appear when you don’t consume food : weakness,confusion,irritability,bad decision making ,immune deficiency and the following if you ‘re put into starvation for a long time : hallicunations,muscle spasm and irregular heartbeat. Far more problematic in this case is the water shortage and more specifically the complete lack of it. It’s widely known that without water our body couldn’t work properly ,the main risk is that without it  your body temperature will continue to rise and you probably suffer from heat stroke. According to many people ,we could survive without water for 5 days plus or minus depending on the situation and the person’s health condition.For instance, a Japanese hiker survived for 24 days in cold weather without food and water in October 2006, that’s almost a month which is considerably impressive. In our case, the four survivors were in quite cold weather in the middle of the ocean and they presumably could have avoided the murder of the young boy, but neither had they had scientific knowledge or rational thinking regarding the situation to do so. I’ve mentioned the consequence of both water and food supplies just to make my argument more clear : they had a great change of surviving without the act of murder.

Let’s take a look at the profile of these three of the passengers in the story. We have two prisoners (Thomas Dudley and Edward Stephens) and one of the ship’s crew (Brooks). The crimes that both prisoners had done were not mentioned with the vague assumption we could suspect that they were not the most honourable men on the Earth.Well, my point is that once becoming a criminal, your moral boundaries become lower and you’re more inclined to commit another type of crime. (Every man for himself.) Therefore, it’s not surprising the fact that one of them (Dudley) proposed the idea of a lottery , sacrificing one of them in the sake of the others.According to the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham and the idea of utilitarianism ,this type of action is justifiably one. However , neither Stephens or Brooks agreed to the idea which could help us understand their moral values.

Then there was a conversation about the families of our survivors and it had been made clear that all of them had dependents except the boy, which was another reason why he had to be sacrificed in the name of their lives. Some people consider this factor as a justification of the murder and accept it as a morally right thing to do. Indeed,this is a fair point ,but what about the young boy who just had an unfortunate chance of crashing at his first voyage. The fact that he had no family or relatives gives us a reason to take his life so easily and deprive him of the chance of making a family and live happily some day.I don’t think so!

Oh,but he was sick ,he could have died anyway ,some of you might say. But still the chance of healing him after rescuing all of the people in the boat exists.It’s is morally unacceptable to take someone’s life without good reason and quite good reason doesn’t exist.

Indeed, Jeremy Bentham might not have agreed with me,but I don’t agree with him,too.According to him , during our life we are prisoners to two masters : pain and pleasure and the principle of utility means  maximizing the pleasure in life ,regarding the greatest good of the majority of the people. I don’t doubt that our survivors were in agony and pain ,but what kind of pain they endured to think about murdering someone.What if the people were 10 or 100 and killing only one could save the others ,now it’s still unjustifiable.

We could argue all day about that case ,but the truth is that it’s not easy to put ourselves in someone’s shoes,we could only make deductions about our possible reactions in such a case,but we couldn’t be 100 % sure what might happen. There is a proverb : “Put someone in a dangerous situation and you could easily define their limits” .images



  1. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought
    this post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly
    you’re going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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