Plight of the shipwrecked cannibals


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Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,

And the mate of the Nancy brig,

And a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite

And the crew of the captain’s gig.

The elderly naval man in W.S. Gilbert’s Yarn of the Nancy Bell, who survived by dining on his mates, was fictional, but survivors of another brig, the George, were not, according the following item from the British Colonist, Stanstead, Quebec, May 22, 1823.

The brig George, Capt. John M’Alpin, sailed from Quebec with a cargo of timber, for Greenock [Scotland], on the 12th of September, with a crew consisting of nine persons, besides three passengers.

Early in the morning of the 6th Oct. she was overtaken by a violent storm, which continued without intermission during the day; towards sunset the gale increased, and the vessel became quite unmanageable. At two o’clock the following morning a tremendous sea broke over her, and swept away three of her best hands, with the companion, binnacle, a cable and boom, and greatly damaged the hull; all hands were called to the pumps, but only three were able to render any assistance, nothing then remained but to endeavour to gain the main-top, which with immense difficulty they accomplished, carrying with them one bag of bread, about eight pounds of cheese, two dozen of wine, with a small quantity of brandy and rum.

Before they had time to secure themselves in their perilous situation, the vessel fell on her beam-ends; but within half an hour the hatches blew up and she again righted. Their scanty store were now examined, when, to their utter dismay, all had been washed away except the bag of bread.

At this period a distressing scene occurred in the midst of their afflictions: one of the passengers had his wife on board, and a child fifteen months old, which he carried in his arms; the infant, however, he was compelled to abandon to the merciless waves in the view of its distracted mother!

The mainsail was now let down to screen them from the severity of the weather, which continued tempestuous until Friday, the 11th, when they were able once more to go upon deck.

Their thirst had now become excessive, and nothing but salt water to be procured. Having found the carpenter’s axe, they cut a hole in the deck, near to where a water-cask had been stowed; but, alas! the cask had been stove, and nothing was to be found for support or convenience, but an empty pump-can, which they carried with them to the main top.

That night the female passenger became insensible, and next day, on Saturday, the 12th, she died. This poor woman, whose name was Joyce Rea, came with her husband from between Belfast and Larne, in Ireland.

The unhappy survivors were now reduced by raging thirst, to support nature by sucking the blood of their deceased companion, and shocking to relate the miserable husband was necessitated to partake of the unnatural and horrid beverage. Their sufferings, however, met with little allay from this temporary but dreadful relief; they were now assailed by the most acute and ungovernable hunger; and to preserve existence were compelled to distribute the flesh of the deceased among the famishing survivors!


While in the very scene of suffering, a ship hove in view; but this joyful sight was of short duration, for it being nearly dark, they remained unperceived by the vessel which continued her own course, and was soon out of reach.

These fresh misfortunes threw them into greater despair than they had yet experienced. From this time to the 23d the following died:—John Lamond, a boy; John M’Key, carpenter; George M’Dowell, passenger; Colin M’Kechmie, and the Steward, Gilbert M’Gilvary. Part of the flesh of those wretched sufferers was also devoured like that of the woman.

The whole number was now reduced to the Captain and one of the seamen, who, by the help of the mainsail, and the can already mentioned, contrived to supply themselves with water till the 14th November (having been thirty-eight days on the wreck), when they were providentially discovered by Captain Hudson, of the Saltom, of Carlisle; but they were yet fated to suffer another ship wreck, though of minor importance.

On Tuesday, the 10th, instant this vessel, whilst riding off Beckfoot, on the Cumberland coast, it blowing a gale, broke her chain cable, when she drifted too near to Maryborough, and was considerably damaged, but all hands were saved, including the two unfortunate sufferers who arrived at Annen [on the west coast of Scotland] on Wednesday evening last and, what is very remarkable, apparently in good health.

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 0014


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