The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


Memorial 11. Richard Parker Memorial, Pear Tree Churchyard, Woolston

In the Woolston area of Southampton, not far from the Itchen Ferry, is the Pear Tree church. It dates from 1618 and was the first Anglican church built since the Reformation. The large churchyard contains many graves and memorials commemorating Southampton worthies.

The most unusual and interesting memorial relates to the sad story of Richard Parker, a young Southampton cabin boy who in 1884 suffered the misfortune of being killed and eaten by three of his shipmates. The inscription on the tomb slab reads as follows;

‘Sacred to the memory of Richard Parker, aged 17, who died at sea July 25th 1884 after nineteen days dreadful suffering in an open boat in the tropics having been wrecked in the yacht Mignonette.’

Though he slay me yet will I trust in Him. Job 15 v 15

Lay not this sin to their charge. Acts vii 6

A second inscription gives further information.

Richard Parker was killed and eaten by Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens to prevent starvation.

Regina versus Dudley and Stephens (1884) established the precedent that necessity is no defence against a charge of murder.

Richard Parker was in fact a 17 year old cabin boy on the racing yacht Mignonette which was sailing from Southampton to Australia. All went well until the yacht rounded the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean and ran into a severe storm. Pounded by heavy seas the yacht sank. The captain Tom Dudley, mate Edwin Stephens, crewman Ned Brooks and Parker scrambled into a dinghy. They drifted aimlessly for 19 days with little water and only 2 cans of turnips to eat. Richard Parker had foolishly drunk sea water and seemed close to death. The captain Tom Dudley suggested drawing lots so that one could be sacrificed and eaten. Stephens and Brooks disagreed saying “We had better die together”. The following night saw Parker gasping for breath whereupon Dudley said to Stephens “What is to be done? I believe the boy is dying. You have a wife and five children, I have a wife and three children.” They then decided that if no ship was sighted the next day and no rain fell they would put Parker out of his misery.

By nothing was seen so after offering a prayer that God would forgive them Dudley knelt down besides Parker saying “Now Dick my boy, your time has come.” He murmured “What, me Sir?” and Dudley put the penknife in his throat and he was dead instantly.

The others then gorged on his body and drank his blood thus saving their lives. Five days later they were spotted and rescued by the German barque Moctzuma. Weeks later they were landed at Falmouth. The facts relating to Parker’s death emerged. All three survivors were arrested and charged with murder.

Ned Brooks, a Royal Navy reservist, who had opposed the killing turned Queens Evidence. Dudley and Stephens claimed the murder was committed under duress and there was no alternative but both men were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. There was much public sympathy for the two men and on appeal the death sentence was overturned and they were only jailed for 6 months. Dudley later emigrated to Australia dying there of bubonic plague in 1894, Stephens returned to the sea eventually dying, aged 66 in Hull whilst Brooks died in 1919 in Southampton Parish Infirmary.

John Symonds

Winter Edition 2013

The Richard Parker Memorial