Poe, Pym, and poor Richard Parker

Edgar Allan Poe published his only novel in 1838, entitled The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The plot involves shipwrecked men drawing lots to determine which of them should be eaten so that the other three can survive. In the story, the man who proposes the notion, named Richard Parker, is the man selected by chance and consumed by the others. Forty six years later, in 1884, an Australian lawyer bought a yacht in England and hired a crew of four to sail it home. The ship capsized en route and the crew drifted for nearly three weeks in a lifeboat before proposing to draw lots exactly as in Poe’s story. Testimony differed as to whether everyone agreed to the plan but in the end the cabin boy was killed and eaten. His name? Richard Parker. The resulting trial of the three survivors set the precedent in British law that necessity is not a valid reason for murder.