Edgar Allan Poe Predicted Our Family Horrors!
Read at the bottom of this page some of the comments sent to Fortean Times as well as the peculiar events that always surround this story. Did a strange coincidence bring you to this page?
“Edgar Allan Poe predicted that one of my family would be eaten. The strange coincidences still haunt us.”
“There are few persons, even among the calmest thinkers, who have not occasionally been startled into a vague yet thrilling half-credence in the supernatural, by coincidences of so seemingly marvelous a character that, as mere coincidences, the intellect has been unable to receive them”. Edgar Allan Poe, The Viking Portable Poe
Strange Coincidences of the Castaways
Arthur Koestler was a famous writer and researcher. He bequeathed his fortune to found a chair for the study of the paranormal at Edinburgh University. In 1974 he offered a prize for the most extraordinary strange coincidences sent him. My cousin Nigel Parker won. But the weird story he unearthed was only the start of a run of peculiar events that have plagued our family ever since.
Dinner on 25 July 1884 will always be remembered in our family because of the unusual main course, my grandfather’s cousin, a 17-year-old cabin boy called Richard Parker.
Our family roots are in Woolston on Southampton Water. And, like many of my family before and after him, Richard ran away to sea. He boarded the Mignonette, a ship built on the Thames for an Australian millionaire who wanted to explore the Great Barrier Reef.
Captain Tom Dudley
The captain of the vessel, Tom Dudley, had trouble commissioning a crew for her long voyage, so to avoid delay her owner went on ahead by ocean liner. Later the Mignonette, with Edwin Stephens as mate and Edmund Brooks as hand, left Southampton, their last port-of-call, for the long haul to Australia.
It was Richard Parker’s first voyage on the high seas. Thomas Dudley was a sturdy and resourceful captain, Stephens and Brooks went about their duties efficiently but Richard had problems.
They were 1,600 miles from land when the South Atlantic hurricane broke. The Mignonette was hit by huge waves and sank. In the panic to board the lifeboats, the crew was unable to salvage any provisions or water except two small tins of turnips.
Nothing to Eat or Drink
The crew had very little to eat or drink for 19 days and became desperate. Richard Parker drunk sea water and became delirious. Captain Dudley considered drawing lots to choose a victim to feed the remaining crew. Brooks was against any killing whatsoever, Stephens was indecisive so the Captain decided to kill the boy as he was near to death and had no dependents.
They said some prayers over Richard’s sleeping body. Dudley shook then him by the shoulder and said: “Richard my boy, your time has come”. The three sailors dined and survived on Richard’s carcass for 35 days until rescued by the aptly named vessel S S Montezuma- named after the cannibal king of the Aztecs.
The resulting court case fascinated Victorian society and became the best-documented study of cannibalism in this country. Dudley, Stephens, and Brooks were each sentenced to six months hard labor and later emigrated.
And it gets more amazing…
But the story has a strange twist in its tail. Half a century before the grisly events, in 1837, Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This book tells of four shipwrecked men who, after many days’ privation, drew lots to decide who should be killed and eaten.
The cabin boy drew the short straw. His name was Richard Parker!
Arthur Koestler Strange Coincidence Investigations
My cousin Nigel Parker was the first to notice the link between the Poe story and actual events which Arthur Koestler published in The Sunday Times of 5 May 1974. The author of a book about strange coincidences tells how sometime after the news story, he casually mentioned it to John Beloff at the University of Edinburgh, who had, that day, written about it in his journal.
Nigel’s father, Keith, thought that Richard’s story would make an interesting theme for a radio play and began to plan a synopsis. At that time, to supplement his writer’s income, he reviewed books for Macmillan publishers. The first book to arrive through the post was The Sinking of the Mignonette. A few weeks later he was asked to review another play, among a collection of short plays, called The Raft. It was a comedy for children with nothing sinister about it at all, apart from the cover illustration. Three men seemed to threaten a young boy, which is completely out of keeping with the play’s tone. The Raft was written by someone called Richard Parker.
Impossible Coincidence with Spanish Students
In the summer of 1993, my parents took in three Spanish language students. My father told them about Richard Parker one evening over supper (probably in an attempt to keep the food bills down) The television was on in the background. All conversation stopped when a local programme started talking about the remarkable story. Dad went on to break the silence by saying how weird coincidences always occur whenever Richard’s tale is mentioned. He told them about Edgar Allan Poe.
Two of the girls went white. “Look what I bought today,” said one. She reached into her bag and pulled out a copy of the Edgar Allan Poe story. “So have I!” said the other girl. Both had gone shopping that day and independently bought the very same book containing the Richard Parker story. And as if events are trying to make my story totally unbelievable my father told the same story to his language the following year. Again one of the girls pulled a copy of the Poe book from out of her bag!
Last month I received a letter from a man who had read another article I wrote about Richard Parker. Immediately after he’d read it he gave professional advice to a friend, who was complaining about his employer. The employer he discovered had been researching his family tree and said to the person who wrote to me “Well, I reckon this riding roughshod over legal procedures is in his blood. This guy is into tracing his ancestors, and one of them was a sea captain Dudley who was done for eating a cabin boy and cheated at drawing lots….”
Copyright Craig Hamilton-Parker
Strange Coincidences at the Graveyard
Though He slays me yet I trust in Him. JOB 15
Lord lay not this sin to their charge ACTS 11.60
Although Richard Parker’s body was buried at sea, a headstone was erected in his memory at Pear Tree Churchyard near his birthplace in Woolston, Southampton. Captain Dudley is said to have paid a local family to keep the stone clean in perpetuity. They were so ashamed of accepting his legacy that they asked for their name to be kept secret. They would only clean the stone in the dead of night.
Thomas Dudley had left the legacy after emigrating to Sydney Australia where he set up chandlers. Locals knew him as Cannibal Tom. He died in an outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney in 1900. (Some sources claim that he was the first person to die of bubonic plague in Australasia.) He died at his home in Drummoyne on 24 February 1900, and his body was brought over by steamer to the Quarantine Station, where he was buried in the Third Quarantine Cemetery.
The coincidence of the Mignonette
They had trouble finding a crew because the repairs on the boat were bogged. The wood around the stern was rotten and was repaired using screws instead of the copper bolt.
The man who was called in to make the repairs objected but nonetheless did the job as instructed. He said later that he would carry his guilt to the grave. “I just wonder whether there isn’t some kind of debt to pay over the loss of Richard Parker, the death of Dudley (who was honest about the whole affair) and the guilt of the old boat builder,” says Barbara. “And I wonder what Dudley’s descendants feel and what did his children feel as they grew up surrounded by such a haunting story?”
(The Mignonette had a sister ship called the Peregrine)
Strange Coincidences is Copyright of Craig Hamilton-Parker
And it gets weirder still…
Strange Coincidence or Psychic Prediction?
Strange Coincidences Experiences mailed to me from people reading the article when I published it in the Fortean Times
In the early 1970s, The Sunday Times had asked readers to write in with their examples of coincidences. One historical example which several of them sent in was this –
“In 1838 Edgar Allan Poe published a book “The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket “. At one point in this novel, four men are adrift in a boat arid they kill and eat the cabin boy Richard Parker. Some 40 years later four desperate men were adrift in a boat and to survive they killed and ate the cabin boy whose name was Richard Parker.
When I told of this coincidence to two friends in 1982 I found their respective reactions interesting.”That gives me the willies! ( J.Tisdall.) “I would expect that to be better known if it were true.” (M.Stean.)
During 1984 I found myself becoming increasingly interested in the phenomenon of coincidence and decided to chase up this classic example.
Parker is a Loser
I went to a bookshop and bought Poe’s novel. On page 141 cabin boy Richard Parker proposes that he, Peters, Augustus and Arthur Gordon Pym (narrating in the first person ), who is by now the only surviving crew aboard The Grampus, should draw straws to see which one of them should be killed and eaten to provide sustenance for the others
This is done and poor Parker is the loser. Like Stean, I found it surprising that such a striking coincidence was not remarked upon more often. In the decade or so since I had read this in The Sunday Times I had not seen any reference to it
I bought the book in mid- November 1984. A couple of weeks later I turned up at Bedford railway station to catch the 9:50 AM. to London. I still say I was there with a few minutes to spare, but it appeared that this was one of the very few occasions in which a BR train had actually left early.
Accordingly, I had to catch the 10:20. In the carriage that I got into someone had discarded a Daily Telegraph. Under normal circumstances, this would never be my first choice of paper, and it had certainly been a good six months since I had looked at a copy.
On the diarist’s page (I think he is called Peterborough )I spotted this -(From The Daily Telegraph, December 1st, 1984.).
SOFT CELL My recent note About the last case of cannibalism to cause a ripple in English legal circles reminds the wildlife painter, David Shepherd, that some years ago he was browsing around Falmouth’s antique shops looking for an old oak door for his family home in Hascombe Godalming.
What Shepherd and his wife, Avril, came across was a door from a cell in Falmouth jail – the very door, Shepherd was told, that had closed on the two men accused of eating cabin boy, Richard Parker, in 1884.
Shepherd tells me that not only does the door still bear bars and a grill but that its main attraction was that it only cost £7 – and now guards nothing more offensive than the family junk.
One week later the family newspaper, The Guardian, was not delivered for some reason, probably a strike. In its place, we received The Daily Telegraph. In Peterborough’s column there was this:
Richard Parker would appear to be a name to avoid if one proposes going to sea. Not only were two of that name victim of maritime cannibalism- one a fictitious character by Edgar Allan POE and the other, a real-life victim aboard the Mignonette 100 years ago but evidence of other Parkers now crops up.
Brian Simpson, Professor of Law at the universities of Kent and Chicago, reminds me that Richard Parker was hanged for his role as ringleader of the Nore mutiny in 1797. Another Parker died when the Francis Speight – on board which a number of seamen had been eaten-foundered in 1846.
Such grisly anecdotes are the very spice of life to Simpson who has recently compiled some “fairly ghastly” examples of man-eating man for his book “Cannibalism and the Common Law”.
As I observe, it is not that powerful, particularly by comparison with the unbelievable example of the three Spanish girls in your father’s house all buying the book on the same day – the day, moreover, when there was a mention of this coincidence on the Television
My interest in the topic of coincidence rarely extends beyond my own examples. This one could count as the most improbable of which I have ever heard. I should be extremely grateful for more corroborative detail.
And there was the fact that you were playing chess on your computer when I, a grandmaster and former British champion, rang you- and I too had a computer screen full of chess writing in front of me at the time- for I was writing a chess book.
James Plaskett – East Sussex (James Flasket has since written a book about Coincidences)
Strange Coincidences is Copyright Craig Hamilton-Parker
Sunday Telegraph Responses
The article which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph of 27 October about the cabin boy who was eaten by the crew and your experiences of coincidence was very interesting.
I have to say that my husband and I do not normally buy a Sunday newspaper but my daughter and her friend were house-sitting for us while we were on holiday and the friend bought the Sunday Telegraph. I read it on Monday and immediately felt what a coincidence when I saw the article.
My husband and I were on holiday in Guernsey staying in the Duke of Normandie Hotel in St Peter Port. On Saturday, 26 October we were sitting at a table in the bar and on this table is carved into the wood the story of the shipwreck and the fate of the cabin boy. I was quite skeptical of this story and could hardly believe it when I read about it again in the following day’s Sunday Telegraph.
JANICE ROBERTSON- Loanhead Midlothian
I don’t know if you can print this, but I write the day after I received my subscription copy of FT with the tale of Richard Parker’s death by cannibalism and the coincidences which crop up whenever his name is mentioned.
Last night feeling a little under the weather, I read my FT from cover to cover, which is not my usual practice. Then I fell asleep. Also against my usual practice, I stayed in until past 11 AM whereupon I was roused by a phone call from a friend, asking me to help him compose a letter to his employer, Dudley’s, with whom he is in a dispute over the withholding of sick pay. After composing and mailing said letter we went along to a local advice center in order to find out exactly what the legal position was.
During the course of the interview, my pal was told that his employer. Terry Dudley was riding roughshod over accepted legal procedures. Then we went for coffee, and a discussion on the mindset of the boss classes ensued. “Well, I reckon this riding roughshod over legal procedures is in his blood,” said my friend. “This guy is into tracing his ancestors, and one of his ancestors was a sea captain who was done for eating a cabin boy without drawing lots…..”
My pal wasn’t an FT reader (though I reckon he will be now!) and the relevant issue of FT was not yet in the shops. I’m willing to bet this is not the only Richard Parker-based coincidence letter you receive.
As Terry Dudley must also be distantly related to the guy who ate the distant relative of Craig Hamilton-Parker, pass this on to him?
Carlton B Morgan – Newport, Gwent.
Weirdness at Falmouth
I am interested in the strange coincidences cannibalism incident (FT92) in your family’s history. Your account of the survivors’ stay here in Falmouth is very brief, so I looked up the microfilm copies of “Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser” (the local weekly paper) in the library here. The story was very fully reported in the 13/9/1884 edition, and the trial was followed almost every week to the end of the year. (I realize that you have probably seen this material already)
The local people were very interested in the case and sympathetic towards the accused. The men appeared before local magistrates on Monday after they landed when they were remanded in custody until the Thursday- rather to their surprise because they had planned to return to their homes! At the second hearing they were allowed home on bail (much of which was put up by Falmouth supporters)
The “Packet” reported: “During the (second) hearing of the case a seaman was painfully interested in the proceedings- Parker’s brother. He was dressed in the usual costume of a yachtsman, with the name ‘Marguerite’ sewed in red on the breast of his jersey. After the court was over, he came over to Captain Dudley to speak to him.
Dudley extended his hand, which Parker accepted. They only had a few words of conversation in regard to the wages of the deceased, which Dudley informed Parker was at the Customs House.” (Dudley’s previous command was the steam yacht ‘Myrtle’, so there was the SS ‘Montezuma’ and 3 yacht names with the initial ‘M’ connected to the case.)
The “Packet” also reported that the memorial headstone in Pear Tree Churchyard was paid for by Mr. Haskins, Engineer, of London. It was supposed to bear a copy of a photograph of Richard Parker by ‘the endolithic process’, but the picture in your article shows no sign of this. (The photo supposedly used was of Richard’s brother William at age 17, because of their strong resemblance)
I now live in Falmouth, but once lived in Brightlingsea (and later in Ipswich). This is the area where two of the survivors lived. At that time I worked as a professional yacht skipper myself, and sailed several times into Southampton- happily, I never had to dine off my crew!
R J DOWNHAM- Falmouth, Cornwall
Strange Stories Surround my Book
Hello Craig. Here is a strange coincidences story that is of of interest. This week I borrowed a copy of your book, The Psychic Casebook from my local library. I have found the book very absorbing with lots of interesting cases. The chapter on coincidences particularly caught my attention – the true story of the shipwrecked sailors of the Mignonette.
The coincidence is, that when I borrowed your book from the library, one of the books I took back, having read it last week was called ‘ The Custom of the Sea’. This is a new book about the wreck and survivors of the ship Mignonette.
Sent Friday, September 27, 2002, at 08:12:13 from Tom Gordon
Talking of coincidences. This morning I was discussing coincidences with my 11-year-old daughter who is off school for the day with flu, and not believing some of the examples I gave her, I suggested that we look on the Internet for other examples. Your story of Richard Parker who was eaten by cannibals came up and we read with interest. It refers to the fact that David Shepherd bought the door from Falmouth Jail which housed the real cannibals, for his house in Hascombe.
We have just moved from Hascombe where we have lived at Hoe Farm for the last 7 years, the previous weekend retreat of Winston Churchill, and knew David Shepherd’s house well as some friends of ours had purchased it recently. Needless to say, my daughter is not so skeptical now.
Life of Pi Connection
Sent Tuesday, June 10, 2033, by Julian Harrow
Have read Life of Pi by Yann Martel where a boy is shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger called – Richard Parker? Did the author know the story or is this yet another coincidence?
Strange coincidences article is Copyright Craig Hamilton-Parker
Arthur Gordon Pym
Sent by post 1 Nov 2003 From Sarah Monks – Hong Kong
It was a weekend in the early ’70s. I was reading the Sunday Morning Herald at the family breakfast table in Sydney and saw a re-run from The Sunday Times literary competition, in which someone (your cousin Nigel?) won the prize for submitting an entry on fiction pre-figuring fact.
At that very time, I was reading Edgar Allan Poe’s psychedelic Narrative of A. Gordon Pym. I had it near at hand and said to my mother “What a coincidence, this is such an obscure book!” She said an even bigger coincidence was in the trunk under the house.
It was a manuscript my father, Noel Monks, was working on at the time of his demise in 1960, when he lived in England. A war correspondent and journalist with the Daily Mail in London, he had submitted a synopsis to his publisher about The Strange Fate of the Barque Mignonette. On the inside cover, he noted that Edgar Allan Poe had foreshadowed the horrible demise of Richard Parker. His story was to be a psychological exploration of what happened on the life raft.
Arthur Koestler Prize
In your website, you mention that Arthur Koestler sponsored the 1974 prize your cousin Nigel won. I enclose a photocopy from my father’s book, Eyewitness (Frederick Muller Ltd, 1955) about an incident during the Spanish Civil war when he and another correspondent helped to save Arthur Koestler’s life.
Finally, you are probably aware that Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize) is about a shipwreck. One of the main characters is Richard Parker, only this time the tables are turned. He is a 450 pound Royal Bengal Tiger looking for his lunch! Yann Martel, to whom this is copied, was surely inspired by Edgar Alan Poe. If I’m not mistaken, there was a dog on A. Gordon Pym’s lifeboat. He was called Tiger…
Cannibalism of Pi Patel
Sent Saturday, August 06, 2005 at 00:18:28
Here’s a Richard Parker coincidence not mentioned in the article: The Francis Speight foundered at sea in 1846. There were deaths and cannibalism aboard. One of the victims was Richard Parker.
Here’s another one: In Yann Martel’s fablelike Life of Pi, 16-year-old Pi Patel (the son of a zookeeper) is trapped for 227 days on a 26-foot lifeboat with a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The latter doesn’t really count, though, as synchronicity, because Martel knew about cabin boy Richard Parker and the Poe tale.
I also use the Richard Parker story in my upcoming novel, Romancing the Raven, which explains how Poe learned about Richard Parker’s demise. The answer: time travel.
Please share your strange coincidences and psychic predictions experience below
CRAIG: I knew about the Life of Pi coincidence (see above)- Did Yann Martel, knew the Poe story? The Francis Speight story is also interesting. Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was published in 1838 and the Francis Speight floundered in 1846. Another prediction or strange synchronicity? Are these coincidences or are people getting psychic glimpses into the future? What do you think?