Sunday 13 February 2011

Richard Parker

 In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit that this post was inspired by the following article: Six Insane Coincidences You Won’t Believe Actually Happened. You only have to read #6, as that’s the only one to deal with Dicks.
If your name is Richard Parker, you should never go anywhere near the ocean. Richard Parkers have been stuffed into Davy Jones’ locker more frequently than the geeky kid in middle school. In fact, there is an entire Wikipedia article entitled “Richard Parker (shipwrecked).” You can read it by clicking on the link provided. Alternatively, just read the paragraphs below because I have ransacked that entry like a pirate.
Apparently Edgar Allan Poe got this ball rolling in his only novel-length work, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838).  Since, according to the abovementioned Cracked article, this novel contains a character named Richard, I knew I had to read.  And so, since I will go to great lengths to learn about Dicks (and I could get a copy for free on my Kindle), I read this illustrious novel.  Or, perhaps I should say, I read a portion of this truly wretched piece of work.  Even Poe agreed this book sucked, so I should have known better.  Anyway, I read up to chapter fourteen, and once Richard Parker had been murdered and eaten I jumped ship.
Following Poe’s lead, a few real Richard Parkers decided to get in on the whole “dying-at-sea” act. Apprentice Richard Parker was among twenty-one drowning victims when the ship Francis Spaight went belly-up in 1846. That kid got off easy, though. In 1884, cabin boy Richard Parker, one of four survivors from the sunken yacht Mignonette, was murdered and eaten by the remaining crew members. According to the survivors’ accounts, Parker was already ill, possibly in a coma, which probably made the decision to kill him that much easier. A crew member named Dudley stabbed Parker in the jugular, and the three surviving men feasted on his body and drank his blood.
This act led to the exciting case R v Dudley and Stephens (full case name Her Majesty The Queen v. Tom Dudley and Edwin Stephens) after the three survivors returned to shore. They admitted they had killed and eaten Parker, believing themselves protected by the custom of the sea, in which necessity [trying not to die] would excuse murder [killing a human for food]. Some land-lubbers disagreed and the case was brought to trial. Public opinion was generally supportive of the survivors, although it later dissipated when the court found the two guilty (ahh, the public – fickle as usual!). While Dudley and Stephens were convicted, establishing that necessity was not an excuse for murder, their death sentence was reduced to six months in prison.*

*The third survivor, who did not help murder Parker, was cut loose and turned into a witness for the prosecution.

Richard Parker has appeared in other places as well.  Apparently, the novel Life of Pi features a shipwrecked tiger named Richard Parker (guess I better add that book to my reading list).  For readers of a less literary nature, Richard Parker is also the father of Peter Parker, a.k.a Spiderman (this is not enough to convince me to read Spiderman comics, however).
There are, of course, a bunch of other guys named Richard Parker who have not perished in shipwrecks or been cannibalized. They include a mathematician, an Egyptologist, an economist, an architect, a jurist, a diplomat, and a sailor. Yes, a sailor. Even when not being murdered at sea, Richard Parkers are still causing trouble on the waves, as sailor Richard Parker was the leader of a mutiny. Clearly, Richard Parkers and water do not mix!

For more information, I can only direct you to Wikipedia. Try these links:

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