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In 1884, Captain Tom Dudley and his three-man crew were faced with just such a predicament. Dudley and his men were aboard the Mignonette, a small yacht they were delivering from England to Australia. Hit by a rogue wave in a storm, the Mignonette sank, leaving the four men in a 13-foot dinghy with two pounds of turnips and little else--no other food and no water--in the middle of the Atlantic. After nearly two weeks, Dudley announced they would have to resort to "the custom of the sea": drawing lots to decide who would be sacrificed and eaten to save the others. Two crewmen argued against lots, pointing out that the young cabin boy, Richard Parker, was delirious and on the verge of death. Dudley refused to kill the boy, and a few more days passed. Finally, on the 19th day adrift, Dudley killed young Parker while his crew watched. Three days later, the three survivors were rescued. Upon their return to England the three men were arrested and charged with murder.
Neil Hanson tells the story of the Mignonette and its crew in Custom of the Sea. At its best, the book reads like an adventure story along the lines of The Perfect Storm or Endurance. The story lags a bit when the survivors get entangled in the Victorian court and penal system--which is understandably a bit less gripping than the shipwreck and its ensuing survival cannibalism. It does, however, provide a fascinating window into the legal system and the power of the press in influencing public opinion.
Captain Simonsen of the Moctezuma, having rescued the Mignonette survivors, realized what they had done and tried to comfort Dudley by saying, "Desperate straits require desperate measures." Custom of the Sea does an excellent job of putting readers in a position to wonder if they too would take such desperate measures. --Sunny Delaney
"The Custom of the Sea" is a fascinating story of a shipwreck and the necessity to take the ultimate step to survive. Read morePublished 7 months ago by mwreview
Neil Hanson does a good job describing the village life of the sailors on THE MIGNONETTE, the doomed sailing yacht. Read morePublished on July 12, 2010 by Scot Bedford
I loved the book and read it from cover to cover in just 2 days. I thought the depiction of the characters were great and the real dilema challenging. Read morePublished on December 10, 2009 by Kenneth P. Holmes
If you are an Anglophile, you will treasure this book for the tidbits of social history , as well as the adventure story. Read morePublished on August 10, 2003 by Violetta
I found this to be an extremely well written account of a compelling story. A difficult book to put down. If you enjoy adventure reading you will love this book.Published on May 30, 2003
The Custom of the Sea is a rather macabre yet fascinating tale of human survival and legal chicanery. Read morePublished on March 5, 2003 by Daniel Jolley
Hanson has spun a very interesting, compelling and thought provoking story into a boring yarn. The book simply reads like a novel (rather than history) written by a college... Read morePublished on September 7, 2001
This is a troubling story about a group of men that have to deceide what their morals are really made of. Read morePublished on September 5, 2001 by Michael Schoene