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The Sad Tale of Richard Parker

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Cheryl Butler

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The Sad Tale of Richard Parker

Richard Parker was a member of my family who had the misfortune to take his first sea voyage as cabin boy on the yacht Migonette bound for Austalia at the end of the nineteenth century. The yacht foundered and the four crew men found themselves adrift on a small boat with no food and water. Things became so desperate that they decided the only hope for survival was to kill and eat one of their number. That fate fell to Richard Parker. Days later the remaining crew were picked up. They made no secret that they had followed the 'custom of the sea' but on their return home they found themselves on trial, not for cannibalism but because Parker had been under-age and the responsibility of the captain it was judged he should not have been included in the lottery that resulted in his death. The trial set a legal precedent that is still studied by students of law today. These are the facts that are explored in The Sad Tale of Richard Parker which uses family memories, court records and a specially commissioned folk ballad to dramatise Richard's short life and the aftermath of his death.

(enter Geoff as Capt Jack Matthews, verse 'when we set sail' pacing up and down)

Matthews: Dickey? Dickey? is that you lad?

Parker: Aye, aye Captain Jack!

Matthews: Aye aye Captain Jack? Have you been drinking lad?

Parker: No sir, sorry sir, I'm just excited.

Matthews: well calm yourself lad, I need to have a serious chat with you.

Parker: Serious?

Matthews: Mrs Matthews is concerned for you Dickey.

Parker: Why? what have I done?

Matthews: Its not what you have done Dickey but what you want to do.

Parker: I don't understand

Matthews: I think perhaps you do. Lad you know Mrs Matthews and I have tried to look out for you since your poor father passed

Parker: yes sir you and Mrs Matthews have been very good to me sir, taking me in and all.

Matthews: And we were happy to do it, Daniel Parker was a fine man, a fine skipper and a fine cricketer.

Parker: yes sir, and I would like to be like him

Matthews: ~So I hear. Look at me Dickey. Mrs Matthews tells me you want to sign up on the Mignonette.

Parker: She's a grand yacht sir, bound for Australia, I could be a made man sir, they are looking for a cabin boy and the skipper Capt Dudley has said he will take me on sir.

Matthews: That's as maybe Dickey, but you know I'm an experienced skipper

Parker: yes sir.

Read the full extract here.