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Cannibalism, Songs & the Custom of the Sea

This event is in the past. This is an archive page for reference.

The Custom of the Sea, which was widely recognised until the late 19th century, gave sailors a final hope of surviving shipwrecks: according to the custom, when all other options were exhausted, it was permitted to draw lots and eat one of the survivors.

This practice declined (but never quite vanished) with improved maritime safety, an imposed legal obligation to rescue shipwreck survivors, and an English test case that outlawed killing cabin boys for food.

Paul Cowdell will talk about the custom, how and why survival cannibalism was practised, and why it declined.

He will illustrate this with lurid lines from Byron, Thackeray, Poe and Gilbert, as well as terrible and alarming historical incidents (the crew of the Francis Spaight waved the dismembered cabin boy's hands and feet to attract attention), and serious and rather less serious songs in various languages.


The Old King's Head
Kings Head Yard, 45-49 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1NA
infowhat's on @map


This event is in the past. This is an archive page for reference.
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