The Wreck of the Mignonette
In 1884, four men set sail for Australia from Southampton in a yacht called the Mignonette. They were aiming for Australia as gold was being mined there and rumours of money to be made were rife. After days at sea a storm blew up and a huge wave smashed into the side of the yacht and it immediately started to sink. They only had a few minutes to get into a small open boat. The four men found themselves lost in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
As the food ran out, it became clear that they were going to have to take drastic action to survive. The youngest of the four men, Richard Parker, was in a bad way and hardly conscious after a week at sea. The other men decided, since Parker was clearly dying, that they would kill him and then eat his corpse in order to survive. They were rescued some four days later. The men were arrested on landing in Falmouth and were charged with Parker’s murder.
The case was a famous turning point in the law. It’s not a charming story but it has the benefits of being true, gruesome (which goes down well with Year 8 boys in particular) and a way into thinking about an important citizenship issue.
- To ask: why we have laws?
- Who decides what is right and wrong?
- Are there times when laws can be broken for a good reason?
Number of lessons: 5