I just came across an amazing story from the early twentieth century in a newspaper from Hawaii, The Pacific Commercial Advertiser.
The article is entitled “The Awful Fate of a Ship’s Crew on a Raft for Forty-Two Days” and is about a ship that in 1900 tried to sail from Manila to Singapore, but things went terribly wrong.
The ship was a British barque called the Angola and was under the charge of a certain Captain Crocker, who was assisted by First Mate Mr. Campbell, and Second Mate Mr. Brown.
In addition to these three men, the crew also consisted of the following:
A Norwegian carpenter named Bjanson.
A cook from Madras (a native Christian) named Alexander.
A cabin boy from Mauritius named Euleys.
And then there were the following seamen: Johansen (Swede), Miguel (Spaniard), White and Brown (Germans), Bill and Tom (English), Peidel (Russian), Augustus (French), Antonio (Italian), Lloyd (American), Emanuel (Chilean), Emil (Russian Finn), and Hjalmar (Norwegian).
Six days after leaving Manila, the ship smashed into a reef and capsized. One of the Germans and the Russian drowned, but the rest of the crew climbed up onto the side of the ship and sat there for four days without food or water.
The men then made two rafts out of the wreckage of the ship. Five men got on one raft and 11 on the other, and for the following three weeks they drifted. They saw numerous steamers pass by, but those ships were all too far away to notice the small rafts.
The American died, and one of the Norwegians died, and both of these men were dropped into the ocean.
Augustus, the Frenchman, then started to go crazy. He was angry that the other men had thrown the American and Norwegian overboard and had not eaten them.
Augustus then ended up killing Mr. Campbell, the first mate. “He then drank the blood and ate the brains of Mr. Campbell and threw the body overboard.”
That was clearly not a good idea, as the first mate had a friend. . . the second mate, Mr. Brown, and the following day Mr. Brown killed Augustus. All of the men on that raft then drank the Frenchman’s blood and ate his raw flesh.
A few days after that a Russian went crazy and jumped overboard. The men resorted to drinking sea water and urine.
The Norwegian carpenter was the next to die, and then Alexander, the Madras Christian cook, and then Mr. Brown. . .
None of these men were eaten. Instead, the survivors learned how to catch fish using crooked nails as hooks and a piece of canvas as string.
In the end, however, only two men survived, Johansen, the Swede, and Miguel the Spaniard.
On 28 November 1900, these two men landed on Subi Island in the Natuna Archipelago. By that time their bodies were covered with boils and they were too weak to walk. This is what Johansen remembers:
“There were about two hundred natives on this island – Malays, I think. We went up to the chief’s house and lived there for about two months. We had only cocoanuts and mangoes and a little fish to eat. We talked Malay to the natives and they were very kind to us. After living there for about two months, a Chinese junk arrived from Singapore with a cargo of rice, and we went on board.
The men eventually arrived in Singapore.
On 13 April 1901, a Marine court of inquiry was held at the Marine Court at Singapore in order to determine what had happened to the Angola. This is what the Court concluded:
“The ‘Angola,’ during bad weather, while on a voyage from Cavite to Singapore, struck on a reef in the China Sea, on or about the 17th October, 1900, and became a total wreck. The position of the reef is unknown. As far as is known only two out of the crew of nineteen survive.
“In the absence of any reliable evidence on the subject, the Court is unable to form an opinion as to the navigation of the vessel, but from the evidence before it the Court is satisfied that the loss of the vessel was due to perils of the sea, and that no blame attaches to anyone in connection therewith.”
Another point that was made in the report was that “The Court did not consider that it would serve any good purpose to inquire too closely into what happened on the raft during the thirty-eight days which it was drifting about.”
It must have been known to the members of “the Court” that cannibalism had taken place after the Angola had wrecked, but. . . the members of the Court did not want to deal with that.
In an effort to think about this phenomenon where people can be confronted with what is perhaps the most horrific human act (cannibalism) and be disinterested, I have created a soundscape that I call “Eating a Frenchman.”
Here is the report that appeared in the The Pacific Commercial Advertiser: 42 Days.