In 1884, the yacht Mignonette sank en route from Southampton to Sydney. The four-man crew escaped in a lifeboat with two tins of turnips but no freshwater. Two months later, when they were rescued by a German ship, only three of the crew remained. The seventeen year old cabin boy, Richard Parker, had fallen ill and was killed and eaten by the other three. The resulting criminal case established that necessity is not sufficient defence for murder. Two of the crew were found guilty but served only six months in prison.
Fifty years earlier, Edgar Allan Poe’s novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket was published. The plot involves the sinking of a whaling ship from which four of the crew survive. As starvation sets in, they draw lots to decide which of them will be killed and cannibalised. The character who draws the short straw is named Richard Parker.
The name Richard Parker has a strange association with naval misfortune. In 1797, he played the central role in a major naval mutiny aboard the Nore for which he was hanged. He drowned after the sinking of the Francis Speight in 1846. As a Bengal tiger, he shares a lifeboat with the only other human survivor in Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi (the name of this character was a reference to the previous coincidences).
Richard Parker is also the father of Spider-Man.
Morgan Robertson’s 1898 novella Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan tells the story of an enormous ocean liner named the Titan that sinks in the North Atlantic after hitting an iceberg during its maiden voyage. The Titan was thought to be unsinkable and carried enough lifeboats for less than half the passengers. As a consequence, most of the 2500 passengers drown.
Fourteen years after its publication, the supposedly unsinkable ocean liner Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic on its maiden voyage and sank. Without enough lifeboats, most of her 2200 passengers drowned.