On May 5th 1974 The Sunday Times published what they judged the most outstanding example of coincidence to have been sent in by their readership in response to a request by Arthur Koestler.
It involved Edgar Allan Poe’s 1838 novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket.
At one point in it four desperate men are adrift and decide to draw straws to determine which of them should be killed to provide food for the others.
This is done and the loser is the cabin boy: Richard Parker.
On 25th July 1884 four survivors of the wreck of the ship The Mignonette were adrift in a small boat when three of them killed and ate the fourth who was a cabin boy called Richard Parker.
This remarkable coincidence was spotted and sent in by a descendant of Parker: Nigel Parker.
In late 1984 I found myself becoming increasingly interested in coincidence and decided to chase up the details of this classic example.
In mid-November I bought a copy of Poe’s novel.
A couple of weeks later I turned up at Bedford Railway Station to catch the 9:50 a.m. to London. I still say that I was there in time, but it appeared that this was one of the very few occasions on which a BR train had left early.
Accordingly I had to catch the next train at 10:20.
In the carriage that I then got into someone had discarded a copy of that day’s Daily Telegraph. Under normal circumstances that would never have been my first choice of paper.
On the diarist’s page I spotted a snippet that read:
My recent note about the last case of cannibalism to cause a ripple in English legal circles reminds the wildlife painter, David Shepherd, that some years ago he was browsing around Falmouth’s antique shops looking for an old oak door for his family home in Hascombe, Godalming.
What Shepherd and his wife, Avril, came across was a door from a cell in Falmouth jail - the very door, Shepherd was told, that had closed on the two men accused of eating cabin boy, Richard Parker, in 1884.
Shepherd tells me that not only does the door still bear bars and a grille but that its main attraction was that it only cost £7 - and now guards nothing worse than the family junk.
One week later, December 7th, our newspaper, The Guardian, was not delivered for some reason, probably a strike, and in its place we received The Daily Telegraph.
Once again I turned to the diarist’s column and saw this:
Richard Parker would appear to be a name to avoid if one proposes going to sea. Not only were two of that name victims of maritime cannibalism - one a fictitious character by Edgar Allan Poe and the other, a real life victim aboard The Mignonette 100 years ago but evidence of other Parkers now crops up.
Brian Simpson, Professor of Law at the universities of Kent and Chicago, reminds me that Richard Parker was hanged for his role as ringleader at the Nore mutiny in 1797 and another Parker died when the Francis Spaight - on board which a number of seamen had been eaten - foundered in 1846.
Such grisly anecdotes are the very spice of life to Simpson who has recently compiled some “fairly ghastly” examples of man eating man for his book Cannibalism and The Common Law.
See also many connected examples here -
As it was Nigel Parker, a descendant, who won Koestler´s prize by sending in the account, so the man recording the "spin-off" examples here at his own website, Craig Hamilton-Parker, is also a descendant of the consumed.
Note also - http://www.torrevieja.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=27447