In the year 1884 the ill-fate yacht The Pierrot set sail and subsequently capsized the sea drowning all but four crew members. The were adrift in the icy sea for twenty-five days. Starving and near death Captain Rutt, who obviously didn’t go down with the ship, decided that cannibalism was the way to sustain at least three of them. He thought drawing straws was the sensible thing to do. They would kill and butcher the unfortunate one and have a hardy meal.
Dick Tomlin was against the idea and protested. He said he’d rather die than eat human flesh. The Captain perhaps pictured him in a hot dog bun at that moment because he plunged a knife into his young throat and served pieces of the 18-year old to the rest of the crew. They were rescued four days later.
They confessed their crime to the Captain of the rescuing ship The Gellert. He secretly took the remains of poor Dick Tomlin on board so he could have a proper burial. When they reached the port of Falmouth they were sentenced to death for murder. Due to the unusual circumstances and the condition of the accused they ultimately each spent six months in jail.
If this was the end of the story perhaps it would have been lost to time and mingled with other tales of shipwrecked cannibals. It really begins here. One of the crew was named Josh Dudley. After being released he found work as a drayman. Two weeks later he was dead. The horses bolted and threw him from the dray causing him to smash his head on the cobblestone street. (or he broke his neck depending on reports) It may be due to the inexperience of a sailor driving heavy loads in a cart with unpredictable ponies but witnesses saw something. A figure wrapped in what looked like bloody bandages that disappeared after the horses were spooked.
All this made Captain Rutt nervous. He thought that perhaps one of Dick Tomlin’s family was plotting and carrying out a plan of revenge. He found Will Hoon, the other surviving crewman, who he prevailed upon to investigate the matter of Dudley’s demise. Will Hoon was drunk at the time and it seems all of the time. But for a price of a few drinks he agreed. Later that night he went into screaming hysterics and died in a charity ward. It seems like a case of alcohol claiming its own. Yet there were reports of a bloodied bandaged figure, presumed to be a patient, either restraining or comforting Hoon.
Captain Rutt was more afraid than ever and went to the police. To his relief they locked him up and he perhaps felt safe from whatever horror was lurking. When the police heard the screams they thought nothing of it. The prison was used to house the insane as well as criminals. When the found Captain Rutt’s body frozen in terror, they also found bloody gauze clenched in his fingers.
It makes for a great ghost story but how much is true. A man not used to handling a cart and horse could make a fatal mistake. An alcoholic dying of delirium tremens is far from unusual. And the Captain? Dying of fright is not as common but the guilt must have been tremendous and the belief that he was being hunted by his victim coupled with the noises a madhouse produces could have been enough.
The ghost of Dick Tomlin is the best bet for their fate was one. There was no escaping it. Also the best for story-telling purposes. I think the full story of what happened on the dingy after the sinking of the Pierrot is the key and that is lost forever. Or until we can have a drink with Will Hoon.
One blog mentioned The Yarn of the Nancy Bell and this is shadow/silhouette puppetry at its most charming: