Hopefully you’ve read our recent article on Pink Floyd and how they braved the wild waters for a small show in Scotland. This is another nautically-themed piece, but a bit different. This piece is about the story behind the name of the Avett Brother’s album Mignonette, which was reportedly inspired by this tale.
This album was released in 2004, many years before the Avetts hit commercial success, and the entire production was a family process, from writing, to producing, to the album art. Thirteen years later, Seth and Scott Avett are still on the leading front of Americana, the folk revival, and the return to poetic lyricism.
Back to the Mignonette.
The year was 1884, the Mignonette was a yacht, and it was owned by an Australian who had recently visited England. However, this individual wished for the yacht to be sailed to his home in Australia. Sources cannot confirm why he didn’t just sail it back to Australia to get home, but that’s beside the point. The point is that four men were hired to take the boat back.
These men were named Dudley, Stephens, Brooks, and Richard Parker. Parker was just a boy. The planned route involved sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, stopping occasionally to resupply and give the boys some time to relax. Obvi. Departure was May 19th. Bad things happened on July 3rd and the boat took on water. The four dudes piled into their lifeboat with whatever they were able to grab, aka nothing.
Without food, water, or materials to obtain either, the men were in critical condition after only a few days. The boy, Parker, apparently had drunk some seawater to quench his thirst, driving him into a deep, debilitating sickness.
At the time, there was this thing known as the Custom of the Sea, in which one of a party of survivors would be sacrificed in order to nutritionally sustain the remainder. It was actually a thing, just look it up. Two blocs formed on either side of sacrificing the sick Parker. Stephens and Dudley were all about it, but Brooks down voted the sacrifice gig. Let the record officially show that Stephens, Dudley, and Brooks were all family men, whereas Parker was unmarried and without children. Dudley and Stephens killed Parker anyway, and they fed themselves.
A German vessel picked them up four days later, on the 27th of July.
All four men were returned to England, where they reported to a customs officer named Mr. Cheeseman (no joke). And yet, the journey at sea isn’t all of the story.
The men were tried for the murder of Richard Parker and for cannibalism. Locals had much sympathy for the mens’ situation, and blamed them very little for the deed they had done. However, as murder was beyond the authority of the local court, the men were transferred to a higher court. They were found guilty, and were originally sentenced to death. Yet, they only served a six months prison term. Spooky.
At this point, you’re likely asking yourself some questions:
Would they have survived four more days even without killing the boy?
Is it strange that Yann Martel’s book Life of Pi centers on a tiger named Richard Parker and an act of cannibalism?
Why did the Avett Brothers use this story as an inspiration for their second studio album?
What are the moral implications of sacrificing one for the survival of the multitude?
All great questions, my dude. All great questions.
You can go listen to Mignonette here. Determine for yourself if the album and the story connect.