Regina v. Dudley And Stephens

14 Q.B.D. 273 (1884)


Thomas Dudley and Edward Stephens (Ds), with one Brooks, all able-bodied English seamen, and the deceased also an English boy, between seventeen and eighteen years of age, the crew of an English yacht, a registered English vessel, were cast away in a storm on the high seas 1600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope. They had no supply of water and no supply of food, except two 11b. tins of turnips, and for three days they had nothing else to subsist upon. They caught a small turtle, and this was the only food they had up to the twentieth day when the act now in question was committed. On the twelfth day, the remains of the turtle were finished, and for the next eight days, they had nothing to eat. They had small amounts of rain caught in their oilskin capes. They were drifting on the ocean and were probably more than 1000 miles away from land. On the eighteenth day, it was suggested that someone should be sacrificed to save the rest, but Brooks dissented, and the boy, to whom they were understood to refer, was not consulted. Dudley proposed to Stephens and Brooks that lots should be cast. It was decided by Ds to kill the boy if no help came by the next day. The boy was then lying at the bottom of the boat quite helpless, and extremely weakened by famine and by drinking sea water, and unable to make any resistance, nor did he ever assent to his being killed. They put a knife into his throat and killed him then and there. The three men fed upon the body and blood of the boy for four days. They were rescued on the fourth day in extremely poor condition. It was a fact that if they had not killed the boy, they would have died of famine before their rescue. It was also likely that the boy, being in a much weaker condition, was likely to have died before them. Ds wanted to invoke the defense of necessity. The jury returned a special verdict and asked this Court to determine what is the legal consequence which follows from the facts which they have found.