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From the movie "Van Diemen's Land"

Cannibalism through history

  • BY Josephine Sargent |
  • September 21, 2009

Some very desperate times that drove people to the most desperate of measures.

Hardships of colonial America
Times were pretty tough for those colonists in America. Jamestown was particularly horrific. The group failed to plant crops in time, they were practically living in a swamp and during 1609-1610, they ran out of food. Some began to dig up corpses to eat and one man allegedly killed his pregnant wife, before salting and eating her. He's said to have been burned alive as punishment.

Family ties
American farmer George Donner, his brother Jacob, and their families joined up with James Reed and his family to travel west from Springfield, Illinois, to settle in San Francisco in 1846. Bad timing, terrible advice and even worse weather meant that the Donner Party became stranded in the Sierra Nevada mountains. When the party left Springfield, it had 33 members, but more joined along the way. The group split at Little Sandy River, Wyoming and 89 people took the ill-fated shortcut. Only 48 survived after family became food.

Lost at sea
In the spring of 1884, an Aussie gent visiting England purchased a yacht, the Mignonette, which he organised to have home delivered. On July 3 the yacht sank and the four crew members just managed to scramble on board their wooden dingy, without any food or water. They caught a sea turtle, which sustained them for a few days but when that ran out, they started eyeing off each other. When the youngest member, Richard Parker, became sick from drinking sea water, the other three were unanimous in their decision and the boy was killed and eaten. After they were rescued, the sailors insisted on taking what was left of Parker’s body home to England for a Christian burial.

Wreckage in the Andes
On Friday October 13, 1972, an Uruguayan plane, carrying 45 unlucky passengers to Chile, most of whom were students and rugby players, crashed in the Andes Mountains. Twelve people died in the crash and their corpses became a desperate option for those left alive as hunger pains worsened, the hope of rescue faded and they faced more nights of -30C temperatures in the snowy mountains. On December 22, 1972, after being isolated for 72 days, the 16 survivors were rescued just in time for Christmas – and a book and movie (both entitled Alive) soon followed.

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Van Diemen's Land review: How far would you go?
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