Manage episode 259813505 series 2659594
A fire at sea leads to a grisly fate for the crew of the Luxborough Galley, an 18th Century slave ship.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
With special thanks to Ellys Harrison for the indispensable help with research.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Campbell, J. (1813). ‘William Boys, Esq.’, in Naval history of Great Britain, including the history and lives of the British admirals. (Volume 5). London: John Stockdale, pp. 318-325. Available at: https://archive.org/details/navalhistoryofgr05campiala/page/318
- Crain, C. (1994). ‘Lovers of human flesh: homosexuality and cannibalism in Melville’s novels’, American Literature, 66(1), pp. 25-53. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2927432
- Harrison, E. (2018). The Sinking of the Luxborough Galley. Unpublished.
- Kellaway, W. (2014). The Luxborough Galley. Available at: http://www.leshaigh.co.uk/notesstories/luxborough.html
- Knight, C. (1834). ‘Burning of a ship at sea, and sufferings of the survivors among the crew’ in The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. London: Charles Knight, pp. 260-262. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=bKdbAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA260
- Lowry, E. (2018). Dark Water. London: Riverrun.
- Southey, T. (1827). ‘1727’, in Chronological History of the West Indies. (Volume 2). London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, pp. 240-244. Available at: https://archive.org/details/chronologicalhi01soutgoog/page/n249
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Welcome to Episode Four, where we’re moving out to sea to talk about the Luxborough Galley.
[Intro music continues]
C: Alix, would you like to hear about the Luxborough Galley?
A: Tell me more.
C: Ok, so the Luxborough Galley was a 26-gun ship employed by the South Sea Company. So I don’t know much about ships, but is 26-gun big?
A: I mean it’s not that big.
A: I mean, there’s 26 guns. How many people are on the Luxborough Galley? That’s probably giving you a better range of how big she is.
C: Well, there were a lot. At the moment, there’s only-
A: At the moment, I assume there’s none.
C: Very good point! Well, she’s a slave trader, so she’s presumably got a big hold. Maybe they need fewer guns because they’re more concerned about, you know, kidnapping people and putting them in the hold. So she is employed as a British slaver, and her role at the moment is-
A: At the moment, she’s at the bottom of the sea.
C: At the moment in our story. The time that our story takes place-
A: Oh, that was good.
C: She’s employed to transport slaves from Angola to Jamaica, and then sugar and run from Jamaica back to Britain. So she’s doing the- the triangle. I know that we said in earlier episodes that we were gonna have sympathy for our victims and be respectful, but I mean, most of them are literal slavers in this case, because this happened post-Jamaica. So everyone aboard is just the crew. So… Um, am I gonna be sympathetic?
A: The thing that we’re not judging is the cannibalism. I feel we can judge everything else.
C: Yeah, we’re judging the slave trade.
C: So she’s done the first two legs of her triangle and is now sailing from Jamaica back to Britain. She’s loaded up with rum and sugar. And so she sets sail from Jamaica on the 23rd of May, 1727. On board, we have: Captain William Kellaway; three mates, including his brother Ralph Kellaway, and also William Boys. And William Boys is going to become important later in the story, because he’s the one telling it. I’m telling it. I’m telling his version of the story. I am William Boyes.
A: We’re all just a bit giddy today.
C: We’ve got five officers and 27 other crew members, including seven ship’s boys. Six of the ship’s boys are Black, and the seventh is a nephew of the Kellaways.
A: Ok, ok.
C: See if you can predict which one will survive!
A: Oh I can’t work it out. Here, I’ll interject to say, about 27, add 5: that’s a decently sized sort of crew. It’s not a massive ship, but it’s doing alright for itself.
C: It’s a ship, not a boat.
A: It’s a ship- Oh, don’t get me started on ‘is it a ship or a boat’? Literally don’t, I cover it in one of my scripts later on in the series!
C: There’s also two gentleman passengers and a servant travelling with them. I don’t know who these gentlemen are, but that’s how they’re described by William Boys.
A: They’re just gentlemen, mysterious gentlemen of the night. Is it Dracula?
C: It doesn’t say.
A: That’s exactly what it would say if it was Dracula.
C: They do drink blood later.
A: I rest my case!
C: Spoilers. So, they’re sailing along. On the 25th of June, two of the ship’s boys are sent to the store for some rum. They discover a pool of liquid on the floor, and they’re not sure if it’s water or spirit, so they decide to test it by holding a candle to it.
A: I’m not gonna recommend bad scientific theory… But also, just taste it. It’s either going to be water, alcohol, or, like, bilge. It’s not gonna be pleasant but just… don’t light it on fire.
C: Could be wee. You don’t wanna-
A: I- Hopefully not in the storeroom.
C: I don’t know what men are like. As it turns out, as I’m sure you can predict, it is in fact spirit. And catches alight, because spirit plus candle equals [Exploding sound].
C: Yep. The boys try to put out the flames, but when they aren’t successful they go and hide rather than telling anyone, because they’re too afraid of punishment to report the accident. Which probably indicates how they’re treated on the ship.
C: Just to say, I don’t actually know how old any of the ship’s boys are, because of course ship’s boy, you know, sometimes they’re like an 18-year-old young man rather than a child. And sometimes they are a child. From the behaviour, I’m gonna assume they’re maybe a bit younger.
A: I mean, they went and hid.
C: Yeah. Around noon, the Cook discovers flames in the foc’sle and raises the alarm.
A: Fire, fire, fire, fire, fire! We can’t afford sound effects.
C: Historical re-enactment at its finest. So, our second mate and hero William Boys and three of the other officers go below to find the storeroom ablaze.
A: Sorry, is our hero William Boys also the man who writes the story at the end?
C: Yes, that’s why he’s the hero.
A: Who’d have thought.
C: Yes, so listen out, ‘cause William Boys is going to be very intelligent, heroic, brave, just better than everyone else on board.
A: Modest too.
C: Modest too. So, if you’re thinking ‘William Boys, actual superhero’ – I think we- we can understand why that might be the impression of him.
A: [Imitating an admiring crowd:] Yay, William Boys! We all love William Boys! Yaaaay!
C: It’s also going to get confusing if I refer to ship’s boys and William Boys, which boys I’m talking about. There’s a lot of boys on this boat! I’ll call him William.
A: Willy B.
C: We are on first-name terms.
A: You are him reincarnated, we have covered this.
C: It’s true. They discover the storeroom ablaze and they attempt to stifle it with rugs, blankets, and their own clothes. They start stripping off and putting clothes on the flames to try and smother them.
A: That is taking the instruction of the famous ballad, “It’s getting hot in here, let’s take off all our clothes”, very literally.
C: So elsewhere on the ship they decide to start pumping water, to obviously put out the flames, but it’s quite slow progress. So the captain has this brilliant idea that they’re gonna cut a scuttle through the foc’sle deck to pour water directly onto the fire. But before they can pour any water onto the fire, what it does is bring lots of fresh oxygen in downstairs, and just makes the fire a lot bigger and worse.
A: Yeah… Science.
C: Science. So whilst struggling with this, William and co. have ordered the men on deck to ready the boats. So they’ve got a yawl and a longboat. Again, I’m not sure what a yawl is. I know what a longboat is.
A: It’s an emergency boat.
C: I get the impression it’s quite small. When William and his friends finally abandon their efforts to put out the fire, now semi-naked and very warm-
C: When they come up above deck, expecting to find the boats all nice and ready, they actually find that nobody’s bothered with that, and the captain and crew are lying about weeping and praying and doing nothing to save themselves.
C: According to William.
A: [Imitating an admiring crowd:] “Oh no we’re all gonna die, oh William, save us, save us, William!”
C: Well, luckily he does step up. He takes charge and prepares the tackle for the yawl all on his own.
A: I- I call bullshit to that.
C: Yeah, I’m gonna say, every time that I say ‘William does this, William does that’, we can interpret it as ‘someone did this’. This thing was done by somebody; whether it was William or not is a good question.
A: Like, you kinda need more than one person to ready a boat to leave a ship. Especially – I hasten to point out – if the ship’s on fire.
C: And you’re half naked.
A: And you’re half naked. Imagine the splinters.
C: Ooooh. So, as they scuffle to launch the yawl, one of the four oars goes overboard and they lose that, so they’ve only got three out of four now.
C: And William and eight of the men get on board. However, the men are needed to help with the longboat still, so William says, “Get back on the ship, guys.” And they’ll only do it if William goes back with them, so he magnanimously agrees that he will go back into danger to help with the longboat. However, as they are trying to re-board, the captain comes down into the yawl and says “The longboat’s on fire actually.”
C: “So let’s just get going”. More people join them on the boat, so we get 22 men and boys total – so it’s very very cramped.
A: Oh, we’ve lost some.
C: Yes, there’s still some on board the ship, including Kellaway’s brother Ralph. So Captain Kellaway is there on the boat, he calls out to Ralph and says “Come and join us.” Ralph says the yawl’s already far too low on the water, it’s not gonna make it as it is. If the rest of them get onboard, it’s just gonna sink completely. He decides to continue trying to launch the blazing longboat with the remaining number of men. So the 16 men and boys left aboard almost succeed in getting it over the side, even though it’s on fire, but then it gets too hot and it falls back onto the deck and they have to give up.
A: Yeah, this isn’t gonna end well.
C: Nope. Well, within half an hour, the ship is entirely aflame. The remaining crew are probably dead – they haven’t made it onto the yawl. They will certainly be dead soon, if not. And the men on the yawl are forced to move further out to sea to keep afloat. It takes three hours for the gunpowder to catch alight, and then the ship explodes.
A: Boom. See, if this wasn’t a slaving ship, that would have been a very inappropriate sound effect. But as it is, we can get away with it.
C: Unfortunately the fact that it’s now exploded means that they can’t go back and scavenge for supplies or survivors or anything like that, so what they have on the boat is what they have upon their persons.
A: And only some of their clothes.
C: Yeah, so, to recap: we’ve got 22 men and boys packed together on the yawl. I’ve got the size written down… sixteen foot by five foot. That’s cramped. So, among them we’ve got Captain Kellaway; we’ve got William Boys.
A: Of course we do.
C: My ancestor.
A: Rugged hero, I’m imagining some ash over his face. His hair – it’s obviously long, it’s come slightly out of its ponytail. He’s like the cover of a Bills and- “Bills”? Bills and Boon?
C: Bills and Boon! Our new knock-off erotica company.
A: The cannibalism erotica company. Oh dear, ok, well we knew where that was going, but I think Bills and Boon is just, you know, the peak of comedy, so I’m gonna stop there. Bills and Boon.
C: We’ve got three of the other officers. The two gentlemen passengers both made it. Four boys, including Robert Kellaway (the captain’s nephew), and the two boys who accidentally set fire to the rum in the first place.
A: I’m confused, I thought the nephew was still on the ship?
C: No, the brother is on the ship.
A: Oh! Damn, he’s got a lotta family.
A: Not for long. [Laughs.]
C: Not for long. They’ve got no food, no water, no navigational equipment. As I said before, some of them aren’t fully dressed. William is only in a shirt and his draws.
C: Yeah, sexily sweaty. Ah, good stuff for our cover. Can we do some posters for this podcast?
A: Can we have a competition?
C: Fan art competition!
A: Fan art competition. Submit to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram.
C: Come up with a title yourselves!
A: In fact, why not open it up? Fanfic as well! Art, fanfic – give us the Bills and Boon cannibalism erotica that we deserve!
C: This doesn’t help our case when we say that we’re not weird.
A: [Laughs.] Ok.
C: In terms of location, they’re over 120 leagues from land. Which is 400-ish miles, for those of us who don’t know how big a league is.
A: They’re in the sea.
C: They’re in the sea. The first two days, the sea is very rough and stormy and they don’t really have time to catch rainwater or anything because they’re too busy panicking.
A: Having just said “they’re in the sea”, can I ask a stupid question?
A: Which sea? Is it the Atlantic? It must be, if they’re coming from Jamaica. Ok.
C: It’s the Atlantic slave trade.
A: Yeah, that makes sense.
C: On day three, it calms down a bit and they rouse themselves enough to start actually doing stuff. So they scavenge together their remaining shirts and bits of oar, and make a sail.
C: Luckily, one of the boys had some sewing supplies on his person, in his pockets. So they’re able to sew together the sail and stitch everything. And they build up the sides of the boat a bit to keep up the sea. Luckily, before they were wrecked, William had completed his daily readings, because he was just so good like that, so he knows that Newfoundland is somewhere to the north. So they’re gonna navigate by the stars and steer in that direction.
A: I’d like to point out that I know Newfoundland is somewhere to the north, and we’re currently in London.
C: Yeah, it’s- “Guys, it’s cool. I did my readings! We gotta go north.”
A: “We’ve gotta get to the nearest land.” Groundbreaking.
C: Yep, yep, he’s such a hero.
A: [Imitating an admiring crowd:] “Oh, William, William, oh what would we do without you? William, William, yaaaay!”
C: We’re so respectful. On day five, it begins to storm again, which is an issue in this overloaded boat. There’s a lot of problems with flooding, and some of the men suggest that maybe they should throw overboard the two Black ship’s boys who caused the fire. [Makes an uncomfortable noise.]
C: Of course, the heroic William intercedes to say that that would be wrong, and instead they should cast lots. Name drop!
A: Sorry, I’m on slightly: “That would be wrong… But we’re going to be a slaving ship.”
A: There’s nothing funny to say here; people are awful. Let’s see how the lottery allocation goes…
C: Well, actually…
C: They have a stroke of luck. One of the boys and one of the crewmen happen to die in the night anyway, so no one has to make that decision – ‘cause there’s two dead bodies already.
A: How long have they been at sea?
C: This is day five.
A: That’s quick.
C: It is quick. They could have burn injuries?
A: That’s true.
C: It’s hard to say. Or it’s mysterious.
A: Well I suppose they don’t have a lot of food.
C: They have zero food and zero water.
A: Ok, fair, normally people are a bit more prepared.
C: Normally, yeah, they have at least some food and some water. So they get thrown overboard to make a bit more space in the boat.
A: Sorry? Sorry, what were we just talking about?
C: I know, I know, it’s a cannibalism podcast and these guys are like- They don’t even think of it yet.
A: So, after all of that build-up, they were casting lots just to throw people over the side?
C: Yes, they weren’t casting lots for dinner just yet. The following day, three more men die, “raving” from dehydration. I did some air quotes – “raving” is William’s term for it.
A: Yeah, yeah, dehydration!
C: Everyone else is feeling its effects, and several men try to jump overboard to get some relief in the water, and have to be held back.
A: Oh, oh, do you want a fun fact about dehydration?
A: Once you lose 15-20% of your bodyweight in water, it is fatal. In a maritime context – aka stuck in a boat with it not going overly well – the effects of dehydration to get to that 15-20% status, take six days.
C: So we are getting very very very close.
C: They are drinking their own urine, some of them are drinking sea water, which is-
A: Don’t do that.
C: No, don’t do that. Luckily, it is quite foggy, so they’re able to catch a little freshwater in the sails and wring it out into a basin and have a little drink of that. Of course, it means they can’t see the stars any more, so whether they’re going north or not is unknown.
A: I’m sure William knows; I’m sure that his innate spirit is guiding him to salvation.
C: I expect so. So, now that they’ve got a bit of fog-water to drink, the next problem is that they’re hungry, of course. So the ship’s surgeon is the first person to suggest eating the bodies of the dead. I guess as a surgeon, you’re used to that kind of thing?
A: What do you think they learn in medical school?
C: It’s like, “here are the tasty bits”. So he tries to lead by example. They threw over the first two bodies; it seems like the other three bodies they’ve kept on board.
A: That’s sensible if they’re overcrowded.
C: Yeah, well it’s probably that the ship’s surgeon went, “Hey hang on a sec.”
A: “What do you think you’re doing there?”
C: Yeah. So, he tries to lead by example, but he can only manage two mouthfuls before he has to turn away and “weep” with horror at himself. Which doesn’t set a great example for the men. After some experimentation, they find that the hearts are a bit more palatable, so they eat three of those.
A: Well there are only three of them, I presume?
C: Well, interestingly, they claim to drink the blood of four men total – but I guess more men die later. They’re draining blood from the bodies; they’re slitting the throats and then catching it in a pewter basin to drink.
A: That’s good.
C: It’s all about the details.
A: There are standards.
C: They also try to fish using parts of the bodies for bait.
A: Thank you!
C: They’re very unsuccessful and they don’t seem to catch a single fish, unfortunately.
A: At least they tried.
C: They showed willing.
A: In later weeks, you will hear me ranting about fishing. It will come up again. First sensible decision they’ve made.
C: After a week – so it’s the 2nd of July now – they’re down to twelve men. Because the others have-
C: Died and been eaten. There’s some more bad weather; they’re constantly bailing water out of the boat and they’re starting to hallucinate the sights and sounds of other ships in the fog. Probably-
A: [Fog horn noise.]
C: That’s beautiful. Probably ‘cause of the dehydration.
A: [Fog horn noise.]
C: Thank you Alix.
A: You’re welcome. I wish we could afford sound effects.
C: So by the 16th of July, two more men have died. The survivors are delighted to find a dead duck in the water. Now, I don’t know whether it’s that thing like, ‘I don’t know what bird it is so I’ll call it a duck’ – what a duck is doing that far out to sea… Like, it messed up badly.
A: Yeah, I was thinking. Well, it’s dead, so it’s not been that successful.
C: No. This poor duck. They eat it, despite it being – in William’s words – “green and not sweet”. So it’s like a manky, mouldy dead duck.
A: I’ve got a theory. It was actually a turtle.
C: “Like, I dunno, I guess it’s on the water so it must be a duck!” I’m sure William knows all the types of animals. On the 7th, they give up. They’re too weak to throw the bodies overboard, so they’re surrounded by half-eaten corpses, and they all just sort of lie down on the bottom of the boat. The captain can’t even speak any more; he’s completely gone. Finally, William – or someone, anyway – sights land. With their hopes restored, the men are able to throw the remaining bodies overboard and set about rowing with their three oars.
A: They’re going in a circle.
C: In the afternoon, they meet a fishing boat, so-
C: The fishermen almost refuse to help them, because what they see is a boat full of-
A: Living corpses.
C: Living corpses and eaten corpses. And they don’t know, you know, are they Englishmen, are they-
A: That’s the problem here!
C: Well that is the problem here; they’re worried that they could be marauding parties from another land. Although, frankly, you’d hope marauders would be slightly more organised than this.
A: Just sort of rocking up with three oars and being like ‘Hi dudes’.
C: Half naked still.
A: Oh, but you know William Boys is glowing. He’s standing at the prow of the boat, one hand on his hip.
C: Of course. So the fishermen are eventually persuaded to take them on board, presumably because they are so stricken by William’s heroism.
A: His hair and his shirtlessness.
C: Yeah. So, seven surviving men finally reach Newfoundland at 8pm that evening. The people who are left alive, we’ve got: Captain Kellaway; our heroic second mate William-
A: Of course.
C: The surgeon; the boatswain; the carpenter; Kellaway’s nephew Robert; and one other seaman – who doesn’t… have a name.
A: He’s not important.
C: He’s not important. However, Captain Kellaway does pass away that night, because he’s basically dead already. Following the ‘custom of the sea’, which – shall we talk about later? Or now?
A: Well, I think we’re about to start a lot of fun at sea, so why not now?
C: Ok, so, the custom of the sea is basically, ‘if you’re at sea…’
A: ‘Eat people!’ Not just eat people, it’s not like the minute you get out in the English Channel you can just start on the person sitting next to you on the ferry – it’s not quite like that.
C: It’s sort of unofficially accepted that if you’re in a starvation situation at sea, you’re gonna eat your compatriots, and that’s fine.
A: I mean, it’s not necessarily fine, but it got so recognised that this is what happens during and after shipwrecks and maritime accidents, that normally if there were survivors from a shipwreck, and they hadn’t eaten people, that got commented on. So it did become somewhat of a known event.
C: Have you read – on a tangent – Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry?
A: It is on my list.
C: Well, the thing is- This is set in mid-Victorian times, and this is spoilers if you haven’t read the book, but also, you’ll see why it’s not spoilers in a minute. There’s this guy who’s been cast out to sea, and it’s ‘oh he’s mysterious, oh what’s his secret?’ And obviously anyone who’s familiar with any kind of naval history is like ‘Oh, well he ate a guy, right?’ And this is dropped as a plot-twist at the end. Like, ‘And then I realised [gasps] – he had eaten that boy!’ I was like, oh, wow, wow you really took that long to figure out this thing that happens in like every survival situation at sea?
A: That is what happens; that is why it is the ‘custom of the sea’. It sounds strange to say it really wasn’t that unexpected, but, I mean, we have this traditional – I know we’re jumping forward a little bit to be more 19th Century – but we have this idea that people, especially (let’s be honest) Victorian sensibilities, you know, are never going to acknowledge and be horrified. If you read newspaper reports that cover these shipwrecks – while I’m not saying that they’re explicit and go into the detail that we do, they don’t beat around the bush. They are like, ‘they survived by drinking blood; they survived by eating their shipmates’. They don’t keep this secret. Which goes to show how much it was a recognised event, because otherwise people would be more… horrified by it. Well, not horrified by it, but more secretive about it. This is what happens. The sea is dangerous. Thousands of ships are lost. If anyone survives from these shipwrecks, they’ve got to get out of that situation somehow. That tends to be cannibalism. I’ve got a great list somewhere of just how many known cases of cannibalism there are, from about the 1700s to the 1900s. Most of them are at sea, and it would be really helpful if like a true professional I had it in front of me, but I don’t, so we’ll put it in the show notes – but this is by no means unexpected or unheard of.
C: Yeah, so because of that, when they’re found, they’re not held accountable for what they’ve done. Because it’s what everyone does! And William even stays in the navy, he’s promoted over the years.
A: Of course he is.
C: And he eventually retires as the Lieutenant Governor of Greenwich Hospital – fun fact – and every year to the date of his death, he would fast for twelve days on the anniversary of the ordeal.
A: What a man.
C: What a man. So that’s our story, and I think we can clearly say that William Boys – absolute hero.
A: Never did anything wrong in his life. If we ignore the fact that he was a second mate on a slave ship. Which we don’t.
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on the Luxborough and the legendary turtle-duck.
C: Join us next time for a buffet of maritime disaster, where we’ll be looking at the Francis Spaight, the Nottingham Galley, and the sloop the Peggy.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]