Manage episode 285282563 series 2659594
The SS Dumaru is poorly-built, ugly, and crewed by “bad men of the sea”. When she’s requisitioned for the war effort by the US Navy, her run of bad luck becomes a sprint to disaster.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
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.
- Adelaide Chronicle. (1918). ‘On the lone ocean’, Adelaide Chronicle, 30 November, p. 34. Available at: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/87554536
- Allen, G. (2012). ‘Human’ in Deutsch, J. and N. Murakhver (eds.) They Eat That?. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, pp. 100-108.
- Bean. T.W. (1919). ‘Invention versus Death – to a Finish’, Popular Science Monthly, 94(6), pp. 22-23. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=_igDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA22#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Christy, C. (2020). ‘9 Shipwrecks Throughout History That Ended In Cannibalism’, Unspeakable Times, 4 February. Available at: https://www.ranker.com/list/shipwrecks-ended-in-cannibalism/chase-christy
- Golden, F. and M. Tipton. (2002). ‘Necessities of sustained survival: water and food’ in Essentials of Sea Survival. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
- Guy, M. (2007). ‘Shipwreck survivors: three men in a boat’, Independent, 7 January. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/shipwreck-survivors-three-men-in-a-boat-430798.html
- Meister, G. (1969). Letter to Frank Geisel, 26 November. Available at: https://www.sowp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/LR-1101141916-Meister-Letter.pdf
- Newell, C. (2012). ‘A bolt of death from the sky’, Lake Oswego Review, 1 August. Available at: https://pamplinmedia.com/lor/48-news/113002-a-bolt-of-death-from-the-sky?wallit_nosession=1
- New York Times. (1918). ‘Four survive the Dumaru’, New York Times, 9 November, p. 13. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1918/11/09/archives/four-survive-the-dumaru-seamen-from-burning-ship-adrift-without.html?searchResultPosition=4
- New York Times. (1918). ‘11 more survivors of the Dumaru’, New York Times, 13 November, p. 3. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1918/11/13/archives/11-more-survivors-of-the-dumaru.html?searchResultPosition=2
- New York Times. (1918). ‘Dumaru’s Entire Crew Saved’, New York Times, 16 November, p. 2. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1918/11/16/archives/dumarus-entire-crew-saved.html
- New York Times. (1930). ‘Adrift in a Life-Boat Twenty-Four Days’, New York Times, 21 September, p. 3. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1930/09/21/archives/adrift-in-a-lifeboat-twentyfour-days-a-gruesome-tale-of-cannibalism.html?searchResultPosition=3
- Nourie, A. and B. Nourie. (1990). ‘Popular Science’ in American Mass Market Magazines, pp. 385-399. Available at: https://archive.org/details/americanmassmark00nour/page/385/mode/2up
- Pacific Marine Review. (1920). ‘Lundin life boats praised’, Pacific Marine Review, 17, p. 198. Available at: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.c2603238&view=1up&seq=198&q1=dumaru
- Penobscot Marine Museum. (2012). Steam, Steel Ships and an End of Wooden Shipbuilding. Available at: https://www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org/pbho-1/ships-shipbuilding/steam-steel-ships-and-end-wooden-shipbuilding
- Rochester (NY). Historian’s Office. (1924). ‘James Feretter’ in World War Service Record. Rochester, NY: City. Vol 1, pp. 137-138. Available at: http://www.libraryweb.org/~digitized/books/World_War_service_record_vol_1.pdf
- Stilgoe, J. (2003). ‘Passage’ in Lifeboat. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, pp. 186-216.
- The Recruit. (1918). ‘Five shipwrecked men off Guam’, The Recruit, 4(12), p. 98.
- United States. Department of Commerce and Bureau of Navigation. (1920). Annual List of Merchant Vessels of the United States. Washington: US Government Printing Office. Vol 51. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=d14uAAAAYAAJ
- Williams, G. (2017). The United States Merchant Marine in World War I. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
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]
A: Welcome to Episode Twelve, where we’ll be talking about the SS Dumaru.
[Intro music continues]
A: So, Carmella, would you like to hear one of those stories which, against your better judgement and sense of propriety, hit that level. I’m talking Medusa, I’m talking Flatters. I’m talking ‘something has gone very, very wrong here, both morally and narratively’ – but you can’t help but enjoy it.
C: Those are always my favourites. I’m excited. Yes, please.
A: This is the SS Dumaru.
C: Amazing name to begin with.
A: The SS Dumaru is a wooden ship filled with explosives that gets hit by lightning on its maiden voyage.
C: [Laughs] Cool.
A: And then people put decapitated heads in boiling pots to make soup.
C: This sounds like an all-round good story.
A: And I have to be honest, it’s so intense and so bonkers it’s hard to remember that it happened to real people. Especially because the main book that I read was written by a 1930s journalist called Lowell Thomas. It’s called The Wreck of the Dumaru. The Wreck of the Dumaru has overdramatic wood carvings and the finest sentence that I have read in all of maritime literature when it comes to describing a vessel.
C: That is a high claim. And so it had better live up to what you just promised me.
A: The Dumaru is… drumroll please.
[Carmella claps a drumroll]
A: “Like a clown on an evil sea”!
C: [Laughs] What does that mean?!
A: I don’t know.
C: Okay, that re- that lived up to the promise. Thank you. I’m just picturing, it’s just a clown floating on an- what’s an “evil sea”?
A: An evil sea! I think it was a reference to the fact she had dazzle-esque paint.
C: [Chuckles] Oh, so she’s a pretty wooden ship.
A: Oh, just wait. Just wait. There’s a sort of separation from reality between the story of the Dumaru and what actually happens. This separation seems to be prevalent at the time as well. Because the Dumaru’s maiden voyage is in 1918 – there are submarines and wireless operators, rescue operations. Following the sinking of the Titanic, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea treaty came into effect.
C: Yes, so they are prepped at this point. They’ve had a few centuries of disasters at sea and kind of know what to do by now.
A: And the Crown vs. Dudley and Stevens has taken place and the custom of the sea has been relegated to something that belongs to, quote, “an older, an eviler day on the ocean.”
C: [Laughs] There’s a lot of evil going on in this one.
A: Again, just wait. SS Dumaru is a wooden steamship and she’s built in 1918. Now by 1918, wooden ships and steamships are starting to go out of fashion.
C: Uh huh. Yup, so she’s a bit- bit out of date.
A: Yeah, it was discovered that metal was a bit less leaky than wood. And it’s the beginning of the end for steam power. So Dumaru already doesn’t have the best luck. But there is something that can be said for wooden ships: they can be built faster than iron ships.
A: And what’s happening globally in 1918?
C: Would that be- Oh, I can’t remember. I feel like there’s something really big, something that affects the world… Um, maybe the first of its kind. Could it be the First World War?
A: Points to Carmella.
C: Thank you.
A: Ships engineer Fred Harmon describes Dumaru as, quote, “a war baby.”
A: “One of the hundreds built in haste and often built badly, to take the place of the huge tonnage the German U-Boats were destroying. In her camouflaged paint she was not handsome. She was cumbersome and as a steamer not much.”
C: So she’s an ugly cumbersome baby clown.
A: With friends like that, who needs enemies?
A: So the US Navy and the US merchant fleets by this point have become desperate, need a quick turnaround of vessels to ship supplies. And that’s where we come in.
C: I’m a boat builder and I’ve built a clown for you.
A: [Laughs] Dumaru is built in Oregon. So she’s got her overground origins in the land and the trees that brought us The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California.
C: Oh, good times.
A: Technically it’s not really related, but I do quite enjoy that this ship is just covered in bad luck from start to finish.
C: It’s imbued with the spirit of [American accent] Lansford Hastings and his friends.
A: Was anyone Lanford Hastings’ friend? Even less promising is the fact that she is built out of freshly cut wood; wood that hasn’t had a chance to be dried and treated.
C: Mm hmm.
A: And she’s being sent to sail the tropics, and the heat of the tropics cuts the seams wide open. It’s not good for wood not to be treated. For some reason these rush job ships aren’t very popular with sailors.
C: [Sarcastically] Huh, can’t think why that would be.
A: Yeah, they prefer to sail on any other type of ship.
C: Just any ship that isn’t rubbish.
A: Yeah, I think that’s fair. Wooden steamers were sailing routes in the Pacific between the Pacific Coast, Hawaii, the Philippines, or the coast of South America. They’re technically too small to do the transatlantic route because, considering there’s a war on, they need to be carrying enough coal for their entire journey, just in case they can’t make port somewhere, because of said war. So it’s just not feasible for 1,200 tonnes of coal to take up all that cargo space. What’s the point? So they have to sail the routes that aren’t good for the rush job ships.
C: The ones that make the wood swell and crack?
A: Yeah. Now, they’re not necessarily taking military cargo. Some of these are merchant ships. Although any ship supplying enemy territory – or indeed any territory – during wartime is at risk, especially with U-Boats. So, the SS Dumaru is armed with a gun platform. Oh, the SS stands for ‘Steamer Ship’ if that wasn’t obvious, because she’s a steamer. Anyway–
C: [Surprised] Is that what SS stands for on boats?
A: I can’t tell if you’re joking with me or not?
C: No, I didn’t know that. I’d never thought to check.
A: Okay, that’s what the SS stands for, Steamer Ship.
C: Thank you, it had literally never occurred to me to look up what it means.
A: So she’s got a gun platform, but she’s not technically, at this point, supplying the military. These ships are supplying sugar and general goods as well as munitions. It is the DOOM-aru’s maiden voyage, and her ceremonial launching has gone awry.
C: Oh, who could have predicted?
A: And by awry I mean that she had, quote, “mashed into a collection of houseboats”.
C: [Laughs] Just mashed right on into them, huh?
A: Which is not a good sign, especially for the people in the houseboats. A ship that fucks up a ceremonial launch is not a lucky ship to be on.
A: Not that there are many willing sailors on board. Because men were using shipping on a steamer as an excuse not to go to France to serve in the trenches.
C: Fair enough.
A: Even trained engineer Harmon regrets accidentally catching the eye of the lieutenant and not having anywhere to hide when they were looking around for volunteers.
A: Just like school.
C: ‘Ah no, if I look down at my book the teacher won’t see…’
A: Numbers range regarding how many were aboard, between 46 and 60. But Lowell Thomas wastes no time calling them “an ugly crew.”
C: Oh, it’s an ugly ship with an ugly crew.
A: “A parade of cast offs and misfits of the land and singular characters and bad men of the sea.”
C: Everyone just really hates the Dumaru and crew right?
A: It’s gonna get worse.
A: Despite being–
A: Ugly, they are a very traditionally diverse maritime bunch. There’s men who have served in merchant fleets across the world. There’s a mixture of American born, German American, Norwegian American, Russian, Jamaican, Greek; there is a diverse collection aboard ship.
A: With the caveat that this is 1918 America, and that the main source for this book was written in the 1930s. Let’s be consciously aware of the racial dynamics as we go into it.
C: That’s sort of a motto of Casting Lots, I feel, when approaching these sources.
A: For example, we have a man called Graveyard Shaw, who was the Black British cook.
C: Is Graveyard his Christian name?
A: He introduces himself as Graveyard Shaw, it’s the only name given in the book for him.
C: I love that, that’s so goth!
A: Now, it’s explicitly stated that he was a ‘freeborn subject of His Majesty’, which I am taking that he was Black British?
C: Or I guess British Caribbean. Still counts as British, doesn’t it? Maybe not England, but of the British Empire? Certainly.
A: But while I believe that, I’m sure that he definitely went round saying, “I killed a man, I’ll kill somebody on this ship. I am Graveyard Shaw. And I killed a man.”
C: [Laughs] In those exact words?
A: In those exact words all the time.
C: You know what, if he did genuinely say that, I love this guy, because he just sounds like a real fun character to be around.
A: He goes round and picks fights with everyone, from the captain to the steward. He’s apparently an awful person to work with. But unlike regular ships’ cooks, he can actually cook so they all keep him.
A: Like I say I’m sure – Shaw [!] – this all happened. And there’s nothing racial about it at all.
C: No, I’m sure that definitely, you know, if he was rude or whatever, it was unprovoked and not, you know, a response to everyone being racist – far more likely, but whatever.
A: And him being the only black man on the ship.
A: Just as I’m sure that, George the Greek–
C: [Laughs] Yep!
A: Replied to a simple “Hello” with “Go to hell”.
C: I mean, is that not how you reply to every greeting?
A: I mean, I do sort of believe that one. But this is given as the evidence that George the Greek is one of the “bad men of the sea.”
C: I think that you lose the subtlety of sarcasm in print, you know? There are several tones in which “Go to hell” could be said, and many of them would just make for a fun guy to be around.
A: The journey begins from Portland to San Francisco, and it’s relatively smooth. However, once docked in San Francisco, things start to change. Firstly, the line-up of officers and crew changes over with Dumaru’s original captain and Chief Engineer ordered to serve on other more sturdier ships.
A: I’m sure they are very sad about this…
C: [Sarcastically] ‘Oh no, we have to leave the clown ship behind.’
A: They’re replaced by Captain Borrensen and Mr Howell, who’s the chief engineer. However, rather than receiving their cargo for the next leg of their voyage, the Dumaru was chartered by the US Navy. So, ‘Stop doing what you were gonna do. Come work for us instead.’
A: But it’s just her bad luck, and what else can you expect of the Dumaru by this point?
C: It’s her curse. She’s cursed.
A: That she’s charted by the US Navy to carry gasoline and munitions to Honolulu, Guam and Manila.
C: Right so wooden ship full of coal, gasoline, munitions, big explodey fire things?
A: Men attempt to get out of their articles, the contracts that they have signed. They say–
C: [Laughs] Not just their clothing!
A: [Laughs] It’s an interesting ship!
A: But they say that they’ve been tricked into serving on a wooden munition ship when they actually signed up to serve on a wooden goods ship.
C: Yeah, that’s fair.
A: The US Navy willingly agree to nullify their contracts… as long as they take up their positions with the US Army bound for France.
C: Hmm… rock and a hard place then, huh?
A: Most of the crew elect to stay. So, a crew held against their will on a wooden ship full of explosives. What can go wrong?
C: I was gonna say, ‘it sounds like the setup to a bad story’. And it is! Continue.
A: How dare you? It’s an amazing story.
C: I mean ‘bad’ as in unfortunate and miserable.
A: Despite sailing aboard a ship with, quote, “drums of gasoline and cases of high explosives everywhere on the deck.”
C: Just everywhere, can’t move for them.
A: I’m imagining the sailors like Sims.
A: Just easily stuck. I’m like, ‘Oh, well, that’s a barrel of gasoline near me. I just live here now.’ But it’s not actually that bad of a journey out from San Francisco. I mean, firemen are collapsing from the heat in the fire room, but that’s standard.
C: Yeah, gets warm.
A: Horrible, but normal. They make harbour at Honolulu in good time and unload some of their cargo. A few men are selected in Honolulu after an attempted mutiny.
C: Not surprising.
A: Now, this muntiny’s more of a petulant, ‘I don’t want to do any work and you can’t make me’.
C: So calling it a mutiny is maybe pushing it a bit far?
A: It’s more of a sulk.
A: But a few men are selected to be sent to France, just to, you know, put the fear of the trenches in the ones who are staying.
C: It’s punishment, ‘You go to France now!’
C: To the trenches. Okay.
A: While they selected people to go, neither Graveyard Shaw nor George the Greek, the “bad men”, were let go, which I find really weird.
C: [Thoughtfully] Hmm.
A: Because you’d think that if these were the “bad men of the sea” he would want to get rid of them.
C: Perhaps they’re actually reasonable men who were good at their jobs. Weird.
A: Either way, having taken on additional hands at Honolulu, they set sail to Guam. They don’t ‘set sail’ but you can’t ‘set steam’, it just doesn’t sound right.
C: They steam on.
A: They steam on. I’m so proud of you. You’re getting so good at boats.
A: After a 17 day trip, they arrived and were able to offload some more cargo.
A: A few men, including Harmon, go ashore, breathing pure air, purchasing coconuts, and all in all having a great time.
C: That’s nice that they can have a little bit of fun before whatever’s going to happen.
A: You know what they say about the calm before the storm?
C: And will it be a literal storm in this case, Alix?
A: Both literal and metaphorical. Yeah, I was very proud of myself.
C: Nice, nice.
A: The Pacific Marine Review of 1920, amid a list of other lost ships which are “ashore” or “stranded” or “wrecked”, the Dumaru stands out as being, quote “destroyed by lightning” and “burned at sea.”
C: She’s unique, that Dumaru.
A: 16 October. 1918. About 5pm. Quote: “Nobody directly saw the lightning strike”, but it was universally agreed that the third bolt of lightning from the electric tropical storm had hit the deck of Dumaru, and she was aflame.
C: How did they miss seeing that?
A: They were all busy.
C: [Laughs] Okay.
A: Being stuck by their barrels? No, they were actually doing work.
A: As ridiculous as this sounds, I think the sheer horror of it can possibly be a bit overlooked in the retelling. We’ve all seen lightning. But there’s a bit of a difference between that and bam, you’re in the middle of a storm on a wooden ship. The entire forward part of the hold is on fire. And guess where they’re storing the gasoline?
C: Would it be where the fire is?
A: It is exactly where the fire is. And they have only a few moments before the munitions blow as well.
C: I was once in a car that got struck by lightning, but it was fine.
A: I was on a train that got struck by lightning. It was a really awkward announcement.
A: Theron W. Bean, aka ‘Sparks’–
C: This– This is a person?
A: This is a person.
C: Whoa. Okay!
A: So, Theron W. Bean, aka ‘Sparks’, is the 16-year-old wireless operator, and he runs to go and send distress signals. Because luck is not with this ship, the radio antenna also gets hit by lightning while Sparks is signalling.
C: In a separate strike?
A: In another strike.
A: But good old Sparks – and of course they call him Sparks.
A: He keeps on going, he keeps signalling he can’t receive anything back. But he keeps going until the radio cabin is on fire.
C: Good for him.
A: Harmon and two experienced man lower a lifeboat, with those not panicking too much on board the floating wooden bomb–
A: Which, have I mentioned, is on fire?! Those not panicking too much fend off the lifeboat from the hull to try and ensure that it doesn’t smash into the wood and, you know, become damaged beyond repair.
C: Go the same way as the houseboats.
A: Exactly. And this is currently the only lifeboat available, as the third mate Andy Nolan already took one into the water.
C: Oh, thanks, Andy.
A: And all of the others are–
C: On fire?
A: On fire! Yeah. How did you guess?
C: I feel like I’ve seen this one before.
A: People jump from the ship to the boat; some land in the water, some land in the lifeboat. Captain Borrensen, who seems to be one of our few actually decent captains, is one of the last men to leave the ship.
C: ‘Kay, he does the proper thing.
A: He actually orders that the lifeboat cut itself away from the ship. He refuses to jump down to it because it’s already overcrowded.
C: [Pleased] Hey!
A: He instead says that he and the men with him are going to launch a small raft. He gives orders for the two lifeboats to meet and spread the men between them, to disperse the weight more evenly.
C: That’s really sensible. I mean, we know that rafts are normally a bad idea, but overall, it seems like he’s got– He’s thought things through.
A: And I mean, all the other lifeboats are on fire.
C: Yeah, a raft is better than a boat that’s on fire, I guess.
A: I guess…
C: Like, if I had to choose one or the other…
A: An old sailor, Jim Ferreter, objects to leaving the captain and demands that Lieutenant Holmes return to the burning ship and rescue those on board. Okay, this then turns into a physical altercation.
A: And Ferreter subsequently throws the mast and sail of the lifeboat overboard, shouting that he hopes you all die.
C: Oh, charming, charming. ‘We really must make sure that no one dies, and therefore I will make sure that you all die’.
A: And then the Dumaru explodes.
C: Sorry, those are real humans.
A: [Cackles] I’m keeping that in!
A: Hurling massive pieces of flaming wood towards the survivors. Lit gasoline is spat across the surface of the water. And there’s a massive great wave following the explosion that shoves everything out from the sight of the wreck.
A: We’re going to stay with the overcrowded lifeboat with 32 people aboard. But there are actually three vessels in the water.
C: That lifeboat, there’s Andy’s lifeboat, and a raft?
A: In the nick of time, Captain Borrensen had managed to launch the raft.
A: He would actually be picked up still within sight of the Dumaru with only one death aboard.
C: Oh, that’s pretty good going.
A: It wouldn’t be for many weeks that any of the other survivors would learn that the captain had made it as well.
C: Aww, that’s a nice surprise for them to look forwards to, then.
A: The last nice surprise is the other lifeboat.
A: Andy Nolan’s. Allegedly, his maximum in life was “every man for himself”.
C: Yeah, I can see that he reflected that with his actions.
A: See, I went the other way when I read this, I thought ‘Well, that’s the little bit on the nose.’ I’m sure he also went around saying that his maximum in life was ‘it’s every man for himself’.
C: They clearly had some interesting conversations in this ship, you know? “Oh, I’ve killed a man.” “I think it’s every man for himself.” “Go to hell!” Just a cheerful bunch.
A: [Snorts] This lifeboat takes off with nine people, without the captain’s orders, in a better equipped boat with, quote, “most of the supplies.”
A: Now that quote comes from Eileen Colhour. Considering that both her father and grandfather were in the overcrowded lifeboat, I’m going to let her keep her extreme annoyance at Nolan. I think it’s valid.
C: Yep, yep.
A: Although he would later be exonerated of any wrongdoings by military tribunal.
C: Okay, so they don’t think he’s bad.
A: They don’t think that he necessarily could have done anything differently, considering the ship was quite literally about to blow up.
C: Yeah, yeah. There comes a point where it does have to be every man for himself. Sometimes.
A: Otherwise we probably wouldn’t have a podcast about survival cannibalism.
C: Yeah. [Laughs]
A: The majority of the survivors are aboard the third lifeboat, although they are missing their main mast thanks to Ferreter.
C: Thank you, Ferreter.
A: Even if they had their mast, the lifeboat type doesn’t have a keel.
C: So no steering?
A: The keel is the ridge that runs along the length of the boat under water that gives the boat stability.
C: So no stability!
C: [Laughs] I know boats… I did know that, because you keelhaul someone. I did, I just had to think about it.
A: Valid. And also, she doesn’t have a functioning steering oar.
C: Okay, so no steering. Ha! See! I was just getting ahead of you.
A: For once they haven’t lost all of their oars and paddles. But considering the wind and currents, the oars aren’t doing a lot, other than helping them get as far away from the burning Dumaru as possible.
C: I mean, that’s not nothing.
A: It’s not nothing. But unfortunately, it’s not going to be enough. In a rather ironic display, the only way of signalling between the boats would be the lighting of flares.
C: [Laughs] Yep!
A: They realised quite quickly that there’s no way that they’re going to identify Nolan’s boat, even if he has lit a flare. Because so much of the ocean is on fire.
C: [Laughs] Yeah, like looking for fire in a fire, huh?
A: So instead they decide to make course for Guam. They’ve only just left.
C: Yeah, yeah, can’t be that far can it?
A: After rowing during the night and they set up a small sail they’re in luck: they are within sight of Guam. And then the wind changes.
A: And then the little boat is pushed into the ocean-going currents away from land.
A: Even with all their strength on the oars, it isn’t enough to win this battle against the trade winds.
A: So close, and yet so far. The other lifeboat had the majority of the emergency supplies.
C: That’s Andy Nolan’s lifeboat?
A: He will not feature much more in this story.
A: For the 32 men on the boat, rations were, quote, “two tablespoons of water and one hardtack a day”.
C: [Thoughtfully] Hmm.
A: It had originally been two pieces of hardtack a day, but after failing to sight Guam after the second day, these rations were cut.
C: Sensible, start rationing straightaway. Sure.
A: This did nothing for team spirit. Surprising no one, George the Greek starts making trouble, starting fights – the most violent of these are about who gets to shelter under the sail at night.
C: Oh George! What are you like?
A: Really, really racist. That’s what George is like. However, our main narrator keeps out of it, because he sleeps under some coats with young Sparks and two other men instead.
A: By the third night, men are, quote, “howl[ing] for more sea biscuit”.
C: [Laughs] I often howl for sea biscuit.
A: The writing of this book is… something. Threats to raid the food tins are only prevented by hatchets being in the hands of the mates and the engineers, as opposed to the men.
A: I’m pleased to say that the next day, day three, some of the men are at least trying to do something sensible.
C: That makes a nice change.
A: They try and fish.
A: They fail. But they tried[!]
C: A* for effort!
A: And they’re still trying to head in the direction of Guam. They’ve made a rudimentary sea anchor to hold their position until winds and currents are more in their favour to row.
C: Okay, okay.
A: However, it soon becomes clear that this isn’t tenable. They just aren’t going anywhere.
A: Just to make things better, the water tanks are starting to empty. In fact, one of them is leaking.
A: And hardtack doesn’t exactly have an endless supply either.
C: Doesn’t grow on trees.
A: While some men duck themselves in the water to get relief from the sun, others drink and gargle salt water. However, Ferreter recommends that a thirsty man suck on a button.
C: [Laughs] Again, is the thing of, like, if you suck on a mint, then it’s supposed to generate saliva.
A: Exactly, I get why, but it just sounds so weird.
C: ‘You’re thirsty? Here’s a button.’
A: The anticipation of water running out is almost as bad as the thirst itself and in an unfortunately common occurrence, men are starting to blister and boil under the heat of the sun.
C: Ewww, like just really bad sunburn.
A: And some of the men were caught in the explosion of the ship.
C: Ah, so we’ve got some burn injuries going on.
C: Ooof. With all that salt spray. That’s gotta be really painful.
A: [Wincing] Yes. Oh, I didn’t think of that.
A: There’s even a democratic handover of power.
A: Which was a sentence I was not expecting to say.
A: Following complaints against Lieutenant Holmes’s leadership of the lifeboat, command is handed over to First Mate Waywood. Waywood’s first command is to stop seeking Guam. And to, quote, “against the judgement of a few the course was laid for the 1,300 mile drift to the Philippines.”
C: Okay. I mean, are they in a current that will lead them that way anyway?
A: Yeah, they’re drifting in that direction. They don’t have to do anything but wait.
A: And wait.
A: And wait… While Harmon names the fifth day as the day of the “psychologic turn” when men started to embrace hopelessness – they came upon the wreckage of the Dumaru, found nothing but empty gasoline boxes, and after a short discussion decided to leave the wreck, although hindsight tells us that if they’d stayed there, they’d have been picked up after a week.
C: Oh, no. I was gonna say, did no one on Guam notice the big ball of fire on the horizon?
A: There’s a war on.
C: Yeah, okay, true.
A: It wasn’t until the thirteenth day that the first man would die.
C: That’s a good track record.
A: It’s surprisingly good.
C: Points to the clown ship.
A: It all goes downhill from here. Has there ever been uphill?
C: No, they’re at sea, there are no hills.
A: For 13 days, Graveyard Shaw alternately prayed and cursed and cried out for water before he died on the thirteenth day.
C: Aww, I liked Graveyard.
A: I’ve already mentioned superstitions, but with no ceremony at all. Shaw’s body was thrown overboard.
C: Hmm, no burial at sea?
A: Quote, “It was not a funeral at sea; it was tossing away an undesirable object.”
C: And the logical assumption is that this is a racial othering situation?
A: That is very much the logical assumption to be made here.
A: The sharks continue to circle the boat.
C: There are sharks?!
A: There are sharks.
C: Jolly good.
A: The death of Shaw marked the change in the boat. It was the end of enforceable discipline. Although, I will note, with a slight air of judgement–
C: Only slight?
A: Only slight, that our protagonist has already excused sharing a flying fish with three others, rather than informing anyone that his friends are secreting food.
A: So it’s only a breakdown in discipline if other people do it.
C: Of course, I see.
A: The water runs out on the fourteen day and, quote, “the deaths came rapidly”.
A: Some died of thirst, some died of an excess of seawater, and others still are dying because of having drunk water tainted with lead, which had been extracted from the air tanks.
C: Oh, the lead water. Lead poisoning, that old chestnut.
A: It just keeps turning up like a bad penny.
C: I bet that one went down like a lead balloon.
A: Get out.
C: [Laughs] Okay, bye.
A: Chief Engineer Howell carves the story of the wreck of the Dumaru into the wood of the lifeboat.
C: Ffun. Arts and crafts. Got to keep busy.
A: Exactly. When you’re in quarantine.
A: Better late than never, someone suggested evaporating the salt water.
C: Oh, finally!
A: I can’t get over how long it takes for them to work out, or even think of working out a way to get fresh water.
C: It always boggles my mind in all of these survival at sea situations that none of them think of trying it. To see it, like– We’ve known for quite a while as humans that water, evaporate, condense, water again; we know the water cycle right? That’s been around a while.
A: Remember, according to Podchaser, we’re a science podcast. I love it. Using an empty hardtack tin, a length of pipe and the bilge pump, they’re able to establish a rudimentary evaporating system.
C: [Celebratory] Hey!
A: It’s a little unfair of us to sort of slag them off for not doing it before. Lieutenant Holmes had been trying to produce fresh water. But his idea to gather condensation on the glass of his compass–
A: Have been dismissed by the other men.
C: [Laughs] Just his tiny compass!
A: He was very proud of himself.
C: ‘Everyone take a turn licking my compass.’
A: That’s pretty much a verbatim quote.
C: [Laughs] Yeah, I would have laughed him out of the boat too.
A: Waywood just told him to shut up.
A: They are able, as I say, to improvise a functional evaporator. There’s a diagram in Lowell Thomas’s book that we’ll put up on the socials, because, despite technically going to an engineering school, I cannot explain how this works for the life of me.
A: And it’s from 1931, so it’s out of copyright.
A: So we’ll put it on the socials, just in case you too want to build a barely-functional water evaporator.
C: That you never know when it could come in handy.
A: It’s a useful skill to have.
A: In order to stoke the fire, they first burn up the oars, then their shoes, and then bits of the boat.
C: Ah, so you know how they were on a boat that was on fire? And now they’re setting their boat on fire again. Huh.
A: It’s ironic, isn’t it?
C: Yeah, lots of fire in the story.
A: But they have fresh water.
A: Not a lot, but a little bit.
A: Now, the bodies of the dead are a source of fuel.
C: Oh, that’s a new one.
A: Their clothes are fed to the burner.
A: But at least the remaining twenty eight men have something to drink. In a true staple of the survival cannibalism narrative, the men start talking about what they would eat and drink at home.
C: Ah, yes, yes. Another classic trope.
A: On today’s fantasy menu.
C: [Encouraging] Hmhm?
A: We have salmon.
A: Russian black beer, coconuts, freshwater, and an ice cream float.
A: I didn’t realise ice cream floats were a thing in 1918, but the request was for “ice-cream soda, vanilla cream and plenty of fizz.”
C: Aww, nice.
A: So, there you go.
A: By this stage, the seventeenth day, the boat is in a state of listless chaos.
A: Men are alternately losing their senses, developing ulcers and… dying.
A: Among the dying are Howell, the chief engineer, and Harold Jennings, who had been giving his rations to his son Stafford, so he might live.
C: Aww, that’s heart-warming.
A: That afternoon, two things happened – first, George the Greek staged a coup.
A: He seized the hatchets and knives from underneath Harmon’s sleeping quarters alongside, quote, the “Filipinos and several white members.”
C: They helped seize the hatchets, rather than George seized them?
C: Just checking.
A: Good clarification. George then says that he was going to take control of the boat and save all hands. The second thing to happen was the death of Howell. You can guess what happens next.
C: Um… Is it cannibalism?
[Very brief pause]
A: It is cannibalism.
C: You- For a second there, you looked at me like I had made the most stupid suggestion.
C: ‘Cannibalism?! What are you talking about Carmella?’
A: Those in George’s clique surrounded the body and started to dismember it.
C: With the hatchets.
A: And the knives.
A: “He didn’t request permission to cut up the body and cook it in the biscuit-can boiler; he demanded it.”
A: “We refused.”
C: But he didn’t request!
A: Exactly. And he has the knives.
C: [Laughs] It’s like, [very half-heartedly] ‘Don’t do, don’t do that George. Don’t do- Ah, George.’
A: That’s a slightly different interpretation of what happened, in contrast to the account that says “aft cowered the Americans, sickened, transfixed and frightened” by the fate of the chief engineer’s body.
C: So they didn’t even tell him ‘no’.
A: Remarkably quickly, an agreement was reached. Although George decapitating the body and placing the head and, quote, “other parts” in the cooking pot seems a little extreme–
C: [Sarcastically] Extreme? I don’t know what you’re talking about!
A: How about this? Allegedly George asks crewmen who look away from him putting the head in the boiling pot if they were chickens.
C: I mean, George allegedly does a whole lot of things, right?
A: He really is the gift that just keeps giving.
A: “Flesh bubbled in a pot above the fire in a pail”, and other sections of meat were washed and then passed around to all of the crew. The first man to eat was Lieutenant Holmes; not a member of the currently still-armed clique in control of the boat.
C: Ah, so he’s happy enough to join in.
A: Power is exchanged peacefully again, with the naturalised American mates and engineers taking back control of the weapons, while the clique, quote, “waited for the contents of the can to boil, [it] did not make a pleasant sight.”
C: I guess they got what they wanted and then returned power.
A: Exactly. The double standards in this story’s incredible.
A: Because Harmon acknowledges that they had “come around” to George the Greek’s “way of thinking,” the only officer being the first man to eat, and that it was, quote, “a fate not much worse than to be eaten by sharks.”
C: I guess, yeah, practically if you’re gonna be eaten by anyone…
A: But heaven forbid they take any responsibility for the decision being made.
C: Yeah, they’ll eat the body, but they’re not gonna, like, agree to it beforehand.
A: Yeah, they’re not gonna talk about it. In fact the closest that the crew of the Dumaru ever come to talking about survival cannibalism is when the first mate, still in nominal charge, says that for his part he prefers “a death in the boat” than the alternative of sharks.
C: If you have to choose.
A: Decision made, the remaining flesh of the chief engineer was “boiled to a broth and [then] consumed by all hands when it was served in the two enamelled cups and wooden bailer. The salt in the sea water in which the flesh was boiled was absorbed by the flesh leaving the broth free from salt and not unpleasant to taste.”
C: [Doubtingly] Does that sound like science?
A: That does not in fact sound like science.
C: I guess when you boil a ham in salty water, the ham becomes salty – but the water still tastes of ham and salt I think.
A: In some of the secondary literature on this case, people were pointing out that why on earth would saltwater suddenly become not salty?
C: The flesh purifies the water! ‘We’ve found a way to purify water, guys.’
A: Always too late, the Dumaru. The flesh, by the way, “was like tough veal.” So there’s another description of human flesh we can add to the various examples we’ve got. We’ve got venison, we’ve got cream milk, and we’ve got veal.
C: And obviously pork. The normal one.
A: Well, that’s mainstream. Despite eating, the men are still weak and dying, and there were some who decide to take the manner of their death into their own fates and go overboard, deciding to feed the sharks rather than going, quote, “in the pot.”
C: Well that just seems selfish actually. That like, ‘I’d rather get eaten by sharks than eaten by these men who are, like, my friends and crew.’ That makes less sense. Like, oh alright Mr Selfish.
A: [Laughs] I have nothing to add.
C: Well no, it does! Like, they’ve acknowledged that they’re going to be eaten one way or the other, so why wouldn’t you want your body to sustain, like, other humans, rather than some random sharks that you don’t even know?
C: Huh. I disagree with their decision.
A: Despite the decision feeling like being between a rock and a hard place, the next few men to die naturally aboard the boat are put in the sea. They are not eaten.
C: [Surprised] Huh.
A: Things get a bit odd when George the Greek “cursed and raved [and] tried to get the hatchets and kill us all.”
C: Oh George!
A: So they lash him to the remaining mast, kneeling with his arms tied above his head.
C: [Sadly] Oh, George.
A: He dies there like a sort of starved Odysseus.
C: Yeah. Aww.
A: Waywood insisted that able men – with a very loose definition of able; if you could move and/or if you could eat, you were able.
A: And therefore had to work, hacking bits of wood from the boat to use for the fire.
C: Eventually they are gonna run out of boat.
A: Yeah. They end up cutting out the chief engineer’s wooden tapestry and putting it in the fire.
C: Aww. He spent so long on that.
A: That is quite sad.
A: I mean, he has also just been eaten but, still. A few fish are caught, and considering the depleted numbers, both the fish and the water can be shared a little bit further.
C: Eyy, finally.
A: As we’ve already covered, many men rave their fear of the pot, but other than the Chief Engineer, everyone’s been put overboard and it won’t be until the 23rd day that someone else would be eaten.
C: It’s not very sensible is it? You’d think that you’d just keep the bodies on hand.
A: I always come back to the Polly, that didn’t need to eat anyone because they used the bodies to fish with.
C: All those sharks are right there!
A: Pedro Lopez, known as ‘Honolulu Pete’ – the only Hawaiian crewman – was picked up from… Honolulu. Thus, the name.
C: Makes sense.
A: When they made port there, and he died as night drew in on the 23rd day. Quote, “Some stories say we killed him too, but he died like the rest.”
C: I mean, I feel like if you’ve got a load of people dying already, you don’t need to kill someone new to eat, do you? Like, you’ve got your choices.
A: But they’ve not eaten anyone else since the Chief Engineer.
C: And that, what? They didn’t want to wait for someone new to die so they killed Pete? I mean, maybe.
A: Two of the men in the boat had had a close friendship since the Dumaru, Karl Linns and the ailing Ole Heikland, and Karl implored the rest of the survivors to help his friend.
C: And how are they interpreting ‘help?’
A: Pedro Lopez’ head was removed.
A: The “thick blood was collected into the gallon kerosene can” and after being diluted Ole drank, and then the can was shared among the rest of the men. The decision was made to, quote, “remove parts of Pete’s body into the biscuit-can boiler again to make a broth that would prolong life.” It took several hours for the meat to be cut away from Pedro’s body. And this is the worst part I think, quote, “Pete’s head rolled about in the bottom of the boat.” I know they’re very apathetic, but not even putting the head overboard, while commenting about the good fleshy condition of his body…
C: Yeah, that’s pretty bad.
A: Like, we can point out how exocannibalism is easier for those who share a unifying social group, but there’s something very uncomfortable about how blasé this is being treated. Especially because Pedro is the first man that the ‘Americans’ (quote), have decided to consume.
C: Yeah, you kind of have to hope that it’s a case of being in such a horrific situation deadens you to any kind of compassion, and hope that it’s not literally, like, that extent of racism that they just don’t care.
A: Yeah. And there is some evidence that this apathy is very real.
C: It does happen.
A: Later that evening, while the men attempted to sleep, there was a splash and then, “There goes Holmes.” Lieutenant Holmes had decried the, quote, “terrible cutting of Pete’s body”, had given his watch to young Sparks, and then jumped overboard.
C: For the sharks? Again with these sharks.
A: Again for the sharks, but I think it does encompass… The reaction to a man committing suicide is just, ‘oh, there he goes.’
C: Yeah they just don’t care.
A: They do not give a single shit. After all the usable flesh had been removed from Pedro Lopez’s body, his corpse was pushed overboard. Much later, Pedro’s parents would be told that their son had died a hero’s death and been buried at sea.
C: Hah. That’s stretching the truth quite far.
A: I’m not sure if that’s a mercy or not.
C: Err? I mean. It’s a lie.
A: It’s a lie.
C: Is it a kindness or is it an easing of your own conscience?
A: And then it starts to rain. Working together, the survivors hold up the sail in order to collect and pour the rain into the water tank. Harmon and Sparks share a can of water secretly beneath the sail, until they get caught.
C: [Disapprovingly] Ooooh.
A: However, the promised threat that they would have their water ration cut doesn’t take place. You can tell that I’m like, ‘there’s fucking hypocrisy here.’
A: And I’m gonna point it out.
A: Finally, after a 24-day drift, and multiple sightings of phantom islands and mirages, solid land finally starts to appear. “Palm trees”, “smoke”, and even a cape with a “good white sand beach” is spotted.
C: Lovely, where are they?
A: They have spotted the island of Samar.
C: Hmm. Not where they were aiming, but sure.
A: Close enough. However, there’s one more issue to contend with.
C: [Intrigued] Mmm?
A: The breakers.
A: Just as they make it to shore, quote, “a tremendous torrent of water […] tossed [the boat] end over end, throwing its sixteen occupants on the coral reef.”
C: It’s just misfortune after misfortune.
A: Two men drown, including Ole. Their bodies are washed out to sea before, finally, the remaining fourteen make it onto the beach.
C: Fourteen’s not bad.
A: Out of 32.
C: Yeah. Just under 50%.
A: We’ve seen worse innings.
A: While on the beach, a local man approaches them, takes one of their enamel cups and then returns offering freshwater.
C: Ah, lovely.
A: He also ensures that they don’t gorge themselves immediately. They don’t understand why, get a bit offended.
C: No, thank you random man for doing that for them.
A: He of course remains unnamed in our classically 1930s source.
C: Yes, yes, of course.
A: But then he takes the survivors to the local village of San Jose, where they’re fed and watered. “We were all agreed to say nothing about [the] putting the chief engineer and Honolulu Pete in the pot. We didn’t talk about it much. It was just understood. We weren’t afraid. We just didn’t want it known.”
C: Right, right, right. Also, clearly that didn’t work out in the end right, when he wrote the book?
A: In a remarkable display of serendipity, there’s an American missionary visiting Samar. His name is… Hartendorf
C: Oooooh! Hartendorf!
A: You can see why I paused before that.
C: Yes, pause for effect.
A: And Hartendorf, over milky tea and biscuits, advises the men and arranges to have news of their arrival announced to the Philippine constabulary. As the survivors moved across Samar, arriving at the constabulary headquarters at Borongan, they receive hospitality, kindness and food from the locals. They also learn two things. Firstly, they learn that the war is over.
C: Oh, lovely.
A: And secondly, they learn that there have been other survivors from the Dumaru.
C: Yay. Ah, the [in a silly voice, for no discernible reason] Captain?
A: Not yet, this is where they learn that Nolan and his men had arrived safely in Manila.
C: Oh, Andy.
A: On the seventh day, an American ship, the Polillo, docked to take aboard the fourteen men, and deliver them to Manila. It was onboard that they found out that the Captain had also survived.
C: What a heart-warming story for them.
A: It was here that the unofficial decision to make the survival cannibalism secret between the survivors was solidified, and they agreed not to speak of it to any media or to any naval inquiry boards that may be called.
A: This pledge didn’t last very long. It lasted until Karl got drunk.
C: [Laughs] Oh, you know how it is.
A: And then everyone knew about it. When the inquiry was called, it wasn’t about the cannibalism at all; it was about the death of officer Lieutenant Holmes.
A: The Thomas, carrying the survivors home was waylaid on its journey, because they had to stop to pick up three castaways of the Petrel, which had run out of fuel. Her lifeboat had been a week at sea. “It was odd to find ourselves, not thirst tortured […] but aiding in the rescue.” Three men from that lifeboat were saved.
C: How the tables turn.
A: On 30 November, the fourteen survivors of the lifeboat are reported as landing in the Philippines, having spent 37 days in an open boat. Quote, “without food or water for ten days. They rowed for 1,200 miles.” This small newspaper report from the Adelaide Chronicle has no mention of the cannibalism.
C: Well, you know, why panic people?
A: However, the Dumaru did enter Pacific legend. Men would approach each other in bars asking if they’d heard of the wreck and multiple versions of the disaster and the cannibalism were in circulation in the 20s and 30s.
C: ‘Hey dude! You heard about Dumaru?’
A: ‘You mean the DOOM-aru?’
C: [Laughs] I mean, isn’t that essentially what we’re doing right now?
A: That is exactly what we’re doing right now. Sometimes the Dumaru would be a murder mystery – who killed the Lieutenant’s steward – sometimes it’s the story of a mutiny, in others there is no lightning strike but instead it’s a bomb.
C: Ooh, I think the lightning’s more exciting actually.
A: Sometimes the dying implore their fellows to eat their bodies. In other versions, notably not in the official narrative, “they cast lots”–
C: Eyy! Name drop!
A: “And the chief engineer and a Hawaiian mess boy lost, were killed, cooked and eaten.” In some stories, justice is even done, and men who may or may not have killed their fellow sailors for food are arrested in Samar.
C: But we don’t think that actually happened?
A: No. However, it was Fred Harmon who kept a diary, and it was Fred Harmon whose story was the basis for Lowell Thomas’ book. This is the one that gets to be the ‘real’ version, and how are we to know? Especially because Harmon has turned out to be a bit Bills & Boon-esque.
C: Just a little.
A: He’s the one that tries to save Sparks; he’s the one that lowered the lifeboat; he generously shared food; he never advocated for cannibalism; he didn’t even sleep under the sail where George the Greek was having a fight, he was somewhere else…
C: Yeah, yeah, we’ve definitely seen the ‘I was asleep on a different part of the lifeboat’ before.
A: It’s always a bit suspect in one’s own narrative when you turn out to be a big damn hero.
A: Sparks will later write an article in [posh voice] Popular Science Monthly.
C: [Posh voice] Hmhm, my favourite magazine.
A: [Continuing the voice] It is the layman’s science magazine for the “home craftsman and hobbyist who wanted to know something about the world of science!”
C: I would love to know something about the world of science.
A: We are a science podcast!
A: Sparks writes in the June edition of 1919– I don’t know why I give him a posh British accent, I can’t help it. [In a posh voice] “It was a close fight but once more mind triumphed over matter”. I can’t help it, he’s not British but that’s such an obnoxiously British statement to make.
A: He’s getting the accent. But he talks about how the power of science, evaporation and lancing three small dolphins was enough to sustain them for 24 days at sea, with no mention of cannibalism at all.
C: That’s a very can-do, Boy’s Own Adventure attitude, isn’t it?
A: It is. Perhaps he didn’t want to encourage readers of Popular Science Monthly to try that particular experiment for themselves?
C: [Laughs] ‘Don’t do this at home!’
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on the SS Dumaru. More like Boom-aru!
A: [Snorts] Join us next time for the final episode of Season Two, ‘Fun on Boats’.
[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]