Johann Schroeder was a German physicist and medical researcher, best known for isolating and describing arsenic. Belonging to the Paracelsian medical school, Schroeder was fond of prescribing ‘mummy’ – dried and powdered human corpse – as a catch-all treatment. In his 1656 book Pharmacopoeia Medico-Chymica, Schroeder claimed the very best mummy was sourced from Egyptian tombs or deserts – but this variety was often expensive and hard to come by. As an alternative, Schroeder provided his own recipe for high-quality medical-grade human mummy:
“Take the fresh unspotted cadaver of a red-headed man (because in them the blood is thinner and the flesh hence more excellent) aged about 24, who has been executed and died a violent death. Let the corpse lie one day and night in the sun and moon – but the weather must be good. Cut the flesh in pieces and sprinkle it with myrrh and a little aloe. Then soak it in spirits of wine for several days, hang it up against for 6 to 10 hours, soak it again in spirits of wine, then let the pieces dry in a shady spot. Thus they will be similar to smoked meat and will not stink.”
Once dry, the flesh could be powdered and used both internally and externally for a variety of ailments – from epilepsy to scrofula, from gout to haemorrhoids.
In 1759 the London press reported the discovery at sea of the cargo sloop Dolphin and its emaciated crew. The Dolphin had embarked from the Canary Islands the previous year and was bound for New York. Days into its voyage the ship encountered severe weather, suffering considerable damage and losing its bearings. The Dolphin spent the next six months adrift in the mid-Atlantic – but was only carrying supplies for a six-week voyage:
“The captain and people declare that they had not had any ship provisions for upwards of three months – that they had eaten their dog, their cat and all their shoes… in short, everything that was eatable on board.”
As might be expected, the eight men onboard the Dolphin discussed the prospect of eating each other:
“Being reduced to the last extremity, they all agreed to cast lots for their lives, which accordingly they did… the shortest lot was to die, the next shortest to be executioner. The lot fell on one Antony Galatio… They shot him through the head, which they cut off and threw overboard; they then took out his bowels and eat them, and afterwards eat all the remaining part of the body, which lasted but a very little while.”
Galatio was both the only passenger and the only Spaniard onboard, so the lottery may well have been rigged – if it happened at all. Whatever the reality, eating Galatio sustained the crew for another fortnight. The captain managed to stave off more talk of cannibalism when he discovered a pair of leather shorts in his cabin. The shorts were cut up into squares and distributed to crew members, who survived another 20 days on this “miserable allowance”. No charges were laid against the captain or crew for the murder and consumption of Galatio.
At the turn of the 20th century, parts of rural China were ravaged by drought, leading to devastating crop failures and famine. American journalist and Christian missionary Francis Nichols toured Xian province, where more than two million people had perished, and saw evidence of cannibalism – in the sale of human meatballs:
“By and by, human flesh began to be sold in the suburbs of Xian. At first the traffic was carried on clandestinely, but after a time a horrible kind of meat ball, made from the bodies of human beings who had died of hunger, became a staple article of food, that was sold for about four American cents a pound.”
Many Chinese believed that foreign imperialism and the spread of Christianity were responsible for crop failures and famine. This anti-foreign sentiment fuelled the Boxer movement of the same period.