It's 1872 and Mr. Fogg is having his journey around the world, and let's take the TV series adaption of 2021 as the basis.

The situation at hand in Episode 6 is as follows:

Taking a Steamship Carnatic under the British flag, just like in the book, from Yokohama/Japan to San Francisco/USA, Mr. Fogg is trying to catch a specific train there. Mr. Kneedling is also abroad. He acts as an Agent for a Mr. Bellamy, who is a member of the Reform Club and has instructions to stop Fogg from reaching London in time.

Some day or such into the traverse, he forces Mr Fogg and his entourage at gunpoint into a lifeboat with a single bottle and cuts the the ropes. This happens during a storm at night, making it likely that Mr. Kneedling intends for Mr. Fogg's delay to be permanent due to his death.

Put in life's peril, this raises legal questions galore, but in particular one:

Taking the 1872 year as a basis, was it actually attempted murder to force a person into a lifeboat without a trial or supplies, under the expectation that they would die from the elements or starvation?


2 Answers 2


It depends upon the intent and knowledge of the perpetrators.

If there is knowledge that this is almost sure to cause their death, or an intent to cause their death, or depraved indifference to human life, then it is attempted murder.

If there is merely a reckless disregard of the risk that they will die, without knowledge that it will kill them or an intent to kill them, then it is attempted manslaughter. Particularly if they were in a busy sea lane, or the perpetrator had recently read a news report of someone surviving in these circumstances, this lesser charge might fit the crime.

A jury would have to evaluate the perpetrators intent based upon all of the evidence admitted at a trial, both direct and circumstantial.

Without regard to their intent regarding causing their death, it is also aggravated kidnapping, because they moved to someplace different than they were involuntarily and at gunpoint, and also the lesser offense of false imprisonment because they have no viable means to escape from where they have been placed.

Depending upon what is done with their belongings, it could also be armed robbery.

Despite the fact that this is on the high seas, these acts do not constitute piracy, since the offenders didn't come onto this ship from another ship or boat. As noted in the comments by Candence, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Art. 101, defines piracy as "acts of violence[,] detention,... or depredation... by the crew or passengers of a private ship... against another ship."

  • 2
    We are talking 1872 here - while the TV series has them rescued by a second ship a few days after (and only losing a day for that steamship allegedly is faster), the expectation of Kneadling would be for him to die, or so it seems. Added more on the situation.
    – Trish
    Dec 21, 2023 at 23:08
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    The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Art. 101, defines piracy as "acts of violence[,] detention,... or depredation... by the crew or passengers of a private ship... against another ship", so the involvement of another vessel does seem to be required.
    – Cadence
    Dec 22, 2023 at 5:09
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    The UN didn't exist in 1872. It's conventions are not relevant if we are "Taking the 1872 year as a basis," as the question is framed. Dec 22, 2023 at 11:58
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    @RedGrittyBrick It's likely that they were simply codifying existing understanding.
    – Barmar
    Dec 22, 2023 at 15:29
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    @sdenham I think "attempted" in both "attempted murder" and "attempted manslaughter" means that whatever they did would be considered murder/manslaughter, but the victim survived.
    – Barmar
    Dec 22, 2023 at 17:21

It's attempted murder

Murder shall be taken to have been committed where the act of the accused, or thing by him or her omitted to be done, causing the death charged, was done or omitted with reckless indifference to human life ...

s18 of the Crimes Act 1900.

It is hard to argue that setting people adrift in a lifeboat, without food, with inadequate water, in a storm, at night is anything but "reckless indifference to human life".

  • It may be hard to argue, but not impossible, particularly viewed with 20-20 hindsight as a jury can't escape doing at least subconsciously, if they actually survive. Reckless indifference to human life sometimes called "depraved indifference" is different that mere manslaughter recklessness, and is most often used when you, for example, shoot into a crowd knowing that someone will die, but not who. A defendant would probably have the right to put have the lesser charge presented as an alternative to the jury.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 21, 2023 at 23:33
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    Sadly that wording is just about 28 years too new - you happen to have any earlier edition of the crimes act? 1872 was the date.
    – Trish
    Dec 22, 2023 at 0:01
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    @ohwilleke As a prosecutor I would almost certainly try to emphasize how unlikely their survival was (I watched the show but don't remember the details -- a recap website just says that they "somehow survived the destruction of their lifeboat and washed up on a deserted beach"). Perhaps analogize to forcing a victim to play Russian roulette (how many rounds would you have to play for it to become depraved indifference?).
    – Barmar
    Dec 22, 2023 at 15:40
  • @ohwilleke Also, your argument suggests that someone with no firearm training who shoots someone and misses could be acquitted of attempted murder. The defense could argue "The victim was in little danger because my client can't aim a gun to save his life. If he really wanted to succeed he would have spent time on a gun range first."
    – Barmar
    Dec 27, 2023 at 22:02

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