1st July 1858

Guernseyman Edward Tupper killed by cannibals

Guernseyman Edward Murray Tupper was killed by cannibals on Tanna, an island in a South Pacific chain now known as Vanuatu. 22-year-old Tupper (some sources say 21) was serving as a mate on HMS Iris at the time. He had been sent ashore as part of a team to punish the locals for the murder of a sandalwood trader.

Tupper wasn’t the only member of the expedition to die. 43-year-old seaman William Kennedy also died. However, where Tupper’s remains were recovered and taken back to the Iris, Kennedy’s were not. It is assumed that he was eaten. Tupper was buried at sea the following day.

A disastrous expedition

The crew of the Iris had captured the local tribe’s second in command and locked him in chains. According to a letter published in The Star and reproduced by the Priaulx Library, the plan was to destroy the locals’ houses, cut down their trees and tear up their plantations. A landing party went ashore to carry out the mission, including Tupper and Kennedy. Other sailors who remained on the boat and fired large guns into the jungle to scare away the locals.

However, the vegetation surrounding the village was so dense that the men of the landing party quickly became separated from one another. Tupper and Kennedy were surrounded by enraged locals, and Tupper was speared twice. He managed to remove the first spear himself, and the second with some help.

They evacuated and rushed back to the Iris. However, they were ambushed on open ground, and neither Kennedy nor Tupper made it as far as the ship. It wasn’t until December of the same year – more than five months later – that news of their deaths reached the British press. The reports stated that Tupper’s parents lived in Hauteville House in St Peter Port’s, which would later become Victor Hugo’s home while in exile on Guernsey.


The officers of HMS Iris erected a stone memorial to the memory of the two men on the wall of St James Anglican Church in Sydney. It gives their names, ranks, ages and manner of death.

Vanuatu is a South Pacific Ocean nation of roughly 80 islands spread over more than 800 miles. The islands are roughly 1500 miles north east of Australia. They were known as New Hebrides at the time of Tupper’s death.


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