William Turner, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), 1840
The Zong Massacre was an infamous mass-killing of African slaves that took place on the Zong, a British ship owned by James Gregson and colleagues in a Liverpool slave-ship firm. The resulting court case was a landmark in the battle against the African Slave Trade of the eighteenth century.(source Nation Master)
The Zong was a Dutch ship which had been captured by the British. Its original name, Zorg (Dutch for 'care') was misread as Zong.(source Nation Master)
The Zong left Sao Tomé, an island off the west coast of Africa, on September 6, 1781 carrying some 170 slaves and a crew of 17 en route to England on the Middle Passage captained by Sir Luke Collingwood. Its first destination was to be Jamaica. On November 27, 1781 it arrived at an island which the crew believed to be Jamaica.(source Nation Master)
The ship had taken on more slaves than it could safely transport. By November 29, 1781, this overcrowding, together with malnutrition and disease, had killed seven of the crew and approximately sixty African slaves - Captain Collingwood decided to throw the remaining sick slaves overboard.
He assumed that as the slaves were considered in law to be cargo he could claim the loss against the insurance policy so, as the ship's insurance would not pay for sick slaves or slaves that died of illness, gave orders for the 133 slaves to be drowned. The policy allowed that if a slave went over the side alive, then the Liverpool ship-owners could claim but that if a slave died on board, then the insurers would not pay because that would be deemed to be bad cargo management and therefore not covered by the policy. Later, it was claimed that the slaves had been jettisoned because it was required "for the safety of the ship" as the ship did not have enough water to keep them alive for the rest of the voyage. This claim was later disproved; the ship had 420 gallons of water left on arrival on December 22 in Jamaica.(source Nation Master)
The ship´s owners brought a suit against the insurers,which came to court, twice, in March 1783, demanding to be paid £30 for each slave. The British court stated that there was ”no doubt that (though it shocks one very much) the case was the same as if horses had been thrown overboard” and ruled that the ship-owners could not claim insurance on the slaves because the lack of sufficient water demonstrated that the cargo had been badly managed. No officers or crew, however, were charged or prosecuted for the calculated killing of 133 people.
Indeed, the Solicitor-General, John Lee, declared that a master could drown slaves without “a surmise of impropriety”. He stated: "What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods.Blacks are goods and property;it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew.To question the judgement of an experienced well-traveled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves.The case is the same as if horses had been thrown overboard." (source Nation Master)