When Murder Wasn’t A Crime – Only An Insurance Claim For Lost Cargo
Later this week, Prime Minister Tony Blair will deliver a “historical expression of regret“ for the British state’s involvement in slavery. He will condemn Britain’s role in the slave trade as a “crime against humanity” and express “deep sorrow” that it ever happened.
Why is Blair making the statement now? The timing may, or may not, have something to do with reminding the world that while Britain was an integral part of the slave trade at the time, the British people became world leaders in the abolishment of slavery.
The timing of Blair’s statement might be no accident as it closely precedes an important anniversary in the fight to abolish slavery in the British Empire.
On March 25, 1807, Britain passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act – which prohibited British subjects from transporting slaves. This was just one of the victories leading up to the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, but it was an important victory that had taken anti-slavery advocates years to push through Parliament.
The Horror Of The Slave Vessel “Zong”
Today’s Guardian features an article about the murder of slaves on the sailing vessel “Zong” – one of the horrifying cases that helped to turn the British public against the institution of slavery. Slave Olaudah Equiano was on the Zong, and his 1789 autobiography is generally acknowledged to have fueled the anti-slavery movement. The truth and horrors of Equiano’s revelations allowed good people like William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, Henry Brougham, Mary Lloyd and others to win over the British public.
Whether you have heard about Olaudah Equiano and the Zong or not, you must read this article…
Slavery: The Long Road To Our Historic ‘Sorrow”
Britain is poised to come to terms with its role in the brutal trade in human lives. Here leading historian Tristram Hunt considers why, 200 years after abolition, we are finally acknowledging our wrongs…
Captain Luke Collingwood’s voyage was not going well. Poor navigation and strong headwinds meant his ship, the Zong, was taking months, not weeks, to sail from Africa to Jamaica. More worryingly, his cargo was beginning to rot. For shackled beneath the deck, pressed back to face, festering in each others’ excrement, blood and sweat, some 440 slaves lay slowly dying.
Seeing his profits slip away as the deaths mounted, Collingwood resorted to an insurance scam. With each African covered at £30 apiece (over £2,000 at today’s prices), he decided to jettison parts of the cargo to ‘save’ the rest. The Zong’s maritime insurance would cover the cost of each lost slave. Citing a lack of drinking water, the captain had 133 slaves thrown overboard. Some went to their death with arms still shackled; others jumped into the ocean themselves…
… continue reading this article (link here)
Photo by Shona “Bussa”