LORD MANSFIELD – THROWING SLAVES OVERBOARD CANNOT BE MURDER.
[ 22 May 1783 ]
On this day in 1783, Lord Mansfied, the presiding judge at an appeal hearing, issued his verdict on the case of 132 men, women and children thrown overboard from a British owned slave ship, the Zong, on 29 November 1871. It was one of many brutal crimes committed against the millions of slaves who were victims of Britain’s transatlantic slave trade. After the first few had been murdered, the other slaves hearing the screams of the drowning must have known the terrible fate of those being led up in chains on to the deck.
Despite, a heavy rainfall the night before, the ship’s owners claimed that the ship had run short of drinking water though they acknowledged it was to their advantage for the crew to kill them so they could claim on insurance. Their claim was challenged in court by the insurers.
The only witness who was called to give evidence was the ship’s only passenger, Robert Stubbs. He argued that the decision to “jettison” the slaves was taken “from the necessity he (the ship’s captain Luke Collingwood) was under to save the rest,” or as the shipowners’ legal representative Solicitor General John Lee put it, the company’s property had been cast into the Caribbean “for the preservation of the Residue.” The murdered Africans were mere items of merchandise, and “perished just as a cargo of goods perished.”
The witnesses’ claims were difficult to disprove, since the ship’s logbook, a detailed account of its position, movements, the weather, supplies and any important occurrences on board, had gone missing sometime after its arrival in Jamaica. So any formal record regarding the “loss” of the slave cargo had disappeared.
The insurers, nevertheless, reasoned that the killings could be entirely attributed to human error and the navigation mistake which caused the ship to run short of drinking water. They also argued that the Africans were just as entitled to water as the Captain and his white crew and that throwing them overboard was an outrage “that shocks humanity.”
Mansfield conceded the first point and ruled that due to navigational and other errors, the insurers could not be held liable but he strongly disagreed about considering the event as a crime, reasoning that since the victims were nothing more than the “property” of the slavers, no murder had been committed, adding “that the case of the slaves was the same as if horses had been thrown overboard.” In order to clarify this point of marine law insurance, he explained that “if they (slaves) die a natural death, they (the insurers) did not pay…. (but if) the slaves are killed they will be paid for them as much as for damages done to goods and it is frequently done, just as if horses are killed they are paid for in the gross.”
THE BRITISH PREEMPT A MUTINY AT PESHAWAR WITH MASS EXECUTIONS.
[ 22 May 1857 ]
On this day in 1857, British soldiers rounded up Indian troops who were refusing to follow orders and suspected of planning to join the growing insurgency against British rule. According to one report, “150 were killed on the spot and 9 tried by drumhead court martial and instantly shot,” while “others were driven into the hills and killed by the hillmen, a price of ten rupees being placed on their heads.”
ASTON VILLA HONOUR THE NAZIS WITH TWO NAZI SALUTES
On Sunday 22 May 1938, at a football match in Stuttgart, in front of sixty thousand spectators, Aston Villa gave a Nazi salute both at the start and at the end of the match, while the German team didn’t even bother to do the same. The Daily Mirror, under the headline “Villa Give Nazi Salute After Win But Germans Don’t Reply,” refrained from any criticism of this accidental excess of deference to the Nazi regime. 
A few days earlier the British press had sharply criticized Aston Villa when they had only given one Nazi salute at the start of a match the previous Sunday in front of 110,000 spectators in Berlin’s Olympic stadium. The disorderly breach of Nazi protocol was vividly described on the front page of the Daily Express by its veteran sports correspondent Henry Rose. “The German players,” he reported, “lined up to give the Nazi salute (but) the Villa team, with the exception of Allen, the captain and one or two others, ran off the field. Allen tried to call the players back but they refused to return. Finally Allen joined the rest and the band tried to drown out the booing.”
Although Villa won the match against the German side by three goals to two, the verdict of both the Daily Express article and the Football Association was damning. “It was an unfortunate end to a bad game“, commented Rose, adding that “the view of the Football Association officials who watched the game was that all the good work of the previous day, when England had defeated Germany 6-3 in the international in a friendly atmosphere, had been completely destroyed.”
The following Wednesday, Jimmy Hogan, the Villa manager, though not commenting further on what had happened at the match, assured the British press that “there would certainly be no misunderstanding in today’s match (Wednesday).” He added that unfortunately he had not himself been present in the Olympic Stadium at the end of Sunday’s match but had he been aware of what was happening he would have told his players to go back on to the field and make the salute.
When Aston Villa returned from Germany, Fred Normansell, Aston Villa’s Chairman, explained to the British press that the team’s failure to give a double Nazi salute at the initial match had been a “misunderstanding”, while Hogan stressed that the players “were not told there would be any such formality after the game.” This contrite tone appears to have finally appeased angry officials at the FA who had earlier hinted at launching a full investigation.
Hogan, however, was left puzzled by the outrage shown in the British press at Aston Villa’s lack of due deference to Nazi officials. “(British) newspaper reports,” he told a Yorkshire Post correspondent, “have been greatly exaggerated” and, he added that, “it was significant that the incident was not mentioned by a single German newspaper.”
- James Walvin, (2011), “The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery,” Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p147
- “The Mutiny at Peshawur,” The Globe, 4 August 1857, p1 and “The Mutiny at Peshawar, The Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, 7 August 1857, p4
- “Villa Give Nazi Salute After Win But Germans Don’t Reply”, the Daily Mirror, 23 May 1938, p31.
- “Villa Booed By Germans, Refuse Nazi Salute,” the Daily Express, 16 May 1938 p1
- “A Misunderstanding”, the Sunderland Echo, 18 May 1938 p9
- Ibid p9
- “Nazi Salute Incident,” the Yorkshire Post, 28 May 1938 p23