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29 NOVEMBER

BRITISH SLAVE SHIP THROWS ITS CARGO OVERBOARD AND CLAIMS ON ITS INSURERS

[ 29 November 1781 ]

On this day in 1781, Captain Luke Collingwood, commanding the British slave ship Zong headed for Jamaica, ordered his crew to murder one third of his cargo of African slaves by throwing them overboard. He had earlier gambled on trying to cram as many Africans as possible into the vessel and subsequently found his ship behind schedule due to a navigation error and running short of drinking water.

The syndicate of Liverpool traders who owned the ship then claimed on the insurers to cover the cost  of the 132 “lost” men, women and children because, as they argued, the captain had had no alternative. As with other traders, they had insured their slave cargoes and, in so far as the particular contract allowed, could claim on any “loss”. The insurers, however, challenged the case in court, not on the grounds of  mass murder or even unlawful killing, but because they argued that the jettisoning of the slaves had been “unnecessary”.

[ See also Lord Mansfield’s Verdict 22 May 1783 ]

FOOTNOTES

  1. James Walvin (2011), “The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery,” Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

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