The Zong Massacre

26 Nov, 2020 320 Political science

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the notorious events off Jamaica in 1781 and their background. The British slave ship Zong, having sailed across the Atlantic towards Jamaica, threw 132 enslaved Africans from its human cargo into the sea to drown. Even for a slave ship, the Zong was overcrowded; those murdered were worth more to the ship dead than alive. The crew said there was not enough drinking water to go round and they had no choice, which meant they could claim for the deaths on insurance. The main reason we know of this atrocity now is that the owners took their claim to court in London, and the insurers were at first told to pay up as if the dead slaves were any other lost goods, not people. Abolitionists in Britain were scandalised: if courts treated mass murder in the slave trade as just another business transaction and not a moral wrong, the souls of the nation would be damned. But nobody was ever prosecuted.

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  • Vincent Brown No other episodes
    Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University
  • Bronwen Everill No other episodes
    Class of 1973 Lecturer in History and Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge
  • Jake Subryan Richards No other episodes
    Assistant Professor of History at the London School of Economics

Reading list

  • Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History
    Ian Baucom (Duke University Press, 2005) Google Books →
  • Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism
    Christopher Leslie Brown (University of North Carolina Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • The Reaper's Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery
    Vincent Brown (Harvard University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Granville Sharp's Uncovered Letter and the Zong Massacre
    Michelle Faubert (Palgrave, 2018) Google Books →
  • The Diligent
    Robert Harms (Basic Books, 2002) Google Books →
  • Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery
    Adam Hoschschild (Pan, 2012)
  • Jihad in West Africa during the Age of Revolutions
    Paul E. Lovejoy (Ohio University Press, 2016) Google Books →
  • Zong!
    M. NourbeSe Philip (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Slave Empire: How Slavery Built Modern Britain
    Padraic X. Scanlan (Robinson, 2020) Google Books →
  • Memoirs of Granville Sharp, Esq. Composed from His Own Manuscripts and Other Authentic Documents in the Possession of His Family and of the African Institution
    Granville Sharp (ed. Prince Hoare) (Cambridge University Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • Blood & Sugar
    Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Mantle, 2019) Google Books →
  • Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora
    Stephanie E Smallwood (Harvard University Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • Where the Negroes are Masters: An African Port in the Era of the Slave Trade
    Randy J. Sparks (Harvard University Press, 2014) Google Books →
  • Consuming Anxieties: Consumer Protest, Gender & British Slavery, 1713-1833
    Charlotte Sussman (Stanford University Press, 2000) Google Books →
  • The Zong: A Massacre, the Law and the End of Slavery
    James Walvin (Yale University Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa
    Rudolph T. Ware III (University of North Carolina Press, 2014) Google Books →

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Auto-category: 326.8 (Slavery and the slave trade)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In 1781, the British slave ship Zon threw 132 enslaved Africans from its human cargo into the sea to drown so that their value could be claimed back on insurance.