The Zong by James Walvin. Short history about the slave ship whose notoriety helped galvanize support for the abolition of slavery. Off-course and short of water, the crew threw a hundred and twenty-two slaves overboard in irons. This would have remained obscure except for an insurance dispute. The insurers refused to compensate the ship's owners for the value of these lost slaves, so the owners took them to court in London.
One interesting aspect is the way abolitionist campaigners were able to make this a sensation in the press. The ship owners seem to have been taken by surprise at this: this kind of action wasn't uncommon, and there was plenty of public information about it. In media terms it reminds me a little of the recent phone-hacking news: sometimes a story that journalists assume to be a minor matter that everybody knows but doesn't care about, starts to snowball into a huge scandal.
The Zong scandal helped change the abolitionist movement from a small, elite affair regarded as somewhat eccentric, to a powerful mass movement. However, it would be decades more before slavery was actually abolished.
Walvin is a historian who specializes in slavery: he's well-informed and writes lucidly without sensationalism. However, the sources are quite scanty: the ship's log was conveniently lost before the trial, the crew had scattered or died, and the trial testimony was limited to one witness who was probably unreliable.
The voyage itself was badly-run. The Zong was originally a small Dutch slaver captured by the British in war, already with slaves aboard. Another British slaver opportunistically bought the ship and its slaves, hastily assembled a skeleton crew of dubious competence, bought more slaves in West Africa and set off. The captain fell sick, nominated a passenger as replacement causing conflict with the first mate. Something went wrong with the water casks, possibly because a good cooper wasn't available, and the leak wasn't noticed till far too late. A better organized crew might have noticed the leak earlier and been able to ration the water. Then a navigation error led them to miss their destination port.
Overall, an informative and interesting book on an important incident.
What I'm Watching
Saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes at the cinema. Pretty decent movie: a researcher raises an chimp with increased intelligence. Has a good blend of drama, tearjerking, and some action at the end.
Worth seeing, while it's not original it's very well put together.
Politics. Does UK have “more abortions than anywhere else in Western Europe” background, Daily Mash. Obama's 3 big mistakes.
Random. Doom cakes. Picture of horseshoe crab blood harvesting. Bonn prostitutes to pay tax by meter. Time Warner gets cut of Anon's Guy Fawkes mask. Freedom of Information act request. If the Earth were a cube.
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