Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday April 02 2007

Last Saturday afternoon I went out snapping, first around Parliament, and then off to the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, etc., both very popular Billion Monkey habitats.  At the latter place I spied an unfamiliar vessel anchored a little bit up river from the Tower.  With its intricate masts and ropes and whatnots and the excellent setting sun, to say nothing of its prime albeit temporary location and spectacular nearby views of London landmarks, it featured in a number of my shots:

imageimageimageimageimageimage

But what was it?  Oh well, just one of those London mysteries.  You can’t expect to understand everything that happens in a great city.  A village, yes.  A great city, forget it.  So, I was all set to forget it.

But now, look at today’s London Daily Photo.  Mystery solved.  It’s the Zong, that is to say it’s a full-scale model of the Zong, or of something a lot like it.  It’s a slave ship replica, the original being the one they threw the slaves off and then claimed for on their insurance.

Concerning which case the Solicitor General, John Lee apparently said:

What is this claim that human people have been thrown overboard? This is a case of chattels or goods. Blacks are goods and property; it is madness to accuse these well-serving honourable men of murder. They acted out of necessity and in the most appropriate manner for the cause. The late Captain Collingwood acted in the interest of his ship to protect the safety of his crew.  To question the judgement of an experienced well-travelled captain held in the highest regard is one of folly, especially when talking of slaves. The case is the same as if horses had been thrown overboard.

Sometimes public officials say things like this not because they believe them, but because they wish to draw attention to the current state of the law with maximum provocativeness.  But one can’t give Lee the benefit of any such doubts, because he didn’t just assert the lawfulness of Collingwood’s actions, but the appropriateness of them, the morality of them.

But whatever the intention behind this and other similar pronouncements, these certainly had the effect of publicising the evil of the current law:

Granville Sharp, the intrepid Abolitionist, took up the case and used it in his campaign.  He visited every bishop in the country most of whom joined the abolition cause as a result of this case and he spoke at public meetings throughout the land. The story of The Zong became a national talking point.  The fact that throwing 133 Africans overboard was not regarded as murder but simply as the lawful disposal of ‘merchandise’ at last stirred the national conscience. Although it took another 24 years to persuade Parliament to ban the slave trade, The Zong was the first significant turning point in the abolitionist campaign.

I don’t know how exact a replica this ship is of the original Zong itself.  It says here that it is “a replica 18th century wooden square rigger”.  Nor do I know where it usually lives.  The stories I have googled my way to understandably concentrate on the historical events being remembered and reflected upon rather than on the mere replica itself.

More pictures of this version of the Zong here.