Africans Thrown Overboard from a Slave Ship, Early 19th cent.

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This record was last updated on 14 Jun 2016

Image Reference

Charles Van Tenac, editor, Histoire Generale de la Marine Comprenant les Voyages Autour du Monde (Paris, 1847-48, vol. 4, between pp. 228-229; also, Paris, 1853, Vol. 4, between pp. 266 and 267).

Caption: "Negrier Poursuivi, Jetant ses Negres a la Mer" (Slave Ship being Pursued, Throwing its Blacks into the Sea). Within a strongly abolitionist discussion of the slave trade (pp. 224-39), this illustration accompanies a dramatic description of an incident that occurred at an unspecified date, but sometime after the slave trade was abolished, near the Indian ocean French- island colony of Bourbon (present-day Reunion). A slave ship was fired upon by an unspecified vessel that was chasing it, causing severe damage. The ocean waters rushing in threatened to sink the ship despite the efforts of the crew. The vessel's captain decided to take the desperate measure of jettisoning its human cargo. The manacled captives were brought to the top deck in pairs under a pretext, and cannon balls were attached to their chains; they were then cast overboard (pp. 228-29). The engraving, the account ends, "shows this barbarous act, at the moment the slave ship is being pursued" (p. 229; our translation). The illustration is not based on an eyewitness drawing, but is an artist's fabrication; also the incident's description is not based on the author's observations. The illustration sometimes appears in secondary historical and other works which give a misleading impression that it is based on an eyewitness drawing (and do not cite the original source), and erroneously use it to illustrate the famous Zong incident. In December 1781, the British slaving vessel, Zong, sailing out of Liverpool, jettisoned 132 or 133 captive Africans, men, women, and children, into the Caribbean sea. This incident provoked a famous court case in which the vessel's owners attempted to claim insurance compensation for lost property; the incident helped galvanize British public opinion against the slave trade.