Thu | Jul 18, 2019

Remembering the Zong

Published:Wednesday | December 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Saturday, December 21, 2018, marked the 237th anniversary of the arrival of the ship Zong in Jamaica after a tortuous journey from West Africa, and the barbaric massacre of some of the Africans on board.

On Saturday, December 22, 1781, the Zong, owned by a Liverpool syndicate, made its way into the port at Black River with 208 enslaved Africans on board. The ship had sailed with 440 people whose names we do not know, but we know that many were taken from modern-day Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana. So, why the massive difference between the numbers of those who left and those who arrived in Jamaica

The answer is that while some died of 'natural causes' on the voyage, many more were deliberately thrown overboard by the crew at the instruction of Captain Luke Collingwood. The reason? Because the insurers of the ship would not pay if the enslaved Africans died of natural causes.

But Collingwood came up with what he considered to be a brilliant plan. Many of the Africans who had been taken, brutalised, and tortured, fed insufficiently and given inadequate water were now sick and dying. It made sense to him to instead chain the ones less likely to survive by the ankles and throw them overboard to collect the insurance money. So he did.

On November 29, 1781, the first set of 55 Africans who were enslaved and dying, mostly women and children, were thrown overboard by the ankles with chains that further weighed them down. Then on November 30, forty-two more were thrown overboard into the ocean, and the rest on December 1.

We remember the arrival of the 208, as well as the 132 enslaved humans who were never considered people at all.


Director, Centre for Reparation Research