|| Skip Navigation|

Gloucestershire County Council


The "Zong" incident

Image of slaves being thrown overboard from the slave ship Zong

It was black activist Olaudah Equiano who brought the shocking case of the slave ship "Zong" to the attention of abolitionist Granville Sharp. In 1783, 133 slaves were thrown into the sea, alive and chained, from the "Zong" when supplies of water ran low. The ship's captain was intending to make a false insurance claim for the slaves who had been jettisoned. After the captain was acquitted of insurance fraud, Granville Sharp tried, unsuccessfully, to bring a private prosecution for murder against him. This notorious case helped turn public opinion against the slave trade.

Letter from Granville Sharp to William Baker about the "Zong" incident, 23 May 1783 [D3549 13/1/B1]

"My time has been much taken up lately in endeavouring to obtain evidence against the master and crew of a Liverpool slave-ship who cast overboard about 123 poor negro slaves alive into the sea with their hands fettered. The owners of the ship obtained a verdict last march against the insurers for the value of the said negroes- and the insurers last week moved for a new trial which was granted; and I suppose will be appointed in the sittings this term. The contest between the owners and insurers of the ship is a mere mercenary business about the pecuniary value of the negroes; but I hope to obtain from it sufficient evidence to commence a criminal prosecution...for murder...

"They pleaded a necessity through the want of water to destroy some the cargo...in order to save the rest; but it appears that upwards of 60 had died of the gaol distemper (as they always do, at least one third are regularly destroyed by this distemper on every voyage of the slave dealers, through their detestable avarice and cruelty in cramming too great a number down the hold of the ship) even before they discovered that there was a want of water; and 54 of the poor negroes were picked from amongst the sick and cast into the sea that very day they discovered the want of water, even before they were put to short allowance; so that if there be any necessity at all in the case, it is the necessity (incumbent upon the whole nation) to put an immediate stop to the slave trade..."

To download a video file of this document being read by an actor playing Granville Sharp, see the link below. This file may take a few moments to download.

© 2011 Gloucestershire County Council, Shire Hall, Westgate Street, Gloucester GL1 2TG.
Telephone: +44 (0)1452 425000