episode 9

The Zong Massacre

Atlantic ocean, 1781

Published the 4th of july 2016


Triangular trade

The African slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries was an example of triangular trade. It was organised by Europeans and carried out in Africa and America, forming three points of an economic triangle. The trade grew from shaky economic foundations to become massively profitable, allowing European slavers to build immense fortunes.

le tableau de turner

The English artist J.M.W. Turner chose the Zong massacre as the subject of the painting Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on. The work was shown for the first time in 1840 and is now on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The anti-slavery movement

Slavery had a turbulent legal history all over the world. In France, it was abolished by the Republican Convention in 1794, then re-established by Napoleon in 1802. Not until 1848 was the practice definitively outlawed in all French territories, and even then some forms of slavery were still tolerated, particularly in the colonies.

Water supplies

Water supplies were a precious resource on board ship. Water was stored in barrels and doled out in rations that grew less fresh as the journey progressed. In the words of one traveller,

Once the water has been on board for two months… it turns reddish and stinks so much you have to hold your nose. It stays like that for nine or ten days; after that it gradually grows clearer but as it does so it keeps a faint taste that takes eight or six days to fade. It stays in this new state of purity for three weeks or twenty days. It grows red again, but less so than the first time. Then it grows worms the size of the thick part of wheat, near the root. The worms are greyish white with black noses and small tails two-thirds the length of their bodies, and they are as thick as a finger. The water is strained through a cloth. This lasts for about eight days. The worms die in the water that turns whitish, rather like whey.




  1. Wikipedia (Slave Ship)
  2. Wikipedia (Triangular trade)
  3. Wikipedia (abolition of slavery, timeline)


  1. Claude Fauque et Marie-Josie Thiel, Les routes de l’esclavage, 2004, Editions Hermé, 206 p.
  2. Marcel Dorigny et Bernard Gainot, Atlas des esclavages, Ed. Autrement, 2006, 76 p.