JMW Turner painted this for an 1840 anti-slavery meeting in London
JMW Turner painted this for an 1840 anti-slavery meeting in London

Why JMW Turner's 'The Slave Ship' still resonates today

posted by Paul Simpson
7 October 2016

In 1840, the Anti-Slavery Society met in London. The mood was self-congratulatory – the British Empire had abolished slavery in 1833 – yet painter JMW Turner, a long-standing member of the society, punctured that mood by depicting a disgraceful episode in Britain’s history: the deaths of slaves aboard British-owned ship Zong, in 1781.

A total of 132 African slaves – men, women and children – were thrown overboard because there was insufficient water for all to survive the voyage and insurance would only be paid out if slaves drowned at sea, rather than died on deck.

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