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The Zong and the Lord Chief Justice

Krikler, JM (2007) 'The Zong and the Lord Chief Justice.' History Workshop Journal, 64 (1). pp. 29-47. ISSN 1363-3554

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This article focuses on the Zong, the infamous slave-ship of the 1780s which saw a mass murder of African slaves upon whom insurance was later claimed. Commencing with reflections on how we might deepen our knowledge of the Zong, it moves on to consider how its events were absorbed into English law. It demonstrates that the Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, intervened in the case to ensure that fundamental precepts of insurance law would not be disturbed. The fact that the victims were African slaves allowed their murders to be discounted and their tragedy to be sacrificed on the altar of a particular legal project. However, Mansfield ? it is emphasized ? had earlier made judgements which trammelled the power of slaveholders and which brought their relations with slaves within the rule of law; he also had a loving relationship with Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a slave and a woman who had been brought up in his household. His behaviour in court, then, cannot easily be explained in terms of prejudice. It is argued, rather, that Mansfield?s peculiar contortions in court ? his arguments were incompatible with the law relating to murder ? have to be understood in terms of the colossal legal project in which this great judge was engaged. That project ? effacing confusions in the law and creating an ordered system in place of the jumble and uncertainties he confronted when he took office ? drove him to deny humanity to the slaves of the Zong. It also excluded the possibility of murder charges being brought against those who killed them.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities
Faculty of Humanities > History, Department of
SWORD Depositor: Elements
Depositing User: Elements
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2013 14:50
Last Modified: 06 Jan 2022 13:28

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