The history of slavery is full of heartless and cruel stories, but one heinous case forced the action needed to end the British slave trade.

When the Zong slave ship left the coast of West Africa on September 6, 1781, it was overloaded with cargo. Commonplace for the time, the Zong’s captain, Luke Collingwood, was following an unwritten rule that the more goods you carried, the more money you made – safety be damned. Except in this case the ‘goods’ were human; slaves destined to be sold in the Caribbean and making the Zong’s owners a tidy profit.

The details of what happened aboard the Zong are sickening, and to this day there is still various theories as to who exactly was responsible for the murders of 132 slaves. Maritime insurers covered the loss of slaves while in transit, and someone on the Zong’s crew knew that forcing slaves overboard would at least get the Zong’s owners an insurance claim to cover any losses. The Zong massacre was seen as a disgrace in England and became a major influencer in the formation of the Abolition Society in 1787, although the Atlantic slave trade still continued – just much more covertly.

Story by Jay Moon