"The Slave Ship"
or "Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on"
is a painting by the British artist J. M. W. Turner
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA was an English Romantic landscape painter, watercolourist and printmaker. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting...
of a slave ship
Slave ships were large cargo ships specially converted for the purpose of transporting slaves, especially newly purchased African slaves to Americas....
, first exhibited in 1840.
The subject of the painting is the practice of eighteenth century slave traders who would throw the dead and dying slaves overboard during the middle passage
The Middle Passage was the stage of the triangular trade in which millions of people from Africa were shipped to the New World, as part of the Atlantic slave trade...
in the Atlantic Ocean in order that they might claim the insurance for drowning. Turner was inspired by two sources: by the Zong Massacre
The Zong Massacre was a mass-killing of African slaves that took place on November 29th, 1781, on the Zong, a British slave ship owned by James Gregson and colleagues in a Liverpool slave-trading firm....
of slaves, and by lines from James Thomson's The Seasons
- Increasing still the Terrors of these Storms,
- His Jaws horrific arm'd with threefold Fate,
- Here dwells the direful Shark. Lur'd by the Scent
- Of steaming Crowds, of rank Disease, and Death,
- Behold! he rushing cuts the briny Flood,
- Swift as the Gale can bear the Ship along;
- And, from the Partners of the cruel Trade,
- Which spoils unhappy Guinea of her Sons,
- Demands his share of Prey, demands themselves.
- The stormy Fate descend: one Death involves
- Tyrants and Slaves; when strait, their mangled Limbs
- Crashing at once, he dyes the purple Seas
- With Gore, and riots in the vengeful Meal.
- 'Summer', ll.1013–25
By painting such an emotive subject Turner was perhaps attempting to assist in the abolitionist campaign, though by this date slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...
had been abolished throughout the British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...
. The painting was widely admired for its use of colour and the way in which sea and sky merge around the distant ship. In the lower portion of the painting, hands of enslaved Africans can be seen still shackled. The painting is in the Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts, is one of the largest museums in the United States, attracting over one million visitors a year. It contains over 450,000 works of art, making it one of the most comprehensive collections in the Americas...
Boston is the capital of and largest city in Massachusetts, and is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The largest city in New England, Boston is regarded as the unofficial "Capital of New England" for its economic and cultural impact on the entire New England region. The city proper had...
The painting was the subject of an extended poetic sequence or verse novel
A verse novel is a type of narrative poetry in which a novel-length narrative is told through the medium of poetry rather than prose. Either simple or complex stanzaic verse-forms may be used, but there will usually be a large cast, multiple voices, dialogue, narration, description, and action in a...
by David Dabydeen
David Dabydeen is a Guyanese-born critic, writer and novelist.Dabydeen was born in Berbice, Guyana, his birth registered at New Amsterdam Registrar of Births as David Horace Clarence Harilal Sookram...
(1994; reissued 2002).