The Slave Ship

In 1840, a famous English painter by the name of William Turner, painted a large picture called “The Slave Ship” which now hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

It is a picture of a ship in a terrible storm, and the ship is in danger of sinking.  To save themselves, the masters of the ship are throwing the cargo overboard – the cargo in this case happens to be human beings – black people brought from Africa to work as slaves in America.  You can see them bobbing around in the sea, abandoned to drown.

Turner got the idea for his painting from a true story about a slave ship ravaged by plague.  The captain ordered the sick and dying Africans to be thrown into the sea because he could claim insurance for them if they were lost at sea, but not if they died on his ship.

When he painted this picture, Turner was not only making a statement about slavery.  He was also commenting on the relationship between the rich and poor of England in the nineteenth century.  “The Slave Ship” was a powerful political, as well as artistic, creation.

Turner’s statement is as true today as it was in 1840.  In these stormy, Scrooge-had-it-right, economic times of corporate mastery, governments and corporations are throwing human beings into the sea of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness so that those who have much can have even more.

~ Sandy Cameron

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