Murder on the Middle Passage: The Trial of Captain Kimber

October 30, 2020
Murder on the Middle Passage: The Trial of Captain Kimber

On 2 April 1792, John Kimber, captain of the Bristol slave shipRecovery, was denounced in the House of Commons by WilliamWilberforce for flogging a fifteen-year-old African girl to death.The story, caricatured in a contemporary Isaac Cruikshank print,raced across newspapers in Britain and Ireland and was evenreported in America. Soon after, Kimber was indicted for murder -but in a trial lasting just under five hours, he was found notguilty.This book is a micro-history of this important trial,reconstructing it from accounts of what was said in court andsetting it in the context of pro- and anti-slavery movements.Rogers considers contemporary questions of culpability, the use andabuse of evidence, and why Kimber was criminally indicted formurder at a time when kidnapped Africans were generally regarded as'cargo'. Importantly, the book also looks at the role of sailors inthe abolition debate: both in bringing the horrors of the slavetrade to public notice and as straw-men for slavery advocates, whoexcused the treatment of enslaved people by comparing it topunishments meted out to sailors and soldiers.The final chapter discusses the ways this incident has been used byAfrican-American writers interested in recreating the trauma of theMiddle Passage and addresses the question of whether theslave-trade archive can adequately recover the experience of beingenslaved.NICHOLAS ROGERS is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus in theDepartment of History at York University, Toronto.Table of ContentsPrefaceShip shape, Bristol fashionThe AccusationThe Man and His CrewThe TrialAbolition and RevolutionAfterthoughtsAppendixBibliography