I make no apologies for writing this blog this morning. All life matters to me, black lives as every bit as much as everybody elses. I believe that all men are created equal.
So here is a story about the slave trade and how abominable and cruel it was. I researched it thoroughly in 2001 and a book called ‘Suki’ was published as a result of my studies. This is an excerpt from that book, describing the death of one particular slave, who dared to make a stand.
‘Watch out for your big feller,’ the surgeon warned as he walked away.
Jack turned to question. ‘Which one?’
‘Spilled the porridge that first morning.’
‘Is he sick?’
The surgeon looked at him, straight and serious. ‘No sir. He means to starve himself. He don’t eat.’
‘Oh don’t he?’ Jack said grimly. ‘I’ll soon see about that.’ Losing a slave to sickness or foul air was bad enough but a self-inflicted death was folly – and arrogant to boot.
The big feller was one of the second group to be fed that morning and now that his attention had been drawn to it, Jack could see that the man was refusing all sustenance except water. He sat with his arms folded across a chest grown considerably thinner and gazed out to sea, swaying with the rhythm of the ship but otherwise unmoving and blank-faced.
‘Deuce take the dog,’ Jack said angrily to his three assistants. ‘I do believe Mr Dix has the right of it.’
‘He’s uncommon determined,’ Dickon said.
‘He’ll not determine me,’ Jack said, anger rising. ‘I’ll warrant you that. He’ll find me more than a match for him. Keep him back when the others go below and fetch me a big spoon.’
The big feller showed no concern when he and his shackle-mate were thrust back onto the deck as the others stood to shuffle to the hatches. He simply sat where he was and waited as though the world were no longer his concern. His companion, who was smaller and had fed well, was instantly and twitchingly anxious, his neck taut as a tree trunk, his eyes dilated and flickering with alarm. There were flakes of dried wheat meal around his mouth, which he wiped with the back of his hand, nervously. But even when Jack bore down upon them with a tub of meal in one hand and a serving spoon in the other, the big feller simply sat, and when the first full spoon was jabbed at his mouth, he tightened his lips and turned his head aside at the last second so that the contents spilled over his shoulder.
‘Devil take him!’ Jack swore. ‘I’ll not be disobeyed. Pin him down boys. We’ll see about this.’
The big slave put up a terrible struggle, thrashing his arms and twisting his body violently from side to side, but between the four of them they pinned him to the deck. His terrified companion was dragged down with him, much kicked and thumped in the process, but at last he was subdued, panting but unable to move, with his fists tied hard behind his back and the vice of Dickon’s scarred hands clamped on either side of his face, holding him steady.
Jack watched him with satisfaction. ‘Open his mouth.’
Dickon grimaced. ‘What if he bites sir?’
Jack seized a belaying pin and flourished it in front of the big feller’s face. ‘If he bites sir,’ he said, speaking directly and furiously to the slave, ‘We’ll knock his blamed teeth out.’
He bit as soon as Dickon’s fingers touched his lips, his eyes blazing hatred and defiance, and was instantly hit in the mouth with the pin. It was such a heavy blow that it split his lip and knocked his two front teeth so loose that they hung by a bloody thread.
‘Quick!’ Jack said, filling the spoon and thrusting it at the bloody gap. There were several seconds of confused struggle. Blood and spittle and gobbets of meal flew before their eyes, leg-irons clanked and dragged. They were all shouting, arms flailing, fists punching, and someone was screaming. But when they finally stood up, the slave’s mouth was full of meal. It was a triumph.
‘Swallow damn you!’ Jack roared at him. ‘Swallow!’ His eyes stung with fury and he was holding his spine with such tension it was beginning to ache.
It was a wasted order. The big feller turned his head to one side, spat out the meal and vomited green bile all over their shoes and the crouching spine of his companion.
Jack swore so much he made his throat sore. ‘Hell’s teeth! I’ll not be beat by a savage. I’ll make him eat, damme if I don’t. Give me that spoon again! Quick! And get that blamed fool out the way.’
Dickon tried to drag the other slave to his feet and couldn’t do it. ‘We’ll have to take his irons off.’
‘Well take ’em off, dammit. I’ll not be beat by a savage.’
The irons were removed and the slave dragged away by the feet, with his hands covering his eyes.
‘Now!’ Jack roared.
But the instant his companion was freed, the big feller had struggled to his feet and, as they turned towards him, he was running towards the side, tumbling over the gunwale, falling into the sea, straight as a plumb line. It was all over in seconds, before they could draw breath. Then all three seamen yelled, ‘Man overboard’ and Mr Tomson came running to see what was amiss.
Jack was the first to recover. ‘We must lower a boat.’
‘Can’t be done,’ the captain told him, stroking his beard ”Twould mean going about and so forth.’ Which was plainly true, for there was already a considerable distance between the ship and the slave, who was swimming strongly.
‘We can’t leave him to drown,’ Jack protested. ‘He’s a good specimen. Worth a deal of money. Could we throw a line?’
‘Not without a harpoon,’ the captain said. ‘Not that distance. We ain’t whalers.’
‘We can’t just leave him,’ Jack repeated. ‘Something must be done.’
It was being done as he spoke. Two dark fins had appeared in the green water and were circling the swimmer. As the crew watched in fascinated horror, there was a sudden spume of white water, a chop of waves, a thrashing and bubbling as if the sea was boiling. Then a long red trail of blood threaded out from the centre and the slave’s head disappeared.
‘Sharks,’ the captain said and went back to the bridge as if that were the end of the matter.