BBC TV blog
Tony Marchant, the creator and writer of Garrow's Law, discusses the difficult balancing act involved in making the series "historically accurate but dramatically compelling at the same time."Read Tony Marchant's post on the BBC TV blog
Inspirations: Episode 1
Garrow’s Law aims to give viewers a window on life in late eighteenth century legal London.Mark Pallis's blog: find more about the Zong and slavery
Mark Pallis, Garrow's Law consultant on legal and historical matters, tells us more about the real cases and events that inspired each episode.
PRO BONO GARROW
In Episode 1, Garrow jumps up and offers his services to a defendant for free. In reality, Garrow actually did this on more than one occasion.
The words "My Lord, as this poor woman has no Counsel; will you permit me, as Amicus Curiae, to ask ... a question or two" are taken word for word from the case of Sarah Peason, who Garrow defended in 1790. The evidence in the case - the ‘remarkable key’ - is taken from a real case (Sarah Slade and Mary Wood, 1783) where Garrow again stepped in at the last minute and defended a prisoner “having no counsel”. Garrow’s charitable spirit appears to have rubbed off on Silvester who also chipped in and asked a few questions!
The case that features in Episode 1 is inspired primarily by these two cases. The involvement of Lady Sarah and her former Maid is a dramatic invention.
The Zong massacre was a real event which took place in 1781 when 132 living slaves were thrown overboard by the crew of a slaving ship. Two years later, the matter came to court as the case of Gregson v Gilbert. The Zong massacre was the first significant turning point in the campaign to abolish slavery: public consciousness was stirred by the simple fact that under English law, throwing slaves overboard was not murder, but was the same as throwing a horse, wood, or any other cargo overboard.
GREGSON V GILBERT
The legal case arose because the shipowners claimed the insurance money for the slaves, but the insurance company refused to pay. The shipowner then sued in a civil action. The case turned on the simple question of whether the Zong’s Captain, Captain Collingwood, jettisoned his ‘cargo’ as a matter of necessity. If he did, then the insurers would have to pay out £30 per negro. During the case, the solicitor for the shipowners claimed that throwing over slaves was the same as if “horses had been thrown overboard”. In this first case, the jury found in favour of the shipowners and ordered the insurers to pay out.
On 18th March 1783, an anonymous letter appeared in the Morning Chronicle decrying the case and expressing surprise at how Parliament could find time to legislate about “the manner of killing a partridge; whether he was fairly shot” but would not look into the question of slavery. The letter came to the attention of the former slave Gustavus Vassa (aka Olaudah Equiano) who alerted anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp. Sharp began investigating whether a prosecution for murder could be launched but reached a dead end.
SECOND COURT HEARING
At the same time, the insurance company launched an appeal against the verdict. This was heard on 19th May 1783 by three Judges: Lord Mansfield, Mr Justice Wills, and Mr Justice Buller (ie ‘Judge Buller’). No official record exists of this hearing, but Granville Sharp attended court in the company of shorthand writer. The notes of the writer, as well as Sharpe’s papers on the Zong, still exist and are held at the National Maritime Museum. They are a truly remarkable resource that show Sharp’s dedication and passion to the anti-slavery movement.
This second hearing ended with the judges reaching the opposite conclusion than at the earlier trial: this time, the case of necessity was not proven - a victory for the insurers. This is the same finding that the jury make in the dramatised version of the case in Episode 1 of Garrow’s Law.
As a result of this hearing, the judges ordered a retrial. However, in the words of leading scholar Jane Webster “it is interesting to speculate what would have happened if the case had come back to court, but speculate is all we can do. There is no record of a further trial, and it would appear that none ever took place.”
One of the concrete outcomes of the case was an Act of the Parliament in 1790 which specified that: ‘no loss or damage shall be recoverable on account of the mortality of slaves by natural death or ill treatment, or against loss by throwing overboard of slaves on any account whatsoever’. Something that, in the drama, Hill warned the Insurers might happen.
For the purposes of re-creating the trial in Garrow’s world, and making Garrow Counsel, it was necessary to speculate about what the verdict might have been had the case come back to trial. The Garrow’s Law team felt, on the basis of all the evidence, and taking into account Lord Mansfield’s judgement in the Zong case (as well as his previous judgements) and his stated view that slavery was ‘odious’, that probably, the judges would once more, find that the claim of necessity was not proven.
The sentence in the dramatised version of the case is invented. We took inspiration from a number of sources including a case where Garrow prosecuted a man, Launcelot Knowles for fraud in 1797 and he was found guilty and sentenced to transportation, and a case where a man, Edward Gilson, deliberately burns down his house to try and collect the insurance money and is sentenced to death.
We felt that it was likely, given the views of the public about slavery at the time, and the political position of the insurers, that both would not have wanted Captain Collingwood to be sentenced to death, and would have all made a recommendation to mercy. As a result, we imagined that Captain would be sentenced to imprisonment on a hulk - a prison ship used as an alternative to transportation.
Other important differences include:
The real Zong case was heard at the Guildhall and not at the Old Bailey. We ‘moved’ the case to the Old Bailey, and made it criminal rather than civil so that it would be part of Garrow’s world. Despite this change, the key issues involved in the two cases are identical.
For the purposes of the drama, the character of Granville Sharp was merged with that of Gustavus Vassa. Also, Vassa did not appear as a witness in the real cases, but, Sharp’s presence at the second trial put the question of murder, and the bigger issue of slavery, very firmly into the mind of the judges.
In the real case, one passenger, Stubbs, kept a diary but died. In the Episode, Stubbs is living, but apart from his death, other biographical details about him are unchanged.
Part of the Morning Chronicle letter that first ignited Vassa’s indignation - about ‘killing a partridge’ - was put in the mouth of Judge Buller.
Finally, whilst Garrow did not play any part in the actual Zong case, as a young barrister about to be called to the bar, it is likely he would have been aware of it. Garrow’s vehemently held views against slavery appear to have been clear: he refused to defend slavers, no matter how much money they offered him; also, when he was in Parliament, as Attorney General, he had overall responsibility for the very first trial and conviction under the new Slave Trade Abolition Act of 1807.
Link: Case of Sarah PearsonOld Bailey Online - Case of Sarah Pearson, 1790
Link: Case of Sarah Slade and Mary WoodOld Bailey Online - Case of Sarah Slade and Mary Wood 1783
Link: Zong MassacreZong Massacre - Wikipedia
- William Garrow
- Andrew Buchan
- John Southouse
- Alun Armstrong
- Lady Sarah Hill
- Lyndsey Marshal
- Sir Arthur Hill
- Rupert Graves
- Aidan McArdle
- Judge Buller
- Michael Culkin
- Constable Yardley
- Steven McNicoll
- Court Clerk
- Anthony Bowers
- Annie Christie
- Charlene Boyd
- Mary Christie
- Victoria Balnaves
- Peter Gilbert
- Benedict Sandiford
- Hugh Gilbert
- Martin Savage
- Gustavas Vassa
- Danny Sapani
- James Kelsall
- Colin Tierney
- Captain Collingwood
- Jasper Britton
- Robert Stubbs
- Tony Maudsley
- Lord Melville
- Stephen Boxer
- John Farmer
- Anton Lesser
- Ashley Pearce
- Nick Pitt
- Tony Marchant
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