I write this while sitting in Tate Britain, staring at one of Turner’s astonishing, visceral paintings ‘A Disaster at Sea’

It shows the wreck of the Amphitrite off Boulogne in 1835. 108 women, convicts being transported to New South Wales, downed because the captain refused to allow them to be rescued. He was, he later claimed, only authorised to allow them off the boat once arrived in Australia. Rescue was possible, and was indeed offered but refused. The ship was so close to land that onlookers reported hearing the cries of the women as they perished.

The callousness is almost beyond imagining. Who could possibly believe human life was of so little value as to sacrifice 108 souls. But that was then. The past is another country and all that, and who are we, from our morally superior position, to sit in judgement?


Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it has been forced to end migrant rescue operations in the Mediterranean carried out by the vessel Aquarius.

The medical charity blamed “sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states”

BBC. December 2018

Here is a link to the names, where known, of the 30,000 migrants who have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean since the 1990s.