Law and poetry both share an inexorable concern with language – the “right” use of the “right” words, phrases, or even marks of punctuation; precision of expression is the goal shared by both. In the case of the former this concern has both material and nonmaterial outcomes. A rightly worded contract, for instance, can save an individual from financial loss, or secure great financial benefits. A proper interpretation of legislation can result in an individual’s physical freedom, confirmation of civil or human rights, or even death.
In Gregson v. Gilbert the material and onmaterial would come together in unexpected ways. An accurate interpretation of the contract of insurance, according to the owners of the Zong, that is, would result in great financial benefit to them: they would be paid for murdering 150 Africans. At the same time, it would mean that the deliberate drowning of 150 people was not murder, but merely the disposition of property in a time of emergency to ensure preservation of the rest of the “cargo” – a reasonable expectation at that time given the law governing contracts of insurance. However, even if the courts had found against the owners of the Zong and ruled that they could not claim insurance compensation, given the law at the time, neither Captain Collingwood nor those who had helped in the massacre could be charged with murder, since what was destroyed being property, was not capable of being murdered.