We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

When Thomas Harding discovered that his mother’s family had made money from slave plantations worked by people of African descent, what began as an interrogation into the choices of his ancestors soon became a quest to learn more about Britain’s role in slavery. It was a history that he knew surprisingly little about – the myth that we are often taught in schools is that Britain’s role in slavery was as the abolisher, but the reality is much more sinister.

In WHITE DEBT, Harding vividly brings to life the story of the uprising by enslaved people that took place in the British colony of Demerara (now Guyana) in the Caribbean in 1823. It started on a small sugar plantation called ‘Success’ and grew to become a key trigger in the abolition of slavery across the empire. We see the uprising through the eyes of four people: the enslaved man Jack Gladstone, the missionary John Smith, the colonist John Cheveley, and the politician and slaveholder John Gladstone, father of a future prime minister. Charting the lead-up to the uprising right through to the courtroom drama that came about as a consequence, through this one event we see the true impact of years of unimaginable cruelty and incredible courage writ large.

Captivating, moving and meditative, WHITE DEBT combines a searing personal quest with a deep investigation of a shared history that is little discussed amongst White people. It offers a powerful rebuttal of the national amnesia that masks the role of the British in this devastating period, and asks vital questions about the legacy we have been left with – cultural, political and moral – and whether future generations of those who benefited from slavery need to acknowledge and take responsibility for the White Debt.

Reviews

Honest, compelling and certainly timely, WHITE DEBT lays bare the nature of a crime against an entire race of people, for which there was no punishment. As Thomas Harding has done, all readers should consider; what is my part in the wider story of the British slave trade and how do I make amends where necessary?
ELSIE HARRY, African-Guyanese Activist & Poet
Gripping . . . Novelistic in its narrative energy, its jeopardy and its tensions, WHITE DEBT is a rich story so well told
ALLAN LITTLE
An important and timely book told with great sympathy, honesty and an original approach. His family is always present, in the background, but he does not shy away from criticism and asking big questions which many in this country must try and answer
ANNE SEBBA
I was much moved by WHITE DEBT. I am so glad Thomas Harding wrote it. He tells the story of Britain's appalling role in slavery with great sensitivity and leads the reader to the only possible conclusion, that there is a debt and it must be paid
JULIA NEUBERGER
Some write about the past. Thomas Harding, our most human historian, has, once again, brought it alive . . . in all its tragedy, glory, complexity
JOHN LEWIS-STEMPEL