When Thomas Harding discovered that his mother’s family had made money from plantations worked by enslaved people, 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.


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
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
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
Some write about the past. Thomas Harding, our most human historian, has, once again, brought it alive . . . in all its tragedy, glory, complexity
A deep dive into colonialism and enslavement, with personal legacies that continue to resonate today - a deeply affecting and forensically elegant book for our times
Authentic, bold and poignant, WHITE DEBT is a captivating tale of resistance and an urgent antidote to our collective amnesia
WHITE DEBT is a timely, pioneering, game changer. Its compelling narrative and thought-provoking reflections enable us to (re)visit plantation slavery with fresh eyes. It invites the reader to reflect on a core period of British history that has for too long been ignored or dismissed as bearing no relationship to present-day inequities that exist between White and Black people. This book is compulsory reading for anyone interested in understanding the case for reparations and will delight readers who are tired of portrayals of enslaved Africans as marginal to the history of abolitionism. WHITE DEBT is a courageous tour de force
JUANITA COX, co-founder of Guyana Speaks
A major study of the 1823 slave uprising in British Guyana, revealing the utter brutality of the slaveowners and the courage as well as the organisational genius of the African leaders of the uprising. That Harding inserts himself in the narrative, seeking to make amends for his forebears' involvement in slave-produced commodities, makes his book all the more compelling, since it creates a dialogue between the living and the dead