White Debt: The Demerara Uprising and Britain’s Legacy of Slavery by Thomas Harding - review by Richard Cockett

Richard Cockett

The Case for Reparations

White Debt: The Demerara Uprising and Britain’s Legacy of Slavery


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 300pp £20

Today, demerara is cherished as a crunchy, golden-brown sugar poured over millions of bowls of cornflakes every morning. Less well known is the fact that the sugar derives its name from one of Britain’s most notorious colonial-era slave plantations, in what was once British Guiana, now Guyana.

Previously a Dutch colony, the territory was more a part of the Anglophone, sugar-producing Caribbean than surrounding Latin America. To this day, English remains the official language. Even after the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 by the British Parliament, slaves could still be shipped, bought and sold between and within British colonies, particularly in the Caribbean, allowing the persistence, and even the intensification, of slave-based economies. Demerara, where slavery was particularly profitable and brutal, provides a case in point. In 1823, the appalling conditions in which the enslaved peoples worked and perished provoked one of the most famous slave uprisings. The rebellion and its merciless, barbaric repression, led to long, anguished debates in the House of Commons and eventually contributed in no small measure to the final abolition of slavery within Britain’s colonies in 1833. These events are the subject of Thomas Harding’s excellent White Debt.

The author acknowledges

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RLF - March