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stage plays

Rough Crossings

The secret history which this play, and the book upon which it is based, tells is only one of a vast number of smaller stories which together form the terrible narrative of the slave trade.

Like all of them, identifying the place where it begins and ends is impossible. Event leads to event and personality influences personality. This play is a fictionalised account of real events. But those real events continued after the period of time dealt with by the play.

After he left Sierra Leone, John Clarkson returned to England, at almost the exact moment that the newly-Republican France declared war on Britain. Clarkson's requests to return to Freetown were ignored by the Sierra Leone Company, as were his brother Thomas's efforts to secure for John the status of Captain which his labours merited. He returned to his hometown of Wisbech. Simon Schama writes that he was being read to, from The Anti-Slavery Reporter, when he died there in 1828.

David George returned to Freetown having petitioned the Sierra Leone Company and secured a new Governor for the province, Zachary Macauley. Slowly, in his efforts to maintain order in the settlement, Macauley and his successors eroded the goodwill and the trust of the community who had travelled from Nova Scotia. Petition followed petition and ultimately led to a bloody rebellion, bloodily put down. It was only a matter of time before the idea of independence vanished completely, the Union Jack was raised and in 1808, Freetown officially became part of the British Empire.

Sierra Leone was granted independence by Britain in 1961, but thirty years later the in-fighting and accusations of corruption which had dogged administration after administration erupted into a bloody civil war. Thousands died, and half a million were forced to become refugees. The war ended and elections were held in 2002. The crucial second general election took place as this book was going to print. Sierra Leone now exists as a working, if fragile, democracy.

  • Ben Power
  • Headlong Literary Associate
  • August 2007


  • Birmingham Repertory Theatre, 2007
  • Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London, 2007
  • Liverpool Playhouse, 2007
  • West Yorkshire Playhouse, 2007