|Friday, 04 March 2011 10:11|
Roger David Casement
Born: 1 September 1864 Sandycove, Dublin, Ireland
Died: 3 August 1916 Pentonville Prison, London, England
Cause of death: Hanged.
Notable because: Early human rights activist. Forced Belgian King Leopold to stop using Congo as his personal holding. Was executed on the interpretation of a comma in English law.
Sir Roger Casement CMG between 1911 and his execution for treason, when he was stripped of his British honours —was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary, and nationalist.
Casement was born near Dublin, living in very early childhood at Doyle's Cottage, Lawson Terrace, Sandycove. His Protestant father, Captain Roger Casement of (The King’s Own) Regiment of Light Dragoons, was the son of a bankrupt Belfast shipping merchant (Hugh Casement), who later moved to Australia. Captain Casement served in the 1842 Afghan campaign.
Casement's mother, Anne Jephson of Dublin (whose origins are obscure), had him rebaptised secretly as a Roman Catholic when he reached the age of three, in Rhyl. She died in Worthing when her son was nine. According to an 1892 letter, Casement believed that she was descended from the Jephson family of Mallow, County Cork. However, the Jephson family's historian provides no evidence of this. By the time he was 13 years old, his father was also dead, having ended his days in Ballymena dependent on the charity of relatives.
Roger was afterwards raised by Protestant paternal relatives in Ulster, the Youngs of Galgorm Castle in Ballymena and the Casements of Magherintemple, and was educated at the Diocesan School, Ballymena later Ballymena Academy. He left school at the age of 16 and took up a clerical job with Elder Dempster, a Liverpool shipping company headed by Alfred Lewis Jones, later an enemy on the Congo issue.
In 1903, Roger Casement, then the British Consul at Boma, was commissioned by the British government to investigate the human rights situation in the Congo Free State. A long, detailed eyewitness report exposing abuses, the Casement Report, was delivered in 1904. The Congo Free State had been in the possession of King Leopold II of Belgium since 1885, when it was granted to him by the Berlin Conference. Leopold had exploited the territory's natural resources (mostly rubber) as a private entrepreneur, not as King of the Belgians. Casement's report would be instrumental in Leopold finally relinquishing his personal holdings in Africa.
When the report was made public, the Congo Reform Association, founded by E. D. Morel, with Casement's support, demanded action. Other European nations followed suit, as did the United States; and the British Parliament demanded a meeting of the 14 signatory powers to review the 1885 Berlin Agreement. The Belgian Parliament, pushed by Socialist leader Emile Vandervelde and other critics of the king's Congolese policy, forced Léopold to set up an independent commission of inquiry. In 1905, despite his efforts, it confirmed the essentials of Casement's report. On 15 November 1908, the parliament of Belgium took over the Congo Free State from Leopold and organised its administration as the Belgian Congo.
In 1906, Casement was sent to Brazil, first as consul in Pará, then transferred to Santos, and lastly promoted to consul-general in Rio de Janeiro. When he was attached as a consular representative to a commission investigating murderous rubber slavery by the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company, effectively controlled by the archetypal rubber baron Julio César Arana and his brother, Casement had the occasion to do work among the Putumayo Indians of Peru similar to that which he had done in the Congo. Public outrage in Britain over the abuses against the Putumayo had been sparked in 1909 by articles in the British magazine Truth. Casement paid two visits to the region, first in 1910 and then a follow-up in 1911. In a report to the British foreign secretary, dated 17 March 1911, Casement detailed the rubber company's use of stocks to punish the Indians:
After his return to Britain, he repeated his extra-consular campaigning work by organising Anti-Slavery Society and mission interventions in the region, which was disputed between Peru and Colombia. Some of the men exposed as killers in his report were charged by Peru, while others fled. Conditions in the area undoubtedly improved as a result, but the contemporary switch to farmed rubber in other parts of the world was a godsend to the Indians as well. Arana himself was never prosecuted. He instead went on to have a successful political career, becoming a senator and dying in Lima, Peru in 1952 at age eighty-eight.
Casement wrote extensively (as always) in those two years including several of his notorious diaries, the one for 1911 being unusually discursive. They and the 1903 diary were kept by him in London with other papers of the period, presumably so they could be consulted in his continuing work as 'Congo Casement' and the saviour of the Putumayo Indians. In 1911, Casement was knighted for his efforts on behalf of the Amazonian Indians, having been reluctantly appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1905 for his Congo work.
Casement retired from the consular service in the summer of 1913. In November that year, he helped form the Irish Volunteers with Eoin MacNeill, later the organisation's chief of staff. They co-wrote the Volunteers' manifesto. In July 1914, Casement journeyed to the U.S. to promote and raise money for the Volunteers. Through his friendship with men such as Bulmer Hobson, who was a member of the Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), Casement established connections with exiled Irish nationalists, particularly in Clan na Gael.
Elements of the Clan did not trust him completely, as he was not a member of the IRB and held views considered by many to be too moderate, although others such as John Quinn regarded him as extreme. John Devoy, who was initially hostile to Casement for his part in conceding control of the Irish Volunteers to Redmond, in June was won over, while the more extreme Clan leader Joseph McGarrity became and remained devoted to Casement. The Howth gun-running in late July 1914 which he had helped to organise and finance further enhanced Casement's reputation.
In August 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, Casement and John Devoy arranged a meeting in New York with the Western Hemisphere’s top-ranking German diplomat, Count von Bernstorff, to propose a mutually beneficial plan: if Germany would sell guns to the Irish rebels and provide military leaders, the rebels would stage a revolt against England, diverting troops and attention from the war on Germany.
Von Bernstorff appeared sympathetic but Casement and Devoy decided to send an envoy, Clan na Gael president John Kenny, to present their plan personally. Kenny, unable to meet up with the Kaiser, was nonetheless given a warm reception by von Flutow, the German ambassador to Italy, and Prince von Bulow. In October, Casement himself set sail for Germany via Norway. He viewed himself as an ambassador of the Irish nation. While the journey was his idea, Clan na Gael financed the expedition. In Christiania (Oslo), his companion Adler Christensen was taken to the British legation and, according to him, offered a reward if Casement was "knocked on the head."
The British minister, in contrast, advised London that Christensen had approached them, and also said that he “implied that their relations were of an unnatural nature and that consequently he had great power over this man.” It was this episode that first provided London with the intimation that Casement was homosexual.
In November 1914, Casement negotiated a declaration by Germany which stated, "The Imperial Government formally declares that under no circumstances would Germany invade Ireland with a view to its conquest or the overthrow of any native institutions in that country. Should the fortune of this great war, that was not of Germany’s seeking ever bring in its course German troops to the shores of Ireland, they would land there not as an army of invaders to pillage and destroy but as the forces of a Government that is inspired by goodwill towards a country and people for whom Germany desires only national prosperity and national freedom”. He negotiated in Berlin with Arthur Zimmermann, then Under Secretary of State in the Foreign Office, and with the Imperial Chancellor, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg.
Most of his time in Germany, however, was spent in an attempt to recruit an "Irish Brigade" consisting of Irish prisoners-of-war in the prison camp of Limburg an der Lahn, who would be trained to fight against Britain. During the war, Casement is also known to have been involved in the Hindu–German Conspiracy, recommending Joseph McGarrity to Franz von Papen as an intermediary for the plot. The Indian nationalists may also have followed Casement's strategy in attempting to recruit from amongst Indian prisoners of war.
However, both efforts proved unsuccessful. The Irish plan failed, as all Irishmen fighting in the British army did so voluntarily, while recruits to Casement's brigade were liable to the death penalty if Britain won. It was largely abandoned after much time and money were wasted. The Germans, who were sceptical of Casement, but nonetheless aware of the military advantage they could gain from an uprising in Ireland, only in April 1916 offered the Irish 20,000 rifles, 10 machine guns and accompanying ammunition, a fraction of the quantity of weaponry Casement had hoped for, and no German officers. A detailed account of Casement's Irish Brigade in Germany was written by Michael McKeogh, recruiting officer and Sergeant Major in the Irish Brigade in Germany and Casement’s adjutant.
Casement did not learn about the Easter Rising until after the plan was fully developed. The IRB purposely kept him in the dark and even tried to replace him. Casement may never have learned that it was not the Volunteers who were planning the rising, but IRB members such as Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke who were pulling the strings behind the scenes.
The German weapons were never landed in Ireland. The ship transporting them, a German cargo vessel called the Libau, was intercepted, even though it had been thoroughly disguised as a Norwegian vessel, Aud Norge. All the crew were German sailors, but their clothes and effects, even the charts and books on the bridge, were Norwegian. The British, however, had intercepted German communications coming from Washington and knew there was going to be an attempt to land arms, even if the Royal Navy was not precisely aware of where. The arms ship under Captain Karl Spindler was eventually apprehended by HMS Bluebell on the late afternoon of Good Friday. About to be escorted into Queenstown (now Cobh, Co. Cork) on the morning of Saturday, 22 April, after surrendering, the Aud Norge was scuttled by pre-set explosive charges. She lies at 40 metres depth. Her crew became prisoners of war.
Casement confided his personal papers to Dr. Charles Curry, with whom he had stayed at Riederau on the Ammersee, before he left Germany. He departed with Robert Monteith in a submarine, initially the U-20, which developed engine trouble, and then the U-19, shortly after the Aud sailed.
According to Monteith, Casement believed that the Germans were toying with him from the start and providing inadequate aid that would doom a rising to failure, and that he had to reach Ireland before the shipment of arms and convince Eoin MacNeill (who he believed was still in control) to cancel the rising. Indeed, Casement sent a recently arrived Irish-American, John McGoey, through Denmark to Dublin, ostensibly to advise of what military aid was coming from Germany and when, but with Casement's orders "to get the Heads in Ireland to call off the rising and merely try to land the arms and distribute them". McGoey however did not make it to Dublin, nor did his message. His fate is unknown. Despite any view ascribed to Monteith, Casement expected to be involved in the rising if it went ahead.
In the early hours of 21 April 1916, three days before the rising began, Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. Too weak to travel, he was discovered at McKenna's Fort (an ancient ring fort now called Casement's Fort) in Rathoneen, Ardfert, and subsequently arrested on charges of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown. He was taken straight to the Tower of London where he was imprisoned, but not before he was able to send word to Dublin about the inadequate German assistance. The Kerry Brigade of the Irish Volunteers might have tried to rescue him over the next three days, but was ordered by its leadership in Dublin to "do nothing".
At Casement's highly publicised trial for treason, the prosecution had trouble arguing its case as Casement's crimes had been carried out in Germany and the medieval Treason Act seemed to apply only to activities carried out on British (or English) soil. Closer reading of the ancient document allowed for a broader interpretation, leading to the accusation that Casement was "hanged on a comma". The court decided that a comma should be read in the text, crucially widening the sense so that "in the realm or elsewhere" meant where acts were done and not just where the "King's enemies" may be. After an unsuccessful appeal against the conviction and death sentence, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on 3 August 1916, at the age of 51. He was received into the Catholic Church while awaiting execution and went to his death, he said, with the body of his God as his last meal.
Among the many people who pleaded for clemency were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who became acquainted with Casement through the work of the Congo Reform Association, W. B. Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. Edmund Dene Morel could not visit him in jail, being under attack for his pacifist position. On the other hand, Joseph Conrad, who had a son at the front, could not forgive Casement for his treachery toward Britain, nor did his friend the sculptor Herbert Ward. Members of the Casement family in Antrim contributed discreetly to the defence fund, although they had sons in the army and navy.
Before his execution, photographs of so-called "Black Diaries" which the government claimed belonged to Casement were circulated to those urging commutation of his death sentence. The documents, which covered the years 1903, 1910 and 1911, showed Casement to have been a promiscuous homosexual with a fondness for young men. On account of their pornographic content, these were termed the 'Black Diaries', and were distinguished from the 'White Diaries' where Casement supposedly omitted sexual references and recorded only details of his humanitarian work and private business. Why Casement would keep two diaries, one containing incriminating evidence and have the time to keep both has never been ascertained. In a time of strong social conservatism, not least among Irish Catholics, the Black Diaries undermined or at least stifled support for Casement. Archbishop Davidson, concerned at the rumours, arranged for John Harris of the Anti-Slavery Society, and a missionary friend of Casement's, to view the diaries; Harris was shattered when he realised they were authentic. The statement found in a number of books (usually without source) that Archbishop Davidson consequently abandoned his attempts to seek clemency is incorrect. The Archbishop made his plea for Casement's life to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Buckmaster, on 1 August, two days before the execution. Though some believed that the diaries were forgeries, much as Charles Stewart Parnell had been the target of the Pigott forgeries implicating him in the Phoenix Park Murders, others did not. H. Montgomery Hyde, an Ulster Unionist Party MP and barrister who campaigned for the release of the Black Diaries in Parliament in the 1950s and who wrote a book on Casement's trial, had no doubt that Casement had been a pederast.
In 2002, an independent forensic examination of the diaries, commissioned by a team of academics from Goldsmiths, University of London led by Prof. W.J. MacCormack and funded by RTÉ and the BBC, was undertaken by Dr. Audrey Giles, an internationally respected figure in the field of document forensics. (There are questions as to the supposed impartiality of the examination, as Prof. W.J. MacCormack exhibited strongly anti-Irish Nationalist sentiments in his book, Roger Casement in Death, or Haunting the Free State, Dublin 2002., whom he likens to perpetrators of 'clerical child abuse, prime-ministerial corruption, and parmilitary terror', and 'Holocaust Denial'). Giles compared Casement's White Diaries (ordinary diaries of the time) with the Black Diaries and concluded that the Black Diaries were genuine. American document examiner and expert James Horan later rejected Giles' conclusion on the grounds that the "control" material (the "authentic" handwriting of Casement) taken from the Morel archive at LSE, may have passed through the hands of British Intelligence after Morel's arrest in 1917. Horan's view was that the conclusion would not stand up in a US court. However such a test was not a requirement in the Giles report remit for judging authenticity, and Horan accepted he had not seen any of the material in question. Unfortunately, rather than being a complete forensic investigation of Casement's writings involving analysis of paper, ink, writing instruments, pollen, word frequency and content, Giles' examination was confined mainly to handwriting Giles reported that she had 'found that the writings throughout the documents show many similarities to the writings of Roger Casement, and no significant differences'. While she had 'examined the pages of the individual documents using ultra-violet light to determine any differences between them', she had not 'attempted to identify the origin of paper used in any of the documents.' Additionally, Dr Giles examined only a portion of the Putamayo Journal or White Diary, from 9 October to 14 October 1910.
Professor McCormack has also produced a full-length book in support of his view that the Casement diaries are genuine and not forgeries. The Giles Report is referred to in several places as having conclusively proved the contested writings of Casement to be authentic, but nowhere is there to be found the text of the report, an account of the process whereby its compiler was chosen or even an adequate summary of the report Included is a section on the psychologistic theories of Jacques Lacan, in which it is claimed that there is a significant correlation between rubber production, which involves the breaking of tree-bark resulting in the extrusion of a 'white sticky substance', and Casement's alleged recording of 'same-sex' practices, 'in which the diarist details the extrusion of a different white sticky substance (namely semen)' Proponents of the forgery theory are somewhat contemptuously dismissed by McCormack as 'Casement Vindicators', whom he compares with perpetrators of 'clerical child abuse, prime-ministerial corruption, and parmilitary terror', not to mention 'Holocaust Denial'!. Further doubt has been cast on the Giles Report by Kevin Mannerings and Marcel B. Matley, pointing out for example that due to confusion over copies received from the National Library, its author does not in fact appear to have examined the important entry in the White Diary dated 12 October 1910. The methodology of Giles's report is also criticised, in particular the fact that the author's starting point was not neutrality but the proposition that the Black Diaries are authentic. It is claimed that the Black Diary for 1911 shows signs of 'bleaching and interpolation', and there is a suggestion that the forger may have been an MI5 officer, Donald im Thurn, (Conrad Donald Everard Im Thurn b. 1883 (Jun Q 1d/785 Camberwell) Surrey), a forger of the 1924 Zinoviev letter. In a survey of the Hitler Diaries, Mark Hofmann and other forgery cases, Kenneth W Rendell, an American dealer and expert in historical letters, manuscripts, and documents, has stated that 'it can be an error to conclude from an examination of only a few factors that the writing is genuine or forged'. It has reasonably been pointed out as well that a forensic document examiner with no official English or Irish connections would be in a better position to provide an objective analysis of Casement's diaries, and indeed the task is one which would appear to require the services of a team of specialists. Concerning the proposed examination of ink, paper and materials, Miss Giles stated on the documentary:
The circulation of copies of the diaries was masterminded by Reginald 'Blinker' Hall, director of Naval Intelligence, a ruthless and devious operative whose accomplishments included the promotion of the forged Zinoviev letter in 1924, another example of a smear campaign, this conducted against the British Labour Party. Irish Nationalists and Republicans have always believed the Black Diaries were forgeries to blacken Casement's name
Roger Sawyer’s 1997 work on the 1910 diary and Jeffrey Dudgeon’s footnoted edition of all the Black Diaries in 2002 ( accompanied by a perceptive and empathetic biographical treatment, went a long way towards integrating Casement’s nationalist, humanitarian and allegedly homosexual lives, and Casement's most recent biographer, Séamas Ó Síocháin, accepts their authenticity as a matter of course.
Jeffrey Dudgeon wrote a book from the perspective of an Ulster Unionist and gay rights activist. Dudgeon's research throws new light on Casement's Irish relatives, friends and contacts, for the first time providing some biography for an alleged lover who features in the Black Diaries, one Millar Gordon. While all the Black Diaries are published together for the first time, some entries have been abbreviated or omitted, for example, the controversial below mentioned entry dated 12 October 1910 is absent. While most of the controversial Black Diaries entries are self-evidently obscene, Dudgeon's square bracketed glosses seem suggestive rather than interpretive:
In the last analysis, and although he himself believes in the authenticity of the Black Diaries, Dudgeon seems surprisingly pessimistic concerning the possibility of actually proving the case beyond doubt:
The use of the analogy of the Turin Shroud is telling, casting the Casement debate as one between rational 'Protestants' (Dudgeon, Unionists and revisionist historians such as Roy Foster) and irrational 'Catholics' (Irish Nationalists, "Casement Vindicators").
The current re-opening of the controversy is due in large measure to the work of Angus Mitchell, a British scholar who was commissioned to edit Casement's writings for publication. Mitchell found his initial belief in the authenticity of the Black Diaries undermined by his detailed study of Casement's career and close comparison with the content of the White Diaries in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. Mitchell considered the Black Diaries to be 'riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies', and questioned why Casement would keep in his possession incriminating material which could have been used by his many enemies in South America and subsequently in Britain. In particular, Mitchell points to the fact that in 1910 Casement was suffering from eye problems which caused him frequently to write entries in the White Diaries in pencil, whereas corresponding entries in the Black Diaries tended to be written more deliberately in pen. To illustrate this point, Mitchell provides photographs of White and Black entries for 12 October 1910.
Consider also the following sample pair of 1910 entries, from the White and Black Diaries respectively:
The first entry describes a day commencing with a combined walk and tour of inspection and concluding with an evening of socialising at a bridge party. The second entry portrays a round of sexual frolics with not one but apparently two males, concluding with a bridge party which seems 'stupid' in contrast. If the second diary entry is genuine, Casement possessed superhuman energy and a Jekyll and Hyde personality, combining official investigative work and reporting with voracious cruising day and night, and all the while finding time to write up two diaries. There are other puzzling discrepancies between between the two texts. For example, in a White Diary entry dated 30 November 1910 Casement wrote:
The entry for the same date in the Black Diary gives an account which is at variance with this: '. . .
In the eyes of some people, the Casement of the Black Diaries is not an attractive figure, and to them his humanitarian work with oppressed natives might seem secondary to what they call "predatory sexual tourism." A case can for that reason perhaps be made for the Black Diaries being written by someone other than Casement, using real people and events from the White Diaries or other genuine documents as the inspiration for the forgery.
It should be noted that there is no 'positive' evidence whatsoever that the diaries are forgeries and there is, indeed, evidence that the British Government also undertook investigations to ascertain whether they were genuine. A good account of the forgeries controversy is given in the comparative biography of Casement and John Amery by the historian and former intelligence officer Adrian Weale. Weale points out that proponents of the idea that the 'Black' diaries are forgeries have tended to be either humanitarian anti-slavery activists or conservative religious Catholics, neither of which groups would be likely to admire Casement's sexual activities amongst native men and boys. Likewise, the diaries themselves are the only 'evidence' that Casement was a homosexual, the authenticity of which is hotly debated.
Generally speaking, religious Catholics proponents of Irish Nationalism and Republicanism tend to disbelieve the Black diaries and consider them a hoax, whereas opponents of Nationalism, Unionists and Gay Rights' activists tend to consider them authentic. Historian Roy Foster refers to proponents of the forgery theory as "Casementalists"
The diaries may now be inspected at the British National Archives in Kew.
As was the custom at the time, Casement's body was buried in quicklime in the prison cemetery at the rear of Pentonville Prison, where he was hanged. In 1965, Casement's body was repatriated to Ireland and, after a state funeral, was buried with full military honours in the Republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin after lying in state at Arbour Hill for five days, during which time an estimated half a million people filed past his coffin. The President of Ireland, Éamon de Valera, who in his mid-eighties was the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defied the advice of his doctors and attended the ceremony, along with an estimated 30,000 Irish citizens. Casement's last wish, to be buried at Murlough Bay on the North Antrim coast has yet to be fulfilled as Harold Wilson's government released the remains only on condition that they not be brought into Northern Ireland.
Many landmarks, buildings and organisations in Ireland are named after Casement including:
Casement was also the subject of ballads and poetry in Ireland in the wake of his death, including:
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