Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Casement’s black reputation

Roger Casement - an Irish-born British diplomat, human rights activist, and, ultimately, an Irish nationalist - was executed for treason exactly a century ago today. His journals - which revealed him as a promiscuous homosexual - were successfully employed by the British government to blacken Casement’s name and undermine calls for clemency. However, subsequently, the diaries were kept secret by the government, leading some biographers and many others to believe they were a forgery. It was not until 2002 that an independent forensic examination proved, finally, they were genuine.

Casement was born in 1864 in Sandymount, near Dublin, the youngest son of an Ulster protestant and soldier. The family moved frequently, but both parents died young and the children became dependent on relatives. Casement went to live with his uncle in County Antrim, and was schooled until 1880, when he went to Liverpool to live with an aunt. After working in a shipping office, he signed up, aged 19, as a purser on board a ship heading for the Congo. The following year, he returned to stay in the Congo working as a surveyor on a rail project. There he met the writer Joseph Conrad and also the explorer (and sculptor) Herbert Ward who he then accompanied on a tour of the US.

Casement returned to Ireland where he took a job in the British customs department, before, in 1895, gaining a first consul appointment in Portuguese East Africa. Thereafter, he took similar posts in Angola (1898-1900), Congo Free State (1901-1904) and Brazil (1906-1911). He gained international recognition, though, for a report (published in 1904), commissioned by the Foreign Office, into the state of government in the Congo, which revealed atrocious cruelty in the exploitation of native labour by white traders - for more on this see Conrad, Hottot and the Congo. And, after producing a similarly disturbing report in 1912 on the Putumayo River region in Peru, he was awarded knighthood.

Ill-health forced Casement to return to Ireland in 1912, and he retired from the British consular service in the summer of the following year. Thereafter, his views on Irish nationalism having strengthened, he helped form the Irish Volunteers. In 1914, he went to the US promoting the cause and seeking funds, and there, at the outbreak of the war, began scheming to gain German support for an Irish revolt. This led him to travel to Germany, seeking to recruit a brigade from Irish prisoners-of-war captured in the first months of the war. However, German support proved minimal, and his plans never materialised in any substantial way. The few German munitions he did manage to secure for shipment to Ireland were intercepted by the British; and he, himself, was arrested a few days after being transported to Ireland by a German submarine.

Casement was charged with treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown, and was remanded, on suicide watch, at Brixton prison. The prosecution had some legal trouble arguing its case, and resorted to circulating extracts from Casement’s diaries, which contained details of his (illegal) homosexual activities, to influence those calling for clemency (among which were notables such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw). Casement was hanged at Pentonville prison at 9am on 3 August 1916. Further information is available at Wikipedia, BBC, Stephen Stratford’s website, Irish Historical Mysteries. The Times report of the execution is also available at Stratford’s website.

Casement, it seems, was an intermittent diarist, keeping an account of himself from time to time in pocket diaries (with space for each day of the year) or cash agenda note-books. The term ‘Black Diaries ’ was coined by by Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias in their 1959 book of the same name. Some 20 years earlier (in 1936), though, William J. Maloney had published a work claiming that he had proved the diaries used to blacken Casement’s name had been a forgery - something many people had people believed since his execution. It was not until 2002, following a detailed and independent forensic examination of the diaries, that it was proved, beyond reasonable doubt, that they were genuine.

The same year, Belfast Press, brought out Jeffrey Dudgeon’s Roger Casement: The Black Diaries with a study of his background, sexuality, and Irish political life. It contains Casement’s diaries from 1903, 1910 and 1911. This was the first time, the Black Diaries, with all of Casement’s promiscuous thoughts and actions laid bare, had been published. Dudgeon includes a large amount of additional information, in fact creating more of a biography supplemented by a few chapters on the diaries. The book runs to 650 pages less than half of which are diary texts, and the diary extracts themselves are heavily adulterated with Dudgeon’s notes in bold fold enclosed by square brackets, often doubling or more Casement’s own words.

Some pages of Roger Casement’s Diaries - 1910: The Black and the White edited by Roger Sawyer can be read at Googlebooks (Pimlico, 1997). Extracts from One Bold Deed of Open Treason: The Berlin Diary of Roger Casement 1914-1916 (Irish Academic Press, 2016) can be read at The Irish Times. The following extracts, though, are from Dudgeon’s The Black Diaries (some pages of which can be previewed at Amazon).


20 November 1911
‘. . . Stopped at Mucuà at 4 p.m. and saw two rubber trees in tapping. Young Cearense of Sobral still there - splendid stern, thighs and testeminhos - a lovely boy. . . Fonseca at Santa Theresa higher  up - it is Peruvian territory. [On blotter] Got some mails by “Manco” today at 10.30 a.m. meeting “Hamburgo” on her way up . . . Saw fine Indian boy in Janissius canoe that brought him over. A big strong fellow - nice face and great thick stiff one which he felt often under grey pants.’

21 November 1911
‘Arr. Nazareth at 10 and after some hours there up to Marius Levy’s where shipped 65 cases rubber (101⁄2 tons weight) . . . Back to Nazareth - young Italian, stout but very nice face, huge stern, thighs and immense big one, long, thick, soft, he fingered often and one could see it hanging down 6” or 7” inches long - through very thick trousers too. Left Nazareth at 5 with “Le Journal” from Belém. Up to 5 Oct. giving Italy-Turkey war and strike in Ireland. At union and mouth of Javari at 9.30 and on to Leticia.’

22 November 1911
‘At Leticia since 11.30 p.m. Left only at 7.30 a.m. taking up Peruvian officer and family and enormous mass of rubbish of furniture including 5 jerrys! Cold is again very bad. Left letters to Tom, Gallwey, O’Reilly and Bernardino. . . Clock on church is painted strip of canvas always at 11.45 a.m.! . . . Met “Elisa” and got papers - including a “Truth” with part of Paredes’ summing up. José came and asked me for photo in Iquitos - looking lovely and then at 8.30 for cigarette papers and later I called and pulled mine and asked for water. Also with Pilot’s boy.’

23 November 1911
‘Lovely day. We are steaming very well and expect to be in Iquitos before 10 a.m. tomorrow. Read letters and drafted a long despatch to F.O. giving as my opinion the unlikelihood of Peruvian Government acting seriously . . . lots of logs still - often striking them hard. At 8 p.m. a huge one nearly swept away a man and case of rubber. . . Return to Iquitos.’

24 November 1911
‘Arr. 9.55. Antonio Cruz came on wharf and will come Sunday 8 a.m. Saw some big ones on Indian boys and then up ladder at top a young Spaniard with huge soft big one under blue pants. At my corner the lovely 6 foot young Inca policeman and his up at full half cock! Simply enormous, all down left thigh and thick too - fully 71⁄2 and huge testeminhos too. I now am sure of the Indians! Many letters from Mrs Green and others. Saw the Cholo policeman again going to lunch and it was huge, half down his thigh and he 6 foot and lovely. Then the small policeman passed and his too enormous. Then Paredes young Editor also very big. José came at 3.15 looking very nice and it was half up and showed big. Gave 5/8 for Spanish boo. Saw the young policeman while talking to José and it was simply huge. Both pure Cholos.’

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