Roger Casement

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Sir Roger Casement, commemorated on an Irish stamp

Sir Roger David Casement (September 1, 1864 - August 3, 1916) was a British diplomat by profession and a poet, Irish revolutionary and nationalist by inclination. He is famous for his activities against abuses of the colonial system in Africa and in Peru, but more well known for his dealings with Germany prior to Ireland's Easter Rising in 1916.


Casement in Africa

Casement went in Africa for the first time in 1883, at the age of only nineteen, working in Congo for several companies and for King Leopold II of Belgium's Association Internationale Africaine. He had the occasion of knowing the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley during his Emin Pasha Relief Expedition and he become acquainted with the young Joseph Conrad (at the time still not a writer but just a sea-captain).

In 1892 Roger Casement quit Congo to join the Colonial Office in Nigeria. In 1895 he became consul at Lourenšo Marques (Maputo nowaday).

In 1900 he was back in Congo, at Matadi, to found the first British consular post in that country. He denounced the mistreatments of indigenous people and the catastrophic consequences of forced labour system in his dispatches at the Foreign Office. In 1903, after the House of Commons, pressed by humanitarian activists, had passed a resolution about Congo, Casement was charged to make an inquiry on the situation of the country. The result of his enquiry was his famous Congo Report. The Report was issued in 1904, after Casement had to struggle to prevent British government from keeping it secret, and it provoked a huge scandal. Soon before the issuing of the report, Casement met the journalist Edmund Dene Morel, who led the anti-Congolese campaign by members of the British Press. It was the beginning of a profound relationship of friendship, admiration and collaboration on the Congo issue. Casement, who could not openly participate in the campaign due to his diplomatic status, persuaded Morel to found the Congo Reform Association.

The Putumayo

In 1906 Casement was sent in Santos, Brazil. He had the occasion to do a work similar to that he had done in Congo amongst the Putumayo Indians in Peru. In 1911 he was knighted for this.

Irish revolutionary

He resigned from colonial service in 1912 and joined the Irish Volunteers the following year, becoming a close friend of the Volunteer's chief of staff Eoin MacNeill. When war broke out in 1914, he attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence, sailing for Germany via the USA. He viewed himself as a self-appointed ambassador of the Irish nation. While the journey was his idea, he managed to persuade the exiled Irish nationalists in the Clan na Gael to finance the expedition. Many members of the Clan na Gael never trusted him completely, as he was not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and held views considered by many to be too moderate. Casement was able to draft a "treaty" with Germany, which stated their support for an independent Ireland, however he spent much of his time in Germany in a fruitless 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 England. The effort proved unsuccessful, and was abandoned after much time and money was wasted. The Germans were sceptical of Casement, but nonetheless aware of the military advantage which an uprising in Ireland would give them, granted the Irish 20,000 guns, 10 machine guns and accompanying ammunition, a fraction of the amount of weaponry which Casement was after.

Casement didn't learn about the Easter Rising until after the plan were fully developed. The IRB puposefully kept him in the dark, and even tried to replace him. Casment 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.

Roger Casement's grave in Glasnevin Cemetery

The weapons never reached Ireland. The ship in which they were travelling, a German cargo vessel, 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 all Norwegian. The British, however, had intercepted German communications and knew the true identity and exact destination of the Aud. After it was intercepted, the ship's captain scuttled the ship.


Casement left Germany in a submarine, the U-19, shortly after the Aud sailed. Believing that the Germans were toying with him from the start, and purposefully providing inadequate aid that would doom a rising to failure, he decided he had to reach Ireland before the shipment of arms, and convince MacNeill (who he believed was still in charge) to cancel the rising. In the early hours of April 21, 1916, two days before the rising was scheduled to begin, Casement was put ashore at Banna Strand in County Kerry. Too weak to travel (he was ill), he was discovered and subsequently arrested. Following a highly publicized trial he was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London for treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown on the August 3, 1916, after his appeal was overturned. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church a few minutes before he was hanged.

Among the people that claimed grace for him there were Arthur Conan Doyle, who had participated in the Congo campaign and George Bernard Shaw. Edmund Dene Morel couldn't visit him in jail, being under attack for his pacifist position. On the other hand Joseph Conrad didn't forgive him for what he saw as his treachery of Britain.

The Black Diaries

Prior to his execution, pages of a diary which the Crown claimed belonged to Casement were circulated to those urging the commuting of his death sentence. These pages, supplied to among others King George V, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others in Britain, Ireland and the United States, suggested that Casement had engaged in homosexual activity, which was a crime in most countries at the time. The effect of what became known as the Black Diary killed off much support for Casement's case.

Casement's sexuality

Most Irish people believed that the diaries were forgeries, as the British government had used this ploy before during the Parnell years. However a recent study, which compared his White Diaries (ordinary diaries of the time) with the Black Diaries, which allegedly date from the same time-span, judged on the basis of detailed handwriting analysis, that the Black Diaries were indeed genuine, and had been written by Casement. This study is rejected by many people however as it consisted only of comparative handwriting analysis,and did not constitute a full forensic analysis of the diaries. There have been many cases where competent forgers have produced documents which passed a simple handwriting comparison.

It should be noted that the British did not go to the trouble of producing similar smears against anyone else involved in the Easter Rising, even though in the case of Patrick Pearse there is some suspicion that he may have been homosexual. Equally, of course, there was no public clamour for mercy in the case of any of the other 1916 leaders condemned to death. The case for forgery of the Black Diaries has always been predicated on the fact that Casement was a uniquely admired and respected public figure among the 1916 leaders.

It has also been claimed that the Black Diaries describe an extremely active homosexual sex life which is surely fictitious. However it has been argued that this does not refute the authenticity of the diaries, they could be sexual fantasies.

The issue of Casement's sexuality remains controversial. In any case, in the 21st century, this issue is no longer relevant to an assessment of his political role. The controversy could be a reflection of a reluctance by conservative Irish Catholics to accept that one of their heroes was gay.

State funeral and burial in Glasnevin Cemetery

In the mid 1960s Casement's body was repatriated and after a state funeral, was buried with full military honours in the Republican Plot in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. The President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, who in his mid eighties was the last surviving leader of the Easter Rising, defied the advice of his doctors to attend the ceremony.

Casement is a national hero in Ireland, e.g. in strongly republican west Belfast the gaelic football ground on the Falls Road is called "Roger Casement Park".

Are the remains in Glasnevin really Casement's?

In the 1990s, doubts were cast as to whether the skeleton buried in Glasnevin actually was Casement's. It was suggested that when his prison grave was opened, it proved impossible to distinguish his bones from those of other prisoners. As a result a skeleton was assembled from bones found and described as Casement's. It was even claimed that the remains were actually those of Doctor Crippen, a notorious murder executed shortly before Casement. However, these claims were rejected by some people involved in the exhumation of Casement's remains.

In some people's opinion, the identity of the remains in Glasnevin Cemetery remain unknown until they are examined using DNA from other descendants of the Casement family. DNA profiling was not available in the 1960s.


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