Sir Roger David Casement CMG (Irish: Ruairí Mac Easmainn) (1 September 1864 – 3 August 1916) was an Irish patriot, poet, revolutionary and nationalist by inclination. He was a British diplomat by profession and is famous for his activities against abuses of the colonial system in Africa and Peru, but more well known for his dealings with Germany prior to Ireland's Easter Rising in 1916.
Casement was born in Dublin to a Protestant father, Captain Roger Casement of the 3rd Dragoon Guards who became a bankrupt Belfast shipping merchant, and a Roman Catholic mother. The latter, Anne Jephson, from Mallow, County Cork, had him baptized secretly as a Roman Catholic, and died when he was nine. By the time he was thirteen, his father was also dead, having ended his days dependent of the charity of relatives and Roger was afterwards raised by Protestant paternal relatives in Ulster. He lived in childhood at Doyle's Cottage, Lawson Terrace, Sandycove, County Dublin.
Casement went to Africa for the first time in 1883, at the age of only nineteen, working in Congo Free State for several companies and for King Léopold II of Belgium's Association Internationale Africaine. While in Congo, he also met the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley during the latter's Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, and became acquainted with the young Joseph Conrad, who was a sailor but had not yet published his novella Heart of Darkness about the Congo.
In 1892, Roger Casement left Congo to join the Colonial Office in Nigeria. In 1895 he became consul at Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).
By 1900, he was back in Congo, at Matadi, and founded the first British consular post in that country. In his dispatches to the Foreign Office he denounced the mistreatment of indigenous people and the catastrophic consequences of the forced labour system. In 1903, after the British House of Commons, pressed by humanitarian activists, passed a resolution about Congo, Casement was charged to make an inquiry into the situation in the country. The result of his enquiry was his famous Congo Report.
The Report, issued in 1904 after a struggle to prevent the British government from keeping it secret, provoked a huge scandal. A short time before the issuing of the report, Casement met the journalist E. D. 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.
His consular work in exposing Belgian exploitation in the Congo was the principal reason for his being knighted in 1911. He had previously been appointed CMG in 1905.
In 1906 Casement was sent to Santos, Brazil. He had the occasion to do work similar to that which he had done in Congo among the Putumayo Indians of Peru.
Casement resigned from colonial service in 1912. The following year, he joined the Irish Volunteers, and became a close friend of the organisation's chief of staff Eoin MacNeill. When the First World War broke out in 1914, he attempted to secure German aid for Irish independence, sailing for Germany via America. 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 Clan na Gael to finance the expedition. Many members of Clan na Gael never trusted him completely, as he was not a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), and held views considered by many to be too moderate.
Casement drafted a "treaty" with Germany, which stated that country's support for an independent Ireland. 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 England.
The effort proved unsuccessful, as all Irishmen fighting in the British army did so voluntarily, and was abandoned after much time and money was wasted. The Germans, who were sceptical of Casement but nonetheless aware of the military advantage they could gain from an uprising in Ireland, offered the Irish 20,000 guns, 10 machine guns and accompanying ammunition, a fraction of the amount of weaponry Casement had hoped for.
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 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 purposely providing inadequate aid that would doom a rising to failure, he decided 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.
In the early hours of 21 April 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 on charges of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown.
Following a highly publicized trial, he was stripped of his knighthood. To the authorities' embarrassment it had been found difficult to find a law to prosecute Casement under since his activities against the crown had been carried out in Germany and the Treason Act seemed to imply that activities carried out away from British soil were not within its purview. However closer reading of the medieval document allowed for a more flexible interpretation leading to the accusation that Casement was "hanged by a comma" as the court followed the letter of the unpunctuated document rather than its obvious sense. After an unsuccessful appeal against the death sentence, he was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on 3 August 1916, at the age of 51.
He was received into the Roman Catholic Church a few minutes before he was hanged, unaware that his mother had already had him baptized as a child. So he was baptized twice, but never had First Communion or confirmation.
Among the people who pleaded for clemency for him were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who became acquainted with Casement through the work of the Congo Reform Association, 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 could not forgive Casement for his treachery toward Britain.
Prior to his execution, photographs of a diary which the Crown claimed belonged to Casement were circulated to those urging the commuting of his death sentence. These documents, supplied to King George V, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and others in Britain, Ireland and the United States, showed Casement to have been a promiscuous homosexual with a fondness for very young men, which was a crime in most countries at the time.Goldsmiths College page on Casement diaries research The effect of what became known as the "Black Diary" killed off much support for Casement's case. The Diaries were 'de-classified' at the end of the 1990s and may now be inspected at the British National Archives in Kew.
Though some Irish people 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, among whom the Irish Republican leader Michael Collins who inspected them in 1921 and was satisfied that they were genuine.
In an effort to settle the issue, an independent forensic examination of the diaries, funded by the BBC and the RTE, was recently undertaken by Dr. Audrey Giles, an internationally respected figure in the field of document forensics. In comparing Casement's "White Diaries" (ordinary diaries of the time) with the "Black Diaries", which allegedly date from the same time-span, the study concluded, on the basis of detailed handwriting analysis, that the Black Diaries were genuine and had been written by Casement.BBC article on the controversy and the forensic study
This study has, however, been criticized for employing only comparative handwriting analysis.
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 in Britain among the 1916 leaders. It has also been claimed that the extremely active homosexual sex life described in the diaries is unlikely to be genuine, but it has been argued that this would not refute the authenticity of the diaries, as they may have been sexual fantasies. Whilst there are some minor inconsistencies between the Diaries and external records of Casement's life, overall they do appear overwhelmingly congruent with his known movements.
As was the custom at the time, Casement's body was buried in quicklime in the yard at Pentonville Prison where he was hanged. In 1965, 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, Éamon 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, 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.
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 was impossible to distinguish his bones from those of other prisoners, and as result a skeleton was assembled from the bones found and arbitrarily described as Casement's.
In some people's opinion, the identity of the skeleton in Glasnevin Cemetery remains unknown until it is examined using DNA evidence from other descendants of the Casement family. DNA profiling was not available in the 1960s.