executed revolutionary Roger Casement continues to provoke
one of the most enduring controversies in Irish and
World history, principally because of the explicitly
sexual Black Diaries which determine both his cultural
meanings and his relevance to Anglo-Irish relations.
His investigations of crimes against humanity in the
Congo (1903) and in the Amazon (1910/11) altered the
political economy of the tropical Atlantic and inaugurated
the modern discourse of human rights. Despite efforts
to isolate his achievements and bring closure to the
debate over the Black Diaries' authenticity, Casement
continues to haunt and harangue from beyond the grave.
Ireland, it would seem, has failed Roger Casement. His
presence remains officially embarrassing and publicly
discomforting. Is it time for Latin American scholars
and writers to start to decipher his meaning and to
embrace both his history and his myth?
Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset begins his meditation
Man and Crisis with an essay on ‘Galileo and his effect
on History’. He invokes the image of the hieroglyph to
illustrate the idea of how, in order to see the true meaning
in the fact or the document and to reveal its deeper sense,
we must look through and beyond the hieroglyph. The fact
lies not within the fact itself, but in the indivisible
unity of everything surrounding the fact. Facts help maintain
and keep secrets, while presenting the illusion that they
are some sort of Gnostic answer to the research inquiry.
The idea has echoes in the postmodern challenge to truth
claims and the objectivity of factual reconstruction.
If the thought is extended to Roger Casement’s Black Diaries,
the researcher is confronted by a series of encrypted
hieroglyphs. Each diary is firmly chiselled on the walls
of the temple of the state’s memory, five bound volumes,
held in the National Archives (Kew, London), incontrovertible
in their physical presence. (2)
But what is revealed beneath their surface? Do they help
expose the investigation of crimes against humanity in
the Congo and Amazon that they map, or do they encrypt
and repackage meanings, emotions, secrets and truths enabling
the West to forget its trans-temporal and transnational
violations of the global South? What internal and external
dynamics are at play within the Black Diaries?
entangled fetish of rumour and secrecy surrounding these
documents has possessed them with a hypnotic demeaning
meaning. Their authenticity is still debated in terms
of some rather banal lines of thinking. Yet their implication
has now shifted into other contexts, where veracity can
be scrutinised in new ways. To question their authenticity
is neither a heresy nor synonymous with homophobia or
anti-statism. They can no longer be innocently upheld
as symbols of sexual emancipation, but must be interrogated
for their own internal and external logics. Using tested
critical tools to scope their deeper geographies, the
documents themselves can be surveillanced in multiple
contextual locations, their contradictions tabulated and
their dynamics read for political uses and abuses. Part
of the reason they remain so frustratingly ‘present’ is
because their interpretation and analysis has been encouraged
within an uninformed and officially restricted environment.
Thankfully, in the last decade, this has started to change
and the dynamic of the documents and the facts they contain
has shifted because of various cultural, political and
The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement
(Angus Mitchell - Anaconda Editions - 2000)
the Black Diaries endure as the most persistent controversy
in Anglo-Irish history in spite of the fact that they
belong within the research domains of sub-Saharan Africa
and Latin American studies. Casement continues to haunt
historical discourse like some archival phantasmagoria,
spooking official narratives of world history, subverting
certainties and challenging stereotypes. More than a dozen
monographs, biographies and edited volumes of his documents
have been published in little over a decade, along with
numerous journal articles, press reports and letters to
the editor. The controversy over the Black Diaries blunders
on like some half-forgotten history war waged on a wild
frontier of the past. (3)
Those who care, care passionately, but most people are
oblivious to either the polemic or its implications.
latest phase in the controversy extends from some recent
political modifications in different areas of the law
in England and Ireland, facilitating alteration in the
cultural and intellectual circumstances that had constipated
discussion about Casement and his contested Black Diaries
since the 1960s. In Britain, the Open Government Initiative
and a more transparent approach to questions of state
secrecy has precipitated a vast declassification of Casement
files, along with a different type of interrogation of
the relationship between state secrecy and state documents.
In Ireland, the Black Diaries debate was unfastened by
the changes in the Sexual Offences Act, and the decriminalisation
of homosexuality, which allowed for more open, public
discussion on these matters. Equally important was the
decision to include Sinn Féin within the democratic process.
Dissembling the barriers preventing inter-community understanding
has, however, exposed extraordinary contradictions in
conflicting historical narratives: the root cause of much
civil conflict and disobedience in the first place.
efforts to work through and reconcile the disagreements
and paradoxes exposed in the multiple inscriptions of
Casement and his representation, there survive two Roger
Casements in the historiography of twentieth-century Anglo-Irish
history. On one side, still swinging from the gallows,
is the disgraced colonial servant, who was classified
as a ‘British traitor’ and partially silenced as an imperial
agent. On the other side, buried in the archive, is the
Irish patriot, marginalised within the history of 1916
and yet still discomfortingly subversive, despite efforts
to forget him. As there was a duality in Casement’s consciousness
as a rebel Irishman serving the British Empire, so there
survives a divisive duality in his interpretation within
conflicting historical traditions. Hardly surprising therefore
that the war fought over his place in history reveals
less about the man and more about the politics of the
historical knowledge determining his reputation.
Roger Casement in the island of Guarujá
(Angus Mitchell - Anaconda Editions - 2000)
a cultural and political deconstruction of the man and
his facts, there are three interlinking contextual considerations
requiring scrutiny. Context, of course, is essential to
all historical representation and is susceptible to its
own inclusions, omissions, constructions and epistemologies.
The principal point of disharmony in Casement’s interpretation
is evident within the archive itself. There has been an
imaginative failure to interrogate the Black Diaries in
terms of their own archival dynamic. Why do some archives
command greater power and control over others? How and
why do specific archives privilege a narrative evident
from specific documents? How does the control of information
lead to particular distortions and imbalances in the construal
of histories? Similarly, the sexual discourse arising
from the diaries has been advantaged above all other narratives.
No one can deny Casement’s vitality in stimulating sexual
discussion, but some straightforward questions about sexual
and textual inconsistencies within the Black Diaries are
ignored and obscured. Why? A further imperative context
is revealed in the diplomatic politics of Casement’s inclusion
as a historical protagonist. Casement cuts against the
grain of agreed versions of the past, which may help explain
why he has been removed and marginalised within narratives
where he might rightly feature.
Casement archive is both vast and fragmented. Considerable
collections of letters, papers and correspondence are
held in the National Archives (Kew, London), the National
Library of Ireland (Dublin), New York Public Library (Special
Collections) and the Politisches Archiv in Bonn. Supplementing
these collections are dozens of other smaller holdings
spread between diverse locations including the Niger Delta,
Rio de Janeiro and the palace of Tervuren, on the outskirts
of Brussels. They contain correspondence and traces that
help to build a picture of a life lived across the Atlantic
world at the height of imperial expansion in the thirty
years before the outbreak of the First World War.
was self-conscious of his place in history and the centrality
of the written word in producing both visibility and meaning.
He became a formidable constructor of history and produced
documentation that has kept him close to the discussion
on public records. How he challenged the relationship
between his versions of truth and the State’s version
is discernible from the comment made by the Under-Secretary
of State for the Home Office, Bill Deedes, in 1953, when
answering specific questions on the Black Diaries. He
commented on how governments found it ‘necessary to allow
a passage of time before uncovering the whole truth about
political events.’ (4)
In 1999 Casement files along with those of the infamous
Mata Hari were the first secret intelligence files to
be officially released into the British public domain.
(5) But by that stage
his place in history had been largely settled, or so most
people thought. (6)
Britain, the emphasis since the Black Diaries were released
in 1959 has been to privilege the documents as the prism
through which his life or ‘treason’ must be viewed and
understood. An example of this was made clear in 2000
when an extensive list of Casement papers was circulated
by the Public Record Office (now renamed the National
Archives): Roger Casement. Records at the Public Record
Office, which unequivocally defined the diaries as
the archival key to unlocking Casement’s meaning. (7)
Page two of the document stated that in 1959 it was intended
that they would remain closed for a hundred years, but
‘privileged access’ was allowed to ‘historians’ and ‘other
responsible persons’. It failed to mention that those
who held views contrary to that of the British State had
been excluded from seeing the documents as recently as
1990. While there is something luridly intriguing about
the Black Diaries, they are vital to unlocking information
about Casement’s two principal investigations into colonial
administration conducted in 1903 in the upper Congo and
in 1910/11 in the north-west Amazon.
the end of the nineteenth century, the power struggle
between European empires was primarily dependent upon
knowledge: knowledge transfigured into power and, as the
scramble for territory continued, the boundaries of knowledge
expanded: ‘[c]olonial knowledge both enabled colonial
conquest and was produced by it’. (8)
This resulted in a massive challenge of information control.
In his study of the imperial archive, Thomas Richards
has examined the value of knowledge in the organisation
of imperial order and the role of information in legitimating
imperial action. (9)
His theory builds on more familiar critiques of how knowledge
and power were constituted through cultural hegemony;
an argument advanced by Edward Said in terms of literature,
Michel Foucault in terms of sexuality and Mary Louise
Pratt in terms of travel writing. Richards builds on this
analysis and demonstrates how archives became utopian
representations of the state and instruments for territorial
this knowledge empire produced its own reversals and reactions.
Richards also looks at the ‘enemy archive’: how a counter-archive,
challenging imperial matrices, extended from this early
example of a knowledge economy. He cites the publication
of the invasion novel, The Riddle of the Sands
(1903) by Erskine Childers as a key juncture in the development
of the enemy archive. It was Childers, of course, who
conspired with Casement in 1914 to run guns into Howth
in County Dublin, thereby arming the Irish Volunteers
and igniting the history of the troubles. The Casement-Childers
collaboration and their jointly hatched ‘invasion plan’
played into the deepest phobias on imperial defence and
started to interfere with the borders separating fiction
mirroring of fact by fiction is constantly at play within
Casement’s life and interpretation. He deliberately constructs
his own journeys up river into the ‘heart of darkness’
– in both Africa and the Amazon – to investigate the dark
heart of ‘civilisation’ and in the trajectory of his life
there is something of both Marlow and Kurtz. The author,
Arthur Conan Doyle, bases his imperial hero, Lord John
Roxton, in his Professor Challenger novel The Lost
World, on Casement’s investigation of the Putumayo
atrocities. The borders separating fact from fiction are
crossed and re-crossed in the interpretation of Casement’s
life in a way that threatens to distort and destabilise
his facts and the official archive both from within and
without. Mario Vargas Llosa’s observation (in his interview
in this edition of IMSLA) that Casement has ‘a character
whose natural environment is a very great novel, and not
the real world’ partly explains why he remains more attractive
as a character to those who work with the imagination.
Historians, in contrast, are generally cautious of the
Casement story to the point of avoidance, a condition
resulting from the unstable and contrary nature of the
facts relevant to his story.
Casement’s invasion plan to overthrow the empire ran far
deeper than the plot to train and arm the Irish Volunteers.
His lasting act of sabotage lies within the archive itself.
His investigation of King Leopold’s systemic violence
in the Congo Free State and his exposé of the City of
London’s support for Amazon rubber atrocities and, finally,
his condemnation of uncaring administration in the Connemara
district of the West of Ireland, converge into a single
atrocity across time and space. His archival legacy links
up to expose colonial abuse on a worldwide scale and systemic
failure at every turn. His archive produces a counter-knowledge
or counter-history which destabilises the architecture
of imperial knowledge through challenging the racial,
sexual and cultural norms underpinning the knowledge legitimising
lies beneath the Black Diaries (the hieroglyph) is a single
and vast trans-temporal and trans-historical atrocity
committed in the name of ‘empires’ and ‘civilisation’.
This is a crime of unspeakable dimensions that, once identified,
demands a re-periodisation of the official history of
slavery and the nineteenth century anti-slavery movement.
Casement was the chronicler of that crime at the moment
of its initiation on the Congo and during a particularly
destructive cycle of devastation defining the history
of Amazon people and their environment. His evidence of
that crime is contained in a paper trail of official reports,
letters and diaries, which become the indivisible unity
of his life leading him through the transformation from
imperialist to rebel to revolutionary. The counter-insurgent
response from the knowledge/power nexus is the deployment
of the Black Diaries, which map the key moments of his
investigations into Leopold’s Congo and British financial
complicity in the local apocalypse ignited by the Amazon
rubber industry. The Black Diaries reverse the sense and
begin the due process of distortion, reduction and confusion
by inverting Casement and turning him into the object
to be investigated: the Edwardian sex tourist preying
on the vulnerable. Thereby they break the coherency of
his transformation and recondition the facts of his life
by imposing an alternative counter-narrative to his counter-archive.
Sinha, in her work on Colonial Masculinity – The ‘manly
Englishmen’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the late
nineteenth century, demonstrates how ‘gender was an important
axis along which colonial power was constructed’ in Bengal
of the 1880s and 1890s. (10)
This same axis might be extended into Ireland up until
1916 and studied through a succession of events beginning
with the trials of Charles Stewart Parnell and Oscar Wilde,
peaking in the series of sexual scandals associated with
British administration in Dublin Castle in the Edwardian
age and ending with Casement’s trial. (11)
As the propaganda war between the British Empire and its
Irish critics deepened, so sexuality began to play a more
prominent role in how the conflict was represented for
public consumption. (12)
The power of rumour was also used with great effect as
the propaganda engagement became both more sophisticated
and more ruthless. In the background to the political
drama circulated theories on race, evolution, eugenics
and degeneration. The works of Max Nordau, Sigmund Freud,
Havelock Ellis and Richard von Krafft-Ebbing straddle
the period and helped shape thinking on and around sexuality.
George Bernard Shaw later remembered how Casement’s ‘trial
happened at a time when the writings of Sigmund Freud
had made psychopathy grotesquely fashionable. Everybody
was expected to have a secret history.’ (13)
Echoing in the background of his conviction is the humiliation
and tragedy of Oscar Wilde. Recently, Wilde and Casement
have been coupled as the sexual enfants terribles
of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.
Roger Casement’s Voyages to the Amazon
(Matthew Stout / Sir Roger Casement's Heart
the run of recent work analysing the interface between
sexuality, empire, race and gender, the Black Diaries
have been treated with some level of caution and circumspection.
Casement’s ‘gay’ status has been invoked more often as
a symbol of Irish ‘modernity’, or as a means of humiliating
intolerant attitudes amongst Irish nationalists, than
as a blueprint for ‘gay’ lifestyles. Flimsy consideration
has been given to the internal meanings of the diaries
as documents and the interpretative shadow they cast over
his investigations. Some of the reason may lie in the
often tedious style of the daily descriptions, describing
a life where mosquitoes are more visible than emotions.
To argue, therefore, that the diaries are essentially
homophobic may be unfashionable, but it is not unreasonable.
They impose various homophobic stereotypes of the ‘diseased
mind’ type and situate sexual difference in a marginal
and alienated world bereft of either love or sympathy.
Equally problematic is the treatment of the willing ‘native’
as silent and willing victim of the diarist’s predatory
the sense evident from the diaries is wildly contradictory
to how Casement made use of sexual imagery in his own
activism to build his case against colonial systems and
to provoke reaction to the plight of the colonised. What
the diaries obscure is the innovative strategy that he
adopted to challenge the gender stereotypes of his own
time and, most obviously, the hyper-masculinity so prevalent
in his era. In 1906, his colleague in the Congo Reform
Association, E. D. Morel, made a noteworthy reference
to the use of sexual abuse by the coloniser in his exposé
of the horrors wrought by the rubber industry. (14)
The comment quite probably extends from Morel’s lengthy
discussions with Casement: the source for much of his
local knowledge on Africa. He wrote how the African had
of the sanctuaries of sex, against the rape of the newly
married wife, against bestialities foul and nameless,
exotics introduced by the white man’s “civilization”
and copied by his servants in the general, purposeful
satanic crushing of body, soul and spirit in a people.
the explicit and vivid language used here, the linguistic
fingerprint of Casement is apparent. The general tone
of the comment, linking sexuality and colonial invasion,
is later on mirrored in his 1912 report on the Putumayo
atrocities describing horrendous abuses against Amazonian
women and children where the ‘white’ coloniser is blamed
for destroying healthy sexual lifestyles:
very conditions of Indian life, open and above board,
and every act of every day known to well nigh every
neighbour, precluded, I should say, very widespread
sexual immorality before the coming of the white man.
integral to Casement’s subtle subversion and proto-‘queering’
of imperial gender politics was his experimentation with
new types of masculinity, which disrupted the colonial
explorer stereotype. This was a masculinity achieved without
dominance over the native and the use of the gun. Conrad
captured it when he remembered Casement in the Congo ’start[ing]
off into an unspeakable wilderness, swinging a crookhandled
stick for all weapons, with two bull-dogs: Paddy (white)
and Biddy (brindle) at his heels and a Loanda boy carrying
a bundle for all company. (17)
’ Casement’s skills at resolving conflicts in highly sensitive
situations without recourse to violence and using non-violent
and peaceful methods is contrary to his image as ‘gun-runner’
in 1914. His recruiting speeches make persistent reference
to ‘manhood’ and ‘manliness’, but idealise and encourage
the defensive and the protective use of martial force
as opposed to aggressive colonial violence.
has no blood to give to any land, to any cause but that
of Ireland. Our duty as a Christian people is to abstain
from bloodshed …Let Irishmen and Irish boys stay in
Ireland. Their duty is clear – before God and before
man. We, as a people, have no quarrel with the German
related to this recasting of Irishmen as passive and local,
as opposed to active and global, was his progressive position
on the place of women in Ireland’s move towards independence.
Women, more than men, were the enduring influence in his
life. The historian and founder of the African Society,
Alice Stopford Green, was his predominant intellectual
mentor, closely followed by the poet-activist, Alice Milligan,
the public educator, Agnes O’Farrelly, and his cousin
Gertrude Bannister. The inclusive Ireland envisaged by
Casement was one that gave equal status to all women.
In December 1907 he wrote to Agnes O’Farrelly during the
debate over the teaching of Irish at the National University:
not also try to get some female representation? The
Gaelic League is largely inspired and partially directed
by women. Women played a great part in Old Ireland in
training the youthful mind and chivalry of the Gael.
he co-drafted the Manifesto of the Irish Volunteers,
the founding document for the movement, he deliberately
inscribed women with a role. (20)
During his trial, several newspapers commented on the
large number of women in the public gallery. But this
progressive and empathetic attitude is reconfigured and
silenced within the sexualised narrative.
further point of academic confusion is apparent from how
his utilisation of different gender identities has been
Writing in Irish Freedom, he adopts the pseudonym Shan
van Vocht ‘Poor Old Woman’ and in some of his encoded
correspondence with the Clan na Gael he signs himself
‘Mary’. (22) When he
dies, one priest recorded how he went to the gallows with
the ‘faith & piety of an Irish peasant woman.’ (23)
Descriptions of Casement often refer to his ‘beauty’ and
his fine features using a language to portray him as if
he were a woman. (24)
In how he disrupts the colonial stereotypes of gender,
there is something of the ‘womanly man’ about Casement.
Richard Kirkland, in a comparison of Casement, Fanon and
Gandhi, acknowledged his ‘sacrifice’ as ‘part of a coherent
resistance to colonialism’ necessary in order to recreate
himself as a ‘new man.’ (25)
However, his experimentation with his own gender left
him vulnerable to interpretative control. On 17 July 1916,
the day of Casement’s appeal, the memoranda read to the
Coalition War Cabinet, which indelibly placed the diaries
on the official record, stated:
late years he seems to have completed the full cycle
of sexual degeneracy and from a pervert has become an
invert – a woman or pathic who derives his satisfaction
from attracting men and inducing them to use him. (26)
official statements better codify the confusion over sexuality
that permeated the Coalition War Cabinet in 1916. Casement’s
treason is constructed not merely as a betrayal of his
country and his class but, above all, his gender. If there
is a single word which stands out from the transcript
of his trial it is the word ‘seduce’. Casement’s efforts
to recruit Irishmen to join his brigade in Germany, or
enlist with the Irish volunteers, are not considered as
recruitment but condemned as ‘seduction’. He is denied
the status of ‘recruiter’ and instead damned as a ‘seducer’
– a seducer of men from their loyalty to king and empire.
Obviously, the word has explicit sexual connotations.
Cabinet memo of 17 July can be identified as the first
queered reading of Casement in a genealogy of queer readings,
which reveal different shifts in sexual practice and politics
in both Britain and Ireland since 1916. (27)
Nevertheless, this first queered reading has required
constant renovation, restoration and sexual replastering.
In his aptly named Queer People, Basil Thomson,
the historian-policeman who discovered the diaries, spins
forgery, espionage and sexual deviancy into the world
where Casement survives as an arch protagonist. (28)
The first published edition of the Black Diaries (1959)
splices the diaries into the overarching chronicle of
the Irish independence movement between 1904 and 1922.
(29) The encrypted
message implies that Casement’s investigation of colonial
savagery was a key to achieving Irish independence, and
helps explain the presence of a photograph of Casement’s
prosecutor, the Lord Chancellor, F. E. Smith, as the frontispiece
to the volume. More recently, Jeff Dudgeon uses the Black
Diaries to update the queer geographies of Ulster and
to re-imagine Northern Protestant nationalism as some
high camp drama driven by a cabal of queer crusaders.
(30) But in each of
these re-queerings, the dismissal of the internal politics
of the diaries and how they represent the African, Amerindian,
Irish nationalist, Jew or Jamaican as willing victims
of the diarist’s desire, ignores the supremacist politics
implicit in the Black Diaries.
interrogation of imperial systems helped articulate unspeakable
aspects of power and inaugurated the postcolonial negotiation
of the relationship between fact and fiction, slave and
master, ‘civilization’ and the ‘primitive’. (31)
He also exposed systemic deceptions and lies controlling
the dominance of the periphery by the metropolitan centre.
His archive upturns the embedded racial and gender prejudices
inherent within colonial authority and assembles an alternative
version of events that radically transforms in the wake
of his revolutionary evolution. The defence of Casement’s
narrative remains integral to postcolonial resistance.
Conversely, the repackaging of the Black Diaries is vital
to maintaining the integrity of the archive and the historical
structures it both produces and protects.
Lynn Hunt has analysed the relationship of eroticism to
the body politic during the French revolution and shows
how the ‘sexualized body of Marie Antoinette can be read
for what it reveals about power and the connections between
public and private, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary'.
(32) If a similar approach
is taken to Casement’s archival body, then his sexuality
serves as an exceptional insight into colonial sexuality.
Beyond and beneath the hieroglyph is revealed a new man
hell-bent on overthrowing the system on multiple levels.
The response to this systemic attack is a rewriting of
his narrative in a manner designed to restore sexual normativity
and preserve imperial hierarchies while superimposing
a counter-narrative of seduction, deviancy, anti-humanism,
isolation and tropical disease to thwart accusations of
systemic violence, colonial corruption and establishment
vice. What the Black Diaries achieved through innuendo
in 1916 has been re-asserted through the authority of
‘fact’ since 1959, revealing a narrative that has succeeded
in saving both Ireland and the global South from the revolutionary
order to understand the ‘presence’ of the Black Diaries
it is important to remember that discussion of foreign
policy was always deemed to lie beyond the control of
any potentially devolved Irish parliament. Even if Ireland
had been granted Home Rule in either 1886 or 1893, foreign
affairs would have remained within British parliamentary
jurisdiction. Nevertheless, this did not prevent the Irish
Parliamentary Party from developing a coherent critical
policy towards empire from the 1870s, which had considerable
influence on altering the wider discussion on empire and
in shaping other nationalist discourses. Irish parliamentarians
such as F. H. O’Donnell and Michael Davitt were advocates
of an international dimension to the Home Rule discussion.
What makes Casement different, however, was his acceptance
by and work for the imperial system. He was considered
part of the inner circle of the establishment and was
recognised for his services in 1911 with a knighthood.
Both of his investigations into crimes against humanity
contributed enormously to the philanthropic image of the
British Empire and to the belief in its self-regulating
Putumayo Blue Book
(Angus Mitchell - Anaconda Editions - 2000)
complex political nature of those investigations reveals
both public and secret aspects of how imperial government
operated. The Congo inquiry gave Britain significant diplomatic
leverage with Belgium and also helped divert attention
away from deepening concerns about British imperial administration
in South Africa after the Boer War. In the Amazon, the
strategic publication of his reports in July 1912 persuaded
investment away from the extractive rubber economy in
the Atlantic region to the plantation rubber economy in
South-East Asia. The relevance of Casement’s 1912 Blue
Book commands greater interest in South America for
how it altered the political economy of the region than
for its validity as a document exposing the abuses carried
out against Amazonian communities. Recent global events
have disclosed once more how humanitarian intention is
often the publicly stated reason for motivating intervention,
but it often cloaks wider economic interests. The historian
Eric Hobsbawn has identified how ‘the abolition of the
slave trade was used to justify British naval power, as
human rights today are often used to justify US military
power.’ (33) The idealism
of altruism often serves as a mask for aggressive hegemonic
partly explains why Casement’s official work has been
contained within layers of legislation protecting state
secrecy and security beginning with the Official Secrets
Act of 1911. As part of the inner circle at the Foreign
Office, Casement himself was bound by both the restrictions
and machinations of secrecy. Partly through that proximity
he became a stalwart opponent of ‘secret diplomacy’, a
position expressed forthrightly in his essay, The Keeper
of the Seas, written in August 1911, at the very moment
the Official Secrets Act was passing through the British
parliament. (34) His
writings published in Germany in 1915 in the Continental
Times made persistent attacks on the use and abuse
of secrecy. Casement became the most vocal and informed
critic of the secret negotiations which led to the First
World War and which he continued to condemn as undemocratic
and criminal until the noose silenced him.
Sir Roger Casement's Heart of
Irish Manuscripts Commission
secrecy, silence and lies have thrived at the heart of
the Casement story and the Black Diaries have both driven
and fuelled these dynamics. Rumour was particularly destructive
at the time of his trial and helped confuse the groundswell
of support for Ireland which arose in the wake of the
execution of the leaders in early May 1916. Aspects of
secrecy are clearly at play in the negotiations of the
Irish Free State Treaty in 1921, when Casement’s solicitor,
George Gavan Duffy (the most reluctant signatory of the
treaty), faced Casement’s prosecutor, F. E. Smith, across
the negotiating table. Why Michael Collins was shown the
Black Diaries so deliberately by Smith at the House of
Lords in early 1922 and why he felt it necessary to make
a public statement about their authenticity and to open
a file on ‘Alleged Casement Diaries’ suggests that Casement
was a significant factor in the secret diplomatic negotiations
between Britain and Ireland. This may also explain why
Gavan Duffy refused to comment on the issue later in life,
when his word might have tied up so many loose ends in
the story. In 1965 Casement’s body (or, rather, a few
lime-bleached bones) were returned to Ireland at a moment
when the public discussion of the Black Diaries had reached
boiling point. After the state funeral and reburial ritual
in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, the matter was silenced
in the corridors of Anglo-Irish diplomacy and
was judged at a political, press and academic level to
be ‘out of bounds’. By situating the story within the
confines of secret diplomacy, there is strong evidence
to suggest that the Black Diaries are part of ‘the agreed
lie’ binding British and Irish diplomatic histories of
the twentieth century.
critic David Lloyd has written about ‘nationalisms against
the state’ – forms of nationalism which are deemed anti-statist
and therefore unacceptable. (35)
This is why Casement remains problematic for both Irish
and British histories. He understood that Ulster was the
intrinsic keystone to Irish unity – without Ulster, Ireland
would always be compromised and truncated. His identification
with Northern Protestant Republicanism constrains him
within an historical location unacceptable to both traditions.
While being part of the consciousness of the state, he
has not been part of its written history, partly due to
the fact that he has not been contiguous with the Irish
Republic’s vision of itself. Only amongst nationalists
in the troubled north of Ireland does his name still invoke
sympathy. Furthermore, the Black Diaries have suited the
growth of a divided and modernised Ireland and a resurgent
imperial historiography. However, as documents of world
history relevant to the Congo and Amazon, they are ignored
for their own internal contradictions and prejudices and
sustained symbolically as a way of ‘discrediting the rising’
by intimating ‘that its leaders were an odd lot, psychologically
unstable, given to Anglophobia and dread homoerotic tendencies.’
(36) In Britain, they
help filter the trauma and maintain the sanctity of the
imperial image and archive.
Gibbons has commented that what the historian has to fear
is ‘history itself particularly when it is not easily
incorporated into the controlling, seamless narratives
that allow communities to smooth over, or even to deny,
their own pasts.’ (37)
Certainly, the retrieval of Roger Casement in recent years
has exposed prejudices, silences and methodological shortfalls
among Irish ‘revisionist’ historians. Where the diaries
once succeeded in closing Casement down to a point of
sexual oblivion, the situation is now reversed. They are
facilitating a flow of new critical interpretations which
conventional history is incapable of stemming. The efforts
to settle the matter of the Black Diaries ‘conclusively’,
through the flight of the academy into the safe arms of
‘science’ and the nature of these scientific conclusions
which ‘prove unequivocally...’, says more about the dilemma
in the relationship between politics and history than
it reveals anything new about the Black Diaries. (38)
The question of Casement’s sexuality is no longer at issue.
He has an essential ‘gay’ dimension which will always
be part of his own story and the meta-narrative of gay
liberation. The question now hinges on textual authenticity
which requires us to ask deeper and unsettling questions
about the authority of the archive and the role of state
secrecy in authorising knowledge. The value of the Black
Diaries as propaganda tools in the war against Irish republicanism
is over. Academics and public alike are now watching the
disintegration of an official secret or agreed lie, which
has been carried for too long through the corridors of
diplomatic negotiation. It is now up to historians and
scholars from Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa to
spearhead the next generation of Casement’s interpretation
and decipher the hieroglyph in search of their own postcolonial
past and present.
Angus Mitchell has lectured
on campuses in the US and Ireland and continues to publish
on the life and afterlife of Roger Casement. He lives
Held in the National Archives
(Kew, London) as HO 161/1-5, the authenticity of the Black
Diaries has been disputed since they were first ‘discovered’
by the British authorities in 1916. They configure with
the daily movement of the British consul Roger Casement
as he made his investigation of crimes against humanity
in the Congo in 1903 and in the Amazon in 1910 and 1911.
For an account of the dispute, see Angus Mitchell (ed.)
The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement (Dublin & London,
1997) and Sir Roger Casement’s Heart of Darkness:
the 1911 Documents (Dublin, 2003). The diaries were
published in a comprehensive (and eccentric) edition by
Jeff Dudgeon (ed.), Roger Casement: The Black Diaries
with a study of his background, sexuality and Irish political
life (Belfast, 2002).
The most complete bibliography
is included in the biography by Seamás Ó Síochain, Roger
Casement: Imperialist Rebel, Revolutionary (Dublin,
2007) and for a brief introductory biography see Angus
Mitchell, Casement (London, 2003). The narrative
of the Putumayo atrocities is dealt with by Ovidio Lagos,
Arana rey del Caucho: Terror y Atrocidades en el Alto
Amazonas (Buenos Aires, 2005) and Jordan Goodman,
The Devil and Mr Casement (London, 2009). For
proceedings from a Roger Casement conference, held at
Royal Irish Academy in May 2000, including contributions
by various academics and independent scholars working
on different areas of Casement’s life, see Mary E. Daly
(ed.), Roger Casement in Irish and World History
Hansard Parliamentary Debates,
3 May 1956 Vol 552 no. 174 col. 749-760. Casement’s name
was raised again during the course of the second reading
of the Public Records Bill (26 June 1967), reducing the
period for which public records are closed from fifty
to thirty years. An exception was made in the case of
papers relating to Ireland. Gerard Fitt (West Belfast)
felt it ‘of paramount importance that every consideration
should be given to the publication of all facts and circumstances
relating to the arrest, imprisonment and subsequent execution
of Sir Roger Casement.’
KV 2/6 – KV 2/10 – are the reference
numbers for the largely unrevealing intelligence files
declassified in 2000.
On issues arising from the release
of documents and the Casement debate see Angus Mitchell,
‘The Casement ‘Black Diaries’ debate, the story so far’
in History Ireland, Summer 2001.
On 1 December 2000 a number
of academics and archivists concerned with the Casement
debate were convened at the Public Record Office in London
where this list was circulated. It is an incomplete compilation
of files relevant to Roger Casement held at the PRO.
Nicholas B. Dirks (ed.), Colonialism
and Culture (Michigan, 1992) quoted by Catherine
Hall (ed.) ‘Thinking the postcolonial, thinking the empire’
in Cultures of Empire (Manchester, 2000).
Thomas Richards, The Imperial
Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London,
Mrinalini Sinha, Colonial
Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishmen’ and the ‘effeminate
Bengali’ in the late nineteenth century (Manchester,
1995), p. 11.
The most notable of these were
the rumours circulating around the involvement of the
explorer Ernest Shackleton’s brother, Francis, in the
theft of the Crown jewels, a celebrated case used by the
advanced nationalist press against the Dublin Castle administration.
See Bulmer Hobson, Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow
(Kerry, 1968), pp. 85-90. A recent popular biography,
John Cafferky and Kevin Hannafin, Scandal and Betrayal:
Shackleton and the Irish Crown Jewels (Dublin, 2001),
is another valuable insight.
See Philip Hoare, Wilde’s
Last Stand: Decadence and conspiracy and the First World
War (London, 1997). Hoare argues that war brought
into focus the threat of homosexuality and that British
intelligence was populated by men who imagined sexual
perverts and German spies going literally hand in hand.
Irish Press, 11 February 1937.
E.D. Morel, Red Rubber,
The story of the rubber slave trade flourishing on the
Congo in the year of Grace 1906 (London, 1907), p. 93-4.
Ibid, p. 94.
Sir Roger Casement’s Heart
of Darkness: the 1911 documents (Dublin, 2003), pp.
C.T. Watts (ed.) Joseph Conrad’s letters to Cunninghame
Graham (Cambridge, 1969), p. 149.
Irish Independent, 5 October
Roger McHugh Papers, National
Library of Ireland MS 31723, Roger Casement to Agnes O’Farrelly.
19 December 1907.
Bulmer Hobson, A Short History
of the Irish Volunteers (Dublin, 1918), p. 23: ‘There
will also be work for women to do, and there are signs
that the women of Ireland, true to their record, are especially
enthusiastic for the success of the Irish Volunteers.’
See Lucy McDiarmid, ‘The Posthumous
Life of Roger Casement’ in A. Bradley and M. Gialanella
Valiulis (eds.) Gender and Sexuality in modern Ireland
(Amherst, 1997). McDiarmid argues that Casement’s
‘camp locutions’ in his letter of 28 October 1914 might
be compared to ‘deliberately girlish utterances of a faux-homosexual
voice.’ The fact that Casement was leading a revolution
and was under close surveillance does not strike McDiarmid
as a valid alternative explanation for his encoded communications.
Reinhard R. Doerries, Prelude
to the Easter Rising: Sir Roger Casement in Imperial Germany
(London, 2000) 49. Casement addresses a letter to Joseph
McGarrity ‘Dear Sister’ and signs it ‘Your fond sister,
Archives of the Irish College,
Rome. Papers of Monsignor Michael O’Riordan Box 17. Thomas
Casey to O’Riordan, 3 August 1916.
Stephen Gwynn, Experiences
of a Literary Man (London, 1926) 260, refers to Casement’s
‘personal charm and beauty … Figure and face, he seemed
to me then one of the finest-looking creatures I have
Richard Kirkland, ‘Frantz Fanon,
Roger Casement and Colonial Commitment’, in Glenn Hooper
& Colin Graham (eds.) Irish and Postcolonial Writing;
History, Theory Practice (London, 2002).
TNA, HO 144/1636/311643/52 and
Efforts to place his meaning
and that of the diaries into the narrative of gay history
was recently undertaken by Brian Lewis, ‘The Queer Life
and Afterlife of Roger Casement’, Journal of the History
of Sexuality, vol. 14, No. 4, October 2005, 363-382.
However, the analysis avoids any deep reading of the documents,
or reference to the recent discussions on the relationship
between propaganda and intelligence.
Basil Thomson, Queer People
(London, 1922), p. 91: ‘Casement struck me as one of those
men who are born with a strong strain of the feminine
in their character. He was greedy for approbation, and
he had the quick intuition of a woman as to the effect
he was making on the people around him.’
Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice
Girodias (eds.) The Black Diaries, An account of Roger
Casement’s life and times with a collection of his diaries
and public writings (Paris, 1959).
Jeff Dudgeon (ed.), Roger Casement: The Black Diaries with a study of his background,
sexuality and Irish political life (Belfast, 2002)
It is interesting to note that
Robert J.C. Young begins his study of Postcolonialism:
an historical introduction (Oxford, 2001) with Casement
emerging from the Amazon in 1910.
Lynn Hunt (ed.), Eroticism
and the Body Politic (Baltimore, 1990).
Eric Hobsbawm, ‘America’s imperial
delusion’, in The Guardian 14 June 2003 reprinted
from Le Monde Diplomatique (June 2003).
Sir Roger Casement’s Heart
of Darkness, pp. 556-66. Casement’s other important
essay The Secret Diplomacy of England, published
posthumously in The Irishman (9/3/1918) and reprinted
in the Royal Irish Academy, Roger Casement in Irish
and World History (Dublin, 2000) programme for the
symposium. Among recent accounts on secrecy and the British
state, see David Vincent, The Culture of Secrecy –
Britain 1832-1998 (Oxford, 1998).
David Lloyd, Ireland after
History (Cork, 1999), pp. 19-36.
Seamus Deane, ‘Wherever Green
is read’ in Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha and Theo Dorgan (eds)
Revising the Rising (Dublin, 1991), p. 100.
Luke Gibbons, Transformations
in Irish Culture (Dublin, 1996), p. 17.
Mary E. Daly (ed.), Roger
Casement in Irish and World History (Dublin, 2005)
contains a selection of the internal handwriting comparisons
carried out on the diaries.
- Cafferky, John and Kevin Hannafin, Scandal and Betrayal: Shackleton and the Irish Crown Jewels (Dublin: The Collins Press, 2001).
- Casement, Roger, ‘The Secret Diplomacy of England’ in Royal Irish Academy, Roger Casement in Irish and World History (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2000).
- Daly, Mary E. (ed.), Roger Casement in Irish and World History (Dublin: Royal Irish Academy, 2005).
- Deane, Seamus, ‘Wherever Green is read’ in Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha and Theo Dorgan (eds) Revising the Rising (Dublin: Field Day, 1991), pp.95-105.
- Doerries, Reinhard R., Prelude to the Easter Rising: Sir Roger Casement in Imperial Germany (London: Irish Academic Press, 2000).
- Dudgeon, Jeff (ed.), Roger Casement: The Black Diaries with a study of his background, sexuality and Irish political life (Belfast: Belfast Press, 2002).
- Gibbons, Luke, Transformations in Irish Culture (Dublin: Cork University Press 1996), p. 17.
- Goodman, Jordan, The Devil and Mr Casement (London: Verso, 2009).
Gwynn, Stephen, Experiences of a Literary Man
(London: Thornton Butterworth, 1926), p. 260.
- Hall, Catherine (ed.), ‘Thinking the postcolonial, thinking the empire’ in Cultures of Empire (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000)
- Hansard Parliamentary Debates, 3 May 1956 Vol 552 no. 174.
- Hoare, Philip, Wilde’s Last Stand: Decadence and conspiracy and the First World War (London: Arcade Publishing,1997)
- Hobsbawm, Eric, ‘America’s imperial delusion’, in The Guardian (London) 14 June 2003, p. 16.
- Hobson, Bulmer, Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow (Kerry: Anvil Books, 1968), pp. 85-90.
- Hunt, Lynn (ed.), Eroticism and the Body Politic (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1990).
- Kirkland, Richard, ‘Frantz Fanon, Roger Casement and Colonial Commitment’, in Glenn Hooper & Colin Graham (eds.), Irish and Postcolonial Writing; History, Theory, Practice (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002)
- Lagos, Ovidio, Arana Rey del Caucho: Terror y Atrocidades en el Alto Amazonas (Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2005).
- Lewis, Brian, ‘The Queer Life and Afterlife of Roger Casement’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press) 14: 4 (October 2005), pp. 363-382.
- Lloyd, David, Ireland after History (Cork: Cork University Press, 1999).
- McDiarmid, Lucy, ‘The Posthumous Life of Roger Casement’ in A. Bradley and M. Gialanella Valiulis (eds.), Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press,1997).
- Mitchell, Angus (ed.) The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement (Dublin: Lilliput Press & London: Anaconda Editions, 1997).
- __________, Sir Roger Casement’s Heart of Darkness: the 1911 Documents (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2003).
- ___________. Casement. (London: Haus, 2003).
- ¬¬___________, ‘The Casement “Black Diaries” debate, the story so far’, History Ireland, Summer 2001: 42-45 http://www.historyireland.com//volumes/volume9/issue2/features/?id=113555
- Morel, E.D., Red Rubber, The story of the rubber slave trade flourishing on the Congo in the year of Grace 1906 (London: Fisher Unwin,1907), pp. 93-4.
- Singleton-Gates, Peter and Maurice Girodias (eds.), The Black Diaries, An account of Roger Casement’s life and times with a collection of his diaries and public writings (Paris: Olympia Press, 1959).
- Sinha, Mrinalini, Colonial Masculinity: The ‘manly Englishmen’ and the ‘effeminate Bengali’ in the late nineteenth century (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995).
- Ó Síochain, Seamás, Roger Casement: Imperialist Rebel, Revolutionary (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2007).
Richards, Thomas, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993).
- Thomson, Basil, Queer People (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1922).
- Vincent, David, The Culture of Secrecy: Britain 1832-1998 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
- Watts, C.T. (ed.), Joseph Conrad’s letters to Cunninghame Graham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).
- Young, Robert J.C., Postcolonialism: an historical introduction (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2001).