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Casement, Roger (1864-1916)  
 
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Irishman Roger Casement was devoted to improving the lot of the oppressed. As a British public servant he exposed cruel and exploitative treatment of the indigenous peoples of Africa and South America, for which service he was knighted. He later joined the rebel movement fighting for the independence of Ireland, for which the British government tried and executed him.

Casement's "black diaries"--personal records that revealed that he was gay--were discovered and shown to selected individuals but never introduced during his trial. They were subsequently withheld from public inspection, which gave rise to decades of speculation over their authenticity. The debate continued even after their publication, but forensic analysts have been able to attest that they are genuine.

Sponsor Message.

The use of the black diaries to expose Casement's homosexuality, and thereby discredit him and his ideas, is a telling example of the vulnerability of gay men in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Early Life

Casement's father, also named Roger Casement, was a Protestant, and his mother, Anne Jephson Casement, was a Catholic, although from a predominantly Protestant family. Casement, the last of their four surviving children, was born in Kingstown (now called Dún Laoghaire) in County Dublin on September 1, 1864.

Both of his parents having died by the time he was thirteen, Casement spent his teen years living with relatives. Although his mother may have had him secretly baptized a Catholic when he was small, he was brought up as a Protestant and confirmed in the Anglican faith.

When the time came for Casement to find a job, his family helped him secure work first as a clerk in a shipping company and then as a ship's purser. In the latter capacity he made several trips to Africa.

When the assignment as purser ended, Casement returned to Africa in 1884 as an employee of the International Association (later renamed the Congo International Association), an enterprise sponsored by King Leopold II of Belgium to develop the colony. Casement worked for a time as a surveyor for a railroad line and later directed construction on the project.

Member of the British Consular Service

Casement left the company in 1892 to work for the British Consular Service. Posted to Nigeria (then called the Oil Rivers Protectorate), he undertook several map-making expeditions.

After three years Casement's performance had so impressed his superiors that he was advanced from an employee to a member of the Consular Service without needing to take the Civil Service exam. He was stationed at various posts in southern Africa, eventually winding up back in the Congo, where he began reporting on the torture and mutilation of slaves used in the rubber trade.

Belgium--and in particular King Leopold--made efforts to deny the situation but admitted the truth in 1905. Shortly after the disclosures, Casement was honored by the British government as a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George for his role in exposing the atrocities.

In a visit back to Ireland, Casement began to associate with people who favored national independence, and his sympathies were aroused. Nevertheless, he returned to the service of the British crown.

His new assignments took him to a number of posts in South America. The most important of his achievements as consul was the investigation of the enslavement and torture of native peoples in the Putumayo River area. For his humanitarian efforts he was knighted in 1911. The official government Blue Book of his report was published the following year.

Irish Patriot

The rigors of life in the South American wilderness took a toll on Casement's health. He retired in 1912 and returned to Ireland, where he soon became an active supporter of the separatist cause. In addition to organizing the Irish National Volunteers, he journeyed to the United States to try to enlist American aid for the independence movement.

When World War I erupted in Europe, Casement turned to Germany, hoping that the Kaiser's government would support freeing Ireland from the yoke of English rule. Casement's proposals included recruiting Irish prisoners of war to be freed and returned to Ireland to work for the nationalist cause, but few volunteered for the purpose. He also tried to enlist German support for the Easter Uprising of 1916, but they showed no interest.

Casement and the Germans became mutually disenchanted. The Germans may have been suspicious of Casement and his companion, a flamboyant Norwegian lover named Adler Christensen. In April 1916 Casement boarded a German U-boat to return to Ireland, where he hoped to dissuade rebel leaders from pursuing plans for the uprising since he had become convinced that it would fail--as indeed it did.

The British had been monitoring Casement's activities and were on hand to arrest him when he landed near Tralee in County Kerry on April 24.

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Roger Casement (left) under arrest.
  
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