A Whale of a Time
- Roger Casement’s Diaries. 1910: The Black and the White edited by Roger Sawyer
Pimlico, 288 pp, £10.00, October 1997, ISBN 0 7126 7375 X
- The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement edited by Angus Mitchell
Anaconda, 534 pp, £40.00, October 1997, ISBN 1 901990 01 X
Jessie Conrad remembered his visit:
Sir Roger Casement, a fanatical Irish protestant, came to see us, remaining some two days our guest. He was a very handsome man with a thick, dark beard and piercing, restless eyes. His personality impressed me greatly. It was about the time when he was interested in bringing to light certain atrocities which were taking place in the Belgian Congo. Who could foresee his own terrible fate during the war as he stood in our drawing room passionately denouncing the cruelties he had seen?
Conrad’s biographer Frederick Karl is unsure when this visit took place, but if we are to believe Casement’s Black Diary – and Angus Mitchell, who has edited The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, thinks that we should not – it took place on 3 January 1904 and lasted only one day.
Joseph Conrad had met Casement first in 1889 or 1890 in the Congo, when Casement was working for the Congo Railway Company. ‘For some three weeks,’ Conrad wrote,
he lived in the same room in the Matadi Station of the Belgian Société du Haut-Congo. He was rather reticent as to the exact character of his connection with it; but the work he was busy about then was recruiting labour. He knew the coast languages well. I went with him several times on short expeditions to hold ‘palavers’ with neighbouring village chiefs. The object of them was recruiting porters for the Company’s caravans from Matadi to Leopoldville – or rather to Kinchassa (on Stanley Pool). Then I went up into the interior to take up my command of the stern-wheeler ‘Roi des Belges’ and he, apparently, remained on the coast.
The visit which was remembered by Jessie Conrad had a purpose. Casement had read Heart of Darkness and he wanted Conrad to support him in the case he was making against atrocities in the Congo. ‘I am glad you read the Heart of D., tho’ of course it’s an awful fudge,’ Conrad had written to him. Conrad had based Heart of Darkness on his impressions – he had very little hard, detailed evidence – but, in any case, he did not want to get involved. He wrote to his friend R.B. Cunninghame Graham:
He is a Protestant Irishman, pious too. But so was Pizarro. For the rest I can assure you that he is a limpid personality. There is a touch of the conquistador in him too; for I have seen him start off into an unspeakable wilderness swinging a crookhandled stick for all weapon with two bull-dogs, Paddy (white) and Biddy (brindle) at his heels and a Loanda boy carrying a bundle for all company. A few months afterwards it so happened that I saw him come out again, a little leaner, a little browner, with his stick, dogs and Loanda boy, and quietly serene as though he had been for a stroll in the park. He ... lately seems to have been sent to the Congo on some sort of mission by the British government. I always thought some particle of Las Casas’ soul had found refuge in his indomitable body ... I would help him but it is not in me. I am only a wretched novelist inventing wretched stories, and not even up to that miserable game ... He could tell you things! Things I have tried to forget, things I never did know. He had as many years of Africa as I had months – almost
After Casement’s arrest in 1916, Conrad wrote to John Quinn in New York:
We never talked politics ... He was a good companion: but already in Africa I judged that he was a man, properly speaking, of no mind at all. I don’t mean stupid. I mean that he was all emotion. By emotional force (Congo report, Putumayo etc) he made his way, and sheer emotionalism has undone him. A creature of sheer temperament – a truly tragic personality: all but the greatness of which he had not a trace. Only vanity. But in the Congo it was not visible yet.
Roger Casement was born in Ireland in 1864, of a prosperous Protestant family. He was brought up mainly in Northern Ireland. At the age of 20 he went to Africa, where he worked with various commercial interests in the Congo and then in what later became Nigeria. Subsequently, he found employment with the British Consular Service and in 1900 returned to the Congo, part of which was under the direct control of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. He began to investigate allegations of brutality in the region; his work was thorough and conscientious, and he was personally responsible for the decision of the Foreign Office to undertake a serious investigation of what was happening in the Congo.
In 1906 Casement began to work in the British Consular Service in South America: in Santos, Rio de Janeiro and then in Pará at the mouth of the Amazon. In 1910 he investigated allegations of atrocities against the Amazon Indians. He was knighted for his work. By the time he resigned from the Consular Service in 1913, he had become a fervent Irish nationalist; and on his return to Ireland he was made treasurer of the Irish Volunteers. He was a glittering prize for the new movement: a Protestant, a knight, an internationally-known humanitarian and anti-imperialist. He worked for the Irish cause in the United States and Germany, raising funds in the United States and trying to start an Irish Brigade with prisoners of war in Germany. He landed from Germany, after much adventure, on the coast of county Kerry on Good Friday 1916 in a German submarine, but the guns which were to come as well failed to arrive. He was captured and taken to London, where he was charged with treason. He was found guilty. His diaries, in particular his ‘Black’ Diaries – which consisted of diaries for 1903, 1910, 1911 and a ledger for 1911, and gave accounts of homosexual encounters in Africa and South America – were used to prevent a reprieve. He was hanged. After his death, there was great controversy about the diaries. Were they forged? Were they real? How could an Irish patriot be homosexual? Many books have been published on the subject. These two new books deal with Casement’s legacy: one of them believes that the diaries are genuine, the other does not.
Casement’s bones, or what was left of them – he had been buried without a coffin in quicklime – were returned to Ireland by Harold Wilson’s government in February 1965. The first request had been made to Ramsay MacDonald’s government sometime between 1929 and 1931. This was refused, as were de Valera’s requests to Stanley Baldwin and Churchill, and Sean Lemass’s request to Harold Macmillan. In her account of the discussions between the two governments about Casement’s body, and indeed Casement’s diaries, in the spring 1996 edition of Irish Archives, from which this information was taken, Deirdre McMahon writes: ‘Exasperated British ministers and officials were apt to attribute malice to de Valera’s concern for Casement: but in fact the controversy revealed the cultural chasm in Irish and British attitudes to death. What to the Irish was respect for the dead, to the British was a distasteful and morbid obsession.’
The exhumation took place after dark in Pentonville Prison: Casement had not been buried, as had been believed, beside Dr Crippen, according to the documents which the British officials had, but between two men called Kuhn and Robinson. The lower jaw, eight ribs, several vertebrae, arm bones, shoulder bones, a number of smaller bones and the skull, virtually intact and still covered with bits of the shroud, were found and put into a coffin. The bones belonged to a man of exceptional height – Casement was tall. The British paid for the coffin. (‘It was a gesture which they felt they should make and were glad to make,’ an Irish official said.) There was a state funeral in Dublin. The coffin was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery beside others who had fought and suffered for the cause of Ireland: Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell, Paddy Dignam.
Although there is a large collection of Casement documents in the National Library in Dublin (and other items which he brought back from Africa and South America – including costumes and a butterfly collection – in the National Museum and the Natural History Museum), his diaries remain in England. They were seen by Michael Collins and Eamon Duggan during the 1921 Treaty negotiations. In the early Thirties Duggan wrote:
Michael Collins and I saw the Casement Diary by arrangement with Lord Birkenhead. We read it. I did not know Casement’s handwriting. Collins did. He said it was his. The diary was in two parts – bound volumes – repeating ad nauseam details of sex perversion – of the personal appearance and beauty of native boys – with special reference to a certain portion of their anatomy. It was disgusting.
De Valera was careful not to become involved in the controversy about the diaries which erupted at regular intervals during his time in office, and he refused to ask the British Government to allow his representative to check their authenticity. When the diaries were published in Paris and New York in 1959, a British official asked a diplomat at the Irish Embassy in London what the reaction in Ireland would be to the release of the diaries, adding that ‘in view of the present attitude in Britain to homosexuality, few people now in this country would attach much importance to Casement’s failings in this respect.’ The Irish diplomat had to reveal that here perhaps was another cultural chasm between Ireland and Britain: ‘Opinion in Ireland had not moved so far and would probably not be much different from what it was in this country when Casement was on trial.’
When Sean Lemass came to power in 1959, he was anxious to have the diaries as well as the body, and the Irish Cabinet agreed that the diaries should be given to the Irish Government, with no copy being kept by the British, but Maurice Moynihan, secretary to the Government and secretary to the Department of the Taoiseach, was against this. Did the Government intend to keep them, to burn them, to publish them? he asked. In his opinion, the Irish Government should have nothing to do with them. Lemass eventually agreed with him. On 23 July, R.A. Butler announced that the diaries would be deposited in the Public Record Office in London, where they could be viewed by scholars and historians. Southern Ireland wanted Casement’s bones since they held no secrets and could not speak, but the diaries were, and still are, dynamite, and the English, as we all know, are better at handling that sort of thing.
The Black Diaries first became available in 1959. The Black Diaries: An Account of Roger Casement’s Life and Times, with a Collection of His Diaries and Public Writings, by Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias, published by Grove Press in New York and the Olympia Press in Paris, was an extraordinary book. It included potted histories of Ireland, the Congo and the Putumayo in the Amazon basin, an account of Casement’s life and death, his report on the Congo, his report on the Putumayo, his diary from the Congo in 1903 and his diary from the Putumayo in 1910. The diary entries were placed facing the reports, so that on the left-hand page you got clear, factual statements about brutality, and accounts of Casement’s investigations often laced with his indignation, and on the right-hand page you got cryptic notes, times, money spent, meetings registered, the weather, news, opinions. On 17 April 1903 he noted Sir Hector Macdonald’s suicide in Paris – Macdonald was charged with homosexual activities in Ceylon – and wrote: ‘The reasons given are pitiably sad. The most distressing case this surely of its kind and one that may awake the national mind to saner methods of curing a terrible disease than by criminal legislation.’ On 19 and 30 April Casement made further references to Hector Macdonald’s suicide.
In March in the same diary, as Casement’s ship made various stops on the way to the Congo, there were references to Agostinho, 17½ (‘Agostinho kissed many times,’ on 13 March), to X (‘not shaved, about 21 or 22’), to Pepe (‘17, bought cigarettes’). The very first entry of the diary for 1910, 13 January, Thursday, opened: ‘Gabriel Ramos – X Deep to hilt’ and ended ‘in very deep thrusts’. The next entry simply said: ‘Veldemiro – $20’. On 2 March he was in São Paulo: ‘Breathed – quick enormous push. Loved mightily. To Hilt Deep X.’ By 12 March he was in Buenos Aires: ‘Splendid erections. Ramon 7$ 10” at least. X In.’ By 28 March he was in Belfast: ‘Rode gloriously – splendid steed. Huge – told of many – “Grand”.’ Like many Edwardian men of his class he was, or at least these diaries say that he was, having a whale of a time. The above entries are merely a small sample.
We are asked to believe by those who say that these diaries were not forged that Casement kept two diaries during his long trips to the Congo and the Putumayo: one long and detailed for public consumption, and also for his own later use when he came to write his reports (the White Diaries), the other short and private, less than a hundred and fifty words per day (the Black Diaries).
This seems to me eminently possible. It would also seem probable that there would be odd inconsistencies between the two diaries: different spellings of names – Casement was not good at spelling names; a few items appearing on the wrong day; some items in one diary not being mentioned in the other at all; a different tone. On the Putumayo trip, when Casement’s eyes began to trouble him, he wrote in pencil and his handwriting deteriorated, but this only happened in the White Diary, the Black Diary was written in pen and the writing did not deteriorate. This can be explained, maybe, by the fact that work on the Black Diaries took only a few minutes, whereas work on the White Diaries was a strain. On the other hand, if I were a forger working on the Black Diaries, using the White Diaries for directions, I would have moved into pencil too, and made the handwriting deteriorate. The fact that the inconsistency remained suggests that no forger was involved.
To decide to leave the discrepancy you would have to be a very clever and confident forger; but it is clear that if the Black Diaries were forged, then the forger was very clever indeed – a genius. Because there is not one howler in the Black Diaries, there is no entry which could have been placed there only because a forger absolutely and clearly misunderstood a passage in the White Diaries. Although there are discrepancies which come close to being howlers, there is no moment in the Black Diaries which settles the argument either way.
Basil Thomson, who was the chief of the Special Branch created at Scotland Yard at the beginning of the First World War for the detection of enemy spies, interrogated Casement for three days after his capture. Thomson left five differing accounts of how the diaries – both Black and White – were found. In some of them, the diaries were discovered only after Casement’s capture, but in one account Thomson said that he was in possession of the diaries for some time before that. Casement’s cousin has insisted that Thomson had the diaries 16 months before the trial. But this confusion does not amount to very much, and certainly does not help us to know whether the Black Diaries were forged or not.
How would the idea of Casement as an Edwardian sex tourist have entered the forger’s head? There are some interesting passages in the White Diaries which Thomson had in his possession and could not have forged – were he the forger. Casement wrote with ease in the White Putumayo Diary about ‘the bronzed beautiful limbs of these men’ and ‘soft gentle eyes, a beautiful mouth’, to take just two examples. A forger looking at these innocent remarks could get the idea that this was how you could best stitch Casement up.
A possible forger, then, had the White Diaries to use, so he or she knew where Casement was every day, what he was doing and thinking. The Black Diaries would therefore have been easy to forge. It would have taken patience – there are weeks on end in the 1903 and the 1910 Black Diary where there is no mention of sex (the 1911 Black Diary is, I understand, a different matter, but this has not been published), and this either convinces us that they are not forged because a forger would have put sex on every page to serve his darker purpose, or that they are, in fact, forged since a good forger would have known the correct balance between sex and context.
Brian Inglis, in his 1973 biography of Casement, did not believe the diaries were forged. ‘The case against the forgery theory remains unshaken,’ he wrote.
No person or persons, in their right mind, would have gone to so much trouble and expense to damn a traitor when a single diary would have sufficed. To ask the forger to fake the other two diaries and the cash register (and if one was forged all of them were) would have been simply to ask for detection, because a single mistake in any of them would have destroyed the whole ugly enterprise. Besides, where could the money have been found? Government servants may sometimes be unscrupulous, but they are always tight-fisted.
The diaries, in any case, black and white, forged or otherwise, were in the hands of Casement’s prosecution team, led by F.E. Smith (later Lord Birkenhead), in the summer of 1916. Smith would have taken a rather personal interest in Casement, having himself been a fervent supporter of the Unionist cause. During the trial, the prosecution gave the defence a copy of a selection of Black Diary entries, wondering if the defence would like to use them as a basis for a Guilty but Insane plea. However, this may have been a manoeuvre on the part of Smith, who wanted the diaries made public in the trial but could not make them public himself. The defence refused the offer. Casement was found guilty of treason and sentenced to hang.
Sixteen days before his execution, the Cabinet was presented with two memoranda by the legal adviser to the Home Office:
Casement’s diaries and his ledger entries, covering many pages of closely typed matter, show that he has for years been addicted to the grossest sodomitical practices. Of 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.
The second memorandum ended: ‘So far as I can judge, it would be far wiser from every point of view to allow the law to take its course and, by judicious means, to use these diaries to prevent Casement attaining martyrdom.’ The obvious implication of the first memorandum was that instead of Casement fucking the Africans and the Amazon Indians they had begun to fuck him. The British Cabinet at the time would have realised that this was not in keeping with the aims of the Empire. In any case, they agreed that he should be hanged.
Basil Thomson and his associates set about showing the diaries to influential people. The King saw them; so did several senior clergymen. American opinion was vital, especially after the shocked and indignant reaction to the executions of the leaders of the 1916 Rising. (These had happened in May. Casement was hanged on 3 August.) American journalists, including the representative of Associated Press, were shown the diaries. The American Ambassador saw them. They were shown to the Anti-Slavery Society, who sent the Foreign Office a six-point memorandum on the issue, one of which is worth quoting here: ‘It is unthinkable that a man of Casement’s intelligence would under normal circumstances record such grave charges in a form in which they might at any time fall into the hands of his enemies.’ Despite the government campaign to vilify Casement, there was a public commission demanding a reprieve, spearheaded by Arthur Conan Doyle. The signatories included Arnold Bennett, G.K. Chesterton, J.G. Frazer, John Galsworthy, Jerome K. Jerome, John Masefield and Beatrice and Sidney Webb. George Bernard Shaw also petitioned for a pardon – in fact, it would be hard to imagine such a campaign without him. In 1937 he wrote to the Irish Press:
The trial occurred at a time when the writings of Sigmund Freud had made psychopathy grotesquely fashionable. Everybody was expected to have a secret history unfit for publication except in the consulting rooms of the psychoanalysts. If it had been announced that among the papers of Queen Victoria a diary had been found revealing that her severe respectability masked the daydreams of a Messalina it would have been received with eager credulity and without the least reprobation by the intelligentsia. It was in that atmosphere innocents like Alfred Noyes and [John] Redmond were shocked, the rest of us were easily credulous: but we associated no general depravity with psychopathic eccentricities, and we were determined not to be put off by it in our efforts to secure a pardon.
The diaries were effective: they prevented a serious campaign for a reprieve; they may have affected the Cabinet decision; they seriously damaged Casement’s reputation and legacy. Now, eighty years later, they beggar belief: how could a forger have gone to so much trouble and made no mistakes? How, on the other hand, could Casement have been so stupid as to have left them to be found? It is easy to imagine the forger at work: the entries are short, it must have been fun burying the sexual adventures in all that boring detail. It is also easy to imagine Casement writing these little entries down, his secret life, his private moments which needed to be preserved somewhere, and then almost wanting to be caught, something in his psyche waving away natural caution.
The British had used forgery against Parnell, trying to implicate him in terrorist acts. And nationalist Ireland believed that this is what they did with Casement.
Afraid they might be beaten
Before the bench of Time,
They turned the trick by forgery
And blackened his good name
Yeats wrote in 1937. And now, it seems, the battle is still going on: two Englishmen beg to differ about the diaries.
Roger Sawyer, in the Preface to his new edition of the 1910 Black and White Diaries, writes, ‘After much research I found that they were entirely genuine,’ but a co-editor, whom he does not name, ‘made a journey in the reverse direction’ and withdrew from the project. In his Preface to his edition of The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, Angus Mitchell makes it clear that he was Roger Sawyer’s co-editor until he ‘began to have grave doubts about the authenticity of the Black Diaries’.
Mitchell’s book is a full and annotated version of Casement’s White Diaries for 1910, when Casement was in the Putumayo; Sawyer’s is an annotated edition of the Black Diary for 1910, followed by an annotated and edited version of the White Diaries for 1910. The 1910 Black Diaries appeared in the Olympia Press edition of 1959 (without Sawyer’s footnotes and clearer readings of Casement’s handwriting). There is a great deal more material about Casement’s work in the Amazon in Mitchell’s book than in Sawyer’s, courtesy of a trawl through material in the National Library in Dublin. It is hard to understand why Sawyer did not include the 1911 Black Diary, which in Mitchell’s words has caused biographers to pass over the 1911 Amazon voyage, ‘as little more than a sexual odyssey’.
Both authors have peculiar things to say in their Prefaces. Sawyer thinks that it might have been better had the Black Diaries not been published until the next century, and then justifies republication as a way of settling the forgery issue once and for all. ‘Inevitably,’ he writes, ‘much of the detail may be disillusioning to admirers of Casement’s humanitarian work.’ Mitchell believes that there is ‘no need to publish’ the Black Diaries ‘now unless one wished to throw oil on the fire’; that the Black Diaries ‘have poisoned the reputation of Casement and muddied the waters of South American history’. (Clearly, his falling-out with Sawyer has caused a serious outbreak of mixed metaphors.) ‘Perhaps least of all,’ he goes on, ‘do they serve the gay community or merit a place in 20th-century homosexual literature.’
There is nothing quite like two Englishmen taking a high moral tone. Let us pretend that the Black Diaries were not forged. What emerges from Casement’s writing about the Congo and the Putumayo is the extent to which he felt for people, men, women and children, how appalled he was by the plight of each individual he came across, how he hated those who made others suffer. He was ‘all emotion’, in Conrad’s phrase. He loved the people of the Congo and the Amazon Indians. During the day he took notes and statements and worked out a strategy to get the British Government on his side so that he could help them, and when night fell (or even sometimes during the day), he wanted to fondle them and make love with them in a way which would give him most pleasure. Since he was gay, he did it with blokes. One presumes that some of them took pleasure in it too – maybe even some of the ones he paid.
And more. Perhaps it was his very homosexuality, and his deep interest in ‘a certain portion of their anatomy’, to quote Eamon Duggan, which made him into the humanitarian he was, made him so appalled. Unlike everyone around him, he took nothing for granted. His moral courage, the absence in him of the slyness of, say, Joseph Conrad, came perhaps from his understanding of what it meant to be despised. He is, pace Sawyer and Mitchell, a gay hero. The Black Diaries should be published in full so that everyone’s prejudices can have a great big outing. I admire Casement more because of his Diaries. I admire the quality of his desire, his passionate nature, his erotic complexity, his openness, his doubleness, his sexual energy.
Angus Mitchell is right, however, when he says that the publication of the Black Diaries has muddied the waters of South American history, and indeed the history of the Congo. What Casement saw was serious and important and should be remembered. The controversy surrounding the Congo and the Putumayo in the years of Casement’s investigation had the same source: rubber. ‘In the 1890s it became the prime commodity in the reinvention of the wheel,’ Mitchell writes. Until about 1910 wild rubber could only be extracted from remote parts of the Congo and the Amazon, where there were no roads or railways; thus it had to be carried on foot. (After 1910, it was planted elsewhere, from seeds taken from the Amazon region.) It was pure gold for the companies which traded in it. Casement proved in both cases that the local people were enslaved, were constantly flogged and tortured, were even murdered, and that in many cases British companies and capital were involved. His accounts are explicit and convincing and shocking, and because Angus Mitchell’s book has no reference to Casement’s sexual activities we are allowed to focus on a disgraceful episode in colonial history which has considerable relevance to what is happening in the Amazon basin now.
Casement was in a strange position in the Amazon in 1910. An article had appeared in the magazine Truth which told the story of atrocities being committed by rubber companies in the region. The Peruvian Amazon company, based in London, sent a five-man commission to investigate the ‘commercial prospects’ of the area. The Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey sent Casement, who was the Brazilian Consul General, to represent the Foreign Office and investigate the allegations. Thus he was being entertained and looked after by the very people who were perpetrating the atrocities. He had to keep reminding the commission to take their minds off the ‘commercial prospects’ and pay attention to what was happening all around them.
On 18 October 1910 Casement saw a group of Indians arriving with huge loads of rubber: ‘The little boys, some of them five or six ... stark naked, dear little things with soft gentle eyes and long eyelashes, were coming along too, often with thirty lbs or more on their tiny backs. I saw one lad, looked about fifteen, with a boy’s frank voice, with a load of fully 75 to 80 lbs.’ Casement began to notice that almost every Indian he saw, including children, had scars and marks from flogging: ‘One tiny boy child of not more than eight ... had his little backside and thighs covered with scars – broad weals and lashes’. A ‘big splendid-looking Boras young man – with a broad good-humoured face like an Irishman – had a fearful cut on his left buttock. It was the last scab of what had been a very bad flogging. The flesh for the size of a saucer was black and scarred, and this crown of raw flesh was the size of a florin. I put lanolin and a pad of cotton wool over it.’ On the same day he wrote: ‘What is wanted here is a Hanging Commission with a gallows – not a Commission of botanists and commercial experts.’
‘There is no getting away from it,’ his diary reads, ‘we are simply the guests of a pirate stronghold, where Winchesters and stocks and whipping thongs, to say nothing of the appalling crimes in the background, take the place of trade goods, and a slavery without limit the place of commercial dealings.’ His fellow travellers were cautious and irritating. When he wanted to burn some stocks, the others thought that it would be wiser not to do so. When one of them mentioned cannibals, in exasperation Casement remarked that ‘some of the nicest people I know on the Congo were cannibals.’ His tone in these writings became more and more indignant and pained:
Alas! Poor Peruvian, poor South American Indian! The world thinks the slave trade was killed a century ago! The worst form of slave trade and slavery – worse in many of its aspects, as I shall show – than anything African savagery gave birth to, has been in full swing here for three hundred years until the dwindling remnant of a population once numbering millions, is now perishing at the doors of an English Company, under the lash, the chains, the bullet, the machete to give its shareholders a dividend.
Casement’s tireless humanitarian work in the Congo and in the Putumayo, in what he called ‘these awful crime-stained forests’, made him famous. He became more and more anti-English as time went on and more fanatical. His health was not good. His involvement in the 1916 Rebellion was disastrous and quixotic, but if the other leaders, equally quixotic, could become martyrs, then he could become an even more famous martyr. Slowly, in the months after the Rising, the British realised that executing Irish nationalists was counterproductive. But they still wanted to hang Casement. After they hanged him, they had a doctor examine him, who said that he had ‘found unmistakable evidence of the practices to which it was alleged the prisoner in question had been addicted’. In all the images we have of Anglo-Irish relations over the centuries, perhaps this one is the saddest and the most stark: a prison doctor examining Casement’s arsehole a short time after he had been hanged on the orders of the British Government.
It is important for us to know whether the diaries were forged or not, even if it is clear, and agreed by all, to what use they were put in the time between Casement’s sentence and his execution. Angus Mitchell devotes many footnotes to the subject, some of them which seem very important to him do not seem convincing to me, but others are interesting. In Iquitos, for example, the Black Diaries have Casement staying at the Hotel Le Cosmopolite, but he did not, in fact, stay there. He stayed with David Cazes, but to know that you would have to have had access to Casement’s letters, which the potential forger did not have. In the White Diaries, Casement used the term ‘police news’ to mean the dossier he carried from England about perpetrators of atrocities; the phrase ‘police news’ is never used in the Black Diaries – a potential forger would possibly not have understood its meaning. There are odd, interesting discrepancies in the account of the interview with Normand, the main villain in the Putumayo, between the Black and White Diaries, but nothing which cannot be explained. There is a reference to St Swithin in the White Diary, which a potential forger may have misunderstood since the reference to St Swithin in the Black Diary in the same short period is, in Mitchell’s phrase, ‘both misleading and wrong’. There is a small discrepancy about a rubber of bridge, but it does not seem important to me. (Incidentally, Angus Mitchell says in a footnote that ‘bridge has long appealed to tacticians and plotters, because of its partly revealed partly hidden nature.’ Give us all a break, Angus.)
But there is still, as I said earlier, no howler, nothing which makes you certain that these diaries were forged. In fact, there is one important episode where the Black Diary has information which is not available in the White Diary. It is the name and statistics of an Indian who sat in the stocks. It is missing in the White Diaries, although there is a reference to it Mitchell writes, disingenuously, in a footnote: ‘Casement probably wrote the information in one of his notebooks – a source available to the forger but now lost.’ A potential forger may also, of course, have made it up, but Mitchell’s footnote is too pat, shows him too ready to be convinced by his own argument.
In September 1993, Radio 4 broadcast a documentary on the diaries in which a handwriting expert, Dr David Baxendale, who had many years’ experience working for the Home Office, stated that ‘the bulk of the handwriting in there is the work of Roger Casement’ and said of interpolations in the diaries that the ‘handwriting of all the entries which were of that nature corresponds closely with Mr Casement’s handwriting and there is nothing to suggest that anybody else inserted anything.’ But questions linger; why, for example, do we have Black Diaries only for the years in which Casement’s movements were known and noted down? Why, since he had so many enemies, especially in the Putumayo, was he never caught red-handed, so to speak? He was a tall, bearded white man, who would have been known and noticed everywhere he went.
Angus Mitchell in his footnotes has two references to a work called The Vindication of Roger Casement by E.O. Maille, M. Ui Callanan and M. Payne (privately printed, 1994). In this work, he writes, ‘painstaking research has been carried out over the last two decades by two Irish researchers ... Using detailed computerised analysis of key words and expressions they have shown that the linguistic fingerprint in Casement’s genuine writing is completely at odds with the linguistic fingerprints of the Black Diaries.’ I was interested in this, and I made an effort to track down The Vindication of Roger Casement.
I have it in front of me as I write: it was indeed privately printed, it consists of 18 photocopied A4-size pages bound together. The second sentence of the Introduction reads: ‘It is important to note that there were only Two Men involved in the actual writing of these Diaries, Roger Casement and Sir Basil Thomson.’ (Angus Mitchell in his book writes, ‘Sir Basil Thomson has both the motive and the expertise to devise the forgery’ and in a footnote adds: ‘In 1925 he was dismissed from the post after a breach of the public decency laws.’) The authors of the privately printed Vindication of Roger Casement write that Thomson ‘was immoral and an habitual pervert. He was sentenced for gross indecency in Hyde Park, London.’
Casement, they point out, was a good Christian and then a good Catholic: ‘He walked the world with The Imitation of Christ as his companion. Being received into the Catholic Church on the morning of his execution, he took off his shoes in humility before approaching the Altar and last Holy Communion, just moments prior to facing eternity.’ And then they write about the crowds who assembled for the first anniversary of Casement’s execution; ‘For all these Christian people, freedom by a pervert would be a perverted freedom, and not acceptable.’
So we live here now in our perverted freedom. There are perverts everywhere; despite more than seventy-five years of ‘freedom’ we have not managed to get rid of them. (With the help of God, we’ll get them out by Christmas.) The authors analyse Casement’s diaries and come to the conclusion that they were written by two people. Their analysis is detailed and interesting, part of the debate which is likely to continue about the diaries and about Casement’s legacy: ‘The Word Frequency Comparisons are remarkable. It is almost unbelievable that out of 1135 Word Frequencies in the Dublin [White] 1910 Diary, all the typical “Casement” words are absent from the London [Black] Diary containing the alleged obscenities. It is obvious the Forger merely copied Casement’s handwriting, but could only express the filthy minds of Casement’s enemies.’