Casement, Roger David (1864-1916), British Diplomat, humanitarian and Irish nationalist leader
Casement was born in Sandymount, Co Dublin to Roger, an Ulster protestant officer with the Dragoon Guards, and Anne Jephson, a Catholic from Co Cork in 1864. Raised a Protestant, but secretly baptised as a Catholic by his mother, Casement lost both parents by the age of 13 and was dependent on relatives for support. Having attended the Ballymena diocesan school from 1873 to 1880, Casement went to live with his aunt in Liverpool, where he clerked for a shipping company before putting to sea at the age of 19 en route for Africa.
Arriving in the Congo in 1884, Casement was employed in various capacities including as a surveyor and explorer before joining the customs service of the Niger Coast in 1892. When this was amalgamated into the British consular service three years later, Casement was made Consul to Portuguese West Africa, before returning to the Congo in 1902. There he began to investigate reports of Belgian cruelty in the Congo. Casement found shocking evidence linking rubber production and systematic violence and oppression. His report, published in 1904, detailing a litany of misdeeds by the Belgians in the Congo, including mutilation, torture and depopulation. However, deemed too shocking, it was watered down by the Foreign Office and thus failed to have its full impact. Nevertheless, he was rewarded with CMG. (Link to Report, if online?)
Casement spent nearly all of the next two years in Ireland, recovering from the Congo. After nearly two years in Ireland, where he became involved in Irish nationalism and the Irish language, Casement resumed to consular work in 1905. However, Casement refused posts in Lisbon and Bilbao before accepting the position as Consul in Santos, Brazil in 1906. Two years later, he was made Consul-General in Rio de Janeiro and in 1909 began to investigate human rights violations in rubber producing Putumayo region of the Amazon basin. Casement found that the Peruvian Amazon Company which dominated this region was involved in the same sort of violence, intimidation, rape and murder of the indigenous people as he had witnessed in the Belgian Congo. In 1911, Casement’s report was published, earning him wide acclaim and a knighthood. Two years later Casement retired from the consular service.
Free to pursue his own interests, Casement threw himself into Irish nationalist politics. Joining the Irish Volunteers, he organised the purchase and importation of 1500 Belgian rifles and ammunition at Howth in July 1914. This remarkably successful exploit earned him a great deal of credibility among Irish nationalists and propelled him on a fundraising tour to the United States. The outbreak of the Great War just weeks later overshadowed his trip. However, with Casement’s political activities becoming increasingly public—he had written an article which denounced Britain as Ireland’s enemy—his return to Ireland was not possible. With the support of Irish-Americans, Casement was sent to Berlin to persuade the German government to support an Irish rising. While he met with German leaders including the Chancellor, he was unable to gain assurance of significant support. Nor was he able to persuade more than fifty-six of the estimated 2300 Irish prisoners to join him in liberating Ireland. Disillusioned by the response, not just of his countrymen, but of the German government, Casement was determined to return to Ireland to stop the planned rebellion which he believed doomed to failure.
The German’s finally agreed to land Casement in Tralee bay, with a small amount of arms, by submarine. However, this too, ended in failure. Boats engaged to transport the arms to shore failed to rendezvous. Casement and his companions were capsized in their dinghy, with Casement washing ashore on Banna Strand where he was eventually arrested.  Transported to the Tower of London, Casement was tried under the latter part of an obscure law dating from 1351, which outlawed ‘levying war against the King or being adherent to the King’s the realm or elsewhere’. Accused of recruiting Irish prisoners to fight against the British and participating in a German expedition to Ireland, Casement was not allowed to pursue the defence that his actions were outside the jurisdiction of the British state, or that his only done what the Ulster Volunteer Force had done in 1912 (with the support of the Attorney General). Nor, did Casement wish to use the defence that he was actually trying to stop the rebellion lest he alienate Irish nationalist opinion. His case was not helped by the fact that the Germans had released some of the prisoners he had tried to recruit, and who acted as witnesses for the prosecution.



The trial took only four days and the jury convicted Casement in under an hour. In a speech from the dock, Casement spoke out against the statute he was convicted under, the fact that his trial was removed from Ireland and declared that Irishmen—whether nationalist or unionist—should be fighting for Ireland’s freedom at home and not on the continent. Stripped of his knighthood and having exhausted his appeals, Casement was executed in Pentonville jail on 3 August 1916. Casement’s remains were later given back to Ireland and reinterred in Glasnevin cemetery in February 1965.
Despite his humanitarian work and role in the struggle for independence, Casement remains a controversial figure in many respects. One of the major reasons for this centres on the discovery—and release before his trial—of a series of diaries he kept of work and travels. Although their authenticity has long been disputed, the Casement diaries document not just his professional and sexual life. Casement wrote about his homosexuality, including details regarding his relationships with adolescents and young men he encountered on his many travels. These diaries are generally seen as a contributing factor in Casement’s conviction and speedy execution. Nevertheless, Casement’s role in exposing the brutality of colonial enterprises in Africa and South America and his role in the struggle for Irish independence makes him one of the most intriguing and complex figures in Irish history.

Picture:National Library of Ireland