In 1898, Casement embarked on a more important diplomatic assignment, investigating
atrocities committed by Belgian soldiers against African rubber workers in the Congo.
In his consular diary, Casement dutifully recorded what he called "the daily agony
of an entire people" - whippings, mutilations, and starvation by "the savage soldiery."
His work in the Congo earned him acclaim in England and eventually led to his appointment as
consul-general of Brazil in 1908, where he uncovered more exploitation - this
time of Brazilian Indians by a Peruvian rubber company. Casement's official findings, released
in 1912 as the "Putumayo Report," made Britain and other world powers take a
hard look at the abuse of colonized people, and Casement was honoured with
knighthood. But ironically, his exemplary work soon led to scandal.
Casement documented more than just his consular life in his diary. Included
with his daily observations about the torture of native people were specifics
about his sexual encounters with "rent boys," stevedores, and sailors -
sometimes multiple tricks in one day. Casement occasionally noted only the
man's first name and how much he paid for sex, but he also often included
explicit details: "Biggest since Lisbon 1904! Perfectly huge"; "Deep screw
and to the hilt"; and "Rode gloriously, splendid steed." An occasional quote
from Wilde also turned up in the diary's pages. Of course, none of these
references ever appeared in Casement's final reports.
His homosexuality might never have come to light had he not begun working for
the Irish nationalist cause as a speaker and fundraiser soon after his return
from Brazil and his retirement from consular duties in 1912. Casement's shift
from public servant to revolutionary probably owed much to his work against
colonial exploitation, which had given him a new understanding of the British
oppression of the Irish.
When World War I broke out in 1914, Casement actively lobbied the Irish
people to support Germany, which had issued a statement in favour of Irish
independence and had pledged arms and manpower to the revolutionary cause.
But when Casement travelled to Germany to bring back soldiers and rifles, he
found that country's support of Ireland little more than a scheme to scare
the British. Because Irish rebels were planning a massive uprising that was
based on Germany's promised aid - and sure to fail without it - Casement
hurried back to try to stop the rebellion. British intelligence learned about
his movements, however, and Casement was arrested in Ireland on Good Friday -
unable to block the so-called Easter Rebellion of 1916, which ended in defeat
for the Irish rebels. (Twenty-six counties of southern, predominantly
Catholic, Ireland finally won independence from England in 1921, the rest making
up the current Northern Ireland.)
In June 1916 Casement was tried in England and convicted of treason, a crime
punishable by death. There was some talk, however, about an appeal based on
his record of faithful public service. But before that could happen,
Casement's diaries, which British authorities had seized, were made public;
the details of his "perversion" shocked the King and Parliament and ended all
speculation about a pardon. He was hanged in London on August 3.
That didn't end the saga of Roger Casement, however. For years, many in
Ireland insisted that British authorities had forged Casement's "Black
Diaries" (they were dubbed that on account of their homoerotic content, while
his official journal was called "The White Diaries") in order to discredit
him and the Irish nationalist movement. Scholars made entire careers studying
and arguing over the diaries, which were published in book form in 1959.
Finally, an analysis of Casement's diaries at Goldsmiths
College of the University of London subjected them to handwriting,
ultraviolet, and electrostatic tests that confirmed their authenticity and -
after 86 years - Casement's own homosexuality.
Paula Martinac is a Lambda Literary Award-winning author of seven books, including
The Queerest Places: A Guide to Gay and Lesbian Historic Sites.