3/8/1916 The execution of Roger Casement

Roger Casement’s life has followed unusual paths. After working for private concerns in Africa, the Irishman joined the British diplomatic service. He became a hero to many thanks to his part in exposing the horrific abuse of the Congolese native population by Belgium’s King Leopold. He also brought to light the brutal exploitation of Putumayo Indians by the Peruvian Amazon Company. Casement’s humanitarian work led to him being knighted in 1911

Despite the honours the British state bestowed upon him, Casement found himself increasingly drawn to Irish nationalism. He left Britain’s diplomatic service in 1913 and involved himself in the setting up of the Irish Volunteers. After the war’s outbreak he travelled to Germany, where he attempted to secure assistance for a rebellion in Ireland. He also tried to recruit Irish prisoners of war into a nationalist Irish Brigade.

Casement travelled back to Ireland onboard a U-boat just before the Easter Rising, but was immediately arrested. Unlike the rebel leaders in Dublin, he was brought to London for a civilian trial instead of facing a court martial. He was nevertheless convicted of high treason and sentenced to death.

Because of his humanitarian work, there are some misgivings in Britain about executing Casement. Arthur Conan Doyle and George Bernard Shaw are among those who have pleaded for clemency. But the British authorities take steps to make sure that a campaign to save Casement’s life is stillborn. Pages from Casement’s private diaries are shown to newspaper editors and other people who might have pleaded his case. The diaries appear to reveal him to be an active homosexual. Given that unnatural vice remains a serious crime, few public figures are willing to associate themselves with Casement’s case.

So it is that today Casement is hanged in Pentonville Prison.

image sources:

Roger Casement & Putumayo Indians (The Culture Trip)

Casement leaving court after the rejection of his appeal (History Ireland)

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