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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Casement, Roger David

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CASEMENT, ROGER DAVID (1864-1916), British consular official and Irish traitor, was born near Dublin Sept. 1 1864. His family were Protestants who migrated to Ulster from the Isle of Man early in the 18th century, and he was brought up in the Protestant faith. Early in his career he was in the service of the Niger Coast Protectorate, afterwards entering the British consular service, and being appointed to Lorenzo Marques (1895), Loanda (1898) and to the Congo Free State (1898). After seven years on the Congo he was transferred to South America, going to Santos (1906), to Pará (1907) and to Rio de Janeiro as consul-general (1908). In 1910, charges of cruelty having been brought against the agents of the Anglo-Peruvian Amazon Co., operating in the region of the Putumayo, a tributary of the Upper Amazon, Casement was commissioned by the British Government to inquire into these charges on the spot. The result of his investigations was published as a Blue Book in 1912, and public opinion was deeply shocked by the evidence it contained of the appalling atrocities committed on the natives employed in collecting rubber (see Putumayo). For this service he was knighted. His mind, however, seems to have become affected as the result of his experiences in the tropics, and on his return to Ireland from South America he developed a fanatical hatred of England, throwing himself with ardour into the movement for Irish independence.

As early as Jan. 1913 Irish Freedom, a Sinn Fein monthly review, had foretold the coming war with Germany and proclaimed this as “Ireland's opportunity,” and to the July number of this review Casement, under the pseudonym of San Van Vocht, contributed an article on “Germany, Ireland, and the next War,” in which he elaborated this theme. From the first he took an active part in the Volunteer movement in the south, and when, in the spring of 1914, the bulk of the Volunteers ranged themselves under Mr. Redmond's leadership (National Volunteers) he attached himself to the Sinn Fein section, which refused all compromise (Irish Volunteers). He had in the previous year made efforts, in concert with Mrs. J. R. Green and Capt. White, to organize in the north counter-demonstrations of Protestants against the Ulster movement which culminated in the swearing of the Covenant; but these efforts were a complete failure.

After the outbreak of the World War Casement went to the United States, whence he wrote in Oct. urging Irishmen to stop in Ireland, “as they have no quarrel with Germany.” In Nov. he went to Berlin and a communiqué from the German Foreign Office, published in the official North-German Gazette, stated that he had been given assurances there with regard to Ireland in the event of a successful German invasion of Great Britain. A pamphlet by him, entitled The Crime against Ireland and how the War may right it, appealing for a German-American-Irish alliance, was disseminated in the United States as part of the German propaganda. In Feb. 1915 he wrote an “open letter” to Sir Edward Grey accusing the British Government of conspiring against his life. During that year he visited the prison camps in Germany and tried, with very poor success, to undermine the loyalty of Irish soldiers who were prisoners of war, making them alluring promises if they would join an Irish brigade to fight for Ireland against Great Britain. He succeeded in keeping in touch with the extreme elements in Ireland and in arranging with them the rebellion planned for Easter week 1916, of which he himself proposed to take the lead. On April 12 he sailed for Ireland in a German submarine, which was accompanied by a vessel, laden with arms and ammunition, and purporting to be the Norwegian S.S. “Auk.” They reached the coast of Kerry on the 21st; but the Government was forewarned. The “Auk” was captured by a British patrol boat and sunk by her own crew while being taken to Queenstown. Casement, who with two companions had landed in a collapsible boat at Banna, was arrested on the 24th in a ruined fort which afterwards became a place of pilgrimage for Sinn Fein Irishmen. He had meanwhile succeeded in sending a message to Dublin, announcing the capture of the “Auk” and advising the postponement of the enterprise. This action, which really broke the back of the rebellion, was bitterly denounced by some of his fellow conspirators, who even ascribed their misfortunes to his insane belief in his own superhuman powers.

Immediately after his arrest Casement was taken to London, and on May 15 was charged at Bow Street police court with high treason, and committed for trial. The trial began on June 26 before the Lord Chief Justice and two other judges. On June 29 he was convicted and sentenced to death, and on the following day was degraded from his knighthood. The Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed his appeal against conviction on July 18, and he was executed in Pentonville prison on Aug. 3, having been received into the Roman Catholic Church just before his death.

See L. G. Redmond Howard, Sir Roger Casement: a Character Sketch without Prejudice (1916). Also a sketch by McQuilland in Sunday Herald (April 30 1916), and the White Paper issued by the British Government, Documents relating to the Sinn Fein Movement (Cmd. 1108).