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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Casement, Roger

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CASEMENT, Sir Roger, Irish revolutionist: b. Ireland, 1 Sept. 1864; executed in London, 3 Aug. 1916. Though born in Ireland, Casement was of English parentage and a Protestant by creed. He entered the British consular service at the age of 28, and served in the Niger Coast Oil Rivers Protectorate from 1892 to 1895, when he was appointed consul in the Portuguese province of Lorenzo Marques. In 1898 he was made consul for the Portuguese possessions in West Africa, south of the Gulf of Guinea. During the war in South Africa he was engaged on special service at Cape Town in 1899 and 1900, and on the conclusion of hostilities he was decorated with the Queen's medal. In 1900 Casement was transferred to the Belgian Kongo, and in 1901 was appointed to act as consul also for part of the French Kongo. In 1905 he was made a C.M.G. and in the following year was appointed consul for the state of São Paulo. his next promotion took place in 1908, when he was made British consul-general at Rio de Janeiro. Between 1909 and 1912 he was employed in making inquiries relative to the rubber industry atrocities, and retired on a pension in 1913 after an honorable and useful career. He received his knighthood in June 1911, on which occasion he wrote the following letter to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs:

“I find it very hard to choose the words with which to make acknowledgment of the honour done me by the King. I am much moved at the proof of confidence and appreciation of my service on the Putumayo, conveyed to me by your letter, wherein you tell me that the King had been graciously pleased, on your recommendation, to confer upon me the honour of knighthood. I am indeed grateful to you for this signal assurance of your personal esteem and support. I am very deeply sensible of the honour done to me by his Majesty. I would beg that my humble duty might be presented to his Majesty, when you may do me the honour of conveying to him my deep appreciation of the honour he has been so graciously pleased to confer upon me. I am, dear Sir Edward Grey,” etc.

In view of his tragic end and the circumstances that brought it about, this expression of Casement's sentiments was strangely at variance with his subsequent action during the European War. Suspicion was first directed toward him a few months after the war broke out, when it became known that Casement was moving about at large in Germany at a time when all British subjects in that country were either interned or under police supervision. Questions were asked in the British Parliament, and Casement's pension was withdrawn on 30 Sept. 1914, up till which time it had been paid to him. A large number of British prisoners of war had fallen into German hands between September and December 1914. In the latter month a great many. Irish soldiers were collected in a large camp at Limburg, apparently for a special purpose. These prisoners were assembled on several occasions and addressed collectively and individually by Casement, who moved about the camp freely with the full approval of the German authorities. He introduced himself as Sir Roger Casement, the “organizer of the Irish volunteers.” Telling the men that he was forming an Irish brigade, he invited all Irish prisoners to join it. Those who agreed, he said, would be sent to Berlin as the guests of the German government, and that, if Germany won a sea battle, the “Irish brigade” would be landed in Ireland to fight against England. In the event of Germany losing the war, each man would receive from Casement or the German government $50 or $100 and a free passage to America. Those who renounced their allegiance were given a green uniform with a harp worked on the collar and provided with German side arms. About the middle of April 1916 Casement and an Irish soldier named Bailey, together with a “Mr. Monteith,” were put on board the German submarine U-19 at Wilhelmshaven. They sailed round the Shetlands and the west coast of Ireland. Meanwhile, a small Wilson liner, disguised as a timber ship and carrying 10 machine guns, bombs, 20,000 rifles and millions of cartridges, had been sent from Germany to a place near Tralee. When the submarine had reached as near land as possible before dawn, Casement, Monteith and Bailey were put into a collapsible boat, armed with revolvers and ammunition. The boat overturned and the adventurers had to wade ashore, where they buried the weapons. Casement remained behind; the other two made their way to Tralee by land. On Good Friday, 21 April 1916, the British sloop Bluebell was patrolling near Tralee when she sighted a suspicious vessel flying the Norwegian ensign and with four of those ensigns painted forward and aft on each side. In reply to signals she said she was the Aude, bound from Bergen to Genoa. The ship was ordered to follow the Bluebell to harbor, but when about a mile and a half from the Daunt Rock lightship (near Queenstown), the Aude suddenly raised two German naval ensigns and blew up, sinking immediately. The crew, who had destroyed the ship, clambered into two boats and surrendered to the Bluebell. The collapsible boat from the submarine was found by a farmer at four in the same morning on which Casement had landed. A tin box containing pistol cartridges was exhumed. The police searched the neighborhood and discovered Casement hiding in an excavation known as McKenna's Fort. He gave his name as Richard Morton, of Denham, Buckinghamshire, and described himself as an author. He was taken to Ardfert Barracks, and on the way dropped a paper, which was found to be a cipher code. Some of the sentences read, “Cannons with plenty of ammunition are needed. Send them to ———”; “Send more explosives,” etc. Casement was taken to England the next day and handed over to the metropolitan police, when he disclosed his identity. He was tried before the lord chief justice and a jury on 26 June, found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. The penalty was carried out at Pentonville Prison, at 9 A.M. on 3 August. Many prominent persons both in Great Britain and the United States made strenuous efforts to save Casement from the gallows, but in vain. The grounds on which the British government refused a reprieve — after Casement's appeal had failed — were thus stated by Lord Robert Cecil in Parliament: “No doubt of Casement's guilt exists. . . . The only ground for a reprieve would be political expediency, a difficult ground to put forward in this country. This country never could strain the law to punish a man for the same reason that it could not strain the law to let him off. . . . The Irish rebellion began with the murder of unarmed people, both soldiers and police. No grievance justified it and it was purely a political movement organized by a small section of Irish people who still hate England and was assisted by Germany. . . .” Shortly before his execution Casement was received into the Roman Catholic Church. He was unmarried. In November 1917 the Volksrecht of Zürich, Switzerland, the official of of the Swiss Social Democrats, published a number of German official documents rdating to Casement's activities in Germany. One of them gives the agreement signed between Casement and the German Foreign Minister, Herr von Zimmermann. Nine of these documents were reproduced in the New York Times of 16 Dec 1917. See Ireland — Revolution.