Childhood & Early Life
Roger David Casement was born on September 1, 1864, in Kingstown (present-day Dún Laoghaire), Dublin, Ireland, to Captain Roger Casement and Anne Jephson (or Jepson). His was an Anglo-Irish family, and he spent his initial years at Doyle's Cottage, Lawson Terrace, Sandycove.
He had three brothers, Charles Adam, Charles, and Thomas, and two sisters, Annie and Agnes.
His father was a captain of the ‘Regiment of Dragoons’ and participated in the 1842 Afghan campaign. He had also traveled to Europe as a volunteer in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution.
It is believed his mother was a descendant of the Jephson family of Mallow, County Cork. The family later moved to England.
His mother passed away when he was 9. The family then went back to Ireland to live near Roger’s paternal relatives in Antrim.
At 13, he lost his father in Ballymena. Following this, he was raised in Ballycastle, Antrim.
He joined the ‘Diocesan School,’ Ballymena (later the ‘Ballymena Academy’). He quit school at 16 and traveled to England, where he worked as a clerk with a Liverpool-based shipping company, ‘Elder Dempster.’
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Career in Congo, Brazil & Peru
Roger worked for the ‘African International Association’ and Henry Morton Stanley in Congo from 1884. He was in charge of building a railroad covering about 220 miles of the Congo River, to improve transportation to the Upper Congo. During this time, he learned several African languages.
He met author Joseph Conrad in 1890. Conrad was in Congo to pilot a merchant ship named ‘Le Roi des Belges.’ Back then, they both believed European colonization was for the betterment of the tribes in Africa. However, they realized their mistake later. He also met Herbert Ward, who became his lifelong friend.
Roger joined the ‘Colonial Service,’ under the ‘Colonial Office.’ He initially worked as a clerk in British West Africa and was then sent to the ‘Foreign Office’ to serve as a British consul in eastern French Congo.
In 1903, he was commissioned by the Balfour government to examine the human rights situation in the colonies of Belgian king Leopold II
Roger interviewed many people in the region, including workers and merchants. His eyewitness report that provided detailed descriptions of the drudgery of the local population came to be known as the ‘Casement Report’ of 1904.
King Leopold had exploited the Congo Free State since 1885, after being given the authority of the land by the ‘Berlin Conference’ and the United States.
Leopold had exploited the land’s natural resources, such as rubber, as a private businessman. He had formed an army, the ‘Force Publique,’ and had started extracting revenue from the natives. In return, Belgium transported guns and other material to Congo.
After the report was released, groups such as the ‘Congo Reform Association’ demanded action against the atrocities in Congo. The British parliament asked for a meeting to review the 1885 ‘Berlin Agreement.’
The Belgian parliament made Léopold create an independent inquiry commission. On November 15, 1908, the Belgian parliament took over Congo from Léopold and declared the formation of the Belgian Congo.
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In 1906, Roger was sent to Brazil by the ‘Foreign Office.’ There, he served as a consul in Santos and was then sent to Pará. Eventually, he became the consul-general in Rio de Janeiro.
He was assigned the task of examining rubber slavery by the ‘Peruvian Amazon Company’ (PAC), which had a British board of directors.
In September 1909, journalist Sidney Paternoster narrated the exploitation of rubber workers by ‘PAC,’ in the British magazine ‘Truth.’
Meanwhile, the British consul in Iquitos, Peru, believed that Barbadian workers were treated badly by ‘PAC,’ which provided a reason to the British government to intervene, as Barbadians were then British subjects and part of the British empire.
Roger then went to the Putumayo District of Peru and witnessed the ill-treatment meted out to Peruvian Indians. He discovered how they were being forced into unpaid labor and subjected to physical abuse, rape, and even murder. His report on the Peruvian issue outraged the public in Britain.
Some ‘PAC’ board members claimed they had no clue about the inhumane working conditions that their employees were subjected to. The Peruvian government promised to bring about changes.
After his investigation in 1910, Roger was again asked to visit Peru in 1911, to see if any changes had been made. However, Roger found the conditions were still deplorable.
He joined hands with the ‘Anti-Slavery Society,’ and some of the men exposed as murderers were charged by Peru. ‘PAC’ collapsed, and many foreign investors left Iquitos.
In 1905, Roger received the ‘Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George’ (CMG) for his work in Congo. In 1911, Roger was awarded a knighthood for his efforts for the Amazonian Indians.
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In 1904, while on a leave from Africa, Roger joined the ‘Gaelic League.’ The ‘League’ was formed in 1893 to preserve the Irish language.
Roger then got acquainted with the leaders of ‘Irish Parliamentary Party’ (IPP) to help him with his work in Congo. He, however, was more impressed by Arthur Griffith's new ‘Sinn Féin’ party (founded 1905), which wanted an independent Ireland through non-violent protests, with a dual monarchy involving Ireland and Britain. He soon joined the party.
He then helped form the ‘Irish Volunteers’ in 1913, with Eoin MacNeill. In July 1914, he went to the United States to raise money for them.
He then got in touch with exiled Irish nationalists of ‘Clan na nGael.’ In September 1914, Roger wished to gather support from Germany for the Irish independence struggle.
In October 1914, he started his journey to Germany. There, he attempted to form an ‘Irish Brigade,’ consisting of Irish POWs, but failed.
In November 1914, Germany declared their support for Irish independence. However, they were later overwhelmed by the British forces and thus abandoned the plans.
Capture & Death
In April 1916, while the Easter Rising was being organized, the Germans helped the Irish with some weapons. The weapons were supposed to be sent to Ireland in a German cargo ship in the guise of a Norwegian vessel named the ‘Aud.’
However, the British discovered the plan and intercepted the ship in April 1916. Roger was following the ship in a German submarine. On April 21, he was captured by British forces and imprisoned in the ‘Tower of London and Brixton.’
He was found guilty of high treason and was subsequently sentenced to death by hanging. Luminaries such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw, and WB Yeats requested for a reprieve, but Roger’s alleged homosexual activities, recorded in his ‘Black Diaries,’ became a hindrance.
He was hanged on August 3, 1916, in ‘Pentonville Prison,’ London. His knighthood was taken away, and he was converted to Catholicism just before his execution.
In 1965, his remains were returned to Ireland. On March 1 that year, they were buried in ‘Glasnevin Cemetery’ after a state funeral.