Sunday, April 23, 2006

BOOK: Roger Casement's "Black Diaries" [5/5]

[Continued from parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.]

Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias: The Black Diaries: An account of Roger Casement's life and times with a collection of his diaries and public writings. Paris: The Olympia Press, 1959. 626 pp.

Casement's homosexuality

As I mentioned above, expressions of Casement's homosexuality in his diaries are relatively few and quite brief. They may have seemed shocking at the time of Casement's trial, or even in the 1950s when this book was published, but a reader expecting something lurid by present-day standards would be quite disappointed. There are many good reasons to read this book (reasons having to do with the history of imperialism in the Congo and Putumayo regions, with the Irish struggle for independence, with Casement's trial, etc., etc.), but reading it in the hope of finding shocking things in Casement's diaries isn't one of them.

Most of these entries are just a few words long, perhaps a sentence or two. He never misses a chance to watch (and there seem to have been far more chances than a naive person such as me might expect), and to record what he has seen. He tends to be rather technical, and is particularly keen to note the size [he most evidently wasn't one of those who say that size doesn't matter :-)]. One thing that struck me as perhaps a little sad is that the encounters he describes seem to be more or less purely about sex; hardly any emotions appear to have been involved, and he by and large doesn't seem to have had any long-term partners.

“Dusky depredator huge, saw 7 in. in all.” (Dec 6, 1903, p. 183.) “Before leaving the beautiful muchacho shewed it, a big stiff one, and another muchacho grasped it like a truncheon. Black and thick and stiff as poker.” (October 28, 1910, p. 269.) “Stiff asleep ones. [. . .] Saw big ones on Indians at dinner and before.” (November 1, 1910, p. ,273.) “[O]ne boy with erection, fingering it longingly and pulling it stiff, could see all from verandah.” (Ibid., November 2.) “Steward showed enormous exposure after dinner—stiff down left thigh. Then he went below and came up at St. Thereza where ‘Eliza’ launch was and leant on gunwale with huge erection about 8". Guerrido watching. I wanted awfully.” (November 24, 1910, p. 291.) “Saw Indian cook boy on ‘Inca’ enormous, lying down and pulled often. Huge and thick, lad 17.” (November 27, 1910, p. 293.) “Enormous limbs and it stiff on right side feeling it and holding it down in his pocket.” (December 2, 1910, p. 295.)

“Ernest 6/-. Cab 2/-. Ernest 10/-. [And then summed up in the margin:] 18. 0. Enormous.” (January 4, 1911, p. 538.) “Enormous and liked greatly.” (January 30, 1911, p. 544.) “Splendid in Park 3 times and also outside several and to Buckingham Palace at 11.45.” (February 7, 1911, p. 547.) “Enormous 19 about 7" and 4 thick.” (March 5, 1911, p. 555.) “[May 12, 1911.] Letter from Millar agreeing to Newcastle. [May 13.] Arr. Newcastle. Huge! In Bath. Splendid. Millar into me. [May 14.] At Newcastle with M. Into Millar! and then he came too.” (Pp. 575–6.) “Cyril Corbally and his motor bike for Millar.” “Huge Irish. [. . .] Huge thick as wrist.” (Ibid., August 6.) “I to meet enormous at 9. Will suck and take too./ He was not there! I waited till 9.30.” (Ibid., August 7.) In Manaos. 1. Raymundo Aprendiz Marintetro. 2. Sailor. Negro. 3. Agostinho de Souza. [. . .] 3 lovers had and two others wanted.” (October 1, 1911, p. 621.)

As can be seen from the examples above, most of these entries are from the 1910 and 1911 diaries; there are very few in the 1903 diary. And in 1910, most are from the time before and after his actual journey to the Putumayo; during the journey itself he seems to have limited himself to watching rather than doing.


On p. 368 there's a photo of Kaiser Wilhelm II with a huge death's-head symbol on his cap. Not a word of explanation is offered—either the editors don't mind the fact that the readers will probably find this quite bizarre, or they expect that they will be aware of the fact that the origins of the symbol are innocuous enough, and that it has been used in parts of the Prussian army since the time of Frederick the Great.

The back flap of the dustjacket states the list price as 5000 francs. According to this table (I found the link in the Wikipedia), the 1959 exchange rate was $1 = 4.9371 francs, which would make the book's price 1012.74 in 1959 dollars, or $6896 in present-day dollars (inflation calculator). But this is ridiculous. I guess the exchange rate refers to the new francs introduced in 1960, worth 100 old ones. This brings down the price of the book to $69 present-day dollars, which is still an unimaginably high price for a trade hardcover, at least in the U.S.; in Britain, $69 is currently approx. £40, which would be a stiff price but probably soon won't be unheard of — trade hardcovers priced at £35 are more and more common nowadays, so surely they will creep up to £40 in just a few years.

One of my few complaints about this book is that it lacks an index. Many people and places are mentioned in this book, it's also fairly long, so an index would really be helpful.

To conclude, this is a big and interesting book. Don't read it if you are merely expecting something shocking because of the notoriety that used to surround the Black Diaries, as you are likely to be disappointed. However, if you are interested in Casement's life, in his work in the Congo and the Putumayo, and his role in the Easter rising, this is the right book for you. Nevertheless it might be good to also consider some of the more recent books (see the list below); I haven't yet read any of them but certainly intend to do so eventually.


  • Angus Mitchell (ed.): The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement. London: Anaconda Editions, 1997. Contains the diary kept by Casement during his 1910 mission to the Putumayo region. The diary is now preserved in the National Library of Ireland. It is much longer and more extensive than the Black Diary covering the same period, and probably formed the basis for Casement's official report to the Foreign Office. See also p. 38 of this book. Singleton-Gates and Girodias mention this journal e.g. on pp. 203 of their book, but they didn't publish it (their edition only includes Casement's official report and the Black Diary).

  • Angus Mitchell (ed.): Sir Roger Casement's Heart of Darkness: the 1911 Documents. Dublin: The Irish Manuscripts Commission, 1998. The Commission's web site states the ISBN as 1874280983, but there seems to be some confusion about this in the databases of most other online booksellers, as e.g. Amazon returns another of the Commission's publications when queried for this ISBN. This book is about Casement's second voyage to the Amazon, which took place in 1911.

  • Jeffrey Dudgeon: Roger Casement: The Black Diaries: with a study of his background, sexuality, and Irish political life. Belfast Press, 2002.

  • W. J. McCormack: Roger Casement in Death: Or Haunting the Free State. University College Dublin Press, 2002. See the review here. The author established the authenticity of the diaries by forensic methods; this book focuses on Casement's reputation in the inter-war period.

  • A nice web page with an overview of recent publications on Casement and his diaries.

  • W. E. Hardenburg: The Putumayo: The Devil's Paradise. See pp. 210, 214. Hardenburg, an American engineer, was one of the first to draw attention of the English public to the Putumayo atrocities. He published several articles about it in 1909 after returning from his travels in that area.

  • Guy Burrows: The Curse of Central Africa, and the Belgian Administration (1903). “A rather sensational book” by a former British army officer who worked for some years in Leopold's Force Publique in the Congo (p. 161).

  • Evelyn Blücher: An English Wife in Berlin. London, 1920. Memoirs of the WW1 and the revolutionary period immediately after the war. Her husband, Count Blücher, was an old acquaintance of Casement's (pp. 371–2).

  • Admiral Sir William James: The Eyes of the Navy. Mentioned on p. 363 in relation to Britain's breaking of the German naval cyphers.

  • Carl Spindler: The Mystery of the Casement Ship. Berlin, 1931. Mentioned on p. 406. Spindler was the captain of the German ship that was bringing arms to Ireland, to help with the Easter rising.


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