Irish Historical Mysteries: The Diaries of Roger Casement

Roger Casement (1864-1916)

The long standing controversy surrounding the authenticity of the diaries of the executed Irish rebel Roger Casement is once again in the news. A new forensic analysis of the disputed diaries, which contain frank accounts of homosexual activity, is claimed to show conclusively that they were written by Casement. But is the case really closed?

Roger Casement was of Ulster Protestant stock, but was born in Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin, in 1864. In the 1890s Casement joined the British consular service, and in 1903 was ordered to report on allegations of atrocities against natives in the Belgian Congo in Africa. Casement's report confirmed that rubber production there was organised on the basis of forced labour accompanied by horrendous punishments and mutilations of the population. Casement gained an international reputation for his humantarian efforts in the Congo, and in 1910 he was further directed by the British Foreign Office to investigate charges of ill-treatment of natives in the Putumayo region of Peru, again an area of rubber production. Once more Casement's report lucidly exposed the 'murder, violation and constant flogging' to which natives were subjected by agents of a rubber company, and the report's publication in 1912 created an international sensation. Casement was knighted for his services in 1911 and retired from the consular service in 1912. (1)

Despite being a servant of the Crown, Casement had for many years held strong views in favour of Irish independence from British rule. It was one thing to expose oppression in other jurisdictions, quite another to oppose what he saw as misrule in his own country, and Casement was about to embark on a course of action which would cause him to be converted from hero to villain in the British mind. He joined the nationalist Irish Volunteers on their foundation in 1913, and on the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he supported Britain's enemy Germany, in the hope that it would assist the achievement of Irish independence. Casement travelled to Germany in 1914, where he endeavoured to secure significant military aid and to persuade Irish prisoners of war to desert the British Army for an Irish Brigade.

Disappointed in his efforts in Germany, Casement sent messages back to Ireland endeavouring to deter nationalist leaders from a planned armed rising, which however went ahead at Easter 1916. Casement himself returned from Germany by submarine, and having landed at Banna Strand, near Tralee, County Kerry, he was arrested by police and taken to London on 24 April. Placed on trial for high treason at the Old Bailey, he was convicted and sentenced to death. In the time honoured tradition of condemned Irish patriots, Casement delivered a speech from the dock to justify himself, in which he declared, 'Self-government is our right, a thing born in us at birth, a thing no more to be doled out to us or withheld from us by another people than the right to life itself, than the right to feel the sun or smell the flowers, or to love our kind'. (2) Following an unsuccessful appeal, Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison on 3 August 1916.

Because of the international respect in which he was held, influential people, particularly in America, came forward to appeal for clemency for Casement. However, having done to death the leaders of the 1916 Rebellion, the British were in no mood to show mercy to Casement. One could perhaps point to the fact that Casement had colloborated with a country engaged in a ruthless war with Britain, but the means used by the British to discourage appeals on his behalf were particularly discreditable. Among Casement's effects the British claimed to have discovered at some point a series of diaries, which in their accounts of frequent sexual contacts with males showed Casement to have been a promiscuous homosexual. On account of their pornographic content, these were termed the 'Black Diaries', and were distinguished from the 'White Diaries' where Casement supposedly omitted sexual references and recorded only details of his humanitarian work and private business. The British ensured that extracts from the Black Diaries were shown to those appealing on Casement's behalf, and given the horror with which homosexuality was then viewed, sympathy for him dried up and his execution proceeded unhindered. The circulation of copies of the diaries was masterminded by Reginald 'Blinker' Hall, director of Naval Intelligence, a ruthless and devious operative whose accomplishments included the promotion of the forged Zinoviev letter in 1924. (3)

In the years following, the existence of the Black Diaries was officially denied by the British, and suspicions grew in the minds of Irish Nationalists that they might in fact have been forged by British Intelligence and Scotland Yard in order to blacken Casement's character. (4) In 1959 Peter Singleton Gates, a British journalist who had received a leaked copy of the Black Diaries, published them in Paris in collaboration with Maurice Girodias. (5) In the same year the British began to allow scholars to examine the Black Diaries in the Public Record Office in London. Leading biographers of Casement such as Inglis and Reid (6) now tended to accept the authenticity of the Diaries, but in Ireland a number of individuals kept alive the theory that they were forgeries, and the matter was periodically aired in the letters pages of the Irish Times and elsewhere. Unfortunately, some of Casement's defenders proceeded on the rather simplistic basis that a true Irish Nationalist could not be a homosexual, whereas there is more widespread acceptance today that Casement may indeed have been 'gay'.

The current re-opening of the controversy is due in large measure to the work of Angus Mitchell, a British scholar who was commissioned to edit Casement's writings for publication. (7) Mitchell found his intitial belief in the authenticity of the Black Diaries undermined by his detailed study of Casement's career and close comparison with the content of the White Diaries in the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. Mitchell considered the Black Diaries to be 'riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies', and questioned why Casement would keep in his possession incriminating material which could have been used by his many enemies in South America and subsequently in Britain. In particular, Mitchell points to the fact that in 1910 Casement was suffering from eye problems which caused him frequently to write entries in the White Diaries in pencil, whereas corresponding entries in the Black Diaries tended to be written more deliberately in pen. To illustrate this point, Mitchell provides photographs of White and Black entries for 12 October 1910. (8)

Consider also the following sample pair of 1910 entries, from the White and Black Diaries respectively:

Sunday 4th December. Out for a walk to the military firing ground with Ignacio Torres as my guide. Took several photos of the ground and trees and a stream beyond. Back at 11 - in great heat - and wrote a little in the afternoon altho' it was stifling. In the evening the Cazes' had a bridge party after dinner which lasted till midnight - and the heat lasted all night. It was really atrocious - not a breath of air and I lay for hours trying to sleep - and then got up and wrote, but the mosquitoes stop that game.

Sunday. 4th DEC. Very hot morning. Looking out window saw Ignacio waiting. Joy. Off with him to Tirotero and Camera. Bathed & photo'd & talked & back at 11. Gave 4/-. At 5.30 Cajamarca policeman till 7 at Bella Vista & again at 10.30 passeando & at 8 long talk. Shook hands and offered. Tall, Inca type & brown. Cards & Bridge & stupid party till near midnight. Saw Cajamarca several times from window. (9)

The first entry describes a day commencing with a combined walk and tour of inspection and concluding with an evening of socialising at a bridge party. The second entry portrays a round of sexual frolics with not one but apparently two males, concluding with a bridge party which seems 'stupid' in contrast. If the second diary entry is genuine, Casement possessed superhuman energy and a Jekyll and Hyde personality, combining official investigative work and reporting with voracious cruising day and night, and all the while finding time to write up two diaries! There are other puzzling discrepancies between between the two texts. For example, in a White Diary entry dated 30 November 1910 Casement wrote: 'Sent John Brown and S Lewis to Prefect at 10am and Gusmán, but again he could not see them'. The entry for the same date in the Black Diary gives an account which is at variance with this: '. . . sent for John Brown to go to Prefect and Lewis and Gusman. They all went as far as I know at 10am but have not seen one of them since. They are lazy swine.' (10)

While there are hints of relatively inoffensive homoeroticism in the White Diaries, the Casement of the Black Diaries is not an attractive figure, and his humanitarian work with oppressed natives seems secondary to what we would today call predatory sexual tourism. A reasonable case can therefore be made for the Black Diaries being written by someone other than Casement, using real people and events from the White Diaries or other genuine documents as the inspiration for the forgery.

A Symposium on Casement was held by the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin 2000, attended by leading scholars and Government adviser Martin Mansergh. The Symposium was divided between those who believed in the authenticity of the Black Diaries and those who considered them forgeries, the only consensus being that they should be subjected to more detailed examination. Professor Bill McCormack of Goldsmiths College in London decided to commission such an examination, with financial backing apparently from RTE, the principal Irish radio and television company, from the BBC, and belatedly from the Irish Government. The expert chosen to carry out tests on the controversial diaries was Dr Audrey Giles, whose experience includes thirteen years working at the Questioned Documents Section of Scotland Yard. (11) Giles's conclusions were released in advance of the second part of a much publicised documentary shown on Irish television on Thursday 14 March 2002, entitled 'The Ghost of Roger Casement' (BBC4 also screened a programme on the subject on 15 March, entitled 'Secrets of the Black Diaries'). Giles concluded that the handwriting of both the Black and White Diaries was unquestionably that of Casement, a finding accepted by McCormack and a steering group of leading academics which he had assembled. The issue, declared McCormack confidently, was now 'closed'. (12)

Unfortunately, rather than being a complete forensic investigation of Casement's writings involving analysis of paper, ink, writing instruments, pollen, word frequency and content, Giles's examination was confined mainly to handwriting. (13) Hence Giles reported that she had 'found that the writings throughout the documents show many similarities to the writings of Roger Casement, and no significant differences.' (14) While she had 'examined the pages of the individual documents using ultra-violet light to determine any differences between them', she had not 'attempted to identify the origin of paper used in any of the documents.' (15) Additionally, Dr Giles examined only a portion of the Putamayo Journal or White Diary, from 9 October to 14 October 1910. (16)

Professor McCormack has also produced a full-length book in support of his view that the Casement diaries are genuine and not forgeries, but it is a rather unsatisfactory work. (17) The Giles Report is referred to in several places as having conclusively proved the contested writings of Casement to be authentic, but nowhere is there to be found the text of the report, an account of the process whereby its compiler was chosen or even an adequate summary of the report. Those who wish to study Giles's findings must take the trouble of applying to Professor McCormack care of Goldsmiths College in London for a copy of the report, or seek it out in the limited number of repositories where it has been deposited (including the National Library of Ireland and the British Library). McCormack does find space for a rather aimless section inspired by the 'postmodern' and psychologistic theories of Jacques Lacan, in which it is claimed that there is a significant correlation between rubber production, which involves the breaking of tree-bark resulting in the extrusion of a 'white sticky substance', and Casement's alleged recording of 'same-sex' practices, 'in which the diarist details the extrusion of a different white sticky substance (namely semen)'. (18) Proponents of the forgery theory are somewhat contemptuously dismissed by McCormack as 'Casement Vindicators', and working himself up to a crescendo of fury at one point, he draws comparisons with perpetrators of 'clerical child abuse, prime-ministerial corruption, and parmilitary terror', not to mention 'Holocaust Denial'! (19) Aside from this kind of heated rhetoric, it would appear that Professor McCormack has been somewhat precipitate in endeavouring to close debate on the basis of what is, with all due respect to Dr Giles's abilities, an essentially partial analysis of Casement's controverted writings.

Jeffrey Dudgeon has added to the growing volume of Casement studies with a book written from the perspective of an Ulster Unionist and gay rights activist. (20) Dudgeon's research certainly throws new light on Casement's Irish relatives, friends and contacts, for the first time providing some biography for an alleged lover who features in the Black Diaries, one Millar Gordon. (21) While all the Black Diaries are published together for the first time, it is surprising to note that some entries have been abbreviated or omitted, for example, the above mentioned entry dated 12 October 1910 is absent. (22) While most of the controversial Black Diaries entries are self-evidently obscene, Dudgeon's square bracketed glosses on others seem a little strained:

1910, June 27, Monday. Left Carlton and to London. To Exhibition. Greek [underlined twice] Fled [This sounds as if a rampant Athenian was getting out of hand in a toilet cubicle in the Exhibition Hall, discretion calling for Casement's hasty departure before the authorities were alerted by the noise.] (23)

In the last analysis, and although he himself believes in the authenticity of the Black Diaries, Dudgeon seems surprisingly pessimistic concerning the possibility of actually proving the case beyond doubt:

The notion of further forensic examination turning up convincing evidence to prove forgery, or genuineness, was always implausible and has proved the case. Nonetheless a number of commentators maintain a naive belief in the ultimate proof of authenticity only being provided by amazingly complex, untried, scientific tests. But the diaries are like the Turin Shroud, an article of faith. (24)

Mannerings and Matley have cast further doubt on the Giles Report, pointing out for example that due to confusion over copies received from the National Library, its author does not in fact appear to have examined the important entry in the White Diary dated 12 October 1910. The methodology of Giles's report is also criticised, in particular the fact that the author's starting point was not neutrality but the proposition that the Black Diaries are authentic. It is claimed that the Black Diary for 1911 shows signs of 'bleaching and interpolation', and there is a suggestion that the forger may have been an MI5 officer, Donal im Thurn. (25) Mannerings and Matley would need to present their evidence in more detail, but there is no doubt that they have identified serious flaws in the case for the authenticity of the Black Diaries.

In a survey of the Hitler Diaries, Mark Hofmann and other forgery cases, Kenneth W Rendell has stated that 'it can be an error to conclude from an examination of only a few factors that the writing is genuine or forged'. (26) It has reasonably been pointed out as well that a forensic document examiner with no official English or Irish connections would be in a better position to provide an objective analysis of Casement's diaries, and indeed the task is one which would appear to require the services of a team of specialists. While the present writer is among those inclining to the view that the Black Diaries may be forged, at least in part, much more detailed analytical work needs to be carried out before this particular mystery can be said to be solved and the ghost of Roger Casement laid to rest. The case very definitely is not closed one way or the other.

Sean Murphy



(1) For brief accounts of Casement's life see Dictionary of National Biography, 1912-21, Oxford University Press, 1927, and Henry Boylan, A Dictionary of Irish Biography, Second Edition, Dublin 1988.

(2) Roger Casement's Speech from the Dock, 30 June 1916,

(3) Christopher Andrew, Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community, London 1986 Edition, pages 357, 437-38.

(4) William Maloney, The Forged Casement Diaries, Dublin and Cork 1936.

(5) Peter Singleton-Gates and Maurice Girodias, Editors, The Black Diaries, Paris 1959.

(6) Brian Inglis, Roger Casement, London 1973; Benjamin L Reid, The Lives of Roger Casement, London 1976.

(7) Angus Mitchell, Editor, The Amazon Journal of Roger Casement, Dublin 1997.

(8) Mitchell, Editor, Amazon Journal, pages 17-56, illustrations between pages 256-57.

(9) Mitchell, Editor, Amazon Journal, pages 482-83; Singleton-Gates and Girodias, Editors, Black Diaries, page 297.

(10) Mitchell, Editor, Amazon Journal, page 473; Singleton-Gates and Girodias, Editors, Black Diaries, page 295.

(11) Dr Audrey Giles,

(12) 'Academics say Casement's Black Diaries genuine following forensic examination', Irish Times, 13 March 2002.

(13) Dr Audrey Giles, 'Examination of Casement Diaries', Report 8 February 2002 on instructions from Professor W J McCormack; copy obtained from Professor McCormack.

(14) Same, page 3.

(15) Same, page 11.

(16) Same, pages 42-43.

(17) W J McCormack, Roger Casement in Death, or Haunting the Free State, Dublin 2002.

(18) Same, pages 183-184.

(19) Same, page 209.

(20) Jeffrey Dudgeon, Roger Casement: The Black Diaries, with a Study of his Background, Sexuality and Irish Political Life, Belfast 2002.

(21) Same, pages 383-401.

(22) Same, page 232.

(23) Same, page 222.

(24) Same, page 565; the use of the analogy of the Turin Shroud is telling, casting the Casement debate as one between rational 'Protestants' and irrational 'Catholics'.

(25) Kevin Mannerings and Marcel B Matley, 'The "Black Diaries" Attributed to Sir Roger Casement', 2002-2003,

(26) Kenneth W Rendell, Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents, University of Oklahoma Press 1994, page iv.

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