Expert researchers have authenticated the notorious diaries of Irish rebel Sir Roger Casement which record his homosexual activities and perhaps contributed to his execution for high treason in 1916.
Some of Casement's supporters have contended the so-called "black diaries" were forged to smear his character during his trial. Since they were made available for study in 1959, there has been a reluctantly growing acceptance they might in fact be authentic, and now experts have declared the diaries be genuine.
Casement, born in 1864, was a formerly respected British civil servant knighted for his crusading accounts of Belgian exploitation of natives in the Congo and by rubber-plantations in South America. Disillusioned with Britain's refusal to grant independence for Ireland, he travelled by U-boat to Germany during the First World War to seek funding and weapons for an Irish uprising. He also visited several prisoner-of-war camps in Germany in vain attempts to recruit Irish soldiers to change sides and fight against England.
Casement was captured by British soldiers after he sailed back to Ireland aboard a trawler carrying 20,000 German rifles. The subsequent Easter Rising in Dublin failed and seven commanders were shot by firing squad. Casement was taken to London, where Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and his cabinet debated his fate. He was tried at the Old Bailey Court on charges of high treason and hanged in 1916.
During his trial, Casement's personal diaries were introduced into evidence. The handwritten diaries recorded graphic details of Casement picking up young men and teenaged boys for sex in Africa and Ireland. Documents released in 1995 showed British authorities in 1916 used the diaries to smear Casement. At the time, sodomy was considered to be gross indecency, and a criminal offence. "I see not the slightest objection to hanging Casement and afterwards giving as much publicity to the contents of his diary as decency permits," wrote Sir Ernley Blackwell, undersecretary at the Home Office.
Now, the diaries have been subjected to handwriting analysis, ultraviolet light, and electrostatic detection tests, said forensic scientist Prof. Bill McCormack of Goldsmiths College, University of London. "The inescapable conclusion is that they are authentic," he said. "I am very confident, because of the scale of this operation."
Whether the diaries made a difference in Casement's fate remains debatable. "I am not a professional historian, but my educated guess, is that he would have been reprieved in the absence of the diaries," McCormack said.
Seamus Osiochain, a biographer of Casement, disagrees. "His trial happened at the same time as the Battle of the Somme was raging, and he had conspired with the Germans," Osiochain said. "I don't think it [the diaries]would have swung the outcome either way."