On 3 August 2016 an exhibition entitled ‘Sir Roger Casement: voice of the voiceless’, opened at the National Museum of Ireland (Decorative Arts and History), Collins Barracks, Dublin 7, to mark the centenary of his execution on 3 August 1916.
Roger Casement (1864-1916) was born in Sandycove, Co. Dublin, the youngest child of four of an Antrim family. Although known for his role in the 1916 Rising, his humanitarian work investigating atrocities in the rubber trade in Africa and South America is less celebrated. He worked in various employments in Africa before starting his diplomatic career in 1895. In 1900 he was appointed British Consul to the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The Congo Free State was the personal territory of King Leopold II of Belgium. In 1903 criticism of Leopold’s rubber regime resulted in Casement being instructed to investigate allegations of Belgian atrocities. He continued his diplomatic career as Consul-General in Brazil in 1906. In 1910 he was chosen to investigate allegations of misconduct the Peruvian Amazon Company (PAC) in the Putumayo region of Peru (now in Colombia). He was an excellent observer and investigator, and grew increasingly appalled with the brutal exploitation of indigenous peoples in the production of rubber. His Congo and Putumayo reports brought global attention to the atrocities. Over time he noticed similarities between the destruction of indigenous culture by colonisation and the Irish situation. He was awarded a knighthood in 1911 in recognition of his work,
Like many Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen Casement enjoyed collecting. He donated some of his collection to the National Museum in Dublin in 1904, 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1913. These objects include everyday items used by the local population and botanical and animal specimens. The NMI Casement collection includes over 60 objects from Africa and approximately 12 objects from South America. The selection of objects in the exhibition was chosen not only to tell the story of the rubber atrocities but also to highlight the skill and craftsmanship of their makers.
The issues encountered by Casement in 1910—land rights, slavery, child labour, genocide, treatment of indigenous people and the prioritisation of business over human rights—are still relevant today. Using objects collected by Casement, his own words from his reports and diaries this exhibition commemorates and celebrates a great Irish humanitarian and reminds the visitor that slavery is not a medieval concept but a modern day reality affecting the lives of millions of people around the world.