Henry Wellington Wack
The Story of the Congo Free State
New York & London : Putnam 1905



Chapter XXIX : The Nemesis of Libel (pp.340-365)


Gentlemen of the Jury, we have come now to January, 1902. There was an end of the negotiations, so to speak, between Captain Burrows and Commandant Liebrechts, and Captain Burrows found himself, to use his own expression, free to do as he chose.
During the early part of 1902, he began writing some things, and an advertisement appeared in the Wide World Magazine in which an announcement was made of "Life in the Congo Free State", a series of articles which were to be published, written by Captain Guy Burrows. The advertisement reads : "Captain Burrows was recently in the employ of the Congo Free State Government, and in his official capacity has seen much of the misgovernment which prevails in that little-known territory. He has a good deal to say about the atrocities which have taken place in connection with the rubber industry, and the sworn testimony and photographic evidence which he holds will no doubt create a sensation in high circles. Captain Burrows' articles in the Wide World will be illustrated with his own snapshots". That was the advertisement that appeared. Why there was a mention of atrocities in it appears presently. The articles appeared in April, May and June, in the Wide World. They are articles with regard to the Congo State, and there is not one syllable in them about any atrocity of any sort or kind. That is what he was doing in the early part or middle of the year 1902. In the latter part of this year an agreement was entered into between Captain Burrows as author, and E.A. Everett & Co., London, as publishers, for the publication of a work then entitled The Congo Free State. This was signed on November 17, 1902. On the 24th of November, 1902, this letter was written by Everett & Co. to the Secretary of State of the Congo Free State at Brussels : "Sir, we have recently concluded a contract with Captain Guy Barrows, well known to the English public as having served some years in the service [sic] of the Congo Free State, to publish an important work on the Congo Free State. The information contained in this book is of such a startling character, and contains so many revelations concerning the administration of the Congo Free State of Belgium, that we thought it well to advise you of it's publication beforehand, and at the same time to enquire if we may have the honour of offering you the Belgian rights for publication in your country. We are arranging for simultaneous publication in Italy, Germany, France, Norway, and Sweden, and the United States of America. We need hardly say that the book will be got up, and illustrated with a very large number of valuable and unique photographs taken on the spot by the author and others. If you wish to move in the matter of this offer, we should be glad if you would let us know at your earliest convenience". That, written on the 24th to the Secretary General, was followed by a curious communication sent to the editor of the Independance Belge at Brussels, on the 27th November by Everett & Co. : "Dear Sir, we send you the advance notice of the enclosed valuable work, and trust you may find room to insert the same in your literary column. If you have an agent here, we could, perhaps, tell him of some of the marvellous revelations in this book, but which we could not put on paper". On the 8th of December Commandant Liebrechts wrote to him : "I have received your letter of the 24th ulto., in which you inform me that you have agreed with Captain Burrows for the publication of a work on the Congo State, and you offer me the rights of publication in Belgium. Before replying to your proposition I wish to see the manuscript or a proof of the book". On the 9th Messrs. Everett & Co. wrote : "We are in receipt of your letter of the 8th inst., for which we have to thank you, and we much regret that we are unable to comply with your request in sending you the MSS. of this book, as we are under a contract with the author not to part with the MSS. under any consideration whatever. We should, however, be happy to send you the title and contents so as to give you some idea of the nature and scope of the book, and we should also be willing to show the MSS. to any of your accredited agents in London (by appointment). The MSS., signed documents, and photographs are of such vital importance that we should not care to put them through the post, for fear of loss. We understand that the author, Captain Burrows, was lately a District Commissioner for the Congo Free State, and is a Chevalier of the Order of the Lion of Belgium." In consequence of their offer to show those documents to anybody who was sent over, Mr. Bigwood came over to this country, and he saw Messrs. Everett. He met them and had a conversation with them, and then there was shown to him a document of which this is a copy, called "The Curse of Central Africa". It was the same document as had already been sent to the Independance Belge. At the end of chapter xxv., the very last chapter, there is this "A Belgian's treatment of a native chief - more bestial than human - goes unpunished". That was afterwards applied to Captain de Keyser. Then comes a list of illustrations. At the end there is a list of Belgian officers and officials who, the author alleged, are responsible for the atrocities mentioned in this book; and a series of names included the name of Captain de Keyser.
Captain Burrows was in England on the 16th of December. He had a conversation with Everett on the 17th of December. This note was written to Mr. Bigwood at the Hotel Metropole by R.A. Everett : "With reference to your visit yesterday at my office, I think it would be to your advantage to call upon me at my club. I shall be here during the evening". That was the National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place. On the 17th, Everett was at the National Liberal Club, and he was there with Captain Burrows and young Mr. Everett, and then a very interesting agreement was signed which throws a very clear light indeed upon the correspondence that had been going on with Brussels. It is witnessed by A.E.C. Everett, that is, the son, who went over to Brussels and posted the post cards in bad French. Captain Burrows signs it : "I hereby agree to pay Mr. John George Leigh the sum of L 500, if and when my publishers, R.A. Everett & Co., 42, Essex Street, Strand, receive the amount which may be paid by the Belgian Government for the non-publication of the manuscript written by myself and him entitled "The Curse of Central Africa". In case the book is published I agree to pay Mr. J.G. Leigh one third of the profits accruing from such publication as per agreement with the said publishers". There never was more definite evidence of the intention with which these communications had been made with Brussels. If they had succeeded in extorting from the Belgian Government by any apprehension of the publication of these documents, a substantial sum of money - L 500 was to be paid under that agreement.
Mr. Leigh is a brother-in-law of Mr. Canisius, and Mr. Leigh eventually signed the introduction to the book. He is a journalist. That agreement having been made on the 17th, on the 30th Mr. Everett writes another letter to the State Secretary : "At the request of Mr. Bigwood, who called upon us recently on your behalf, we send you a revise of the title-page, and one or two chapters of this book" (you will hear from Mr. Bigwood that that is not true; he did not request them to send anything at all), "and we shall be glad if you will let us know definitely, and at once, whether you wish to go any further in this matter. The more important photographs detailing the cruelties are being enlarged from the originals, sp please do not take the enclosed to be the size. - We have the honour to remain your obedient servants, R.A. Everett & Co."
In the documents you will find the passages to which I have bow come, which are contained in this : "Flogging a native by order of de Keyser. At Basoko, the headquarters station of the district of the Aruwimi, where the notorious de Keyser [meaning hereby the plaintiff], of hand-cutting fame, was in command, women were daily flogged for the most trivial offences, etc." This, you will notice, is stated to have occurred in November, 1897. It was a time when Captain Burrows himself was not in the Congo State at all, but you will hear from Captain de Keyser that there is not the smallest ground for the allegiation of cruelty that was made against him. It is true that a chief was taken down on the steamer on which Captain de Keyser was, but the suggestion that he was treated in that barbarous fashion is entirely untrue. The next passage which has to be read is with regard to Basoko, and as to Basoko, what I have told you is that at Basoko, for fourteen days only, Captain Burrows was at the place where Captain de Keyser had his command. "At Basoko, the headquarters station of the district of the Aruwimi, women used to be flogged almost daily for the most trivial offences. In one case five women were beaten for daring to go to a village a short way up the river to buy food without having previously informed the commandant." Thus, after six and a half years, during which no breath of accusation has been made with regard to these matters by Captain Burrows, there comes this extraordinary attack : "de Keyser, of hand-cutting fame"; "de Keyser's massacre"; de Keyser described as walking about the station where he was employed with his gun, and shooting with reckless cruelty at the natives - de Keyser, who is acciused of taking a man prisoner and practically roasting him on the stack-pipe of the boat as he is going down the river. There was not only that, but the imputation of habitually flogging women at this place. These odious and appalling accusations, the echo of which follows a man through his whole life, are made against him, and made against him by whom ? By a man who had been in the service of the Congo State itself, who, in the year 1897, as I have shown, made himself the defender of the administration of the Congo State, and declared in his article which was put in the interview which he had with L'Etoile Belge, that there was no foundation whatever for the accusations which had been made against the Belgian officers, and he was able to say so because he knew the truth. He attacked Captain Salusbury and disposed of that. This man, who in 1897 was taking the attitude, who afterwards leaves the service of the Congo State and feels himself aggrieved because he has not been so highly paid, because he has not had such distinction conferred upon him as others who have had conferred, - he, seven years afterwards, enters into this - is it too much to call it a conspiracy ? They are grave accusations, accusations which, if there had been any semblance of truth in them, or if there had been any honest reason for their being made, would have been made long before in different circumstances and in a different way. At the time when they are eventually made, they are made in a way which will not do public service, but will put money in Captain Burrows' pocket and into the pockets of the publishers who are joining him in publishing. It is perfectly impossible to misunderstand the correspondence with Commandant Liebrechts. If this had been an honest thing, honestly done by Captain Burrows in the performance of any public duty, do you think there would have been a going first to a publisher and then a letter from that publisher inviting the Belgian Government to consider what it would be worth their while to pay for the suppression of this book ? There is no question as to the meaning of that letter. What do you think was the object of putting a crowd of names into the revise, some of which afterwards disappeared ? Why, it was because the object was the illegitimate object of endeavouring to bring pressure upon the Belgian Government and to induce them to pay money to buy up this book. It was not for any public object at all, but because the mention of these names, showing that there was a list of persons formerly or at present in the Congo Company's service against whom accusations might be brought, might make it worth the while of the Belgian Government to prevent a great scandal by procuring the suppression of this book. But the Congo Free State or the Belgian Government was not going to buy up the book in order to suppress it or in order to prevent it's publication. As one of the witnesses, Commandant Liebrechts, said : "For the first time we found that we should be in a position to deal with specific statements". It is all very well for people to be spreading over the world - I do not care whether they are in reports or interviews or anything else - general statements with regard to things that are done in the Congo Free State. Commandant Liebrechts says there had been complaints : "I had heard on more than one occasion of complaints being made as to conduct in the Congo. Whenever it was known, and found out, it was dealt with and it was punished. These allegiations about maladministration of the Congo Free State had been spread about from time to time by interviews, suggestions, newspaper reports, and the like, but here we saw that there was an opportunity for the men who were personally attacked to come and vindicate themselves from the charges which were made against them". Therefore, there was no attempt to buy this book, and the conspirators were disappointed who had been preparing this revise, and cramming it with an enormous amount of material which it was thought would frighten the Belgian Government from permitting it to be dealt with. I do not know what the price might have been which they would have asked for, but that there was a price they were thinking of you will see in a minute or two. What did they expect to get for it ? We do not know. But we do know this, that there were two principals in the matter, and there was by way of being a subordinate. I speak of Mr. Leigh as a subordinate. I do not suggest in the least that he was associated with the attempt that was being made in Belgium, but what we know is, that he was doing a minor part of the work, that the manuscript was said to have been Captain Burrows' manuscript, that the materials for this book were supposed to be Captain Burrows' materials, and that Captain Burrows therefore was the principal person, and Messrs. Everett had lent their name and their work, and were acting with Captain Burrows, and no doubt expected a very large share of the money that would be got from the Belgian Government. If Mr. Leigh, in his modest inconspicuous, and irresponsible position, was to get L 500 for helping in putting together the materials for this book, what do you think that Captain Burrows and Mr. Everett thought that they might be able to extort from the fear of the Belgian Government that this thing would go all over the world ?


The address to the jury of Mr. Crispe, counsel for the Defendant Burrows, was often eloquent, always adroit, and showed great skill in defending a cause to which the main defence had been abandoned when the pleas of justification were withdrawn.

Gentlemen [said Counsel for Everett & Co., one of the defendants], apart from what Commandant Liebrechts termed "moral damage", there is no evidence of actual damage suffered by Captain de Keyser in this having come to the knowledge of Commandant Liebrechts. Commandant Liebrechts says that he had investigated these charges and found out that they were false. If so, the repetition of them could have no effect upon his mind as regards the complicity of Captain de Keyser in them, and therefore, so far as that is concerned, no damage could have been suffered with reference to Commandant Liebrechts.
Those are the facts on the question. I now ask you to deal with the printer in this case in the most general and lenient manner that you can. He has, as I told you in opening, been compelled to accept the evidence given him by the man who brings him the material. He safeguards himself to an extent, or at all events his bona fide [sic], he safeguards by obtaining the statement in that agreement that these allegiations are true, and that there is nothing libellous in the work that he is about to produce. Mr. Everett has not been able to establish the plea of justification, and if the statements, as Captain de Keyser says now, in the books are untrue, Mr. Everett can only express his regret that he should have accepted from Captain Burrows, on Captain Burrows' assurance that they were true, statements which were false, and which have led Mr. Everett to being made a Defendant in an action for libel.
Gentlemen, I ask you to say that throughout Mr. Everett has believed in the truth and the proof of these allegiations; that otherwise he would not have published the book, and placed himself in such a dangerous and perilous condition; and I ask you further to say that whether the Plaintiff comes here today to vindicate and clear the character of Captain de Keyser, or whether he comes here to vindicate and clear the character of the Congo Free State administration, there was no necessity, in order to do that, to try and blacken the character of the Defendant, Mr. Everett.


Mr. Justice Ridley, in charging the jury, after disposing of several minor matters, said :

What is the real case here ? The action is brought by Captain de Keyser to clear his character against libels which have been published. I do not wish to use epithets in a case like this, but they are certainly libels of a most serious character. It is charged that he had been guilty of abominable outrages against the natives, against men and women who were under his government, a thing which is of an atrocious character, enough to blacken the good name of any one for the rest of his life. That is what he came here about; he came to say that this was a libellous statement, to say that it was untrue, and to ask for a verdict from you. The answer of the Defendants is that it was true. That has remained their answer until yesterday morning, when it ceased to be their answer.
We have been listening this afternoon to statements made by Counsel, in which it appears that they complain because they cannot cross-examine, or they cannot examine, or they cannot do something or other. It seems to me that, upon the other hand, it is the Plaintiff who has the right of complaint, that he has been brought here with such a plea on the Record until the very last minute. That is very late, is it not ? It is absolutely untrue that he ever did any one of those things. There is not one tittle of evidence to that effect, and nobody dare say so.
It appears that Captain Burrows, who is one of the Defendants, was in the Congo at an earlier year. I am not sure when; he returned to Europe on November 20, 1897. He was at that time a supporter of the Government in respect of the charges made by a person named Salusbury. In 1898 he brought out another book, called : "The Land of the Pigmees", against which I have nothing to say. It contained nothing at all in the shape of a charge against anybody in respect of this matter. He then went back again to the Congo, but he returned in 1901, and then commenced a correspondence between him and Commandant Liebrechts. There is an earlier letter in which he states that he is proposing to bring out another book. Later on there is correspondence as to which I agree, that it shows that he and the Belgian Government parted on terms not of dismissal of him, but upon a proposal being made that if he liked to place himse;lf at their disposal for two years they would pay him a salary, and that he must be ready to accept any expedition on which he was asked to go. He declined that service. That was at the end of 1901. In the following year he published certain articles in the Wide World. They contained nothing at all about cruelties, as I understand, although they contained articles about the administration of the Congo Free State. That was in the year 1902; but when we get to the autumn of 1902 a new state of things commences, because up to that time you will see nothing to indicate that he had taken up a hostile position against either the administration of the Congo Free State or against any one who had been concerned in it. But on the 17th November things begin to assume a somewhat different complexion. There is the Agreement of the 17th November, 1902, made between Captain Burrows and Messrs. Everett & Co., under which the author warrants that the work is to be an original work. He names the work then as The Congo Free State. The publishers agree to pay him the sum of L 259 on account, and a royalty of 15 per cent. On the 24th November, when that agreement was in force, a letter was written by Messrs. Everett & Co. to Commandant Liebrechts. Now the point of this letter is : Was the action of the Defendants bona fide in this matter ? Are they persons who have unwittingly fallen into a false statement, or have they done a thing with a purpose regardless of the consequences ? Have they done the thing which is what we commonly call blackmail, or forcing people to pay over money unless they wish to have a foul charge made against them ?
These are the letters which bear upon this matter. The first is November 24th : "We have recently concluded a contract with Captain Guy Burrows, well known to the English public as having served some years in the service of the Congo Free State, to publish an important work on the Congo Free State. The information contained in the book is of such a startling character, and contains so many revelations concerning the administration of the Congo Free State by Belgium, that we thought it well to advise you of it's publication beforehand, and at the same time to inquire if we may have the honour of offering you the Belgian rights for publication in your country".








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