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

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

That may mean nothing but what it says, but it may have a sinister meaning in it. It may be the fact that "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", that the point which is meant to be taken by those to whom it is written is : Is it worth your while to buy it up and stop it; not to publish it, but to have the right of publication so as to prevent it from being published in the ordinary way ? Is that the meaning of the letter, or is it merely a bona fide offer trying to push a book which is supposed and intended to be innocent, and to get people to push the sale of it ? If that is the object, one is rather at a loss to understand how it could be to their interest to publish revelations concerning the administration of the Congo Free State by themselves, and, of course, contrary to the good faith and the proper administration of the Government. That it might be to their interest to buy it up, and refuse to publish it, I can understand; the other part I have difficulty in following. It states : "We are arranging for a simultaneous publication in Italy. Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, and the United States of America". I suppose this could not also be bought up through some agents of the Government of Belgium, but if so, it would be a larger sum to come to the publishers. That is the letter of the 24th. On the 27th, by the same people is sent to the paper in Brussels an "advance notice of the enclosed valuable work". That is the first issue which contains a list of the persons who are implicated in the atrocities. It does not contain the chapter which is the subject of this libel, but it contains a list of Belgian officers and officials responsible for the atrocities mentioned in this book. With what object ? Do you think it possible that they thought that by some means or other it would come to the knowledge of the Government through the Press, or through some other means, that there was something which it would be worth their buying ?
Now came Mr. Bigwood. The result upon the Belgian Government was not that they made an offer; they made nothing of the sort. They said, We will find out what this is; and they sent Mr. Bigwood over, whose evidence we heard yesterday, and who says that he then saw and took back with him not only the first issue, which is the one I have just been mentioning as containing the names of the officers, but that he also saw upon the table the second issue, which is now put forward as the first of two libels in the case, but he did not take it with him. It was sent upon the 30th December, as you know. Now, an important thing upon this part of the case seems to me to be the document of the 17th December. That is, you see, between the two dates; it is after the 24th and the 27th November, and it is about the time of the visit of Mr. Bigwood, or just after he had left. Mr. Bigwood had seen on the table the second issue, but he had not taken it; it was not sent until the 30th December. In the interval we have got a document which is signed by Captain Burrows, and which says : "I hereby agree to pay to Mr. John George Leigh" (who is the man whose signature appears in the introduction), "the sum of L 500 if and when my publishers, Messrs Everett & Co., receive the amount which may be paid by the Belgian Government". What for, do you think, gentlemen ? You will say, of course, for the publication of the book. But it is not so : it is for the non-publication of the book. Therefore he is to get L 500, which is to be paid by the Belgian Government for not publishing the book; that is to say, for suppressing it. Nothing could be plainer. "If the Belgian Government think it worth their while to buy it up, so that it should not be published, I will pay you L 500". It is under his own hand and signature, and I cannot see what the answer to it is. To my mind it is absolutely conclusive. I do not know whether you will consider that the meaning of the first letter is not that the book should be published broadcast but that the rights of publishing it should be bought up with the view of stopping it's being published broadcast. He goes on : "For the non-publication of the manuscripts written by myself and him, entitled "The Curse of Central Africa". In case the book is published, I agree to pay Mr. Leigh one-third of the profits accruing from such publication as per agreement with the said publishers". That, of course, goes for nothing. It is the first part, and it appears to me to be clear upon that, that the meaning of such words must be that the object was not to get the Belgian Government not to publish, but to prevent the publication. Now, if so, of course I am perfectly aware that that is not the point of the case, but you cannot keep out of your mind in a case of this kind what has been the conduct of those who are responsible for the libels which have been published. Is it a case in which they have done the thing with a bona fide intention to produce and to bring to light, and to make to cease outrages and atrocities which have been committed in any part of the world, or is it, on the other hand, to make a profit out of something which has been brought to their knowledge to the detriment of other people ? If you think that this was done to get a profit by forcing the Belgian Government to buy their silence, it would appear to me that you would deal with the matter upon a different footing to that on which you would be willing to deal with it if you thought that the Defendants, from beginning to end, had done their best to alleviate the mischief which their published statements might have unfortunately brought about.
You must also, I think, look at the conduct of those who were guilty of having published this libel. Have they done the best they could to alleviate the consequences, or have they, on the other hand, maintained the fact that it was true until almost the eleventh hour; and have they also, or have they not, whilst this matter has been going on, been actuated by other motives, not merely the motive of bringing to light in the public interest a scandal that was going on, but by the idea that out of this business they would make some ugly profit for themselves ?

The jury retired at 3.22 o'clock. In ten minutes it returned a verdict for the plaintiff, Captain de Keyser, awarding him L 500 damages and costs. Sir Edward Clarke, plaintiff's counsel, having moved the Court to make the preliminary injunction forbidding publication of the book perpetual, defendant's counsel gave expression to the thought that if the Court complied, it would be a "very hard and cruel proceeding". In replying to this observation, Sir Edward Clarke said :

I do not know that the interference with the business of persons who publish libels like this is a public misfortunre; but it would be very unfortunate indeed if after the Jury have found a verdict in my favour upon this matter, and awarded substantial damages, that the Defendant should be free from the Injunction which has gone on for the last year. I do not ask your Lordship to vary the Injunction, but I ask your Lordship that the Injunction which lasted while this matter was in dispute shall be made perpetual.
The terms of the Injunction which was granted by Mr. Justice Bigham are these : "Ordered that the Defendants, their servants and agents and each and every of them be restrained and an Injunction be granted restraining the Defendants, their servants and agents, and each and every of them, from printing or selling or otherwise distributing a book entitled "The Curse of South Africa" under that or any other title, or any portion of the said book under that title or any other title". I submit that I am at least entitled to be continued in the protection which existed while the action was pending.
I was so protected when it was uncertain whether I had sustained any grievance or not. Now it has been established, and I have recovered substantial damages for that grievance, I surely am entitled to a continuation of that protection.
Mr. Justice Ridley : I shall make it perpetual.

Thereupon counsel for defendants in the remaining cases of Chaltin versus Captain Burrows and Everett & Co., and Dubreucq versus the same, agreed to submit a verdict in favour of the plaintiffs for L 50 damages and costs. The jury returned verdicts for this sum, and the Court made perpetual the injunction against the publication of the book.
So resulted the first opportunity Belgian officers in the service of the Congo Free State have had to vindicate their characters during the long campaign which certain persons have, from varying motives, waged against the youngest and most progressive State in Africa.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 14th 2002

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics