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

Chapter XXX : The Congo Campaign in England (pp.366-384)

The English are an admirable people, who have excelled in every department of human effort; but the evidence of the more critical among them, with whom love of fair play counts for as much as pride of race, has never failed to reveal in the national character (as of course in the character of every nation) a goodly number of weak spots whereat the critic and the wit may profitably direct their shafts. John Bull, the trader, is a keen-eyed, hard-headed bargainer. Good; it behoves every merchant to be no less. He regards the whole world as his farm by right divine, and resents his exclusion from any part of it. When his remonstrance is met by a counter-remonstrance, he points to his home markets and his colonies, and emphasises the fact that these British markets are open (long after his own trade has been firmly established therein) to the traders of the world.
But it is in his ultra-sentimental mood that John Bull is seen at his worst. Has there been a conflict between some semi-barbarous tribes in that seething cauldron of discontent, the Balkans, and the Sultan's troops have thrashed them indiscriminately and dispersed them, John Bull, or at least that part of him which wears white ties and is described as "reverend", rushes off to Exeter Hall and demands the prayers of the churches and the forces of his Government for the suppression of the inhuman atrocities which he denounces. (Incidentally, but in unmistakable terms, he at the same time calls the attention of his audience to the joyful fact that it is their duty and privilege to assist in this good work by giving liberally of their money). Of course it is but a section of the English people which approves and supports this sort of thing, and a still smaller section that exploits it. But in a country politically constituted as England is, where the suffrage is almost universal, it is sufficiently large and influential to influence from time to time the conduct of the British Government. This is more particularly the case where the interests of the pseudo-humanitarians and those of the traders happen to coincide. On such occasions, fortunately somewhat rare, the spectacle of Cant and Commerce in alliance is enough to bring a smile to the face of a sphinx.
Protestant missionaries of various sects, in rivalry with each other, but often alike in being envious of the superior results obtained by Roman Catholic missionaries in the Congo Free State, denounce the Congo Government as a gang of barbarous extortioners, oppressors, murderers. A small but active set of Liverpool merchants, dismayed at finding that what twenty years ago they regarded as worthless has, under judicious Belgian administration, become a valuable asset, and some of whom appear willing to resort to any means by which they may at least be enabled to share the prize, join the forces to those of the missionaries. Lies fall as quickly as leaves in Vallombrosa. No sooner is one mendacious story refuted than ten others take it's place. The Congo campaign multiplies it's adherents, it gathers force daily, it's voice becomes more and more thunderous, until at last it invades the British House of Commons and moves a British minister to write a puerile dispatch to the Great Powers, which the Great Powers, in the exercise of their common-sense, politically ignore. Only up to a certain point does Baron Muenchhausen triumph. Verb. sap.
What magnificent material for the mouthings of certain English ultra-humanitarians would be the lynching of Negroes in our own Southern States ! The jail-breakings, the hangings, shootings, and burnings - could more effective subjects for stereopticon slides and the perfervid oratory of paid lecturers be devised ? And all true and ready to hand, needing neither lies nor distortions ! Alas ! nothing can be made out of that campaign. It will not pay to call our country to account for it's neglect or failure to suppress these things. The United States own a fleet which, if not as strong as it should be, is sufficiently powerful to inspire respect; and our President can at any time call up an army of a million citizen soldiers, volunteers of proved valour. With the Congo Free State this is not the case. Caution was ever a prominenr characteristic of John Bull, and he has carefully noted that fact. Neutral little Belgium may safely be bullied, her King libelled, and his enterprise misrepresented and held up to the scorn of an undiscriminating world, too busy to undertake a careful analysis of motives or even to distinguish between the true and the false. Judicial consideration of the English campaign against the Congo, naturally a difficult task, is rendered doubly so by the general suppression of material evidence favourable to the State. From motives best known to their proprietors, one or two important London newspapers, ever ready to afford space for an attack upon the Congo Government, however violent or by whomsoever made, frequently decline to publish replies thereto. Indeed, the more complete the refutation, and the greater the authority of the writer, the less chance of it's acceptance for publication in these newspapers. Upon several occasions has Major Harrison been refused space for his temperate letters to the Morning Post, and the Daily News, the principal support of the Aborigines Protection Society, is avowedly against the continued existence of the Congo Free State. A complete answer to Mr. Roger Casement's Report, prepared by the Congo Government, was unanimously rejected by London editors. This most unjust partisanship extends even to English press reports of proceedings in the House of Commons, of which one might reasonably expect to find in English journals a complete record; or where the exigencies of space necessitate condensation, that at least that editorial operation should be performed without bias. That expectation meets with disappointment.
On June 9, 1904, Sir Charles Dilke, with a fine show of virtue which has not always characterised his conduct, delibered a speech in the House of Commons wherein he assumes the truth of the various libels upon the Congo Government prepared by missionaries, merchants, and dismissed employees. That speech, and the speeches of such other members of the British House of Commons as for various reasons have been induced to follow a similar course, have been reported in extenso, while the speech of Mr. John Campbell, member for South Armagh, has not so much as been referred to. Mr. Campbell derided the Congophobes' plea that they have at heart only the interests of humanity.

The gold [he remarked] of that fine phrase is alloyed with other arguments. Commercial considerations have also their weight. Some speakers began by talking of humanity and ended with commerce. Others began with commerce and ended with humanity. One honourable member had thrown overboard the humanitarian theme and flatly talked business. But, in spite of all the ornamental flowers of philanthropy, the groundwork of all these speeches is - commerce. The true motive which prompts the Anti-Congo campaign, conducted with such vigour in this country and within these walls, was exposed in a few words by Stanley when he said : "The sentiment that inspires the charges against the Congo is jealousy. The Congo is succeeding better than any other State in Africa".

One would suppose that sentiments such as these, supported by the authority of Stanley, would at least be as worthy of a few lines in an English newspaper as the vague charges of cruelty alleged by some missionaries based upon what they have been told that somebody else has heard, etc. But no ! such references are rigidly suppressed in a large section of the English press, just as much of Mr. Casement's Report that is favourable to the Congo Government has been suppressed.

The following letter, addressed to the Secretary of the Congo Reform Association, Liverpool, on December 8, 1904, by the editor of the Catholic Herald (London), indicates that certain British journals are sincerely seeking to expose the truth concerning the Congo and the motives underlying the campaign against the Free State in England. The writer of the letter is the publisher of the thirty-odd leading Catholic papers in the United Kingdom. As a Member of Parliament, and as an editor, his attitude towards public questions has always been conscientious and fearless.

"Sir, - The following matters are so intimately concern your veracity, and, therefore, deeply concern the public, in connection with your Anti-Congo campaign and your Congo Reform Society, that I draw your attention to the fact that this letter will be printed in full in the Catholic Herald of next week, and will also be sent out broadcast to the newspapers of this country, so that you may have a full opportunity of defending yourself from the most serious charges made therein.
On the 24th of November last, in defending an abusive attack made by the London Daily News on the Belgian people, in which it referred to them as 'barbarians', you made a statement to the effect that fifteen Congo officials were then in prison at Boma for the grossest outrages upon natives, and that ten more were awaiting their trial.
In reply to a communication sent to a member of the Belgian House of Representatives, a statement is made by the Belgian authorities, that only two officials are in prison in Boma. This statement was forwarded to the Daily News, which has lent itself to the disgraceful and lying campaign against the Congo, but, although the editor has been several times requested to publish it, he has up till now declined to do so.
I, therefore, draw your attention to this emphatic contradiction of your story, and, having every confidence in the honesty and truthfulness of the statement made by responsible gentlemen in Brussels, state that your assertion can only be treated as a gross invention, quite on par with the other materials of your anti-Congo campaign.
But this is not the most serious matter. On the following point, I charge you with putting forward a statement in the Daily News, with reference to the Congo Reform Society, which you knew to be untrue, for the purpose of deceiving and misleading the public of this country. It was stated in a letter which appeared in the Daily News on November 25th, that Liverpool shippers and merchants were aiding the Congo Reform Society, and financing it. On the 29th November a letter appeared from you in the Daily News, in which you denied this, and called upon the writer to offer an apology for his statement. You proceeded to assert that you had enclosed (for the private information of the Editor of the Daily News) a list of the subscribers to the Congo Reform Society, and the editor supported your statement by the assertion that 'the list of donors and subscribers supplied does not contain the names of any British merchants or shippers'.
The clear purport of your letter was to make it out that there was no cooperation between the Liverpool shippers and merchants and this so-called Reform Society, which is nothing more or less than a bogus name adopted to cover the campaign of falseheed and calumny which you and your friends have entered upon.
On November 30th the following statement was published in the Daily News in answer to your denial : - 'With reference to the Liverpool merchants I have not seen the "private list" that he (Mr. Morel) forwards to you. I cannot tell whether it contains the names of all the subscribers to the Congo Reform Society, but I cannot accept the denial of the secretary with reference to the Liverpool merchants, in view of the candid admission of Mr. Fox Bourne that some of the merchants in Liverpool are working with the Society, and his further admission that they had helped to finance it. I believe Mr. Fox Bourne's statement, and if an apology is required for perversion of the facts, the secretary of the Congo Reform Society must make that apology'.
To that emphatic disproval of your statement, you have up till now made no reply. In fact you cannot deny Mr. Fox Bourne's honest admission, which has already appeared in our columns, and of which evidently you were entirely ignorant at the time you attempted to throw dust into the eyes of the readers of the Daily News by your untruthful denial.
Now, one of two things : either you are in a position to free yourself from this charge of deception and untruthful statement put forward for the purpose of deceiving the public, or you are not. If you are in a position to do so, come forward immediately, in the interests of the Congo Reform Society, and of yourself as it's secretary. If you are not in a position to disprove this statement and to substantiate your words, you stand convicted of flagrant deception and falsehood on a most important public matter, and the people of this country will know how to judge a person, or a society, which descends to such methods for the purpose of bolstering up selfish and disgraceful designs.
At the very moment that you were writing this denial in the columns of the Daily News, you were in treaty with a former Congo official, and bribing him for the purpose of giving evidence against the Congo State, and as a witness to the document that passed between you, you called in Mr. John Holt, merchant, 81, Dale Street, Liverpool, who was associated with you in this attempt to purchase testimony, and who actually paid, at the Exchange Hotel, Liverpool, on the 21st November last, a sum of L 40 to Mr. Benedetti, the Congo ex-official referred to, and yet you have the impudence and the hardihood to assert that the Liverpool shippers and Liverpool merchants are not associated with the Congo Reform Society !
Nor are these all the inventions, perversions, and misrepresentations which can be proved against you in connection with this movement.
The book that you have just written and published is packed with such lies and suppositions of truth. You print a travesty of the case of the man Stokes, who was executed in the Congo, and you say that the charge against him was 'of trading with natives', whereas, as a matter of fact, he was proved to have supplied the cruel and barbarous Arab slave raiders of the Congo, who have been put down by the Congo Government, with guns and ammunition for the purpose of carrying on their nefarious work.
These slave raiders evidently receive your warm sympathy, and the man Stokes, who helped them to carry on their trade, is held up by you as a martyr ! Yet you dare to appear before the people of this country as a friend of the natives of the Congo, and your present campaign is ostensibly carried on for the amelioration of their condition !
Again, you have ventured to make a most infamous charge against Catholic missionaries in the Congo. In a letter to the Times you said that 'they dared not state in public what they have said in private'. In other words, you accuse them of double dealing of the basest character, like Mr. Fox Bourne, who says, 'they offer religion to the natives only as a bribe, or to terrorise them into further enslavement'.
You have never produced a single iota of evidence in support of this statement against the Catholic missionaries, who are doing such splendid work in the Congo territory. We characterise the statement as a gross and palpable invention, but, in that respect, it has only been on a par with the general policy of yourself and the so-called "Congo Reform Society" in connection with these matters.
It has also been asserted by the secretary of the Aborigines' Protection Society - which has been mainly responsible, with yourself and the Liverpool shippers and merchants, for working up this campaign of calumny - that the clerical party in Belgium is supporting the King in his Congo policy, irrespective of any atrocities that may be committed, because the King has agreed to support them in Belgium. This is not only a libel on Belgian Catholics and the Belgian people - who have been insolently referred to by the Daily News as 'barbarians' - but is amply disproved by the fact that the most recent exposure of your tactics, and the tactics of your society, has been made in the columns of the well-known anti-clerical paper, The Independance Belge, of Brussels, which has published the disclosures with reference to your bribing of a Congo official to secure evidence from him, and has amply exposed, on many occasions, the selfish and dishonest character of this anti-Congo campaign.
You have printed the grossest inventions with reference to the treatment of British natives in the Congo territory. You have said that at Lagos, and in the surrounding district, if the word 'Congo' is mentioned to a native he will make for the bush if he is on land, and will jump into the water if he happens to be on sea, in order to escape going to the Congo !
A full and impartial inquiry made by a number of English gentlemen at Lagos, and the evidence of one hundred and seventy-five natives taken on oath, shows how baseless and unscrupulous is your statement. One English gentleman declares that 'in a single week's time he would undertake to send two thousand natives to the Congo, if the English Government would permit their enrolment' - the taxation being so much heavier in British territory than in Congo territory, that natives have to seek in the latter the means of earning the taxation which they are compelled to pay to the British administration.
Missionaries of all classes, Catholic and non-Catholic, have borne ample testimony to the humane and civilizing influence of the Congo administration. Englishmen like Lord Mountmorres, Major Harrison, of Hull, Mr. Grenfell, Mr. Bell, Mr. Holland, Mr. Maguire, as also Mrs. French-Sheldon, Mrs. Doering, and others, have borne the most emphatic testimony to the lies and misrepresentations that have been so sedulously spread by yourself and your friends with reference to the Congo administration.
You cannot have failed to notice that in La Verite sur le Congo for October-November, 1904, page 3, you are accused of actually having faked certain photographs which appeared in your book - one on page 49, in which certain natives are represented holding cut-off hands. The publication referred to says that 'the hands seem to have been added afterwards'; and, with regard to a photograph on page 225 of your book, the same publication says that 'the chains around the necks of natives would also appear to have been designed on the plate'.
You have put these photographs forward as real. Will you produce the negatives and the name of the person who took the actual photographs ? Or will you remain content to rest under the charge of fabricating evidence of this description to deceive your readers ?
The Catholic Herald denounces, and will denounce, outrages upon natives and wrong-doing and maladministration of native territories, whether by Belgians or by any other people. No doubt wrong-doing has taken place; but is it of such a character as justifies people in this country taking up arms against those responsible for it ?
Is it not rather inseperable from the administration of native territories ? Let any one responsible for native administration answer this question, but let not the good cause of fair play and justice for the natives be disgraced and besmirched by the recklessness and viciousness that have been displayed in connection with this Congo agitation.
The Catholic Herald accepts in full all responsibility for the statements made herein, and for the publication of them, and for their circulation broadcast through the Press of this country, and believes that in doing so it is discharging of public duty, not only to the Catholic name, which you have foully libelled, but also to the cause of international peace and goodwill, which this anti-Congo campaign, based on selfish and sordid motives, has done so much to impair.
The administration of the Congo will compare more than favourably with the administration of native territories under British rule. There is more consideration shown to the natives, more care evinced for their interests, and they are less heavily taxed, and more humanely treated in the Congo, than is the case in any British territory in Africa today.
Some of the lies sent forth on the wings of the Press are hereby nailed to the counter, and it is to be hoped that yourself, or your Society, will at once disprove, by any means at your disposal, charges which, if not disproved, clearly show that your evidence in connection with these matters is discredited and untrustworthy, and that no one will be justified in paying attention to any statement of yours, unless supported by evidence that has not been purchased or invented. ......... THE EDITOR ... The Catholic Herald

Just as this book is going to press particulars come to hand of an incident which throws a strong light upon the methods adopted by the enemies of the Congo Free State in manufacturing evidence against it. The paid officers of the Congo Reform Association in Liverpool, the Aborigines' Protection Society, and kindred organisations, must find it increasingly difficult to justify their existence when tactics such as here exposed have to be resorted to.

From The Transvaal Trouble, an Extract from the Biography of the late Sir Bartle Frere, by John Martineau (pp.221, 212) :
During these years, about 1879, a society in London, called the Aborigines' Protection Society, took upon itself the function of judging between the white and the black races in South Africa, and of arraigning the conduct of the white race whenever there was a question between the two. That a society in London, with paid officers bound to justify their employment by finding something to complain of, should take upon itself to pronounce judgment upon difficult and complex questions between races in South Africa was, on the face of it, not more reasonable than that a society should be started at Cape Town, say, to protrect women and children in London. By it's constitution, which was practically that of an advocatus diaboli against the white man, such a society must always of necessity take a one-sided view, from which misapprehension and mischief could hardly fail to result, however carefully considered were the methods employed.
The methods employed by the Aborigines' Protection Society bore some resemblance to those of mediaeval Venice. The Blue-books of the time are full of letters from the society to the Secretary of State, detailing stories of alleged oppression or cruelty, and demanding an inquiry, or sometimes a question was asked to the same effect in Parliament. It would be many months before the reply to the inquiry would come back from the Cape, and in the meantime, the story was circulated, and the refutation came too late to be listened to. The society generally refused to give the name of it's informant, or the particulars of time and place, so that, like the lion's mouth at Venice, it offered an opportunity to any one - agitator, place-hunter, or criminal having a spite against a magistrate or official - to injure him anonymously ... The fear of being denounced by some scoundrel to the society in some districts seriously interfered with and often perverted the administration of justice ... In one instance, a man, on whose testimony is placed special reliance, was discovered to be a disfrocked clergyman who had been in custody for swindling another informant, who in turn was a trader who had been in jail for gun-running.

Mr. H. Nixon, writing to Sir Bartle Frere, says :
"The lawlessness of the coloured races and their hopeless state of degradation, their drunkenness, and general dissolute habits may fairly be laid to the baneful influence of the Aborigines' Protection Society, which has done everything it possibly could to paralyse the arm of the law in the execution of justice, and I consider the demoralisation of the natives is entirely due to their present agitation. The drunkenness in this province is quite alarming and unprecedented."

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

Impressum · Datenschutz