The Colonial Conan Doyle: British Imperialism, Irish Nationalism, and the Gothic

By Catherine Wynne | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Libidinal Encounters and Imperial Resistance: Knight Errant and Aberrant Serpent

On Friday, June 24, 1910, Doyle attended a dramatic production of his famous Holmesian story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (1892), which was then being staged at the Adelphi Theatre, the Strand in the company of the British Consul Roger Casement and the humanitarian Edmund Dene Morel. Casement was to record the evening's activities in a diary entry: “To dine with Conan Doyle. Morel there & to 'Speckled Band' after.” 1 However, the meeting was not exclusively social. The three discussed the setting up of the Morel testimonial fund, later launched on July 11, which was aimed at further facilitating Morel's humanitarian work on behalf of the Congo natives. 2 All three were engaged in this work since Casement, acting as British consul in the Congo Free State, had published a report in 1904 outlining the abusive system of forced labor, torture, and mutilation of the Congolese natives by their white oppressors, a savage regime perpetuated by King Leopold of Belgium.

The Belgian sovereign had increasingly gained influence over this region from 1876, when he had convened a conference in Brussels of explorers, geographers, and humanitarians and “put to them the idea that the Congo offered humanity its last chance to set up a colony whose aim would be, from the start, to benefit the indigenous population.” 3 Belgium, Leopold had declared, had no grand imperial designs, and his aim was decidedly philanthropic in opening “'up to civilisation the only area of our globe it had not yet penetrated.'” 4 The conference's objectives were concerned with the creation of trade routes into an interior rich in rubber and ivory—a factor sure to stimulate the economic imperialism of the period, the eradication of the slave trade, and the attainment of peaceful cooperation among the chiefs. The result was the formation of the International African Association. But by the dictates of the 1885 Congress of Berlin, Leopold ultimately attained complete control of this

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