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The Horrible Jameson Affair, refers to the allegations that the fast living colonialist-for-hire and heir to a whiskey distilling empire, James S Jameson, procured a girl solely to watch her being eaten. The accusations were made in 1890, two years after the alleged incident.
One of the few details of the episode that would be uncontested was the start of the affair. Jameson found himself with Tippu Tip and his translator Assad Farran at Ribakiba (or Ribaruba or Riba Riba, depending on the source; placenames were a flexible phoneticisation of the vernacular) Now known as Lokandu, it is a township in the Democratic Republic of Congo and sits at the virtual centre of Africa. At the time Ribakiba was a trading stop on the Lualaba River, a headstream of the Congo. The town was a major stop in slave and ivory trade routes, a lawless frontier town. The men were there looking for porters, of which they would eventually get 400.
The men were part of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition. The expedition’s stated aim was to relieve the besieged Emin Pasha. It was really an expansionist foray, masterminded by Belgian royalty and employing cooperative europeans in an exploratory journey to the heart of “darkest africa”. King Leopold was suffering regal anxiety, and had decided he needed vast swathes of sub-Saharan real estate to allow him compete with other European monarchs. The men were to evaluate the lands.
Jameson and Barttelot had been left in command of the expedition’s Rear Column, something they failed to do in spectacular fashion. When Sir Henry Morton Stanley returned to review their joint command, he found only 60 of the 271 men still fit to serve. The camp’s conditions were described in all their depressing detail by Farran in his later affidavit.
Barttelot and Jameson claimed they were hampered in their duties by the lack of Belgian steamers on the Congo. They said their station was remote and isolated. King Leopold had promised steamers for the expedition which had not materialised, and the expedition were forced to use boats that could be dismantled and carried.
The expedition left Zanzibar for the heart of Africa on 25 february 1886.
Farran set the scene by describing cruelty and severity at Yambuya camp. He described the camp as having split into factions, in an indictment of the laissez-faire attitude adopted by the camp’s commanders.
Farran recounted how, at Ribakiba, Jameson had said to him that he was curious about the practice of cannibalism, which he believed was common among the natives. Apparently he was correct, it was relatively common. Jameson wanted to see it being performed and decided to buy a slave for the purpose. He paid six handkerchiefs for 10 year old girl. This detail would later stand out as essentially correct and uncontested.
Along with a group of men he brought her to the cannibals’ hut. Through the interpreter the men were told, “This is a present from a white man, who wishes to see her eaten”.
The girl was tied to a tree, and had her belly gouged twice with a knife. She looked around for assistance from the hostile group surrounding her. The girl remained silent as blood gushed from her abdomen. She was resigned to her fate. When dead from the blood loss, she was cut into pieces by the men who had sharpened their knives nearby.
Farran told how Jameson drew and sketched throughout the entire ordeal. Jameson, he said, later rendered these sketches in 6 delicate watercolours – the girl being led away, the stabbing and gushing blood, the dissection, and the final butchery. Jameson displayed his works to the chiefs for their approval.
A letter from Jameson appeared in the New York Times on November 15, 1890. His defence was made posthumously through his wife’s correspondence with the newspaper, and consisted of a letter Jameson had written to Sir William McMackinnon. The letter had been composed, as Jameson was dying, at Stanley Falls, August 3, 1888. Strangely, it deals with minor details and accusations which would only come to light two years later in Farran’s affidavit, which lends some credibility to the accusations.
Jameson described how he was brought to the local chief’s house where a cannibalistic ceremony was already in progress. Jameson was told by Tippu that he would witness cannibalism. Jameson replied in the negative, said it was impossible and he did not wish to believe it might happen. Tippu, he said, pushed the point and asked for 6 handkerchiefs so that he might prove him wrong. At this point Jameson concedes he did provide the handkerchiefs. This would lead anyone to wonder why he had such items, or why he went to lengths to procure and provide the payment that would secure a girl’s death, a death he claims he was averse to. At any rate all tellings of the story corroborate that a girl’s life was worth a mere 6 handkerchiefs.
Jameson said it all happened too quick to sketch, had he wanted to, which he goes on to re-state he didn’t do because he was shocked. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Jameson then went on to accuse Assad of fraud in camel dealings, in a thinly veiled and feeble attempt at character assassination.
Both sides had much to gain and lose. On balance of probability, there may have been some truth in the accusations, particularly in the light of Stanley’s portrayal of Jameson’s disdainful character.
Congo of the time was a dangerous and unstable place. The Luba Kingdom arose in the sixteenth century to eventually fall victim to European expansionism in the late nineteenth century. This was “Darkest Africa” a continent of myth, legend and heroism full of danger both animal and human, a land that might swallow up the unprepared. It was seen as a dangerous land, beyond the reach of law. Sadly, these tales appear to have more than a grain of truth, but much of this barbarism and intrigue was of european origin, or at least in support of colonial aims. Jameson certainly seems to have acted in this cavalier manner, according to many witnesses.
Assad was later ordered by Sir Francis de Winton to sign a declaration that the story was untrue. De Winton was the administrator General of the Belgian Congo and secretary of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, a man who had much to lose if it was believed that men were supporting cannibalism under his watch.
Any story was possibly true.
Metafro Infosys is a now deprecated Belgian catalogue of data sets and data sources related to Central Africa
Metafro Infosys has moved all its content to the Royal Museum for Central Africa
Bruce Herald, Volume XXII, Issue 2232, 20 January 1891, Page 1
The Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, 1886-1890, Iain R. Smith, Oxford University Press, 2002
Wikipedia’s entry for the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition
The Horrible Jameson Affair – Assad Farran tells his story of cannibalism, The New York Times, November 14, 1890
Jameson’s Story – A letter in which he explains the cannibal incident, The New York Times, November 15, 1890
Wikipedia’s biography of Tippu Tip/a>
Sir Francis de Winton’s obituary
This article was posted by Ronan McDonnell on
Friday, July 1st, 2011 at
It is archived in History, Ireland, Myth, Travel, Wild Places and tagged Africa, cannibalism, cruelty, History, jameson, savage, whiskey.