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The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Jameson Cannibalism

The defendant - James S Jameson

The defendant - James S Jameson

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.

The Main Protagonists

  • James S Jameson was an heir to Jameson Irish Whiskey. His account of his time in the Rear Column was published posthumously by his wife and brother in an attempt to combat charges of disobedience, disloyalty, forgetfulness of promises, desertion, cruelty, cowardice, and even murder leveled against him by Sir Henry Morton Stanley.
  • Assad Farran was a Syrian translator, who accompanied Jameson on his journey with Tippu Tip. It was Farran who made the contentious and inflammatory deposition against Jameson.
Catholic Church in Lokandu, photo taken approx 40 years after the affair. Courtesy of Yale University. Divinity School. Day Missions Library 1935 map of Congo and central Africa.

Catholic Church in Lokandu, photo taken approx 40 years after the affair. Courtesy of Yale University. Divinity School. Day Missions Library 1935 map of Congo and central Africa.

Supporting Cast

  • Barttelot was an officer colleague of Jameson’s, left in command of Rear Column at Yambuya in the modern day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Barttelot would eventually be shot as he attempted to strike a woman, at the same time as Jameson died of fever elsewhere.
  • Tippu Tip (variously spelled Tippoo Tip, Tippu Tib etc) was a notorious, blind slave trader, plantation owner and governor, who worked for a succession of sultans of Zanzibar. He rose to prominence through his ruthlessness and would eventually become very wealthy and powerful. By all accounts he was a man to be feared.
  • Emin Pasha was a true nineteenth century gentleman; virtually the paradigm of a Jules Verne character. A German doctor and naturalist he was appointed Governor of Equatoria, but had become besieged after the fall of Sudan.
  • Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of Dr livingstone fame), was in the employment of King Leopold of Belgium to install a Belgian colony, Congo’s Free State. Stanley was one of the leaders of the expedition to “rescue” Emin Pasha.
Typical nineteenth century African trading post

Typical nineteenth century African trading post

Where were they?

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.

Why were they there?

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.

Assad Farran’s Affidavit – The Accusation

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.

1930s-era map of the Belgian Congo with the area in question highlighted. Click image to view larger.

1930s-era map of the Belgian Congo with the area in question highlighted. Click image to view larger.

Jameson’s Response – The Defence

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.

The Probable Truth

The Kingdom of Luba was, along with being a mercenary slave-trading kingdom, a cultured place. This Katatora by an unknown artist is elegantly carved, using striking clear and stylised forms. It is 11.5 cm tall. Source: Wassing, Rene S., and Hans Hinz. African Art: Its Background and Traditions. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p206.

The Kingdom of Luba was, along with being a mercenary slave-trading kingdom, a cultured place. This Katatora by an unknown artist is elegantly carved, using striking clear and stylised forms. It is 11.5 cm tall. Source: Wassing, Rene S., and Hans Hinz. African Art: Its Background and Traditions. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p206.

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 on Friday, July 1st, 2011 at 14:29.
It is archived in History, Ireland, Myth, Travel, Wild Places and tagged , , , , , , .

14 Responses to Jameson Cannibalism

  1. Arne says:

    What about those Jameson-sketches?
    Were they printed in any book or are still at some museum?

    • Ronan says:

      To the best of my knowledge they were lost to posterity. They may have been presented to the chief among the cannibals, who were certainly shown the drawings. The watercolours, it appears, were worked up at Jameson’s leisure.
      They would certainly be fascinating, albeit grim to see…

    • Ronan says:

      Further to this – on RTE Radio 1’s Today With Pat Kenny, author Tim Jeal told of how Stanley had received the drawings. He doesn’t mention where they went next. Mr Jeal is the author of Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure, published by Faber & Faber. According to this site, Mr Jeal is the only person recently allowed to view Stanley’s papers in the Musée Royal de l’Afrique Centrale in Brussels. Presumably he saw them there.

      • E.C. says:

        I think you should think a little before you speak. We must first remember this: All history (as we know it) is written by the white man. That’s fact. You can sputter or dispute, but that is the way it is. Our research is by white men, our history is by white men, and this is basically because the white man kind of “won” at this time. The slave trade was rampant, and I’ll tell you this much, there WERE some cannibal tribes, but there were also tribes that were being shoved into Christianity (which also kills in the name of its beliefs) and men who would invite the white man to dinner (such as what happened in Congo) and be murdered at their dinner tables along with their wives. They didn’t expect this. They assumed that there would be a basic respect because they were kings and such. They didn’t realize at first that they were animals to white people. They didn’t realize that for centuries upon centuries to come, inherently in the law systems they would be less than white people, only because they were darker.

        I guess what I am saying is that indeed Africa was a rich and “dark” place. It’s the richest place in the world, with the most resources that everyone needs and no one wants to pay for. Still. Go figure. I wouldn’t blame the Africans for this one. They are having yet another attack today–dying by the thousands and for what? Climate change. They can’t grow food in a lot of those already overrun countries. So pathetic, and yet, here we are.

      • I’m not really sure where you are going with the “think before you speak”. While I agree with most of what you have written, I think it is important to remember that the history you know is the white man’s. It is by no means the only available history.
        You also allege that someone is blaming the Africans. I don’t think that is the case at all. In fact, I would say it is far from the case. You also comment on food shortage – you should bear in mind that much of Africa’s arable land is now used for shipping produce out of the continent.

  2. Chappy says:

    I think it is notable that you preserve some history of attrocities. It should strike in decent people’s heart the response of “never again should people treat their neighbors in this manner”.

    However! You state that brutalities “….[were] of european origin,”. Yet to travel there was to encounter this dark world. Jameson was intrigued by the idea of cannibalism, but cannibalism was a practice of africa’s people. It is gruesome that he would instigate it, yet the devilish work was done by africa’s own people who took to the idea of a “free lunch”. Clearly the brutalities, as they remain today are indigenous to the a african continent and its people. Love to blame those colonialists, but the darkest behavior existed then and it exists now unchanged in the way tribes treat one another. Modern weaponry made them even more efficient and atrocities are even more widespread.

    Let’s be honest about it. Until african’s address their own ways, nothing changes about darkest africa. I’m not even sure you can blame the colonialism of islam which is a huge factor in current conflicts, but it seems to just always boil down to neighbor against neighbor and in that they fail miserably.

    • I’m not sure I would agree with some of your arguments. However, while it is true that Africa remains a troubled continent, you are risking painting everyone there with the same brush. I can say, from first hand experience this is simply not the case.
      Equally, it should be noted that the particular case of cannibalism was entirely instigated by European curiosity, and was later tried as such. This has no bearing on whether it was these people’s continuing custom or not.

  3. Vincent says:

    A fascinating piece.

    I can see why there is a squabble about the historiography but it is quite needless to discuss it in terms of “white mans” or African history. The practice of cannibalism is more an anthropological matter and slavery existed worldwide.

    Comparing what happened then using today’s value system is being far to precious.

    The Congo Free State was a squalid awful place and anyone who doubts it should read up on Sir Roger Casement’s “the Congo Report”. I read the piece in that context.

    • Exactly, I have tried to tell the story dispassionately, but did not realise the resonance it would retain so many years later. Historically, the period is of interest in that it heralded the opening up of the African interior, setting the scene for all that followed.
      Thanks for the advice on Casement, I will chase up that particular piece.

  4. Vincent says:

    Casement & the Congo Reform Association were major happenings but a decade or so after this. Casement was acquainted with the writer Joseph Conrad in the Congo & who was sympathetic but would not go public.

    I don’t think you can tell this story any other way than you have.

  5. Jim Clarke says:

    Ronan, I saw – and bought – last week at Maggs in London the handwritten 12 page testimony given by Assad Farran, the Syrian interpreter at Yambuya on the behaviour of Bartellot and Jameson at the Rear Column, and including the cannibal story. Gruesome! And it comes alive when you see it and read it.

    Jim Clarke

    • Wow! That’s a great, and rare, find; the kind only possible in the world of old rare bookshops, unlike online archives, warehouses, indexes etc.

  6. Jim Clarke says:

    Oh, by the way, I was delivering a lecture on Stanley the other day, and, in preparing for it, I’m sure I saw somewhere (where?) the sketches Jameson made.

    Also, the Brussels Royal Museum Stanley archive is now catalogued, and the full list of items is accessible here

    Of course, it’s only a list, though in many cases there is an indication of what the letter/journal/paper is about.

    • Thank you so much for your comments Jim – I would love to have seen the sketches, although it would be with some trepidation. Good luck with your lecture!

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