Archbishop Bourne and the Congo Question

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Archbishop Bourne and the Congo Question is a correspondence between Arthur Conan Doyle and Francis Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, first published in The Times on 5 november 1909.


Archbishop Bourne and the Congo Question

The Times (5 november 1909)

The Tablet publishes the following correspondence between Archbishop Bourne and Sir A. Conan Doyle :-


Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex.
Oct. 15. 1909.

Dear Archbishop Bourne, - I send you a copy of my book on the Congo, in the hope that you may find time to read it. Should the facts contained in it move you, perhaps you still give us your weighty support in the Congo Reform Association.

An attempt is made by this gang of rubber merchants to antagonize their critics by pretending that it is a matter between Catholics and Protestants, or between English and Germans. It is, in truth, a matter between unscrupulous and heartless financial greed and humanity. Should you see your way to join us, as the Duke of Norfolk has done, it would be the best answer to this persistent attempt to sow trouble among Christians for the benefit of these traders.

As an example of how little religion has to do with the matter, the greatest outrage among the last batch which has reached us, which will shortly be published, was committed by an agent named Vancanter, who was an atheist, upon a Catholic catechist named Monkama, who came to pray in the station of Yele, on the Busiré River, in February 6, 1909. For being a Catholic he received 150 lashes from a whip garnished with nails, which flayed him to such an extent that five months afterward he was uncured. Dr. Dorpinghaus, of Barmen, Germany, and M. Johannsen, of Yele, were witnesses. The agent was, I need not say, never punished.

I trust that your Grace may see your way to come with us in this struggle. A message from you to the protest meeting, which will be held in November 19 at the Albert Hall, would bring all England into line.

Yours respectfully,



Archbishop's House, Westminster, S.W.,
Oct. 30, 1909.

My dear Sir, - I have delayed acknowledging your letter of the 15th, and thanking you for your book which accompanied it, in order to be able to find time to read what you have written. Now that I have done so, though naturally in somewhat hurried moments, you must pardon me if I say that the perusal has strengthened me in my distrust of the methods of the Congo Reform Association, and in my reluctance to see Catholics identified with it in any way.

I have sufficient knowledge of, and confidence in, the Bishops and other authorized leaders of public opinion in Belgium to feel assured that they have taken, and will continue to take, all legitimate means to bring about such reforms as have been shown to be necessary. The fact that men in their responsible position are disinclined to hold public meetings and refrain from proclaiming their opinions or their actions in loud and exaggerated tones on the house-tops is, in my judgment, no proof that they fail to perceive or neglect to perform their duty. I am not prepared to play the impertinent part of being their critic.

The meeting which it is proposed to hold in the Albert Hall seems to me most inopportune and very unfair, both to our own Government and to that of Belgium.

Believe me, my dear Sir, yours very faithfully,

FRANCIS, Archbishop of Westminster.

I think that you state that the exportation of rubber has not been diminished. I believe that the actual figures are :- Value in 1906, 48,000,000 francs ; in 1908, only 30,000,000.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Dear Archbishop Bourne, - I was very sorry to receive your letter. The news which has just reached us from Brussels that complete reforms are to be introduced is surely final evidence that the reformers here, who have been demanding them so long, were justified in that demand. It is a sad thing to see the venerable Catholic Church falling out of line with the rest of Christian England over this scandal - though, of course, I am aware that your personal motives are above question.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Nov, 1.


Dear Sir Arthur, - May I not with equal reason claim that the reforms now announced amply justify the confidence which I have always felt in the Bishops and other public men in Belgium ?

Influence is not less powerful when it works quietly.

I trust that you have no objection to the publication of the letters which have passed between us.

Believe me yours very faithfully,

FRANCIS, Archbishop of Westminster.
November 2.


Dear Archbishop Tiourne, - But the reform, such as it is, has come after eighteen years of a system which has lowered the good fame of Christianity and of civilization. It has now come, if it does come, as a result of the ever-increasing horror expressed by the world, and voiced not only by British, but by American, Swiss, French, and German Reform Associations.

The correspondence I leave entirely in your Grace's hands, but should desire this last letter to be included in it. With regrets that I should be in such strong dissent from your views.

I remain yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Nov. 3.