The Harris Lantern Slide Show
Alice Seeley Harris's photographs were used in lantern slide shows to accompany lectures by the Congo Reform Association in the 1900s. They exposed the violent and oppressive regime of King Leopold II of Belgium in the Congo Free State.
One of these lectures was recreated for the exhibition. Watch an extract below.
Please note that the Harris Lantern Slide Show contains images that some people may find distressing. Parental guidance is advised.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This evening I will be speaking to you about the 'Congo Atrocities'.
Mr HM Stanley was the first to trace the Congo River from the great Lakes to the Atlantic, and he described with natural enthusiasm the possibilities of this great division of the Equatorial Africa. He foresaw quite clearly that under the influence of civilisation the country could be made to yield immeasurable stores of animal, vegetable and mineral wealth. But more important by far than these is the gum of the India-rubber plant; and the great vines which produce the sap, which we call rubber, grow here in luxuriant profusion.
And, said Stanley, ‘if every warrior living on the immediate banks of the Congo and its navigable affluents were to pick about a third of a pound in rubber each day throughout the year and convey it to the trader for sale, five million pounds worth of vegetable produce could be obtained without exhaustion of the wild forest productions’.
Before Stanley had issued his work on ‘The Congo’ one man in Europe had set his heart on the prize. It was Leopold II, King of the Belgians. He captivated everybody by his philanthropic schemes for regenerating and saving the African races and to make it a ‘free’ state, where the native would enjoy all the blessings of a just and Christian civilisation.
In 1884, a conference of the European Powers was held in Berlin It resulted in the recognition of the new State. Little but what was creditable was heard of the Congo Free State during the first five years of its existence. Leopold told the world what beneficent plans he was forming and the world took them on trust. Yet towards the end of this period ugly rumours began to spread.
A decree was issued instructing the officials, ‘to take urgent and necessary measures to secure for the State the domainial produce, notably ivory and rubber’.
We have arrived, therefore, at this point. The King must have rubber; the native must be forced to produce it. To persuade him to do so the chicotte was introduced, ‘a murderous-looking instrument of hippopotamus hide, five feet long, thickened at one end for convenience of grip.
Towns were burnt to the ground, women were outraged, women and children were mutilated; hundreds, thousands were killed."