The Whiskey Cannibal

James Sligo Jameson was the grandson of John Jameson, and an heir to the Jameson whiskey fortune. Rather than pursue a path in the family business, James chose to travel and become a “naturalist”. At the time, this was generally defined as killing rare creatures and mounting them to plaques in the name of science. It was in pursuit of such endeavors that the young Jameson would commit one of the darkest and most repulsive acts of inhumanity ever documented.

In 1887, Jameson was selected by celebrated explorer Henry Morton Stanley as an officer on the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, a humanitarian effort to aid the besieged country of Equatoria (near present day Uganda) from Mahdist forces. Stanley was still in the employ of King Leopold II of Belgium who allowed Stanley to head the expedition on the condition that he took a rout through the Congo Free State to achieve some of his personal objectives. For historical perspective Leopold II personally ruled the Congo Free State (separate from the government of Belgium), which would become synonymous with genocide and ultimately claim the lives of an estimated five to twenty million Africans.

By May of 1888, Stanley had separated the expedition into two parts, himself leading the advanced party out of the need to travel swiftly toward the objective. Jameson was second in command of the ill fated and infamous “Rear Column”, under Major Walter Bartlett. It was their responsibility to work with expedition liaison Tippu Tib, an Afro-Arab slave trader, to procure labor to transport the cargo of relief items into Equatoria. Tippu Tib repeatedly failed in these negotiations, therefor critically delaying the operations. Further, the rear column suffered from the madness of its leader, Bartlett, whose irrational and psychotic behavior eventually led to a dispute in which he was shot. Again, for historical perspective, Bartlett’s behavior was so singular and bizarre, he was later immortalized as the character of “Kurtz” in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The most depraved behavior of the expedition, however, was reserved for James Jameson. Accounts of the events are reported by several members of the expedition, including a written account by Jameson himself. Jameson had previously displayed a fascination with cannibalism, a topic he had discussed at length with Tippu Tib. While staying at the village of Riba Riba, they were witness to a display of tribal dancing. Tippu Tib explained to Jameson that it was customary for the ceremony to conclude with a banquet of human flesh. Jameson was captivated by this, declaring that he would very much like to see such a thing. Tippu Tib said it could be easily done, all that was needed was to procure a victim, which he offered to facilitate for the price of six handkerchiefs.

Jameson eagerly produced the payment and a ten-year-old girl, captured from a rival tribe, was provided. One of the villagers drew a knife and stabbed her twice in the chest, at which time others of the tribe joined in, cutting off her head and butchering her where she fell. They then took the pieces to the river and washed them in preparation for consumption. Sickeningly, Jameson stood by and sketched the event in his notebook, later rushing to his tent to finish his drawings in watercolor.

Jameson would later claim that he thought the whole thing was in jest and that he didn’t intend for the child to be killed. Though, curiously he does not deny supplying the six handkerchiefs for payment or drawing and painting the murder. To read his words, posthumously edited by his wife, he doesn’t sound the slightest bit remorseful and he made no effort to intercede. Considering there was every opportunity to spin or deny the event, the fact that it found its way to print is striking testimony to the validity of the claims.

In Jameson’s own words:

I told him [Tippu Tib] that people at home generally believed that these were only ‘traveler’s tales’, as they are called in our country, or, in other words, lies. He then said something to an Arab named Ali, seated next to him, who turned round to me and said, ‘Give me a bit of cloth and see.’ I sent my boy for six handkerchiefs, thinking it was all a joke, and that they were not in earnest, but presently a man appeared, leading a young girl of about ten-years-old by the hand, and I then witnessed the most horribly sickening sight I am ever likely to see in my life. He plunged the knife quickly into her breast twice, and she fell on her face, turning over on her side. Three men then ran forward and began to cut up the body of the girl; finally her head was cut off, and not a particle remained, each man taking his piece away down to the river to wash it.”

Not much of a denial here. In a small repayment of Karma, Jameson contracted Haematuric fever shortly afterward and died of it on August 17, 1888. The Emin Pasha Relief Expedition with all its issues, was ultimately futile and unappreciated by Emin Pasha (who wanted military aid) and was the last of its kind to delve the depths of central Africa. Its legacy is one of darkness, depravity, and madness. Despite this, H.M. Stanley’s reputation emerged intact as did many of the surviving leaders, who enjoyed celebrity status, honorary degrees, and lucrative speaking engagements and were generally considered heroic adventurers.