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Charles Stokes (trader)

Charles Henry Stokes Dublin, 1852 – Lindi, 1895 was an Irish missionary turned trader who lived much of his life in Africa and was the centre of the Stokes Affair between the colonial United Kingdom and Congo Free State


  • 1 Life
  • 2 Arrest, trial, execution
  • 3 Aftermath
  • 4 See also
  • 5 Further reading
  • 6 References


Charles was born in Dublin and went to school in Enniskillen before his father died when Charles was twenty When this happened, he went with his mother to Liverpool, where he found work as a clerk for the Church Missionary Society He decided to seek new horizons and trained as a lay evangelist with the Society in Reading In May 1878 he arrived in Zanzibar His first act was to set up a 300-strong vehicle caravan to the Great Lakes, because he wanted to Christianise Buganda He was a skilled organizer and increasingly undertook expeditions

In January 1883 he married in the Cathedral of Zanzibar with Ellen Sherratt, one of the nurses who were sent to him by the mission She gave birth to their daughter Ellen Louise in March 1884, but died a week later The following year Stokes married again, to an African woman named Limi relative of the chief of the Wanyamwesi, a tribe that supplied many of the bearers in his caravans This was highly unusual at the time He also had two African concubines, Nanjala and Zaria, with whom he had two children He was excommunicated by the Protestant Church and became a trader around central Africa, selling goods such as ivory[1]

Stokes was on good terms with the Arabo-Swahili and the British, and since 1890 with the Germans, trading with all of them In 1894 he went for the first time with a large expedition to north-eastern Congo, with thousands of carriers and large quantities of guns and ivory The Arabo-Swahili who he was trading with were at war with the Congo Free State at the time and desperately needed weapons

Arrest, trial, execution

Through intercepted letters, Captain Hubert-Joseph Lothaire, the commander of the Belgian forces in the region, learned that Stokes was coming to the Congo to trade weapons He sent Lieutenant Josué Henry with 70 men ahead to capture him Henry took advantage of the absence of a large part of Stokes' caravan, who were scattered in the forest searching for food, and arrested him in his tent December 1894 He was taken to Lothaire in Lindi, who immediately formed a Drumhead court-martial Stokes was found guilty of selling guns, gunpowder and detonators to the Belgians' Afro-Arab enemies Kilonga Longa, Said Abedi and Kibonge He was sentenced to death and was hanged the next day hoisted on a tree

The procedure is said to have had many irregularities, including false statements There was no penal code, no clerk, the verdict was not read, and Stokes did not appeal, although as a citizen he was entitled to


In August 1895, the press began to report in detail on this case, including in the Pall Mall Gazette by journalist Lionel Decle As a result, the case became an international incident, better known as the Stokes Affair Together, Britain and Germany pressured Belgium to put Lothaire on trial, which they did, in Boma The Free State paid compensation to the British 150,000 francs and Germans 100,000 francs and made it impossible by decree martial or death sentences against Europeans Stokes's body was returned to his family

In April 1896 the court of Boma acquitted Lothaire after a short trial, in what is considered a questionable verdict The appeal was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Congo in Brussels in August 1896, paving the way for the rehabilitation of Lothaire

The Stokes Affair mobilized British public opinion against the Congo Free State It also damaged the reputation of King Leopold II of Belgium as a benevolent despot, which he had cultivated with so much effort[2] The case helped encourage the foundation of the Congo Reform Association and the annexation of the Congo by the Belgian state in 1908

See also

  • Stokes Affair

Further reading

  • Raymond Moloney, "Charles Stokes 1852-1895: An Irishman in 19th Century Africa", in: Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol 87, 1998, no 346, pp 128–134[3]
  • Robert Asketill 'Buganda History Part 39: The hanging of Charles Henry Stokes' in: The London Evening Post accessed on April 3, 2017[4]
  • 1895: Charles Stokes, in the heart of darkness[5]


  1. ^ Nicholas Harman, Bwana Stokesi and his African Conquests, Jonathan Cape, London, 1986
  2. ^ HOCHSCHILD, ADAM 2020 KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST : a story of greed, terror, and heroism in colonial africa MARINER BOOKS ISBN 0358212502 OCLC 1105149367mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-rightmw-parser-output citation mw-selflink
  3. ^ Raymond Moloney 1998 "Charles Stokes 1852-1895: An Irishman in 19th Century Africa" Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review Irish Province of the Society of Jesus 87 346: 128–134 JSTOR 30091886
  4. ^ "Buganda History Part 39: The hanging of Charles Henry Stokes | The London Evening Post FE" Thelondoneveningpostcom 2011-12-06 Archived from the original on 2017-09-29 Retrieved 2017-04-04
  5. ^ "1895: Charles Stokes, in the heart of darkness" ExecutedTodaycom 2009-01-15 Retrieved 2017-04-04

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