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Home arrow Political science arrow British Humanitarianism and the Congo Reform Movement, 1896-1913

Lantern Lectures and Other Meetings

Atrocity images had their biggest impact in lantern lectures. Lantern-slide lectures were an established medium; the magic lantern, invented in the seventeenth century, had spread rapidly in the nineteenth century. Lanterns became brighter, more reliable, and less expensive while the price of slides fell rapidly after 1850 as hand-painted slides costing over ?20 apiece gave way to easily reproduced photographic slides for 1s (black and white) or 1s 6d (color), before volume discounts.[1]

Lantern lectures were a common form of diversion and education from the 1870s through the early 1900s in Britain. The magic lantern illustrated scientific lectures, entertainment, current events discussion, political campaigns, missionary fundraising, and humanitarian causes. Eleven companies put together lantern lectures for purchase or hire.[2] Some boasted huge collections: E.G. Wood of London claimed the largest inventory with 100,000 slides, while Riley Brothers in Bradford, “The Largest Lantern Outfitters in the World,” had a catalog of about 1,500 sets of which over 400 had accompanying lectures.[3] These companies created content by assembling photographs on a theme and preparing a script to be read aloud.[4] The firm would have the narrative “reviewed” or “revised” by an expert in the field. Sometimes, a scientific, religious, or charitable organization would assemble a show or lecture that they made available to members to borrow, hire, or purchase, or to the public through a big lantern lecture firm.

In contrast to the individuals, families, and small groups that rented lectures for one-time use, people seeking to educate, publicize a cause, or raise money would go on extensive speaking tours. In the 1890s, Anti-Slavery employed a commissioned Financial and Travelling Agent and Lecturer who gave 20 lectures at churches, YMCAs, schools, and other public meeting halls in three months in 1893, of which eight were lantern lectures. He reported, “Of all methods of arousing the sympathies of the British public, these illustrated lectures are most effective, as the hearts of young and old alike are reached and deeply touched by appeals, not only to the ears but to the eyes also, in a manner that will never be forgotten.”[5] Lantern lecturers would speak once a day or more. Laura Ormiston Chant addressed over 400 meetings in 12 months during Stead’s 1885 Maiden Tribute campaign.[6] In October and November 1900, the Friends’ industrial missionaries Mr and Miss Armitage gave 50 lantern lectures.[7] A Peace Society speaker gave 34 talks in nine towns in a single month, including one to 3,000 people.[8] The Harrises’ lecturing pace, while admirable, was not unusual.

Missionaries had long used photographs and lantern lectures to promote their missions. T. Jack Thompson’s study of missionary photography observes that Guinness was an adept and enthusiastic lantern lecturer beginning in the 1880s, supported by people who prepared the slides, scheduled the talks, and operated the equipment.[9] Lantern lectures on the Congo problem began with Danielson’s talks in November-December 1903 and continued in force with Guinness’s lectures. However, it was John and Alice Harris who made them into a vital tool for expanding the movement beginning in late 1905. It is likely that most Congo meetings used lantern slides. John Harris continued to use the lantern even after tiring of its complications, observing, “I abominate lantern slides, but I know how an audience loves to see pictures to illustrate the points of lectures.”[10] Morel was the exception; as of late 1906, he had not given a single speech illustrated by lantern slides.[11] However, he did not disdain speaking at meetings where others gave lantern presentations, because he knew they were effective. Lantern lectures brought together the immediacy and pathos of the visual, the persuasiveness of human speech, and the longer-lasting messages of accompanying pamphlets.

There were at least three sets of slides used for Congo lecturing: the Guinness set, the Harris set, and a commercial set. There is almost no information about Guinness’s. John Harris apparently had three copies of the Harris set made—one for him, one for his wife, and one to loan out.[12] William Riley of Riley Brothers Ltd put together a set of 60 slides in 1906 for his firm and other dealers to sell or rent out for Congo lectures. Riley had Morel’s permission to use text from Red Rubber and other Congo material to prepare the accompanying lecture. The result was sold as “The Congo Atrocities: A Lecture to Accompany a Series of 60 Photographic

Slides for the Optical Lantern by W.R. (revised by Mr E.D. Morel and Rev. J.H. Harris) price 6d. May be had from all Optical and Lantern Dealers.” There is no evidence of any revisions from either Morel or Harris.[13] As Grant notes, the Riley lecture contained elements of a missionary publicity lecture; it emphasized the role of missionaries, identified the problem as the state undermining the missions’ work, and concluded with a demand for more mission stations.[14] This showed that Riley believed his market lay with people focused on religious and missionary issues. It may have been the most widely available lecture, but, contrary to some interpretations, it was neither a CRA standard lecture nor the Harrises’ lecture. If someone wanted slides for a meeting, the CRA could lend out the Harris slides or the Riley show.[15] If neither was available, the individual would have to obtain the Riley show from a commercial dealer. The Riley slides’ call for a missionary remedy to the Congo’s woes did not appear in John Harris’s lectures, which, in line with the position of the CRA, demanded a political solution. And, at the end, the Riley lecture included a model resolution based on Morel’s standard language; it does not mention missionaries or mission stations.

Lantern lectures had a religious feeling to them and often included singing a conventional hymn or one of several special Congo hymns. The CRA’s Liverpool Auxiliary sold a pamphlet ofthe hymn “Britons awake” for a penny, a stanza ofwhich both Grant and Louis have reproduced.[16] Appropriately for a CRA-sponsored hymn, it encourages the singer to raise his voice for the rights of the natives, not his conversion to Christianity—religious tone used for a secular purpose.[17]

Whether or not the speaker used lantern slides, all meetings intended to appeal both to reason and to emotion. The emphasis differed, however, depending on the venue and the speakers. Larger meetings, town’s meetings, and any speech by Morel tended to build outrage through reasoned argument. Smaller meetings, usually at churches, took a more sentimental and more religious tone. The CRA’s main themes appeared, including an indictment of the system, but with less erudite exposition. From his first lecture, Harris pitched his talks to this audience, writing Morel, “You appeal to the educated classes and politicians, what I want to do is appeal to the popular mind and while hammering greatly on the system give people an idea of how the thing works out without labouring their minds with a burden of detail.”[18]

The resolution to convey to the Foreign Office and to local MPs marked the high point of each meeting. A prominent local person would propose the resolution, usually with standard CRA language. Several people would give speeches in support, often prepared in advance. Occasionally someone would speak against the resolution or try to. Depending on the size of the crowd, how rowdy the dissenter was, and how well the audience knew the dissenter, he might be heard and answered, heard but not answered, ignored, or ejected from the meeting. Then the resolution would pass with unanimous or nearunanimous support.

Congo reform meetings and thus resolutions were most numerous in 1906-09. The “many” representations Lansdowne received 1903-05 were a mild prelude to the coming flood.[19] In 1906, the Foreign Office received about 300 resolutions; 439 meetings are recorded that year.[20] Some resolutions may have arrived after year-end, and some meetings may not have passed resolutions at all, much to Morel’s chagrin. Kenred Smith apologized to Morel in March 1906 for not obtaining resolutions but promised he would in the future.[21] In 1907, however, the Foreign Office received over 1,100 resolutions, far more than the number of recorded meetings. Congo Sundays may account for some of the difference. Congo Sundays endorsed by the Baptists, the Free Church Council, and Liverpool area Protestants from late 1906 through late 1907 would have resulted in many resolutions without formal meetings listed in the Organ. Commercial rentals of the Riley Brothers lantern lecture may also have had an impact.

Table 7.1 Congo reform meetings

Meetings recorded in letters, Organ

Foreign Office records of resolutions received

















Not given after 1908



Source: Meetings database; 1905 resolutions, Cookey, Britain, 149; 1906, FO 881/8850; 1907, FO 881/9093; 1908, FO 881/9414.

Over half of the recorded meetings list speakers. The Harrises were the most frequent, with John named at over 400 UK events from 1905-10 and Alice at over 220; because they sometimes appeared jointly, this makes about 530 different events in total, not including their US tour or Alice’s French and Swiss meetings. Morel nagged John to apprise him of their meetings, indicating some went undocumented.

Morel was the next most frequent speaker recorded, at 135 meetings, peaking in 1907 with 54 meetings. Following Holt’s advice to address only meetings that had a large or important audience, his total fell to 20 in 1908.[22]

Based on Chapter 4’s calculations, it appears there were 2,500-3,000 CRA-related meetings in the UK from 1904-13, supplemented by hundreds of meetings that had no connection to the organization. Those who attended typically found them to be moving and memorable experiences.

  • [1] WJ. Chadwick, Magic Lantern Manual (London: Frederick Warne, 1878), 12, 26;Herman and Ann Hecht, Pre-Cinema History (London: Bowker Saur, 1993), 23, 186-7;Sliwinski, “Childhood,” 347-8; The Optical Magic Lantern Journal and PhotographicEnlarger 12 (December 1901): 98-9; James Martin, “Transferred Prints for Magic Lantern,”Photographic News, 31 December 1869, 626, in Herbert, Pre-Cinema, Vol. 2, 297; W.T. Stead,Annual Index of Periodicals and Photographs (London: Mowbray House, 1891), 99, ?id=hkgUAQAAIAAJ.
  • [2] Ste ad, Annual Index, 99.
  • [3] Thomas Cradock Hepworth, The Book of the Lantern (London: Hazel, Watson, andViney, 1894), xiii; David Copeland, “Joseph, William, Herbert, Arnold and Bernard Riley,”Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema, 1996,
  • [4] Richard Abel and Rick Altman, The Sounds of Early Cinema (Bloomington: IndianaUniversity Press, 2001), 42-3; Deac Rossell, Living Pictures: The Origins of the Movies(Albany: SUNY Press, 1998), 24.
  • [5] Anti-Slavery Reporter, ser. 4, Vol. 13, no. 2 (March-April 1893): 102-3.
  • [6] Bebbington, Nonconformist Conscience, 44.
  • [7] ASR, December 1900.
  • [8] Herald of Peace, 2 January 1905, 11-12.
  • [9] Guinness to Morel, 2 February 1904, F4/3:87-8.
  • [10] Harris to Meyer, 29 November 1912, Brit. Emp. s.19 D3/7:413.
  • [11] Morel to Robert Bowran, 12 November 1906, F10/14 589.
  • [12] Buxton to Joseph Burtt, 14 August 1911, Brit. Emp. S19 D1/9:133.
  • [13] F13/4/1; Morel to W. Riley, 30 and 31 October 1906, F10/14:446, 469.
  • [14] Grant, Civilised Savagery, 68.
  • [15] Morel to Rev. S.N. Seaquick, St Mary’s Bishopstoke, 13 October 1908, F10/16:860.
  • [16] “Hymn specially written for Congo meetings” words by Rev. A.T. Brainsby, music byRev. W. Boyd, Liverpool Auxiliary, F4/41; Grant, Civilised Savagery, 68; W.L. Louis “Moreland the Congo Reform Association,” in E.D. Morel’s History ofthe Congo Reform Movement,eds William Roger Louis and Jean Stengers (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), 210.
  • [17] See Appendix IV for full text.
  • [18] Harris to Morel, 19 August 1905, F8/75:179.
  • [19] Lansdowne to A.S. Raikes, 24 August 1903, FO 881/8268, 273.
  • [20] The challenges of counting meetings are discussed in Chapter 4.
  • [21] Smith to Morel, 30 March 1906, F4/24.
  • [22] Holt to Morel, 16 November 1907, F8/86:521.
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