Acts of Impact

Alice Harris and the King of the Congo

April 04, 2023 Nicholas Hill Season 2 Episode 3
Alice Harris and the King of the Congo
Acts of Impact
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Acts of Impact
Alice Harris and the King of the Congo
Apr 04, 2023 Season 2 Episode 3
Nicholas Hill

On today's episode, we'll explore the incredible story of Alice Harris, a Victorian missionary whose chilling photographs and relentless advocacy work took down the king of the Congo, King Leopold II. 

For this episode, I had the privilege of interviewing Judy Smith, Author of 'Don't Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris'.  We'll discuss the horrific ways King Leopold extorted labor from the Congolese people, how Alice's photos turned the hearts of even King Leopold's appointed friends, and ultimately how Alice left a legacy of reform and cultural understanding. 

I hope you enjoy today's episode. 

To purchase 'Don't Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris', visit:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to Jack for his time and insight. 
Voiceover acting by Mattie.  
Music by Alex Grohls.

Show Notes Transcript

On today's episode, we'll explore the incredible story of Alice Harris, a Victorian missionary whose chilling photographs and relentless advocacy work took down the king of the Congo, King Leopold II. 

For this episode, I had the privilege of interviewing Judy Smith, Author of 'Don't Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris'.  We'll discuss the horrific ways King Leopold extorted labor from the Congolese people, how Alice's photos turned the hearts of even King Leopold's appointed friends, and ultimately how Alice left a legacy of reform and cultural understanding. 

I hope you enjoy today's episode. 

To purchase 'Don't Call Me Lady: The Journey of Lady Alice Seeley Harris', visit:

To learn more about the show, view transcripts, and more visit:

Special thanks to Jack for his time and insight. 
Voiceover acting by Mattie.  
Music by Alex Grohls.

Nicholas Hill  0:00  
In 1865, a man named King Leopold the second inherits the throne of Belgium. He's the successor to his father Leopold, the first. He's the cousin of Queen Victoria in England, and he's a proud member of the royal family. Since he's a new king, Leopold the second wants to make a name for himself. And in this time period, the best way to do that is to expand. So in 1876, Leopold holds a conference in Brussels, to announce his intention to establish a Belgian colony in the Congo 

Media  0:37  
to open to civilization the only part of our globe which it has not yet penetrated. To pierce, the darkness, which hangs over entire people is, I dare say, a crusade worthy of this century of progress. I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cave. 

Nicholas Hill  0:57  
In 1885, Leopold begins to colonize. He sends trinkets to the chiefs of the Congo in exchange for areas of territory. Once he's established ownership, he sends a group of overseers known as the force publique, to watch over them. Most of these overseers are not your most polished of men. They suffer from addiction, debt, family troubles, long criminal histories, and worse, their job is to keep order, collect rubber from the territories and ship it back to Belgium by any means possible. See, Leopold's plan was to enslave every one of the Congolese people to work for him in some way or another. During his reign, Leopold used brutal methods to extract rubber and other resources from the Congo, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 10 to 15 million Congolese people. This period is known as the Congo Free State, and it looked like there was no end in sight. Until in 1898, a tiny English woman in white Victorian skirts, eating biscuits and drinking tea swept into the jungle of the upper Congo. She believed that she had a message to take to the Congolese people the message of the Christian gospel. Instead, she would bring down a king.

Her name was Alice Harris, and today, we tell her story.

You're listening to acts of impact. I'm your host, Nicholas Hill. Let's get started.

For an incredible look into Alice's life, I read the book don't call me lady, the journey of Lady Alice Sealy Harris. And for today's episode, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author of that book, Judy Pollard Smith. I asked Judy, what interested her analysis story. 

Judy Smith  3:14  
And about 2009 I think there was a small article, probably about 1300 words in Canada's national newspaper. And the article was written by Stephanie Nolan, who was the African correspondent at that time, she was in Africa, and mentioned that she'd come across a story about this woman who'd taken these photos and had been a missionary. And I read it and I thought, I wonder why nobody's ever heard of her because her work was sailing and bringing down King Leopold. And those photographs were documentary evidence of a huge, what we would now call a genocide. And one day, I thought I just couldn't write a little short story, imagining how it might have been for her when she was inspired to do this. And I got an email from a friend who is an editor. And she said that she was going to edit a book of stories of women who history had overlooked. And did I have any faith? Well, I, I sure did have something. So I sent it to her. And she said, Oh, yeah, I really want this story to be in this anthology. And then I thought, there's a bigger story here. And somebody's going to do it if I don't. So that started it. 

Nicholas Hill  4:30  
So who is Alice Harris? Alice was born in mom's very England in 1872. Parents Alfred and Carolyn Seeley. Her father owned the soap works, a factory that produced so textiles, and when she would visit Alice would notice the children going into the factory. She learned that they had to work to get food for their families. Her teacher, Mrs. Rankin, taught the story of Joseph being sold into slavery, she would say A that Jesus had compassion for the slaves and so must we. Alice responds, 

Mattie (Voiceover)  5:06  
Mrs. Ranking. We have slaves right here in malmsbury. Right at father silk works. I see them going every day. 

Nicholas Hill  5:14  
In the classroom, Alice has a strong love of geography and world history. And from an early age she had an interest in visiting Africa. Having heard stories of Africa from her father, she was so interested in the Congo. 

Judy Smith  5:28  
Her father used to read the newspaper every night to these girls. And it was the era of expansionism and colonialism and Africa was opening up. And her father was intrigued by all these tales of African exploration, and he would read the newspaper to the girls after dinner every night.

Nicholas Hill  5:48  
But Alice's dad forbid her from going. Instead, he recommended the civil service as a good place for a young unmarried woman to find a nice young man to settle down with. Alice goes to King's College to begin working towards a government posting. She finishes her training, and at 19 years old, in 1889, is appointed to the accountant General's Office of the post office as a female clerk, a new identity. Everyone tells her How fortunate she is to have earned a clerical job that pays well gives her some security, and is a respectable profession for a young woman. So Alice goes to work. 

Judy Smith  6:29  
I like to think about her as an artist and living in Technicolor in her head. So she's living in Technicolor, and her father is a Victorian male. And I think that he thought she should live a life in sepia tones. So you had two forces working against each other. And I guess she was just a very obedient daughter and did what her father said. But Alice is dissatisfied. 

Nicholas Hill  6:58  
She's always yearning for something more, and while she works, she attends church to listen to her local Reverend Reverend Meyer. Reverend Meyer is a role model for Alice. He sets up social programs for orphans for prostitutes. For those who suffer from addiction and for indolent men. She goes regularly to Regent's Park chapel to hear him speak. She starts teaching the young boys Sunday afternoon class there as well. Reverend Meyer in his weekly services proclaims the benefits of missionary work. And ultimately, he serves as Alice's inspiration for going to the Congo. 

Judy Smith  7:36  
I had access to a book of Reverend Meyer sermons. He was very famous, by the way. Plus he did a lot of street ministry, a lot of social work, but I found one of his sermons in particular, and there was a line in the sermon that said, a pebble can change the course of a stream. And the irony of course, being that she she turned out to be more than a pebble that changed the course of the stream. She was a rock that changed the course of history for a lot of people.

Nicholas Hill  8:08  
 In 1894, Alice meets her future husband, John Harris, another admirer of the Reverend John and Alice immediately take to one another. They find that they both share an interest in pursuing mission work, and quickly become engaged. They attend to the region's beyond missionary training college in East London, where they become close friends of a man named Dr. Guinness. Yes, Guinness beer, Dr. Guinness. But as fate would have it right before they were supposed to go on their mission trip, the leaders of their group got sick. And it was necessary that these mission groups be led by married chaperones. So Dr. Guinness asks Alison John, if they can move their wedding date ahead and be the leaders of the group. And on May 6 1898, they do just that. They get married in the registry office of St. John's College chapel. Four days later, they're boarding ship for the Congo.Alice arrives in Tenerife, and then Sierra Leone, and she struck by the beauty of the sandy beaches. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  9:16  
I shall never forget our first night on the African continent. We stayed in the Mission House. John slept in the room with two other men and I stayed with the family and a fellow worker. The mosquitoes were regular demons. They buzzed and fussed all the night through and combined with the horse loud croaking of the frogs. We got no sleep at all. There was an endless chase of rats scurrying around the room all night. We used up our precious night lights to keep them at bay into morning broke. I did wonder where on this earth I had landed.

Nicholas Hill  9:54  
When Alice arrives on the Congo, she has with her a gift. A camera with glass plates to capture photographs of her adventures, I asked Judy how Alice got the camera, but 

Judy Smith  10:08  
I never knew how she got it. And I don't think anybody knows how she got it. My guess would be that it wouldn't be Dr. Harry Grattan Guinness, so you know, the Guinness beer. So the Guinness family in England was large, and half of them were brewers, and half of them were Anglican clergyman. This camera would become crucially important in Alice's fight against King Leopold, Allison John are part of the first party to go on the Congo railway line after its opening, they traveled through upper Congo to a cow, which is 1300 miles inland and home of their first mission. John is there to help the young boys build a house and a small school. Alice is there to teach them to read and write, they settle into their work. Alice is particularly interested in learning the cultural differences in the Congolese people. One thing that sets us apart is her acceptance of norms different than her own, 

I think Alice was smart enough to know that in order to make this work, she would have to become this the student, not the teacher. In my research on her, I've really came to respect her because of the way she handle cultural differences. I think Westerners have had the nerve to walk into a new place and sort of like, well, we're here, we're going to fix everything now. So do what we say and everything will be just fine. She was smart enough to know that was the wrong way to treat other humans. 

Nicholas Hill  11:39  
There were two cultural traditions in particular, that Alice had never encountered before. 

Judy Smith  11:46  
So the first thing was a process called securitization. And it was a way of cutting into the skin. In delicate patterns, much like people get tattoos today, it was a sign of belonging and beauty for the women and the men got them to. So Alice wanted to see what happens. So she went and watched and talks about how the knife goes into the skin and cuts the pattern and it bleeds and then the insects stick to it for a couple of days and super eights, and then eventually heals and scars over and falls off. And you have the pattern that you wanted. Never once did she say why did they do that? Or how could you She watched and she learned. And the other thing that really stood out to me was the practice of polygamy. And there was a very strong reason why polygamy was important because women had to work so hard, even to grow one manioc root took one year. So that's what their diet largely was. So the chief would have a flotilla of women, maybe 30, women, and they would all help each other. So those wives all needed each other. That's the way it was done. It also gave the chief a great status. And it gives the children of all those wives status in the community. There is one story of one particular missionary telling a chief that he had to choose one wife and one wife only. So he dismissed all the others who ended up having to serve as prostitute. So How helpful is that? 

Nicholas Hill  13:21  
I was intrigued. And when she writes about these practices, she says

Mattie (Voiceover)  13:26  
 they hold meaning and therefore value to the society that cherishes the practice. Although we at times fail to understand what that value could possibly be. There are some aspects of the culture that were troubling to us. But we knew it was our job to try to understand the base of it firsthand. There was far too much of this business of the white man or walking into the unknown and demanding that it be changed to suit European standards. We see ourselves as teachers, when so often it is we ourselves who must become learners. We had our ways and the Africans had this. 

Nicholas Hill  14:03  
Alison the rest of the missionaries are kind of a funny sight in the Congo. Alice steps into the heat of the jungle wearing a long Victorian dress, her hairs piled up on her head and Victorian fashion. Her high collar defines her place and Victorian society. They're accused of bringing all of Britain in their luggage with orders of Huntley and Palmers biscuits arriving alongside them. John and Alice get to work. They build strong wooden buildings that will keep out animals, rain and insects. The Congolese people love them. The children begin following Alice around and calling her mother and John and Alice love it there. They spend their evenings on the patio watching beautiful African sunsets, planning and imagining the possibilities for Congo's feature. Alice even has her first child in the Congo, a son who she named was Alfred. The Congolese locals parade through to see him. They're surprised a baby can be so white. But soon, they begin seeing signs of trouble. The locals tell Alice about Belgium appointed overseers, the men known as the force of public, Alice begins to see several small children and teenagers with missing hands. A Native claims that the force of publique had done this to them. Alice notices rhythmic haunting melodies being sang by the Congolese men as they worked with deep somber voices they sang Beto Fei bola II way, Beto, Feb bola Yiwei. And English translated to rubber is death. Next, they noticed the theft. The local Congolese girls loved jewelry, they would wear large heavy anklets and collars around their necks that could weigh up to 10 pounds. Once the Belgian overseers spotted this jewelry, the force of public began taking it. Alice had even heard reports of girls being beheaded to get to their collars. local villages began having their supplies taken. The Belgians asked for sugar cane and food stores. Villagers have to start working late into the night to make enough food for themselves and the Belgians. Finally, John goes to see the tribes. He wants to hear firsthand what's going on. What he finds out is that the overseers of the force of public give each worker a daily quota of rubber vines to cut for the day. If they don't hit this quota, their hand is cut off as a symbol to the others. tribesmen told John about baskets full of smoked human hands, preserved as proof that the workers families had been punished. The force of publique is raping and murdering entire villages. John and Alice speak to their fellow missionaries, but the rest are afraid to do anything. They're worried if they take any action to stop the overseers. The Belgians will cut off their food supplies. Alice is not afraid. She writes, 

Mattie (Voiceover)  17:26  
God sent us here to bring truth and light, we must listen and then obey. 

Nicholas Hill  17:31  
I asked Judy, if she thought King Leopold knew about what his forces were doing in the Congo. After all, he was rolling from afar, and he hadn't visited the Congo himself. 

Judy Smith  17:43  
I think he knew what was going on. How would you not all of a sudden you were getting all these riches and getting very wealthy. So there was no even trade going on. And that's a sure signal of slavery. He was a very lonely child, his parents had no time for him whatsoever. This may have been his big chance to make something of himself. But yeah, I don't see how Leopold didn't know. But I wasn't there. 

Nicholas Hill  18:10  
John and Alice start writing letters to anyone and everyone who will listen. They write to the press, they write to church leaders, they write to politicians. They beg for the British people to prove to the world that Britain is a civilized nation, and has no choice but to work for King Leopold's immediate dismissal. Then it gets even worse. One night Alice hears a wailing sound coming from the mission station garden, she goes outside to investigate. On the grass there stand three young men somber and upset. Alice could see that the young man at the front of the group masala was particularly devastated. His face was twisted in anguish. His friends let him forward and he sank onto the porch. Masala was carrying a small bundle bound and plantain leaves. To Alice's horror. Out fell two small pieces of human anatomy. A child's foot and hand. the salah masala hadn't made his rubber quota for the day. So the Belgian appointed overseers had cut off his daughter's hand and foot. Her name was Bo Ali. She was five years old. They killed her and they killed his wife. Then they cannibalized both of them and presented masala with these tokens of their cruelty. Alice is devastated but she has an idea 

Mattie (Voiceover)  19:46  
and Salah Will you agree to sit here so that I can take your photo? I need to show your story in a picture to friends who will help us to get rid of the overseers. We need to show them what you have suffered. I must take this photo and tell you a story to my friends in Europe. 

Nicholas Hill  20:03  
Alice takes a picture of masala he sits isolated on the mission porch. He looks down at the remains of his daughter. His friends stand to the side. In the background a child looks on curious as to what's happening. Alice sends the photo to Raul von Culkin the Belgian agent in her locality. She writes, 

Mattie (Voiceover)  20:29  
We have seen the hand and foot of a child boilie her with her mother was eaten by the centuries all their servants. 

Nicholas Hill  20:37  
Raul arousal does nothing. So Alice sends the photos to the region's beyond missionary headquarters in London to see what they make of them. This picture taken of masala would become the most effective of Alice's photographs and moving the hearts of the Western world to join the Congo Reform Association. This photo would help to bring an end to the Congo Free State. Alice is devastated. She finds it incredible that men like Leopold the second could exist at all. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  21:14  
Did he who made the lamb make the 

Nicholas Hill  21:17  
although Alice's loved in her mission in the surrounding areas, white people are still highly mistrusted. Due to the cruel treatment from the overseers. In one story, Alice has an incredibly close call. She wants to introduce herself to a nearby village chief. One of the children working with her Bork takes her to visit the village. Bork acts as an interpreter. When they arrive. The chief asks if they're from the Belgian government. Alice tells him no, they're friends from England. The chief indicates for her to sit, but shortly after he begins to speak to them, they start to hear the beginning of a single drum. As it beats in the distance. It starts off slowly, and then gradually grows louder and louder. More drums join in as it gains in tempo and volume. It gets closer and closer. The child that is with Alice Bork immediately jumps into action. He says mother we must leave now. He grabs Alice lifts her by the elbow tells the chief they must go before the rain set and the to take off running. They run and run and run until they're cleared of the village and well past the next one. Board finally stops for breath and explains mother. They thought you were a devil. They were preparing to do the devils dance. They were going to kill us. See Bork knew the language of the drums. He knew what that rhythm meant. Alice realized how jarring it must have been for a pale woman and ghostly colors to come out of nowhere, asking to see the chief

Mattie (Voiceover)  23:03  
did He who made the lamb make the 

Nicholas Hill  23:06  
Alice briefly goes back to London and she has another child, a daughter named Margaret. She leaves Margaret with her son in the home for missionaries children at Harley house in London, run by the region's beyond missionary union. Alice will not see her children again for five years, she returns to the Congo. When she returns, she notices that the missionaries are now the only white people the Congolese will trust. Alice is still trying to fight but she has doubt about her ability to make the changes that need to be made. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  23:44  
I do trust God with all my heart and with all my strength and with all my mind as we are commanded to do. But there are times when I weaken. I want to be Alice the fearless one. Alice the woman who was only just past five feet tall and is ready to take on the king of the Belgians. But I shudder when I stopped to think about the burdens on our shoulders. 

Nicholas Hill  24:08  
It's around this time when Alice meet someone who can help a man named Roger Casement. Roger had been appointed British console to the Congo. His job was to report back to the British government on current Congo activities. And he wanted to interview Alison John. They told Roger everything. They told him how Congolese men half starved, had to climb high trees to cut down rubber vines for the sap. They had to do this with sharp tools and any slip or falter would leave them scarred. And they did this knowing that if they failed to collect their daily quota of rubber, their wives and children who were kept locked in boiling huts until they returned would have their hands cut off or worse. Alison John told Roger about how grew absurd chained together so they won't run away how men are shot in front of their families. How the overseers are willing to be head, women whose collared neck were they desired as souvenirs. They told him about an invention known as the chickity. The overseers would take the stem of a palm tree, dry it and then braid it to create a flexible but sturdy whip. They would use this whip as a form of punishment to keep the Congolese people working harder, cleaving into the skin of the rubber workers, leaving them bleeding and breathless. There were even reports of one man being tied down and whipped while great spurts of blood shot into the air. He died of blood loss and shock. Roger casements final and full report was submitted to the British government in December of 1903. In it, he describes being startled by the depopulation the Congo had seen since he last visited, he describes entire communities that were now gone. And he told Allison John stories, corroborating them with his own. He wrote of a young boy he had met whose hand was missing. He had been in his village when the Belgian appointed centuries arrived. There robber quota had not satisfied the overseers. They shot the chief and the people ran terrified into the bush. Those who remained were lined up and shot dead. In February of 1904, Roger casements report becomes available to the British public and they are outraged. He forms the Congo Reform Association. He holds a public town hall at the Philharmonic and Liverpool 1000 People arrive, and after hearing the stories, they cry enough, we have heard enough, Leopold must go. The British government condemns the goings on, and Belgians get angry with the British for interfering in their affairs. Alice and John see that they now have the needed support of the people. So they demand a commission of inquiry to be held so that Europe can hear from the Congolese people firsthand. King Leopold agrees to it on one provision, he gets to appoint the judges. So King Leopold does what anyone would expect. He appoints three friends in high places. And at the same time, he starts trying to do some damage control. He sends an American born journalist named Mary France, Sheldon to the Congo. She reports that everything is great. She says I've seen more atrocities in London streets than I've ever seen in the Congo. The Belgian agents, meanwhile, decide that Alison her missionaries are hostile to the Belgian state. Leopold instructs the force of public to drive them away. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  28:08  
They tried cutting off our food supplies. They try parading around with guns, they try just ignoring us everything they could think of. 

Nicholas Hill  28:17  
The British government has to appoint soldiers to stand guard over Alison Jon's mission house until the inquiry can be held. In preparation, hours begins documenting everything she can with her camera. She walks around to their mission located in bar Ringu and tells all of the children combo non-i Alice, my name is Alice, I want to take your picture. I want to show it to the world. They trust her and so they pose for her photographs. Alice's photos bring their stories into the open. She gives them names and brings their suffering to light. They are no longer figments of a far off land no longer able to be ignored. Alice's photos are meant to be in your face. They're meant to get through to even the most stubborn of British and European hearts. Alice even sets up a self portrait. She stands on the exact porch when a solace photo was taken. She is joined in the photo by the entire village of the Congolese people. She looks regal. She later says that she set this photo up to look this way on purpose. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  29:35  
I wanted to show Leopold should he ever see these photos? That I was the ruler of what would take place in the future of this land? I tried to look like a queen on purpose. The Belgian King had met his match. 

Judy Smith  29:50  
She had herself right between the two centuries. The armed guards and yeah, I love thinking about King Leopold was a very tough Hall big man. And I don't know if you've ever seen a picture of big tall guy with a long white beard. She was a tiny, weeny little woman. And I thought how could such a tiny little person do such a big job? 

Nicholas Hill  30:14  
Finally, it's time for the inquiry. The drums beat to alert the village louder and louder until the entire village rings with bass and purpose. The Europeans have come to hear the testimonies of the natives. The villagers pack up their boats, They load them with smoked meat wrapped in banana leaves, babies tucked into their mother's shoulders and colorful cotton shells. They will paddle for as far as they must to bear witness to what they've endured. The river fills up with canoes of every size, carrying 810 12 people aboard each. Small boats fill from shore to shore. The river teams with life and they're on the opposing side sits mon CR Longtan the Belgian overseer whom the natives called Bowman JOCO. The judges who Leopold appointed are Dr. Edward Johnson's the Belgian president for the inquiry. Bear on this go from Italy and Monsoor de Shumaker. A jurist from Switzerland. They have read Roger casements report, and they're prepared to hear what they assume is rumor and delusion. They fully believe they will soon return to Europe. Well satisfied that the Free State is working to improve life in the Congo, as King Leopold had promised. The Testimony begins alysus has been John calls upon chief lon Tulu of Bo Lima to speak. Lon Tulou carefully arranges a huge piece of cloth on the floor in full view of the judges. He is methodical and quiet. He removes a cloth bag from his shoulder and begins to take out a series of twigs. One by one he lays each twig onto the fabric. And with each twig he lays down. He says a name. Judge Johnson asks, what do these twigs represent? To watch lawn Tulu replies? They are my people. The people of my village who were killed by the Belgians. There are 110 tweaks. The judge asks him, Have you ever killed any of the Belgian centuries? And long Tula replies? Yes, we have. We killed three of your men, because your men killed 110 of ours. Under commander Hagstrom They killed our men, our women, our children. They killed my friend scqf house and they hung his entrails in his house. All because we did not bring him enough rubber. The inquiry called Monsignor longtime the Belgian overseer to the witness stand. When they asked him if this was true, he did not deny it. The judges asked You mean to say you agreed to this brutality and Longtan replies, I was just following orders. It is not my job to question but to obey. The natives are primitive people. They were not willing to work in the jungle voluntarily. We had to control them somehow. I had a job to do. More witnesses are called. One man tells the judges how his friend Longo and the foamy were on their way to testify. When agent Vaughn clock and headed them off. He had them bound to a tree and whipped for three days until a foamy died. His body was thrown into the river. Another tells about force of public Lieutenant Charles mansard who had a Congolese man known as Bungie younga, tied to a palm tree and shot through the head. When the soldier caught him looking, he cut off his hand. More and more testimony stream forth. An old man named yogi was whipped to his death Mingo of my poco is tearful when she tells him the in decencies that have been perpetrated upon her body that cause her pain and suffering both physically and emotionally. A man named him pongo comes forth his ebony arm held upright against a white toga for emphasis. A mark of distinction is his missing right hand. On and on. They repeat their stories suffering rape, murder, living friends sliced in half in front of them for Belgian sport And then Alice's photos are brought forth. They are passed from Judge to judge until finally, one judge breaks down, saying I have heard enough. Forgive us all. May God have mercy on Belgium. 

Judy Smith  35:19  
So the Harris has pushed for this commission of inquiry. And so Leopold thought I'll send three judges to Congo, but they're all my best friends, so I don't need to worry. But when the three best friends heard the actual testimony of the natives, they broke, one man broke down and he just couldn't believe the horror and the wickedness of that place. 

Nicholas Hill  35:42  
The Belgian overseer Longtan, sees that he's losing and immediately runs away. He escapes in a steamship, and at every field station, he instructs the staff to dump their logs that feel the steamers into the river, so that nobody can get enough feel to follow him. He ordered the wires cut at the telegraph center. And in the end, he manages to run for 2000 miles to the Congos mouth, out to sea and off to Europe. This is a man who had at least 1 million Congolese under his control for years, the Commission had officially closed. But even though Alison John had proven their point, nothing happened. At least not immediately. The written testimonies of the commission were sent to Belgium and locked away in government archives away from public view. So Alison, John returned to Britain, they take the message to Europe themselves. They join the Congo Reform Association and start speaking to anyone who will listen. They speak in church halls on village greens, even on the sidewalks of busy streets. Alice brings her photographs to show the masses, she signs a statutory declaration, attesting that her photographs are the undoctored truth. Those who are pro Belgium do what they can to undermine her efforts, but she remains strong. Alice will cover miles and miles leaving no corner of Britain than Europe than America Unturned doing everything she can to create political and cultural strength against slavery in the Congo. Members of the Congo Reform Association are instructed to write letters to newspapers and parliamentarians. This is good old fashioned to advocacy work, and slowly it starts to make an impact. And their first two years with the Congo Reform Association, Allison John speak on 600 occasions, they start putting on plays alongside Alice's photographs. They're taking props with them, a chakotay to show how laborers are whipped shackles to show how they're tied into groups. They talk about how the Africans are lined up with buckets to collect the rubber and how they're punished if they returned short. While Alice is speaking, John is snapping the chakotay across the stage to bring home the point. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  38:15  
Manipulation is not always a bad thing I decided we needed to arouse sympathy. We could not have it said that people in Britain were unaware of the atrocities. 

Nicholas Hill  38:26  
In Britain Sir Arthur Conan Doyle joins their efforts in America author Mark Twain joins in. Also, did you know that Mark Twain is not his real name? So I guess his real name was Samuel L Clemens. Anyway, he joins in and he says I have seen with my own eyes the magic lantern slides as taken by Mrs. Alice Harris of the Congo Reform Association. He starts to actively attend several Congo reform meetings. And in 1905, he writes a famous pamphlet called King Leopold's soliloquy. 

Judy Smith  39:04  
You know, Mark Twain became a member of the Congo Reform Association because the Harris is and he wrote that book called King Leopold soliloquy, and he has King Leopold saying, the only witness I could not bribe was the Kodak camera. 

Nicholas Hill  39:21  
John and Alice are invited to meet with President Roosevelt. Alice describes their American hosts as the most wonderful talkers. Oh, and I almost forgot at some point during all of this, they have two more kids, Catherine and Noel. I'm guessing they went to the missionary daycare to grow up with all of their other kids. In fact, I actually asked Judy about her thoughts on this. Alice, who spent so much time and energy helping the children of the Congo consistently leaving her own children with the missionary school, sometimes for years at a time. 

Judy Smith  39:58  
I had trouble with it. I can cannot square that up. I never would be able to I never could have done that myself. I know that's the way it was done. And it was certainly common for missionaries. But yeah, it did fall apart there a little bit. I can't imagine how you can square that up with your Christian faith mandate, but then I thought about it a lot. And so she's committed on many levels. She's certainly committed to her husband, and you don't know what kind of pressure he may have. You know, this was great for him to be there and become the champion of the oppressed. And he may have insisted that they leave the children in London. And the other thing is, they were heavily financed to go on this mission trips. So you know, those people have made financial commitments to the Congo and to make this work for people. So you've committed to that you've committed to your church that sent you. And in her heart, she would have committed to God, I guess it's so easy for me to sit here and judge why she shouldn't have left her children. But she had all those other heavy commitments weighing on her, and I expect she knew that her kids would be safe. She know that the Congolese children would not be safe. 

Nicholas Hill  41:18  
King Leopold sees that sentiment is turning against him, and he tries to save himself. He starts granting Congo rights to prominent Americans, such as John Rockefeller. He donates souvenirs to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But none of that works. Alison John through their tenacity, their grit, their endless campaigns and unwillingness to compromise, and through the power of Alice's photographs have won. And in June of 1906, King Leopold signs away his rights to the Congo Free State. It is estimated that during his 15 year reign, 10 million Congolese people died as a result of his greed. On March 22 1910, Allison John would return to Africa. Their purpose would be to verify rumors of improved conditions. They cover 5000 miles across the continent by foot and canoe, and happy to say the rumors are true. Conditions for the natives has improved dramatically. The Belgians have been shamed. The world knows the truth, and all is good. Alison John returned to Britain triumphant when they returned from Africa, Alison John move into a nice home in East Dulwich Grove called Wooster Lodge. But Alice misses the Congo. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  42:53  
I'm living in this house called waters to lodge when it's our mission station, cottage and Moringa. I want whether it's wide open spaces, the sky as high as it can reach the intense birdsong. Where do I fit?

Nicholas Hill  43:09  
Ours continues speaking on behalf of the people of the Congo. She gives speeches with titles like tramping and canoeing in West Africa, 5000 miles by land and water, with the camera in West Africa, and primitive tribes of Central Africa, their customs and folklore, births, marriages, deaths and dances. She issues a pamphlet titled enslaved womanhood of the Congo. At the Empire Theatre in Bristol, the crowd numbers 2000 in Newcastle, 3000 people attend. In Birmingham there are 200 people left outside the town hall because there's no room left in the door. John's careers taking off to their work with the anti slavery and aborigines Protection Society has led him over the years to become president of the Dulwich liberal Association. One day after breakfast, he tells Alice, I want to stand for parliament. He runs in the 1922 general election, but he's defeated. He tries again in 1924 and is elected liberal member for North Hackney. Alice finds herself pouring at teas, cutting ribbons for openings and shaking hands at banquets. Finally, John has put forth for knighthood. He is now a sir and Alice a lady. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  44:37  
I never could get used to being the photographed rather than the photographer. It signaled to me that the vital integral part of my life's work was behind me.

Nicholas Hill  44:48  
Alice gazes around the room, she examines her new life. It bears little resemblance either to the one in which she grew up, or to the one what she's known as an adult. Alice's remembering meals of monkey meet tend to goods and goat's milk, but those days are far behind her. By 1921, Alison John will move to the Glen and Sussex in 1930. They move to stolons their new home and from they'll have two grandsons move to Dorking in 1937 and then settle in Crowborough to be near their infant grandson Richard Harris in 1938. John gets sick with bronchitis. So they move back to from the doctor warns that his health is fragile. And it's 66 years old. John dies in his garden. his gravestone will read John Hobbs Harris night champion of the oppressed.

Mattie (Voiceover)  45:50  
Why was it to begin? How to heal that much hurt. I do believe these things have taken their toll on me. I see that now as my earthly life is drawing to a close. I am not the same as I was. It was all too much to bear at times. 

Nicholas Hill  46:07  
I was moved to Dorking in 1942 in South Hill in 1943. After Catherine gets married and 46 she'll move in with them at Lochner Holt on her 99th birthday. The newspaper in Surrey quote Salas as saying that the happiest days of her life, were her young days towards the close of the last century. Nearing her 100th birthday. The British Broadcasting Company interviews her for their Women of Influence series, they quote, it will seem impossible that a woman strength could have born the fatigue and dangers of a journey of over 5000 miles on foot, and in canoe. And we must admire not only the strength and energy which were called for by such an undertaking, but also the tact and kindness which Alice displayed in a country where the white man inspires fear and hatred in such sort as to arouse confidence and gained herself the friendship of the natives. Truly such a woman deserves honor and admiration. Alice tells the interviewer, her biggest regret is not spending more time with her children. 

Mattie (Voiceover)  47:22  
I know about heroism now. I understand how it works. We can be heroes to some, but we cannot be heroes to all. Often the ones who get left out are the ones to whom we owe the most was I conducting letter writing campaigns for Africans while my children dance around my feet screaming for Mother, I held high there cause while at the same time, I sacrificed our own youngsters to the altar. In retrospect, I know that it was becoming too easy to be famous, too wonderful to be applauded, to be feted and introduced to people of influence, that I love to this life. This hectic schedule, that it put the fire in my wings. It was those who were left behind me who suffered my children.

Nicholas Hill  48:14  
During the last two months of her life, Alice falls into a coma. She dies in the Catholic Alvernia nursing home in Guildford, Surrey. Her funeral is held at the Ifield Quaker meeting and in Quaker style, there is no service or formalities. For a while she didn't even have a gravestone until two of her grandsons placed one there to honor their grandmother's life and work. Alice's legacy lives on today through the work of anti slavery International, where Alice once served as Joint Secretary with John, her photos can be found in the library there in a simple grey filing cabinet in a tiny cardboard box. I asked Judy, if she could share what lesson she takes away from Alice's work. 

Judy Smith  49:03  
I think what Alice taught me is that we've all been invested with some form of power that we can tap. Now, that, like everything else in life depends on our personal privilege. So for some people, they can do bigger things. But it's not always about doing big things. A friend emailed last week and said she had dropped a bag of food off to a woman who sits on a heating great downtown in her city. That's big. If you're the woman who's hungry, that's huge. So we can't all go and change masses of people, but we can all do something. And we just have to tap into that and look for that source. Because I think it's there in all of us. We've got to just figure out things for ourselves and see how we want to live.

Nicholas Hill  49:52  
Shortly before her death, Alice writes a poem. She calls it reflections at 100 In it, she writes, 

Mattie (Voiceover)  50:03  
I sat down on the garden seat, admired the distant view, and then began to ask myself, What is this life about? Why am I here? It's not my choice. I did not ask to come. But since you're here, my mentor said, it is your choice which path you tread. The road the smooth the pleasant one, with self indulgence day by day. Life steep climb with twists and turns, with some her fallen, by the way.

Nicholas Hill  50:40  
I hope that you enjoyed today's episode. Special thanks to Judy for her time and her unique insight into Alice's life. I truly enjoyed our conversation. Today's show was directed and produced by me with music from Alex scroll and voice over acting from Maddie. If you liked today's episode, please follow us wherever you listen to podcasts, and consider leaving a review. It will help us to spread the word about the show. You can view more information about today's episode online at acts of Thank you for listening