Skip to content
A true original: comic map of Europe, 1854

A true original: comic map of Europe, 1854

In previous posts I’ve mentioned that there was an early flowering of cartoon and satirical maps during the Crimean War, but they rarely turn up and so I was delighted to acquire this example: rock-crimea "Done by T.O." which I think we can reveal with some certainty to be Thomas Onwhyn, and published by Rock Brothers and Payne in 1854, this Comic Map of the Seat of Waris among the earliest satirical maps of Europe; certainly the earliest I’m aware of. Mind you, all the elements one finds in later maps by Fred Rose and his successors seem to be in place already, including the bad puns. The Caucasus become ‘Cork as us mountains’ with stoppered summits; the up-ended bottle clutched by the Turkish Turkey is labelled ‘the Sublime Port’; Malta is represented by a foaming tankard of ale - ie malt. Crimean-Corsica Some references are vaguely historical or just plain whimsical, but without particular reference to the Crimean conflict. So, for example, Elba appears as Napoleon’s famous bicorne and Tunis is a banjo-playing lioness in hareem trousers and curly-toed slippers. Don’t ask me why. For the most part the imagery is carefully considered and entirely relevant. Neutral Italy is dismissed as a dog of indeterminate breed wearing a papal crown, and running scared (eyes swivelled behind) because a battered kettle -Sicily, possibly a neat reference to Mount Etna - has been tied to its tail. Crimean-British-Isles National beasts are much in evidence: the British lion; the imperial eagle of Napoleon III’s Second Empire; a rather dopey Russian bear, wielding a knout knotted with skulls and labelled ‘despotism’, ‘bigotry’, cruelty’, ‘slavery’, ‘ignorance’ and ‘oppression’ and other choice terms. Prussia, on the other hand, becomes a vacillating weathervane, unsure which side to support (if either). Poland is manacled, her very name spelled out in bones. Crimean-bear There is an optimistic early reference to the Baltic campaign. An Anglo-French fleet was dispatched in April 1854, and our map was printed in May. The fleet is helped on its way by Danish bellows, followed by a puff of breath from Stockholm, carrying the words ‘Go it Charley’. The tiny British admiral in the leading vessel, declaring ‘I’ll give him a flea in his ear’, is probably meant to be Charles Napier. It was the largest fleet assembled by the Admiralty since the Napoleonic Wars, and it achieved remarkably little. Public attention at the time - and public memory since - was mostly focussed on what happened in the Crimea. Crimean-Black-Sea In May 1854 most of that lay in the future. It was not until the autumn that Russian withdrawal from the Danubian Principalities led the Allies to search for something else to do with the armies which had been transported to the region with such great trouble and expense and blowing of trumpets. However, the Allied Black Sea fleet was already operational, and it is shown here clipping the Russian Bear’s claws around the great Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Crimean-title The title and scale are worthy of note. The scale is a pair of scales, the ‘balance of power’, with the Russian bear outweighed by the combination of French cockerel, Turkeys, and British lion. The lettering ‘seat of war’ is constructed from soldiers of all the belligerent nations. None of the scanty auction records or institutional catalogue entries which I have located credit a particular artist. However, the signature “done by T.O.” appears in Asiatic Turkey, in the bottom right hand corner of the map. An entertaining trawl with my friend Angus O’Neill through Bryant & Heneage’s Dictionary of British Cartoonists and Caricaturists (Scolar, 1994) and Houfe’s Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Book Illustrators (ACC 1996) turned up Onwhyn as the most likely suspect. Right place, right time, “with an eye for the comic”. Not conclusive in itself, but a reminder of why I keep a proper reference library: googling ‘T.O.’ would get you nowhere. Houfe’s ODNB entry for Onwhyn is the clincher: Onwyhn signed himself T.O. and was associated with “shadowy publishers such as Rock Bros and Payne”. This was supported by a search on Worldcat, which showed that Onwhyn produced work for the firm on either side of 1854, and one can also look at images of other work by the artist; stylistically, it’s spot on. Crimean-signature According to ODNB, Onwyhn was born in Clerkenwell, son of a bookseller and newsagent. He was responsible for a set of illustrations for a pirated edition of Pickwick (of ‘singular vileness’ according to Dickens) and in Houfe’s opinion, Onwhyn’s “most lasting contribution was to the ephemeral end of the book trade in the 1840s and 1850s, illustrating the comic side of everyday life”. There wasn’t a living to be made, and he spent the last twenty to thirty years of his life as a newsagent, taking up his father’s profession. So, it seems we have Thomas Onwhyn to thank for inspiring a whole genre of similar maps. His name should be up there with Fred Rose. It is difficult to gauge the popularity or reach of the map, but a Belgian derivative exists, published in Brussels by Louis Mols-Marchal. Some of the imagery is repeated in later maps, which may suggest a certain awareness or continuity following on from this particular work. Discussing the relationship between the work of William Mecham and Lillie Tennant in an earlier post I was able to demonstrate that artists in this genre were well aware of both their contemporaries and predecessors. If you take a look at Louis Raemakers’ 1915 map you will see that he, like our anonymous mid-nineteenth century Englishman, has shown Gibraltar as a bulldog. And in 1914 Karl Lehmann-Dumont portrayed a Russian bear next to a knout-wielding lout. Here's my post on WW1 satirical maps. Unfortunately the reliance on broad stereotypes which made all these maps so appealing to contemporaries makes it difficult for us to assign specific sources with confidence, but there’s no doubting that this Crimean map was the start of something new.

Update, June 2015: Delighted to see the work that Rod Barron has recently been able to put into this map, confirming the authorship beyond any question (he has access to the original printed wrappers, and researched the reception of the map in the contemporary press): http://barronmaps.com/1854-the-year-of-rock-and-droll-the-comic-map-of-europe-is-born/ No more excuses for anyone to catalogue the map as by ‘anon’. Establishing the precedence of the British edition over continental imitators is also a step forward. Awful puns like the ‘cork as us’ mountains only work in English. The image has been carefully copied on the Belgian edition which was at this year’s London Map Fair, but when labelled literally ‘Mons Caucase’ the joke has lost any sort of meaning. The clincher though is in Onwyn’s signature. On the Brussels edition ‘Done by TO’ has baffled the copyist, who has rendered it as ‘Done R(iver)’. I’m told that on the Hamburg edition, which I haven’t seen, the signature was also reproduced as part of the design.

Previous article A devotional map of Saint Barbara's island
Next article Map cover art

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields